counseling, goals, happiness, psychology, Uncategorized

Why Fall is a Great Time for Self-Reflection

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“If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection.
It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone.
Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.”
– Mitchell Burgess –

Autumn in the Northeast is a special time of year. Fall is an opportune time for introspection and reflection about life. As the leaves begin to change color, the days get shorter, leaves fall away, and colder nights start to appear – these all are the signs of a new change in the circle of nature. Fall is a bittersweet season–the leaves are beautiful but they are in fact dying. This time of the year with its picturesque beauty always inspires me to reflect. Similarly, to nature that follows its seasonal patterns, we also face constant changes in our lives.

While fall may seem a season of decline as we head towards winter, it is actually a good time to sum up the results of the year, set new goals and begin something new. To find yourself is a lifelong process–do you ever find yourself wondering how you ended up where you are? Often we avoid asking ourself the hard questions because they can bring about uncomfortable feelings. If you are not careful, not mindfully aware of where you are going, you could end up somewhere far from where you want to be.

Fall is the end of many things but it can also signify new beginnings. Autumn can be a time to see the colors, notice the details, explore nature, and find beauty in the moment. All of these changes going on around us can signal a time to reflect on the past and plan for the future.

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Self-reflection is defined as “meditation or serious thought about one’s character, actions, and motives.”

Too often we don’t stop to pause and take a deep breath. We keep moving. We live on auto pilot. We push through. We don’t stop to reflect. We stay in jobs that are (literally) killing us, relationships that zap our energy, circumstances that leave us stressed, unhappy, frustrated and tired.

We keep running on the treadmill of life thinking we don’t have time to waste. So we keep moving in order to keep up. But too often, we just crash and burn. That’s because the only way to keep up with the pace of life is to STOP. To hop off the treadmill. To reflect on what’s working and what’s not.

Self-reflection is a four step process:

  • STOP: Take a step back from life or a particular situation.
  • LOOK: Identify and get perspective on what you notice and see.
  • LISTEN: Listen to your inner guide, the innate wisdom that bubbles up when you give it time and space to emerge.
  • ACT: Identify the steps you need to take moving forward to adjust, change or improve.

It’s about taking a step back and reflecting on your life, behavior and beliefs. Some questions to help facilitate the process:

1)Am I using my time wisely?

2)Am I waking up ready to take on the day?

3)Are my relationships healthy? Are the people I am allowing into my life the right people?

4)Am I where I want to be? If I am not, how do I get from where I am to where I want to be?

5)Am I taking care of myself physically?

6)Am I taking care of myself mentally?

7)Am I letting matters that are out of my control stress me out?

8)Am I achieving the goals I set out for myself?

9)Are there any beliefs that are limiting me?

10)Am I living my life according to my values?

If you find you are not happy with the answers to these questions of self-refletion, counseling can be a great avenue for helping you change the course of your life. If you are interested in scheduling a session with me and are a reader living in New Jersey:

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822

etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

 

 

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counseling, psychology, self-help, Uncategorized

Approval Seeking Behavior: Do You Need Approval?

It doesn’t take a genius – let alone a therapist – to conclude that the root cause of most approval-seeking behavior is a lack of self-esteem.

If you need other people to sign off on your choices, opinions, etc., you are on a road that leads to nowhere good. It is not healthy to live our lives for other people (as people-pleasers and codependents often do).

The issue that arises with needing approval is a blind submission to others—a form of servitude that can enslave you spiritually, mentally, psychologically, emotionally, and physically. It can lead to anxiety about whether or not someone will validate your self-worth by bestowing you with the gift of their approval. To live like this is to give control to others over your life. If you live and breath for others’ approval, this is demoralizing as you surely will not always be given said approval.

Approval seeking also leads down a slippery slope of doing something that is against your better judgment, but to gain said person’s approval. Instead of doing what you think is right you do what the other person wants you to do and feel bad about it in the process. This is not a healthy way to live. Now this does not mean that the opposite of approval seeking is being deliberately rude, difficult, or oppositional. These are polar opposites to avoid. Instead your choices should be driven by your values not your blind need for approval.

If someone doesn’t approve of you and your choices, that is THEIR problem. Not yours. Unless you are an approval seeker that is. I find as a counselor, if people don’t approve of who they are, they tend to seek out the approval of others.

Your life is YOUR life. It’s as simple as that.  At the end of the day you are the only person who needs to approve of your choices. This is what being a mature self-actualized person means. Your friends, family, coworkers have their own things to focus on and worry about. They have their OWN life to LIVE.  You need to focus on your own life while simultaneously allowing others to focus on theirs.

