Meet The Counselors | Austin Relational Wellness


Meet Cat

Cat is a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate supervised by Tammy Fisher, LMFT-S, LPC-S. She provides counseling for young adults and teens, as well as couples counseling, at Austin Relational Wellness.

The first thing you’ll notice about Cat is the passionate energy she has about her role as a therapist. She’s warm and non-judgmental, which makes the fear-provoking experience of meeting with a counselor more enjoyable. Cat makes her therapy clients feel at ease with her open and genuine personality. Her ability to make her clients feel comfortable helps when working through tough life challenges in the therapy room. She’s passionate about building community and helping people live their best, most authentic lives.


Cat’s Counseling Services at Austin Relational Wellness

Cat offers weekly counseling at our South Austin office for people who feel stuck and hopeless no matter what they try. She helps people who have talked a problem in circles and still feel like things will never change or get better. Cat offers a space for healing when clients are worn out from carrying around this stress and are just plain tired of doing it all alone. She works by helping her counseling clients become aware of their own motivations, coping skills, and relationship patterns to get people out of that stuck place so they can start feeling more fulfilled.

One of the ways Cat helps her clients in therapy is by using the Enneagram of personality. The Enneagram is a powerful and dynamic personality system, describing nine distinct and fundamentally different personality types. The nine types have different patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting. As you discover your personality type and how it colors your view of the world, you’ll also discover what motivates you, your coping strategies, and keys to personal development. The Enneagram aides in development of self-awareness, self-acceptance, and compassion for others. It helps people in their relationships and on their personal journeys.

In addition to individual counseling, Cat also offers couples counseling for young adults and premarital counseling. She uses the Gottman Couples Therapy Method to help couples reconnect through rebuilding friendship and intimacy, while managing conflict. Cat strongly believes in the power of a healthy, loving relationship and strives to help couples feel better together.

Speaking of healthy relationships, Cat is one of the leaders of the Creating Connection Couples Retreat. This retreat is a great opportunity for couples who just need to pause and reconnect, as well as premarital couples. Held in a retreat-like setting in the South Austin Hill Country, with treats and delicious food, it's a chance for couples to reconnect with intention and grow their love


Outside the Therapy Room

Community is an extremely important value to Cat, both in her career as a counselor and in her personal life. She has a strong need to connect with others and a firm belief that things turn out better when we support one another and work together. In her free time, Cat enjoys Melody DanceFit, finds crossword puzzles relaxing, and loves a good bluegrass band.

Did something here resonate with you? Connect with Cat! Reach out to her for a phone free consultation. Evening appointments are available.


Don’t Have Time for Marriage Counseling? Check Out This Austin Couples Retreat


We recognize that, in Austin, marriage counseling can be a time-consuming and expensive process. Whether it’s due to mismatched schedules, an inability to make appointments at certain times because of Austin traffic (ugh!), or financial strain, working on your relationship in couples therapy may not be an option for you and your partner. While there’s certainly great value in attending weekly sessions with a therapist as a couple, there are other ways to help strengthen your relationship or marriage, such as couples workshops or marriage retreats.

Coming up in May, Austin Relational Wellness is holding the Creating Connection Couples Retreat. The retreat is held on a Saturday in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. Just a short drive outside the city to southwest Austin, you’ll find the Bluff Trail House, a comfy, inviting space where our retreats are held. Throughout the day, you’ll be able to enjoy the grounds, dine on delicious food and snacks, and sip on ice cold beverages.


What happens at the couples retreat?

We’ll begin our day with a light breakfast and coffee as we introduce ourselves, give you a chance to get to know one another a bit, and set our intentions for the day. Then we’ll jump into a bit of teaching and help you get a sense of where you currently are in your relationship and where you’d like to be as a couple. Next, we’ll teach you about a concept surrounding certain needs we all have in relationships. We’ll help you figure out your own needs, as well as your partner’s.

During our break for lunch, you’ll have a chance to connect with your partner alone as you enjoy the grounds during a couples picnic. After lunch, we’ll dive into the relational needs a little deeper and do some activities to help you get a better understanding of what these look like for each of you.


