Out of Shape or Just the Stairs ?

Aug 08, 2016

If you are my client, then you know that my building has one flight of stairs that leaves everyone breathless. Even I am surprised as I walk up and down them at least four times daily that I am out of breath. I used to question if it was me and if I was that badly out of shape, but after years of the same results it had to be something else. Many of my clients have had the same reaction and have questioned their own physical fitness. Finally we have an answer! Its not you, its the stairs! This short and sweet little article by Psychology Today breaks down what happens to your body and brain as you approach stairs, even just one flight of them. So as you come visit me in my office in the San Marcos Building, don't forget to breath as your conquer the flight of stairs. Discovering the little things in life can sometimes make a world of a difference. Proper breathing, its a game changer people!



Therapists: Not One Size Fits All!

Jul 25, 2016

I have always been a big proponent that most professions are not one size fits all! Really nothing should be! We are unique individuals and It is why we have specialists and things that distinctly separate one professional from another. It took me time to find a doctor who was the right fit, and next a dentist, who was too hard or too soft, but just right! So it would come as no surprise that a therapist would fit the same pattern, possibly even more so!

 A therapist that feels just right creates a rapport; a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each others feelings or ideas and communicate well. When a client contacts me to inquire about services, I take the time on the phone to get an idea if a good rapport will be established. It is almost like I look for a vibe or energy that demonstrates that we would be a good fit. A good fit is not about my personal preference or what I necessarily want, but it most important for the client and their quality of work. That rapport is crucial to the client's work. It may be the utmost important part of the journey in the therapeutic process. Below is an article that discusses the five qualities to be able to tell if a therapist is effective! Spoiler alert, rapport plays into each attribute.  



Firearm Violence and Mental Illness

Jul 18, 2016

You cannot turn the TV on or go on the internet without being overwhelmed but the terrible violence that has been occurring. It is terrifying and very sad to see out flag at a constant half mast. It can also be hard to address these hot topics, so I decided that a safe way to approach the topics is to stick to the facts and the studies.

Synchronously I was sent this recent wonderful scientific presentation on the UCTV channel that will give you a lot of information about past and present shootings and how much mental illness is to blame as well as some updates about current laws.

Some of the findings may surprise you! Please feel free to pass this along.



Dec 17, 2013

For anyone who works in schools or agencies or with families or may need for your own family, I am sharing these resources which maybe helpful to you in your work or needs.



Helping your children manage distress in the aftermath of a shooting


Managing your distress in the aftermath of a shooting


Helpful Hints for School Emergency Management:

Psychological First Aid (PFA) for Students and Teachers: Listen, Protect, Connect – Model & Teach


Listen, Protect, Connect – Model and Teach

Psychological First Aid for Teacher and Students


After a Loved One Dies – how children grieve and how parents and other adults can support them


School Crisis Guide: Help and Healing in a Time of Crisis


Here is the APA resources that were just posted on their website



Sep 20, 2013

Have you ever done something and instantlously regreted it? This is normal. We are human so we make mistakes, it is apart of life. It is how we handle our mistakes and repair things is what makes us grow and evolve. When we make mistakes in front of children, the damage may be harder to repair, but not impossible! This is a great and quick read utilizing examples of what mistakes can be made and expert advice on how to make the repairs when dealing with children and being human.



Sep 11, 2013

Literally only have two minutes to spare? You aren't alone in the fact that everyone is busy and that in itself can cause stress. This quick read only takes about two minutes and arms you with fourteen different ways to quickly reduce stress. Follow the link and give it a try, it won't take long!



Jul 24, 2013

Below you will find all the information to attend a great training opppurtunity here in Santa Barbara at Cottage Hospital. I will be going and will blog what I learn about, so keep an eye out!


Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Center for Psychiatry and Behavioral Healthcare invites you to attend its August 2013 presentation for the healthcare community.  Grand Rounds will take place in the Burtness Auditorium at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital - A buffet lunch and beverages will be provided.  No RSVP or advance registration is required.


                    FEATURED SPEAKER:

Jim Piekarski, MFT, Clinical Director of Phoenix of Santa Barbara, Author of Mastering Your Emotions with Your Spouse and Others: Seven Steps for Transforming Emotional Reactivity.


