Author Archives: Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian - in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at www.susanhammondswhite.com.

The Other Side of the couch – No Warning

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My husband woke me at 5:20 that morning – I was deeply asleep and somewhat groggy when he told me that Nashville had been hit by a tornado during the night.  I was slow to take in what he was saying, but when I had climbed out of the fog of sleep and turned on the news, the overwhelming reality of what had happened to our city and state was all too real – and all too overwhelming.

As is always the case in situations like this, the immediate response is to connect with loved ones.  Are you Ok?  We are OK.  Anyone hurt?  What do you need?  How can we help?  I sent out texts to family in other cities; checked with friends who lived in the path – learned as the day moved on that a friend had lost her home, that another had significant damage.

We know now that a tornado determined to be at EF2 strength decimated the John C. Tune Airport, moved on into North Nashville, pounded Germantown, and then, reaching EF3 strength, obliterated Five Points in East Nashville before continuing through Hermitage, Mt. Juliet and on to Lebanon. According to the National Weather Service this tornado traveled over a 60-mile path, the longest recorded in Tennessee history.  It caused 6 deaths and thousands of dollars of property injury and destruction.  Another tornado struck in the Cookeville area; this E4 storm killed 18 people and ripped open homes and businesses.

Almost one week later, the reality of what must be done to rebuild is coming into focus.  Churches across the area are becoming centers for donations.  Twenty thousand volunteers signed up to help with projects this past weekend through Hands On Nashville.  So many volunteers showed up that in some areas the big machinery trucks and electrical repair trucks had trouble getting through!  Music benefits are planned (of course).  The Titans and Taylor Swift have made million dollar donations to tornado relief.

Tennessee is known as the Volunteer State – this designation really came true this weekend, and it will come true again next weekend – because that’s what people in Nashville do.

Margaret Renkl, Nashvillian and contributing writer to the New York Times, said it best.  Her opinion column in the New York Times, titled “What It Means to #Nashville Strong” is so worth reading.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/08/opinion/nashville-tornado.html

It’s the Nashville way.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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The Other Side of the Couch – Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

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Of course, everyone knew the outcome.  The conclusion was never in doubt.  Throughout all the testimony, all the witnesses, all the documents, all the hearings, all the news bites and media reports, all the constant talking of all the talking heads, the conclusion was inevitable.  Was it worth it, to go through all this?  Was it necessary?  Was it useful?  Did it make a difference?

We are so broken.  We only listen to what confirms our own beliefs.  We have lost faith in even the ability to know the truth, because truth is under attack from so many sides.  We even have people today who have created a Flat Earth Society and apparently genuinely believe that because the Earth looks and feels flat, it is flat.

Two events have gone a long way toward creating the situation in which we now flounder.  One of those is the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine.  The fairness doctrine of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, was a policy that required the holders of broadcast licenses to both present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was – in the FCC’s view – honest, equitable, and balanced.  The FCC eliminated the policy in 1987 and removed the rule that implemented it from the Federal Register in August 2011.  Although there have been repeated attempts to reinstitute this doctrine, none have been successful.  The result has been the proliferation of media that presents only one side of an issue; getting information that presents several sides of an issue is no longer required or easy to find.

The other decision that has overturned our ability to have civil discourse is the decision by the United States Supreme Court in 2010 to allow corporations (including certain non-profit corporations) and labor unions to expand their role in political campaigns.  This decision, along with a separate, lower court case – SpeechNow.org v. FEC – made possible the entities known as super PACS.  With Citizens United as a precedent, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that theoretically independent spending groups could accept unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions and even individuals with fat bankrolls.  This led to the creation of Super PACs that are legal because they do not “coordinate” with a particular campaign, as well as the creation of “social welfare” organizations that can function in the same way as super PACs as long as election activity is not their primary activity.  These groups are not required to report who funds them, thus allowing for so-called “dark money” to influence campaigns without transparency.

Taken together, these two decisions have had a chilling effect on civil discourse.  Because information is often presented with a clear skew in one direction or another with no provision of any other viewpoints, people are left in a situation in which they become increasingly skeptical of information in general.  When no information can be trusted, the institutions of civil democracy are in danger of breaking down.

So why can’t we all just get along?  The roots lie in the past – and if we don’t pay attention to history, we may be doomed to repeat it.  The only thing I can think of to do in the face of all this is to read widely, listen to more than one media source, and above all, VOTE!

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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The Other Side of the Couch – Time

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As a new decade begins many have an urge to both review the decade past and consider the decade ahead.   How do I view the past decade?  Did I meet my goals?  Did I even have goals?  Did I learn anything?  What am I taking with me into my life today and into the life I want to create in the next decade?

