Viral Fears

By Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW

Here in Seattle we have the unfortunate claim of being the epicenter of the US outbreak of the Novel Corona virus. Diagnostic criteria are still being refined, and confirmed cases increase daily. Most public gatherings have been cancelled, some schools have closed, and travel is being put on hold. This flu seems to be most dangerous for our elderly and immunocompromised, so it is unlike the influenza epidemic of 1918 which was especially lethal for young adults and children. It does however seem quite contagious.

For the majority of us, even if we get it and must quarantine ourselves, the most likely negative consequence is loss of income/education and a certain degree of cabin fever. These are inconvenient but luxurious concerns compared to death.

A good citizen is one who cares for the group as a whole. Even though we may be below age seventy and free of underlying health issues, we are each responsible for doing our part to care for the tribe that is the public. It is likely that a good number of us will need to quarantine to slow the progress of this virus.

Here are some measures that can be taken to reduce transmission:

  1. Wash all of your clothes each time you wear them. It appears that the virus can live on fabric for up to a week. The dryer is a germ-killing machine.
  2. Clean “high touch” areas such as door knobs, light switches, faucets and handles daily. At work don’t open doors or turn on/off faucets with your bare hands.
  3. Wipe your phone screen and computer keyboard daily.
  4. Wash your hands like an OCD person: hot water, twenty seconds of lathering, plus a paper towel equals clean.
  5. At home, switch out your kitchen and bathroom hand-towels every day. Or switch to paper towels for the duration.
  6. Try not to touch your face. This is hard! With every itch, I’m going through tissues like a fiend.

In preparation for your mental health needs, under self-quarantine:

  • Put together a list of projects for yourself and your kids in the categories of household, yard and bedroom tasks as well as creative/intellectual projects so you can still experience purpose and progress in your life.  
  • Pull out those books you’ve been meaning to read.
  • While you’re still healthy and mobile, get the ingredients to tackle cooking something new and challenging. An hour of prep is nothing for someone with two weeks of 24 hours to fill.
  • Maintain a normal sleep/wake schedule. Late nights watching Netflix plus isolation are a recipe for depression.

No matter what happens:

  1. The amygdala and limbic systems are the portions of the brain responsible for recognizing potential danger. The news is a constant amygdala stimulation event. The prefrontal cortex can calm the hindbrain down with conscious and soothing self-talk. Use your prefrontal cortex.

We will get through this.

Divorce Support Group

Divorce, Exterior lantern, Restaurant, View
Divorce, Exterior lantern, Restaurant, View (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Unexpected Path: A Divorce Support Group

By Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW,MSW

For half of the adult population, marriage ends in divorce.  Divorce is often one of the greatest challenges of adult life.  Typically, divorce comes after years of struggle to make an incompatible marriage work. 

This means that divorcing people feel exhausted and depressed from the struggle.  Even if divorce is a liberation from that failing struggle (as often is the case), on a meta-level it also represents the loss of a shared dream, on the micro-level it is the loss of a person to sit next to on the sofa and check in with, and on a practical level it is the loss of someone to help maintain a household and build a future together with.  If the divorcing couple has children, fears about the children’s emotional stability can (and frankly should) preoccupy and concern the parents. 

I am starting a divorce support group in response to the adjustment challenges I see taking place in this major life transition.  We will discuss:

  • ·         The stages of grieving ,
  • ·         How to create a sense of closure,
  • ·         Managing co-parenting issues,
  • ·         Constructing a post-divorce identity,
  • ·         Talking about the end of your marriage with friends and family members,
  • ·         The importance of self care during the process
  • ·         When and how to begin dating again

Additionally we will develop and practice resources for self-soothing using techniques such as mindfulness based practices, writing and breathing exercises. 

This group will meet for ten weeks in the North Seattle area. 

Cost is $45 per group (payable as a onetime upfront fee of $450.  Payment options will be available for those who need them)

Additional cost:  Intake is a onetime fee of $95 to assess fit between potential participants and the group.  You will not be charged for intake if you are not an appropriate candidate for the group.

There will be one reduced-fee spot available for someone experiencing financial hardship.  For more information please inquire.

