Emotional Support Animals


Everyone knows about service animals for folks with physical challenges, but did you know that there are support animals for those who suffer from depression and anxiety? It’s true! They’re called Emotional Support Animals or ESAs. ESAs can be helpful with emotional and anxiety disorders. Unlike “seeing-eye” dogs, Emotional Support Animals don’t require specialized training. There are, however, highly trained animals that specialize in supporting people with PTSD, autism and other problems.
People suffering from depression and anxiety disorders have physical and emotional symptoms that may respond well to Emotional Support Animals. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence demonstrating how helpful ESAs can be.
There may be some benefits to getting your pet established as an ESA other than just making you feel better. It may allow you to keep an apartment that otherwise doesn’t allow animals. This designation of ESA may allow your animal to accompany you on an airline flight, at your workplace, or grocery shopping.
In order to get a pet established as an Emotional Support Animal, you need to have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, depression, or some other emotional issue. Next, a physician, psychologist or psychiatrist needs to determine that your pet is helping ease the symptoms of the diagnosed condition. Lastly, an official letter is written designating your cuddly companion as an ESA.
Emotional Support Animals are a great way to help us feel better mentally and emotionally, providing love and comfort when we need it most. They are not a replacement for talking with a licensed therapist or meeting with some other mental health professional. Talk with your doctor to see if an Emotional Support Animal would be a good fit for you!
Do you have an Emotional Support Animal? How has it helped you? Tell us your experiences with ESAs in the comments section below!

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Holiday Anxiety

It’s that time of year where we string up the lights, cozy up next to the fire, and maybe sing a carol or two. It’s also the time of year that may provide us with some extra stress and anxiety. That’s right, the holidays are upon us once again! We put a lot of effort into making the holidays a joyous and memorable experience for our friends and family, so we deserve to enjoy this wonderful time of year as well! According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s recent poll, three-quarters of respondents say their more depressed and/or anxious during the holiday season.

Whether the anxiety stems from perceived familial expectations, a lost loved one, apprehension of being in large-crowds, relatives that dont get along, or trying to keep the peace at a family gathering, the holidays can be a stressful time of year. Thankfully, there are steps we can take in order to help ease our minds.

-Set realistic expectations of ourselves. We all want the best for those we care about, but that tiny spot we missed on the bathroom mirror isn’t going to earn the scorn of Grandpa and Grandma. So take a breath and try to let some things be. If you aren’t hosting, it’s just as easy to let expectations get away from you. There’s bound to be some disagreement at a gathering, just let it take it’s course. Getting anxious about it isn’t going to prevent it. A little dose of madness keeps things interesting anyway!


-Remind yourself that what you “must” do during the holidays is a self-imposed notion. This is a time of year which is chock full of tradition, and any deviation from what we have “always done” can cause a huge amount of anxiety, UNLESS, of course, we decide that what we “must” do is different than what we “have done in the past”. Remember that the holidays are just as much your time of year as anyone else’s, and if you want to sit at home and have a quiet, close holiday, that’s perfectly okay!


-Have fun! This is a great time to really flex your creativity, and that should be a pleasant experience. Don’t get to down on yourself about trivial things like not having the placemats you wanted, or that the star on the tree isn’t perfectly straight, or the menorah isn’t as shiny as it used to be. Let the small stuff roll off your back and just have fun with whatever you decide to do this holiday!

Have any good holiday tips? We’d love to hear from you!


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Guided Imagery

lovely day

Last week, we talked about stress and what we can do to try to take some of the burden off ourselves by discussing some ways to relax. This week we are going to spotlight one way that’s easy to do and super effective! Meditation is a fantastic way to find our center and relax, but can seem a bit intimidating, as it requires some practice to get the most out of. That’s where guided imagery comes in!

Guided imagery is “a technique that uses words and music to evoke positive imaginary scenarios in a subject with a view to bring about some beneficial effect” according to Wikipedia.

This technique has been proven over the last 25 years to be effective in helping people suffering from depression, high blood pressure, low self-esteem, anxiety and so much more. It has been used to help alleviate anxiety before people undergo surgery, help with fitness goals, to gain some relief from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and smoking cessation.

It would seem that this requires a fair amount of effort on our part in order to maximize the benefit from guided imagery, doesn’t it? That couldn’t be farther from the truth! We can use this phenomonal tool anywhere and anytime (the exception to this is operating a vehicle or piece of equipment) and the only effort we must put forth is putting the cd in our player, putting headphones on and pressing play!