The last ten years have been a whirlwind of change – with time passing evermore rapidly.  My child graduated from college, married, had a child.  I became a grandmother.  I became an official senior by reaching the age for Medicare and Social Security.  I experienced some wonderful professional accomplishments – the opportunity to lead a national organization (the American Association of State Counseling Boards) as the profession grapples with the issues of portability and telehealth; the surprise of receiving a Legacy Award from both professional organizations in Tennessee, honoring my work over the years for professional counselors.  I took a fabulous trip to Hawaii to finally spend time with my sister who lives on Maui.  We downsized – what a process! I survived three surgeries – sinus, rotator cuff and knee replacement – yikes!  And finally, in the last year of the decade, I watched my husband, brother, and brother-in-law all struggle with life-threatening cancers.

Lesson One – Time really is elastic.  The experience of time passing shifts over a lifetime.  The older we grow, the more rapidly time seems to pass.  I remember as a child that summer was forever, and days were endless.  It is not that way anymore – in the blink of an eye a year, a decade is gone.

Lesson Two – Time is relentless.  Nothing we can do or say can control it.  Time is always moving, always changing.  We are never, ever in the same moment in time.  The river of change is constantly flowing and we are NEVER in the same moment again.

Lesson Three – Time is not promised.  Time is not something that is endless and can be counted on.  Time will not always be here.  Time will run out.

I know that today more of my life is lies behind me than ahead of me.  Many experiences and chapters, both joyful and sorrowful, are part of the days gone by.  If I have time and choice, what do I want to create in the possible days that lie ahead?

What I most long for is to be present to this life, this now, this moment.

At this moment as I am writing, I am also aware of the presence of my two feline companions, both attentive and watching me as I type.  I feel the breeze of a moving fan.  I shift in my chair to become a little more comfortable.  Outside I hear a car door slam. The only other sound right now is the hum of the computer and the peck-peck on the keys.  I look up and see my Dad smiling at me from the clouds in Alaska, my daughter at ten smiling at me, holding a baseball mitt.  I see a portrait of beloved Chance, another feline friend who left us a while ago. My childhood Teddy Bear, perched above my desk, holds space for more memories.  This is a small moment – but a crystal moment as I take the time to be present with what is.

The invitation to presence is always with us.  Only if we accept the invitation can we shift our relationship to time.  This moment in time is really all we have.  I invite you to delight in it.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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The Other Side of the Couch – Staying Safe

     

 

This city’s mental health community was rocked to the core by the sexual assault and murder of a counselor last week.  Melissa Hamilton, assistant director of Crossroads Counseling, was stabbed to death in her office minutes after the conclusion of her last group.  For a time it was feared that her murderer was a client of the agency; this proved to be incorrect as within forty-eight hours an arrest was made in the case.  The crime was described as random and opportunistic by the police; no known connection existed between the counselor and the man who is accused of her murder.

Mental health professionals of all types work in situations that by their very nature are unsafe.  Confidentiality requires that the identity of clients be protected.  The work of therapy is done one-on-one in the privacy and seclusion of a private office.  Many therapists work in solo practices and are often at their offices late into evening hours.

This tragic death has brought into focus the struggle that all of us, not only counselors, face in the world in which we live today.  What are the steps that we can take that can at least mitigate the possibility of harm?  (I would add that these concerns are addressed to both men and women – both are at risk in these situations).

First and foremost, be aware of your surroundings.  Take a moment to look at the situation before you leave a safe place to go to your car.  Have keys at the ready if you are going to a car in a parking lot.  Have a loud alarm that you can activate at a moment’s notice.  If possible, do not be alone in walking to a car in a parking lot.  Don’t assume that because it is daylight everything is fine.  Crimes happen in daylight as well as at night.

When you are in your office at night, if alone, even with a client, lock the outside door.  It is worth the trouble of being interrupted to let your next client in, if it prevents unauthorized access by an unknown person.

What if the situation in which you are with a client becomes volatile?  Installing a security system of some kind that includes a panic button option may be a good solution.

Have a plan.  Rehearse the plan.  One of the stories from the 9/11 tragedy focused on a company whose security officer went through drills with the employees.  When a crisis happens, our bodies go on automatic pilot, and if that automatic pilot has been trained to respond in certain ways, there is a much better chance of survival.  The people in his company for the most part survived because of their training.  It is worth having a plan and practicing it.

We don’t like to think of these things.  No one wants to contemplate the possibility of being harmed.  However, not thinking about it results in putting ourselves in harm’s way.

I don’t know whether anything could have prevented the tragic death suffered by Missy Hamilton.  It seems the man had already entered the building before she had a chance to lock the doors.  If her death can help anyone else by heightening their awareness of the need for security, perhaps a tiny bit of good can come from such a tragedy.

I live in that hope.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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The Other Side of the Couch – When It Is Too Late

I heard the news from my brother.  One of our first cousins passed away.  He was sixty-three.  I had not seen him since he was a child when he and his sister came to our home at Christmas time to visit their mother, who at that time was living with my grandmother.  She had lost custody of the children due to issues with mental illness.

He was ten years my junior, and I lost track of him over the years.  I was closer to his sister and kept track of her.  I knew that he was himself suffering from some form of mental illness and that he had withdrawn from contact with any family, including his father and sister.

After we (the other family members) learned the news of his death, other details followed.  We learned that he had been an accomplished filmmaker, that he was known as a magician with theatrical lighting and design, that he had been a part of two unions, both connected to the theater.  We learned that he had made an award-winning film.  We learned that he had had a life, and people who cared for him.

On learning all of this, my own response is regret.  How very sad that none of us knew him!  How very sad that he had cut himself off from a group of like-minded people – the theater connection runs very strong in my family – and that we will never get to know him, or he, us.

I don’t know his story – I am only left to imagine that the scars of the childhood traumas ran very deep, and that he was not able to overcome the beliefs and perceptions about the family that were based on those experiences.

I regret that I never tried to reach out, and that now it is too late.

Cut-offs in families are painful and sometimes defy reconciliation – but death is the final cut-off.

Don’t wait to try until it is too late.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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The Other Side of the Couch – Taking Care

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I have spent the last several days in another world – a world that some enter by choice, some by necessity.  This world has its own rules, its own norms, its own expectations.  The rules of the world that most of us inhabit without thought are suspended here.  In this world others are in charge. In this world those who enter are dependent on the knowledge and kindness of those who are here by choice, rather than by necessity.

Those who enter this world by choice are an unusual species.  They come from all types of backgrounds, ethnicities, levels of education, gender.  They work at a tremendous variety of different jobs, from the simplest to the most complex.  They work long hours, and they often provide backup for others even when they are not actually on the job.

Those who are best at this share one unusual quality.  Above and beyond their training, education and experience, these people are givers.  They experience meaning and fulfillment through the process of Taking Care.

When I was a child I was a peripheral member of this world, born into it by virtue of my father’s profession.  I walked the halls of the places where these givers worked.  I often felt an unusual sense of belonging – perhaps because I felt that I was an insider.  As a child I had little understanding of the world I walked, but I knew that at some emotional level I recognized it.

The world I have been inhabiting is the world of the hospital.  The givers are the doctors – chief surgeons, chief residents, residents, interns, nurses, student nurses, LPNs, bringers of food trays, cleaners, transporters – all the amazing parts of a teaching hospital that work together to give care to those who are fighting for life, for health, for a future.

I am grateful for these men and women who make meaning for themselves and support life for their patients.  The ability to take joy in the process of healing, to see the worst and see it improve, or sometimes to see the worst and know that there is nothing to be done, to live with the daily intensity of facing life and death in all its reality – there is nothing else like it.

So today I say thank you to the lovely nurse who worked with my husband, to the LPN who dealt with bodily fluids in an eternally cheerful way, to all the various helpers who came and went and who made a difficult week tolerable.  You are givers – and I am thankful for each of you.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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The Other Side of the Couch – When Life Happens

 

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I missed my last post!  The date just slipped right by me – it came and went without awareness.  When I realized that I had missed my deadline, I was chagrined, upset, started to beat up on myself – then took a step back to see what was going on.

A reality check helped me recognize what I had not really wanted to see.  I am overwhelmed.  I have three family members who are all dealing with significant illnesses that are life-threatening.  I am working and managing a home.  I am an active member in several organizations.  I have a wonderful daughter, a wonderful son, and a fabulous grandson and granddaughter, and I want to make room in my life for them.

On top of this personal turmoil, there is also the state of the world, and the way in which every day seems to bring another moment of “How could this possibly be happening?”  Although I have cut down on social media and news-watching, it is not possible to completely avoid the chaos, and in truth I do not think it should be completely avoided if there is to be any chance of change.

What does one do when life happens, and one misses out on some responsibilities?

There is an old song that comes to mind – “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again!”

Sometimes things get hard, though no fault of our own.  Beating up on ourselves doesn’t help.  Compassion and understanding do.  This is a rough patch that will probably get rougher in the near future – but it will pass.  The sun will shine again.  Life will keep on happening in all its glorious messiness.

