Category Archives: Health Tip

Good grief

May 2017 – A reflection by Jim Hayes, Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center


My mother, Winifred (Winnie) Grace Hayes, died April 24, 2017, after a three year dance with pancreatic cancer.

We all face death, dying, grief, and the support necessary to endure at various points in our lives. I have spent a good bit of my career walking with and counseling folks who have lost a loved one. As I recently mentioned to a colleague here at the Center, when it comes to grief there’s a big difference between the theoretical and experiential. As one of my favorite writers, Flannery O’Connor, put it in one of her letters (collected in The Habit of Being), “pity the one who loves what death can touch.”

It’s disorienting. As much as I like my new job, I find myself regularly distracted as I think of my Mom—or my Dad who is now navigating life without his wife of 59 years. I worry. You reach out to pick up the phone and then realize it won’t be answered. It hurts.

One of the great benefits about working here at the Center is that I’m surrounded by folks whose job is to be sensitive and empathetic. Their concern is sincere as they ask me how I’m doing.  Like many people in our lives, my perfunctory response is that “I’m fine.” Usually I am. When I’m not, it’s nice to be able to open up a bit. One of those colleagues gave me a bookmark which we hand out to those who have lost someone. It captures this quote from Helen Keller: “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes part of us.”

We distribute or reference many books on grief here at the Center. Among the popular authors is James E. Miller, who just happened to live across the hall from Ellery Duke in grad school. Miller’s books are eminently practical. In his book, “How Will I Get Through the Holidays?” he enumerates 10 ways to cope:

  1. Accept the likelihood of your pain.
  2. Feel whatever it is you feel.
  3. Express your emotions.
  4. Plan ahead.
  5. Take charge where you can.
  6. Turn to others for support
  7. Be gentle with yourself.
  8. Find a way to remember.
  9. Search out your blessings.
  10. Do something for others.

Many who visit us for counseling and spiritual direction have been touched by death and grief. I am so grateful that they will find at the Center a place of hope and healing as they go through the grieving process.

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

Thank you for all you do to make our mission possible.



Read more from Jim’s blog:

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Health Tip – Mindfulness: Be Here Now!

Mark Minear 2012

Mark Minear, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

By Dr. Mark Minear, Psychologist at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center  

“We never keep to the present… We anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay its too rapid flight.  We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does; so vain that we dream of times that are not and blindly flee the only one that is.” (Blaise Pascal, Pensees, 1659)

I know that it may sound simplistic, even trite, to suggest the importance of living in the present moment—but it is true.  The regrets of the past and the fears of the future are the primary culprits that take us from the gift of the present.   And—if you will allow me a little oversimplification, regrets and living in the past fuel depression and fears and living in the future fuel anxiety.  So… it does make intuitive sense that inhabiting the present moment is of great value to our wellbeing.  The challenge, which most of us don’t readily appreciate, is that if you want to improve your ability to attend to the here and now—then you will need to practice!

Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests that “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”  You can understand, then, how meditation is simply an optimal way to practice—paying attention with intention and lovingkindness to one’s breath, one’s thoughts, one’s body, sounds in the environment, a candle or a sunset, the taste of blueberries, the aroma of fresh baked bread, etc.… you get the idea.

It would be wise to take some time each day in a formal way—five to ten minutes is a good start (research has shown that consistency is more effective than lengthy times if they are sporadic); however, you can then augment your practice when you have a few minutes waiting for someone, two to three minutes at work for a mini-break, turning off the television and staying in your chair, etc…. you get the idea.

When you practice, you are more likely to know when you are not in the present moment so that you can gently return to the present moment—even under stressful conditions (when we are conditioned to return to the past or tempted to reach for the future).  So… in closing, here are a few nuggets to consider:

  • Be gentle with yourself: nonjudgmental = self-compassion.
  • When you catch yourself straining, know that you are not on the path of mindfulness.
  • Accept the things you cannot control, including your thoughts—but remember you can make choices (including the observation of and the response to your thoughts).
  • Explore the resources on mindfulness—great books, websites, YouTube, etc.
  • Experiment with your practice—investigate with curiosity for what is beneficial.
  • Integrate mindfulness meditation into your current spiritual practices.
  • Be grateful—always a way to be “in the moment”; consider developing a daily gratitude journal.

Two closing quotations:

“The best spiritual advice is the simplest—pay attention.”  (Alexander Green)

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on very wave, find your eternity in each moment.”  (Thoreau)

Register here for the Center’s upcoming Mindfulness Training class.


In 2016 Dr. Mark Minear walked across the state of Iowa to raise awareness for men’s mental health. View his photo gallery and read his travel blog here. 