This technique is gentle and has no known side-effects, so check out the links below to help you get started!

Have you tried guided imagery? What did you like about it? Have any tips for those of use wanting to try it? Drop us a line in the comments section!

Guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek’s website here.

Guided imagery CDs at Amazon here.

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It is a common idea that some stress can be a good thing. In fact, that little bit of stress can provide the adrenaline rush we need to get through the day. However there’s no denying how great it feels to come home, kick off our shoes and relax. Relaxing not only feels good, but is also very beneficial to our health as well. According to a report from the University of Maryland Medical Center “In general, studies show that with consistent practice, relaxation techniques can potentially reduce symptoms or improve outcomes in (many) conditions” including high blood pressure, pain, anxiety and arthritis to name a few. Let’s discuss a few techniques that we can use to help us unwind:

Meditation is a wide range of techniques designed to promote relaxation, among other things. This can be done in as little as a few minutes or several hours. There are many different ways we can meditate such as walking meditation, gratitude exercises, and mantras.

Breathing exercises are great to help unwind because they make the body feel like it does when it’s already relaxed. When we breathe deeply it sends a message to our brain to slow down and take it easy. There are many different exercises we can try to see which one works best!

Perhaps one of the easiest methods to relax is to take a nice hot bath with some music playing. The heat from the water loosens muscles that may be tight. Studies have shown that listening to music can lower blood pressure and decrease the level of stress hormones released in your body.

There are many ways to relax, these methods are only a few. What are some of the ways you relax? Let us know in the comment section below!

river stone serenity


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Seasonal Change Depression

With the days getting shorter and the weather getting colder, it may seem we “get the blues” much easier than in the warmer months. The reasons may vary from person to person, but there are commonalities that tie us together. We typically spend more time inside, and maybe even get a bit lethargic. Instead of letting the changing of the seasons roll over us, we can make the choice to roll WITH the changing seasons.


With the colors of the landscape changing from greens and blues to reds, oranges and yellows, it could be that we need a change of pace within our own lives to combat the winter blues. Here are a few ideas:

  • Try sprucing up common living areas with a fresh coat of warm tone paint, whimsical artwork, or brighter light bulbs — anything to make your home feel a little more cozy!
  • Update your flower beds with some fall color! Montauk daisies, marigolds, and chrysanthemums are all great flowering plants. It’s a great way to brighten up the landscape of your home, even up to the more frosty months of the year. If annuals aren’t to your liking, the chokeberry bush has white flowers in the spring and lights up a beautiful red in the fall. Burning bush is another option that provides year-round beauty, turning a gorgeous, brilliant crimson in the autumn.
  • Eat well! Eating a well-balanced diet will keep your energy levels up, and if you have plenty of energy to get through your day your mood will naturally follow suit! The autumn harvest provides us with great fruits and vegetables. Take advantage of nature’s bounty!
  • Get some good old-fashioned sunlight! Draw back the shades for the daylight hours; even though it might be gray outside, natural sunlight filtering through your windows will provide you with Vitamin D, which is thought to be related to seasonal mood changes.
  • Exercise! Regular exercise raises serotonin levels and being healthy makes us feel good. Bring some company, it’s a great motivator to have a friend to exercise with! Go for walks to enjoy the foliage, or ride a bike. Keep that blood flowing!

These are just some of the things we can do to make us feel better and not fall into an impossible rut during the winter!

What are some of YOUR favorite activities to beat the blues? Let us know in the comments section below!

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Anxiety… Good or Bad?

People ask me all the time:  “What is the most common problem that I see on a day-to-day basis?” Hands down, the answer is anxiety…all kinds of anxiety: situational anxiety, general anxiety, performance anxiety, and social anxiety. No matter what kind it is, people want relief, and they want it NOW!! So what exactly is anxiety?  When is it good; and when is it bad? Continue reading

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Welcome to Stafford Community Counseling!

Hello, everyone!

My name is Laurie Barton and I have started this blog as another way to share information about my practice and what I do. It will be a useful resource for prospective clients, current clients, and anyone interested in the therapy field.

Some topics for blog posts I have planned include a multi-part series targeting a specific issue that many of my clients have faced, such as:

  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • PTSD
  • Myths of Counseling

…among many more!

Feel free to leave me feedback on the site’s comment sections, and I look forward to talking with you all!

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