Dialectical Behavior Therapy has become a popular treatment for those with borderline personality disorders.   However, we can all become emotionally reactive in interpersonal situations.   We don’t have to have a psychiatric diagnosis to have this problem. Specific people or certain topics can trigger us emotionally.   Emotional reactivity, a term explored and developed by Murray Bowen (the “father” of family therapy), is a very common phenomenon and can occur in couples, in family relationships and even at work.   Transference and counter-transference experienced in psychotherapy can be seen as specific variations of emotional reactivity.

Interactions between people can trigger many different emotions, including: anger, guilt, fear, shame, and hurt.   These emotions can be triggered quickly and acted on with little conscious choice or awareness of the emotions being triggered.   This leads to actions that are not in our best interest.   Focusing on emotional reactivity can bring these emotional reactions into consciousness and creates an opportunity for a person to act more effectively.

This presentation will focus on clarifying the nature of emotional reactivity and how it differs from healthy emotion.   We will explore how it typically presents itself in relationships. Emotional reactivity can be a core problem that is associated with many other difficulties, such as marital problems, work problems, codependency, violence, and can be a trigger for relapse from addiction.

At the conclusion of the presentation the participants will be able to:

·         Understand the common occurrences of this phenomena, clarify the nature of emotional reactivity and the benefits in psychotherapy of focusing on this issue.


·         Identify the factors that distinguish emotional reactivity from the healthy expression of emotion.


·         Understand some of the basic skills to help individuals overcome this problem in individuals, marital and family work.


Jim Piekarski, MFTis the Clinical Director of Phoenix of Santa Barbara, a local non-profit with two residential programs and two outpatient programs serving the needs of adults with mental disorders.  He received his M.A. from the University of New Mexico in 1987 and has worked in mental health and addiction programs in both New Mexico and California before joining the staff of Phoenix of Santa Barbara in 2004. Jim is the author of the book, Mastering Your Emotions with Your Spouse and Others: Seven Steps for Transforming Emotional Reactivity. He also supervises counselor interns and trainees at the Salvation Army Hospitality House in Santa Barbara.


      Physicians: Please note that due to changes in the 2013 requirements to qualify for CME’s, Psychiatric Grand Rounds is no longer able to offer CME’s.

Course meets the qualifications for 1 hour of CE credit for MFTs and/or LCSWs as required by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (Provider # PCE 741) and Provider approved for 1 contact hour for RNs by the California Board of Registered Nursing (Provider #00252), through the Education Department, Cottage Health System.

Free of charge for CHS Employees and professionals affiliated to Cottage Health System. Others: $18 unit.  For any questions please contact Craig Park at (805) 682-7111.


Jul 24, 2013

I recently discovered the power of perspective and the outcome it can have on the way you think. As a therapist, who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I have always been aware the concept, how you think directly affects how you feel. When you are able to take a step back and evaluate with careful consideration the way you understand something, you are utilizing perspective.


per·spec·tive :

n. Definition:


a. A view or vista.

b. A mental view or outlook: "It is useful occasionally to look at the past to gain a perspective on the present" (Fabian Linden).

2. The appearance of objects in depth as perceived by normal binocular vision.


a. The relationship of aspects of a subject to each other and to a whole: a perspective of history; a need to view the problem in the proper perspective.

b. Subjective evaluation of relative significance; a point of view: the perspective of the displaced homemaker.

c. The ability to perceive things in their actual interrelations or comparative importance: tried to keep my perspective throughout the crisis.

4. The technique of representing three-dimensional objects and depth relationships on a two-dimensional surface.



To be mindful and utilize perspective to understand something better in order to respond rather than react is a great goal to aim for. People make snap judgments and are quick to react in anger, when there is a chance they don't understand what is truly going on.


Ask yourself next time you become upset:

·         What are the intention(s) behind the upset?

·         How am I feeling?    Is there something that is physically effecting your emotions, like hunger or fatigue?

·         What has happened in the last 24-48 hours that could be triggering your emotions or is not allowing you to cope this time?

·         How can I look at this differently to see the positive rather than the negative?

·         Can I manage to stay present focused?

·         What coping skills can I utilize to establish or remain calm?


Hire your inner detective and calmly utilize perspective to understand what is going on and how you want to feel. Sometimes it is mind over matter and this skill can help people learn to pick and choose their emotional battles and lead to a happier and healthier lifestyle.



Jul 23, 2013

5...4...3...2...1 I want relief!