Health Tip – Valentine’s Day Special: Healthy Relationship Tips for Couples

Sarah McElhaney, L.M.F.T.

Sarah McElhaney, L.M.F.T.

By Sarah McElhaney, L.M.F.T., licensed marriage and family therapist at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

February 2017 – The relationship with your partner could be one of the most important in your life, yet it is too easy to forget how vital it is to nurture the relationship daily. In the season of hearts and roses as symbols of love, I’d like to offer the following practical tips on how couples may improve their relationship, and overall quality of life:

  • Know your partner’s inner world. Regularly make time with your partner to tune into one another exploring and learning more about each other – from the big stuff like their hopes, dreams, and current goals to the details that make them unique – like their likes and dislikes. Make time, get generally curious, and ask open-ended questions.
  • Promote a positive relationship culture. Good relationships have a ratio of 5:1 positive to negative interactions (contrasted with almost 1:1 in struggling relationships). Point out what your partner is doing right and focus on expressing appreciation, fondness, affection, and respect regularly and in small, everyday moments.
  • Be available and responsive. Being consistently available and responsive to one another and each other’s needs creates a sense trust and an emotional safety net that can be helpful when weathering times of stress. It answers our most basic underlying needs for connection, “Are you there for me? Do I matter?”
  • valentines dayManage conflict calmly and effectively. Conflict is inevitable in relationships. And in couple relationships, 69 percent of problems are “perpetual” problems that are often “unsolvable.” Couples that do well at managing conflict address these areas calmly, have conversations about them that often does not focus on “solving the problem” but rather accepting each other’s influence and positions.
  • Recognize the early signs of relationship distress and seek guidance early. The research is clear — couples generally tend to wait too long before seeking couples therapy (on average an entire six years from when they first began noticing problems), but two of the most important factors for couples doing well in therapy is their motivation level and timing.

The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center offers couples therapy along with a broad range of mental health services for children, adolescents, adults, couples and families through 26 licensed clinicians. For more information, please visit our website: To schedule an appointment, call 515-274-4006 or email

(Tips are adapted by the research and practice from Gottman Method Couples Therapy and Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, both research and evidenced-based models for couple’s therapy)


Health Tip – Treating depression after a cardiac event or diagnosis

Psychiatry team at Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Psychiatry team at Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

by Dr. Geoffrey Hills, D.O., psychiatrist, and Susan Koehler, P.A.-C. (psychiatry physician assistant) at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

June 2016 – Did you know cardiovascular disease may trigger depression? Counseling and medication can help. When someone has a heart attack, heart surgery or stroke, the immediate concern is addressing his or her physical health. Once down the road to physical recovery, it’s also important to monitor mental health. If you or a loved one have experienced a cardiac event or diagnosis, and are having difficulty regaining the zest for previous life interests (such as hobbies or relationships,) you may wish to ask your doctor for a referral to a qualified mental health professional.

The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center’s in-house psychiatry team can work with your doctor to treat your cardiac-related depression. For more information on the Center’s psychiatry services, visit, call 515-274-4006 or email The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center provides quality mental health counseling for children, adolescents, adults, couples and families through 26 licensed clinicians.


Health Tip – Exercise Gratitude

by Jim Hayes, Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

January 2017 – The turning of the year provides an opportunity to look back with gratitude for all that has given us life in the past year, and to direct that positive energy into our communal and individual resolution to make 2017 an even better year.

I’m a big believer in the nurturing of habits and virtues. Through the habitual exercise of virtues we value, we can make them a more integral part of who we are. Gratitude is certainly one of those virtues for me. If we take one minute each day to ask the question: “What was I grateful for today?”, we nourish our ability to face future challenges.

If you’re a visual learner, search YouTube for the video of Shawn Achor entitled the “Happiness Challenge.” Here’s a link:

Achor’s thesis is that grateful folks are happier in the long run and often engage others more deeply as a result of the insight that each moment is a precious opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. Here’s a summary of his 21 day happiness challenge:

  1. Reflect on three things you’re grateful for each day.
  2. Journal on one thing for which you’re grateful.
  3. Exercise (even a five minute walk will do it).
  4. Meditation/mindfulness (even two minutes of sitting quietly helps).
  5. Perform a random act of kindness. I find a quick note to someone for whom you’rE grateful is a great exercise of this.

I am grateful to begin my tenure at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center and to be working with such a great group of people. May your 2017 be filled with abundant experiences and people that will provide you with a grateful heart.


Heath Tip – When trauma and the holidays collide – how to cope

Dr. Christine Dietz

Dr. Christine Dietz

by Christine Dietz, Ph.D., L.I.S.W., therapist and spiritual director at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, and the Center’s Director of Clinical Training


December 2016 – The holiday season is often stressful, especially for people who suffer from physical or emotional distress. The idealistic pictures of happy families offered by the media may be out of sync with the truth of our lives. Due to recent events that disconnect may feel even greater.

