Wellness—it’s essential to living a full and productive life. We may have different
ideas about what wellness means, but it involves a set of skills and strategies that
prevent the onset or shorten the duration of illness and promote recovery and wellbeing.
It’s about keeping healthy as well as getting healthy.
Pathways to Wellness— this year’s theme of May is Mental Health Month—calls
attention to strategies and approaches that help all Americans achieve wellness
and good mental and overall health.
Wellness is more than an absence of disease. It involves complete general, mental and social well-being. And mental health is an essential component of overall health and well-being. The fact is our overall well-being is tied to the balance that exists between our emotional, physical, spiritual and mental health.
Whatever our situation, we are all at risk of stress given the demands of daily life and the challenges it brings—at home, at work and in life. Steps that build and maintain well-being and help us all achieve wellness involve a balanced diet, regular exercise, enough sleep, a sense of self-worth, development of coping skills that promote resiliency, emotional awareness, and connections to family, friends and the community.
These steps should be complemented by taking stock of one’s well-being through regular mental health checkups. Just as we check our blood pressure and get cancer screenings, it’s a good idea to take periodic reading of our emotional well-being. One recent study said everyone should get their mental health checked as often as they get a physical, and many doctors routinely screen for mental health, which typically include a series of questions about lifestyle, eating and drinking habits and mental wellness.
While conditions like depression are common—roughly 1 in 5 Americans have a mental health condition—they are extremely treatable.
Fully embracing the concept of wellness not only improves health in the mind, body and spirit, but also maximizes one’s potential to lead a full and productive life. Using strategies that promote resiliency and strengthen mental health and prevent mental health and substance use conditions lead to improved general health and a healthier society: greater academic achievement by our children, a more productive economy, and families that stay together.
Millions of Americans live everyday with Mental Health problems. Every May we recognize these courageous individuals and their plight. We have a critical need for mental health care in this country. Unfortunately this care is often not pursued because of stigma attached to treatment, inability to afford services, or sometimes it is just geographically unavailable. As a way of celebrating Mental Health Awareness month, this year Hafnium Consulting is making a donation to Mental Health America, the nation’s largest and oldest community-based network dedicated to helping all Americans achieve wellness by living mentally healthier lives. With over 240 affiliates across the country, Mental Health America touches the lives of millions—advocating for changes in mental health and wellness policy, educating the public & providing critical information, and delivering urgently needed mental health and wellness programs and services. We hope that you will consider joining us as we support this important organization.
My partner has a very interesting job. When we meet new people and they ask us what we do for a living he usually responds first. Most folks are fascinated by his descriptions and many end up making some wistful statement that sounds a lot like, “I wish I could do that…” Eventually social convention kicks in and people realize that they should probably also ask me about what I do. When I tell them that I am a therapist people sometimes blanche a bit, often folks make some comment about me analyzing them, and then say something that sounds a lot like, “isn’t that hard for you…?”
Often my clients, once they are comfortable with me, ask the same question. I usually respond with a vague answer about “patterns” that are displayed in all of our lives and how I just try to look for these patterns in an attempt to help people understand their own.
The truth is a bit more complicated and paradoxically simplistic. I feel, as Miah Arnold writes in her exquisite essay, “You Owe Me,” that, “it is the most important thing I have ever done, it is the one job I cannot quit.”
After many, many hours of sitting with my clients they have often taught me how we humans navigate our complicated lives. Sometimes I am able to help them find what they need, other times no one is able to give them what they desire. I am often privy to my client’s anger, joy, passion, despair, fear, hopes, disappointments, tragedy, and dreams. Over the years I have discovered that much (but not all) of my work lies in simply witnessing my client’s lives. Simply being present and being with them while they sort through the overwhelming details and events of life can be a tremendous relief to many (if not most) of them.
So this paradoxically simple and complicated truth that my clients have taught me is the reason that I continue to be therapist, teaching others what I have been taught: sometimes, not always, but sometimes, simply “being” is enough.
You may have noticed some recent changes to our website, not the least of which is the addition of our new Associate Counselor, Brittany Steffen. Brittany comes highly recommended by some of the same faculty at SPU that I had in graduate school over 15 years ago.
Brittany is a local Marriage and Family Therapist, educator, researcher, and equal rights activist. She is also very active in providing community education, and is presenting a workshop this coming week, December 13 from 7:00 – 9:00 pm at the Foundation for Sex Positive Culture. Her full profile can be found here.
As an Associate Counselor, Brittany is able to offer lower-fee therapy services ($60 per session) as well as workshops and other consulting services. Already I have been impressed by her humor, candor, and compassion, and I am thrilled that she is going to be working with us!
The Red Earth
Said a tree to a man, “My roots are in the deep red earth, and I shall give you of my fruit.” And the man said to the tree, “How alike we are. My roots are also deep in the red earth. And the red earth gives you power to bestow upon me of your fruit, and the red earth teaches me to receive from you with thanksgiving.”
Some of my clients know that I am fascinated by (and have a tendency to tangentially reference during sessions) the traditions and social practices that are embedded within religious traditions. I believe that for millennia religious tradition and mythology served as the only reliable repositories for all of our collective psychological knowledge regarding humanity.
One of my most favorite practices is the Jewish tradition of hakarat hatov which literally means, “recognizing the good.” Part of this practice includes acknowledging the “good that is already yours” and reciting a prayer several times a day so that this gratitude or “goodness” becomes a part of you.
As it turns out, this may not be “only” a spiritual practice, but a biological one as well.
According to Murali Doraiswamy, head of the division of biologic psychology at Duke University Medical Center, “If [thankfulness were a drug, it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system.”
We are just beginning to fully understand the enormous effects that thankfulness has on multiple brain and body systems. These include mood neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine (two hormones commonly targeted by antidepressants), reproductive hormones (testosterone), social bonding hormones (oxytocin), cognitive and pleasure related neurotransmitters (dopamine), inflammatory and immune systems (cytokines), stress hormones (cortisol) cardiac and EEG rhythms, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
The tradition of hakarat hatov has been around for centuries, but now it seems that modern science is verifying what many folks have intuited for generations: Practicing gratitude is good for you. REALLY good for you.
“The vilest hypocrites, urged on by that same fury which they call zeal for God’s law, have everywhere prosecuted men whose blameless character and distinguished qualities have excited the hostility of the masses, publicly denouncing their beliefs and inflaming the savage crowd’s anger against them. And this shameless license, sheltering under the cloak of religion, is not easy to suppress.”
– B. Spinoza, 1670
“Queer persons have been imperceptible and unintelligible as queer and equal persons, and have been perceptible and intelligible only to the extent that they could be seen, spoken, and heard in terms of and as constitutive outside to straight sex, gender and sexual norms…If this is the case, then gaining perceptibility or intelligibility amounts to gaining recognition but only on the terms of those who are already in a position to recognize; the terms of recognizability themselves do not change.”
– Ruitenberg, 2010
The documentary feature film Seventh Gay Adventists provides a deeply personal glimpse into the lives of three religious homosexual couples. Within each couple, at least one of the partners is struggling to reconcile their sexual identity with a harsh reality: that the church in which they were raised — Seventh Day Adventist — actively rejects them unless they disavow their spouses and become either celibate or straight-acting. Their stories are deeply moving, and the filmmakers, Daneen Akers and her husband Stephen Eyer, make it easy for us to laugh and cry along with these likeable subjects as they bravely and honestly, if naively, bare their lives and discuss their deep faith and powerful connection to the culture of Adventism.
No social justice movement is successful without members of the majority choosing to speak out against the oppression of a minority, and in that spirit, Akers and Eyer should be congratulated as pioneers in their community. Their activism, in the form of this film, has put a human face to a highly political topic and undoubtedly initiated important conversations throughout the Adventist community.
The difficulty of Seventh Gay Adventists is not as much with what is included in the film, but with what is missing. Prior to the screening at the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, the filmmakers explicitly pointed out that their film is intended to give voice to the LGBTQ population within the church, a voice that is seldom heard first-hand by the people debating the issue. Unfortunately, the voices that they selected are a minority of a minority. The filmmakers have painted a heroic portrait of people who — at great cost to themselves — are trying to stay true to this particular branch of conservative Christianity. The unintended implication of such a portrait is that those who abandon a church that oppresses them are somehow less heroic, and even less whole, as a result of willing themselves to leave.
The exclusion of affirming LGBTQ voices is uncomfortably evident during scenes such as the Worthington Seventh Day Adventist church’s attempt to write a policy statement that “allows” for the inclusion of LGBTQ members. The statement is filled with micro-aggressions against LGBTQ people that would be quite obvious and highly offensive to any less regressive community. In another cringe-inducing scene, a young gay couple, during their wedding, is subjected to a public acknowledgement by their officiant that many of the witnesses present would rather the ceremony was not taking place at all.
Perhaps the most glaring exclusion, however, is the lack of any explicit narrative that details the Seventh Day Adventist church’s exclusionary and often blatantly persecutory practices toward LGBTQ individuals, organizations, and support groups. Missing is any acknowledgement that the “reparative therapy” pressured upon the individuals in the film is tantamount to emotional and spiritual, if not sexual, abuse.
In the end, the film leaves us saddened by what its subjects have had to endure, and will clearly continue to endure. They are seeking recognition and legitimization from an entity that cannot and will not ever recognize them as fully capable, functioning, powerful, whole human beings. Nevertheless, while these conversations might not be the preferred conversations of all self-respecting LGBTQ individuals of faith, they may prove to be a strong catalyst for some within the church.
This is the time of year that I usually start to get referrals of school age children (often middle school students) who are sometimes struggling a bit at school. The school year started a couple of weeks ago with a flourish, intentions were great, behaviorally things seem to be going just fine and then all of a sudden everyone realizes that the child is having difficulty adjusting to the newer, and perhaps more rigorous, academic schedule and demands.
Sometimes when parents bring these children into my office to visit with me they complain that their child simply isn’t motivated, or isn’t engaged in learning. Usually when I later interview the child they confirm that they are bored or disinterested in school.
One of my favorite tools when working with these students/families is introducing them to Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner proposed that we all have a preferred learning style and when we are able to utilize this style of learning we are able to learn much faster and much more thoroughly. Although many teachers are instructed how to use this theory most have difficulty conforming to the demands of teaching with standardized testing and tailoring lessons to individuals students’ needs.
Sometimes parents can assist their children at home by facilitating learning in a slightly different way.
Linguist Intelligence–involves sensitivity to spoken and written language.
Logical-Mathematical Intelligence–involves the capacity to analyze problems logically and carry out mathematical operations.
Musical Intelligence–entails skill in the performance, composition and appreciation of musical patterns.
Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence–involves using one’s who body or parts of the body.
Spatial Intelligence–features the potential to recognize and manipulate the patterns of wide space.
Interpersonal Intelligence–involves a person’s capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of others.
Intrapersonal Intelligence–the ability to truly understand oneself.
Naturalistic Intelligence–involves sensitivity to nature and ecological systems.
One example might be a child who enjoys Kinesthetic learning. This type of a child might have quite a bit of difficulty sitting in a seat and learning the name of the capital of all fifty states. However if a parent assists the child in writing out the names on index cards and placing them throughout the house the child is able to utilize a kinesthetic edge in learning. For a child who has musical intelligence the creation of a song or rap might be a more helpful tool.
We all learn differently. Sometimes an academic impasse can be surmounted simply by trying a new and creative approach. This shift can often represent a release of tension around the impasse allowing the child to engage with the parent in a positive manner as they try something new.
Here’s a great link to help you figure out your own strengths.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center entitled “The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families” our ideas about what constitutes “family” in the USA appear to be changing. These changes have been occurring over the past half century and have resulted in a major transformation of what exactly constitutes “marriage” and the “family.” The most significant among these changes is the difference in the number of couples that choose to get married. In 1960, over two-thirds (68%) of all twenty-somethings were married, compared with only 26% today. When asked “Is marriage becoming obsolete?”—nearly four in ten individuals (39%) said yes.
Perhaps, not surprisingly, the survey found that the young are much more inclined than their elders to view cohabitation without marriage and other historically marginalized family forms — such as same-sex marriage and interracial marriage — in a positive light. It appears that family — in all its emerging varieties — remains resilient. The survey found that while we have an increasingly expansive definition of what constitutes a family, the vast majority of adults still consider their own family to be the most important, most satisfying element of their lives.
Interestingly, there appears to be a socioeconomic tie to marriage indicating that the higher one’s educational attainment and income, the greater the likelihood that she or he will marry.