Tag Archives: Mental Health Service Provider

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 – 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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The Other Side of the Couch – What Have We Become  

The information is chilling.

Families seeking asylum at our southern border are being deliberately separated due to a zero-tolerance policy that makes all adults illegal, incarcerates the adults, and sends children, sometimes infants in arms who are breast-feeding, to a detention setting.

This is not just a number.  This is a living, breathing baby whose only source of nourishment is its mother.   The baby probably has no idea how to take a bottle.  Torn from its mother’s arms, it will cry uncontrollably, will be unable to eat, and could very likely die due to this kind of treatment.  This is a criminal act.

The Trump administration has said that this horrific policy is being undertaken to deter asylum seekers.

What have we become as a nation?  How is it possible that thousands are not gathered at the border to protest these policies.

These are CHILDREN – children who are brought to this country by desperate parents fleeing for their lives.

Children who are traumatized carry the results of these experiences in their own DNA.  The Adverse Childhood Experiences research study (www.acestudy.org ) has proved that these kinds of events have long-lasting effects on the physical and mental health of children long into their adulthoods.  Any competent mental health professional knows that the effects of attachment disruption is profound.

The United States is wrong.  The world is watching.  I will contact my representative and senators. I will protest this injustice.  I will support with donations organizations that are attempting to serve these children.

What will you do?

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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The Other Side of the Couch – Losing a Friend

It all happened gradually – so gradually that until it had been going on for months, even years, it was hard to notice.  Taken individually, the changes could be explained.  Lost keys.  Forgotten purse.  Trouble with managing a smart phone.  Struggling with finding a word on occasion.  Each one of those experiences has happened to all of us at some time or another.

However, suddenly, all those things were significant, because more things began to happen, more often.

Someone who had been the most fastidious of people had hair that needed washing.  Someone who had always been full of ideas seemed to have lost her interest in others.  Someone who knew her city well began to be confused about how to get from one place to another.

When the day came when she tried to write a check and didn’t know how to do it – when she sat at lunch with us and forgot there was food on her plate – we knew.

We knew what we hadn’t wanted to know, that we had written off as depression, as Attention Deficit Disorder, as just growing older – we knew that our friend was facing progressive dementia.  Because of her family history, we also knew that this was most likely early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Our friend is fortunate in that she has a caring family who intervened, who helped her make the changes she needed to make.  She will be loved and safe.  Although she will no longer be in this city, she will be with people who love her.

Others who live alone and/or who have no family are not so fortunate.

We are facing an epidemic of Alzheimer’s and other dementias as our population ages.  What I have learned by going through this process with my friend is that it is all too easy to dismiss the visible signs of early dementia because we don’t want to know it is happening.  This denial does a disservice to the person who is suffering, because early detection and early use of the medications available that slow the process down are essential to preserving the functional parts of the brain.

This terrible illness that ultimately eradicates the person’s memory and ability to function can be treated (not cured, but treated).  If you notice any of these signs, talk to your doctor.  Don’t wait; don’t live in denial.  If you see a friend struggling, speak up.  In the end it serves no one to pretend that all is well.

This link discusses some of the early signs of dementia.  It is worth reading. The Alzheimer’s Association is also a wonderful resource and support for caregivers.

https://www.healthline.com/health/dementia/early-warning-signs

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 – Waiting

 

The house seems so strange now.  Furniture is shunted into other areas – the rugs folded or removed.  A sheen of dust covers the shining surface of the dining room table, and the living room couch stands in solitary splendor against the wall where the sunrise picture used to be.  The floor, from which the buckled hardwood has been pried, is a minefield of unexpected nails waiting to slice unwary toes, even toes protected by shoes.

In the kitchen a section of hardwood remains isolated in the corner close to the adjoining wall of the condo next door.  Black discoloration stains it at the corner closest to the outside wall.  We think it is mold.  The adjuster found that the flashings on the roof were not properly attached, and water has been splashing into the wall for some time.  We are not sure for how long, but it is long enough for whiffs of mold to be apparent at times in the house.

This is going to be a long process.

We have been out of the house for twenty-two days.  We expect to be out for another month.  All this happened over the Christmas/New Year holiday season – so while adjusters have adjusted, and driers have kept the water damage from the water heater failure from extending to other areas of the house, no decisions have been made about what to do and when to do it.  We don’t expect that decision to be made until after the New Year holiday is over.

The familiar processes of living are truncated now.  Cooking?  Meal planning?  With one skillet and a hot plate, there is not much possibility.  Entertaining?  Tiny hotel suites don’t give much space for traditional New Year’s parties.  We had a little Christmas tree, because I couldn’t bear to have NOTHING that denoted the Christmas season – so our little artificial kitchen tree, decorated with angels and a tiny knitted creche, took the place of the tree that we had decorated so hopefully just after Thanksgiving.  That tree, deprived of all its familiar decorations, stood in the midst of the drying fans for days and turned into a brown shell much more rapidly than it should have.

We are waiting.

Waiting is not an easy process.  This kind of waiting increases feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.  Those experiences are not pleasant, and they can lead to ill-considered actions.  Impatient people sometimes don’t treat others well.  However, so far we have managed to remain civilized.  Rather than screaming at adjusters we have remained calm and collected. We laugh at the inconveniences and focus on gratitude rather than resentment.  Sometimes things happen that are just outside our control, and railing at the situation does no good.  We wait for good things to happen; we wait for news; we anticipate future events – the ability to wait and to reach into a possible future is both a blessing and a burden for human beings.  Seeing all those cats in the picture, who are indeed waiting for a possible future that includes eating fish, made me laugh about our long-term anticipations.  Living in the moment really is the best we can do.

I think of others who have lost more than a momentary loss of convenience. The situations of refugees, whose whole lives have been destroyed with no hope of return reminds me today of the grace that we are given.  We have a home to which we will return.  Surely we can endure a season of waiting.

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 – Best-Laid Plans  

 

I am a planner.  Identifying goals, making decisions about the best way to reach those goals, choosing among a variety of strategies are all easy for me.  I have rarely been a person who struggles with decision-making; in truth, it could be said that I sometimes make decisions too quickly – and reap the consequences!  However, in general I find the process of planning useful and rewarding.  I am comfortable with planning ahead; I like buying season tickets to the symphony or to a theater company.  I have rarely thought something like, “I don’t know whether I will want to do X in three weeks” – instead, if it is on my calendar and I have planned to do it, I do it.

I know that there are others in this world to whom the idea of planning what one is going to do in three weeks, or a week, or even tomorrow, is anathema.  “How am I going to know how I will feel at that point?”  “Let’s play it by ear.” (This last one is designed to make people like myself crazy.)  To these individuals the experience of spontaneity is of high value.  Checking in with one’s self in the moment, asking what is going on for you right now, being willing to listen to the moment-to-moment inner knowing that can guide decision-making, is paramount.

Most of us live somewhere in between these two extremes.  One of the dimensions measured by the Meyers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI – www.meyersbriggs.org) is that of comfort with planning vs. comfort with spontaneity (the J-P dimension).  Not surprisingly, I am pretty far toward the J side.  One of the things I appreciate about the MBTI information is that neither of these positions is wrong.  The information about one’s self is helpful in understanding self and in understanding others.

A recent set of experiences, however, has helped me to challenge my own natural preference for planning.

I got a new knee.

Prior to this very significant surgery, I laid plans to manage what I perceived to be all contingencies.  Knowing I would be out of work for a time, I arranged coverage for clients who would need it.  I borrowed or bought equipment that I would need for recovery.  I estimated the time I would be out of the office and planed with my clients accordingly.  Everything was in order.

However – best-laid plans.

This phrase, well-known for its reference to the poem, “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns, essentially says that even the best-laid plans can be overturned by external and unexpected events.  The mouse’s nest was torn apart by an unexpected plow, and my plans for an easy and uneventful recovery were challenged by the realities of a very hard operation and some unexpected complications that have extended the timeline well beyond what I had hoped.

So – I am NOT yet back at work; I am NOT yet driving; I am NOT yet fully recovered after one month (which was my plan, even though I was told that the acute recovery period is generally six to eight weeks with a right knee replacement).  MY plan was to beat the odds, be the superstar patient who was off pain medication in two weeks, driving in three, and back to full functioning in four.

Well, my friends, today is four weeks, and I am not doing any of those things. While I am certainly on the road to recovery, the time line is longer, perhaps, even than the average recovery would be.

Today, therefore, I am living into the other side of the MBTI dimension – the side that focuses on present moment.  I am asking myself questions like – “What do you need right this minute?”  “What would help right now?”  While I still must plan such things as rides to Physical Therapy, I am much more in the moment than I am used to being.  I am finding it strange, but strangely comforting as well.

Perhaps I will grow through this experience into being a more balanced person, who both plans, and allows herself to know that sometimes plans don’t work out, and that’s ok.

Where do you fall on this continuum?

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 – Done Dreaming

Dreams

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

By Langston Hughes, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, c. 1994

I write today in honor of and in solidarity with the 800,000 Dreamers whose dreams have this day been shattered by the decision of President Trump to discontinue the Obama-era program that protected them from deportation.

I am not interested in the legalities of this situation.  I am interested in the humanity.  These are human beings, brought to this country as children – children who had no ability to object or to decide their own fates.  They know no other country.  Most were too young to remember another place or way of life.  They are in school, studying, becoming doctors, lawyers, teachers – and now our government, the government of the United States of America, is telling them that they are unwelcome.

My heart is breaking for these young people.  This action is wrong.  Whether the program expires in 6 months (which will happen unless Congress, which to date has been unable to act in a bipartisan manner for years, is able to act) or is extended or completely dropped, these young people are irreparably harmed.

They are harmed by knowing that some people in this country see them as aliens, as outsiders, even as enemies.  They are harmed by living constantly with fear and stress.  They are harmed most of all by broken trust.  Will they ever trust again?

And – It is not their fault.

I am writing my senators and congressman today about this situation.  I hope that you will, too.  It is about justice, fairness – but most of all it is about being a caring human being.

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 – A Storm Passes  

 

A friend and I were recently eating lunch at a popular Nashville restaurant.

We often sit toward the back of the restaurant, and this is also the area that many of the families with young children choose.  As we sat down and were served our meal, a little girl, perhaps four or five, dissolved into loud sobs.  Her distress intensified, as did the sound of her crying.

What happened next was amazing.

The child’s father, seated to her right, calmly pulled her chair closer to his, reached out, and gathered her into his arms, holding her close against his shoulder – and he just held her and let her cry.  He didn’t talk; he didn’t explain or tell her what to do; he didn’t tell her to pull herself together – he just held her and let her cry.

Within a couple of minutes the sobs began to diminish.  The child sat up, took some breaths, and soon got back to her own chair and her own meal.

The storm had passed.

We never really knew what precipitated her distress.  It could have been anything – hurt feelings, not liking her lunch, competing with her sister, wanting attention – we didn’t know.  What we did know, however, was that this father knew that if he let his daughter feel what she was feeling, without interfering or explaining or trying to change things, she would work it through.  And she did.

Children are so in touch with their feelings and their bodies – they know that they need to express the emotions that arise in them.   Our job is often to stay out of their way as they do so.  A child who has experienced a challenging moment has feelings arise and allows those feelings to move.  Loving presence is often the best thing we can offer.

What if the child were acting out – throwing things or harming self or others?  In that case, clear boundaries must be set, but loving presence as the child works through the experience is still needed.

I appreciated this father’s skill.  His daughter is being given a gift that will last a lifetime.  Would that all children could have that opportunity.

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 We Write   

 

What is it about writing?

Writing is not innate.  While speaking as a form of communication is part of the developmental trajectory of the human being, writing (and its companion, reading) must be learned.  That learning process takes years and requires practice.  How many high school students have labored over the five-paragraph essay or complained about learning expository writing?

The physical process of writing is becoming a lost art as more and more people who write depend on the keyboard and computer.  Experts debate both sides of this issue.  Some say cursive should continue to be taught; others say opting for print is the best.  A third group says the focus needs to be on keyboarding.  As a left-handed writer whose handwriting was already shaky, the final blow was taking speedwriting after college – the result is that anyone who attempts to read my handwriting often needs translation.

And yet – the process of using language to write may have therapeutic results. As a professional counselor I often recommend exercises that involve writing.  If you are a worrier, keep a pad and pen beside your bed, and if you wake up and are worrying, get those worries out of you and onto paper.  This process sometimes will help you calm down and return to sleep.  If you have unfinished business with someone that cannot be safely or reasonably addressed with the person, write a letter to that person – a letter that you may never choose to send –  to reach some degree of closure.  If you are engaged in a process of self-exploration, the experience of keeping a journal may help you deepen your journey.

For me the essence of writing is connection.  I write because I have a thought, an experience, or a way of seeing that I want to share with others.  Bringing whatever this is out of myself and into a form in which I share it with others who may be interested, may respond, may be touched or moved or shaken, is for me part of the larger journey of being in community with other human beings.

I write because I have something to say. Writing feels like the creation of something bigger than myself.  I don’t know where my words go, where they land, what impact they have, but in bringing them out of myself and offering them to a larger world, I am engaged in the process of creation.  I don’t assume that my words are great literature or that they are life-changing.  They may just be my words – and that is ok, too.   I offer them as they are – and for my reader, they can be taken in whatever way the reader chooses.

Solace, comfort, joy – struggle, pain, despair – writing can be all those things to the writer and to the reader.

Is writing a part of your life?  Does it play a role?  Has it helped you?  Harmed you?  Open the door to this process and see where it might take you.  You could be surprised!

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

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