Because every relationship has conflict, the next part of our day will focus on conflict resolution. You’ll assess your current conflict style, and we’ll teach you some evidence-based techniques to help with communicating during conflict.

Something we’re excited to offer is a couples massage lesson. This portion of the day gets you out of your head and connected with your partner to increase closeness and affection. Our licensed massage therapist will give a group lesson on basic massage techniques that you can use to help meet your partner’s needs. Comfy clothes are a must for this part of our day!

We’ll wrap up by focusing on your vision for the future of your relationship. By creating this plan, you’ll be able to take what you’ve learned and apply it to your relationship going forward. You’ll also take some time to express appreciation to your partner one-on-one before we end the day.

If you’re looking for an alternative to Austin marriage counseling, our couples retreat is an option worth considering. You can find out more information and reserve your spot for our next retreat here.

-Hannah & Cat


The Valentine's Gift That Keeps On Giving


In our therapy practice, we believe humans are hardwired to connect with others. Just as we need air to breathe oxygen into our lungs, food to nourish us, and water to keep our bodies functioning, we also require certain emotional needs to be fulfilled. We refer to these as relational needs, and they are met through relationships and social connectedness. One of the relational needs is affection, which is expressing care and closeness through physical touch and words such as “I love you” or “I care about you” (Ferguson, Ferguson, Thurman & Thurman, 1994).

This relational need is especially important in romantic partnerships, as a lack of affection is a total relationship killer. I love to teach my couples counseling clients about the relational needs and help them discover specifically how they need to be met. One way I do this with couples in therapy is by helping them discuss and clearly define how they like to experience affection. Traditionally, affection gets lost in the idea of mushy-gushy love or sex, but I’m continually surprised by the various ways my therapy clients like to feel affection.


For many, affection is met through physical touch like hugs, kisses, holding hands, or sitting close. It might also be placing your hand on your partner’s knee while driving, a touch on their shoulder as you’re passing by, or a back rub after a stressful day. These little signs of affection help you feel closer to your partner and have a huge payoff.

The more obvious way to show affection is through touch, but affection does not have to be physical. It is ultimately about showing warmth and tenderness toward someone you care about. Someone with a high affection need would likely appreciate being greeted when they walk in the door with a warm smile or a hug and a kiss. Working as a couple to establish a ritual of how you greet and leave one another can be an anchor for affection in a relationship.


Additionally, affection can be expressed by sharing how much you care for your partner through words. Saying “I love you” or “You mean so much to me” is an important way to show your partner you care. Looking for more ways to show affection through words? One way is by letting them know they look good! Paying someone a genuine compliment can be meaningful, especially when you’re comfortable in the relationship. But it’s not all about looks. Share with your partner what you admire about them. If you’re not the verbally affectionate type, write them a note! Leaving a surprise message just for them can also show you care.

It doesn't always have to be grand, actually that would be exhausting. It’s the small things which, according to Pamela Regan, Ph.D. in an article for Psychology Today, are just as important, and sometimes even more important than the big things, as they "represent very important attempts by our partners to establish intimacy and to connect with us emotionally."

How is affection showing up in your relationship? Use the questions below to help you and your partner discuss what you both need.

Grab your partner and take turns asking and answering one another the questions below. Have a piece of paper handy so you can write down what they say. Make sure to switch so they write when you share.

  • “How do you like to have your affection need met?”
  • Give specifics!
  • Try to come up with at least three specific ways your partner can meet your affection need.
  • Ex: “A goodnight kiss and to say, “I love you,” before we go to sleep.”
  • “It means a lot to me when you _______.”
  • Let them know the things they are already doing that you love.
  • Ex: “It means a lot to me when you text me just to say you love me while I’m at work.”
  • “It would be meaningful for me to feel more _______.”
  • Decide on one way you would like to see more affection from your partner.
  • Ex: “It would be meaningful for me to hear from you when you think I look nice.”
  • Tip: Using this sentence stem works a whole lot better than, “Why don’t you ever compliment me?”


Ferguson. D.L., Ferguson, T., Thurman, C., & Thurman, H. (1994). Intimate Encounters: a practical guide to discovering the secrets to a really great marriage. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.