There are 5 steps to take to help create progress towards finding symptom reduction and/or relief. Taking these 5 steps might not be overnight magic but can significantly help reduce symptoms of anxiety, trauma triggers, and other unwanted emotions or thoughts. With any type of trigger, emotion, or thought that needs coping skills, it is important to always remember the breath! Like in yoga, slow, deep, long breathing can help maintain a sense of calm or help return to a calmer state. Start with deep breathing as the introduction to any coping skill. Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold the breath for 5 seconds, and breathe out for 5 seconds. Continue this pattern until you find your thoughts slowing down or until necessary. I suggest at least 5 rounds of these sets but more is of course allowed and encouraged. After you are able to find your breath, go through the numbers in order to help ground yourself in present thinking through external factors:

5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. Maybe it is a bird, maybe it is pencil, maybe it is a spot on the ceiling, however big or small, state 5 things you see.

4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. Maybe this is your hair, hands, ground, grass, pillow, etc, whatever it may be, list out the 4 things you can feel.

3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This needs to be external, do not focus on your thoughts; maybe you can hear a clock, a car, a dog park. or maybe you hear your tummy rumbling, internal noises that make external sounds can count, what is audible in the moment is what you list.

2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell: This one might be hard if you are not in a stimulating environment, if you cannot automatically sniff something out, walk nearby to find a scent. Maybe you walk to your bathroom to smell soap or outside to smell anything in nature, or even could be as simple as leaning over and smelling a pillow on the couch, or a pencil. Whatever it may be, take in the smells around you.

1. Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like, gum, coffee, or the sandwich from lunch? Focus on your mouth as the last step and take in what you can taste.

These five steps are a way to ground yourself in the NOW! Take you out of your head and help stop you flooded thoughts. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy it is believed that your thoughts are directly linked to how you feel and although we feel like we lose control of our thought processes, we have tools that can help us gain back a sense of control and lead to healthier thought patterns. In moments of anxiety or triggered trauma it is important to stay present focused to help find symptom relief. Hopefully this coping technique can help you or someone you know stay present, stay grounded, and stay healthy.


Apr 25, 2013

I have been following the press and news releases about Boston's tragedy for a week now and a current theme I read or hear are the words BOSTON STRONG! I myself understand the meaning behind what has been said about Boston, they are a long established community that stands strong in the face of adversity or even something as common as a Red Sox game. Being a Yankee fan once living on the east coast, I have witnessed their strength first hand.
      "The people of Boston are strong like cement. Strong people. They get together when it's needed," said Robert Bibias, a city masonry worker  , as reported by Ziad Jaber of NBC News.
Today they opened the side walk of the bombing site, which was freshly paved over with new cement. The laying down of the new cement takes away the crime scene and symbolizes the restoration normality in the daily lives of the people of Boston. While normality is being regained  this does not mean people aren't still dealing with the pain and suffering that was inflicted but it is a start in the healing process. During this tragedy and the days that have followed, I have found hope and strength from images and stories of how the Boston community came together, worked together, and stood strong to help each other. As Boston goes through the healing process a question continuously comes to my mind, Is our community Strong like Boston? Could we band together in times of chaos and tragedy to help each other? Is there more we can do as a community to prepare or build our strength? No one wants to go through tragedy to test these questions, but maybe a tragedy does not have to occur for our community to toughen up with resources and ways to help each other. During this next month look around our beautiful beach town of a community and ask yourself, what can I do to make our community stronger, like Boston Strong!
From the desk of a Santa Barbara Therapist to you, here are some resources to help yourself, your kids, and your community:
Resources to help yourself and kids in the wake of the tragedy in Boston:
From the American Psychological Association:
Managing Traumatic Stress - Coping With Terrorism

Coping with Disaster Resources...
Explosions (section on After an Explosion) (FEMA)
Coping with Disaster (FEMA)


Managing traumatic stress: Tips for recovering from disaster and other traumatic events (APA)
Taking care of your emotional health after a disaster (Red Cross)
Recovering Emotionally (Red Cross)


Helping Children Cope with Disaster
Disaster Distress Helpline (24/7 phone and text) (SAMHSA)
Building Your Resilience (APA)







Apr 25, 2013

1.      Acknowledge your anxiety response is not abnormal; stop dwelling on what’s wrong with you. Understand that anybody who experiences the symptoms that you have most likely would respond the same way – become anxious. What is different is that some people have symptoms that are recurring, while others don’t. However it is important to understand that people who are experiencing these symptoms are responsible for their symptoms.

