Urban Balance Supports: Jewish Child & Family Services

Urban Balance is committed to supporting mental health causes and organizations that our therapists’ are involved with.  This month, we donated funds to Jewish Child & Family Services (JCFS), an organization that provides caring and healing services to the Chicagoland community. 

UB Therapist Karen Greenberg, LCSW provides information about JCFS and the importance of  their programs and services: 

Jewish Child and Family Services asks you to redefine what’s possible.  JCFS provides help, healing, and caring services infused with Jewish values to strengthen lives in the Chicagoland community.  They offer a vast array of programs and services:  JCFS works with children and adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities and special needs along with their families; the agency works closely with DCFS and provide residential group homes, facilitate foster care, and maintain adoption connections; JCFS’s special education department includes a therapeutic day school, therapeutic preschool, and offers legal advocacy.

The mental health and wellness services provided by JCFS and their dedicated staff go beyond expectations. Counseling is available for individuals, couples, families, and groups.  Specialized programs exist for people wanting to know more about grief and illness, addiction and substance abuse, pre-marital counseling, adoption support, infant mental health, financial support and counseling, divorce support, as well as autism assessments and psychological testing.

I worked in the counseling department at JCFS for five years.  In that time I had the pleasure of working with countless clients through their struggles and have witnessed tremendous brave efforts to improve their lives.  I am forever grateful to my past clients for trusting me with their thoughts and feelings.  I appreciate the way that JCFS seeks to meet various needs of their clients.  I had clients who I saw for counseling and who were also low-income.  Around the holidays JCFS would provide unwrapped new gifts for clients, along with wrapping paper, so clients could wrap and give them to their children with dignity and respect.  JCFS’s community resources help to connect clients with eyeglasses and eye exams, winter coats, free passes to museums, and even college tuition assistance.  JCFS goes beyond what is expected, and I am proud to have been a part of their team.  In fact, there are several therapists at Urban Balance who started their careers at JCFS.

Clients need not be Jewish and all are welcome to explore their services. For more information or to get involved, visit You can also contact them at or 855-ASK-JCFS.


Diffuse Family Conflict During the Holidays

by UB’s Joyce Marter, LCPC

Every family has its issues, and we are all shaped and molded into who we are (to varying degrees) by our families of origin. Old family roles and dynamics can get triggered during the holidays and buried issues can resurface. We all tend to regress to a less mature state around our families, and assume old communication and relationship patterns. For example, your older sister starts bossing everyone around and your younger brother doesn’t lift a finger but is praised by your parents.

People are stressed due to travel and finances issues, especially in this economy. High expectations to be close and have a good time can cause pressure and tension. Perhaps there is an unresolved issue in the family, or the family is adjusting to a life transition like a marriage, death or divorce. Sometimes if you haven’t seen people in a while there is pressure to report what you have accomplished or sometimes you need to face people and explain a hard situation like a job loss or a break up.

Families are systems and we are each a part of the machine—if one member is not in a good place, the whole family dynamic can be thrown off.

Conflict may occur between siblings, between partners, between parents, between a parent and a grown child. The more important the relationship and more important this issue, the greater the scale of the conflict. For example, fighting with mom about your choice not to have children is going to be more loaded than arguing with Aunt Sue about sweet potato versus pumpkin pie. Families may have common issues like communication problems, poor boundaries, role definitions, or dynamics like triangulation. Some families may have more serious problems such as alcoholism, addiction, trauma or abuse.

The Truth About Conflict:

  • It is a normal and necessary part of the human condition.
  • Conflict is necessary for progress and change.
  • It is an opportunity for honesty and intimacy in relationships.

What complicates conflict?

  • Poor communication
  • Different values and opinions
  • Confusion about role expectations
  • Unresolved prior conflict

How does conflict affect you?

  • Stress (impacts sleep, appetite)
  • Anxiety (nervousness, worry)
  • Anger (irritation, annoyance)
  • Fear (dealing with uncertainty and the future)
  • Sadness (feelings of powerlessness, loss, depression)
  • Hopelessness (concern that things are stuck and will not change)
  • Physical complaints (headaches, digestive problems)

There is a difference between conflict and abuse. Abuse is a pattern of behaviors in a relationship that are used to gain and/or maintain power and control over another. If you are dealing with abuse in your family, you may wish to seek professional assistance, and to set firm boundaries – which can include not seeing the family members who are abusive as a way of taking care of yourself as well as your emotional and physical health.