 In order to learn more about the group or to schedule an intake, please call 206 375-7690.

About the facilitator:  Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW is a therapist who specializes in trauma work and adult attention deficit disorder.  She works with individuals as well as couples and currently also runs a group for adults with social anxiety disorder.  You can learn more about her approach online at or check out her professional blog at

Divorced and dating?  Check out my post on dating for the single parent:


Coming Home to You: A Retreat For Mothers

By Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW

Joyce Victor is a psychotherapist and parenting teacher who teaches “Parenting the Spirited Child,” a popular parenting class in the Seattle area.   Joyce also happens to be one of those women everyone wants to have in their circle of friends:  wise, calm and kind, she has a that great combination of being highly intelligent as well as deeply committed to social justice issues… so when we started batting around the idea of co-facilitating a mother’s retreat day together, it felt like Christmas morning:  Spending time with a woman I enjoy and admire!  Working with a population I feel passionate about!  Serving a community that is often too busy for self care!  Making money to have fun!  Yippee!

We started planning it, and in no time we had more activities than we could possibly fit into a weekend, much less a single day.  The problem was how to get the word out.  This has been our biggest challenge so far.  So I’m interviewing her to both promote this retreat as well as this woman to my readership (all two of you…you know who you are). 

We spoke the day after Joyce returned from spending three days in (that’s in as in “visiting” not in as in “inmate”) the Monroe Penitentiary volunteering in the Alternatives to Violence Project, a nonprofit group that helps prisoners develop non-violent approaches to conflict.  

Me:  So what is it about group work that is so powerful?

Joyce:  Group work is being together with other people who are searching for answers about life’s predicaments—there’s nothing else like it.  It’s different than talking to a friend because you get the understandings of everyone else in the group.  What they are figuring out enriches you.  There’s a sense of shared community which lasts past the workshop.  This gives the participants a sense of courage to do things differently. 

Me:  One of the things that I’m aware of and cautious about is that by engaging in my chosen profession I am a part of the authority culture that inadvertently encourages people not to trust themselves and their instincts.  I think this authority culture really shows up around motherhood. 

I remember being pregnant and reading that bossy book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and coming across this infuriating sentence:  “With every bite you should ask yourself “is this the best bite for my baby?” and if it’s not then PUT THE FORK DOWN.”  This became the first book I ever threw across the room in disgust.  The idea that a pregnant woman who is reading a book to better prepare for motherhood needs any further installation of guilt and fear still makes my blood boil. 

All this is preamble to this:  We want to create a retreat for mother’s to reconnect with their own wisdom, rather than hand down our own from up on high. How do you share your intelligence with your clients in a way that respects their intelligence? 

Joyce:  That issue is the most important thing I have been working on!  It has made me shift the way that I work in groups.  In groups I try to create opportunities for people to share what they know and learn from each other.  I teach ground rules about brainstorming and then divide them into small groups and have them brainstorm solutions problems someone in the group is having.  Inevitably, when I collect feedback at the end of the course people write that the “best part of class is working with other parents.”  This is great because everyone has a huge amount to offer. 

Me:  What is it about being a mother that begs for time away?   And why is so hard for mothers to admit that they need that? 

Joyce:  Your sense of self before having children and your relationship with your partner is eclipsed by mothering.  Parenting is such a powerful responsibility and joy, it’s a 24 hour job that takes over the time one has for conversation with oneself, as well as the importance of keeping a separate path.  We are required to throw ourselves 100% into being mothers, and then the role tapers out so that we must let our children go and not rely on them for being our source of value or meaning

I think women are afraid of being selfish, but they need to know that children also benefit from seeing and knowing their mother as a whole human being with outside interests who are growing and learning.   This is helpful for both a daughter’s future sense of self as well as for sons who need to know that women are not just taking care of their families.  Women also have an essential life of their own spirit and soul that is going on.  Taking time for yourself is actually helpful to your children. 

Thank you Joyce! 

If a day of hanging out with like-minded soul searching mamas appeals to you, give me a call at 206 375-7690 so I can make sure this workshop is a good fit for you.    Our retreat flyer can be found on Joyce’s website: