Dealing with Fear by: Jim Colvin, MDiv.

Author Loren Eisley tells a story in his book the Immense Journey of a scientist back in the 1930’s or ‘40’s who learned about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the fact that there is much, much more space than matter in what we call solid ground.  As the man conceptualized all that space beneath him he became so frightened that he had to wear snowshoes for two weeks until he could once again trust that the earth beneath his feet would support him.

            With the experiences we hear about and see in our world, the killing of African Americans by police both in Asheville and in other cities, the massacre of 49 people in a gay club in Orlando, and the assassination of white policemen doing their duty in Dallas, a climate of fear has taken hold in some persons. This atmosphere of uncertainty is fostered by the media, who profit by scared people riveted to electronic devices.  And the world does not feel solid, similar to our scientist above. 

            When we feel that we cannot trust the world and find ourselves fearful, our energy and our being is pulled in, shrunken.  There may be pain and even trauma. So how do we become untriggered and able to trust again?  One important step is to take a deep breath and summon the stamina to reach out and connect rather than to isolate ourselves.  Connect with people and communities you can trust. And turn off the news sources! Faith communities can be of particular support if the message is one of love, inclusion and hope for justice in our society. For if we are unable to trust the world chances are we do not trust God either.

            From my perspective and that of many persons of faith, when the world suffers we can count on God to be suffering with us, and to offer love in solidarity.  That may not remove all doubt and fear, but it can sustain us enough to get through these tough days.  And love and community are a source of stability in unstable times.  We might even find the courage to reach out and support our friends and neighbors of other races and backgrounds.

            Hoping you are finding some possibilities of connecting!

Empathy vs. Sympathy, By Jim Colvin, MDiv.

There is a big distinction between empathy, as one of my admired speakers, Brene Brown points out.  I like what she says because I see it with clients and experience it in my own life time and again.  The difference is that empathy promotes connection while sympathy promotes disconnection.

For example, consider a time when you were hurting and perhaps someone said, “That sounds painful. I’ll just sit here and listen to you.”  Compare that to another kind of response, “Sorry to hear that…” and then the person goes on to relate all about their perceived similar experience without bothering to ask anything about how you are doing.

    Empathy involves four primary things:

1.    Taking the perspective of the other person; ask yourself if you were in their shoes what you might need or want to hear (or not hear).

2.    Staying out of judgment.  For instance when my son’s house burned down in the fall some people were concerned about his well being and asked how he was doing.  Others immediately wanted to know how the fire started.

3.    Recognize the emotions in the other person.  We are born with the capacity for empathy, to resonate with the feelings of those around us. If someone appears upset, honor that. Don’t change the subject. Be there. 

4.    Communicate your concern for them and their feelings.  It may take some spiritual stamina, but to be willing to be present rather than having to do something can by a healing act as it allows the person to feel all right about having their feelings and being in their situation. 

Empathy requires us to be open to our own pain and to be vulnerable about it. This can be a vehicle of deep connection.  Shutting ourselves off from our vulnerability shuts us off from others and disconnects. So, empathy requires a decision.  

Sometimes it takes courage to engage in this way, but the benefits of connecting at a deeper level are well worth the risk.

Time to Stop, Look and Listen, using "holydays" to enrich "everydays" By Michael Hester, PhD.

Most religious holidays were begun by various faith traditions as "holydays" set apart from every day to give life meaning and purpose. Before Scriptures were read by the masses, religious teachers and families taught faith through significant days on the calendar. Hanukkah, Ramadan and Christmas each celebrate the holy entering the world, one through lamp oil that did not give out, another through fasting to seek revelation and another through a baby in the manger revealing love.

In real life the holidays often stress the life out of life. Holiday preparation creates a busyness as businesses take advantage of holiday sales opportunities.  Holiday rituals become filled with activities, relationships, parties and memories. Even the smells, sounds, sites and feelings of holidays remind us of holidays past, good or bad. As I hear people tell their holiday stories and memories, I often hear more pain than joy. One client recently exclaimed "Life is sure a tangled mess during the holidays." Over the years I have provided counseling, I have found that the pressure begins to build around mid-November and does not lessen until January.