2.      Accept that it is okay to not have control. It is best to let the anxiety symptoms run the course as well as let go of the need for control of daily routines. Besides learning to cope with anxiety symptoms, using tools such as distraction, meditation, progress muscle relaxation, etc., helps one to learn that it’s ok to have things beyond their control.
3.      Commit to finding the underlying cause of your anxiety/stress. Understand it, solve it, or learn to live with it. Maybe something catastrophic happened while other causes might not be so obvious. Write down all the possible causes to figure it out. Utilize journaling to help identify the triggers, emotions, and thoughts that lead up to the onset of anxious feelings.
4.      Commit to living a healthy life; exercise, sleep right, eat healthy. Self care!
5.      Be patient; be ready to accept that it will take some work and time for one to manage their anxiety successfully.
6.      Set short-term achievable goals. The goals can either be related to your anxiety fears or they can be unrelated goals that will set you up for a confidence boost. Examples include: make it a habit to exercise daily, have a plan on how to deal with anxiety symptoms as they occur, i.e. a list of coping skills; journaling, listening to music, art, meditation. Set realistic goals, i.e. to lessen the symptoms rather than eliminate the anxiety completely, to allow oneself to not become anxiety ridden over ridding the anxiety.
7.      Acceptance. Accepting what one is struggling with, rather than trying to push, deny, or suppress what is causing the anxiety can lead to perpetuating the problem further.
8.      Smile! Research has shown that even a fake smile can increase ‘happy’ chemicals in one's brain.

9.      Be content; unsatisfied with what one has can creates stress. Learn to appreciate what you have. If you wanted something but didn't get it, look on the bright side. Instead of focusing on the end result, focus on the process and experience and know that you've learned something valuable.


10.    Utilize support, whether from family, friends, or a professional. Having a solid support team who you can be open and honest with can make this process a team effort and more manageable.


Apr 17, 2013

Talking with our children about scary situations and tragedies can seem un-nerving. We want to protect our children from seeing events like yesterday's twin bombing at the Boston Marathon. It is hard not to see these images with today's access to television and computers. Many parent's ask, how do I talk to my children about this? What do I say? Try telling them to look for the helpers. One of the first things I took notice to yesterday was a man with a cowboy hat helping to rush an injured man in a wheel chair out the danger zone and to medical attention, he was a helper. I also heard on the radio about people rushing to the hospital to donate blood to help save lives of those injured, they were helpers. These are things that parents can point to their child and say, "look, even though what is going on is scary, there is someone helping someone or something." There will always be helpers in cases of tragedies and it is important to remember that in times of crisis and chaos people can still come together to help each other. When things seem scary it is good for our children to know to look for help and ask for help if they need it.

Responsive image


Feb 21, 2013

Daily life is a constant stress and stress is not necessarily a bad thing. We actually need a level of stress to operate but we don't want the stress to become overwhelming. Stress can quickly turn into anxiety which can have several side effects and symptoms that effect both the body and the mind. We individually have a lot of responsibility, school, work, relationships, family, meals, health, sleep, this list can go on, and on, and on. When others reach out it may be because they themselves need help managing their stress or they have the time or an event that they want you to be apart of. People's busy lives are difficult to sync up and saying yes to something that you may not have the time or the energy for can leave you feeling exhausted and can result in creating resentment. Psychology Today has provided an article with 9 tips to help you say NO for those who struggle with this. Maybe you are someone who loves to help, finds pleasure in assisting others, but when you are overwhelmed and have a difficult time say no to others, you may be the one who needs the help. I was told when I was in my first quarter of graduate school and working full time as a program manager that I would learn quickly to say no to my social life in order to stay afloat, and I did. I now feel comfortable saying no to others when its appropriate and saying yes when I am able, and more importantly when I want to. This skill helps create and maintain healthy boundaires for yourself and others.

I throughly enjoyed this article and it gives concrete examples on how to say NO when necessary and how to manage the emotions that may arise in doing so. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/how-we-work/201302/nine-practices-help-you-say-no


Feb 05, 2013

I love when I open my web browser first thing in the morning and it opens to an article that catches my eye. Of course for me, it would be anything marital related. Today's article is from Redbook and it is not that what they say is necessarily fact, but with a healthy perspective these tips can be applied to your or any relationship. Today they shared about "10 Habits that Keep Marriages Strong."


