Author Archives: Allison Peet

Men for Mental Health

Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center presents Men for Mental Health on Friday, October 9, 2020. The two-hour virtual event, designed as an evening of fun and lightheartedness, will bring much-needed awareness to the social needs of the men and the impact on their mental health. Additionally, the event will raise funds for the underinsured and uninsured for men and boys. Features of the event are Master of Ceremonies—Steve Berry, a local comedian and actor; Derek Sullivan-Lo, founder of The Titan Project; local comedian Willie Farrell; local musicians, the Center’s own Mark Poeppe, PsyD, and others. I discussed issues facing men with the event’s coordinator, Center therapist Ann Flood, tLMHC.

Early in our conversation, Ann shared the chilling statistic that men are killing themselves at four times the rate for women and the rates are increasing for men age twenties to fifties. She talked about the barriers facing men and their approach to mental health. Expectations of men differ from the expectations of women. Men receive socialization to suppress their feelings. “Men have few role models and supporting men to help them recognize and manage their symptoms,” Ann said. She added, “Men’s symptoms are often very different in depression and anxiety. Their symptoms look like fatigue or irritability or anger.” She also pointed to men being innately hardwired with testosterone and increased aggression that is often misunderstood because others do not understand this about men. And, because of this, the stigma of seeking help weighs more heavily on them. Generally, men do not admit problems or ask for help, so getting them in the door for counseling is a delicate, difficult process. She spoke of a conversation with Mark Minear, Ph.D., a therapist at the Center, in which he said he was tired of men’s anger being pathologized. In agreement, she said it seems anger is the only emotion men are allowed to have and added, “Why can’t we just acknowledge that [socialization, lack of role models, differences in symptoms, hormonal influences, and stigma]? She hates the term “toxic masculinity.” They’re just men. There’s nothing wrong with them.”

Derek from The Titan Project started the group because he noticed men returning from military duty were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and he did not accept that diagnosis. The group is built around activities—fishing, hunting, backyard barbecues, etc. Men are more action-oriented than talking-oriented. Ann told me being tribe-oriented, they form bonds with comrades in the military. She said they flounder when they return because they need to rebuild their brotherhood. They ask themselves, “What do I do now? The website is

Ann’s approach to therapy is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which has roots in traditional therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). She uses mindfulness to help clients recognize their current state and accept it. The next step is to help the client move toward a “valued, fully-lived life as the client sees it.” Another tool she employs is bibliotherapy, so she maintains a booklist to share. She requests the client to commit to ten sessions then reevaluate. She said, “My goal is for everybody to be their own therapist. I want to work myself out of a job.” If a client wants to go beyond ten sessions, she will continue with them. While the approach works well for everyone, she said men respond well to it.

Ann, who applies the same philosophy to parenting her four daughters says she is “empty-nesting and loving it.” She believes in giving her children “their wings.” We talked about parents whose children live all over the world. She often advises parents that once their children leave, they are not coming back. When her eldest left home, Ann grieved and wondered, “There should be a support group for this!” Her youngest left the Saturday before our discussion, and she was already rearranging the furniture.

The Center formed a monthly men’s group following Dr. Minear’s efforts to raise awareness about men’s mental health and to raise funds for underinsured and uninsured men and boys in 2016. Ann has sat in on those meetings as well as formed a men’s group consisting of diverse men from outside the Center. She found they all agreed the issue of men’s mental health must be addressed, and they wanted a lighthearted way to do that rather than a heavy, dreary discussion. Hence, the Men for Mental Health event on October 9, 2020. She shared that men want practical solutions to problems often using different terminology such as doing, taking, and deciding when help-seeking rather than being in therapy or receiving help.

Ann is sensitive to the unique challenges and needs of her Black male clients. While some openly discuss the fear that dwells in Black males their entire lives, others avoid the topic. She walks a delicate line between allowing the client space to make his own discoveries at the same time she really wants and needs to nudge him so he can head in the direction of healing rather than remaining stuck. She said she tries to self-examine whether she is making the sessions safe for them. I am pleased she has Black clients, especially male. In all my years as a client, I have seen only one Black man in the waiting room. As a collective Black people attend church and possess a strong Christian faith. If they have a problem, they “take it to God” or to their pastor. So, getting Black men to seek mental health services is a huge challenge. I discuss this in detail in my article “African Americans and Mental Health”.

Women can help men receive the attention and services they need to heal and to thrive. Ann advises women to “learn how the symptoms are different in men when it comes to depression and anxiety and what to look for. Just listen to them.” Women listen to each other, but they do not listen to men because they do not understand “male” language and male needs. She said, “We can keep trying [to offer help] and the best way to keep trying is to read research.” Knowledge is always at the forefront of action. The Center has blog articles written by Center staff addressing the mental health issues facing men and boys at To schedule an appointment, contact the Center at, call 515-274-4006, or visit the website and complete an intake form

Here are some useful resources from National Institute of Mental Health—National Institutes of Health:

Ann spends her Fridays connecting with her ever-expanding network to promote the event and to let them know what she is doing. In addition to the Men for Mental Health event, she is developing a training around men’s mental health needs and a small marketing campaign. Research and finding ways to support healing for men commands much of her attention.

We all benefit from mentally healthy men and boys. Our relationships, most notably with those whom we share close contact—spouses, partners, sons, and other family members and friends are richer and more satisfying. The same is true for relationships with other men who may enter our lives—bosses, colleagues, neighbors, business contacts, and a host of others. Stay tuned to the Center’s newsletters for more announcements and information about the Men for Mental Health event. You can sign up here to receive notifications about the event.

Billie Wade, writer

To read more of Billie’s blogs – click HERE

How To Choose a Therapist

Billie Wade, writer

Finding the right therapist can seem daunting, and with good reason. When you entrust the essence of your life to another human being, you step into uncertainty and vulnerability. Making the decision and following through requires bravery and courage. Your perceptions about what therapists and counselors do, or previous experiences, may trigger intimidation, fear of judgment, hesitation about how friends and family members will perceive you and place expectations on you when you enter therapy, and a host of other fears. There are ways to ease the angst and enhance your search for the right therapist.

The therapeutic relationship is among the most powerful you may ever experience. Therapy/counseling is a reciprocal, synergistic relationship between two or more people in which the sole purpose is to promote the client(s) on their path of hope and healing from difficult emotional experiences. Therapy can be rewarding and empowering. It also can, at times, be perplexing, uncomfortable, exhausting, and frustrating. It helps open the channels of discovery that lead to insights and epiphanies. You may feel you are making little or no progress. Sometimes you are so close to your experience that your progress is not evident to you. Some issues require the peeling of many layers of emotional distress. Some concerns cannot be resolved or cured, only made less intense with focused attention to healing, a process rather than a destination. The process involves a constant exchange between you and the therapist. You both listen and interpret what the other is saying, or not, voice inflection, and body language, then reflect what is heard or seen, and share your assessment.

Therapy is a gift to me. It has been an integral part of my life since my mid-twenties. My experience with the gift of therapy includes my time as a client as well as seven years as an advanced certified substance abuse treatment counselor (ACADC). I believe in the power of talking through problems with someone who is trained to hear what I am not saying, read my body language, and reflect her or his assessment back to me, thus helping me sift through my feelings and reframe my experiences. For more information about the counseling process, see my article of July 2017, The Gift of Counseling

Depending on their areas of interest and training, therapists work under a license or certification or both. Psychologists. Social workers. Counselors. Clergy. Spiritual Directors. Most psychiatrists provide medication management and only minimal therapy. Many therapists are members of accountability and professional development organizations. Therapists may be trained in several treatment protocols and specialize in one or more. They also may have a client focus, e.g., men and boys; women and girls; families; children; teens; parents; LGBTQ+; retirees, and others. The therapists at Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center all have a diverse focus, recognizing how the complexities of life impact the whole client. No client walks in the door with only one issue, although a main issue may be the catalyst for seeking help.

Our list of therapists supporting adults

Our list of therapists supporting children and adolescents

Your role is to tell the therapist, as fully as possible, your story as you understand it. Honesty and openness strengthen the interactions. You may not always hear what you want or were expecting, and some reflection may be uncomfortable. Between sessions, you are responsible for working on any assignments, checking suggested resources, and reflecting on important points. You always know more than your therapist as you are living the experience and, therefore, have information the therapist does not have. Only you know your story and the reason(s) you are there. Your therapist cannot help you with what you do not tell her or him. The therapist knows, and therefore attempts to interpret, only what you reveal.

You and your therapist form a delicate bond of trust necessary to encourage honesty, exploration, challenge, guidance, and healing. The therapist’s role is to assess and interpret your words and body language and offer reflection, validation, compassion, empathy, support, encouragement, and direction. Despite the gravity of our discussions, my therapist and I always encounter something that triggers laughter or a smile—that is right, every session. While issues are usually serious, there can be room for joy and lightheartedness and celebration. This requires an ever-strengthening bond between therapist and client. With all these elements in place, the client advances along the path of healing through hard work and the gradual opening of the golden doors of trust. I praised my therapist for walking with me through difficult times to which he nodded toward me and said, “The one sitting in that chair is doing most of the work.”

Effective therapy requires an attentive, intuitive, well-educated, and experienced clinician and an honest, introspective, reflective, open, trusting client. Two other key components in effective mental health therapy is the therapist’s mental agility and adaptability. Every client is different, and every session is different. I commend therapists for their unconditional positive regard for their clients. While they are not mind readers, they must continually interpret the messages—verbal, subverbal, and nonverbal—of every client at every session.

When selecting a therapist, you need someone to whom you can entrust your story. All of it. Finding a compatible therapist is often a process of seek and find and seek and find and seek and find. I experienced a lot of therapists over the years who did not meet my needs. I did not know how to find a therapist. Friends or my primary care doctor referred me to certain therapists. For my last two therapists, particularly with the one I have at the Center, I conducted a methodical search which follows.

I sought out my therapist at the Center by visiting the website and reading the bios of each of the clinicians, paying attention to area of interest or expertise, treatment protocols used, area of study or license, and other facts about the person. The bio of my therapist seemed to jump out at me. I called the Center to set up an appointment and asked to be placed on his schedule. During my first session, I shared a little bit of my story and asked him questions. At the end of the session, he requested that I give him six sessions before making up my mind. That was seven and a half years ago. On April 9, 2020, we celebrated our 165th session. One of the surprises about my therapist, a mutual discovery that arose organically over several months, is his interest and expertise in working with Black people. Never had I been able to discuss race relations with a therapist. You may need only a few sessions or long-term as in my case. It takes as long as it takes and is totally dependent on the therapist’s and client’s perspective of the healing or progress made.

Here are some tips to find a therapist that meets your needs:

  • Consider your reason(s) for seeking therapy.
  • Think about your end-goal for therapy, although you may not be able to pinpoint the reason at first. Usually, the client’s initial goal is relief from distress.
  • What are your preferences in a therapist: race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, religious or spiritual background, age, treatment modalities, race relations? Other parameters may be important to you.
  • Write out what you want, then narrow the list to three to five most critical points for you.
  • Read the bios on the Center’s website: ( (adults), (children, adolescents, and teens), or
  • When you find a therapist whose bio most fits your criteria, fill out our online intake form.
  • Have a list of questions ready to ask at your first session, such as “What is your experience working with…?”. Take notes.
  • Pay attention to the answers to your questions and comment on points that impress you as well as on those for which you need clarification or further exploration.
  • What are the therapist’s mannerisms and voice inflections?
  • Be aware of your comfort level during the session.
  • Do not be afraid to tell a therapist your initial thoughts and even your decision if you know what it is. It is far better to decline a therapist than to enter a relationship with one you know will most likely be a poor fit. That said, there can be surprises as I discovered with my therapist that reveal themselves over time.
  • You may want to interview several therapists before making your decision. Try not to worry about offending a therapist if you think she or he is not a good fit. Therapy is for your benefit, not the therapist’s.
  • Try to relax.

The decision to seek mental health therapy is a significant step to improve your life. Choosing a therapist that closely matches your need is vital for your maximum therapeutic experience. A methodical, well-planned search can save hours of unproductive sessions and frustration and hundreds of dollars.

How you select a therapist and how you show up and participate in your healing can make the difference between a therapeutic relationship that empowers you on your healing path and one that leaves you feeling unheard. To schedule an appointment with a therapist at the Center, click here.

May your trek on your healing path be illuminating, fruitful, rewarding, and empowering.

For more of Billie’s Blogs, click HERE.

Listening Within, Listening With Others – Live Online

Are you sensing an invitation to something more in your life? Maybe you are seeking to know yourself better. Perhaps you are looking for deeper connection with others or new ways to respond to the challenges facing your community. If so, join us for this two-part group exploring what it means to listen more deeply to oneself, to others and to the Sacred. Together we will practice contemplative presence and develop skills in open-hearted listening. Our first session will focus on listening within and fostering intentional presence. In the second session, we will explore how we bring these practices into our relationships with others. This group is open to all spiritual seekers.

Dates and Time: Sunday, October 4 and 18, 1:00-3:00 PM  (Registration deadline: Sept. 28)

Location: All classes will be conducted via Zoom. After registration, you will receive a private Zoom link to join the sessions.

Tuition: $50


Questions? Please email Andrea Severson at


Andrea Severson is a spiritual director and Licensed Mental Health Counselor at DMPCC and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.  Her degrees include a Master of Science in counseling from Drake University and a Master of Divinity from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.  She is a member of Spiritual Directors International and graduate of the PrairieFire program.  Andrea is grateful for opportunities to hear the unique stories of others, to explore intersections between mind, body and spirit and to bear witness to the work of the Sacred through her work in spiritual direction and counseling.  In her practice, she works with adults from a variety of backgrounds and faith traditions.  Outside of work, Andrea enjoys reading historical fiction, listening to live music, and camping with her family.

Suzanne Hall Stout is a teacher, ordained minister, wife, and mother of one adult child. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Special Education and a Master of Arts Degree in Mathematics Education from the University of Florida, and a Master of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary. Her passion for spiritual formation can be seen in the various ways she has journeyed with children, youth and adults as a mentor, pastor, teacher and friend.

Suzanne is a graduate of the PrairieFire program and a member of Spiritual Directors International. She offers spiritual direction through her work as a congregational pastor, as well as with private clients. As a spiritual director she enjoys companioning people from all spiritual backgrounds and supporting their discovery of the wisdom in their lives. Suzanne cares deeply about holistic living – viewing mind, body and spirit as integrally and essentially one. And she is passionate about living from our place of connectedness to God, one another, and the universe. Suzanne enjoys painting and handcrafts, writing, walking, gardening and conversation with others.


What does a physician assistant do at the Center?

If you’re curious about what happens during an appointment with a Physician Assistant at the Center, take a look at our mini interview with Abigail Schiltz, P.A.-C.  If you’d like to fill out an intake form to begin the process of making an appointment with her, click HERE.



What does PA-C stand for?
• Physician Assistant – Certified

What does ‘Certified’ mean?
• Graduates of an accredited physician assistant program can take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) to achieve the PA-C designation and move on to receive a state licensure.

What is a PA-C?
• A physician assistant is a medical professional that can obtain patient histories, diagnose, treat and prescribe medications.

As a physician assistant specializing in psychiatry, I have a passion for treating people with mental illnesses. During an intake visit with me, one can expect a thorough patient history (current symptoms, past psychiatric history, past medication trials, allergies, social history, etc) in order to diagnose and develop treatment strategies and medication plans tailored to each person. I value the approach of treating the whole person while connecting with each individual on a deeper level in order to meet distinct needs and provide the highest quality of care. As a medical professional in psychiatry, I encourage patients to advocate for themselves and ask questions as I value a teamwork approach. Above all, I want each patient to feel comfortable as we work together to find a treatment plan that works best for the patient.

Time spent during visits:
Intake visit = 1 hour
Follow up visit = 30 minutes

Click to fill out an Intake Form

Abigail Schiltz, PA-C

Abigail Schiltz is a Psychiatry Physician Assistant. Abigail received her undergraduate degree from the University of Iowa and completed her graduate degree in Master of Science in Physician Assistant studies from Des Moines University. She recently completed a residency training program in family medicine at the University of Iowa where she found her passion in psychiatry. Her practice includes treatment of male and female patients of all ages with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, attention disorders and thought disorders. Abigail values faith and family and enjoys staying physically active with running and yoga.

Freedom to Choose Our Attitude

Billie Wade, writer

July is the month many Americans celebrate freedom. People fly the American flag, host cookouts, and shoot fireworks. But there is more to freedom than burgers and a day off work. Freedom is a choice and a responsibility. While others may protect us from myriad harms—physical, mental and emotional, financial, spiritual, and environmental—we are responsible for our attitude, our inner acceptance or rejection of our experiences. Our attitude is one possession no one can take from us. It is one of the few things in life we can control twenty-four/seven. This means we always have an opportunity to decide our attitude.