Getting Started With the Enneagram


New to the Enneagram and want to know where to start? When you don’t know much about the Enneagram, it can feel like information overload! We’ve gathered some resources to help you on your journey.

The Enneagram is a powerful and dynamic personality system describing nine distinct and fundamentally different personality types. The nine types have different patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting. As you discover your personality type and how it colors your view of the world, you’ll also discover what motivates you, your coping strategies, and keys to personal development.

Tips for getting started with the Enneagram

Take an assessment

You can begin by completing one of the online Enneagram tests we’ve included below. It’s important to know that the test alone cannot determine your type, but you can use the results as a jumping off point to get you going in the right direction. The RHETI test will give you your top 3 types and urges you to explore them each to see which one resonates the most with you.

RHETI $12 Test

Free Enneagram Test - 100 questions

Attend a workshop

Another great way to discover your number and learn about all nine types is to attend an introductory workshop. Austin Relational Wellness hosts an Intro to the Enneagram workshop several times a year. We’ve got one coming up next month on March 3rd.

March 3, 2018 (9 AM - 11 AM)


Explore Enneagram websites

There are some great websites out there that are full of incredible content for all things Enneagram. Visit one of the websites below to you read more about your type.

Enneagram Worldwide: Enneagram Studies in the Narrative Tradition (ESNT)

Enneagram Institute

Listen to Enneagram podcasts

The best way to learn about the Enneagram is really to hear people talk about what it’s like for them as their type. The Enneagram has infiltrated the podcast game, and there are some shows dedicated entirely to it! The two listed below are fantastic and entertaining, and they really help you gain an understanding of the nine types.


Dive into Enneagram Books

There are so many Enneagram Books out there. It can be hard to know where to start, so we’ve included a few of our go-to books for beginners. Half Price Books and the Austin Public Library are great places to find some of these.

The Wisdom of the Enneagram - By Don Riso and Russ Hudson

Attend a Meetup

In our experience, once you discover your Enneagram type, you’ll find yourself talking about it to just about anyone who will listen. We believe the Enneagram is best experienced in community, so we hold a monthly meetup in South Austin. Our monthly meetup is held the first Tuesday of each month. Each meetup is an opportunity to connect with other Enneagram enthusiasts as we explore and discuss various topics. Check out our website below for more information on our monthly South Austin Enneagram meetup.


It Takes Courage


Courage - the ability to do something that frightens one

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the concept of courage. Mainly because I see it in my therapy clients each week.

I see it in them when they come in for the first time… vulnerable and raw, nervous to meet a new therapist or enter counseling for the first time, and afraid of what might come up.

I see it in them as they come back to counseling week after week. Each week is different. Sometimes they’ve had a great week and don’t feel like they even need a session, but they come anyway because they’ve made a commitment to growth. Sometimes it’s been a terrible week. These weeks, they muster up even more courage. They show up and face their difficulties head on. They fight hard for what they want to see different. They think about things in new ways and gradually make changes. They do the work.

I see it in them when they make the decision to end our counseling relationship because they feel like they’ve met their goals. They have a newfound strength, knowing themselves on a deeper level and having a better understanding of who they are and where they’re going.


My clients really look at themselves, even when they don’t want to. They take a hard look into their lives, patterns, and personalities and face the things they don’t want to see.

As Brené Brown would say, they’re “in the arena.”

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

        -Teddy Roosevelt

Culturally, in America, there’s this underlying assumption that vulnerability equals weakness. That we should just stuff the emotionally painful parts of life way down deep and “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.”

But that’s bullshit. Vulnerability equals strength.

It takes real strength and courage to look at your true self… to get out of your comfort zone… to see all the things that have been carefully tucked away for so long that you may not have even known they existed… to admit that you’ve got some things you need to deal with… to recognize your own faults.


The truth is, facing yourself is probably one of the most difficult things you could do in your life. You’ve got to be ready for it, because it’s not an easy course. It won’t always be fun. It’ll be uncomfortable at times. But it can be empowering, and the outcomes are well worth it.

