Author Archives: Allison Peet

African Americans and Mental Health

Billie Wade, writer

Dysthymic Disorder (depression) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) have affected my life since adolescence. Counseling has been an integral part of my life since my mid-twenties. I have always believed in the power of talking about issues and problems and can attest to the value of counseling. For the first time, I have a relationship with a counselor, here at Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, who walks with me as I explore the experiences and meanings of living as a black woman in a predominantly white world. Racism, external and internalized; discrimination; profiling; and, the residue of slavery compound daily in the lives of black people. Many black people disagree with my decision to receive counseling, based on a host of very real reasons.

Black people are under constant scrutiny and judgment by the majority culture—clothing, hair, the car we drive, where we live, our personality, our religion and spirituality, our employment or lack thereof. Our cultural climate is measured against that of the majority and usually found wanting. Dichotomous messages and double standards are applied arbitrarily. For instance, we are told that we must be employed and self-sufficient, but we are profiled if we dress too well or the car we drive is too nice. Moving about in the world is a matter of safety. Because of the factors listed above, I am always a target, emotionally as well as physically.

In my years of counseling, my issues and problems as a black woman went unaddressed. They were not so much discounted or ignored as they were not considered. They were not on anyone’s radar, including mine. I was treated as a white woman with black skin. The discrimination and oppression to which I was subjected “could happen to anybody.” It was years before I recognized the mistreatment and exploitation for what they were. The ebony ceiling is much lower and much thicker than the glass ceiling.

Virtually all of my counselors have been white males. I did have one Native American Indian female counselor and one black male counselor. When I began working with my counselor, here at the Center, in January 2013, I became comfortable enough, after a few months, to explore the painful topic of race relations. We discuss ways in which racial tension and strife contributed to the trauma in my life and continue to do so. I am subjected to all the issues and problems experienced by white women, compounded by race.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “Common mental health disorders among African Americans include major depression; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); suicide, among African American men; and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” Additionally, African Americans are more likely to be exposed to violence and “make up about 40% of the homeless population. African American children are more likely to be exposed to violence than other children.” Clinicians often receive little or no training in cultural competency as a matter of course. Because of either conscious or unconscious provider biases, black people are often misdiagnosed or receive a poor quality of care. Providers not trained in cultural competence may not recognize mental health symptoms. NAMI also reported that “men are more likely to receive a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia when expressing symptoms related to mood disorders or PTSD.”

In the chemical dependency treatment field, the desire of a client to confront racial issues is discounted as an excuse, an avoidance strategy to skirt the fact that the individual is drinking and using drugs to her or his detriment. For all clients, substance use is treated as a causality rather than an outcome, seen as primary rather than a stress response and coping strategy. Psychological factors are not considered.

“Only about one-quarter of African American people seek mental health services, compared to 40% of whites,” reports NAMI. The 25% rate surprised me as I thought the percentage was much lower. Many barriers impede access to mental health services for black people, among them:

  • Location of services/lack of transportation
  • Lack of childcare
  • Lack of complete information
  • Fear of being committed to a hospital psychological unit
  • Lack of financial resources
  • Lack of insurance
  • Fear of ridicule by family and friends
  • Perception of counselors as mind-reading psychics
  • Told by clergy, family members, and peers that their life would improve if they attend church and believe in Jesus.
  • Distrust of mental health professionals, medical professionals, and white people
  • Fear of lack of confidentiality, that what they discuss will be used against them
  • Fear of incarceration
  • Fear of appearing weak and unable to control themselves or manage their lives or to control those around them. For instance, “I’d be alright if my kids would stop driving me crazy.”
  • The perception that they are emotionally healthy and stable and that everyone else needs to change.
  • Like many non-minority people, they know they need to change which seems daunting.

Out of necessity, the black community has formed some social supports that sustain them in times of stress and emotional upheaval, such as:

  • Religious faith
  • Close-knit family networks; extended family; there are few secrets in the black community
  • Racial pride
  • Emotional strength and resilience which can sometimes lead to discounting of their emotional pain as they are told they have little or no reason to “complain.”