I am thankful that I am here in this world to live this life.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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The Other Side of the Couch – Hope for the Future

 

The identification of the double-helix model of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick in the 1950’s laid the groundwork for an amazing evolution in the understanding of genetics. The Human Genome Project concluded in 2003 with the sequencing of all 3.2 billion base pairs in the human genome (and completed the process two years before their set deadline).  This Human Genome Project ushered in a new era in medicine and advanced many new technologies related to gene sequencing.

The information related to these two seminal discoveries is only accelerating.  The field of proteomics  (the large-scale study of the structure and function of proteins) and the field of epigenetics (the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself) are combining to provide fascinating insights into the ways that our bodies function.

An offshoot of this information is beginning to impact our understanding of many mental health issues.  Researchers in the field of epigenetics are now suggesting that our cells may transmit the impact of traumas experienced by relatives and ancestors down through the generations.  In other words, if your grandparent experienced a significant trauma, that trauma, due to epigenetic changes in gene expression, could influence the instructions that cells receive to turn certain genes on and off.  This could result in the development of disease, either physical or mental.

For example, research by Dr. Rachel Yehuda showed an epigenetic tag that led her to conclude that the propensity for PTSD could be biologically inherited  (see citation –  Yehuda, R; Bierer, LM Prog Brain Res. 2008;167:121-35.

Why is this important?  Doesn’t the idea that we can biologically inherit a propensity toward a trauma response make mental health even more difficult to manage?

Therapists are finding that this is not the case.  Investigating one’s own heritage is becoming more and more available due to websites like www.Ancestry.com. DNA testing that connects an individual to literally thousands of other distant relatives is enlarging the understanding that many have of the breadth and depth of our connections to others, living and dead.  While therapists have always had a certain understanding of the effects that growing up in adverse circumstances have on a person’s life, the information that a parent’s or grandparent’s circumstances also have a biological impact that CAN BE HEALED by providing enriched environments in the present is incredibly hopeful.   After all, if epigenetics tells us that environment altered biology in the past, doesn’t that also mean that present biology can be altered by present experience, both for ourselves and for future generations?

This information gives me hope for individuals who have been impacted by the traumas of our present day – whether it is living through 9/11 or living in a war zone or being trapped at the southern border in horrible conditions.  These experiences can be overcome if the right environments are made available.  My hope is that those conditions will be identified and provided for all who need them.  It is within our power to shape both the present and the future – let’s do it.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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Going Home

Today has been a remarkable confluence of a variety of events – the 30th birthday of a dear son-in-law, the celebration of life of a beloved church member, the good-byes to neighbors who are moving on, my husband’s return to work after the first round of chemotherapy (three more to go). I spent the afternoon yesterday with the youngest member of our family – our 14-month-old granddaughter, walking, talking, playing – making her wishes clearly known.

When I opened the New York Times newsletter that I receive daily, I turned to the op-ed features, as I so often do.  Margaret Renkl, a fellow Nashvillian, wrote a beautiful piece about time and loss and mortality.  The link to this piece is here.  It is so worth reading, and so I offer it to you today.  Enjoy.

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About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

Like what you’ve read?  Feel free to share, but please…Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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She Died of a Lot of Things

She died of a lot of things, but she lived a lot, too.  She had an accident in her early life – nine months old, hit by a car.  I couldn’t protect her.  We weren’t sure she would be able to walk or to have bladder and bowel control.  All summer I stayed with her, washed her, kept her clean.  They were surprised that she was so clean.  Why, not, I thought, she’s my baby like any other baby.  The day she stood up was a miracle.  She had lost half her weight, but she began to eat again.  Then she walked.  She played.  She gained weight. She returned to her playful self.

Her tail never learned to wag, but it bounced all her life.  When she died, it was of old injuries and of old age.  In human years she was eighty.  She lived a lot of life.

She died of a lot of things.  Maybe chief among them, other than the ocular melanoma listed as cause of death, was heart’s longing, longing for time with him she never had.  He worked so hard, so long.  He was good.  He was loved, but she missed him.

She poured herself into children and church, gardening, reading, the Herb Society of Nashville, dear women friends.  She created spots of beauty wherever she looked. She loved beautiful things.

When it became clear that dying was soon, she told me what to do.  Even then she thought of others.  “Tell him not to be alone,” she said.  “Give the necklace to them – you know how.”

She died of a lot of things – longing, wishing in the mix.  She died of more than illness, and she lived a lot of life.

When the time comes to “shuffle off this mortal coil”, may we all be able to know that we have lived a lot of life.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

Like what you’ve read?  Feel free to share, but please…Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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