Do you agree with their points? Would you add a habit or two? What do you do to keep your marriage strong? If you do not have an answer to this, it is never too late to find one.


Feb 05, 2013

How a couple handles stress and commitment can be strong factor on how they handle their marriage. Newly engaged couples enter a world where the stress of planning may take over. Finding a third person to help guide a couple through their feelings and cover issues concerning marriage can help relieve some of the stress. Many couples find that they may already know everything there is to know about their partner, but after pre-marital counseling find themselves saying, “I never would have thought about a situation that way.” Not only will counseling allow the partnership to explore things they did not expect but prepares them to have answers for situations and a plan of action to main a healthy, happy, marriage.

Pre-Marital counseling is a great way to address concerns and fears both on issues that come before the wedding or issues that will come after a wedding. A lot of couples get caught up in the romantic bliss and forget to look at the bigger picture. “I vow to be financial responsible with our money.” This is not the typical vow you hear being exchanged between partners, but why not? Money is a leading cause of marital strain and conflict. Not covering how you plan to handle money in your marriage could lead you to spending a lot of money down the line to either save your marriage or the worst case scenario, divorce. Deciding on holidays and what family you will be with is an early problem you might have already stumbled on while dating; Are you lucky enough to have an easy solution or is this something that is difficult to deal with on an annual basis? These and many more topics can and should be discussed in pre-marital counseling. There are tools that can be used like PREPARE and ENRICH assessments that can help guide and keep the topics structured and organized while processing and exploring each other’s feelings.

Therapy in any sense is a risk; it is something that Marriage and Family Therapists are ethically obligated to inform the client. There is no guarantee that people come to counseling and magically no longer have problems or concerns. Therapy is a place for clients to learn how to express themselves, learn skills to help manage problems, and make changes if they so chose. Pre-marital counseling is not intended to decide on whether or not a couple should get married but can be a place where couples realize it is not right for them at the time or to confirm their decision and leave them feeling stronger to maintain a lifelong marital commitment.

As a Solution Focused therapist I believe all couples and individuals have the ability to work with their strengths to improve their relationship and reach their goals. I work from a Solution Focused methodology with aspects of Cognitive Behavioral and Experiential Humanistic and can tailor my methodologies to fit the couple’s needs. Working on the relationship before the wedding is an investment for a longer marriage. I am happy to work with a couple and plan and prepare for a lifelong marital commitment. While addressing the stresses of the upcoming nuptials, helping the couple learn skills to communicate better, fight fairly, compromise, and help pin point issues they may disagree on or strengths that can help them build a road map to a successful marriage.

Some couples may prefer group counselingwith other couples to feel understood by peers and exchange feedback and support. Group therapy is dependent on availability. My website is an excellent place for updates regarding individual, couples, and group counseling and other information about my services overall. Look for tips to have a healthy relationship and reach your ultimate potential atwww.TherapistSB.com on my blog.


Feb 05, 2013

I have had the pleasure of attending Dr. Lisa Firestone presentations and seminars before and she is very knowledgeable and a great resource. This is an opportunity to catch her on a FREE webinar about Raising Emotionally Healthy Children! Hopefully you have the time to take advantage of this resource!



Feb 05, 2013

Looking for a book or books to support you and your family, maybe to answer some questions or to give tips? Here is a great little list of books that you may find helpful for you and your child!

Books for Parents

  • How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen-Norman Wright
  • Parenting with Love and Logic-Foster Cline and Jim Fay
  • Parenting Teens with Love and Logic-Foster Cline and Jim Fay
  • Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers-Michael Riera

Get Out of My Life, but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the mall? A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager-Anthony Wolf

  • Queen Bees and Wanna Bees-Rosalind Wiseman
  • Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression-Rachel Simmons


Jan 18, 2013

Have five minutes to spare today to work on your marriage? If even that sounds like too much time, today you are in luck, we are just looking at 270 seconds! In this quick and fun article from EsquireMagazine they show a couple how to spend 90 seconds, three times a day, to give a little extra effort. The article is addressing the female counterpart of the couple, but this can be used with either sex and in any dynamic!

 270 Seconds to a Better Marriage (http://living.msn.com/love-relationships/love-sex/270-seconds-to-a-better-marriage#scptmg)


Dec 08, 2019



Dre McGee


Email Me Now!