Finding a compatible counselor can be a discouraging process, and some people give up. NAMI suggests asking prospective counselors the following questions:

  1. Have you treated other African Americans?
  2. Have you received training in cultural competence or on African American mental health?
  3. How do you see our cultural backgrounds influencing our communication and my treatment?
  4. How do you plan to integrate my beliefs and practices in my treatment?

Will family members be involved in my treatment? What if I do not want my family members involved?

Engaging the black community takes time and effort. The Center has taken a step in the right direction to encourage black people to enlist mental health services with the satellite office in the Drake University area. Further efforts could include using black people in marketing and advertising and recruiting black counselors and staff.

I encourage black people to seek mental health services as an essential addition to the social supports already in place. I truly believe that, with earnest effort, virtually everyone can benefit from counseling. To schedule an appointment or for more information about the services offered at the Center, call 515-274-4006.

Warm regards.


To read more of Billie’s blogs, click here.

Meet Rachel Hollingsworth, Student Intern

Hello, I’m Rachel Hollingsworth. I am a senior at Simpson College majoring in psychology and religion, and I have been interning at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center for the past few months. After I graduate in May 2019, I plan to head to seminary to pursue a dual degree in divinity and social work. I will begin my graduate studies at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary this fall. My plan for the future is to work in a ministry setting, such as parish ministry, counseling, or something
else. I like to try new things, so who knows where I might end up? During my internship at the Center, I am learning more about what makes pastoral counseling different from other types of counseling and spiritual direction. To help me understand different sides of working in a counseling center, I have been able to interview multiple staff members here. All of the individuals I spoke with had different positions and expertise, so I have explored many of the different moving parts of the Center. Each person has something different to teach me. I not only learned about their vocational path and job duties, but also the wisdom and advice they have to pass on.
One of my favorite learnings so far was from Ramona, a previous student in the graduate
training program at the Center. She told me that one of the biggest problems with our world is that we don’t listen to each other. One hour a week where someone else is listening, even if they are paid to do it, can make the world of difference for someone. Another person I interviewed was Ellery Duke, a licensed psychologist and also the previous executive director at the Center. This interview gave me some more in-depth knowledge about the world of pastoral counseling. One thing in particular I learned from this conversation was his perspective on therapy, which is that each person coming into therapy is simply a fellow human just trying to survive and live their life. Every person is on a journey, and pastoral counseling helps us address whatever is limiting us from becoming who we want to be. These are just a few of the things I have learned during my time here, and all of the individuals I interviewed offered valuable bits of wisdom and advice.
The Center has given me several different opportunities to explore my own vocation,
develop professional skills, and dip my toes into the counseling field. I look forward to learning
and experiencing more as I finish out the semester.

  • Rachel

Women Helping Women 2019

Friday, May 17, 2019, is a special day for Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center as the Center hosts the 21st annual Women Helping Women Luncheon at Embassy Suites. The luncheon raises funds to provide counseling and education for underinsured and uninsured women and girls. Five hundred eighty people attended the 2018 event which raised $204,000. In its twenty-one-year history the fund has raised over one million dollars. This year’s theme focuses on suicide loss and prevention. This year’s keynote speaker is Gina Skinner-Thebo, and the honoree is Susan Voss.

Suicide is an important topic to me as I am among those impacted. I attempted suicide at the age of twenty-one. I was married, employed, outwardly happy, and miserable. No one detected any signs. I behaved in predictable ways. The truth was my life was falling apart. I suffered from undiagnosed depression and anxiety, and low self-esteem. My husband found me and took me to the emergency room where the doctor told me not to do it again and sent me home. My husband ridiculed me. I had no social supports, no spiritual foundation, no mental health or medical services, and no effective coping skills. I was alone. To this day, I feel frightened when I think about that time and how close I came to ending my life. While the statistics show lower rates of suicide for African American females, suicides do happen. I nearly became one of them.

The life of Gina Skinner-Thebo changed forever on July 22, 2014. Her close friend, Rachel Atwood committed suicide. The loss led Gina to reevaluate her interactions with women. She is conscious about maintaining her relationships with transparency and authenticity. She founded The Atwood Center for Women to honor her friend and to provide a space for women to express themselves and to explore issues important to them.

Susan Voss has served on the Center’s Board of Directors more than ten years, including serving as Board president. She emceed the 2017 Women Helping Women Luncheon. She has participated on the Women Helping Women planning committee and introduced others to the initiative. She believes in the Center’s whole-person approach to mental health services. She described the Center’s staff as “amazing” and “truly gifted.” I agree.

Sadly, suicide statistics tell their own story of loss and grief.

In Iowa, 451 people died by suicide in 2016, ranking the state 29th in the country. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that “On average, one person dies by suicide every nineteen hours in [Iowa]. The rate of suicide deaths in Iowa in 2016 was 14.55 per 100,000 population compared to the national rate of 13.42.

The National Center for Health Statistics reports that for the years 2000 through 2016, the suicide rate for males increased 21% while the rate for females during the same period increased 50%. The ratio of male-to-female suicide rate was 4.4 in 2000 and 3.6 in 2016. The narrowing in the ratio of male-to-female suicide rates reflects the accelerated increase in female suicide rates beginning in 2007. “In 2016, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the United States.” More women attempt suicide while more men die by suicide. Suicide rates for females were highest in the 45-64-year-old age bracket. The rates were 6.2 per 100,000 females in 2000 and 9.9 in 2016.

A fact sheet by American Association for Suicidology reports that African Americans have a lower suicide rate than other ethnicities, based on 2014 data. Of the 2,421 suicides committed by African Americans, 475 were female. “The suicide rate for African American females was the lowest among men and women of all ethnicities.” Distinctive risk factors include “access to lethal means,” “exposure to violence,” and “exposure to racial inequality.” Barriers to mental health services include limited access due to transportation, child care, and insurance; the stigma of mental health; and distrust of mental health and medical professionals. Elements that help protect African Americans against suicide are religious faith, familial ties, community networks, and “ethnic pride.”

Suicide is a complex phenomenon that contains many variables and reasons. Pin-pointing a single cause leading to a suicide is to chase an elusive, ever-transmuting target. Individuals may experience a single event in a cluster or line of events leading up to the suicide. Chronic and long-term stress take a devastating toll that increases exponentially with time, until the person can no longer endure the onslaught and sees no alternatives. Signs and symptoms, particularly changes in an individual’s habits, demeanor, or behavior, may alert family, friends, and colleagues that something is amiss.

While many sources of stress affect women and men, women and girls experience unique adversities:

  • Hormonal and body changes at puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.
  • Depression during pregnancy and post-partum depression.
  • Raising families, sometimes singlehandedly.
  • Caring for aging parents, often while raising families.
  • Job or career pressures that do not apply equally to men.
  • Loss of identity when care-giving is no longer necessary, whether children no longer need emotional or financial support, or when aging parents are settled into long-term care or die.
  • Relief from family responsibilities, so the woman is now free to end her life.

Included in the stellar array of counseling and educational services offered by the Center, two services specifically address suicide loss and prevention. ASIST™ (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) teaches participants how to recognize signs and symptoms of someone contemplating suicide and where to get help. The two-day intensive is facilitated by Diane McClanahan, BSN, M. Div, and Beverly C. Butler. Diane is director of Leadership and Spiritual Life at the Center. Beverly is an ordained United Methodist clergy. Diane and Beverly both are registered ASIST™ trainers. Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group meets the third Tuesday evening every month at the Center. The group is facilitated by Andrea Severson, LMHC, M. Div, who is a counselor at the Center, and Diane McClanahan. Diane also is trained as a Survivor of Suicide Loss Support Group facilitator. More information about these programs can be found on the Center’s website,, and click on “Classes and Events “or by contacting Diane McClanahan at 515-251-6667 or  The national suicide prevention hotline number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and website: The lifeline is free, confidential, and always available.

As mentioned earlier, the suicide rate for females is increasing faster than the rate for males. You can support the Center’s intention to provide counseling and education and other services to women and girls in need. Visit the Center’s website and click on 2019 Women Helping Women Luncheon for more information about the initiative and ways you can participate. You also may contact Women Helping Women Luncheon organizer Terri Speirs at 515-251-6670.

Warm regards.

Billie Wade, writer

For more of Billie’s blogs, click here.

Express Yourself

Self-expression is innate in every human being. Self-expression is the way we do things, whether we are conscious of it. Through self-expression we say, “This is who I am.” We share our authenticity.

We self-express in myriad ways through our hairstyle and our clothing, the way we talk and use words, body language, writing, art, music, our lifestyle, avocations and career. One person may self-express through beautiful and bountiful flower and vegetable gardens. Another person may self-express through the restoration of classic or damaged automobiles. Someone else may self-express through her or his skills as a surgeon. And yet another may self-express through her or his skills as a counselor or spiritual director. On and on the list goes. One of the many ways I self-express is through my writing, but I also use my organizational skills, my use of technology, my sense of fascination and curiosity, and my imagination.

Because self-expression reveals authenticity, it also means saying, “No,” or “Yes,” depending on our need at the time, the situation, or the people involved. Our ability to say “No” or “Yes” or to speak out is tied to our ability to self-express. Self-expression is about self-permission. We allow ourselves to say what we mean. We express our thoughts and emotions clearly with our words and actions. We let other people know they have violated our boundaries, and their actions are not okay.

Growing up and throughout most of my adult life, I did not speak up. I did not have opinions. I did not know that “No” was an option as well as a complete sentence. The same applied to “Yes.” I let other people talk me out of things I really wanted to do. Or worse, other people made decisions for me and I did not speak up in self-defense. Other people took credit for my work, sometimes with the full knowledge of those in charge. I endured the exploitation in stoic silence. When I did speak up my voice was often weak and ineffective. Very few people listened to what I had to say. Now, I am conscious of my values, my self-worth, my heart’s desires, and my freedom to speak. When I am hesitant, I search within and arrive at a decision that serves me. When I say “No” or “Yes” with conviction, I am also taking responsibility for my decisions. I take credit for my skills and accomplishments. I take ownership of things I do well. I acknowledge the Divine Presence that guides my life.

Self-expression can challenge us to be our best selves regardless of the judgment of others. Some people may deem our activities as silly or a waste of time or wrong. We may have to persevere against ridicule and criticism to let our heart’s passion express. I grew up in an alcoholic home. My father disapproved of my career choice when I earned my bachelor’s degree and became a substance abuse counselor.

Self-expression respects other people, opinions, beliefs, and ideas. Using it to hurt others also hurts the giver. Self-expression is a gift to share. We cultivate meaningful relationships. We look for solutions that benefit everyone concerned. We share our gift of individuality in ways that enrich our life and the lives of those we encounter.

Here are seven ways to self-express:

  • Saying “Thank you” is a simple form of self-expression when someone treats us with compassion, kindness, and grace.
  • Displaying a calming presence in the midst of dissention and chaos can deescalate a tense situation.
  • Making amends and apologies can become a vehicle for our self-expression.
  • Showing compassion and kindness benefits the giver as well as the receiver.
  • Asking for what we want, and need, means others are in a better position to support us.
  • Extending empathy and a generosity of spirit can lift someone’s mood for the rest of the day, fostering a sense of connection and rapport.
  • Complimenting someone can elevate her or his spirits by sharing in their self-expression.

Be conscious of the ways you self-express. Are you sending the message you want to convey about who you are and what you are about? I invite you to spend some time celebrating your unique attributes. What life changes do you need to make to express your true Self and live with authenticity?

Conscious self-expression means allowing our true Self to shine. We temper our behavior in ways that promote amicable relationships and win-win outcomes. We express our emotions in a conscious, full, and open manner. We live our lives as art. Enjoy.

Billie Wade, writer

For more of Billie’s blogs, click here.

The Wonder of Generosity

Tis the season of March, which invites me and others of Irish heritage to celebrate the memory of St. Patrick. Not the usual distortions of all things green, but literally a heritage. I’ve been known to sing a traditional ballad now and again. I often set aside time in March to read a bit of Irish history or literature. Options abound. This year I’m reading John O’Donohue, whose lively imagination has helped me and many others to pay attention to the little things each day in order to experience the joy of wonder. Here’s a quote that inspired pause:

One of the most exciting and energetic forms of thought is the question. I always think that the question is like a lantern. It illuminates new landscapes and new areas as it moves. Therefore the question always assumes that there are many different dimensions to a thought that you are either blind to or that are not available to you. So a question is really one of the forms in which wonder expresses itself. (p. 6)

John O’Donohue, Walking in Wonder: Eternal Wisdom for a Modern World. 2015.