If you are dealing with common family issues and stressors, here are some tips:

Take care of yourself. Reduce your stress. Get enough rest and hydration. Get exercise. Even do some breathing exercises, meditate or yoga. Get yourself calm and grounded. If your feathers get ruffled at a family gathering, give yourself a time out—take 10 minutes to walk around the block or get some mental space.

Access your support network—if your favorite cousin will be there, get support and camaraderie from her—or from your partner. Don’t drink too much during the festivities as alcohol can fuel emotions and impair judgment. Taking care of yourself may even mean declining to get together with the family, if that is going to be too stressful or difficult for you at this point in time. It’s okay to say no if you are taking care of yourself—try to let go of the guilt.

Go in with realistic expectations. If your dad always criticizes your career, don’t go in to the visit expecting something different. Plan how you would like to respond. Think through your intentions for the holidays (seeing family, being grateful, catching up) and visualize things going reasonably well and yourself feeling relaxed, confident and comfortable. By visualizing you increase the likelihood that this is the way things will play out, just like in sports psychology. Don’t bite off more than you can chew—planning to hit your parents in the morning, your neighbors in the afternoon and your in-laws in the evening may be a recipe for disaster. Learn to say no to some things and make a manageable plan for yourself.

Control what you can and let go of the rest. You can control your expectations, your behavior, your attitude and communication, as well as when you arrive and how long you stay. You can’t control factors outside yourself (for example, what your mother says or how much your Uncle Joe drinks) and it is important to let those go.

If loaded issues come up, be mindful of your communication. Be empathic—let people know you understand the feelings they are having – “I understand you are upset and that this is very hard for you.” Empathy is validating, can diffuse feelings, and it can stop people from feeling like they have to up the ante in order to be heard. Have a good attitude: be kind, caring and respectful even if others aren’t. Dig deep and be the bigger person. Be mindful of your own defensiveness—pause before responding and reacting. Use assertive communication that is direct, clear and appropriate. Do not be aggressive (like swearing or raising your voice) or passive aggressive (like eye rolling, slamming doors or giving the silent treatment.) Be respectful to your family as you would your colleagues or close friends—often times we don’t put forth the same effort to be kind to our family as we do with other people in our lives.

Speak in “I” statements, rather than in “you” statements. For example, say I need some space, rather than you are very intrusive and controlling. I statements make people less defensive. Avoid triangulation or gossiping—communicate directly to people in an honest and respectful manner. Set clear boundaries—today is a family celebration and is not the time or place for this. Say I would be happy to set aside some time for us to talk about this, as I see it is important to you. Redirect the focus on a neutral topic—the parade, the game, focus on the kids, pull out a board game or some cards as a focused activity that will facilitate some togetherness and divert from the conflict.

Use humor to diffuse tension. Practice detachment, which is basically emotionally unplugging from a situation. You are still there and you care, but you are not going to get tanked with the emotional negativity of the situation. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all your expectations. Be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress too. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself—if the family gathering is causing you an inordinate amount of stress, give yourself permission to gracefully excuse yourself or at least go lie down for 15 minutes or call a friend for moral support.

Before saying something, ask yourself, is this the time or place to bring this up? Holiday gatherings are not the appropriate time and place to work out your issues with your mother’s controlling nature or intrusiveness. It is a time to try to be grateful for what we have and let go of the rest.

If others are arguing, you can choose to stay out of it (if that is what is best for you) or you can choose to mediate by empathizing that both parties are upset, setting a boundary that they need to discuss this at a different time, and redirecting the focus. Sometimes it’s best to nip these arguments in the bud before they escalate into a full scale drama. Use humor to lighten the mood and give perspective.

Think positively—be aware of your self talk, or the voice in your head. Are you fueling your stress and negative feelings with dark thoughts? Try to cut yourself some slack and look at the good parts of things. Have a mantra like, “and this too shall pass.”

