Cristina Varriale, LAC

Cristina Varialle, LAC - Child therapist in Branchburg, NJ

Children are full of big emotions.  Elementary, middle and high schoolers overflow with feelings and experiences they are trying to make sense of.  Sometimes it all feels like too much for them. Whether they are pushing the feelings down or unleashing them on you, the one thing that is clear is that it is not working.

Maybe you are seeing their friendships unraveling.  They are isolating and withdrawing.  Socially, you can see that their relationships are struggling.  Or perhaps they have lost interest in things they used to love and are exploring new interests.  Though this can be typical and developmentally appropriate, it can still be unnerving for parents.

Today’s students face different challenges.

It might be academic pressure and perfectionistic tendencies that are creating intense stress.  You keep telling them it will be okay but they still feel overwhelmed.  Or perhaps you can see that your young person is not working to their full potential and you just don’t know how to motivate them.  It might also be their extracurriculars. In my experience, young people, especially those who are high achieving, can over commit themselves and spread themselves too thin.  Regardless, the anxiety and stress is impacting their self esteem and mental health.  

Watching young people navigate the social landscape of school for the last 20 years, I know that it is not easy.  Social, academic and extracurricular challenges have only increased and many kids are struggling with how to make it all work.  Not to mention, you might be at the end of your rope because they just don’t seem to be responding to any of the strategies you have tried.  Watching your child struggle with their emotions or behaviors is stressful.  Even if the meltdowns are just at home and they are “fine” at school, you know something has to change.

Turns out parents are full of big emotions, too. You worry about your child. Perhaps you find yourself pushing your emotions down or unleashing them.  A large part of my work is helping parents learn how to co-regulate their emotions with their child.

About Me

Hello! I’m Cristina, a Licensed Associate Counselor in New Jersey.  After decades of counseling in the school environment, in multiple countries, I am drawn to working directly with parents and kids to make the most of this exciting, albeit stressful, time in their lives.  

Perhaps like many parents I have worked with, you want your child to grow up to be compassionate, caring, independent, open-minded, confident and able to see the fun in life.  You want them to be able to rise to life’s challenges.  Children and teens who can regulate their emotions and communicate with others tend to experience more satisfying relationships, as well as enjoy healthier self esteem.  They are better equipped for the challenges school, and life, throw their way.

Sometimes school challenges can become home challenges.  Sometimes kids hold it all together in school and fall apart at home.  This is called restraint collapse: when someone holds it together all day to have a good day and then comes apart at home.

You know your child and we work together to identify the parenting you want for your child.  This may be different from the parenting you experienced.  There may be generational cycles that you want to break. You may be reparenting your own wounded inner child as you work to be the parent your child needs you to be.  Indeed, you are not bound to strategies that are less effective.  You are able to give yourself permission to do parenting differently. 

All around the world

As an expatriate who has lived overseas for six years and a second generation American, I understand both the challenges of feeling caught between two cultures, as well as the struggle to assimilate.  While living in Tokyo, I can remember crying in the grocery store because I could not distinguish between the different bags of grains.  I just wanted some lentils! Transitions can be tough at any age, yet they are especially tough for children and adolescents whose brains are still developing.  Identity and sense of belonging are crucial parts of development that can be compounded by navigating new environments while exploring cultural identity.

Getting support on navigating cultural transitions and building meaningful connections across diverse communities is important.  As Brene Brown says, “Connection is why we are here.  It gives meaning and purpose to our lives”.  I bring a trauma-informed and culturally-responsive lens into the therapeutic process, understanding that all families and individuals are unique and there are no “one size fits all” approaches to navigating these challenges.

Mistakes are Wonderful Opportunities to Learn

One of the most impactful and transformational experiences of my time abroad was being introduced to Positive Discipline.  Developed by Dr. Jane Nelson and Lynn Lott, Positive Discipline maintains that all relationships should be built upon mutual respect and cooperation. It emphasizes the importance of connection and belonging in fostering personal growth and resilience.  One of my favorite mantras from Positive Discipline is that “mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn”. Isn’t that freeing?  Instead of taking a punitive approach to mistakes which can foster shame, guilt, and resentment, we can instead learn how to collaboratively search for solutions, fostering trust, resilience, and problem-solving skills.

When offering Positive Discipline workshops, I often share that we tend to teach what we learned, especially in times of stress.  Positive Discipline gave me a whole new set of tools and strategies. It not only transformed my relationships with the children and adolescents in my life, but all of my interpersonal relationships.  It gave me the courage and confidence to break unhelpful patterns in my communication style. I am excited to share these tools with you!  Together we can work on breaking some of those intergenerational cycles of trauma in favor of a more collaborative and joyful approach.  You can be the parent your child needs you to be.

Commitment to Social Justice

In addition to my therapeutic work, I am also a PhD student at Montclair State University pursuing a degree in Family Science and Human Development. Moreover, I am deeply committed to social justice. I believe in creating inclusive, equitable spaces where everyone feels valued and respected. In my clinical practice, I advocate for marginalized and underserved communities. I work to dismantle systemic barriers and address the impact of social injustices on mental health. By fostering awareness, empathy, and understanding, it is my hope that we can create a more just and compassionate society where every individual has the opportunity to thrive.

Personal Interests

Outside of my professional endeavors, I find joy in exploring life’s simple pleasures. Whether it’s soaking up the sun at the beach, practicing yoga for inner peace, or indulging in my passion for singing and dancing, I embrace each moment with enthusiasm and authenticity. My love for learning, traveling, and spending quality time with my loved ones enriches my life and fuels my commitment to helping others live their best life!

Contact Me

Are you ready to embark on a journey of self-discovery and growth? I’m here to support you every step of the way. Reach out today to schedule a consultation or learn more about how I can help you cultivate resilience and well-being. Let’s take the first step together towards a brighter, more fulfilling tomorrow.

Clinical Training

My commitment to providing high-quality care is reflected in my specialized training, which includes:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBiTS): Equipped with techniques to offer trauma-focused counseling to children and adolescents, fostering healing and resilience.
  • BRIEF Solutions-Focused Counseling for Schools: Proficient in delivering brief, solution-focused interventions to empower students facing various life obstacles.
  • PREPaRE Crisis Intervention Training: Trained to provide compassionate crisis intervention and support to individuals experiencing acute distress or trauma.
  • Client-Centered Play Therapy: Experienced in utilizing play therapy techniques to create a safe and nurturing environment for children to explore and express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Cristina is working under the supervision of Jessica Pizzo, LCSW., with services located in our Branchburg, NJ office serving Hillsborough, Bridgewater, Bedminster and surrounding areas.

NJ#: 37AC00784600