Getting Older

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The last few weeks my family has been celebrating different kinds of birthdays.  It made me realize how our perspective changes over the years.  The younger generation is (mostly) looking forward to celebrating their birthdays with family and friends, getting presents, having cake and ice cream, and maybe even having a party at a special location. On the opposite side of the lifeline, when we are celebrating our parents’ birthdays, we realize they have had countless experiences in their lives, and sometimes we are faced with the reality that they might not even remember many them due to memory problems.

That makes me think of the group I co-facilitate with my colleague Jill Johnson-Young, a  dementia support group for family and friends coping with dementia. Every group member can share their journey about taking care of their family member or loved one.  I notice when talking to our group members about their different experiences that although there are at least 7 different forms of dementia, often times people have a combination of different forms which makes it a unique experience for everyone.  Did you have to re-read that there at least 7 different  forms?  Most people have heard of Alzheimers, but there is also:  Vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia, Parkinson’s, Frontotemporal, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, and Huntington’s.

For caregivers there are usually some commonalities that we benefit from discussing during group, which might include symptoms of the different forms of dementia (ex. anxiety, loneliness, irritable, forgetfulness, hallucinations).   The realization that our loved one is not the same person anymore due to a brain malfunction is a difficult concept and might start a grieving process we did not expect.  Studies have proven however that an early grieving process will benefit the caregiver, and will help them cope better after their loved one has passed away.  But I am getting ahead of myself. 

As a caregiver there are so many things to consider: does our loved one stay at home with us, or do I consider placing them in a memory care facility?How do I choose?How will siblings react? How will siblings support each other (or not)?How can I take care of medical/financial stuff? Have you ever heard of a POLST?(Everyone should get one by the way).How do we respond when our loved one insists in coming home with us?

It’s often helpful to discuss these different questions with people who have experienced this or are on the same road as you are. 

Come check out our group, we meet every 3rd Saturday of the month at Pacifica Senior Living, 6280 Clay St, Riverside.  You can also find some more info on our facebook page: Riverside California 3rd Saturday Dementia Support Group

 Looking forward to meet you at the support group or if you prefer to have a personal meeting, call our office to schedule an appointment: (951) 778-0230.


By: Ilse Aerts, LPC

Any struggles you might have today, you don’t have to conquer them alone. My personal, professional and volunteer experience will help shine a different light on your struggles of grief and loss, parenting struggles, life’s challenges. Coming from a different culture myself, I understand the adjusting challenges you might come across (different rules and expectations, different language,...).  

By offering guidance and support, together we can rediscover your own inner strength to work through those challenges.
I look forward to meet people of all cultural background, beliefs and ages on Tuesday and Thursdays. I earned my Master degree in Clinical Psychology from Vrije Universiteit Brussel.  

I am a member of California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and California Association for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors.  

The Power of Human Touch

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How many of you can recall when you would hurt yourself when you were young?  Perhaps falling while playing or taking a spill off your bike?  For some, although the hurt caused a tear or two to fall, the best thing about it was when our favorite loved adult would “kiss it to make it better”.  Often, we wouldn’t even need a Band-Aid or a visit to the doctor like we so desperately claimed.  What was wanted was that squeeze after the Band-Aid, that high-five after the tears, even simply sitting next to our loved one and feeling them there - that touch from that other person with whom we were close and loved held and carried a healing power. 

Children who are struggling with attachment disorders, people who have been victims of sexual assault or rape, and similarly, folks who battle with various levels of anxiety can benefit from the healing power of touch.  It is often assumed that it is babies who primarily benefit from touch and mainly from their mothers (or primary caregivers).  And, while this still holds truth, there are so many other opportunities that can provide healing.  Just a few examples are pain reduction, creating safer spaces, improve relationships between not just couples but also other dyads (siblings, parent/child, etc.).  Research has even shown that when a child is struggling in school, a small, simple touch on their shoulder from their teacher can provide just the right amount of encouragement to allow the child to begin to soar in their studies. 