Practice Gratitude. Be thankful for what you have and who you have in your life. Gratitude encourages us to look at the good parts in life rather than to dwell on the dysfunction that we all have in our families to varying degrees at different points in life.

 For after the holidays:

 Plan some debriefing time with your friends or partner after the holiday. Schedule in some relaxation and self care. If the family conflict causes you significant distress, consider scheduling an appointment with a therapist. Our biggest referral day of the year is 12/27, which seems to directly correlate with the holidays, and people feeling stressed and reaching out for help.

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Urban Balance Supports: The Lilac Tree

Urban Balance is committed to supporting mental health causes and organizations that our therapists’ are involved with.  This month, we donated funds to The Lilac Tree, a resource and a haven for women contemplating divorce, in the process or post-decree. 

UB Therapist Rebecca Nichols, LCPC provides information about The Lilac Tree and her work with them: 

The Lilac Tree is an organization for women who are contemplating, in the process or have finalized their divorce. They provide education, support and guidance to women throughout the stages of the divorce process so women can move confidently towards independence. By offering information sessions, support groups, free referrals to vetted professionals, educational workshops and seminars and their esteemed Divorce University, women in the state of Illinois have a partner through this process unlike anything else that exists.

I discovered The Lilac Tree as a clinical therapy intern at Urban Balance, when I attended their Divorce University Conference. At that time I found their mission both unique and extremely necessary (as I still do today). As an individual who was touched by divorce myself, I knew the importance of their work and felt at that time I had to be part of their mission. For three years I was part of a great team that worked with clients, helped develop programs and provide services for women in need. Through this experience I saw first hand the great work this organization does and the amazing clients they help daily.

Although nearly 50% of the population will get divorced I have found that a stigma still exists for those who end up going through this process. As a child of divorce I witnessed this first hand in my own family. The Lilac Tree is there to help – no matter how complicated the situation or how random the request. Services are fee based but there are always scholarships available and no one is turned away because of need.

Want to learn more? Visit or call 847-328-0313.


Welcoming New Therapist, Ashwini Krishnakumar, To UB’s Ravenswood Office

2Ashwini-Krishnakumar-Bio-PictureAshwini Krishnakumar is a Licensed Professional Counselor providing psychotherapy to children, adolescents, adults, couples, and families. Ashwini is passionate about working with diverse cultural backgrounds, all sexual orientations and gender, and advocating for clients. She has experience with, but not limited to, anxiety, depression, relational issues, grief/loss concerns, behavioral problems at school, parenting challenges, ADHD, anger management, trauma/PTSD, and life transitions. She practices integrative treatment pulling from Humanistic, Systems, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy while incorporating expressive therapy techniques. Ashwini believes you are your own expert; therefore, she works in a collaborative, encouraging, and compassionate effort to create custom goals for healthier relationships and lifestyle.


Ashwini will be working from UB’s growing Ravenswood Office.

To schedule an appointment with Ashwini, please contact UB’s Intake Coordinator.


The Mental Health Impact of the Paris Terror Attacks

By UB Staff Therapist Ben Fogel, LCSW

Whether you live in Paris or Beirut or are thousands of miles away watching the news of last weekend’s terror attacks, it is easy to be deeply affected by them. Terror attacks and other forms of trauma can be incredibly jarring because of how they make us feel: they inflame our sense of vulnerability as people living in open societies and heighten our feelings of powerlessness at being able to protect ourselves and those we love. Perhaps most distressing is that we can imagine them happening to ourselves and to our families here, too.

You do the same things the people in Paris were doing when the attacks occurred; you can easily put yourself in the shoes of those going out to a bar or restaurant to celebrate the end of a long week, or attend a concert or soccer match or explore a new city on vacation. The idea that everything is normal and then suddenly lives are changed forever is hard to comprehend.

The first thing to know is that worrying about your family and friends, your larger community and yourself in the aftermath of terror attacks is completely normal and expected. You don’t have to live in one of the cities directly affected by the events of the weekend to feel impacted by them. Hearing about a traumatic event can indirectly affect you and influence how you feel out in the world and in quiet moments alone at home. The signs of trauma are obvious sometimes and at other times they are hard to detect without further exploration. Feeling on edge, anxious, or powerless is common.

