PLEASE NOTE:  I am offering online appointments via phone/computer video platform for residents of California.  Please reach out to schedule with me here.

Feeling overwhelmed by depression, anxiety, and/or changes in you or your loved one’s life?  Looking for support for yourself, your child, teen, or family?  Breathe a sigh of relief.  You may be in the right place.

I provide therapy for individuals and families specializing in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and life transitions in my lovely office located in Petaluma, California.  Online therapy sessions are also an option for residents of California.  Overall my work centers around what my patients are wanting in their own lives and unearthing the resources within themselves to make it happen.

I also am the founder and facilitator of Wise Girl Workshops, a social-emotional-physical program for girls in 3rd-8th grades focused on making wise decisions, increasing self-esteem and confidence, developing healthy coping skills, and decreasing anxiety.  This program is not group therapy and is instead a forum for girls to come together and develop skills to help them along their way.

What makes me different than other therapists and facilitators is simply who I am.  My sense of humor, compassion, skill set, and love for what I do and those I have the honor to work with is unique to me just as you are unique to you.  I believe the relationship is everything and together we create something unique to us.  Something that cannot be replicated no matter who walks in my door.

If you are looking for an experienced therapist or facilitator, please feel free to contact me and see how I may be of help.

I offer daytime and evening appointments.   I can be reached at 707-216-1952 or send me an email at sierra@sierradator.com. I look forward to speaking with you!

You can follow me on Facebook to ensure you are always up to date on my posts, articles, and events, including Wise Girl Workshops offerings.

You can also follow me on Instagram too!

Help For Parents Of Teens

Watercolor paper with quote about parenting a teen and what to do when feeling challenged

As a teen parent, we can get wrapped up in our teen’s words and find ourselves angry, hurt, yelling, and vengeful. But remember, so much of what others say isn’t about us, including our own family members. Maybe your teen is feeling left out, bored, or angry at the state of the world. Nothing you have control over. I mean, what parent wouldn’t wedge us out of this pandemic to offer their teen a summer of a lifetime if they could?

So keep quiet and breathe. Not obnoxious breathing but calming breaths. Listen to your teen, holding onto the notion this isn’t about you. And if they invite you to speak, use reflective listening. Meaning reflect back what you heard them say. You could start with something like, “Let me see if I’ve heard you right?” Or end with, “ Am I hearing you correctly?” And watch that tone parents. Don’t go picking a fight.

Lastly, if there is a point needing to be made, wait until later and go back to it. “Remember when we were taking about X earlier?…..”. Timing is important.

Yes parenting is an art in need of constant refinement. We don’t need to get it perfect. We just need to try our best. Sometimes our best is absolutely beautiful, and sometimes it’s not. That’s ok. Take a breath. Try again.

To All Class of 2020 Graduates and Parents

girl at graduation with cap and gown facing peers

A note to all graduates (8th, high school, college, and beyond) and their parents:

I can’t imagine. Working so hard, spending so many years, and then bam, nothing. I got to have an 8th grade promotion, a high school graduation, a college graduation, and opted out of my graduate school ceremony. I had all those events that tag along with it. Senior skip day, prom, dressing in a cap and gown, spring sports and banquets, senior fun night. I also had a choice about whether I participated or stayed home. I am so deeply sorry for those of you who don’t.

I still remember both my high school and college ceremonies. The event itself, the family parties, and even better, the parties with friends after. These memories are stored for life, and I want to tell you again, I am so deeply sorry if you have to miss these major life milestones.

I write this apology to you as an adult who who can recognize on a profound level just what this loss might be like for you.

I know my apology, my sorry might not mean much because there is nothing myself or the other adults in your life can do to save you from the heart ache of missing out. What I want you to hear though is that we see you, we feel you, and we know a lot about grief and loss and what it feels like.

I hate to be the bearer of this news, but grief and loss will come throughout your life. It may stay longer than you’d like. It comes in the stages of denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, and acceptance. You might think grief and loss only shows up when someone dies, but I hope you learn early that this process will come in many forms. Not because I want you to experience it, but because it will in fact come. Loss of friendships, loss of intimate relationships, change of jobs, change of schools, death of animals and people, climate change, change in leadership, and loss of graduation to name a few. There is so much that can evoke the strong winds of grief and loss.

Yours is a generation focused on being happy, and I am so thankful for the joy it brings. But I caution you not to overlook or push away the feelings of grief and loss that may be knocking at your door. Because the catch with grief and loss is, it comes at its own time and stays for however long it decides. It’s a feeling we can’t control. No matter how much you try and bury it, it finds ways to emerge. So welcome your sadness, your anger, and your hurt. Tend to those feelings with the great love you possess. Treat yourself the way you would a friend. Be kind, understanding, and patient with your feelings and yourself.

And when you can, check in and be real with your feelings and share them with your friends. One of you needs to step up and say something. You don’t have to pretend it’s all ok, and you don’t have to go it alone.

Us adults, we may not walk in your shoes, but we’ll do our best to be there for you. We all know about grief and loss and the pain it comes with. We will hold your hand and heart, offer you love and support, sit quietly with you because no words can undue what’s been done, and get through this time.

The Importance of Making Weekends Great Again

When I got home from work yesterday, we did our new routine. Wondering what that is? Don’t hold your breath for something magical. We ate dinner together and watched tv. It may not sound out of the ordinary for you, however pre COVID-19, a few nights a week, we didn’t eat dinner together for various reasons. We also didn’t watch tv during the week. So this new routine is in fact new.

Because I am still at my office and the chores continue, things do feel different to me, but in many ways still the same.

When I look through the lens of children though, things are drastically different. Online school, no in person contact, not many places to go, sleeping in a little longer, staying up a little later, baked goods coming out our ears…..

My kid the other day said to us, “I’m not looking forward to the weekend. It’s just more of the same. I can’t tell it apart from any other day, so I am not looking forward to it the way I used to.” I was a bit surprised as I am loving this slowed down life in a lot of ways. But then again, many things are the same for me. I took her feelings in though and thought, “She’s totally right! She telling me she needs something different.” This change for kids is a hard one and isn’t going away in the near future.

So I’m on a mission to make weekends great again. I’m not talking about buying a big screen tv and purchasing a swimming pool. I’m not into spending huge amounts of money to satiate my kids.

I’m talking about what I can do within reason to make weekends feel like something special, and I would love to hear your ideas.

Here are a few I have:

1. Rent a movie. Yes we are watching shows during the week, but renting a movie is different. Or doing a movie exchange with another family but leaving them on your porch and swapping.

2. Get take out. I haven’t been eating out much at this time. Truth be told, my husband is a chef so I eat killer food much of the time anyway. But going out is something special my girls love to do, so I am going to allow my girls to choose the menu this weekend in ordering some take out.

3. Dust off my bike. Since we have a dog, I always stick to walking/running. However, my kids are going to love it if I can ride with them. Yes this involves leaving the dog being at home, but Gracie girl will get her exercise another time.

4. Picnic. Being outside in nature is the best! It definitely fuels me. Plus, they will have my undivided attention. No chores staring me in the face when I am outside.

5. Outdoor art. I love to do art with my kids. Time to get outside with the supplies. I don’t have the time during the week for this, so this will be extra special for my kids.6. Build an outdoor fort. Living in the country, we’ve got some materials to play around with. Plus we’ve been watching old episodes of Alone, so let’s put those “survival skills” to the test!

Got some ideas to share? Please send me an email for more I can include with this post!

COVID-19 And Resources

I want you to know I am here for parents, girls, and all the wonderful clients I get to serve through my therapy practice and Wise Girl Workshops.

I know times are tough in so many ways.  We are in the midst of a world crisis and a host of unknowns.  Even though this is the case, I want you to know I am still here and available.  I have moved my entire private practice and Wise Girl Workshops program to an online forum, so I can continue to see my individual clients and workshop participants from the comfort of their own home until we can get back into the office. Please let me know if you would like to schedule by sending an email here.

I have been working on ways to give back to the community and world I love so much.  This week I have been in conversation with Hilary Truong from Our Girl Collective to offer FREE “3 Conversations For Parents Of Girls In Uncertain Times.”  These conversations talk about how to manage anxiety, self care, resiliency, social isolation, and media overload for parents so you can better support your girl.  Please note, they will only be available until Sunday March 22, 2020

The other way I am supporting the community is by offering a donation based virtual Social Emotional Workshop series for girls.  You can find all the details in the flier below.  These workshops are for residents of California and are not considered therapy.  Instead this a forum for girls to come together, support each other, develop healthy coping skills, and engage in a mindfulness practice.  There is a suggested $25 donation but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.  See the flier attached here for more info.  You can also reserve her spot here.  

Want to know more about Wise Girl Workshops?

Parenting Tip: Body Positivity

Parenting is about being mindful about what we say and do. Being mindful isn’t always easy though because we are human too. Even if we are mindful, sometimes things slip out leading body positivity heading out the door. Parents of girls really need to be cautious about how they talk about weight, bodies, and diet, whether about themselves or someone else.

Girls are listening to you even when you think they aren’t. Even girls as young as 5! You are their primary role model around many aspects of their life, especially around body image, self esteem, and health. They are getting fed a ton of messages each day that is unconsciously and consciously shaping their beliefs and attitudes. Let the messages you are giving them be ones of empowerment, self love, unconditional love for them, self acceptance, and the ability to make healthy changes. Model these messages everyday. And when you mess up, make some repair.

Want some local resources on how to help support your girl in being body positive? Remember, parenting is no easy task, and we can use professional help to get your girl all the support and info she needs to help her in feeling good about who she is, inside and out!

