Meditation Blog: Intro to Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Posted by Heidi Tobe

August 30, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Five years ago, I hadn’t yet been introduced to the concept of mindfulness and the idea of creating a daily meditation practice was far from my radar. As I entered into my first practicum experience where mindfulness was central both to the office culture and the mode of therapy used (DBT), I was unaware how foundational this would become to my own clinical and personal practices.


Mindfulness didn’t come easy to me. Like most people, my mind wandered constantly. Trying to keep my mind still and in the present moment brought up some intense feelings of anxiety, and internally I fought against this practice. Over time my attitude shifted and I now greatly value the practice of mindfulness both personally and professionally. It took me a long time to get there, though. I remember the first time I felt I could maybe get on board with this whole mindfulness thing was when I was led in a progressive muscle relaxation. The physical aspect that came with this allowed me to stay focused and engaged, and it brought to awareness just how tense I was keeping various muscle groups in my body.

To engage in Progressive Muscle Relaxation, you systematically tense various muscle groups throughout your body (for example, your feet, face, neck and shoulders, etc.). After holding that tension in a particular area, you release it and observe how your muscles feel in a state of relaxation. The immediate benefit of Progressive Muscle Relaxation is that it can help reduce tension and stress. Over time it can teach you to recognize what it feels like to have tense vs. relaxed muscles, as many of us are so consistently tense that we don't even recognize when it's happening! As you increase awareness of when and where your body is carrying stress and muscle tension, you can start to intentionally release that tension and bring your body to a state of relaxation and decreased stress. Progressive Muscle Relaxation is now something I engage in regularly to check in on my own physical well-being and to release physical stress. It’s a great practice to teach to those resistant to more traditional mindfulness and meditation and is a favorite practice amongst the high school students I worked with. If you’ve been unsure of or hesitant to try mindfulness or meditation up until this point, this could be an easy, no-pressure way to test the waters! My hope is that you will find it as impactful as I did.

Find a comfortable place to sit or lay down, silence all distractions, and enjoy 15 minutes of relaxation. 

Progressive muscle relaxation script by Dr. Christopher Lloyd Clarke from


Topics: Counseling, Exam Prep, Self Care

Pathways To Success

Posted by Heidi Tobe

August 16, 2017 at 10:01 AM

So often when I see a successful clinical social worker who is a leader in their area of expertise, I find myself wondering how they got there and what their first few years out of grad school were like. I’m excited to announce we are interviewing and sharing the stories of clinical social workers' and MFTs' “pathways to success.” These interviews share insights, hard earned wisdom, and tips that we hope will encourage and inspire you no matter where you are on your own pathway to success.

Our first “Pathways to Success” social worker is Sharon Greene, LCSW.


Sharon received her Masters in Social Welfare from UCLA in 2000 and immediately started working in the mental health. She has coordinated school mental health programs and is currently the social work training director at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center, a nonprofit Department of Mental Health contracted center that provides mental health services including therapy, psychiatric treatment and psychological testing to disenfranchised youth and their families from diverse backgrounds. Sharon is part of the executive management team and oversees the intern training program for master's level students in Social Work and is responsible for the training and professional development of their licensed staff. She has trained hundreds of social workers, MFTs, and psychologists. In addition, Sharon is a certified trainer in Managing Adaptive Practices, Crisis Oriented Recovery Services, Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) along with being certified as a therapist in Seeking Safety, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Positive Parenting Program. She is a consultant for the Interpersonal Psychotherapy Institute and provides training calls to clinicians being certified in IPT. Sharon has received intensive training in Structural Family Therapy at the Minuchin Center in New York and teaches the Advanced Clinical Practice graduate course for UCLA’s Social Welfare Department. She has been a field liaison and guest lecturer at California State University, Northridge in their graduate social work department and has been an adjunct professor in the graduate Social Work Department at University of Southern California. 

TDC: When you entered graduate school, what did you imagine your life would be like now? How have things turned out similarly or different?

Sharon: When I entered graduate school, I was in the PHD program at UCLA's social welfare program. I thought I would end up as a professor teaching and doing research. A year into the PhD program, I realized I wanted to get my Masters and do more clinical work. Luckily, as I have built my career, I have had the opportunity to teach in the graduate school social work programs at UCLA, USC and CSUN which incorporates some of my original thoughts of what my career would look like. What I did not imagine at the time is that I would also have the opportunity to provide therapy in private practice and be a training director touching many lives for the better.

TDC: What was it that drew you to the field of social work?

Sharon: Originally what drew me to the field of social work was my desire to help the underprivileged and disenfranchised. I was initially more interested in policy and programming than clinical work. As I studied, though, I realized how important it was to do direct services to truly understand what different populations need. As I immersed myself in the clinical world, I found that I love providing therapy and was hungry to learn more and more as to how to help individuals and families in a clinical setting. My thirst for knowledge drove me to seek out trainings in different types of therapy. I was lucky enough to have some amazing trainers, challenging but supportive supervisors and inspiring mentors who continued to encourage me to grow professionally. Because of these great experiences, I wanted to give back and now have focused the next stage of my career in being a clinical supervisor, trainer and teacher in the mental health field.

TDC: So what was your first job out of grad school?

Sharon: My first job out of graduate school was at a residential facility for girls with mental illness- many of whom were either part of the DCFS system or were on probation. This experience was so valuable and career changing because it was what made me so interested in pursuing training in Structural Family Therapy. The clients whose families where willing to participate in family therapy fared so much better than the clients whose families were disengaged. I found myself enjoying conducting family therapy with all the complex dynamics occurring in the therapy room and I also was so impressed by the outcomes of the work. I sought out more training and supervision. It was the first time in supervision that I was truly challenged. I had to submit video tapes of my session and despite it being initially anxiety provoking, I grew immensely as a clinician. Although it was a difficult first job, unbeknownst to me, it launched the direction of my career so I am so thankful for it. I always tell my supervisees you never know where the road with take you. If you allow your experiences to teach you, the road will take you to the right destination for you.

TDC: How did you get from that job to where you are now?

Sharon: When I got offered my first job it was not my dream job, but I took it because I needed to start working immediately due to finances. As I mentioned, my first job ignited my passion for doing family therapy. Because of my experience working with youth who were on probation, I was offered a job at Saint John's Child and Family Development Center working with youth who were at a transition school, transitioning from the Youth Authority back to mainstream public schools. The majority of my work was doing group and family therapy on the school site. During this time, I was being supervised by the outpatient director who saw something in me. She encouraged me to pursue more training and to take on more administrative responsibilities. After getting licensed, I became coordinator of the school based mental health programs at the clinic. I was able to enhance the services we were providing to incorporate family therapy. Many school based programs see the students individually on the school sites but do not involve the families so this made our program stand out. I received the Dorothy Kirby Administrator of the Year Award from NASW in 2007 due to my work in this program. I found myself enjoying providing supervision and training my staff and soon moved into an executive position at the agency as the Social Work Training Director. I continue to be in this position where I train and provide clinical supervision to social work interns and unlicensed staff. I am also certified as a trainer in several evidenced based practices. This launched me into teaching at local universities. I maintain a small private practice which I enjoy. I feel it is crucial to have your hands in the work in order to be an effective clinical supervisor and trainer. All of this started from taking a job that was not a dream job. Had I never worked with the youth at the residential facility who were on probation I would not be where I am today. I feel so lucky to have the career I have with my hands in so many different things from private practice, training, providing clinical supervision, and doing consultant work.

TDC: Who has influenced your work? Do you have any social work/mental health mentors?

Sharon: Jacquie Wilcoxen, LCSW, my first supervisor at Saint John's, has greatly influenced my work and I am so grateful that she gave me the confidence that I could achieve what I wanted in this field. Clinically, Salvador Minuchin has greatly influenced my work. I have always been interested in the working of systems and structural family therapy provided me with a framework as to how to do systems work with families to enhance their functioning.

TDC: What do you think has made you so successful?

Sharon: I think that my passion for the work, my passion for learning, and my passion for sharing my knowledge has made me so successful.

TDC: What drives you to do your day to day work?

Sharon: I love helping clinicians grow through training and supervision. Those light bulb moments that I help facilitate for clinicians make my day. In addition, I enjoy my work with clients. I recently was trained in mindfulness and have been incorporating that into my practice. Seeing my clients develop more self regulation and self compassion is so gratifying.

TDC: What’s next on the horizon for you?

Sharon: I want to reach more clinicians and contribute to expanding the amount of quality mental health services out there. By doing continuing education courses live and online, I hope to reach this goal.