Here are 4 simple reasons to consider the powerful, healing properties of the human touch:

1: Touch releases a chemical in our brains called oxytocin.  This chemical is like the cuddle switch.  When touch is wanted or desired, oxytocin is released.  Just 20 seconds of affectionate touching is enough to reduce our stress hormone and increase our cuddle hormone.  This can manifest safer spaces and increase trust, as well. 

2: When stress levels due to trauma or anxiety are at an all time high, our ability to experience what may seem to be compassion is muddled; especially when it is brought to us through only the spoken word.  It may seem silly but when words fail, touch may be the answer.  Touch can trigger our vagus nerve (the nerve that runs from the brain to the belly, passing the heart along the way), thus allowing us to be receptive to and to respond with compassion.

3: Not only can touch allow us to feel compassion, it also reduces stress.  Our stress hormone, cortisone, increases when we experience anxiety, trauma, stress from taking a test, falling off our bikes, etc.  A touch, even one that happens by accident, can reduce that stress hormone and lower blood pressure.  This means a happier heart.  Image the anxiety beginning to creep in because of a memory that has begun to invade your thoughts.  You are walking around work or school and can’t seem to calm it down.  Someone needs to walk past you and, gently, presses their hand on your arm to excuse themselves around you.  That one slight touch is just enough to not only distract you from your thoughts but also to decrease that cortisone that is about to sky high.

4: Touching between couples can increase trust, promote communication, and can improve relationship satisfaction.  Even the simple act of holding hands while watching a movie or hugging for just 20 seconds before leaving for work can begin to create that bond between couples.  This bond can be the foundation in which trust is rebuilt, safety is re-established, and communication is opened.

Everyone has a built in need to be touched, and yes, from birth.  However, it does not end once we reach a specific age.  It is a life-long desire for touch.  When it is practiced appropriately and respectfully, the human touch can be powerful healing aspect of the human experience.


By Léah Almilli

Is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. She works with children as young as 6 and adults as old as 88. She is fluent in American Sign Language and she teaches ASL at the local community college. Léah like to help people grow and feel better about themselves. Léah offers a holistic, client-centered approach to the process, allowing each person the opportunities to discover how their pasts can lead into their futures. Léah makes her therapy rooms warm, welcoming, non-judgmental, and compassionate to ensure that the clients can feel safe to explore what is needed.

Mediation & Mindfulness

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I bet by now you have heard that you should learn to meditate. You may have heard that it can be useful for your health, reduce your stress levels and that it can even make you happy. You may be thinking those are excellent benefits but how do I do it and what is it exactly?

The National Institute of Health has defined meditation as "a mind and body practice that focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior."  Despite the many types of mediation most include these four principals 1. A comfortable posture that can consist of standing, sitting, lying down or walking, 2. A location that is quiet with few distractions, 3. A focus of attention on an object, breath, mantra or word and 4. A nonjudgmental or open attitude, letting distracting thoughts go without assigning any emotion to the thoughts.  

 Many health studies show meditation can have a positive effect on our physical health. In a 2017 survey of adults, 55-75 years of age and brain functioning over an 8 week period were either using focus controlled breathe mediation or the control activity. After they were given tests to measure their attention and emotional control the results found that those who meditated had significantly better attention on the test and activation in the attention area of the brain over the control group.

Many other studies are suggesting that the practice of mindfulness for healthy people can reduce stress and can help people cope with pain, Anxiety, and depression that often accompanies chronic illness.    

If you need further convincing of the effectiveness of  mediation and health benefits, take a long look at a recent article by Jill Suttie entitled “Five Ways Mindfulness Meditation Is Good for Your Health.” Greater Good, Greater Good Center UC Berkeley, 24 Oct. 2018