The season of the year captures and intensifies crucial life needs and longings. For example, we long to be together with those we love while also needing to be alone in silence. We desire to party and celebrate but also need to have time in quietness. We get meaning out of giving to others with a generous spirit and also find goodness in the gifts we receive from others. It is a time to grieve our loved ones not here any longer and give thanks for the gift of their lives to us. The intensity of this process can be overwhelming during the holidays.

The opportunity of "holydays" prompts us to pause and to do what we read in our first grade reader- Stop, Look and Listen. In the every days we live blindly, unaware, unintentional and unresponsive. Much like the silver ball in a pinball machine, we are propelled into the every day's bouncing from one event to another often reactively. The spiritual challenge is to live reflectively and intentionally today, to use our hearts and our heads to give meaning to what is happening to us and in us so that we may discover more meaning and purpose for living.

Perhaps you could make a shopping list for yourself this season, such as:

  • stop several times each day, look around and take a deep breath
  • find some time to be quiet each day
  • make a Gratitude list
  • plan small acts of loving kindness
  • listen to the sounds around you
  • relish the delight of children
  • name your griefs and give thanks
  • find ways to forgive
  • play
  • pray

I wish you the HopeLoveJoyPeace of the Holydays!

Michael Hester, PhD.

Tips for Heading into the Winter Months, David Bradley, LMFT, AAPC

As the days grow shorter and the time change draws nearer, it can be a difficult time for many people in the calendar year.  Whether or not you struggle with seasonal affective disorder or just count winter among your least favorite months, there are some steps you can take to not only survive the months but even learn to thrive in them for the first time.  Here are some tips:

1.     Plan on going to sleep at the same hour each night and waking at the same hour each morning.

2.     Make sure you are eating healthy (plenty of fruits and vegetables).  Limit sweets, salt, and saturated fats.

3.     Exercise regularly (3o minutes 3 days a week represent the bare minimum).  Take advantage of daylight hours.  The light helps.

4.     Avoid drugs and alcohol.

5.     Be open with family, friends, ministers, doctors, or therapists about how you are doing.

When the weather limits what you can do outside, set some goals for what you would like to accomplish during the winter indoors.  Doing so will have you ready for the outdoors when the weather changes.

 "Teach us to number our days, O God that we may gain wise hearts."
     --Psalm 90:12

Caring for the emotional health of our Latino populations, Megan Reilly Buser, LCSW, AAPC

In my 15+ years of living in the Asheville area, it has been obvious how the population of Latin American immigrants has snowballed from a fairly small community, to making up to half the population in some of the towns of Western North Carolina.  Some come fleeing deep economic poverty, sacrificing family unity in order to provide for those left behind in their countries of origin.  Others come fleeing environmental disasters, or drug-war induced violence.

As a result, mental health can and often does become greatly sacrificed.  The National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests that the Latino community is at a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.  This comes as no surprise, as having to leave one’s family behind and come to a culture and language not their own can produce isolation and loneliness.  Some of these immigrants come from machista societies where the abuse of power and control may be seen as the norm.  This also results in depression and anxiety, and in many cases, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, from domestic violence. The CDC data suggests that young Latina females are twice as likely as males to think about suicide.

For many Latino immigrants, spirituality and religion have great meaning to them and are almost a part of the cultural society and language as well.  It is not uncommon in Mexico for example for a catholic priest to be considered a part of the family.  For many, one’s faith-expression and at times church (at least in my experience with the Catholic Church) is a Latin American immigrant’s transitional object that remains almost the same from one country to the next and may bring a certain level of comfort.   For this reason I have found it very common for my Latino clients to request the inclusion of their faith and spirituality as part of their treatment. This correlates with most of my referrals coming from local churches. Sometimes it’s been their faith that may be the part of the source and/or part of the solution to the issues they face. I have a great love and fondness for this community, and feel greatly privileged to both serve it and be transformed by it.   I am grateful to the Partnership for Pastoral Counseling for providing affordable counseling to this community in their language and their faith.