Therapy or counseling isn’t the only way to do your own inner work. There are multiple avenues. One of my favorite avenues is through the Enneagram, a personality typing system. When you learn about your personality type through the Enneagram, it’s enlightening, insightful, and some would say life-changing. Just like with therapy, it requires vulnerability and the courage to look at both your good and bad parts. It’s a constantly evolving journey.

It’s tough to stay the path toward change and growth. But inner work is important.

It takes time. It takes grit. It takes courage.

If truly knowing yourself and growing as a person is important to you, join us for our 2-hour Intro to the Enneagram workshop on March 3. We’ll dive into the basics, including history, structure, and descriptions of each of the nine core personality types.

Space is limited, so register here today!


Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books, 2012. Print.


10 Myths About Therapy Debunked + The Truth Revealed


There are so many misconceptions about what therapy or counseling is all about.

Oftentimes, a therapist is portrayed as a silent man, sitting behind a desk, stroking his beard and mumbling, “I see,” or “How does that make you feel?” Either that, or it’s Dr. Phil’s confrontational style of advice-giving, criticizing, and raising his voice to get his point across.

Therapy is wildly different from these portrayals. It’s a powerful tool that helps people live better lives.

Here are some of the most common myths about therapy... 

Myth #1: If I go to therapy, I must be broken.

Rather than being broken, it’s about being self-aware. Counseling is a tool to explore struggles, strengths, and personal beliefs so you can realize and act on your true potential.

Myth #2: Nothing traumatic has happened in my life, so I don't need therapy.

Of course, therapy can address past traumas. But counseling also helps with difficult life transitions, managing stress, anxiety, depression, relationship issues, and building self-esteem and confidence. Having had major trauma in your life isn’t a qualifier to begin therapy.

Myth #3: Therapy is just paying for an expensive friend.

The therapeutic relationship is different from a friendship. You’re paying for your counselor’s time and expertise, but the meaningful support and care you receive is the benefit.


Myth #4  A therapist will just tell me what I already know anyway.

You may feel like you already know what you need to do about a problem that is affecting your life. At times, though, you may not be able to take action. Therapy can help you get to that point.

Myth #5: A therapist is just a good listener.

The keen ability to listen is an important skill that a counselor must possess, but that’s not all! Therapists hold at least a master’s level degree, along with a clinical license. Their training and years of experience have equipped them with the knowledge, empathy, and skills to help you get through the most difficult parts of your life.

Myth #6: Therapists are critical and will tell me what to do.

Therapy is not advice-giving. Your counselor will help guide you in the direction you seek to go. Therapists see clients as individuals and don’t place clients in boxes based on what they “should” be doing. Counselors have the ability to see things from many different angles and respect and understand different perspectives.

Myth #7: Therapy is only for those with a mental illness.

People seek therapy for a wide variety of reasons, from stress to life transitions to severe mental illness. No problem is too small to see a counselor if it’s having an affect on your life.


Myth #8: Therapists think their clients are“crazy.”

Many people are fearful of the stigma associated with seeking therapy. And we get it! There’s a huge stigma about counseling in our culture. Therapists understand that all people will experience unique struggles or challenges with their mental health at some point in their lives. They are nonjudgmental. Most counselors actually go to therapy themselves.

Myth #9: I’m taking medication, so there’s no need for therapy too.  

Commonly prescribed mental health medications can help reduce symptoms. They are often used in tandem with therapy to promote stability. Drugs can help alleviate symptoms, whereas talk therapy can help you work through and process issues to produce lasting change.

Myth #10: Once I start going to therapy, I will be in it forever.

How long therapy lasts is always up to you. You have the right to begin and end counseling at anytime. Some people only need a few sessions, while others choose to participate in long-term therapy. In your first encounter with a therapist, you can voice any concerns you may have about the length. Together, you and your counselor can determine what’s best for you.


New Year, New Vision


The first part of the new year is a great time to reset and reflect on the previous year. Many people make resolutions that involve getting physically or mentally healthier, taking control over finances, or making meaningful changes in their career or lifestyle. Maybe it means eating more nutritious foods, getting in a workout routine, or beginning individual therapy or counseling. While we often think about our personal resolutions and goals, we don’t often talk about what we want for our relationships with our partners in the coming year.

