Tag Archives: Professional Counseling

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 – 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.

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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.

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The Other Side of the Couch – The Path We All Must Take

Image result for Path we all must walk

Someone very close to me has received a diagnosis of cancer.  Neither the nature of the relationship nor the specifics of the diagnosis are significant here – what I am watching, as though from a distance, is my own set of responses.

I have been here before.  The shock of the information, the moment when everything goes still and you find yourself not breathing.  The deliberate focus on detail – who, what, when – what is the plan – what do you need – how can I help.  My method for coping with crisis is to become very organized and intentional.  I suppose that is about imposing some degree of order on a suddenly chaotic world.

That works for a limited amount of time.  It is the cushion that the psyche provides when events are too overwhelming to process all at once.  I find that it is useful.

What I have not done, and what I need to do, is to set aside time to feel the emotions that I am now deliberately avoiding.  I am afraid.  I am devastated. I am unbelieving and in shock.  I am so afraid that my time on this earth with this person is coming to an end.  I am dealing with loss.

I wish I had words to say that would make it better.  I wish it were not happening.  I wish I could go back to that blissful place of unknowing.  I wish so many things.

This event throws into perspective once again that truth – our days on this earth are numbered.  We will all follow the same path out of this world, and each and every moment we have together is a gift and a blessing.  I remember when I was a teenager and experienced the assassination of President Kennedy – my response that day was to gather all my siblings and to go home, to a place we could all be together.

My impulse today is the same, but we are widely scattered – thousands of miles apart.  So – metaphorically speaking I gather us all into love and light, I reach out and connect, I share my loved one’s story far and wide, because I believe that loving energy helps and supports healing. I do all I can.

And I take time to cry.

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 Gift

 

As I write this column this morning, I am waiting.  I spent a good part of the last hour WAITING in a huge traffic backup caused by an accident.  I spent time yesterday WAITING for a client who failed to keep her appointment.  I spent time last night WAITING for the tornado-warning all-clear so that I could feel safe about going to bed.  Today, November 6, 2018, I am spending time in WAITING for the outcomes of this milestone midterm election, outcomes that will determine a significant path for the United States.

I am struck as I think about these experiences by the phrase “spending time”.  On an existential level each second of our lives moves us closer to the inevitable end of living.  When we reach that moment, if we are given the opportunity, how will we look back at the time we have spent on this earth?  How will we regard the choices we made?  Will we celebrate or will we have regrets?

We all spend time in lines or in situations that are not of our own making.  We try to minimize the time spent in slow grocery lines, in traffic, in retail stores. We try to rush things up, sometimes to little effect.  I often experience another driver zooming by me in a rush to get ahead, only to find that same driver next to or behind me as the traffic sorts itself out.  Little is gained, and much is lost (gas usage increases, and emotional energy is expended).  Allowing one’s self to respond with frustration or even rage to these situations serves little purpose.  If you look back at your life and find that you spent time focusing on frustration at situations over which you had no control, you may be in for a lot of regret.

We also spend time in situations in which we do have some possible impact.  While I am waiting with some significant degree of angst for this Election Day to end and for the results to be counted, I also know that I did everything that I could do to affect the outcome.  I voted.  I wrote letters to potential voters.  I contributed dollars to the candidates and party of my choice.  I talked to friends about the importance of involvement.  I encouraged others to take a stand.  While I will be tremendously disappointed and concerned if my party of choice does not make strides, I will know that I did what I could do.  I may not celebrate, but I will not have personal regrets as to my participation.  I did not WAIT to get involved.

We wait for something to happen, for an event to take place, for a change to occur.  The experience of waiting is often difficult.  We humans are impatient creatures, for the most part, and we want things to happen on our time schedule.  The eternal cry of the young traveler – “Are we there yet?” – resonates through the lives of human creatures.  We are always wanting to be “there”.  We want to skip over the waiting and get somewhere.

We can wait with patience, or we can wait with anxiety.  We can fill the time of waiting with fretting about how we are not “yet there”, or we can focus on what is happening in this time of waiting.  Perhaps in the midst of the traffic jam there is glimpse of a sunrise that would not have been seen had I not been sitting still.  Perhaps time to complete a project became available through the gift of an unexpected hour.  Perhaps waiting for the all-clear gave me time to read a few chapters of that book I want to finish.

Time is a gift, not a certainty.  Use it wisely.

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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