When was the last time someone said to you, “You have such a great attitude after all you’ve been through. You inspire me.”; “You need to do something about your attitude.” We then receive a barrage of ways to “adjust” our attitude. “Look at the bright side.” “Think about what happened to me; that was even worse.” “Stop complaining and think about someone else for a change.” We tried to think and behave differently out of guilt, shame, coercion, or fear. But our real feelings and the resulting attitude did not change.

Before I proceed, I want to emphasize that all feelings are valid. They are based on our interpretation of an experience. They tell us when we have been validated and when we have been violated. Our attitude and actions based on those feelings are a matter of choice. Our words, gestures, and behaviors may illuminate more accurately who we really are and our opinions and feelings. When we are in acute emotional distress our attitude is strongest, although subconsciously, and we may speak or behave in ways we later regret. The words and actions we engage in a heated moment may reveal our true feelings about a situation.

So, what is attitude? Where did it come from? What does it do? Attitude is the outcome, the result of our interpretation of all we experience, read, observe, and hear. Our interpretations form a set of beliefs as our thoughts solidify our feelings about a person, thing, idea, or experience. Repetition cements those beliefs and feelings as our repeated experience yields the same or similar result. It begins in early childhood, the first time we taste peas or hear a word from our parents and later, when we repeat it, find out it is a “bad” word. Our interpretation had been that the word was appropriate because our parents said it.

Our life unfolded as we grew, and we received more messages in various forms as indicated above. Our experiences now included classmates, teachers, the media, religious experiences, bosses, colleagues and coworkers, subordinates, social relationships, and a host of casual contacts with others. As we develop attitudes we do so with judgment—looking at a situation with sensitivity and compassion or with blame and hatred. The former frees us to take action to benefit a situation. The latter hinders our ability to recognize the truth. Across our lifespan, attitudes are affirmed, changed, abandoned, or denied. Some attitudes are harder to change than others. And, our attitudes run across a continuum from mild to intense, depending on the situation and the importance it has in our life.

At first, the freedom to choose our attitude sounds like blaming the victim. We are told, “That’s just the way she is. Don’t waste your time thinking about it.”; “His opinions of you aren’t your truth. Just ignore him.”; “Don’t make matters worse. Be the better person and move on.” As children, many of us recited the snarky adage, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The truth is words are powerful and the stronger the emotional investment we have into the person in our life, the more devastating their words can be. We invest a lot of ourselves into our relationships, from our early caregivers to every relationship thereafter. The attitudes of others toward us can manifest in hurtful words and deeds of physical, verbal, emotional, or spiritual abuse from which many of us never recover.

Sometimes emotional pain is so intense and so deep that looking at the experience with renewed vision may be impossible. Treat yourself with the comforting of self-compassion. Use the “Self-Compassion Break” by Kristin Neff, Ph.D. which I included in last month’s column. Talk to someone you trust—mental health professional, religious leader, spiritual director, or a close relative or friend. The therapists and counselors of Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center will walk your journey with you and support you as you explore your life’s events. You can schedule an appointment with the Center here.

When I am in crisis mode, I forget I have a choice about my attitude. At those times, the thought that I can choose my attitude frustrates me. I want relief from my searing emotions. I want the other people to change. I equate the responsibility as an admonition that my current attitude is unacceptable, and neither am I as a person. I see the suggestion as a personal assault. Attitude adjustment and choosing my attitude mean giving up my freedom of perception and perspective, an infringement on my personhood. I think it compromises my right to feel. I think I am acquiescing to blind acceptance of the situation. The reality is my current attitude may not only not contribute to the solution but also may make me feel worse by robbing me of peace of mind.

However, I must take care to not try to manipulate my attitude as a form of resignation and people-pleasing, giving in to something I do not want or is not good for me. When I am violated my attitude is valid. Sometimes, so-called “bad” attitudes are seen as such by people who want us to continue to live with their abuse of us. Anger is a relatively new feeling for me, and it empowers me to self-advocate. Please know that when someone tries to force you change your attitude for their gratification, you have every right to maintain your position, always in consideration of your safety. Caution: The tightrope here is the line between our desire to maintain a judgmental and hurtful set of beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes, or admit our misperceptions, and commit ourselves to compassion, unity, and peace.

Changing our attitude does not guarantee our lives will enter a state of perpetual rosiness. Nor will we feel positive all the time. The lens of kindness does not mean we allow harmful situations to continue. Attitudes often develop over time, so they may take to time to transform. The outcome of any given situation is unknown until it is revealed. We still may not like the result. The decisions and behavior of everyone involved influence the direction of the relationship. Our new attitude, however, promotes independence and resilience when future situations flare up. It undergirds our desire to live with authenticity.

Genuine attitude adjustment requires soul-searching, honesty, and courage. Think of choosing your attitude as an act of self-compassion and self-care. Acknowledge and express the feelings as fully and appropriately as possible. The key and first step in attitude transformation are to ask, “How can I see this differently?” To look at a long-held belief and the resultant attitude means exploring the roots of the belief and how it fits, or not, into your life now. Does it represent what you really feel? Is it in line with your values? Does it cause harm to you or to someone else, whether that harm is physical, financial, or otherwise? Then ask, “What do I want to do about this situation? What are my options?” With whom can I collaborate?’ Our attitude leads us into action or inaction.

There is freedom in choosing our attitude. We get to say what is okay in our life and what is not. We decide how to approach situations. Our freedom lies in our ability to be honest with ourselves with full recognition of and respect for the role of others in the encounter. We acknowledge, sometimes with great difficulty, the feelings and attitudes of other people. Dialogue and interaction can be instrumental in the process of attitudinal change.

I have said before that when I rely only on my perceptions without consideration of the other person, I am wrong one hundred percent of the time. I challenge all of us to explore our minds and hearts with intention to discover our misperceptions and seek out ways to learn the truth. Reach out to people different from you. Ask questions. View everyone as a learning opportunity. Enjoy the new life you create for yourself by the education you gain from others.


For more blogs by Billie, click here


Billie Wade, writer

Acceptance is the challenge of the day. There is no question about the widespread instability in our country and in ourselves. COVID-19 completely altered the world in less than six months. Weeks of quarantine and a complete upheaval of everything we knew life to be forced unprecedented changes in how we live and work. Our collective stress from fear and uncertainty has run high. As we continued to reel from the silent, invisible, unpredictable disease, we experienced the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Whether we are talking about the loss of a loved one or loss of our living standards, the global pandemic, or the graphic vision of watching a man die, our path to acceptance is deeply personal. Our global experience affects us deeply at a personal level. Like those of most people, my senses are overwhelmed. Many of us are in emotional stun mode. While everyone’s needs during this time are unique, we do share some commonalities. A certain amount of acceptance is necessary if we are to develop real solutions.

Acceptance is one of the hardest concepts for me to grasp, ranking up there with its siblings, surrender and forgiveness. These elements are at the end of the grief process, which I wrote about in the September, 2017 issue. I have a decades-long rocky relationship with acceptance. Life’s vagaries, especially abuses by human beings, baffle me. I do not want to accept the reality of an event that hurts me, usually in many ways. I want an end to the pain. The replay of the event plays incessantly in my mind. I get frustrated, angry, and disgruntled because the pain does not go away in my time frame, or at all. Some experiences produce so much trauma that we may be affected by them the rest of our lives. PTSD is born. Acceptance rolls into surrender, then into forgiveness and peace. But I fear acceptance will take away my recognition that the situation is not okay, leading me to shamefully excuse abusive deeds. I experience defeat and hopelessness that arise from feeling an inability stop the transgression or to protect myself or those I care about. My next move is to back off from seeking a solution and succumb to resignation.

Acceptance is looking at the reality of the situation’s existence with strength to seek options. When I accept the situation as a statement of fact, I receive the peace of clarity and, sometimes, resolution and closure. I can breathe again. The grief, the resentment, the despair, the anguish, the doubt, the fear of the next moment fade, even if only for a short time. I then know what peace feels like and can draw upon that feeling later. I find the good that emerged from the event or situation and express gratitude for those moments. I look for options and ways I can contribute to a healing solution with renewed conviction, strength, and confidence. I make plans and take actions to address the problem(s) created by the hurtful deed(s). I enlist the assistance of others. The experience taught me, once again, that I have another layer of resilience. I am empowered to fashion an approach with the gentleness of compassion for all involved. Acceptance comes in layers rather than all at once. It cannot be forced or rushed. We need plateaus between the layers, so we can rest and integrate what we have learned.

Many years ago, I adopted the Serenity Prayer as my personal mantra because the first tenet is to “accept the things I cannot change.” This means seeing an experience as though watching a video such as, “The reality is that I cannot change today’s temperature of 84 degrees.” But, I can wear light clothing when I go outdoors. Acceptance does not equal inaction or not holding people accountable. Acceptance acknowledges a statement of fact. Acceptance offers opportunities to look at the systemic factors in place and explore options for developing strategies and collaborating with others, including adversaries as well as allies.

Acceptance is hard, particularly when we are at the beginning of a situation. Separating the situation from our desire for a particular outcome seems daunting. Our attempts to mitigate or eliminate our reality brings on more pain.

Self-compassion helps us embrace and express our feelings in ways that do not harm ourselves or others. Do not try to force yourself to accept before you are ready. Embrace your feelings in all their forms and intensity. Find safe people and safe ways to nurture yourself during this time. Our feelings, whatever they are, even if they fluctuate from moment to moment are real and valid. Take care of yourself as much as possible. Stick to your daily routine and rest when you need to. Schedule time in your day or evening, if only for one to five minutes, for introspection and reflection to assess your present-moment feelings. Ask for help. Contact the Center here. Journal your feelings. Draw or paint or color. Here is a link to Kristen Neff, Ph.D.’s Self-Compassion Break.  Adapt and mold the exercise to accommodate your circumstances.

Look for the good in the situation or that arises from it. I am amazed by the outpouring of kindness, support, encouragement, and helpfulness of the past two weeks; indeed, since February when the gravity of COVID-19 became evident. I send a lot of emails to people who do not even know me but affect me by offering support on their website. I am validated and grateful. So often, tragedy shows us the best side of people.

In closing, the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr comes to mind: Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference. Acceptance offers opportunities to make a difference by changing the things we can, first within ourselves and then sharing our transformation with others.

The challenges of the coming days, weeks, months, and possibly years will call upon all of us to participate as we can in the global well-being. Please know that whatever you do, you are contributing. All of us need all of us.

Be well. Be safe. Be at peace.

Healing is Hard Work

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

I am white.

I am the son of an auto mechanic.

I witnessed racial violence in my integrated school and it was terrifying.

I was a first generation college student and athlete.

I was dumbfounded by racial slurs shouted from stands that were targeted at black friends and team mates.

My brother, a good man, is a police captain.

I have benefited from my status as a white male.

One of my highest values is justice and loving my neighbor—that means everyone.

I know I am racist in ways I can’t see.

I am grateful for people who have helped me to grow and gain the insights necessary to make that last statement.

I have work to do. Would you like to join me?

We have work to do.

Just when we thought we might get a handle on one virus, we find ourselves facing the sickness of racism—again. So many thoughts are on my mind as I compose this article, which was not my original topic for the newsletter and blog this month. Many of these thoughts relate to mental health and our mission. We work hard to walk with people so that all might flourish.

I received this from Robert Johnson, the CEO of our accrediting agency, the Solihten Institute, as he publicly wrestled with the killing of George Floyd:

As a young therapist, after a particularly difficult week, a mentor pointed out that good therapy, effective therapy, compassionate therapy did not always result with the person or family in front of me feeling relief. Most people seek our help because they are experiencing inextinguishable pain. Their plea, their expectation is that we will douse the flames of their emotional injury as quickly as possible. All too often, he explained, out of a desire to be helpful, we cooperate with this misguided strategy.

There are moments in the course of therapy when our most empathic and ethical response is to provide the support and safe environment where our clients can tolerate living with the discomfort of confusion and ambiguity. This can be as difficult for us as is it for our clients. Giving in to these pleas for relief leads to convenient interventions with quick but also short-term analgesic effects. Rather than genuine healing, we become unintentional partners in the perpetuation of harmful, and in extreme cases disastrous cycles of emotional, physical, and spiritual injury.

The work we have to do as individuals and as a nation has no easy fix and is certainly not going to make us comfortable. But I believe hope and healing are possible.

The questions, the discomfort, the therapy, and the call to action we must lean into include:

  • Are we willing to face our implicit biases?
  • How can we seek out conversations with those of different skin tone, gender, financial status, religious or sexual preference to understand their perspectives and experiences? We have discovered that many of these people are performing essential and dangerous services, making them most at risk in the age of pandemic. After such an encounter, reflect:
  • What was it like to sit with this person?
  • What did I learn that can become an action for good?
  • Do I regret any part of the conversation?
  • Were there moments when I was concerned I might say something offensive?
  • What surprised you? Affirmed you?
  • What is the next best step for following up with this person?
  • Am I willing to explore my own story through another lens by reading some books on racism? Here’s a list recommended by the Des Moines Public Library:
  • Can I knock on doors accessible to me because of my status, and apply pressure in order to begin honest conversations about equity and inclusion in our community?

Healing begins when each of us takes responsibility.

Thank you for helping us to carry out our mission of sustaining hope in times of despair and bringing healing where there is pain. We are in this together and we have work to do.

Remote Group Spiritual Direction for Caring Professionals on Zoom

Beginning May 8, 2020
Fridays: 1:00-2:30PM
These are stressful, uncertain times, and caring professionals are working hard to find new ways to respond to the needs of others in this changing context. To care well for those we serve, we have to tend to our own well-being. This group will offer opportunities for encouragement and support as we practice listening well to ourselves, one another and the Sacred. It is open to those engaged in supporting others, including faith leaders, chaplains, spiritual directors and mental health professionals. All spiritual perspectives are welcome.
To include those who have been financially impacted by this crisis, this group is being offered for a self-selected fee ($0-$180 for 6 sessions or $0-$30/session) based on your available resources. Group meetings will take place through Zoom video conference on Fridays from 1:00 to 2:30, beginning May 8. The group will meet weekly for the first three sessions and then decide together to meet weekly or biweekly for the remaining three.



Please contact:


Andrea Severson at:

or Christine Dietz at: for more information.

Women Helping Women – Domestic Abuse

Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center presents the 22nd Annual Women Helping Women event on Friday, May 15, 2020, 11:30 a.m. (Facebook event here.) For the safety of the community, in consideration of coronavirus (COVID-19), the event will be held online. Our “virtual” gathering recognizes the need for continued support for uninsured and underinsured women and children. Domestic abuse, the theme of this year’s initiative, brings to our attention a plight suffered by countless women, children, men, elders, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ individuals.

Mary Riche, this year’s Honoree, points out “This year’s luncheon is even more important to the Center’s ongoing fundraising efforts because of the coronavirus pandemic. Participating in a virtual luncheon will make the 2020 WHW unforgettable!” For updates and information about accessing the event, please visit The website is updated as new details become available.

Mary said, “Asking for help and naming a problem is a necessary, often emotionally painful first step to transformational change.” She emphasizes, “This is especially important for victims of abuse, because it takes immense personal courage for victims to reach out and begin the process of counseling.” She stated, “Jackie Servellon’s personal story of hope and healing as a survivor of domestic violence draws attention to this problem that may worsen since life, as we know it, has been halted and altered.”

Keynote Speaker Jackie Servellon, owner of Balloon Bar DSM, shares her experience of violent domestic abuse from parents with drug abuse and mental health problems. She said sharing her story, though “sad and shocking,” contributes to her healing. “Mental health is infinitely as important as personal safety,” she said, pointing out, “Conversation stops at [victim] safety.” She went on to say, “Mental health does not heal itself, and low-income women don’t have access to care and other resources.”

Domestic abuse hits close to home for me. I grew up in an era in which American culture recognized “wife beating,” and deemed it a family matter. No one considered emotional abuse, or the damage done to the victims’ mental health. I did not realize for many years that what I experienced in my childhood, adolescence, and adult life was, in fact, abuse. My experiences were emotionally painful, but I thought they were my fault which I have learned is common among victims. As an adult, I adhered to the belief that I could not have been abused because my experiences were not physical. My therapist here at the Center gently helps me discover and claim my strengths, my accomplishments, and my humanity, as he stresses self-compassion, and self-acceptance. He supports, encourages, and helps me celebrate my progress no matter how small. Recognizing and assigning the abusers’ responsibility was a huge step for me. I take ownership of my part in the relationship, but only mine. Today, I am confronting the memories and working to heal from them. The survival skills I developed as a child continue to inform my personality—thoughts, beliefs, decisions, behaviors. I grieve the loss of what I needed in the relationships but could not get from others as well as the loss in the termination of relationships with people I had cared about.

Sadly, not much has changed since those early days. When someone describes her or his experience with emotional, psychological, financial, deprivation, isolation, withholding affection, others often dismiss their story as trivial because they do not see injury and scars. Indeed, all domestic abuse results in invisible scars that may affect the victim for the rest of her or his life.

Domestic abuse is active and prevalent in 2020, yet we hear little about it. We become aware only when sensational or high-profile situations make the headlines, or someone publishes a best-selling book—fiction or nonfiction. Then the issue retreats into the periphery of our collective consciousness. Domestic abuse, no respecter of race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, age, or disability, is ever-present in the lives of victims. Emotionally stable and strong individuals find themselves battling feelings of helplessness and worthlessness.

Often, people think of domestic abuse only in the context of domestic violence. Domestic abuse and domestic violence are interchangeable terms in that both are used to convey the same types of behaviors. Domestic abuse exists in myriad variations of the following forms:

  1. Physical, which includes barring the victim from medical care or forcing victim to use drugs or alcohol.
  2. Sexual, which includes coercion or attempts to coerce in addition to violent attacks and exploitation.
  3. Emotional, which includes decimating the victim’s sense of self and impairing victim’s relationships with family, friends, and others.
  4. Economic, which includes controlling or attempting to control financial activities, withholding financial support, and removing money from victim’s accounts against the victim’s will or without the victim’s permission.
  5. Psychological, which includes intimidation, threats of harm to victim or people or situations important to the victim— the victim’s employment, children, pets, other family members, close friends, etc.—and isolation from family, friends, and support system.

The current protective measures against coronavirus (COVID-19) place victims in their homes with their abusers for prolonged periods. Loss of income, the effects of quarantine, and the stress around the pandemic add tension to already volatile households. Around the world, advocates report distressing rises in reported domestic abuse cases. Victims have fewer places to go as employees of safe places are now also in quarantine leaving agencies with limited or nonexistent staff onsite. The result is locked-out buildings, long hold times for calls, and fewer staff to investigate. Law enforcement report similar problems.

Apart from the shame the abusers heap on victims, the victims experience shame for a host of reasons: 1) they failed ability to please the abuser; 2) bewilderment for getting into the situation; 3) they believe they have let themselves and their family down. Family members, friends, law enforcement and social services workers may underestimate the abuser’s power over the victim. As a result, they may further injure the victim’s fragile self-worth by ridiculing and blaming the victim for the circumstances in which they find themselves and downplay the victim’s precarious circumstances and mental and emotional states.

Abusers are cunning, intuitive, manipulative, and patient—until the victim is hooked. They know what their prey wants to hear and how to shame or intimidate her or him into doing what they want. They know how to threaten what is important to the person. Abusers either instill feelings of low self-worth in the victim or reinforce beliefs already in place. For these reasons, extrication from relationships can be extremely difficult and often dangerous. While abusers may have deep-seated insecurities and fears as well as their own history of abuse, they are responsible for addressing their needs rather than projecting them onto others. However, abusers often crave the intoxicating feelings of power, control, and domination over others. When they feel threatened or self-doubt, they resort to familiar means to relieve their stress.

We all can help in the effort to eradicate domestic abuse. 1) Question the appearance of new injuries; 2) Pay attention to signs of changes in the person’s mental health state; 3) Be aware of changes in someone’s behavior, communication, or questionable fixation on a partner, particularly if the relationship is new or recently altered, e.g. the partner is recently released from incarceration, home from a prolonged absence, newly divorced, married, etc.; 4) Believe the victim is telling the truth; 5) Learn about resources and safety measures that minimize further harm.; 5) Enlist assistance to remove the abuser from the home.

If you or someone you know is at risk or affected by domestic abuse, the resources listed below are available.

  • The Center plays a vital role in the hope and healing for people suffering the effects of domestic abuse. Mary Riche affirmed, “The counselors at DMPCC are skilled practitioners with wisdom and expertise to walk alongside all clients in a safe, non-judgmental environment. For information and to schedule an appointment, visit, call 515-274-4006 or email

Jackie Servillon said, “DMPCC’s funding is how we support the community and save lives. We bury communities by limiting access to mental health care.”

  • Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence 4725 Merle Hay Rd Suite 107, Des Moines, IA 50322 (515) 244-8028
  • Children & Families of Iowa 1111 University Ave, Des Moines, IA 50314
    (515) 288-1981
  • Your community’s emergency services Call 911


  • Signs of domestic violence or abuse

  • Differentiating Between Domestic Violence and Abuse

  • 5 Types of Abuse, Domestic Violence FAQ

  • In quarantine with an abuser: surge in domestic violence reports linked to coronavirus

  • Safety Tips

  • 9 Ways to Help a Victim of Domestic Violence

Billie Wade, writer

For more of Billie’s blog posts – CLICK HERE

Tips for Nurturing and Protecting Children at Home

This article was written by

Tips for nurturing and protecting children at home
Child Mind Institute

Parents everywhere are struggling to keep children healthy and occupied. If you’re anxious about how to protect and nurture kids through this crisis — often juggling work obligations at the same time — you’re in good (virtual) company. I know, as I write this from home, with my 2-year-old hovering, that we have a lot to figure out.  Here are tips from the Child Mind Institute’s clinicians to help calm fears, manage stress and keep the peace.

Keep routines in place
The experts all agree that setting and sticking to a regular schedule is key, even when you’re all at home all day. Kids should get up, eat and go to bed at their normal times. Consistency and structure are calming during times of stress. Kids, especially younger ones or those who are anxious, benefit from knowing what’s going to happen and when.

The schedule can mimic a school or day camp schedule, changing activities at predictable intervals, and alternating periods of study and play.

It may help to print out a schedule and go over it as a family each morning. Setting a timer will help kids know when activities are about to begin or end. Having regular reminders will help head off meltdowns when it’s time to transition from one thing to the next.

Be creative about new activities — and exercise
Incorporate new activities into your routine, like doing a puzzle or having family game time in the evening. For example, my family is baking our way through a favorite dessert cookbook together with my daughter as sous chef.

Build in activities that help everyone get some exercise (without contact with other kids or things touched by other kids, like playground equipment). Take a daily family walk or bike ride or do yoga — great ways to let kids burn off energy and make sure everyone is staying active.

David Anderson, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, recommends brainstorming ways to go “back to the 80s,” before the time of screen prevalence. “I’ve been asking parents to think about their favorite activities at summer camp or at home before screens,” he says. “They often then generate lists of arts and crafts activities, science projects, imaginary games, musical activities, board games, household projects, etc.”

Manage your own anxiety
It’s completely understandable to be anxious right now (how could we not be?) but how we manage that anxiety has a big impact on our kids. Keeping your worries in check will help your whole family navigate this uncertain situation as easily as possible.

“Watch out for catastrophic thinking,” says Mark Reinecke, PhD, a clinical psychologist with the Child Mind Institute. For example, assuming every cough is a sign you’ve been infected, or reading news stories that dwell on worst-case scenarios. “Keep a sense of perspective, engage in solution-focused thinking and balance this with mindful acceptance.”

For those moments when you do catch yourself feeling anxious, try to avoid talking about your concerns within earshot of children. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, step away and take a break. That could look like taking a shower or going outside or into another room and taking a few deep breaths.

Limit consumption of news
Staying informed is important, but it’s a good idea to limit consumption of news and social media that has the potential to feed your anxiety, and that of your kids. Turn the TV off and mute or unfollow friends or co-workers who are prone to sharing panic-inducing posts.

Take a social media hiatus or make a point of following accounts that share content that take your mind off the crisis, whether it’s about nature, art, baking or crafts.

Stay in touch virtually
Keep your support network strong, even when you’re only able to call or text friends and family. Socializing plays an important role in regulating your mood and helping you stay grounded. And the same is true for your children.

Let kids use social media (within reason) and Skype or FaceTime to stay connected to peers even if they aren’t usually allowed to do so. Communication can help kids feel less alone and mitigate some of the stress that comes from being away from friends.

Technology can also help younger kids feel closer to relatives or friends they can’t see at the moment. My parents video chat with their granddaughter every night and read her a (digital) bedtime story. It’s not perfect, but it helps us all feel closer and less stressed.

Make plans
In the face of events that are scary and largely out of our control, it’s important to be proactive about what you can control. Making plans helps you visualize the near future. How can your kids have virtual play dates? What can your family do that would be fun outside? What are favorite foods you can cook during this time? Make lists that kids can add to. Seeing you problem solve in response to this crisis can be instructive and reassuring for kids.

Even better, assign kids tasks that will help them feel that they are part of the plan and making a valuable contribution to the family.

Keep it positive
Though adults are feeling apprehensive, to most children the words “School’s closed” are cause for celebration. “My kid was thrilled when he found out school would be closing,” says Rachel Busman, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. Parents, she says, should validate that feeling of excitement and use it as a springboard to help kids stay calm and happy.

Let kids know that you’re glad they’re excited, but make sure they understand that though it may feel like vacations they’ve had in the past, things will be different this time. For example, Dr. Busman suggests, “It’s so cool to have everyone home together. We’re going to have good time! Remember, though, we’ll still be doing work and sticking to a regular schedule.”

Keep kids in the loop — but keep it simple
“Talking to children in a clear, reasonable way about what’s going on is the best way to help them understand,” says Dr. Busman. “But remember kids don’t need to know every little thing.” Unless kids ask specifically, there’s no reason to volunteer information that might worry them.

For example, our two-year-old daughter Alice is used to seeing her grandparents regularly, but right now we’re keeping our distance to make sure everyone stays safe. When she asks about them we say: “We won’t see Grandma and Grandpa this week but we will see them soon!” We don’t say: “We’re staying away from Grandma and Grandpa because we could get them sick.” Older kids can handle — and expect — more detail, but you should still be thoughtful about what kinds of information you share with them.

Check in with little kids
Young children may be oblivious to the facts of the situation, but they may still feel unsettled by the changes in routine, or pick up on the fact that people around them are worried and upset. Plan to check in with younger children periodically and give them the chance to process any worries they may be having. Children who are tantruming more than usual, being defiant or acting out may actually be feeling anxious. Pick a calm, undistracted time and gently ask how they’re feeling and make sure to respond to outbursts in a calm, consistent, comforting way.

Sometimes the path of least resistance is the right path
Remember to be reasonable and kind to yourself. We all want to be our best parenting selves as much as we can, but sometimes that best self is the one that says, “Go for it,” when a kid asks for more time on the iPad. My daughter is watching Elmo’s World — and possibly drawing on the wall — as I write this. That shrill red Muppet is the only reason I’m able to write at all.

“We should forgive ourselves the image of perfection that we normally aspire to as parents,” says Dr. Anderson. “Maybe your kids don’t have TV or screens on the weeknights during the school year, but now that school is cancelled or online, we can give ourselves license to relax these boundaries a bit.  We can explain to our kids that this is a unique situation and re-institute boundaries once more when life returns to normal.”

Accept and ask for help
If you have a partner at home, agree that you’ll trade off when it comes to childcare. Especially if one or both of you are working from home and have younger children. That way everyone gets a break and some breathing room.

Everyone who can pitch in, should. Give kids age appropriate jobs. For example, teens might be able to help mind younger siblings when both parents have to work. Most children can set the table, help keep communal spaces clean, do dishes or take out the trash. Even toddlers can learn to pick up their own toys. Working as a team will help your whole family stay busy and make sure no one person (Mom) is overwhelmed.

“Be creative and be flexible,” says Dr. Busman, “and try not to be hard on yourself. You have to find a balance that works for your family. The goal should be to stay sane and stay safe.”