It can be really meaningful to have a meeting or check-in about shared goals or things you want to see different in the coming year. Taking the time to chat about your relationship wants, needs, and goals can help prevent relational disconnect in the future. Think about it like this… it’s important to use preventative methods, like vitamins and exercise, to take care of your physical health, and it’s equally important to use preventative methods to take care of your relational health. Talking about what you want helps you get on the same page with your partner and makes you a more connected couple.

Over the next week or two, we’d like to challenge you to take some time to focus on your relational health and to have the conversation as a couple to plan for 2018. Reevaluate what you each want together.


What are your goals?

What challenges might you face?

And how can you each contribute and support one another throughout the year?

We’ve created a sheet to help guide your conversation. Writing down your shared goals can also help hold you each accountable. Download the worksheet by clicking the image below. Go ahead and set up a time to meet with your partner. Make it a priority!

We’ve tried it out with our own partners and found it to be a worthwhile conversation. For my partner and I, it energized and motivated us. We’re already implementing some of our changes this week. Yay for plans!

We’d love to hear about your experience as well. Let us know what you think about it...

If one of your goals is to make your relationship or marriage more of a priority this year, we’ve got some exciting couples workshops and retreats in the works. They’ll be coming up in the spring, so keep an eye out! If you haven’t already, sign up for our email list and follow us on social media to stay posted!



8 Tools to Help You Keep Your Resolutions


2017 is coming to an end. With 2018 just on the horizon, many people decide to start off the new year with one or more resolutions to live a better, healthier lifestyle. While we set our resolutions with firm intentions to keep them, they often fizzle out before they have a chance to stick.

Making a lifestyle change takes work. It takes some real dedication. And it’s really hard to do without some sort of a plan or method for accountability. There are so many great practices and tools out there that can help you implement and stay with your changes. Check out our 8 picks to help you keep your 2018 New Year’s resolutions.

Best Self Journal

Holding yourself accountable is much easier when you have a way to track your resolutions. The Best Self Journal can help you stay on track and recognize your progress. I just bought one after it came highly recommended by a friend, and I can’t wait to dive in. According to the Best Self Co website, the journal was “built around the success principles of positivity, productivity, and performance.” It helps you break down your goals into manageable chunks so you can be sure you are staying on track to meet them. There is a monthly, weekly, and daily section that asks all the right questions to help you get clear on your priorities and also give yourself some credit for all of the great things you are accomplishing.


Miracle Morning

The Miracle Morning is a book about morning routines and rituals. Hal Elrod writes about how creating and participating in a regular morning routine has positively affected his life, as well as many others who’ve adopted the practice. There’s also a Facebook group you can join if you’re interested in being a part of a community of others on the same Miracle Morning journey and receiving support. Over the past year, I’ve created a somewhat solid morning routine that has helped me in a multitude of ways. If you resolve to increase your productivity, start working out regularly, add more self-care into your life, get more in touch with your spirituality, or be more mindful throughout the day, implementing this tool is sure to help you with those goals.



Orangetheory Fitness

If you’re looking for a new fitness routine, I highly recommend checking out your local Orangetheory Fitness studio. It should be pretty easy, because they’re popping up everywhere! OTF is heart rate based interval and strength training that uses a combination of treadmill, rowing machine, and free weights to give you a full body 60-minute workout. In an Orangetheory class you work to get your heartrate in the target “Orange Zone” for 12-20 minutes of each class. The theory is that hitting this target zone stimulates metabolism, increases energy, and creates an afterburn of 500-1000 calories for up to 36 hours. Science aside, it’s a challenging and efficient workout that is a great workout for all fitness levels as you can really go at your own pace.


Barre3 Online

Can’t make it to the gym? Don’t like group classes? At-home workouts may be for you. If you like yoga, pilates, or workouts where you don’t need shoes, try barre. It took me awhile, but I finally figured out that when I do exercises that suit me and my values, I actually enjoy working out! Barre3 workouts align with my value of mind-body focus and connection. Not only do you focus on your physical health, but instructors remind you to be mindful during the workouts and focus on your mental health as well. Barre3 Online has a nice interface that allows you to choose workouts based on duration, muscle group focus, props you want to use, and how you want to feel during your workout. You can track your workouts to see how many you’ve done over the past week or month to help keep you accountable. There’s a nutrition guide, weekly recipes, and a community platform as well.


Meal Planning

Trying to eat healthier, save money on groceries, or make meal preparation easier? One of the practices I have really come to rely on is meal planning. There are plenty of apps and programs you can pay for that do a lot of the leg work for you. For me, I just rely on good ole pen and paper to organize a week’s worth of meals. I keep a list of go-to recipes and also have a well-organized Pinterest board with recipes I want to try. Writing out my meals and taking about half an hour to plan each week helps me choose more nutritious meals and refrain from in-store impulse buying. Tip: Try to use many of the same ingredients in multiple meals throughout the week. This cuts down on food waste and cost!



Looking for a way to better manage your finances in 2018? Mint is an online program and app that helps you keep track of your finances. With Mint, you can set up a budget, add your accounts, link to your bills, and track your spending super easily. Truthfully, you don’t have to do much after you create your budget other than log in to track things. Mint will alert you when you’re approaching or have gone over your budget for a set category. There are really nice little charts and visuals for those of you that appreciate that. Oh… and it’s free!




Digit is an app that makes saving money easy. Digit’s tagline is – Save money, without thinking about it.™ The Digit team has created an app that analyzes your spending, income, and upcoming bills to determine just the right amount for you to save each day. Every day, Digit moves a small amount of money from your checking account to your Digit account, and you end up with nice cash pile to put towards whatever you’d like. One thing I love is how my Digit account texts me everyday with my checking account balance and notifies me when a big withdrawal or check has cleared. You can even set up multiple accounts within your Digit account to save for things like your upcoming ski trip, a car emergency fund, or that high-dollar trip to the hair salon. If your resolution is to save more in the coming year, but you have trouble making a conscious effort to do so, Digit might be the tool for you.


Mindfulness App

One of the things I like to implement in my counseling practice is mindfulness. I often recommend that my therapy clients start a daily mindfulness practice and integrate it into their lives outside of the therapy room. Mindfulness practices are helpful if you’re resolving to focus on your mental health, be more present and grounded, reduce stress, manage emotions, or just have overall better quality of life. There are many different ways to get started with mindfulness. For me, I’ve found that the easiest way is with guided mindfulness meditations. It’s as easy as downloading a mindfulness app and setting aside a time everyday to focus soley on doing a mindfulness exercise. A good time to aim for is during your morning routine.


Got any tools you would add to the list?

Let us know!


10 People Share Their Favorite Holiday Traditions


The holidays are rooted in tradition. Cultural traditions, family traditions, and religious traditions. Many held close to family, shared among friends, and celebrated in community. A tradition is a custom or belief that is passed down through the years, something familiar that you look forward to and come to expect each year.

I love a good tradition... to enjoy something enough that someone thinks, “We should do this again... and again.” Tradition to me, creates a sense of grounding. It creates a sense of belonging to something bigger and gives us a platform to celebrate the things that matter to us.

But something has felt different this holiday season. Many of the posts on social media talk about holiday dread, stress, and family issues. While I understand that the holidays are a trying time, I went searching to find what people have to look forward to. I asked friends, family, and colleagues to share their favorite holiday traditions.

I hope you enjoy their stories and take the time to think about your own favorite tradition and how you can honor and celebrate it this year.

“Christmas with my family means food. We have Swedish & Norwegian roots, and Christmas time really brings that out. We eat meatballs with egg noodles, pounds of lefse and pickled herring (it's gross but a staple). Sitting around the table sharing this tradition with my family is my favorite part of the holidays.”



“Every Christmas, we lounge around all morning in our matching pj's that my mom gets for us while we listen to Christmas music until breakfast is ready. My nephews open their gifts from Santa, and we all enjoy my grandma's famous biscuits with white gravy and mimosas. After we stuff our faces with yummy breakfast, we play board games and enjoy each other's company.”