Megan Reilly Buser is a licensed clinical social worker, and member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, currently working at innerQuest.  She has worked in Hispanic Ministry for over 25 years.

 

The Healing Power of Forgiveness, M. Jean Parks, Ph.D.

For many pastoral counseling clients, forgiveness is essential to their healing, even though they may not know it when they begin counseling. Forgiving her father who brutally abused her may free a young woman to experience joy. Forgiving his former wife who betrayed him may enable a single father to love another woman. Forgiving God for taking a child too young may allow a grieving mother to return to church. My own journeys of forgiveness have brought relief from anger and resentment.

 

Forgiveness is a central theme in both the Old and New Testaments. Jesus asks us not to be stingy with forgiveness but to forgive one another over and over, seventy times seven times. God’s forgiveness of us is intimately connected to our forgiveness of others. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” For some of us, forgiving may seem like an obligation, a pre-requisite for receiving God’s forgiveness. But the blessing of forgiving others is that it can free us from the burdens of anger, alienation and desire for revenge.

 

For centuries, forgiveness has been treated as a religious or spiritual matter. Only in the 1980s did forgiveness become a topic for psychological research and self-help books. Studies have focused on the benefits that forgiveness can have for our emotional and physical health. Even secular therapists have begun to explore questions of forgiveness with their clients.

 

Knowing that God wants us to forgive and that it might even be good for us doesn’t make it easy. In my own journey, learning what forgiveness is not encouraged me take the first steps toward forgiveness. Lewis Smedes’ book, The Art of Forgiving was tremendously helpful to me in this process. Smedes emphasized that forgiveness is not minimizing or denying the hurt we have experienced. Only by acknowledging and experiencing the depth of the pain we feel can we know the true nature of the wound we are forgiving.

 

Forgiveness is not dependent on the other person’s repentance. Sometimes the offender has died, disappeared or is unwilling to apologize. Waiting for an apology makes our healing dependent on the very person who hurt us in the first place. Forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation. The injured person does not have to submit to repeated wounding. Smedes wrote, “It takes one person to forgive. It takes two to be reunited.”

 

So what does constitute forgiveness? Again, Smedes has been helpful to me. Forgiving is a process; it usually takes time. A first step is to recognize the full humanity of the person who hurt us. Without excusing the behavior, we try to see the person as God might, with good qualities as well as faults. Forgiving also means letting go of our fantasies of revenge and our desire to get even, though not of our claim on justice. And we can know we are on the path to forgiveness when we discover that we have new, kinder feelings toward the person that hurt us.

 

Of great comfort to me was the realization that, although God challenges us to forgive each other, God doesn’t insist we do it on our own. When we are really stuck, we can pray, “God, I’m really hurt and angry. Right now, I can’t imagine feeling any other way. Please instill in me the desire to forgive and guide me along the way.” The healing that forgiveness brings is God’s gift to us.

 

In addition to Smedes’ book, I recommend Don’t Forgive Too Soon, by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn. For pastors and counselors, I recommend Robert Enright’s Helping Clients to Forgive.

 

 

 

Mental Health is a Public Health Responsibility

Providing access to mental health services is a public health responsibility, same as making sure children are receiving proper health care, the elderly are covered with Medicare and preventing and managing infectious diseases.  

Approximately 1 in 5 Americans have a mental health problem in any given year!

Only 1 in 3 will receive mental health care services.

20% of our youth(ages 13-18) suffer with a mental health condition.

Depression remains the #1 disability  - Worldwide!

We have to do better - we have to stop the stigma and work to make sure people are able to access mental health services.