Tag Archives: Susan Hammonds-White

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 – 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.

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 – Taking Care

Image result for nursing caring

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.

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

 

 

 

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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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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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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