“My mom and I plan our holiday baking all year. We both typically try to eat healthy but have a MAJOR sweet tooth, so when we find a particularly decadent recipe, we save it for the week before Christmas. We spend at least two days baking and trying out recipes. We usually make trays and baskets with all the treats and deliver them to friends and family.”


“Growing up, Christmas morning officially started when my Dad rang the antique sleigh bells that hung on the evergreen decorated newel post. The jingle bells and my Dad joyfully pronouncing, "Christmas gift!" was the signal that it was safe to come down to see what treasures Santa had left for us. The bulging stocking was first on our Christmas morning agenda. I was never disappointed with the plethora of apples, oranges, peppermint and whole walnuts that spilled forth freely from my stocking, as long as we eventually found the large jar of ripe green olives hidden at the bottom. Green olives were a holiday favorite for me and all of my sisters and my brother. I reveled in having an entire jar of olives to call my very own!”



“One of my favorite Christmas traditions is picking out the tree. My parents raised six kids, so spending money on a tree was unheard of. Therefore, every year my father would grab his axe, and we would load up in the pickup truck and head to one of our pastures full of cedar trees. It was sort of like a contest for us kids to see who would find the best tree. Christmas time was so much fun as a young child growing up on a farm and ranch in Central Texas. I’m 54 years old now with my own family, and we still live on the same farm where I grew up.  We still pick out a real Christmas tree each year, although we normally just head to the local nursery and go through their selections to find the perfect one.”


"We did not go to church often when I was little, but we always went to a Christmas Eve candlelight service. As a child, I recall vividly the magic of watching a dark room slowly fill with warm light as the flame was passed from person to person. It is still my favorite thing and often moves me to tears. Now I bring my young ones and hope they catch a glimpse of just how powerful a light can be in the darkness."


“Christmas to me has always been the season of lights, music and beautiful festivities.  The whole month of December filled with cold frosty weather and warm toasty fires around the family hearth. It is the time to listen to old French carols and bring color and magical light into the home during the darkest time of the year the winter solstice. I think of warm spiced cider and rich cups of chocolate.... almond crescent cookies and delicious butter spritz, lovingly baked for all to enjoy.  Also, a fruited bourbon old fashioned just like my Daddy used to mix… and a savory bowl of gumbo prepared by my son on Christmas Eve.”



“On the night of Christmas Eve, all of my cousins, aunts, and uncles on one side of my family get together. 40+ people gather at my house, and we have a big party. It's great to see everyone, eat good food, drink some holiday spirits, play games, and just hang out with my family."


“When we were very little, as excited as we were, Christmas could not begin until my daddy put on his robe and descended the stairs to “check to see if Santa had come.” Mom would call down, ‘Dick, has he been here!?’ Dad’s voice cranked up the tension – ‘I don’t see anything yet! Let me check under the tree!’ By this time, the five of us were squealing and hopping around at the top of the stairs. When we finally heard him say that we should come and see for ourselves, we flew down the stairs like reindeer. We fell upon the gifts surrounding the tree and emptied our stockings, while daddy and mother sipped coffee and smiled. The excitement and joy were almost unbearable. Now, over sixty years later, we hear our grandchildren call from the top of the stairs, ‘Did he come? Has he been here?’ And I can feel my dad and mom still with me as I say, ‘Come on down and see for yourselves!’“


“I think as we get older, our traditions adjust slightly to the age and size of our family. While I was growing up, on Christmas morning my sister and I weren’t allowed to go into the living room (where the tree and Santa had been), so we would race into my parents room. We’d have to wait until my dad had the camcorder ready, and then we were finally allowed to start! This was always the beginning of Christmas Day. Now, being an adult and having lost my dad, we still honor this tradition of “no tree peaking.” But now my sister and I just wake my mom up, get coffee and wait for her to tell us that Christmas Day has started… and of course she has an iPhone out instead of that huge VHS recorder.”




Holiday Gifting with Purpose


Around this time of year, much of the conversation in our counseling sessions surrounds the holidays. Typically, there’s an assortment of feelings associated with the holidays, some positive and some not-so-positive. Many therapy clients talk about feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Needless to say, we've been doing a lot of thinking about this stress and where it comes from. Much of it has to do with travel plans, attending multiple events, and dealing with family… plus all of the shopping that comes along with the holidays. If you haven’t started shopping yet, or still have a ways to go, your stress level might be up there right now.

What’s in a gift?

Whatever your reasons for celebrating or your feelings about holiday gifting, many of us participate in the practice of gift giving around this time of year. If you're going to do it, you might as well make it count and take advantage of the opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your gift recipients. A gift can be a token for your relationship. Giving can be a way of connecting with other people on some level.

For me, holiday shopping isn't stressful… it's actually really fun! It's a time where I get to be creative. I love to find a special gift for each person, and I spend a lot of time thinking about my gifts. The time that goes into thinking about and planning for gifts is also a way of getting outside of myself during this time and focusing on the needs and interests of those I know and love.

There's something about receiving a really meaningful gift that lasts beyond the life of the gift. When you receive a gift like this, you feel known... like that person really knows you. It shows that they pay attention. It shows they cared enough to seek out something just for you. It really is the thought that counts.


Here are a few tips that may help you keep your holiday shopping stress down, as well as find a meaningful gift for each person on your list.

Gifting within your means

Take some time to look at your budget and see what you have room for this month. Overspending is one of the biggest reasons for all of the holiday anxiety. For me, I think knowing what I can spend is the number one thing that keeps me from stressing too much. I know how much I have to spend from the get go, I make a list of everyone I need to buy for, and then I just divide my budget by the number of people. Knowing how much I can spend on each person gives me an idea of the types of gifts I need to be looking for.

You don’t have to buy expensive or extravagant items to make an impact. They could even be homemade. Even if you don’t have much to work with, your gifts can be thoughtful and meaningful.


Gifting with purpose

Gifting with purpose means not just buying whatever pre-made gift basket you see near the checkout line at Target. It means taking the time to actually plan for each person. Before you start freaking out about how you don't have the time to plan, just know that having a starting point in mind is much better than wandering into a store or surfing the internet with zero direction. It might actually save you time in the long run.


You can start just by brainstorming. Think about each person on your list, and go through the following categories. Think about your own experiences with them. Write down whatever comes to mind.

Personality traits

What aspects of their personality do you most enjoy or connect with? Do you enjoy their sense of humor? Find something funny that you know they’ll laugh at when they open it. Are they competitive? A challenging game might be something they’d like. Someone who likes order and organization might appreciate a tool to help them be more organized.


What's going on in their life right now? What do they need? Maybe they recently moved into a new home and could use some new kitchen utensils. Perhaps your giftee is a super busy mom who just needs a break! Bath bombs or a massage day for the two of you?


What do they care about? Maybe they’re passionate about environmentalism. They might love nothing more than an eco-friendly item to help them reduce their carbon footprint. Or maybe you’ve got a friend that’s into alternative healing that would appreciate a rose quartz crystal.

Shared interests

Are there things you have in common? I have a friend with the same taste palate… we connect over our love of the same flavors, specifically when it comes to wine. It’s something that gets brought up each time we’re together, and a good bottle of wine that we both enjoy is always a hit with her.


Once you've got some ideas, that's half the battle. Before you shop, translate those brainstorming notes into a condensed list of physical gifts or experiences the person might like. If you’ve got a list, you’ll be less likely to go into a store and get overwhelmed. You can relax a little. You have direction and a general idea of where you're headed.

Now, of course, it's not the worst thing in the world if you procrastinate too long and end up having to settle for a pre-made gift basket (I mean, I always dig one of those pampering sets). The point is, if you can, spend a little extra time thinking of the ones you love as you plan, and seize the opportunity to weave meaningful connection into an aspect of holiday tradition that is often superficial. You may not find the exact thing you’re looking for, but as long as you put some thought into your gift, it’s sure to make an impact on the recipient. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Afterall, regardless of what they open up, the important thing is that you show up and show you care.