It can help a great deal to simply talk about how you’re feeling with a friend or someone you love; it is likely that the person you’re sharing with has also experienced similar thoughts. Putting your fears into words can help you understand your fears, and the other person may feel valued you thought to share with them.

Many people fear an emergency that results in not being able to immediately confirm the whereabouts and safety of loved ones. Developing a communication plan before such an event occurs can help you regain at least a small amount of control. Talk to your family, friends, roommates or coworkers about who will contact whom if something happens, and how. If you have young children who might ask you what happened, think about how you should respond to their questions and instill a sense of safety and security.

Knowing when to seek professional help is important. If you experience prolonged fear, irritability, or a sudden increase in anger or sadness, it is time to see a therapist. If you have trouble sleeping or experience heightened anxiety or obsessions about the terror attacks, or conversely, they make you feel numb or nothing at all, please reach out and get help. We are here for you.


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Developmental Effects of Abuse and Neglect in Children

All parents have different approaches to disciplining their children, ranging from verbal reprimanding to timeouts. However, at what point does discipline differ from abuse or neglect and how does this affect a child’s development?  Trauma from a person’s childhood can follow him or her into adulthood and can have a significant negative effect on emotional and social development. Bob Ryan, an Urban Balance Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who specializes in abuse and trauma therapy, offers more insight on abuse and neglect as well as its impact.

How do you define of abuse and neglect?

Talking about abuse and neglect in children is such a difficult topic. Until roughly 20 years ago the professional literature including the DSM took a stance that abuse and neglect were very rare occurrences in the United States. So it is understandable that as a nation we have little understanding for what constitutes abuse and neglect and even less understanding of their effects on individuals as they move through their lives. Even today, according to Bessel Van Der Kolk M. D., one of the world’s leading authorities on trauma in adults and children, the DSM 5 fails to categorizes child neglect as a traumatic life event. To be clear, we really are talking about trauma in the lives of our children. The Federal Government defines the trauma caused by child abuse as: “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.” Physical abuse experienced at the hands of a child’s caregiver is often seen as more significant from that of “merely” being neglected. However, recent studies have shown that the long-term effects on socialization and emotional regulation can be as severe, if not more severe, in neglected children then they are in those who have suffered physical abuse, and as such neglect falls within the definition of abuse.

What are some examples of abuse and neglect?

Unfortunately abusive and neglectful parents and caregivers are all too common. A household with an alcoholic parent creates an unstable environment where a child may live in constant fear of emotional and physical outbursts. An emotionally or physically abusive parent whose abusive tendencies are witnessed by a child creates in the child a state of constant fear. An unwanted child or one who is emotionally cut off from emotional support such as touch or caressing or worse belittled at their every move or word, or a child who is physically harmed or molested by a parent, sibling or caretaker will develop with a tendency to act out and/or repeat the lessons learned from their upbringing.

What are common long-term effects of abuse and neglect for child and adult survivors?

While everyone responds to trauma in their own way, many observed long-term effects of childhood abuse and neglect are; problems regulating emotions, often displayed by intense emotional outbursts, the physical sensations of reliving the traumatic events of the past, an inability to trust one’s gut reaction to others, (are a person trustworthy or are they not), hypersensitivity to criticism, hyperawareness of events occurring around them, a need to control one’s environment, and an inability to connect emotionally despite a deep longing to connect.

What factors impact the severity of the long-term effects?

Research is beginning to show that an inability to take effective action at the time of the abuse greatly increases the likelihood and severity of traumatic symptoms. Picture a child who is chastised or belittled every time he talks at dinnertime. The child’s inability to interact might lead to fear, to paralysis, to despondency. Effective action against a stronger and quicker parent is not an option without a protector in the house. Most importantly, feeling listened to and understood creates positive pathways in the brain. Being able to communicate feelings and thoughts, and being recognized for them reinforces an ability to make judgments and trust one’s gut instincts. In contrast, being shut down or criticized for one’s thoughts and feelings no matter their content kills the spirit, and leaves the individual with no internal measure of what works and what doesn’t. Individuals with the latter life experience often have an underdeveloped sense of empathy, yet they continuously turn to others for validation of their opinions or ideas. This dichotomy sends very mixed signals to those around them tending to creating a less, not more, controlled environment.