The truth is gaining someone’s approval is a false ego boost. It is getting someone to validate you because you are not capable of validating yourself. A healthy person becomes independent of the good AND bad opinions of others—they know all outside chatter is essentially noise. In becoming self-differentiated and emotionally mature, we live by our own values and principles.

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Listen, all of us care if people like us to some extent. Humans are social animals after all.  We all love validation and approval particularly if it is a person we truly respect. But if you are psychologically and emotionally healthy, you shouldn’t need it. But if you NEED people to like and approve of you, this is a different story. It is time to start reflecting on WHY.

Here’s the thing. You can’t control what other people are thinking. But guess what? It doesn’t matter. Because you CAN control what YOU are thinking. This is where your power lies.

When we constantly and endlessly aim to please other people, we’re seeking approval of self from outside sources. And whenever we reach for something in the external world to give us what we NEED to be giving ourselves, we set ourselves up for disappointment and hurt. We set ourselves up to live a life we don’t necessarily want, but will fit with what other people expect of us. This is an inauthentic way of being.

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If you are doing the best you can with what you have, worrying if people like you or not is a waste of your most precious resource: your energy. If you are struggling with needing other people’s approval, counseling may be a good avenue to pursue. A good clinician can help you be okay without needing other people’s approval.

Ask yourself, “Do I value this person’s opinion?” and “Do they have my best interest at heart?” If the answer to both of those questions isn’t a definitive yes, then don’t worry so much about what they say or do.

At the end of the day, if someone doesn’t understand you or believe in you, it’s their choice—but if you keep waiting for their approval, it’s your choice. Don’t chain yourself, including your self-worth, to someone who does not value you.  You have to be able to accept the fact that some people might never understand you, respect you, or like you—and that’s OK.

If you find you are struggling with approval seeking behavior and would like to schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822

etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

counseling, goals, happiness, psychology, Uncategorized

Everything Can Change, If YOU Can Change

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Change.

Many people HATE change. They fight it like hell. Resist it at ALL costs.

We all know people who will do ANYTHING to preserve the status quo.

But you can’t avoid change. The problem with hating change is life is FILLED with it.

Everyone, from every walk of life, must deal with change.

Change is always happening, but the way people react to change can be very different. Some people respond with fear, others respond with denial, others RELISH change.

What about you? How do you handle change?

Are you someone who puts off changes that you know need to be made?

Do you resist change to your own detriment?

Are you a person who creates opportunities for change because you view change as growth?

As humans, we are designed as a species that can adapt to all sorts of environments. If we weren’t CAPABLE of coping with change in all likelihood, we would be extinct.

For some people, they are not against change. But they may resist BEING changed.  It is the source of the change that matters to them.  Some people do not like change that is imposed on them—by say a boss, spouse, or some other external source.

Some people don’t mind change...depending how big the change is.  Perhaps they can change a small aspect of their life but anything they deem to big and threatening is out of the question.

The truth is we all HAVE different thresholds when it comes to our ability to adapt to change. What I can handle you may not be able to handle or vice versa. Being averse to change or embracing it is a very subjective experience.

It all comes down to how comfortable you are with uncertainty.. Ask yourself–would you rather be WRONG or UNCERTAIN?

Some people say better the devil they know because the risk of uncertainty is too UNCOMFORTABLE for them to handle. Even when on an intellectual level a person knows uncertainty also comes with the chance of things being BETTER.

Below is a quiz I came across, that takes only a couple minutes, to get a sense of how much change you feel comfortable with:

https://www.leadershipiq.com/blogs/leadershipiq/122984769-quiz-how-do-you-personally-feel-about-change

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If you find you want to change or need to change but have not been able to bring yourself to do so, you may benefit from working with a professional counselor.

Counseling can help you step out of your comfort zone to a more fulfilling, happier life. As you change your behavior, you identity starts to shift.  Our identity is NOT fixed, we are all capable of changing for the better.

The question is are you READY for a change?

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822

etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

counseling, goals, happiness, humility, psychology, Uncategorized

Is Comparison TRULY the Thief of Joy?

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Is comparison truly the thief of joy?

The tendency to compare ourselves to others is as human as any other emotion. All of us are guilty of this behavior from time to time.

Comparison is a thief of joy because it fosters competition more than affiliation. It is hard to develop close relationships or feel a sense of community with people when you view everyone as “the competition.” Sad to say when we engage in the game of social comparison, we are stuck dealing with comparison’s partner in crime: envy. And its ugly stepsister– jealousy. Neither of which lays the foundation for healthy relationships with one’s self or others.

