Tag Archives: Professional Counseling

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  I knew that he was himself suffering from some form of mental illness and that he had withdrawn from contact with any family, including his father and sister.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

 

Image result for storms

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.

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 – 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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The Other Side of the Couch – Scarcity or Abundance: You Choose

I ran across an article about three myths that keep us trapped in a belief system that is negative in so many ways.  Lynne Twist, author of The Soul of Money, suggests that these myths are traps that stand between us and our own sense of abundance and security.

When you were a child, did you and your siblings ever argue over who was going to get the biggest piece of cake or the largest slice of watermelon?  I know we did – even though I do not remember a single time in my life, ever, when there was not enough cake or watermelon to go around.  Children live with a highly developed sense of fairness – in our Western culture we grow up being aware of who has how much of something.  We are unconsciously taught to believe that there may not be enough, and that having more is better.  In many instances we are also taught that there is nothing we can do to change any of that – in the case of a cake or a watermelon, there is indeed not an endless supply, but we tend to transfer those childhood feelings about scarcity and want to bigger-picture concepts like love.  Many adults fear that there is not enough love to go around, not realizing that the capacity of the heart to love is enlarged by the process of giving love.  Love does not thrive in a scarcity economy.

The three myths that we have been taught to believe are:

1. There’s not enough to go around.   2.  More is better.   3.  That’s just the way it is.

Believing that there is not enough causes us to live in fear. Believing that more is better leaves us perpetually unsatisfied. Believing that we have no way to change anything creates a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness that leads us to abandon our own agency, our own initiative, our own ability to believe in and to hope for change.

This last belief, the belief that we can’t do anything to create change, is to me the most pernicious, and it is the one that is pervasive at this time as we confront a world that is essentially living in fear.  On a physical and organic level, fear causes a kind of tunnel-vision.  Focus narrows to the immediate and turns to survival.  Protectionism increases.

Friends, we have it within ourselves to choose differently – to focus on the good, the beautiful, the joyful; to remember the joys in our lives and to be grateful for the abundance that we do have.  Research has shown us that focusing on that for which we are grateful in an intentional and daily way results in positive changes in behavior.

Amy Morin published an article in Forbes Magazine in 2014 that listed seven different ways that gratitude improves our lives.  The link is below:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round 

Gratitude supports physical well-being, increases empathy and decreases aggression, improves psychological health, and improves sleep, among other benefits. Gratitude is free;  there is an endless supply of it; it is there for the taking!

Let’s counter the myths that trap us by choosing gratitude – you will be glad you did.

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 – Loafing

 

A friend recently gave me some words of wisdom that I found shocking.

She said, “You’ve been through a lot over the last 18 months – now it’s time to focus on relaxing and self-care and fun.”This perception on her part was shocking in several ways – but most importantly, it invited me think about what HAS been going on in my life.

In the last eighteen months I have had three major surgeries, the trip of a lifetime, selling of a childhood home and subsequent downsizing process, purchase of a new home, loss of my best friend to early-onset Alzheimer’s, a home disaster in our new condo that resulted in almost five months in an extended-stay hotel, my daughter’s first pregnancy, exposure of our cats to the lethal effects of eating an Easter lily (they are fine), and the birth of a granddaughter.

WOW. Or better said, YIKES! Talk about a roller coaster!  No wonder my friend had this perception.

Living life is like being in a river.  The current is constantly flowing, and we are in that current.  It is ongoing, ever-changing, sometimes stormy, sometimes swift and challenging, sometimes slow and lazy, but never the same.  Taking the time to climb out onto the bank to observe one’s self in that current can be challenging – and sometimes it takes another person looking in to help us see what has been going on.

My friend’s comment did this for me – and helped me realize something about my own process.  I don’t take the time to step back, to rest, to recharge.  These last months have really been about “good soldiering”.  One step in front of the other, don’t look back, don’t look ahead, just slog on, keep your head down, that’s the best you can do.

It’s not a process that is filled with rest, renewal, or any kind of joy.  It is called survival.

Many of us get stuck in this place of survival and adapt to it – it becomes the only way we know how to approach living.  To break that mold takes intention and some degree of support.  It takes claiming time for yourself to do things that perhaps you don’t normally do – whatever it is that you experience as relaxing and fun and outside the regular track of your life.

What am I doing?  I am puttering around with plants for my little patio.  I am taking a trip to hear music over Memorial Day.  I am going to my college reunion in June.  I am planning a trip to Charleston to see my other grandchild.  I am planning a trip to Florida to see dear friends.  On a daily basis I am asking myself this question:  How would you like to loaf today?

Answering that question may be the most important and the most challenging of all – because I don’t know much about loafing around (that means being unproductive – heaven forbid!).  Redefining loafing as resting, taking it easy, changing your pace, slowing down – these are new ideas for me.

When do you “loaf”?  Are you always on the move, always doing, always restless?  If so, you might need a dose of loafing to bring some balance into your life.  I know I 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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