Social Anxiety On Netflix

Check out the latest family friendly show about a middle schooler with social anxiety and his emotional support animal Dude. While it doesn’t accurately depict anxiety for many kids, it does take out some of the stigmatization and can create some empathy for kids who don’t experience social anxiety. The program does a great job of depicting how anxiety impacts the entire family and the day to day of life going to school. While I am only 3 episodes in and don’t love shows with talking animals and humor I find to be luke warm, the show is growing on me. Watching a kid make new friends, a family adjust to their kid returning to school, and a boy exposing himself to his fears and grow tolerance to anxiety is warming my heart. And to see my own kids laugh and enjoy the program let’s me know this is a good show for the 9-12 age group. Looking forward to checking out more!

Happy New Year!

To all those seeking to climb, move, or shake mountains.

To all those who have overcome mountains and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

To all those who are looking forward and not going to let any mountain stand in their way.

To all those who need to just kick back and think about what the mountain in their life means or appreciate the mountain they are on.

Wishing you all a New Year full of just what you need. Many blessings. ❤️

Tough Times At The Holidays

People often feel puzzled as to why “the happiest time of year” leaves one feeling sad, depressed, overwhelmed, angry, and lonely, especially if you are someone who has a “good life.” It doesn’t seem to make sense.

I want to pose the idea that for some people trauma gets kicked up over the holiday season. Holidays are full of memories, smells, sights, tastes, and sounds. If you had a childhood that was problematic, especially around the holidays, it is quite possible you are feeling either consciously or unconsciously activated by the holidays.

In the writings of trauma specialist Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., he reflects on how the body holds sensory memory even though our thinking memories of the past may be suppressed. For some, the smell of a pie baking in the oven evokes a warm feeling of yumminess. For others, the smell can be repulsive. Why is this? The body holds memory in all forms and even though we may not know the conscious memory of why we feel a particular way, it is stored inside of us. If there was an incident where an angry parent smashed a pie against the wall and flew into a rage, this may haven gotten wired into the brain and body. Pie might not invite warm feelings any longer. Especially if something like this happened repeatedly.

Grief and loss is another feeling stored in the body and is often triggered around holiday time, no matter how long ago the loss was.

We are products of our past. Be kind to yourself this holiday time and reach out to those who love you if you are having a tough time. Share your stories with someone you trust and take really good care of yourself. Remember, this is a season, and seasons always change.

8 Tips For Dealing With Anxious Spiraling Thoughts

Spirals can be beautiful to see and touch.  Staircases, shells, labyrinths, art work.  But anxious mind spirals are not beautiful.  They suck our energy, scare us, and can last for a long, long, long time.

Anxious mind spirals are when our thoughts start to ramp up and bring us down.  Our thoughts keep leading from one negative thought to the next, and one might feel trapped in the anxiety and negativity.  It’s kind of like punching yourself in the face over and over again, and it feels like you can’t stop.  Brutal!

If you are catching yourself getting caught in a spiral, here a few things you can do.

1. Name it. This is an anxiety spiral.  Awareness is the first step to making changes.

2. Breathe into it.  Take some deep breaths and remind yourself this will pass.

3. Remind yourself.  You are not a mind reader or fortune teller, and all this forecasting isn’t helping you.

4. Be present.  Bring yourself into the room and out of your head. Name everything you see in great detail.

5. Empower yourself.  Am I going to sit with this all day or am I going to use my time in the way I want to? 

6. Stop feeding the spiral with your thoughts.  When you have a thought label it as a thought and not a truth.

7. If you can’t stop, change scenes and move.  Whether it be dropping to the ground to count how many push ups you can do or going outside and walking briskly around your neighborhood, you can reset your system by moving your body and moving locations.

We all have a lot to learn from one another.  Any tips you have for getting out of an anxiety spiral?

5 Tips For Thriving This Holiday Season

Happy Thanksgiving! Happy? Let’s just get right into it.

  1. Let go of expectations. Expectations lead to disappointment. Don’t expect happy. In fact, don’t expect anything. Attend Thanksgiving with an openness to whatever you feel and whatever happens, happens.
  2. Set a tentative plan. You can do this for yourself before you head over or host. Also, you can collaborate with your significant other on the plan, and maybe let your children in on the plan. Let me stress maybe. If you have children who are inflexible and rigid, do not let them in on the plan because if it changes, you can erupt chaos. If you have children who benefit from knowing the play by play and can be flexible, let them in on the plan. Tentative gives you the option to stay or go given you have let go of expectations (see tip #1) and do what feels best for you and your family.
  3. Set an intention for your day. This is a quiet prayer, mantra, or way you would like to hold this day and time in your mind and heart. Go back to it throughout the day. Some examples include, “I enjoy what is in front of me.” “I see the good in each of my family members.” “I can do anything for one day.”
  4. Find people/things to be grateful for. There will always be something to be grateful for around you. In fact, if you have a place to go or food to eat, well there is a fine place to start. If you can, expand your circle of gratefulness. Go ahead and extend. To the farmers who grew your food, the store clerk who sold you the bread, the hands that built the table or home you are in. Go big!
  5. Get in touch with nature. Whether a walk outside or a peak out the window at the landscape, we can’t help but feel good when we make contact with our natural world.

Wishing you a natural, grateful, intention filled, expectation free with tentative plans holiday! May peace be with you!