10 steps to Meditation

1.       Start with 2 minutes. You can increase it in a week or two after you get comfortable.

2.       Find a comfortable place to sit or lay down with little to no distractions and close your eyes.

3.       Check in with your emotions; how do you feel right now? Whatever you feel is okay

4.       Start with breathing deeply in and slowly release.

5.       Thoughts will come and go, notice them and then focus on breathing again.

6.       If you have a mantra or a word say that to yourself as you breathe in and out.

7.       Don’t worry about doing it wrong; just do it as the Nike ad says.

8.       Have a feeling of gratitude or love as thoughts enter and leave you. They are a part of you.

9.       Stay with whatever comes up, then return to the breath. Don't fight the thoughts or give up.

10.   Try to meditate early in the day and do it every day. It's only for two minutes. 

Meditation may not feel comfortable at first, that is okay, keep trying. You can also try the guided meditation on this site if you need a bit more guidance. After you get the 2 minutes down add another minute or two. When you are done for the day, smile and be grateful that you had these two minutes for just you. After a few weeks, you will look forward to this practice. Remember that consistency is the key. If you feel you need more help, there are" APP for that," a few that my clients and I like include HeadSpace, InsightTimer, and Calm. These apps are available in the Apple Store or Google Play. There is also a biofeedback band that teaches you to meditate called Muse.  Muse is headband that you wear around your forehead, and it provides feedback as to your current brainwaves. It includes step by steps instructions as it encourages you along your journey.

The bottom line is it, not the program or equipment you use, what is important is that you are engaging in the practice of mediation for your mind, body, and spirit.


By Sheralyn (Sherry) Shockey-Pope, LMFT

Sheralyn (Sherry) Shockey-Pope, LMFT is the Chief Operation Officer and Co-Owner of Central Counseling Services. Sherry oversees the day to day operation of the practice in two locations Riverside and Murrieta, and she directly supervises associates, licensed therapists, and the support staff. Her practice consists of 23 clinicians and five support staff. Sherry has extensive teaching and speaking experience and presents on topics of depression, anxiety, child abuse, adoption, business performance, and mindset blocks. Although she is not taking new clients, she can help you find the perfect therapist fit from her hand selected and well-trained therapist team. In her spare time, Sherry enjoys being outdoors, water aerobics, swimming, hiking, gardening or sailing.

Mindfulness Works

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Have you ever noticed while you are doing something like the dishes, driving, or even taking a shower that you aren’t really present? While in the shower, you may be focused on thinking about something other than your shower itself. Instead, try feeling the temperature of the water, or smelling the soap, or hearing the water flow. If you pay attention and become aware, you might really start to recognize that your body is feeling relaxed and relieved in the freshness of the shower. To be mindful is to be aware and awaken to what is arising in the present moment. It is something we can practice in our daily living, not just on a meditation cushion. The practice of mindfulness connects our mind, body, heart, and soul. Ultimately, it helps us to be more peaceful, clear, and confident about our lives regardless of what is arising.

We create a space for whatever arises without judging it. For example, when you are mindful, you will notice different emotions that you are experiencing at different times during the day: you might be feeling irritation or fear during a traffic jam, or while driving fast; you might feel relaxed or a sense of peacefulness after a massage or a warm cup of soup. Just simply being aware of the feeling which is arising and not judging it will allow it to be felt, accepted, and released. It's like treating everything that comes to your consciousness as if it is your friend and serving a purpose by conveying a message to you.

The benefits of mindfulness meditation are many. Some of the physical health benefits of mindfulness meditation include relieving stress, treating heart disease, lowering blood pressure, reducing chronic pain, and improving sleep. Mindfulness also helps with mental health by reducing symptoms of depression, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and anxiety, among others. It has been found to be helpful with those experiencing PTSD as well.

Mindfulness can be practiced anytime and anywhere. You can start by being mindful or aware of your breathing: relax your body with each breath as you inhale and with each breath that you exhale. With each breath, you can feel the coolness of the temperate of the air. With each outgoing breath, feel how warm it feels in your nostrils. You can take a mindful nature walk, enjoy sipping a cup of tea or even enjoy doing the dishes. You can even try practicing mindfulness when you are stuck in traffic!

Try it for a period of 30 days and see how it can benefit you.

If you want more information, or to work with a therapist who uses this technique, call us at Central Counseling Services at (951) 778-0230. I am available as a MFT intern, and other therapists utilize this technique as well.