Our mission at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center is to offer hope and healing to adults and children through attention to mind, body and spirit. There has never been a time when hope and healing were more needed, in our communities, our nation and the world. Conflicts over immigration policy, race, violence, gun control, health care, foreign policy, LGBT rights and gender inequality have intensified. Bragging about sexual harassment and threats to people of color and immigrants became acceptable. And gun violence seems to increase daily. Many of us are feeling weary and discouraged, fearful of what may happen. But for the most vulnerable among us, those fears are all too real. For survivors of sexual assault, racism, and bullying as well as those who came to America seeking refuge from terrorism, these events evoke memories of what has already happened and fears that it will happen again.

According to Bessel van der Kolk*, a neuropsychiatrist specializing in psychological trauma, “we now know that more than half of the people who seek psychiatric care have been assaulted, abandoned, neglected, or even raped as children, or have witnessed violence in their families” (Van Der Kolk, 2014, p.24). These numbers hold true for the Center’s clients as well. Experiences such as these lead to overwhelming feelings of anxiety, depression, despair, and fears for safety. They cause physical illnesses as well as emotional distress.

How do therapists help? First, we acknowledge that these experiences are real – we don’t offer false reassurances or dispute the survivors’ experiences. Survivors are not crazy; they are experiencing the mind and body’s normal response to intolerable stress. We listen, validate, and support people in learning how to deal with the aftereffects of trauma. We help them find ways to feel as safe as they can and to handle the emotions and memories that torment them. We encourage them to reach out to supportive people and communities.

This work will be more difficult now. Already our clients report feeling increasingly unsafe and vulnerable. Survivors of sexual assault report feeling unsafe and experiencing flashbacks. Children of immigrants worry about coming home from school and finding their parents gone. LGBT clients and people of color feel targeted and unsafe. There are reports of increased bullying, racist and anti-Semitic graffiti and hate speech.

What can the rest of us do? Here are six things you can take to make the world safer for the most vulnerable among us at this holiday season:

  1. Listen – to those who are afraid, and to those with whom you disagree. It can be difficult to sit with people’s fears and discomfort without trying to offer rational explanations, but it is most helpful to acknowledge the feelings without trying to change them. Acknowledge that the feelings and fears are real, whether or not you share them.
  2. Ask how you can help. Often people just need to know that others believe them and want to support them. Ask if there are concrete actions you can take, and do them.
  3. Children may be feeling particularly confused, frightened and unsafe. They may not know who to trust. Listen and validate their feelings, and offer realistic support. Let them know that you will do everything you can to protect them and make the world a safe place for them. Do not offer reassurances that you can’t deliver. Do reassure them that it is ok to talk to you, draw pictures and express their feelings in other ways. They need your help to make sense of what is happening.
  4. Take action. We all feel more anxious when circumstances seem out of control. Identify what you can do – join a group, call your legislator, contact organizations that are trying to make the world a better place and ask what they need. Convene a group of friends and plan actions that you can take together. Donate to organizations whose goals you support.
  5. Take care of your physical health and that of family members. Fears and uncertainties stress the body as well as the mind. Exercise, relaxation and meditation practices help restore a sense of calm to the body and mind.
  6. Celebrate the holiday season. Research tells us that connecting to a sense of meaning and purpose helps manage stress. Focus on what you have to be grateful for and what you value.

Shifting your attention from fear and anger to what you can do, for yourself, your family and your community, is the only way the world becomes better. As Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

*Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York: Penguin Books. 2014.

An abbreviated version of this post appeared in the Urbandale Chamber Newsletter in December 2016

Health Tip — Need Sleep? Five Ways to Rest Well 

Susan Koehler, P.A.-C. (Psychiatry Physician Assistant)

Susan Koehler, P.A.-C. (Psychiatry Physician Assistant)

By Susan Koehler, P.A.-C., Psychiatry Physician Assistant, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Sleep is essential for a person’s health and well-being, yet millions of people do not get enough sleep on a regular basis. Surveys conducted by the National Sleep Foundation reveal that at least 40 million Americans suffer from over 70 different sleep disorders. Helping my patients establish healthy sleep hygiene is a foundational part of my treatment approach because good sleep is vital for overall quality of life. Here are the top five sleep tips I share with my patients, simple steps one can make to create a better sleep hygiene:

  1. Establish and maintain a regular bedtime and a regular arising time. Try to maintain a regular arising time, even if you have had trouble sleeping the night before.
  2. Have a regular bedtime routine – a warm bath or shower can be relaxing and help you drift off to sleep.
  3. Avoid naps during the day or evening.
  4. Alcohol and caffeine can interfere with sleep. Avoid both after dinner.
  5. Regular physical activity helps sleep and well-being.

The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center offers psychiatry and a broad range of mental health services for children, adolescents, adults, couples and families through 26 licensed clinicians. For more information, please visit our website: To schedule an appointment, call 515-274-4006 or email

Health Tip – How couples can manage conflict

Julie McClatchey, M.S.W.

Julie McClatchey, M.S.W.

By Julie McClatchey, M.S.W., Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Conflict is a normal and expected part of marriage or other intimate partnership. Our goal isn’t to avoid conflict but to resolve it in ways that lead to a better understanding of each other and, ultimately, to strengthen our relationships.

Tips for effective conflict resolution include:

  • Set your goal as problem resolution that is a “win-win.” If you seek to prove you are right or to win an argument, the relationship loses.
  • Stop what you are doing and put your focus on your partner when there is an issue to discuss. Through eye contact, setting down your laptop and giving your full attention, you show respect and interest in your partner and set the stage for greater success at resolution.
  • Talk to each other with respect. Shouting, name-calling, criticizing, accusing, and other adversarial behavior will intensify the conflict, lead to hurt and anger, and, over time, damage your relationship.
  • Discuss one issue at a time, avoiding bombarding each other with multiple issues. Success in resolving one issue will help you to make progress in others.
  • If tensions or tempers are rising, take a “time out.” Agree to end the discussion and commit to a time to come back to the discussion when both of you feel calmer and ready to try again.
  • Focus on addressing behaviors vs. attacking the person. For example, replace statements like “You are always so selfish” with “I feel hurt when you don’t spend more time with me.”
  • Reflect back what you hear your partner say such as “I hear you saying you want more time together. Is that right?” This helps you to reach mutual understanding.
  • Listen, listen, listen! Feeling heard by your partner helps with resolving conflict and also goes a long way toward strengthening trust, respect, and intimacy.

The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center offers mental health counseling for couples, as well as children, adolescents, adults and families through 26 licensed clinicians. For more information, please visit our website: To schedule an appointment, call 515-274-4006 or email

Health Tip – Five ways to help children cope with anxiety

Shannon Welch-Grove, Psy.D.

Shannon Welch-Grove, Psy.D.

By Shannon Welch-Groves, Psy.D., licensed psychologist at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

(September 2016) It’s back to school time and for some children that means increased anxiety. Academics, sports, family circumstances and social events create pressures that may feel overwhelming for children of all ages. As a parent you can’t protect your child from all worries but you can help them develop skills to cope.

There are many ways including the following:

1.  Listen to your child. Taking the time to listen to your child calmly and genuinely without judgment can be empowering and helpful for children coping with stress.

2.  Model healthy coping skills such as exercise, deep breathing, yoga or just slowing down from a busy schedule.

3.  Help children name their feelings. When children have the words to express their feelings many times they will not need to act out in an unhealthy way.

4. Strive for good sleep schedules and healthy eating habits.

5. Limit media and video game time. Be cautious of too many after school activities to allow children enough time for play and school work.

The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center provides quality mental health counseling and education for children, adolescents, adults, couples and families through 28 licensed clinicians. The Center has developed a unique approach to treating children and adolescents that integrates art, play, food, and physical movement with counseling. We call our practice C.O.O.L. which is short for “Children Overcoming the Obstacles of Life.” For more information:
More Health Tips from the Center:

Health Tip: Keeping kids COOL – physically and emotionally

By Dr. Kelli Hill, licensed child and adolescent psychologist and clinical director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center
Kelli Hill, Ph.D.

Kelli Hill, Ph.D.


We are careful to keep our children and teens physically secure in the summer. For example we sign them up for swimming lessons and teach bicycle safety. Yet it’s also important to help young people build up their emotional resiliency. For children to overcome the obstacles of life, they must feel safe, nurtured and challenged. Here are some tips to help youth develop and thrive:

1.  Create an environment that is physically, psychologically and emotionally safe.
2.  Encourage and reinforce, rather than limit and punish.
3.  Promote creativity rather than accuracy. (The latter will come!)
4.  Give space for failure (understand that true learning occurs through the making of mistakes).
5.  Trust the innate growing and greening of young life.


The Center offers specialized clinical services for children and adolescents through its COOL practice (Children Overcoming the Obstacles in Life). For more information, visit

To schedule a counseling appointment for your child or teen, call 515-274-4006.
This health tip originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of the Urbandale Chamber of Commerce newsletter.