Tag Archives: Mental Health Service Provider

The Other Side of the Couch – The Land of Present Time

What a time we are in, my friends – what a time!  Surely this moment in history is one that will be dissected and studied and torn apart and rehashed again and again in years to come – and yet here we are, living it day to day.  Who could have known that we would still be separated when the pandemic began to affect all of our lives in March – now it is six months later, and we do not know how long we will need to continue with the new behaviors that are required to maintain our own health and the health of others  – masks, social distancing, hand washing being the activities that are proven to result in protection.

I know this has been tremendously hard for many of us – I would venture to say for all of us – for different reasons.  For some it is the pain of living alone, for some it is the terror of getting this virus, for some it is the loss of face-to-face church, for some it is the loss of being with children and grandchildren.  For some it has been the loss of the ability to earn a living, for some it has been the loss of the joyful experience of making music together.  I am sure that each one of you can identify a personal impact that COVID-19 has had on your day-to-day life.

The response many of us have to all this is to worry.  We worry about what may happen tomorrow; we fret over what could happen, might happen, won’t happen, will happen – we spend so much time and energy on events THAT MAY NEVER HAPPEN.

We have three possible ways to address time.  Some of us spend way too much time in the land of If Only – – if only I had done that, or not done this – maybe things would be different now.  Some of us spend way too much time in the land of What If – this or that might happen or not happen.  We fret about the future – a future that does not exist!

The place that we are in now – the Land of Now, of Present Time – is the only time that we have.  Surely we know that we are not guaranteed another day of life – and that we can never reclaim time that is past.

I invite you to take a breath, right now – to look around.  Celebrate this moment.  We are here.  We are connecting in spite of the distance imposed by the circumstances of the pandemic.  Notice what your eyes can see, what your ears can hear.  We are here together, now, with the amazing opportunity through technology of being present together in spite of the physical distance many of us are living.  I, for one, am more than grateful.

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 – Holding On to Hope

A friend of mine just re-posted a handwritten note on Facebook that listed many things to do during the social isolation imposed by the pandemic to maintain “Isolation Well-being”.  Jonathan H. Jones’ post has apparently received thousands of shares.  The suggestions are simple, the activities easily available.  Whether you are weathering the pandemic alone or living in a home with others, all these activities feed the body, the mind, and the soul.

And yet – what is it about being human that, even in the face of KNOWING that such activities would be helpful, stops us in our tracks and puts barriers in our way.  I know that drinking water is good for my body – yet do I do so in an intentional way?  I know that reaching out to others improves my own emotional outlook – yet do I consistently do so? Too often we depend on being in the mood or on wanting to do these things – and will power runs out after a while.

The key words here are intentionality and consistency.  Most of us will do some good self-care every now and then, but few of us are find it easy to stay with that self-care over time.  We run out of gas; we run out of energy; we run out of self-discipline – we run out of whatever the wherewithal is to just keep on going.

This is especially true when there is no end in sight.  We are living now in a time without markers.  We do not have any clear expectation of what is ahead; we do not have a timeline; we do not know when or even if there will be a way to return to familiar life.  And this new life is getting OLD!

I do not have any easy answers.  I am tired of being inside and of not having plays and concerts and of not having church services and of not being able to sing even if there were a church service and of not being able to go out to dinner and of not being able to see friends unless we are on a Zoom call.  Tonight, I just want to bemoan my fate and have a bit of self-pity…

And yet…even as I complain and feel the sadness and loss of these familiar joys, I am remembering that all is NOT lost.  If I am alive and have breath in my body, I have hope for another day.  Each new day is another day of possibility, another day of doing things that I know are good for me and for my community.  I may not do all those things on that list.  I may not do any of them perfectly or consistently.   I may complain and feel the sadness.  And yet – no matter what, I will celebrate that new day, and be grateful for the breath in my body, for eyes that see and ears that hear, and for the renewal each day brings – because in the end, I am alive to live it.  And that, to me, is hope enough.

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 – Goodbye to the Music

 

“It’s a lesson too late for the learning, made of sand, made of sand

In the wink of an eye my soul is turning, in your hand, in your hand

Are you going away with no word of farewell,

Will there be not a trace left behind

Well, I could have loved you better, didn’t mean to be unkind,

You know that was the last thing on my mind.”

 

This song by Neil Diamond has been playing in my mind off and on for days.  I know it is meant to be a song about a lover who is leaving someone behind – but what it is meaning to me is something else.

I learned this week that the process of making music – of singing in a choir, or playing in a symphony, or listening to a congregation singing hymns, or attending a concert – all cause greatly-increased possibilities of exposure to the Corona virus.  Going to a play is also part of this problem – the projection required to be heard in a theater increases the risks of infection.  Time exposed plus being in a closed environment plus the presence of people who may have the virus but don’t yet know it results in vectors of disease.

We have endured so many losses due to this pandemic – loss of control, loss of the illusion of control, loss of being able to be with and hug our loved ones and friends, loss of safety, loss of income in many cases.  My personal loss involves being unable to be close to my daughter and granddaughter – she is only two and would not understand social distancing. Losing music – that really was the last thing on my mind.

Finding out about the music and about live theater has really thrown me.  Being able to sing together is such a wholesome thing, such a joyful experience.  People who sing together experience a symmetry of rhythms – blood pressure and heart rates synchronize, breathing synchronizes.  Studies indicate that group singing results in increases in positive affect and decreases in production of cortisol (the stress hormone), as well as increases in immune functions.  To lose all this to a virus – incredibly sad.

It feels as though the music has gone – gone in the wink of an eye, with no opportunity for farewell.  Who knew that mid-March would mark the end of symphony as we know it, the end of church choirs, the end of group singing?

I would like to come up with something positive and hopeful at this point.  However, the truth is I do not feel hopeful.  I feel sad, and bereft, and lost – and loss of the music is part of that reality.

I can listen to music – and I do.  I can sing, and I do.  It is the creation of music together that is lost.  Creation of music in real time, in the same room, breathing the same air.  This will not come again – not until there is a vaccine and better treatment.  The time will come – but oh, I am so sad for now.

“Could have loved you better – didn’t mean to be unkind,

You know that was the last thing on my mind.”

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 – Denial in the Time of Pandemic

As the corona virus pandemic enters its third month, the United States continues to struggle with a coordinated response to the situation.  A strong federal response has been hampered by misinformation, ignored information, and struggles for power.  States have been essentially left to go it alone and as a result have been caught in some cases in a bidding war with other states to secure the essential protective equipment needed by health care workers and the essential medical supplies needed by patients.

The economic impact of the shut-downs required by social distancing have had catastrophic effects on the financial well-being of millions – and so often, the people who are most affected are those who can least afford it.  Small business owners, members of the entertainment and hospitality industry, artists, actors and musicians, servers, bartenders, taxi drivers, Lyft and Uber drivers – all are suffering.

On an individual level the requirements of social distancing have created huge holes in the normal experiences of family and friends.  Internet virtual get-togethers, carport Happy Hours with neighbors at least 6 feet apart, church and synagogue services played to empty sanctuaries – all underline the radical changes forced on normal social engagement.

People are reacting to all this with a variety of activities and responses.  Some, early on in the shutdown, just seemed to ignore the reality – examples of this were seen on the beaches of Florida as teenagers partied on, ignoring the very real possibilities of infecting others with the virus.  Some became so panicked at the idea of being shut in that they began “panic buying” with the resultant shortage nationwide of toilet paper. Some immediately decided to stay at home before such an order even came down.

Something that I am seeing, and that, as a therapist, I see with a significant amount of concern, is the rush to finding the good in this pandemic.  Please don’t misunderstand – I do think that it is useful to find ways to be grateful even in the midst of turmoil and pain.  Yes, I am grateful that even though I cannot see my family, I can “see” them through technology.  Yes, I am grateful that the stores are still stocked, although not as fully as I am used to.  Yes, I am grateful for the beautiful spring and the lighter footprint on the planet that humans staying indoors has offered.

However, we human beings are often too quick to move to the good – because we are SO UNCOMFORTABLE WITH DEALING WITH LOSS, PAIN AND DEATH.  This epidemic is making us confront the reality of mortality in very direct ways.  People we know and love are at risk.   Every day we hear that more people have died.  By the time this is contained most citizens of the United States will know someone who has died as a result of this pandemic.

We don’t like to think about this.  We don’t like to face it.  We don’t like to recognize that mortality is staring us in the face.  It could be you.  It could be me.  It could be a close loved one.  We just don’t know.

What to do in the face of this?  I would say, face it.  Grieve it, be angry about it, fight with it – but don’t ignore it and move too quickly into the platitudes of gratitude.  This virus is a bear, and unless we face it and its implications head on, we will not heal from the trauma.  It seems easier to turn our heads, to look for the lemonade, to skate lightly over the painful truth.  My fear is that in so doing, we will lose the important and central lesson in this whole experience.

We are mortal.  We will die.  We do not know when or how.  Facing that truth makes living every single moment that we are given in this life a sacred time to be treasured.  May we all face this reality, because in so doing, we can transform our way of living and our relationships with one another.

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 – No Warning

Image result for tornadoes

 

 

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 – Time

  Image result for time

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.

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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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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