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By Dhara Jani, MFT Intern

I want to help you feel relieved, balanced, and motivated to take the baby steps necessary to create the life of your dreams. I have been a certified life coach for several years, and find that I partner well with my clients to support them in creating the changes they need to make to meet their goals. I am nonjudgmental, patient, and approach their goals in a way that feels peaceful and helps them gain insight into the patterns they are wanting to break.

I am a member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT), a Certified Professional Life Coach and a Certified Yoga Teacher. I use mindfulness in my work, and teach the techniques to clients as part of their therapy. In my spare time, I enjoy walking in nature, mindfulness meditation, cooking, music, and spending time with friends and family.

Mindfulness with the Five Senses to Manage Stress and Anxiety

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I often have clients ask me how they can overcome anxiety and stress that feels overwhelming.  One thing I teach to them is the practice of mindfulness with the five senses.  This helps a person slow down and notice what is around them using sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound.  When you do this, your mind gets a break from the stressors of life and allows you to slow things down.

Some examples of ways you can use mindfulness with the five senses are;

  • While you are cooking notice the smells, colors, textures, and tastes of your food.

  • Burning a candle, notice the aroma and watch the flame bounce around.

  • Watch a sunset and notice the sights, smells, sounds, and physical sensations you are experiencing.  Does it feel warm or cool?  Is there a breeze you notice?

  • While you are eating, hold the food in your mouth and notice the flavors and textures.  When you swallow, notice how you can feel the food move down your body.

Another way to use mindfulness with the five senses is through a guided visualization.  You may want to pre-record this guided visualization so you can use it again and again. 

Find a comfortable place for you to lay down or sit.  Close your eyes and imagine a place that is peaceful to you.  Imagine you are there now and take some time to focus on each of the five senses as you experience them.  What do you see there?  Notice the scenery, the colors, and the overall environment.  Pause and take in the view.  Now notice what your body is experiencing as you are there in your peaceful place.  Are you sitting or standing? Is it warm or cool?  Notice what you are touching as you are there now.  Pause and notice that.  Now move to sounds.  What do you hear there?  Can you hear sounds from nature or perhaps there are other people there.  Pause and notice what you would hear if you are in your peaceful place.  Now focus on the smells that would be there.  Are there smells from nature or foods? Pause and take a moment to take in the smells.  Now imagine that you are eating a food that you love while you are in your place of peace.  Notice how the flavors and texture feel as you imagine eating the food.  Take one last moment to notice all of your senses as you are in this place of peace.  Notice how your body may feel more relaxed or at peace.  Take a deep breath and take it in.

The wonderful thing about this guided visualization is that you can access it any time you have a moment to yourself. It can literally take only 5 or 10 minutes of your day.  Use this when you are already relaxed to allow your body and mind to incorporate this into your normal routine.  You can use this practice before going to sleep, when you are sitting in a waiting room, or on a break from work.

If you would like to learn mindfulness with the five senses or other techniques to manage anxiety and stress, please contact me Alicia at Central Counseling Services office to get therapy started today.


By Alicia McCleod, LMFT

I am passionate about helping people feel better and work through the barriers in their life. I completed my graduate work at the University of Phoenix and have been working in the helping field for the last 10 years. I've spent much of that time helping people overcome their depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, trauma, and relationship challenges. My approach is that of compassion, acceptance, and I create a safe space where you can explore those underlying issues getting in your way today.

Therapy with me is unique as I use EMDR, mindfulness, relaxation techniques, solution focused interventions, person centered strategies, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) methods to help reduce stress. I also have experience with helping individuals experiencing psychosis (hearing or seeing things others don't), trauma survivors, and people with ongoing mental health challenges. I work primarily with adults and also see teens and couples.

On a personal note, I do like to stay active and I practice mindfulness on a daily basis. I also enjoy hiking, trips to the beach, camping, reading, quilting, and spending time with my family. Please call my office today if you would like to schedule an appointment with me and get started on a healthier you!

Mindfulness For All

Mindfulness For All

It is part of mindfulness practice to realize that suffering comes from believing that things should be other than they are in the given moment. If you are suffering in the present moment—oppression, discrimination, hunger, joblessness, etc— this may seem like a cruel statement, but it's actually not. It's solid advice, allowing you to take action and stay safe.

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