What role can therapy have in the coping and recovery process?

Therapists that combine movement, art, music and other creative approaches to therapy, such as yoga, physical movement, EMDR are making emotional connections and building healing therapeutic rapport with their clients. Couple the traditional therapeutic session with simple movement such as playing catch or mimicking movements can help individuals learn to control their own physiology and from there, their reactions to outside triggers and negative stimulations. The therapist’s role is to help the individual access the emotional brain and become familiar with one’s emotional side, to take effective physical and emotional action to rewrite the brain’s pathways to begin to fill in the gaps in positive learning that can most benefit the individual who experienced childhood abuse or neglect.

Click here to browse Urban Balance’s Trauma & Abuse resources.

Click here to browse Urban Balance therapists who specialize in abuse & trauma.



How to Handle Unwanted Advice

By UB’s Sarah Farris, LPC

We’ve all been in a situation before when someone we know offers up unwanted advice; especially someone close to us like a friend or relative. Whether it’s about your career plans, who, when and if you chose to date, have children, or any other detail about your life, it can sometimes seem that everyone has an expectation for you and what you should be doing.

This can create a sense of criticism, pressure, and even feelings of anxiety, disappointment, shame, or discouragement. It can also create tension and distance within the relationship if advice becomes too pushy.

So how do you handle it respectfully without  harming the relationship? Here are a few things to consider.

  1. First make note that the person’s message is coming from a place of care.

While it may seem like direct criticism, know that whoever is offering up suggestions         likely cares about you a great deal and wants the best for you. Whatever “the best” for you though, is up to you to define.

  1. Check in with your own feelings and plans.

Whatever is being the target of attention, consider where you stand on the subject and clarify for yourself what you want, but know you can keep this information to yourself. Simply because others want one thing for you, doesn’t mean you have to want the same things. You have all the right to choose your own path.

  1. Identify feelings and be direct.

If you’re feeling like their suggestions are judgmental or hurtful, let them know nicely. You can tell them that their comments give you unwanted pressure or that you feel the person is putting expectations and conditions on you or your relationship. It also may be a good opportunity to recognize their care for you while explaining what your experience of their advice is like. Such as, “I know you want me to be happy, but when you ask why I’m single, it feels like my worth is dependent upon whether or not I’m in a relationship.”

  1.  Ask for privacy.

Your business is yours to share, so let them know you don’t want to talk about the subject. Include that you recognize that they want the best for you, but their advice puts unwanted pressure on you. Let them know that your choices are yours to make and that you would like privacy on the matter. If you want their help, you can tell them that you will go to them for someone to listen or to share ideas.

  1. Ask for support

Just like asking for privacy, let your friend or loved one know how they can support you on the subject. If it’s simply asking for privacy, that can be a way to be supportive. If you’d like them to understand your situation better, ask them to listen and express that you do not want feedback. This can help you maintain and reestablish trust, respect and bonding with one another.

So next time you find yourself feeling interrogated, take a moment to recognize what’s happening and speak up for what you need.

“The more you love your decisions the less you need others to love them.” – unknown


Joyce Marter Keynotes: 2015 Women Who Make a Difference

Urban Balance Founder and CEO, Joyce Marter, LCPC, was honored to be the keynote speaker for Lakeside Bank’s 2015 Women Who Make a Difference Networking Reception held on Wednesday, October 21. The goal for the event (a partnership with Mercy Hospital) is to inspire and facilitate mutually beneficial business, provide additional resources for customers, and address common issues faced by women in business today.

Joyce’s presentation, The Psychology of Success: Creating Work/Life Balance, provided an inspirational overview of wellness principles for individuals to practice to achieve their greatest self, both personally and professionally.  These included the power of mindfulness, intention, gratitude, and opening oneself up to prosperity.

Other presenters included Sylvia Perez, who served as the Mistress of Ceremonies, Connie Murphy from Mercy Hospital, and Clarice Grandberry, the First Lady of True Rock Ministries.

