Intern Spotlight: Meet Sara Mercier-Kennedy

M.S. Clinical Mental Health Intern

Graduated from Colorado State University with a double Bachelor’s in Psychology and Sociology, where I focused on Gender Identity formation, and LGBTQIA+ issues.  Specifically those in relation to the Transgender population and access to health-care and mental health counseling by knowledgeable counseling professionals and doctors.  I then went on to my Master’s at Walden University where I continued this track and become actively involved in the ACA’s ALGBTIC division and served on a the committee for making language in documentation more accessible and gender neutral.  I picked up a specialization in Crisis & Trauma after working for Hospice and volunteering at the local LGBT center’s around my hometown and university.  Eventually I made my way to Florida from Colorado.  Gamer/Neet/Anime Weeb and all around enjoyer of life’s little self-care routines.

My main mission is to provide a safe, empathetic, and understanding environment for clients to explore who they are regardless of where they have been.  Healing begins by understanding ourselves, and through exploration of those things that have brought us joy as-well-as pain.  Understanding and acceptance of ourselves can ultimate lead us to not only the most authentic version of ourselves, but  a self that can truly accept others as well.

Sara is a great addition to our Harmony team. If you would like to set up a consult or session with Sara please contact HarmonyUS Inc by calling or text 209-867-7233.


Abigail Maher

Registered Mental Health Counseling Intern

Abby earned her Masters degree from Northwestern University where she specialized in working with the LGBTQIA+ population. In addition to her clinical work Abby is an active volunteer with The Trevor Project, a national organization dedicated to suicide prevention for LGBTQIA+ youth. She is a volunteer member of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQIA+ advocacy and civil rights organization in the United States. Abby also belongs to the Florida Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender issues in Counseling (FALGBTIC).

Abby uses a variety of treatment styles, theories and interventions in her work, but underneath it all her main focus is providing a safe, empathic environment for you to truly explore yourself and every facet of your experience. This includes both exploring sources of pain and hurt, and celebrating sources of hope and joy. Abby believes that one of the most powerful things we can do is truly learn to understand ourselves, accept ourselves, practice compassion for ourselves, and move forward in life allowing ourselves to be as authentic as possible.


Making relationships and sex education work for children with SEND

Media release – 1 September 2020

To coincide with relationships and sex education (RSE) becoming compulsory on 1st September, the Sex Education Forum, together with Image in Action and Mencap, have published a new guide for teachers about how to teach RSE in an accessible way to ensure pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are not left behind.

While the Department for Education guidance (1) stresses that RSE must be accessible to all pupils and may be a particularly important subject for pupils with SEND, over three-quarters (76%) of teachers consulted by the Sex Education Forum said that practical advice on how to deliver RSE to students with SEND would be ‘very helpful’ (2).

While the curriculum and topics covered in RSE should essentially be the same for pupils with SEND as for mainstream pupils (2), there are some specific practical considerations for schools, such as planning to revisit topics, involving the wide range of staff who may be involved in the teaching and care of pupils and using informal opportunities, for example queuing for lunch could be a chance to reinforce learning about personal boundaries.

The guide is also a timely reminder of good practice that applies to all schools, such as using correct language for private body parts, establishing partnerships with parents and carers, and listening to children and young people themselves. 

Lucy Emmerson, Director of the Sex Education Forum, said:

‘Relationships and Sex Education is an important subject for all children and young people, because it deals with matters that affect their everyday lives such as changing bodies, emotions, friendships, family and intimate relationships. Statutory RSE correctly sets high expectations for meeting the needs of all children, and with adequate support schools will be able to achieve this. The extent to which RSE meets the needs of pupils with SEND will be a test of successful implementation of the new legislation.’

Richard Lawrence, project support assistant and co-chair of the Relationship and Sex Steering Group at Mencap and who has a learning disability, said:

‘People with a learning disability can and do fall in love. But lots of people have told me that because I have a learning disability, I don’t understand what a healthy relationship, consent or safe sex is. It’s negative attitudes like this that mean that people with a learning disability don’t get to learn about these important things like others do. They end up finding out the hard way, and this isn’t right. People with a learning disability need to be given the chance to learn so they can find love or have friendships.

“We all need to learn about sex, relationships, consent and our bodies. But it’s a lot harder for people with a learning disability to do this because accessible information is hidden away. That’s why we at Mencap are proud to be working with the Sex Education Forum and Image in Action on this guide for teachers. It will help teachers make relationship and sex education accessible to everyone, by giving people more time, using images and avoiding jargon, to make sure pupils with a learning disability can better understand.’

‘RSE for disabled pupils and pupils with special educational needs’ is a free resource available from the Sex Education Forum. 




About the Sex Education Forum
The Sex Education Forum, part of the National Children’s Bureau, is the national authority on relationships and sex education (RSE). We believe that good quality RSE is an entitlement for all children and young people and we are working with our 60+ partners, who all support statutory, inclusive RSE and include local authorities, children’s, religious, health and family organisations, to achieve this. Mencap and Image in Action are partners of the Sex Education Forum.

For further information visit:  

About the National Children’s Bureau
For more than 50 years, the National Children’s Bureau has worked to champion the rights of children and young people in the UK. We interrogate policy and uncover evidence to shape future legislation and develop more effective ways of supporting children and families. As a leading children’s charity, we take the voices of children to the heart of Government, bringing people and organisations together to drive change in society and deliver a better childhood for the UK. We are united for a better childhood.

For more information visit


There are approximately 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.

For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap’s Freephone Learning Disability Helpline on 0808 808 1111 (9am-6pm, Monday-Friday) or email [email protected]

For more information visit:

What is a learning disability?

  • A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life; 
  • Learning disability is NOT a mental illness or a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia. Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’;
  • People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability.



Putting Body Image in Perspective

Every summer, after trading sweaters for swimsuits, many young people find themselves struggling with body image. Throughout middle and most of high school, I too felt insecure about my body.

Looking back, I understand where my negative view came from. From the time I started puberty, the opinions of family, friends and even strangers affected my self-image. I used to hear from female family members that being fat was their worst fear. Comments from peers about my body changed how I presented myself. I avoided attracting attention to myself. My existence became shaped by other people and their beliefs before I had the chance to sort out how I felt about myself.

Low Point

My sophomore year of high school was a low point. I wasn’t confident in my body and was dealing with an undiagnosed migraine condition. By the time I was finally diagnosed, I had been leaving school one or two times a week with a headache so bad that I was nauseous and unable to see. Daily headaches and all the symptoms that came with them became my norm and worsened to the point where my condition was considered chronic. But surprisingly, I also took a big step forward in how I saw myself.

More Mindful

As I’ve learned to accept my condition, my body image has actually improved. Becoming more focused on feeling relief from my symptoms put my body image issues in perspective. More recently, I’ve started to appreciate my body more by focusing on what it can do and how it feels, rather than the things I visually don’t like about it. There’s now so much more meaning to existing in my body than just my appearance. I’ve become more mindful of the little things.

I no longer work out to look smaller. I lightly exercise and stretch to help maintain my health.

I no longer eat to change my body by losing weight. I eat to manage my condition and give me my best shot at being pain-free.

I no longer pick myself apart and find things to dislike. I now see myself as a whole person who is enough, just as I am.

I choose to surround myself with people who love themselves, love me and care more about the rich experiences that life has to offer than what they see in the mirror. And when I can’t do that, I put up boundaries with people whom I don’t want to discuss body image with. I do my best to hold onto my body-positive mentality when facing triggers or unsolicited opinions on what bodies “should” look like.

Learning to Love Myself

One day I hope to be secure enough in my image that hearing other people’s negative messages won’t bother me. I’m still learning. There are days when I struggle, but I’ve found that for me, this new mentality isn’t a choice. It’s something I have to tell myself in order to deal. This mindset is for anyone, chronic condition or not.

I wish more people would learn how to love themselves. When your body has the capacity to feel so much and bring you so much joy, why limit yourself? Take up space, feel everything and enjoy everything your body has to offer you.

The post Putting Body Image in Perspective appeared first on Sex, Etc..



Dating During the Pandemic: Tips for Young People Who Are Living at Home

Ellen Friedrichs
If you are a teen or young adult who lives at home during COVID-19, and are dating or sexually active with a partner, navigating this part of your life — with your partner, with parents or guardians — is complicated. A lot of households and families are having to negotiate what the new dating normal looks like. Here are some ideas to help make those discussions smoother.

Wherever you are in the world, it is likely that you’ve been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in some way.

If you are dating or sexually active with a partner who you aren’t living with, one of those ways is probably going to be how to navigate this really intimate part of your life. That can feel overwhelming at a time when being physically close is so hard, and when even things that are usually considered safer, like hugging and kissing, can be risky for COVID-19 transmission. To complicate matters even more, if you are a teen or young adult who lives at home, there is also the extra issue of adding your parents’ opinions, and their rules, into the mix. Needless to say, things can get intense fast!

Sometimes, everyone sees eye-to-eye on the matter. As one 17-year-old said in an online discussion about dating during the pandemic, “I have a girlfriend that I love to hang out with…Our parents let us hang out, but we have to stay 6 feet apart.”

For others, there is more tension about the issue at home. An 18-year-old looking for advice on Quora wrote, “I want to quarantine with my boyfriend. Living with him would make my life a little bit better in these horrible times. I mentioned it to my mom and she basically just got mad.”

Still, whether or not you and your parents are on the same page, or in a heated battle, a lot of households and families are having to negotiate what the new dating normal looks like. So here are some ideas about how to help make those discussions smoother.

1. Prepare to compromise

Right now, everyone is trying to figure out how to get together safely in real life. But since there isn’t a clear playbook, it is pretty common to disagree about the details. For example, if your parents want you to only see your partner online and you want to meet up in person, then you might propose a compromise. I wouldn’t advise suggesting a sleepover, which will be easy to nix on COVID grounds alone. But many parents will be open to a physically distanced outdoor hang-out.

Obviously, if you have a physical or sexual relationship with your partner, staying apart can be incredibly hard, and for some people, being close to a partner they can’t touch is excruciating. I don’t want anyone to beat themselves up if they aren’t always totally diligent on that front. But since being physically intimate with someone you don’t live with can be risky for both you and your household, you really want to think through your decision. That is something people of all ages have had to figure out and many are choosing to take a break from their partnered sex lives right now, even if that is the last thing they want to do.

2. Be responsible

Prove that your parents can trust you. If you say you will only hang-out with someone outside, do. If you commit to wearing a mask, don’t take it off the second you are out of sight. If you agree to see just one specific person, don’t go to a party. If you realize you have done something risky, voluntarily quarantine or physically distance as best as your household will allow. It can be hard to be honest when you’ve done something you know could put others at risk, but if at all possible, right now if it crucial to be truthful and then to work out how to deal with the situation together. The more trust you build with parents, the more flexible they are likely to be.

I know at first I was nervous about letting my own teen see friends, but after she took some distanced bike rides and had some distanced picnics in a way we were both comfortable with, I stopped grilling her about how far apart she’d been sitting and how many times she’d put on hand sanitizer. I actually started encouraging her to get out of the house when she could.

3. Go for open communication

My friend Ilana is a midwife and mom of a teen in Victoria, BC. Her 15-year-old, Eva had a first date planned before the pandemic hit. Ilana says, “My partner and I debated what to do. In the end we just said to Eva, why don’t you go for a walk but stay six feet apart. I explained it felt weird to tell her not to touch, and it was literally just because there was a pandemic. Otherwise, obviously, physical contact would be fine as long as she was comfortable and there was consent.”

This approach seems to be paying off. Eva has now gone on a few distanced dates with the same person and has been open with her parents about the challenges of having a relationship right now. That’s something which her parents have been more involved in than she would have anticipated under normal circumstances. As she explains, “I’ve had to go to my parents for dating advice multiple times during the pandemic because my friends aren’t helping me and my parents are home.” And as to whether or not she’s followed the advice they’ve given? Eva says while her parents’ ideas about things like flirting can miss the mark, she’s taken some of their suggestions about navigating dating right now and about the difficulty of connecting when that is primarily happening over devices.

Though a lot of us groan about being stuck in such close quarters with our families, for some young people that proximity has also opened up the door to conversations that might not have happened otherwise. 

4. Correct misinformation 

Not all parents are up to date on current safety recommendations. For example, in the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of cities closed parks and beaches to keep people home. Now, more and more research is showing that being outside at a distance from others is much safer than was originally believed. If you think your parents don’t have the right information, find out what is advised where you live and share that with your folks. Of course, you want to be thoughtful when having these conversations. Though it might be tempting to push back the second parents set a limit that seems unfair, try to start by asking them to explain their decisions. There are always those who are going to just take the “because I said so” approach. But there are many others who will at least explain their rationale and listen to the information that they don’t have. Some parents may be vary of information presented by their children, but will listen to people the see as authorities on the matter. So if you know of articles from trusted sources offer to share those with your family and then to read them together.

And, if their issue is that they think young people can’t be trusted or are driving the second wave (or continuing the first wave) of the virus, you might want to let them know that intergenerational family parties, religious gatherings and political rallies, which skew much older, have also been found to have contributed to the recent uptick in new cases. Plenty of young people are perfectly capable of following public health guidelines.

5. Get an outside adult advocate

If your parents refuse to have a rational conversation, or if you just keep hitting dead-ends on coming to an agreement about socializing, try to think of a supportive adult whose opinion they might value.

This can be especially important if their decisions aren’t due to a legitimate difference of opinion about safety and risk, but are instead driven by other factors, like racism or trans- or homophobia. For example, if your parents let your brother see his girlfriend but don’t let you see a same gender partner, there might be some serious bias at play. Now obviously, there could be a totally different reason for their decision, say if they suspect abuse, or if your partner is much older or uses substances. But when it is clear that something like that isn’t the issue and rather your partner’s identity is, then you might need some help getting through to them. In those situations, enlisting allies who have your parent’s ear can make a huge difference.

You might also be interested to know that Scarleteen has done parent/teen mediation via the message boards. If that sounds like something that could help in your situation, you can come ask about it on the boards here.

6. Nosiness is part of the new normal

Lots of young people feel like their parents are too involved in their social lives and dating experiences. But these days, our choices have an impact on those around us like never before. If you are seeing someone who you don’t live with, you could potentially be exposing your household or your partner’s household to a really dangerous virus. So while I fully believe that teens and young adults need privacy, if you live at home, you also need to understand why your parents might be grilling you about your activities. It is more important than ever to be truthful with them about what you are doing so they can know whether your actions are putting anyone else at risk. And if it isn’t safe for you to be honest about your dating or sex life, that might be a sign that – at least for the time being – you need to rethink some of your choices.

There are so many obvious downsides to dating during a pandemic. But Ilana, my midwife friend from Victoria, thinks there could be one silver-lining. “I had a long-distance relationship in my twenties and I thought one positive effect was that it made our communication really strong before we were physically close.” She is hopeful that young people who are new to dating and who are now doing so much of their socializing virtually, might also benefit in that way.

I’m hopeful for that too. Everyone is struggling to figure out how to connect at a time when any human contact can be so risky and when so many young people are experiencing painful separation from partners. So I’d like to imagine that if nothing else, your generation will come out of this messy time in history equipped with some very important new dating skills and insights.




Getting Back to School When School Isn’t the Same: 5 Steps to Navigating Successfully

Here are a few tips to consider as we face a new academic year.

The post Getting Back to School When School Isn’t the Same: 5 Steps to Navigating Successfully appeared first on The Gottman Institute.



Human Priorities

Priorities – are yours in the right place? Or are you one of those people who needs a (metaphorical or literal) smack on the ass to see what should be as plain as the nose on your face?


Political Intercourse with the Dominatrix Next Door

Hi there! I’m a professional dominatrix, but you’d never know it because I’m also the middle aged mom next door. Join me for a unique perspective on current events and issues of the day.


Learning How to Love Through Friendships

Alice Draper
For as long as I can remember, I have worked on cultivating strong and meaningful friendships. It’s through these friendships that I have discovered what I hope to get out of romantic relationships. My friendships teach me the importance of trust, communication, and commitment.

I enjoy being single.

If you try saying this to a group of strangers, you might be met with a quizzical glance or expressions of disbelief. This is how most people have responded to me when I’ve said it, anyway.

I hardly ever date. In my teenage years, some of my friends used to try to set me up on dates. This rarely happens anymore because most of my friends know that I won’t reciprocate the interest.

“Alice will be interrogating people about their political views before she gives them her phone number,” my one friend joked.

It’s true that I often come off strong. I hate small talk and, unless I am certain I’m into someone, I don’t see the point in feigning interest.

Many of my peers have described me as picky when it comes to choosing potential partners. One problematic comment from a potential love interest is often all it takes for me to lose this interest. When I envision a future partner, I picture someone who is intelligent, empathetic, cares about social justice, and who I am attracted to. If that’s too picky, then so be it.  A good number of people have told me it means I am doomed to spend my life alone.

“Yes, maybe,” I tell them.

For a long time, I thought that my inability to sustain interest in potential partners meant that there was something seriously wrong with me, and that if I didn’t sort this out and find someone soon, I was destined to live a lonely and single life.

But then I realized that being single doesn’t necessarily mean I will be unloved or lonely.

The rare times I get lonely now are moments when I feel like I ought to be feeling lonely. If I’m with a group of people who are coupled up and I suddenly realize I’m the odd one out, that can be difficult. But these moments are unexpectedly infrequent and usually pass by fairly quickly.

You don’t need to find a partner to find unconditional love.

Part of why it’s taken me so long to accept the idea of being single is because society and the media have ingrained in us the idea that women need partners in order to find happiness. For example, many of us are more likely to describe an older, single man as an ‘eligible bachelor’ while the word ‘spinster’ holds negative connotations. Most pop culture also fails to represent the idea that someone can be simultaneously single and happy. Almost all media portrayals of a single person are that they are either seeking love, suffering from heartbreak, or in a state of despair over their singleness.

Even when a long-established character is canonically happy being single, Hollywood might force them into a relationship. In the original Archie Comics, on which the television series Riverdale is based, Jughead Jones is asexual and has little to no interest in dating. Yet in the series, he fairly quickly begins an intimate relationship with the character Betty Cooper.

In All About Love, bell hooks writes that most of us believe we’ll find love first in our families and eventually through committed romantic couplings. She explains that many of us are taught as children that friendship should never be seen as important as family ties — yet it is through friendship that many of us discover redemptive love and caring communities and make our families.

For as long as I can remember, I have worked on cultivating strong and meaningful friendships. It’s through these friendships that I have discovered what I hope to get out of romantic relationships. My friendships teach me the importance of trust, communication, and commitment. I know that if I have an emergency, physically or emotionally, I can call up a good friend for immediate assistance or comfort and advice.

It’s through my friendships that I’ve learned how to extend love and, as clichéd as it sounds, how to love myself.

Seeing the way that some of my friends spoke so openly about what others might perceive as being their flaws or weaknesses has encouraged me to open up about many of my own insecurities. If I didn’t have friends who carefully listened and validated me when I spoke about my father’s chronic illness or my feelings of self-doubt, I’d be a very different person than who I am today.

Thanks to my friends, I know how to be honest and vulnerable with myself and with people I trust. I also know that in moments of crisis or difficulty, I have a strong support system. I’d like to think that my friends, too, know that I’ll provide them with the same support and care that they offer me.

In All About Love, hooks also mentions that many people accept things in their romantic partners that they wouldn’t necessarily accept in friendships. Part of this is because of the perceived idea that we all need romantic companions and that if we apply the same standards to relationships as we do to friendships, we’ll end up alone.

When I look at my friends who are in unhealthy relationships, it concerns me how much of their own happiness they are sacrificing for their relationships. I have seen friends regress from being happy, self-assured, and confident to having intense feelings of self-doubt, insecurity, and depression. This change, based on what I have observed and what these friends have told me, can largely be attributed to the way their partners have treated them. Something similar happened to me the first time I fell in love a few years ago. While the relationship wasn’t exactly healthy, I was willing to sacrifice my time, my academics and, if necessary, my own happiness for them. I accepted certain treatments that I definitely wouldn’t have been okay with when it comes to my friendships. Despite the heartbreak of the relationship ending, I’m grateful it didn’t continue for a prolonged period of time.

Just because I had a negative romantic experience doesn’t mean I am shut off to future relationships. I am simply a lot more sure of what I want as well as how I want to be treated. Right now, I feel both loved and incredibly certain of who I am. Because of this, I refuse to have anything but high standards when it comes to dating.

Most of us want to be loved and cared for. I am lucky to have enriching friendships where I receive this. I’d be thrilled to meet a potential partner who meets all of my standards and with whom I am able to form a loving and trusting friendship—but if I don’t, I know I can lead a life that is equally fulfilling.



Healthy Relationships in Practice

Actionable techniques to continually incorporate in your relationship.

The post Healthy Relationships in Practice appeared first on The Gottman Institute.