When we compare, we compete. (And I am not talking about HEALTHY competition). Instead of celebrating other people’s strengths and gifts, we seek to tear them down because we begin to view them as a threat. Comparison leads to competition which requires someone be the winner and someone else the loser. 

In turn, we view others as competitors instead of companions. Instead of fostering a sense of community, we foster a zero sum game. This is not a game that is going to end well for our relationships.

Ask yourself–when is the LAST time you compared yourself to another? A family member? A friend? A coworker? Or think of the last time you checked your Instagram or Facebook feed. Which updates made you feel jealous or made you feel as if your life paled in comparison? Which posts make you feel smug or better than that person who posted it? Feeling superior OR inferior to another are two sides of the same coin.

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In comparing yourself to others to evaluate your own sense of self-worth, you will ALWAYS be losing. This leads to a “better than versus worse than” mentality and feelings of superiority or inferiority— neither of which helps us to build healthy relationships with others or feel happy with our self.

Yet human nature being what it is includes having a fundamental need to evaluate ourselves, and the only way many of us seem to know to do that is in reference to something else.

We compare our accomplishments with everyone else’s.  We compare our looks, our body, our Instagram likes, our college acceptances, our careers. We compare our weight with everyone else’s. The size of our house. The number of stamps on our passports.

You name it- we compare it. Comparison drives the underlying feeling that we are never ENOUGH.

Soon we are stuck in the mental loop that there is always someone else doing it ALL better than we are.

Another issue with comparison is we usually zero in one aspect of a person’s life and envy it.  It is usually an area where we judge ourselves the most harshly that we compare to others. Yet rarely when we compare ourselves to others are we looking at the whole picture — the good, the bad, and the unfortunate.

We look at the one aspect of a person’s life we envy without taking into account all the other components of the person.  Everyone has a few less than ideal aspects to their life. No one’s life is completely free of sadness, pain, loss, shortcomings, insecurities, or disappointments.

In life, we all are forced to play the hand we are dealt.

The point is not to be better than anyone else. All ANY of us can do is play the cards we were dealt the best way we know how. To try to become a better version of yourself.

In this game of life you will never reach a point where you are better than others in EVERY way and why would you WANT to be.

By indulging in comparison, we demean ourselves and those we are comparing ourselves to.

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When I assume someone is better than me because they earn a higher salary than me, I am diminishing my value to the number of zeroes on my paycheck. If I assume I have more discipline than someone who weighs more than me, I am diminishing someone’s worth to a number on a scale instead of looking at them as a human being.

Comparison has a way of creating problems when there is none. It plants seed of jealousy and envy within us that spoils our ability to connect openly and authentically with others.

Jealousy has a way of focusing on one thing at the expense of others. Jealousy gives an incomplete view of another person.  For  instance, envy ignores the hours of work that generated the high-level salary — the sacrifice of time that could have been spent with friends or family. It tends to overlook the years of schooling, studying, discipline, student loan debt, and sacrifices that preceded the success. It discounts the cost of the benefit.

It’s pretty easy to envy one aspect of another person’s life — his/her looks, talent, wealth, significant other, personality, or intelligence. It’s much harder to look closely at a person’s life as a whole and then envy another person’s life — a complete compilation of experiences.

Whenever I experience pangs of envy and I have to weigh everything at once, I tend to be more satisfied with my lot. Because if I want anything someone else has (his/her salary, ACTUAL career, education, self-confidence, weight, etc) I have to take everything else that comes with it — be it the high levels of stress, ill spouse, imperfect teeth, chronic illness, difficult child, or an alcoholic parent. Everyone has aspects of their life that are UNenviable.

Sure some people’s lives have more blessings and some have more suffering and loss. But every life has its ups and downs. Everyone gets some — some good and some bad.

Mind you, everyone’s “some” will be different.

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So if you’re walking down the street and a super fit 20-year-old runs by, you might instantly assess that, by comparison, you’re out of shape. Then you may note that you’re at least two decades older than the jogger and juggling the care of three children under the age of 5 with a  full-time job. You recall that you don’t have the same metabolism or time for exercise. Or maybe you realize you don’t even LIKE to run.

Maybe you are just starting out in your career and feel jealous of someone who is 10 or 15 years further along in their career. You feel pangs of insecurity at their lucrative career. Yet you know this person is older and further along in establishing their life. Or maybe when you think about it, you don’t want an EXTREMELY stressful career with LONG hours that just happens to be lucrative, in turn. In playing the comparison game, we usually do not look at the big picture. It’s apples to oranges comparison.

Our comparison-targets also tend to be those within our social circle. We don’t usually fixate on how our lot in life corresponds to that of Mark Zuckerberg, or to that of the homeless man sprawled on the sidewalk, but rather to that of our friends, colleagues,  family members, and neighbors.

In other words, the more similar or close we are to another person in some way we think is important, the more we tend to compare ourselves to that person.

The truth is comparison is a waste of our time. First of all, success is a relative term. “Winning” and “success” has different meanings for different people. Some might be excelling at one thing but is struggling in other areas of their lives.  Second, we are all on our own timelines and started at VERY different places in life–different advantages and disadvantages. Third, social media is a highlight reel of people’s lives. Not many people are sharing/posting about their failures and daily challenges.

Comparison is a short-sighted approach to life. It brings on feelings of envy and jealousy–two wasted emotions.  If we realize that there is always going to be competition, there is always going to be someone we believe is better than us, then we can’t lose. If we start to be happy and satisfied with our own unique gifts, talents, and strengths, we lose the need to compare ourselves to others. Only when you apologetically own who you are—the good, the bad, and the ugly does comparison lose its grip on you.

If you find you are struggle with social comparison, counseling can be a good place to work through these feelings. Instead of trying to be better than others, focus your energy on being the very best version of yourself.

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822

etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

 

 

anxiety, counseling, psychology, self-help, Uncategorized

Anticipatory Anxiety: Why We Need to Get Comfortable with Discomfort

Anticipatory anxiety is the anxiety we experience in anticipation of exposure to our frightening triggers. Anticipatory anxiety is a more complex problem than other forms of anxiety because in our attempts to avoid what we fear, we only make our fear and anxiety THAT much stronger. The only way to overcome anticipatory anxiety is to face your fear.

Anticipatory anxiety is a negative projection about an unknown outcome.

Common ways we cope with anticipatory anxiety?
-Drinking alcohol

-Taking anti-anxiety drugs

-Avoiding the source of our fear

-Seeking reassurance from others

If you struggle with anticipatory anxiety, you likely suffer from high negative emotions. You likely have high trait neuroticism. If you’re highly neurotic, it’s possible that you feel trapped by the trait’s maladaptive thought patterns, or struggle with depression or anxiety, both of which are more likely to occur in highly neurotic individuals. (If you are interested in finding your level of neuroticism, I copied and pasted a link to the Big Five Factor test that assesses levels of neuroticism as one of the fundamental personality traits).

https://openpsychometrics.org/tests/IPIP-BFFM/

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If you struggle with anticipatory anxiety, you are likely NOT open to new experiences. Anything that is not routine and within your comfort zone is going to spike your baseline anxiety levels. People who struggle with anxiety tend to be high in neuroticism and low on openness to new experiences.

If you struggle with this type of anxiety, you hate dealing with uncertainty. The problem with this is life is chock full of uncertainties. The thing is some people are okay with having a lot of uncertainty in their lives, and other people cannot stand even a small amount of uncertainty.

Some people may be temperamentally more “high-strung” and biologically more vulnerable to anxiety. It is important you seek treatment as left untreated it tends to worsen with age. Learning coping skills to mitigate anxiety is transformational to those who suffer.

Some common traits of people who are intolerant of uncertainty:

  • Seeking excessive reassurance from others: You want others to agree with you or reassure you. This might be asking friends or family their opinion on a decision that you have to make or asking for excessive support
  • List-making: As a way of eliminating uncertainty, some people will make long and detailed “to do” lists, sometimes several lists every day
  • Double checking: For example, calling loved ones repeatedly to “make sure” that they are okay, or re-reading emails several times to check that they are perfect and that there are no spelling mistakes
  • Refusing to delegate tasks to others: Many people who are intolerant of uncertainty will not allow anyone either at work or at home to do certain tasks; this is because they cannot be “sure” that it will be done correctly unless they do it
  • Procrastination/avoidance: Because being uncertain can cause anxiety, some people simply procrastinate or avoid people, places or situations. If you do not do something, then you don’t have to feel uncertain about it
  • Distraction: Many people who are intolerant of uncertainty keep themselves “busy” most of the day, that way, they don’t have the time to think about all the uncertainty in life

A common way we see anticipatory anxiety play out is in a common fear many people have which is of flying.

Here is how it plays out.

If you are phobic of flying, booking a flight might bring upon some anxiety. The week before the trip, your anxiety will likely begin to escalate. By the night before you are scheduled to fly, you may be on the verge of having a panic attack. In anticipatory anxiety, you imagine the future. You experience an imaginary airplane, not a real one.  You imagine what might happen if you get on the plane. You are at home, imagining one or a variety of imaginary in-flight disasters.Or feeling anxious about being trapped in a rocket ship (your own “internal” claustrophobia). You see stress depends upon imagination. Note I am saying you “imagine” because your imagination is creating the worst case scenario. Anticipatory anxiety has you amping up your stress response and mentally psyching yourself out.

When the day comes and it is time to leave for the airport you may feel like you are on the verge of a panic attack. Your imagination runs wild. You will continue to feel your anxiety escalate as you drive to the airport, go through security, and sit waiting for your plane to board.

Yet when you actually board the plane and take it off, you actually feel okay during the flight. This is because anticipatory anxiety is different from phobic anxiety. Yet while flying you may feel okay, if you were to think about scheduling ANOTHER flight, your anticipatory anxiety would ramp up. The thing about anxiety is it is often quite  irrational in nature.

Anticipatory anxiety is the fear and dread you experience before the event or situation.

It’s what’s at play when you spend weeks dreading the results of a doctor’s appointment, yet the news is benign and manageable. Or when you have social anxiety–you may struggle with the decision to accept or decline attending a friend’s birthday, but eventually give in and go, and have a great time!  “Why did I do that to myself?” you wonder.

Most people experience anticipatory anxiety, every once and awhile. This experience is the body’s normal response to perceived future threats. In the days and hours leading up to an important event you may be anxious and nervous, which is the stress response in action. It is anticipating the need to protect the body from threat or danger. Although this system is critical to our survival when there is actual threat or danger, it’s a big problem when there isn’t.

People who struggle with anxiety tend to have faulty cognitions. This is why CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) can be so helpful in the treatment of this disorder. It is understandable that during times of high stress and uncertainty emotions run high. However, people who are anxious perpetually suffer from high stress and out of control emotions. Anxiety suffers tend to see things in black or white terms, in other words, as right or wrong, moral or immoral. They are not able to see the nuances and complexities of situations.

Common areas of anticipatory anxiety include:

  • Applying for a new job
  • Speaking in public or other performances
  • Going on a date or to a party
  • Joining a club, team or sport
  • Starting a job
  • Preparing for an interview
  • Going on vacation
  • Tests, projects and oral reports
  • Life changes: getting married, having a baby, buying a house, relocating, retiring

Underlying this sense of anxiety is the feeling that you cannot handle whatever it is you fear. It is a lack of confidence in your ability to cope.

Yet every time you encounter something that forces you to “handle it,” your self-esteem is raised immensely. You learn to trust that you will survive, no matter what happens. And in this way your fears are diminished immeasurably. You realize you can handle WHATEVER life throws at you.

Being anxious leads to behavior that drives others away. When we struggle with anxiety we feel compelled to control other people and our environment. Anxiety leads us to manipulate others because we desperately need them to act in a way that feels safe to us or predictable. It is a self-defeating strategy as this type of attitude will act a repellant to healthy-functioning people.

Once you have this confidence, you are able to face challenges head on because you are not dependent on a particular outcome. You know no matter the outcome you can cope.

People who struggle with anxiety lack the confidence to cope with stress. Remember true security and confidence is knowing you can handle things. Underlying any anxiety disorder is a lack of trust in ourselves.

Think of it this way: IF YOU KNEW YOU COULD HANDLE ANYTHING LIFE THROWS AT YOU, WHAT WOULD YOU POSSIBLY HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT? The answer is: NOTHING!

Remember that the mind and body is designed to adapt. Too often people forget the inherent resilience of the human spirit. As long as you continue to face the things you fear, your anticipatory anxiety should subside. Short-term use of medications that calm anxiety may also be useful — talk to your doctor to find out what is best for you.

As long as you continue to grow and evolve, there will be new challenges and fears to face.

So the choice is yours. Grow, evolve, and face your fears OR choose to stay stagnant and in a bubble throughout your life. If you continue to do what you have always done, you will get the same results. If you want new results, you need to try a new approach.

Attempting to do anything new is uncomfortable and anxiety producing. This is a universal human experience. But anxiety is paradoxical–face the painful feelings now and feel incredible after or feel relief now and face the painful feelings later. We must push ourselves out of our comfort zones. Because in doing so we get to the other side: a place of genuine growth and a better version of yourself.

Remember coping with anxiety is a life long process. Be kind to yourself.

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822
etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com