The networking reception is held in honor of Make a Difference Day, the most encompassing national day of helping others – a celebration of neighbors helping neighbors. Make A Difference Day is an annual event that takes place on the fourth Saturday of every October. For more information about Make a Difference day visit

To learn more about Joyce’s speaking engagements, please visit:

Sylvia Perez & Joyce Marter

Sylvia Perez & Joyce Marter

Women Who Make A Difference Event

Women Who Make A Difference Event

health insurance therapy, counseling and insurance

Insurance Friendly Counseling? Urban Balance Makes It A Reality

Since its founding over 10 years ago Urban Balance has provided clients with insurance friendly counseling services. What does this mean? Simply, UB has on staff an insurance specialist who can quickly find what mental health benefits are available, as well as maximize benefits for therapy. Find an updated list of insurance companies UB therapists are in-network with at

If you don’t see your health insurance plan listed you still might have mental health benefits for your plan. UB’s insurance specialists will provide a complimentary review of your health plan. Learn more by contacting UB’s Intake Manager at 888-726-7170 X 1.


#BlackLivesMatter: An Issue of Advocacy

By UB’s Leslie Holley, LCPC

As psychotherapists, we often hear the term advocacy; taking action on behalf of our clients and disadvantaged populations. When we talk about advocacy, it is important to include the African American community to the list of populations needing support. Recently, the names of Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner have become part of the collective conscience of America’s race dialogue. They, and many others, stand as examples of African Americans dying while in a conflict with the police. Did they do something wrong? Were they perceived as a threat? What really happened in these cases? Sometimes their accounts are captured on video. Other times, all we are left with is hearsay. No matter the circumstance, we are all reminded that oppression exists in our society. Oppression is defined as pervasive prejudice with power. Power is then used to limit or hinder access to societal rights from those identified lacking power (Sanders, 1999). If we agree that oppression exists, then we, as therapists, must strive to educate ourselves and others on these issues and start the hard conversations about racial oppression in America.

I recall the incident that spawned the #BlackLivesMatter campaign some 3 years ago. I still feel numb every time I hear the name Trayvon Martin or see his face in an article. As the mother of two young African American boys, I recognize that they could have been Trayvon. As a person of color, the last few years have been an unforgettable reminder about the prevalence of racism, oppression, and denial that permeates our society. As a nation, we are still not talking about these issues openly. The #BlackLivesMatter campaign has highlighted a critical nerve in the American narrative. It has inspired many to speak up for civil and human rights through local and citywide protests. As psychotherapists, we have a duty to keep this conversation relevant. We are taught how important it is to advocate for the underserved and this should be no different. If you are reading this and you’re asking yourself what you can do to advocate against racism and oppression here are a few resources to help you get involved:

Illinois African American Coalition For Prevention
ILAACP is a statewide, membership-based organization that strengthens prevention systems, policies, and programs in underserved communities through cultural-relevant research, training, and advocacy.

Black Lives Matter
Active and organized protests broadening the conversation around state violence to address basic human rights and dignity.

A Knock at Midnight
There mission is to uplift, empower, and change the conditions of the black communities of America. They are committed to family advocacy, teen outreach, workforce outreach, and computer literacy.

Boys & Girls Club of America
Provides a safe place for youth to have ongoing relationships with caring, adult professionals.

Kids Off The Block
Is a multi-service program that works with “at-risk” youth in Chicago, to create a positive environment where they can be creative and cultivate skills while celebrating their accomplishments.

Teamwork Englewood
This organization has an African American Male Initiative for 10 – 18 year olds, amongst other programs.

Hip Hop Detox
This organization helps cancel out the negative imaging constantly fed to urban youth through media and aggressive marketing campaigns.

Whether speaking with a client or colleague, make it a point to acknowledge issues of oppression or racism that may be present. It may sound obvious, but it’s not. Advocacy can ignite change. This work may bring up uncomfortable feelings on the topic, but these challenges work towards the greater good. If we don’t challenge ourselves to explore these issues, then we are not upholding ourselves as multiculturally competent counselors. Let’s continue the conversation.

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