Executive Director’s Blog: Juneteenth

On June 19 we acknowledge and observe Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the day that the end of slavery was announced in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. Juneteenth has been celebrated by the Black community since the late 1800s. Juneteenth represents freedom and justice for Black Americans, and in recognition of that it is appropriate for us to pause and reflect on how important ending structural racism and promoting mental health equity is for the Black community, other communities of color, and our society at large.

For my newsletter reflections this month I’m stitching together a number of different citations and resources to help us deepen our understanding of this holiday and its relation to our mission.

What Is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is a holiday celebrated on June 19th to honor the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. The holiday can be traced to Galveston, Texas, where approximately 2,000 troops arrived on June 19, 1865, and announced the freedom of more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in Texas. Before this day, some people remained enslaved despite the Emancipation Proclamation, which was passed in 1863 to free slaves in the U.S. In places still under Confederate control – which included Galveston, Texas – many people remained enslaved until the end of the Civil War in 1865.

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all enslaved people free. But it was more than two years later, on June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger arrived in Texas to inform enslaved Black people there that they were in fact “free.” Texas was the last state in the Confederacy to receive word that the Civil War had ended, and slavery had been abolished. Of course, what followed that day was an ongoing series of efforts to continue denying Black Americans their freedom and ultimately their humanity.

On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed a bill declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday

The holiday is the undeterred and celebratory response to systemic oppression. Juneteenth also relates to another event, Black History Month, which strives to celebrate the contributions and acknowledge the sacrifices made by African Americans. Juneteenth is a declaration of Black humanity and identity. An identity that directly informs mental health and well-being. We decided in 2020 to make Juneteenth one of the annual holidays during which the Center is closed. There are intimate connections between this holiday and our mission of providing quality mental health services. The holiday gives us a chance to step back and reflect on how we might improve any gaps in our services.

Racial Inequity in Mental Health Care

Resilience. Joy. Community. Liberation. There are an infinite number of concepts wrapped up in this holiday. However, underscoring all of those is one fundamental idea that gives rise to all the others:

Humanity.

With history in mind, Juneteenth is an opportunity to point out and condemn modern examples of racial inequity in all areas of life – including mental health care. These injustices persist in the U.S. and elsewhere, and as advocates for equity, we must remember that the end of slavery did not mark the end of all racial injustice.

In the context of mental health, the difference between equity and equality influences our ability to support people of all backgrounds, especially those who belong to racial and ethnic minority groups. For some of us, Juneteenth may be one of the few days of the year when we openly discuss this distinction – but for lasting change, these discussions must continue past June.

Based on national details gathered by the American Psychological Association (APA), people from racial and ethnic minority groups are less likely to receive mental health care. In 2015, they found that among adults with a mental illness, 48% of white people received mental health services, compared to 31% of Black and Hispanic people and 22% of Asians.

Racial discrimination as well as cultural norms can prevent people from getting quality mental health care. Our cultural upbringings shape our perspectives on mental illness, and in some cultures, mental illness is more stigmatized and may be viewed as a source of shame, rather than a legitimate health concern.

Though we do our best to avoid inequity in our services, we must acknowledge that in many mental health settings cultural nuances are often complicated by racism itself. Care providers are much more likely to diagnose Black American clients with schizophrenia and overlook the symptoms of major depression, compared to their treatment of clients with other racial or ethnic backgrounds. Similarly, Black children are over-diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder relative to white peers, which promotes poorer educational and health outcomes.

Research clearly demonstrates the impacts of racial discrimination on healthcare and long-term wellbeing. Juneteenth might occur just once a year, but it’s an enduring reminder that racial equity is both a historical and modern-day issue, and it impacts all dimensions of a human life.

What Does Mental Health Equity Look Like?

Mental health equity looks like equitable, fair reach to quality mental health care: a vision that can only be achieved through structural changes. By considering the U.S.’s historical background and diverse cultural makeup, we can restructure programs and services that support mental health equity.

In pursuit of this vision, many clinicians, researchers, and politicians are working toward the following structural changes:

• Promoting culturally responsive care
• Integrating mental health care into primary care
• Increasing funding for the education and ongoing training of mental health professionals
• Making mental health care more affordable and customizable to individuals’ budgets

Concern for these inequities undergird some foundational objectives in our future strategy at the Center. Our goal is to have the demographics of the people we serve match the demographics of Central Iowa as closely as possible. The first steps in this strategy include increased diversity in our board and staff so that we have leaders within the organization who understand what it takes to achieve such a lofty demographic goal.

We need to go beyond our internal strategies in order to seek some practical ways to celebrate Juneteenth and reflect on our individual and collective responsibilities to effect positive social change. For now, here is a link to some events to celebrate Juneteenth in Central Iowa:

https://www.iowajuneteenth.org/events.html

Ways to seek change on Juneteenth and beyond

Juneteenth is central to Black American mental health and well-being because it’s defined by Black humanity and liberation. It’s a part of Black identity formation. So, for those of us who want to honor the day and help safeguard and celebrate that humanity, what should we do? Here are three simple guidelines for supporting Black mental health in honor of Juneteenth:

  1. Listen to Black Voices. Juneteenth is about centering and celebrating Black liberation and the Black American experience. Seek out rallies, articles, stories, artwork, poetry readings, music and social media accounts and Black-owned businesses that offer rich, authentic Black perspectives to learn from.
  2. Respect Black Spaces. Juneteenth isn’t just a Black holiday. It’s an American holiday. It’s a date that is part of our history and that every American should learn about and honor. However, for those of us who are not Black—especially white people—it’s important to remember that supporting Black mental health means not dominating or appropriating Black voices and spaces. Work to bolster, not burden. Aim to amplify, not invade.
  3. Learn Your History. Honoring Juneteenth and respecting Black identity means working to fill the significant gaps in our knowledge of American history. Look for documentaries, books, workshops, professional development seminars and other educational opportunities that will challenge your understanding and beliefs as they relate to race in America.

And finally, stop to think about the meaning behind the different holidays we do or don’t acknowledge and why, and how those inclusions and omissions affect the mental health and identity development of those who are celebrated or omitted as a result. Frederick Douglass’ “Fourth of July” speech is a great place to start.

Juneteenth is a day of celebration, community, and reflection. This June, take an opportunity to pause and notice the systems of privilege and oppression around you. With time and self-education, we can begin dismantling these systems by committing to our mental health, investing in our communities, and choosing to celebrate and uplift one another, all of which connect directly to our mission at the Mind and Spirit Counseling Center.

A blessed holiday to you and yours,

Jim

Executive Director’s Blog: Black History Month

I recently attended an event celebrating Black History Month, and one of the organizers concluded with the admonishment: “Every month is black history month.”

It got me thinking. Thinking often leads me to internet research, where I explored the history of “Black History Month” a bit further.

As I continued chasing new thoughts and insights, I noticed a theme each year during these February celebrations. Here’s the theme for 2024:

Since 1976, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme.

The Black History Month 2024 theme, “African Americans and the Arts,” explores the key influence African Americans have had in the fields of “visual and performing arts, literature, fashion, folklore, language, film, music, architecture, culinary and other forms of cultural expression.”

Which brings me back to the event I attended at the Varsity Cinema. An artistic celebration of a documentary film directed by Craig Farley, Jr.: Through the Lens: Black Visionaries on Mental Wellness. The project was born of a cohort of the African American Leadership Academy, sponsored by The Directors Council. If you don’t know their work, it’s worth a visit.

The Directors Council, in their own words:

As a coalition of leaders, The Directors Council seeks to improve the conditions of the individuals in the neighborhoods we serve. We pool our collective expertise to develop programs and launch unique initiatives that meet unaddressed needs. 

How does all this relate to our work at the Center? Some of the visionaries highlighted in this project include Kayla Bell-Consolver and Breanne Ward. Kayla led us in some training around the effects of racism and generational trauma a couple of years back. It gave our therapists numerous insights about how to address such issues for clients therapeutically. Breanne has served on our board and continues to inspire us on how we might best serve our community, particularly if we want to be a welcoming place for communities of color.

The documentary struck me in many ways. What does mental wellness mean, given the diversity of definitions based on our communities of origin? How does stigma affect diverse communities? What are the resources for mental wellness beyond professional therapy? What is the role each of us offers when it comes to the well-being of others?

Lots to ponder—and the documentary was only 38 minutes!

One of our strategic objectives at the Center is that the demographics of the people we serve match the demographics of Central Iowa. We stand with The Directors Council, looking to explore and develop programs that meet unaddressed needs. To do this, we need to focus on hospitality and being present to our community to be a trusted resource for the many communities represented in our neighborhoods

It’s nice to have a reminder in February of the many contributions made by the African American community to improve mental health and wellness. As a wise person told me recently, such acknowledgment isn’t just for one month, but every month.

Be well,
Jim

Executive Director’s Blog: Transformational Love

Our mission is to walk with people through counseling and education to find hope and healing—and to live a fulfilling life.

All people.

Early on in my time at the Center, I had a conversation with an esteemed therapist who described the importance of how the healing process happens here. I was told that we’re not here to fix people, but to meet them where they are and then walk together–to accompany them as they navigate the challenges they are facing at that moment in time. We don’t diagnose what’s broken and needs to be fixed. The people we serve are God’s children, imbued with dignity, who need loving presence and care.

All people.

Another important part of our mission is to help as many people as possible regardless of their ability to pay. All our stakeholders wish we could help more as the needs are great and access to mental health services has been an ongoing crisis for too long.

One group we support in our mission includes clients working through issues of gender and sexual orientation/identity. I admire the courage they show as they work on questions of understanding, accepting and living their core, true selves despite how the world may view and treat them. Their stories of resilience in the face of fear, confusion and adversity are inspiring.

The struggles are real. I’m happy the Center and others in the healing profession can be there for those in need of expert companions, especially kids who have challenges in abundance these days. The reality of such struggles often leads to tragic outcomes. If you’re not aware of The Trevor Project, check out their website:

https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/article/facts-about-lgbtq-youth-suicide/https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/article/facts-about-lgbtq-youth-suicide/
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 24 (Hedegaard, Curtin, & Warner, 2018) — and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are at significantly increased risk.
  • LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers (Johns et al., 2019; Johns et al., 2020).
  • The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.
  • The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

It’s not an easy read. The numbers of this tragedy are stark.

It’s not a big leap to tie a culture of fear, bullying, and the need to separate and blame the “other” to what Pope Saint John Paul II called a “Culture of Death.” Against such hatred and injustice we are all called to struggle alongside those to whom the hatred is directed. Such support is especially true for those whose values and traditions mandate them to love their neighbors as themselves.

If you want to dig even deeper in research, give this a read:

https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/iowa-view/2023/03/19/lgbtq-identity-research-shows-harms-legislation-could-cause/70016181007/

I support these colleagues, mental health professional experts in training, science and research, who recognize how important affirming care is for the population. We are the professionals who deal in reality, not politics nor polls or faulty rhetoric. The hope is to keep the kids alive until they are old enough to sort out the questions of identity. Every day we offer hope and healing as we know that for many kids and adults, the culture offers despair so deep that the only option they can see to end the pain is to take their own lives tragically. The culture wars are not a playground.

I wish we all could enter the sacred space of the offices and the relationships our therapists share with their clients. That everyone,

All people,

Could listen to the raw stories of the harvest of what the seeds bullying, sectarianism and hatred produce. Could listen to the experience of the trauma resulting from being rejected by families, faith communities and civic leaders sworn to protect them. Could listen to the stories of other human beings who are struggling to understand themselves and what it means to be loved–the same struggles we all share.

All people.

Jim

Executive Director’s Blog: The Duty of Delight

One of my role models for how to live a good life is Dorothy Day, who died about this time of year in 1980. Her witness to solidarity with the poor is a prophetic voice that regularly reminds me of the importance of simplicity. A noteworthy phrase from her diaries is the “Duty of Delight,” which is also the title of one compilation of her journals. The striking and unique combination of words is a reminder that the habit of daily joy is a discipline, no matter the circumstance of our lives.

Another prophet puts it this way:

…everlasting joy will be on their faces; joy and gladness will go with them, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10)

Who, may I ask, among those who encounter this reflection, experiences “everlasting joy” in our imperfect world? Isaiah himself was writing to an audience in exile that had encountered unspeakable violence, persecution and loss. From whence the hope, the joy?

If we look around us as 2022 ends, we could find plenty of reasons to question the mental stability of those who sing “Joy to the World.” Where is the joy in Ukraine? Is delight one of the first words that comes to mind for parents who lost children to violence? Have sorrow and sighing fled the lives of families unable to pay their bills? Even the descendants of Isaiah in our community find the levels of anti-Semitism and hate crimes climbing steadily.

Dorothy Day touched despair almost daily as she worked among the poorest of the poor. She regularly considered giving up as the problems her community sought to solve never seemed to improve, let alone disappear. Perhaps she was talking to herself, as well as to each of us, as she reminded us all that taking delight in the present moment is a duty that requires discipline and hard work in the midst of community. In her words: “It is not always easy to be joyful, to keep in mind the duty of delight.”

The work we do at the Center is an opportunity to walk with people in order to develop habits that help us to experience true joy. Not a fleeting emotion such as when we have a good day, but as an abiding presence of peace. It is hard work. The problems people bring to us are real and often tragic. Healing comes in fits and starts.

Part of the healing process is found in community. The people we serve are not facing challenges alone. It might be a compassionate therapist, a staff member who helps to support the clinician in their work, a board member that seeks resources in the community to make the work possible, a donor who responds to an end-of-year solicitation to make a counseling session possible, or …

I hope we all get the point. We are in this together, doing our duty, contributing and sacrificing to make sure others know that hope and healing are possible.

I am grateful for the many duties people have taken seriously to make our mission possible, this year and for all 50 years of our history. My prayer as we conclude 2022 is that all the work inspires an enduring sense of delight.

Gratefully,

Jim

2/11/2022 – Celebrating Black History

Jim Hayes Headshot

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

I subscribe to the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa newsletter and want to start off my thoughts by sharing a lengthy example of their recent content around Black History Month:

Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans. It is a time to recognize the central role of the Black community in our shared history. Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” created by historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Every U.S. president since 1976 has recognized the month of February as Black History Month. 

Faith leaders who participate in Faithful Voices for Racial Justice, a project of Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, encourage faith communities across Iowa to explore and highlight achievements of Black Americans and Black communities. Faith communities can highlight specific examples of the successes and contributions in Iowa, our nation, faith traditions, and denominations. Ways to do that include stories in newsletters, social media, and other publications as well as sermon illustrations and readings during worship or gatherings. Also consider study options with small groups, including youth groups.

Black History Month Resources:

Becoming Beloved Community – Episcopal Diocese of Iowa

Anti-Racism Action Calendar (Disciples of Christ) 

29 ways to participate in Black History Month – United Methodist Church

African American Museum of Iowa

National Museum of African American History & Culture

African American History Month

African American Heritage – National Archives

Black History Month – History.com

Though the Center is not affiliated with any particular community of faith, I think we can participate in the Interfaith Alliance’s directive to include stories in our newsletter. I would like to celebrate a mental health colleague, Resmaa Menakem, LICSW, who authored the book, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies (2017).

I and other colleagues here at the Center have committed to working our way through this book as one of our anti-racist Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts. It’s hard work as Menakem challenges the reader to go beyond theory and literally explore how racialized trauma has impacted us all. I have learned from my colleagues that trauma work often/always involves body work as the effects of trauma reside not only in our memory, but literally in our bones. It is hard work to face the pain in order to move along the path to healing. Menakem and other African American therapists and theoreticians have done groundbreaking work as they have helped others in the healing field to explore the impact of generational trauma.

Sometimes the pain of our lives is simply and scarily an inheritance.

That doesn’t mean healing is impossible, just that we need to explore the trauma of ancestors along with current behavior in order to start the hard work of healing.

I am grateful to colleagues who have taken on leadership roles in our inclusion efforts. Billie Wade volunteers her time to facilitate a book club. Dr. Kelli Hill, our clinical director, has been generous with her time as she has chaired our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. Colleagues in that working group have helped us to organize workshops on how we can improve as an organization and in the provision of our services. A subcommittee in that group is exploring how to make our physical environment more hospitable through art and accessibility. We have become much more intentional about inviting diverse perspectives in our board recruiting and in the hiring our staff.

Our hope in these initiatives is that we will be known as a welcoming place for all people seeking high quality mental health services, especially in communities of color which have been traumatized by violence and injustice. We have much work to do.

As we commemorate Black History Month, I am grateful for the many contributions of that community who have reminded us that through hard work,  hope and healing are possible.

Jim's Signature

 

 

11/4/2021 Why Get Vaccinated?

Why Get Vaccinated?

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Help us to help those we serve. Get vaccinated!

Covid vaccinations continue to be in the news as we work together to face the challenges of this ongoing pandemic. We understand there are many sides to this issue, but we join with other health care organizations and public health experts to enjoin all those eligible to please get vaccinated. We have been fortunate at the Center as we have been able to carry on many of our services throughout this pandemic. We have also had to endure reduced services at times when we have had to work through mitigation strategies and contact tracing when there have been positive cases in our midst. Those mitigation strategies are necessary to keep our staff and clients safe, but they also expend energy and reduce efficiency so that we’re not able to help as many people as we might otherwise. Raising vaccination numbers will help us to help those we serve.

We are joining other health care professionals in encouraging everyone eligible to get vaccinated. We thank the medical colleagues from our community for the following videos and web sites. They are universal in their encouragement to vaccinate so that we can keep people safe and get back to leading lives that flourish.

Video from McFarland Clinic

https://youtu.be/JgS3IxjmIXM

Here are web sites from other local clinics and providers::

https://www.unitypoint.org/desmoines/covid-19-vaccine.aspx

https://www.iowaclinic.com/coronavirus/vaccine/

https://www.mercyone.org/health-and-wellness/health-answers/covid-19-what-you-need-to-know/covid-19-vaccine/

If you’re wondering about whether you’re eligible for a booster, please refer to CDC and Iowa Department of Public Health web sites. Please know that mental health issues are among the reasons that people are eligible to receive their booster shot.

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-care/underlyingconditions.html

Help us to help those we serve. Get vaccinated!

Thank you!

Jim’s blog – February 2021

Black History Month and the Center

“Start where you are, with what you have. Make something of it and never be satisfied.” ― George Washington Carver

 

February 2021 – We are surrounded by reminders that February is Black History Month. It’s a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how communities of color have contributed to our understanding of what it means to be human so that we might maintain justice as a core value.

I begin my reflection with a favorite quote from George Washington Carver. Many know pieces of his inspirational story. I came to appreciate him and be inspired by his legacy through my many years working at Simpson College, which accepted him after his being rejected by other institutions because of the color of his skin. The above quote drives me and informs my understanding of leadership. My interpretation is that we have all received gifts from our maker and we have a responsibility to leave the world a little better than we found it.

On a micro level, what does that mean for the Center?

Our mission is to walk with people through counseling and education to find hope and healing, and to live a fulfilling life.

Note that we meet people where they are and that we walk alongside them through counseling and education as we explore together how one navigates the path to the fullness of life. There is an inherent mutuality in that exploration. It’s not as though our staff have it all together and we are kind enough to deign to help others. That feels like a whacky power dynamic. Instead, we walk together as we seek hope through a healing process that soothes the pain we all share. As our accrediting agency, the Solihten Institute, puts it, we do so as we “Respect, value, and affirm the sacred dignity of each person.”

Lots of big words in the above paragraphs. How does all that work as we commemorate Black History Month?

Looking at our world, nation and city, we recognize that there is much work to be done in order for all people to experience justice, hope, respect, dignity and healing. George Washington Carver understood that and made it his life’s work to go beyond the rhetoric and never be satisfied.

The tragic death of George Floyd in 2020 led to a seismic reaction that shook all levels of our culture. 8 minutes and 46 seconds became a symbol that cried out for us all to reflect on where we are with issues of race, what gifts are at our disposal for change, and to make something of it and never be satisfied.

The response of our staff was to set up a number of goals on how we might use our gifts to face the issues of diversity and inclusion which require our attention as an organization. Among the initiatives that have resulted from our efforts thus far:

  • We received an outstanding training from Kayla Bell-Consolver, LMHC. She helped us to explore the roots and history of racism from a trauma-centered perspective. Her insights inform the work of our therapists as they work with clients from communities of color who may have suffered from such systemic trauma.
  • Through some work with an outside consultant, Nate Harris, LISW, we began a process of exploration on the work we need to do in order to be more hospitable to communities of color at all levels of our organization.
  • An immediate reaction to the training and consultation was to set up a diversity, equity and inclusion committee to keep these issues in front of us well beyond the crisis caused by the death of Georg Floyd and so many others.
  • Billie Wade and Terri Speirs took the lead and set up a book club to help us explore the history of racism and how we might join in anti-racist efforts.
  • Diversity has become one of the central objectives for our strategy as we face the future. What this means on a concrete level is that the people we serve align with the demographics of Central Iowa. There are too few places like us that provide services to as many as we can regardless of their ability to pay. In order to achieve this goal, we also need to diversify our board and staff so that the voices of communities of color are represented at all levels of our organization, particularly when it comes to decision-making. Please refer good candidates who are passionate about mental health as we work to achieve these goals.

Gratefully, this is not just the work of the Center, it is work we all have to do. We’re grateful for partners like NAMI, who advocate for such change in the area of mental health. NAMI provides a number of resources that might be helpful to others should you like to pass them along: https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Identity-and-Cultural-Dimensions/Black-African-American.

We seek partnerships with other mental health organizations in order to achieve our lofty equity and inclusion goals. I am eager to have conversations with anyone who wants to walk with us in these efforts.

Black History Month reminds us that such work is impossible in isolation. It takes a community effort. As so many leaders in the Civil Right Movement remind us, this is also holy work dependent upon redemption that is beyond human effort. As another inspirational favorite of mine, Anne Lamott puts it in Traveling Mercies:

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”

My hope is that this month will remind us that we have much work yet to do as we explore the path to hope and healing together and that grace continues to move us to the place where all will be satisfied. Thank you for all you do to make our work possible!

Blessings,

Jim

more from Jim’s blog: www.dmpcc.org/Jim

Save or Savor?

 

by Jim Hayes, Executive Director

February 2021 — This quote found me as I was working through a gratitude reflection over the Thanksgiving holiday. It continues to nourish my thoughts and I’m wondering why.

One of my strategies for surviving this pandemic has been to try to stay in the moment rather than letting anxious thoughts overwhelm the day. My rational mind reminds my lizard brain that if anxiety drives the bus, I might miss the beauty of a moment or a day. This is especially true in the midst of a pandemic, which has heightened anxiety for most of us. Each day, no matter the external context, is rooted in the everlasting now. I do my best to savor the moment.

Among the moments to savor are the stories of some incredible people who have contributed to the Center over the years. For a variety of reasons, a number of our “wisdom figures” chose to retire over the last few months. They all seem to be enjoying retirement immensely! We have all been nourished by their efforts and ought to take a moment to savor the wonder of how they made us better by offering their many gifts to help us advance our mission.

Susan Ackelson joined us in 1996. She helped so many people as a therapist, but also served as Clinical Director. She did so much to help us appreciate the significance of holistic healing by paying attention to not only the mind, but the spirit and body through her sensory motor work.

Susan Koehler, P.A., came in 2014. Her years of service may not have been as long as some of the others on this list, but the services she provided represented a significant shift in our work. She started as a consultant helping us to better understand how psychiatry might help our patients, but later joined us as a prescriber. Along with Dr. Geoffrey Hills, Susan provided a wonderful resource by having in house prescribers.

Diane McClanahan joined us as the first full time director of Leadership and Spiritual Life in 2013. She established a number of new programs that not only benefitted the Center, but numerous communities of faith around the state. She also served many people as a trusted spiritual director.

Kathy Reardon allowed us to write a significant piece of appreciation in an earlier newsletter. She joined us in 2001. Her contributions are well documented, but my savoring of the Center’s work would be incomplete if I didn’t reflect once again on her contributions in healing touch, spiritual direction, and the establishment of the Prairie Fire spiritual formation program.

Roberta Yoder just retired last month. She joined us in 1996 as a career counselor. She has been a faithful and inspiring leader in what was virtually a one person program. So many people have Roberta to thank for discovering fulfilling careers. I always enjoyed my conversations with her around the topic of vocation. She certainly found a way to use her many gifts in the service of others.

There’s a bit of grief as I write this and reflect on these esteemed and highly valued colleagues. I miss them. Again, they all had a variety of reasons for why retirement made sense at this point in their lives and they left on the best of terms and continue to support the Center in a variety of ways. My savoring relates to the inspiration they continue to provide to so many. On a personal level, they certainly nourished my spirit in unique ways.

I have to provide one final bit of savoring by recognizing that we lost Larry Sonner on November 27th  to COVID-19.  He was retired from a variety of roles as a United Methodist Elder. One of his many contributions of a life lived well was to facilitate the gatherings of the supervisors in our training program for 25 years. We are so grateful for the many quality therapists he helped to shape in that quarter century. He and Sue, his spouse, contributed to the Center in many ways over the years. We offer our sympathy to her and the family, even as we celebrate the wonder of all that Larry did with his many gifts.

My reflections don’t even include other stakeholders and donors we’ve lost in 2020. The list is long and I’m afraid I’d forget someone if I started listing individuals. I’ll save that reflection for another time.

Savor these stories!

But we should also heed White’s advice to improve (or save) the world.

Even in the midst of a pandemic, we need to hold ourselves accountable to stewarding the gifts bestowed on us by creation. When I think of the many contributions over 100 staff and innumerable donors have added over the 49 year history of the Center, I am energized by their memories as I consider our role in advancing our important work. Along with the board and staff, I hope that we find ways to make a difference as we strive to serve the many needs in our community, especially related to holistic and mental health.

The world stands in need of improvement—maybe even a little bit of saving. You’ll be hearing from me in 2021 about strategies we have for writing the next chapter of the history of the Center. It will take all of us, using the many gifts we hold as a community, to affect positive social change. We are grateful for others who have done it before us, but also take seriously our responsibility to respond generously as well.

Thank you for all you’ve done to help us continue to serve in a challenging year. Savor the wonder of it all so that we might all be inspired to do a bit of “saving” in 2021.

Blessings,

To read more of Jim’s blogs, click HERE.

Living, Breathing, Values

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

I hope get a chance to peruse our most recent annual report.

The Community Relations team did a great job organizing the narrative around our foundational values. As I thought about those values as expressed in the report and on our web site I had a moment: these values are the reason I chose to join in the Center’s work as an executive director. So much of who I am as a person in this world and my own values align directly with what this place is about.

First a bit of clarification about values since the word is often misrepresented in our hyper charged political environment. We can express our values as an organization, but if they aren’t enfleshed, lived out in daily behavior, they become empty rhetoric. Somewhere along the way I read this on a management website (forgive me for not tracking down the source yet):

Values shift the focus from the greater organization to the individual.  Values define who individuals need to be to achieve the organization’s vision and/or live out its mission.  Values articulate a set of desirable traits or characteristics that people can exemplify in their faithful service to the organization and its cause.            

For me this means that organizations and individuals walk the talk and the behaviors are easy to spot when you observe the day-to-day. So let’s take a look at our publicly expressed values and see if we can find evidence of how they’re lived

Access

We strive to help as many people as we can regardless of ability to pay. One of my personal values is social justice, that all might have what they need to flourish in this life. I’m glad to know that we provide services to help as many as we can. That is not to say that we don’t also provide services to those with good insurance who can afford to go anywhere. We strive to help as many as we can. It’s good to know that people choose our exemplary services no matter where they land on the socio-economic spectrum and that we do our best to serve as many as we can.

Integration/holistic approach

We like to talk about the healing process for the whole person: body, mind and spirit. Practically, this has meant a number of things over the years. Lots of modalities use work on healing the mind, but a number of our clinicians utilize techniques that help clients and patients to get in touch with their bodies so that they can augment the healing process. Hope and healing for the spirit means different things to different people. One of my favorite quotes heard around here is that we meet people where they are, not looking to “fix” them, but to walk with them as a whole person to explore what a flourishing life might look like for them.

Trust

The annual report mentions that a large percentage of people come to us because they have been referred by someone in their circle that currently or previously used our services. What could be a better indicator of trust. We don’t take this lightly.

Respect and compassion

This hearkens back to the quote about meeting people where they are. We encounter diversity in many forms among our clients, staff and board. Lots of varied perspectives and commitments, yet we somehow find a way to hold together the notion of community so that we can carry on this important work together. At the root of compassion is the ability to empathize, something we see on display every day at all levels of the organization.

High standards/experience

It is incredibly humbling to watch colleagues carry on their craft. Our staff have great credentials and are products of high level training programs—including our own. That’s inspiring enough. It’s the witnessing of it in daily behaviors that’s even more inspiring. I wish more people could sit in on our consultations just to hear the wisdom of colleagues as they work together on sorting out what the best course of action might be for a client. Their compassion is evident, but their expertise always leaves me feeling grateful that our staff is there to help in moments that people are most in need. The people we serve are in good hands.

Let me conclude with a final value: community. Though much of our work happens in one-on-one settings, none of this mission is lived out in isolation. Other patients, staff, board members, volunteers and donors have gone before us. We stand on those shoulders as we do our work. Each member of this community—past, present and future—is necessary in order for us to be who we are and do what we do. The values we share aren’t just words, they are actions we see walking the hallways, in meetings and phone calls and broadcast on zoom screens each day.

I am grateful to be a part of it. I am also grateful for all of you who are the community that makes it all possible.

To read more of Jim’s blogs, click HERE

Kathy Reardon made the Center better

(back to the Kathy Reardon tribute home page)

by James E. Hayes, D.Min., executive director and spiritual director at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Kathy Reardon has made the Center better in many ways since she joined us in 2001. That’s why it was difficult for me to hear when she asked for some time last month to inform me that she planned to retire from the Center at the end of July 2020. Difficult to hear and yet I’m happy for her as this pandemic has helped her to discern the next chapter of her life and how she can continue to make a difference in the lives of others. She is already missed. Though she is retiring from the Center, she remains energized by her spiritual direction practice. She has found virtual meetings from her home cloister to be fruitful and she looks forward to continuing that practice. We look forward to her staying connected to the Center and being a resource for future inspirational offerings.

In typical Kathy fashion, she didn’t want to make a big deal about her retirement. Those who know her understand that she’s a contemplative at heart—and an introvert. Being the center of attention causes discomfort. Those who know her and how much she’s contributed to the Center also know that she has been a big deal in making a difference. She changed the way we serve by bringing her breadth of skills to the service of our mission. She created new services; changed our vocabulary as she helped us to understand words like “healing touch;” brought the heart of a prophet to our systems so that all might be treated with equal shares of love. I was privileged to experience many of her gifts in our short three years of working together. She helped me to understand this place as she asserted her leadership skills and gave me sound advice on issues that needed tending as I started my time as an executive director. She was a confidant when I needed advice on difficult decisions. She helped me to understand better what holistic healing means in our work. Most importantly, she helped me to grow in my own understanding of ultimate mystery through formal workshops and simple daily comments in the workplace that alerted us all to the depth of each moment in the context of the everlasting now. Thank you Kathy!

As my time with Kathy was not decades in length, I asked colleagues who had such tenure to share some thoughts about Kathy’s contributions.

From Susan Ackelson, former Center counselor who also retired recently:

Kathy brought a focus on the body and spirituality with her holistic nursing, healing touch and spiritual direction along with her training in mental health.  The body aspect was completely new for the Center and her work in helping us integrate this new aspect of holistic treatment was critical.  She helped us expand our knowledge of other therapeutic body practices by inviting practitioners of alternative health modalities to meet the staff.  She then initiated community education forums for our clients and community members to educate on alternative health modalities.  She also developed a holistic assessment tool for therapists to use in evaluating their clients. Kathy led a weekly meditation group for our staff for years. 

From Ellery Duke, licensed psychologist and former executive director:

I recall the breakfast meeting at Village Inn in 2001when Jeff, Eileen and I met with Kathy about the prospect of her joining the Center’s staff, doing spiritual direction and Healing Touch.  We of course wanted her to bring spiritual direction and Healing Touch to the Center’s growing interest in the integration of mind, body, and spirit healing.  Kathy brought her understanding of, and expression of healing based in her nursing and spiritual direction backgrounds.  Through the ideas of Kathy, Jeff Means, Kay Riley, and others, the highly regarded PrairieFire program was launched.  Over 100 have been trained through PrairieFire.  It was through Kathy’s ground-breaking work in spirituality at the Center that Diane McClanahan came on board to further expand the Center’s offerings in spirituality and ministry.  Kathy’s spirit-based, mindful approach to life has certainly shaped how the Center expresses its mission.  Thank you.

As the pandemic precludes any formal gathering, we hope to gather more such thoughts to celebrate Kathy’s contributions to our mission. Feel free to send your recollections and notes of gratitude to her directly. If you send them to the Center, we’ll make sure she gets those. At some point we hope to have an appropriate celebration for any who have retired in this age of pandemic.

If you are interested in honoring Kathy with a donation to the PrairieFire fund,  you may donate here.

With gratitude for the many people touched by Kathy’s work, we ask that she be blessed with abundant life as she begins this next chapter of her life’s story.

Jim