TDC: If your current self could give your younger self a piece of advice as she was finishing up her MSW program, what would it be?

Sharon: Don't worry so much. By being open to experience and learning and following your passion, you will create a career that you love.

TDC: What advice do you have for those just starting out in their social work career?

Sharon: Keep learning. Keep pursuing experiences whether trainings, on the job experiences or reading books that will expand your horizons. Find a therapeutic orientation or practice that resonates with you and become an expert in it. Lastly, get good supervision. Find a supervisor that supports you and challenges you to grow. I have grown the most from supervisors who challenged me to take risks and that made me show them video tapes and audios of my sessions. It is from anxiety provoking uncomfortable situations that we grow the most.

 If you know a clinical social worker or MFT who should be highlighted in an upcoming "Pathways to Success" story, email Heidi at


Topics: Counseling, Family Therapy, Professional Development

Benefits of Pre-Marital Counseling

Posted by Amanda Rowan

July 15, 2016 at 2:27 PM

Benefits of Pre-Marital Counseling

They’re excited. They’re in love and the day is quickly approaching when they marry the man/woman of their dreams. The next phase in life looks great. Most soon-to-be couples ask ‘What can possibly go wrong when you finally get to spend the rest of your days with your special someone?’

Why Few People Seek Pre-Marital Counseling

Marriage is a big commitment, yet few engaged couples outside of religious communities go to pre-marital counseling. While most faith communities require couples to attend pre-marital counseling, couples with no faith background shy away from counseling. This has to do with fear. They don’t want to put a kink in a blossoming relationship. Engaged couples can be naïve and believe they can properly sort out their differences later.

How Pre-Marital Counseling Can Help

The benefits of pre-marital counseling, however, far outweigh the risks of addressing potential conflict before marriage. As a marriage and family therapist (MFT), you can offer engaged couples valuable advice. You can give them an unbiased, honest, outsider’s perspective on each partner’s shortcomings and bring up issues that need to be discussed before marriage.

No marriage, after all, will be without disagreements and conflict. Pre-marital counseling is a key component in ensuring that couples will have marriages that last. You can address the communication and conflict resolution issues that lead to divorce and prepare them with a plan and solution for dealing with these inevitabilities. 




Here are the key benefits that you, as an MFT, can offer couples through pre-marital counseling.

  1. Lack of communication and inappropriate communication are the biggest contributors to disintegrating marriages. Many couples don’t engage in proper, open communication until a big problem arises – and by then it’s too late to work on communication skills. Some couples won’t even communicate during a major conflict, which leads to further misunderstandings.


Successful marriages require strong communication skills. Pre-marital counseling can provide the opportunity to develop effective communication skills for both partners. Negative communication habits can also be addressed during these sessions. When both partners go into the marriage with strong and effective communication skills, future conflicts can be addressed quicker and in a healthier way.


  1. Conflict resolution. The strength of one’s marriage is tested when conflict comes. No marriage is immune from disagreements and arguments and those that persevere with appropriate conflict resolution are the ones that will most likely to succeed. Conflict, like unhealthy communication skills, can destroy a marriage. Sessions with a counselor can guide soon-to-be couples on how to handle inevitable disagreements in a healthy and safe way. This knowledge will make future marital struggles easier to handle and discuss.


  1. Outside perspective. When people are in love, they tend to only see the best in their fiancé. Sooner or later, the honeymoon phase will end and they’ll see each other’s true colors. As a marriage counselor, you’ll will be able to offer an outside, objective perspective on their relationship and the strengths and weaknesses both partners bring to the marriage. As an outside observer, you will be able to offer the best wisdom, advice and correction.


  1. Lower chance for divorce. The biggest benefit of pre-marital counseling is that it equips both partners with the tools and knowledge needed to communicate effectively and clearly with one another and handle and resolve conflict. This, in turn, will lower the couple’s chance of their marriage ending in divorce.


Pre-marital counseling is highly recommended for any engaged couple. It is the best way couples can effectively communicate and handle future conflicts in their marriage. Couples who attend counseling have a higher chance their marriage will last and not end in divorce.

As a marriage and family therapist, you’ll have the opportunity to ensure that a couple’s marriage starts off on the right foot. For more information about becoming an MFT or preparing for the licensing exam, you can visit our resources and study guides.



Topics: Counseling, Premarital Counseling, Marriage Therapy, MFT

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