The power of a question to guide us to wonder.

I experience it on a regular basis when I’m working with the generous people who support our work at the Center. I often begin conversations by asking people how they became connected with the Center in the first place. I’ve reflected on answers to that question in previous posts, but suffice it to say that a relationship was established in which the Center played a role in helping someone to find their way to hope and healing.

A follow up question regularly inspires wonder: Where did you learn to be so generous with your time, or talent, or treasure/resources? The answer often involves modeling. Donors grew up in families that valued generosity. They encountered someone whose generosity benefited them and made a difference in helping that person to find a path to success and fulfillment. They engaged in the work of an organization like the Center and saw the direct connection of supporting a mission in order to help others thrive. Lanterns illumined new landscapes and possibilities.

I encourage the community of stakeholders engaged in our work to keep these questions in mind as you’re out and about in the community. “How did you become involved in mental health issues?” (It’s a great way to fight stigma). All of us are touched in some way by these issues. There are too many tragic tales, but also inspiring narratives of healing. Don’t be afraid of the follow up question of how folks learned to be generous as they engaged an issue like mental health. My guess is you’re going to hear more inspiring answers of how one learns to be generous and engaged so as to live a fulfilled life. It’s the path to leading a life that matters and there is much work to be done.

I stand in wonder each day when I see how our work is made possible through the generosity of so many  who participate in and support our mission.

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Join us for a series of three conversations

Navigating Troubled Waters – Listening to the “Other”




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“Good patriots carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country.”  —- William Sloan Coffin

Some of us feel like this: “I can’t talk to my friends, my neighbors, my family!  The tension is too much!” At a time in which our country is painfully divided, these are the struggles many in our communities are experiencing. Yet, beneath the tension there is heartbreak.  Across the board, we feel deeply about the values we want to see our country exhibit, but we realize we are more painfully divided on the substance of the “values” than we realized.

So, how do we navigate our emotions, our relationships, our conversations?  The Center would like you to join us for 3 monthly conversations centered around this question.  Rooted in a belief that understanding begins with telling our story and listening to the story of the other we invite you to take seriously what it means to navigate troubled waters with steadiness and integrity.   Please join us here at the Center for these 3 important monthly conversations.

AUDIENCE Open to the public
DATE/TIME April 25, May 16, June 13 / Thursdays  5:30 – 7 p.m.
COST $90 for the series. Refreshments provided.
LOCATION  Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center  / 8553 Urbandale Avenue / Urbandale, IA

Please register by April 18th


FACILITATORS Clinicians from the Center will facilitate the series, including:

  • Amy Spangler-Dunning, M.Div., L.M.H.C., counselor, spiritual director
  • Diane McClanahan, M.Div., B.S.N., Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life, spiritual director
  • Douglas Aupperle, Ph.D., licensed psychologist
  • Christine Dietz, Ph.D., L.I.S.W., Training Director, spiritual director
  • Andrea Severson, M.Div., L.M.H.C., counselor, spiritual director

Questions? Please contact

Amy Spangler-Dunning, by email: or telephone: 515-274-4006, x165

Both / And…Dwelling in Possibility

Last Fall, my counselor and I discussed the concept of “both/and” and how it applies to everyday life events. He suggested that I write about it. Little did I know I would live it so soon. I am working on a major project which has a lot of potential for a life-changing outcome. On the one hand, I feel energized and exhilarated. On the other, I well know that I am not in control, and I am working to accept the outcome, whatever that may be. A key to surviving this with my mental health intact is adapting to life in the tension between possibility and acceptance.

Living in possibility is a challenge. When I am in the tension, I feel anxious. I feel nervous. I feel several competing emotions. I feed myself negative messages. I sink into resignation rather than surrender to acceptance. All visions of positive possibilities evaporate.

There are ways to stay in the tension and use it to grow and transform. We must first recognize and acknowledge the stress. We must then identify its source. We must sort through the many disparate emotions vying for expression. We must permit ourselves to feel all of our emotions without judgment.

I would like to share an exercise that has worked for me. On a sheet of paper, make three columns with no headers. In the first column write the words acceptance, surrender, gratitude, and resignation. In the second column write the words tension, stress, patience, and peace. In the third column write the words hope, enthusiasm, perseverance, and naivete. Draw a circle around the word set in the second column. Draw arrows from the circle to each of the words in the other two columns. You now have a visual of the tension and possible peace that lie between the two poles. You can work with any of these twelve possible emotions or others that may come to mind. Choose the feeling that most appeals to you or that is tugging at you the strongest. Pray, meditate, write, or talk about it.

Dwelling in possibility means allowing yourself to see both sides of your situation and acknowledging that the outcome may surprise and please you. But unbridled enthusiasm and exuberance may cloud your ability to see the real picture. Possibilities in your favor exist but so do chances you may not get what you want. With acceptance and gratitude on the same side as resignation, slipping into resignation is easy. Your job is to do the work and have faith in the possibilities you want.

I have found that mindfulness techniques like holding tension with gentleness in your awareness allow you to acknowledge it without engaging with the discomfort. You can see the larger picture and identify your paradoxical emotions. How do you want to respond to the uneasiness? You can use any of the strategies from my blog post “23 tips to get through the holidays.” My go-to methods are journaling and talking with my counselor. Journaling will help you connect with your inner resources and gain confidence. Your counselor or spiritual director can help you identify your strengths and your options. You become more tolerant of the tension and more resilient to the effects.

A state of tolerance may not last long. How long you can stay in the tension and live with the discomfort depends on the level of the stress and your coping skills. To remain in both/and requires allowing the discordant emotions to coexist. You may find your feelings bouncing like a pinball as they emerge all at once. It is about finding balance and equilibrium and peace rather than comfort. Peace and comfort are not synonymous. The challenge is to remember, always, that peace is possible.

For me, the big key to peace is to recognize and acknowledge that you can withstand the discomfort between believing in your dream and realizing the outcome is beyond your control. You may have to do this exercise often. Peace may come in fleeting moments. Stay in peace as long as you can. Develop a mantra or ritual that helps ground you and brings you serenity. Write your disconcerting thoughts and internal messages. Counter them with words of strength and resilience. These words will give you fuel to keep going.

Remember why your dream is important to you. Reflect on how it will enhance and transform your life. What are the possibilities, wanted and unwanted? Write what success or an ideal outcome means to you and how you envision it. Make a “Dream Big” list of what you will do when your passion is successful. Review the list often and add to it as new ideas come to mind. Celebrate milestones as the situation unfolds. Enjoy the journey of bringing your vision into reality.

What is your plan if the outcome differs from what you desire? Make a list of other approaches that may bring your dream to life. Map out what it means if you do not get what you want. Make a plan for processing your disappointment. Make a Plan B, C, D, or even J or X. Brainstorm as many possibilities as you can. How can you prepare for what may be inevitable? When you are facing a dire situation, I encourage you to talk to someone you trust.

Living in the realm of both/and offers chances to stretch and exercise and strengthen emotional muscles. We can learn a lot about patience, surrender, gratitude, and perseverance. We can see multiple outcomes, wanted and unwanted. We are equipped to make better decisions. As much as you can, seek opportunities to look forward to living in potential. Living with both/and is challenging and possible.

Click here for Billie’s class:  The Healing Journal – Begins March 2019!

Billie Wade, writer

Billie Wade is a gregarious introvert whose primary interests are writing, lifelong learning, personal development, and how we all are affected by life’s vagaries. Issues facing black people, women, the LGBTQ community, and aging adults are of particular concern to her. She enjoys open-hearted dialogue with diverse people. The opinions expressed here are her own.

To read more of Billie’s blogs:

The Precious Present

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

I’m a big fan of Anne Lamott. Her irreverent eloquence and sharp insights rendered palatable by humor have inspired me in important life moments. She helps me to understand that each moment is precious.

A recent read of “Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace”, stranded me in a moment. It began in the beginning, the preface, titled “Victory Lap:”

The worst possible thing you can do when you’re down in the dumps, tweaking, vaporous with victimized self-righteousness, or bored, is to take a walk with dying friends. They will ruin everything for you.
First of all, friends like this may not even think of themselves as dying, although they clearly are, according to recent scans and gentle doctors’ reports. But no, they see themselves as fully alive. They are living and doing as much as they can, as well as they can, for as long as they can.
They ruin your multitasking high, the bath of agitation, rumination, and judgment you wallow in, without the decency to come out and just say anything. They bust you by being grateful for the day, while you are obsessed with how thin your lashes have become and how wide your bottom… When you are on the knife’s edge — when nobody knows exactly what is going to happen next, only that it will be worse — you take in today.

These words guide my reflections as I continue to ponder the virtue of gratitude and generosity for 2019. I am often distracted by “multitasking, agitation, rumination and judgement.” I can get so tangled in the distractions that I miss the beauty of the moment; inattention rules the day.

Lamott’s insight into the reason terminally ill folks “ruin everything for us” is that those left with little time appreciate every time. I am sure this explains why generosity makes us feel better. When we acknowledge how precious the present, gratitude naturally follows. Even breath inspires gratitude—which I believe leads to generosity. As you have received, give.

Examples at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center abound. Clients suffering from anxiety or depression benefit from mindfulness exercises that deepen our appreciation of the moment. Families and communities of faith torn by conflict, through intervention, come to an appreciation of letting go of little things in order to focus on the ties that bind. Trauma victims gain insight into a life of many moments rather than only the horrific. It’s all hard work, but the rewards are great.

My mindfulness exercise or “Moment of Grace” in this composition is to simply sit for a moment in the presence of all those who steward resources in such a way so as to make our work possible. People who have volunteered time, struggled to train in order to help others, or donated to help us help others. Just sit there with all those folks—many of whom I’ll never meet. Take in today.

May the generosity of all involved lead to a deep spirit of gratitude, acknowledging that we are part of a work bigger than any of us as we strive to bring understanding, hope and healing into the present moment through our mission.

Each moment along the way is precious.

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Positive Psychology Group

Positive Psychology is defined as the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. This group will begin with an education about the nature and science behind Positive Psychology and then we will practice various interventions within the group in session and out.


  • Explore the science of Positive Psychology and how it can be utilized to increase well-being.
  • Define and explain the difference between happiness and well being.
  • Define values and goals that can create meaning and accomplishment for participants.
  • Introduce and practice mindfulness-based techniques.

AUDIENCE  Community members that are ready to explore and grow.  Anyone over the age of 18.

DATES  Tuesdays  (March 5, 12, 26 April 2, 9, 16, 23, 30)

TIMES  5:30-7:00 PM

TUITION  $80 per person

REQUIRED READING  Participants are required to purchase the book, “Flourish” by Martin Seligman

LOCATION  Small Conference Room: Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center: 8553 Urbandale Ave, Urbandale, IA


REGISTRATION    Registration is closed.


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Ann Flood, Clinical Mental Health Therapist Intern

My passion is to bring healing and understanding to people who may be suffering from psychological pain. I help my clients learn to reframe dysfunctional thinking patterns using mindfulness to create movement towards maximum well-being. I wish for my clients to feel peaceful, complete and safe and often times will incorporate Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to reach their chosen goal. I am passionate about clients moving towards a state of well-being and will begin a group based on the science of Positive Psychology. My educational background includes a Bachelors degree in Psychology and I am currently finishing my last semester at Drake University to gain my MS in Clinical Mental Health. Email Ann with questions:

Ramona Wink, Clinical Mental Health Counselor Intern

One of my greatest joys is playing a positive role in the lives of others. A natural gift that I embrace is the ability to shine the light in dark places of brokenness and suffering, allowing people to see and discover the treasures that may have been overlooked. As a clinical mental health counselor, my work centers on assisting clients in overcoming their struggles and meeting their therapeutic goals by tapping into their positive personal experiences and their positive personal traits. It’s always amazing to witness the change that takes place when clients shift their focus in this direction. Before I graduate in May from Drake University with my MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, I am excited to co-facilitate this Positive Psychology group. I am anticipating the wonderful results that await us as we embark on this journey together.  Email Ramona with questions: