Category Archives: Grief does not take a holiday.

Meet the board president

Susan Voss, Board Chair, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Susan Voss, Board Chair, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Name: Susan Voss
Connection with the Center: 
President of the Board of Directors, 2015 Women Helping Women Special Friend
Employment: 
VP/General Counsel of American Enterprise Group
What are your hobbies? 
I love to sew and quilt, read, sing, travel, attend theater.
How did you get involved with the Center’s board of directors? 
I knew about the Center for many years and their great work.  But Board Member Jo Oldson approached me about joining the board and it seemed like the right thing to do.
What do you find most inspiring about the Center’s mission? 
Mental health is as important as physical health. To see the quality of counseling/therapy provided by the staff to people of all walks of life, income levels and need is amazing and uplifting. It’s a unique view of the total person and helping them address issues and concerns. It takes truly gifted people to provide the services of the Center.

Why do you support the Center? 
We may never know when the needs of the Center would be beneficial to us, our family or friends.  We NEED in our community a place that treats the wholeness of a person in a caring and special way.  THAT is the Center.  And THAT is why I support the Center.

Dawn’s story, a child’s perspective of trauma

Dawn

Seven-year-old Dawn lost her parents to something possibly worse than death: abandonment. She was able to process her trauma through play therapy at the Center.

Dawn is 7-years-old. When she meets with her therapist at Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, she plays at the rice table and in the sand tray, choosing a toy baby animal as her main character. During her play, she positions the figurine as locked away and not given any food. Sometimes she postures the plaything as breaking out to get food. Other times she pretends the toy baby animal is rescued by other animals and given food.

Art and play are key to the therapy approach in the Center’s C.O.O.L. program (Children Overcoming the Obstacles in Life). At her young age, Dawn’s traumatic experiences have far surpassed her vocabulary. Dawn had been removed from her home three times before she was five years old, through no fault of her own but due to her parents’ substance abuse and chronic mental illness. She awaits her permanency hearing during which the court will terminate parental rights, enabling Dawn to be adopted by the only real family she has ever known – the guardians who brought her to the Center for counseling.

Dawn’s playtime choices help her express themes of abandonment, abuse, neglect and rescue. Her selections also help her express anger. For example sometimes Dawn assigns a figurine to portray a “mean beast” who “wrecks everything and takes all the food.”

Of the Center's 26 licensed therapists, seven specialize in serving children and adolescents. Pictured below, L-R: Shannon Welch-Groves, Psy.D., Kelli Hill, Ph.D., Doug Auperle, Ph.D., Elaina Riley, M.S.W., Sarah McElhaney, L.M.F.T. The Center also has capacity to provide medication management to children and adults through our psychiatrist and psychiatry physician assistant.

Of the Center’s 28 licensed therapists, seven specialize in serving children and adolescents. Pictured below, L-R: Shannon Welch-Groves, Psy.D., Kelli Hill, Ph.D., Doug Auperle, Ph.D., Elaina Riley, M.S.W., Sarah McElhaney, L.M.F.T. The Center also has capacity to provide medication management to children and adults through our psychiatrist and psychiatry physician assistant.

The counselor interprets Dawn’s choices and creates a therapy plan. The counselor provides Dawn with a special drawer where the child collects and keeps things safely – a jar of glitter, a small doll with a blue cape, several toy baby wild cats, a picture of Dawn with her therapist. Dawn decorates her drawer with her name so that no one else can get into her special place. Dawn is learning what it means to feel safe.

The Center serves 700 children and adolescents annually through its innovative C.O.O.L. approach, which views most youth behavior as a meaningful attempt to communicate inner life. Thanks to generous donors, we will continue to help vulnerable children and adolescents access quality mental health services.

*Note: Dawn is a composite character created from real counseling scenarios at Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. Dawn’s photo is a stock image.

More about C.O.O.L.

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C.O.O.L. (Children Overcoming the Obstacles of Life) is the Center’s innovative approach to counseling children and adolescents. C.O.O.L. counselors realize that kids have unique ways of viewing the world and expressing their emotions. We view most behavior as a meaningful attempt to communicate inner life. C.O.O.L.’s clients range in age from two to 20 years.
The Center has a separate waiting room for children and adolescents (photo left), plus a paint wall (photo above), a play room, a soft room and outdoor space to take walks and play basketball. Each therapy room is stocked  with bean bag chairs, puppets, crayons, games, paint, toy cars, wooden blocks and more. We are serious about play!
Additionally, the Center offers a full range of testing for children and adults, including assessment for IQ, learning disorders, developmental challenges, Austism Spectrum Disorders, ADHD and more.

 

Honor a loved one

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Searching for a unique gift?

Honor a loved one with a tax-deductible contribution to the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center in their name. Your gift will support quality mental health counseling. Your loved one will know they are helping vulnerable children and adults cope with life’s challenges. Donate now.
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More about our “Grief does not take a holiday” campaign:

Grief does not take a holiday – Burt’s story

Burt lost his adult child to suicide. He hopes his story will help even one person. Please consider a gift on so that all persons – like Burt – can receive quality counseling services when they need it most. To donate, click image.

 

Burt, on the death of his adult child: “My therapist has moved me into a position of accepting that I did not kill my son.”

Burt is a 70-something man, an interesting blend of jovial and introspective, who should be enjoying his golden years with his wife. Instead, he is trying to make sense of the recent suicide of his adult son, a classically trained musician who had a successful career as a professor and performer.

Burt blamed himself.

Why? Burt had dedicated his life to teaching and coaching, always believing he could make a positive difference for others. Yet he had a troubled relationship with his son for decades, despite his best efforts to reach out to him as a father. It seems Burt’s son may have suffered subtle yet chronic mental health needs that had not been identified or addressed.

Burt considers himself a fixer, seeking to help other people when he sees the need. The fact that he could not prevent his own child’s death was devastating to him. His sorrow was deepened by the fact that he hadn’t seen his son for several years before his son took his own life, at his son’s request. Burt was riddled with questions how he could have been a better parent. He believed he was responsible for the suicide.

After the loss of his son, Burt lost his will to live. He said he was “crawling through his life” and he had a plan for how to end it. His pastor suggested he seek therapy at Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. Burt called to make an appointment and was matched with a therapist. Burt’s counselor will remain anonymous, though she figures prominently in Burt’s narrative.

Maybe the best way to continue with Burt’s story is to share own words, which he typed up to offer the community:

“My counselor has shown outstanding support and encouragement to me. She is concerned about my welfare. We have worked out my conflicts and I have been helped through the feelings of suicide.”

“My counselor asked me several months ago if I was willing to take myself off the hook for the suicide. I thought she used a great word: hook.

“My counselor has moved me to a position of accepting that I did not kill my son.”

Burt carries cards in his pocket and has posted a sign on his wall to remind him of some of the things he has learned from counseling, ways to move forward in a positive manner. He no longer considers taking his own life. He said his counseling sessions prepared both he and his wife for the one-year marker of their son’s death. He misses his son tremendously.

“I want to talk to my son one more time. But I can’t.”

Burt is still sorting things out, but his goal is to use what he has experienced to live a more full life. His natural tendency to assist others stands strong, the reason why he shares this story,

“I really do hope one person will be helped.” ~

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Ellery and Marsha Duke

“Marsha and I believe in the healing power of counseling.” ~ Ellery Duke

 

Please consider a gift on so that all persons – like Burt – can receive quality counseling services when they need it most. Grief does not take a holiday. Your donation will help people find a way to cope and could save a life.

DonateNow

 

Grief does not take a holiday. More about the Center’s work:

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy

 

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to read Abigail’s story, click image

In our story about Abigail’s recovery from a head injury resulting from domestic violence, Abigail said her treatment included Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. We’d like to explain more about this treatment approach.

EMDR is an evidence-based treatment proven to be effective for the resolution of Post Traumatic Stress.

EMDR was originally developed as a technique useful in in relieving the after-effects of military combat, sexual and physical violence, car accidents and natural disasters. Over the past 25 years, EMDR has continued to evolve as it is used by practitioners around the world.  EMDR Therapy is being found to be effective with a number of issues, including  phobias, addictions, depression, and phantom limb pain.

Unresolved disturbing life events are stored in the  brain with the original feelings and perceptions as when the event occurred. The 8 phase treatment process accesses the person’s innate healing capacity. One of the unique aspects  of EMDR Therapy is the use of eye movements or tapping. This increases a person’s  mindfulness as it jump-starts the brain’s information processing system.  The disturbing feelings and sensations are cleaned away, and the client comes to a new understanding of the event, with a new, adaptive view of themselves in present time.

Presently, of the 26 therapists on staff at Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, 10 are trained and practicing EMDR therapy, and three are certified.

Watch this public service announcement about Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy.

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The healing power of counseling

Ellery and Marsha Duke, and a few of their friends, offered a $2,000 challenge grant to match any size contribution, dollar-for-dollar on #GivingTuesday, lauching the Center’s end of the year campaign to raise awareness and funds for quality counseling. Why?

Ellery and Marsha Duke

Ellery and Marsha Duke

Both Marsha and I believe in the healing power of counseling for the many persons struggling with life’s challenges…many of them with limited financial resources.

That’s why we have invited some friends to join us in offering a $2,000 challenge grant for the #GivingTuesday campaign. We will match any size contribution you make, dollar-for-dollar, until a challenge goal of $4,000 is met.

Why are we doing this? Because the Center offers a safe and nurturing environment for healing and hope. At this time of year it is more important than ever. Grief does not take a holiday. 

Please join us today #GivingTuesday in making a donation to the Center, to ensure hope and healing to all in need. ~ Ellery Duke

The Duke’s match challenge was met beyond expectations, thanks to compassionate donors who gave $9,450 on #GivingTuesday. Your contribution is critical to support quality mental health services in our community.

  DonateNow

Grief does not take a holiday – Mary’s story

Mary lost her husband to a cruel illness. Today she helps other process grief. Your donation will help others access the mental health counseling they need. Click image to donate.

Mary, on losing her husband: “I knew how to be a wife and I was good at it. I didn’t know how to be a widow.”

Mary and Cal were joyfully married, cherishing their retirement and grandchildren. They were an active couple, involved in church and community. “I love our life,” Mary would say to Cal every night. But then one day their daughter noticed Cal’s speech was slightly slurred.

A few weeks later Cal was diagnosed with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Cal had survived the Vietnam War and cancer, but ALS has a 100 percent fatality rate. ALS is a cruel, fast-moving, terminal illness whereby muscle groups shut down one by one, in no particular order.

“Almost everyday there was something new that Cal couldn’t do,” said Mary. In early stages he lost his ability to stand and speak. In later stages he had difficulty coughing and even breathing. He couldn’t swallow easily and choked on his own saliva. Mary never left him alone, bearing witness to her husband’s frightening decline.

Cal died 16 weeks after his diagnosis. He died in hospice care, where he was kept calm and comfortable in his last night. He died with Mary in bed next to him.

“I knew how to be Cal’s wife, and I was good at it,” Mary said. “But I did not know how to be a widow.”

After Cal died, Mary enlisted the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center to help her process the trauma she experienced as a witness to Cal’s tremendous suffering, and the void she felt after he died. She is quick to express gratitude for the many people who helped and she is passionate that others may access the assistance they need too.

Today, Mary is a spiritual director and helps others process their grief. “I tell people it’s OK to weep and it’s OK to laugh,” she said. She advises grieving people to ignore the shoulds and do what they need to do. She reminds them to eat and sleep. Sometimes well-meaning people say the wrong things, she says, and she has suggestions.

Mary’s list of what not to say to a grieving person:

  •       He’s in a better place.
  •       At least he didn’t suffer long.
  •       You look a little rough.
  •       Call me if you need anything.

Mary’s list of what people said that helped her:

  •   I loved him too.
  •   I cared for him too.
  •   Hi, you don’t know me, but I worked with Cal and he was important to me because______________.
  •   I will miss him.
  •   We’re going to a concert, would you like to come? (Mary suggests saying yes to social invitations, as soon as possible.)
  •   Don’t write me a thank you note. I know you appreciate it.

“Do I still miss Cal?” Mary asked, then answered her own question. “Yes, a lot.” But now, instead of withdrawing into sadness, she has the emotional tools to connect with friends and family, and she is equipped to help others who have experienced loss.

Note: We’ve changed the client’s name and identifying details to preserve privacy. Photo is a stock image.

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"Marsha and I believe in the healing power of counseling. That’s why we have decided to offer a $1,000 challenge grant for the #GivingTuesday campaign." ~ Ellery Duke

“Marsha and I believe in the healing power of counseling.” ~ Ellery Duke

 

Please consider a gift on so that all persons – like Mary – can receive quality counseling services when they need it most. Grief does not take a holiday. Your donation will help people find a way to cope and could save a life.


DonateNow

Grief does not take a holiday – Abigail’s story

Abigail lost her freedom and almost her life to domestic violence. Today, she is a thriving college student, doting mother and a youth motivational speaker. Please consider a gift on so that all persons – like Abigail – can receive quality counseling services when they need it most. To donate, click image.

Abigail on surviving domestic violence: “The gunshot situation wasn’t that traumatic for me. What was traumatic was the abuse leading up to it.”

Abigail is a thirty-something college student and she’s getting straight A’s even though she’s recovering from a bullet wound to the head. She said it never occurred to her to go to school until her therapist at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center suggested it to her. She received an academic scholarship and started classes in 2015.

“After everything that happened, it was like my life started,” said Abigail.

If anyone ever was ready for higher learning, it’s Abigail. Even a brain injury couldn’t hold her back from excelling in hard-thinking courses including ethics, human biology, American government and creative writing. Her parents and her 8-year-old daughter fully support her educational pursuits.

But her physical recovery is just part of the story, maybe even the easiest part.

“The gunshot situation wasn’t that traumatic for me,” she said. What was traumatic was the abuse leading up to it.”

Abigail was shot by a person she used to call boyfriend, but now calls “monster.”

The perpetrator was sentenced a long prison term. In a way, it seems like a tidy resolution but domestic violence is complicated. It can occur in any relationship regardless of income, race, education, ethnic background, personal ability, sexual orientation, marital status or social standing.

By now you might be asking the classic question: Why did Abigail stay with her abuser? The experts say there are many reasons a person remains in a violent relationship. For Abigail it had to do with protecting her child and her parents. The abuser threatened to harm them if Abigail ended the relationship. She knew his sadistic capacities first hand, thus she believed his threats against her family. Determined to protect her loved ones, Abigail submitted to her abuser. Statistics suggest leaving a violent relationship can be life-threatening as the abuser becomes even more determined to maintain power and control over his victim. Maybe that is why Abigail’s abuser used his gun. He shot her in the head.

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Miraculously, Abigail survived.

Her former boyfriend was sentenced to prison.

Abigail’s head-wound healed with nearly all brain capacities intact. But she felt constantly afraid and anxious, even with her abuser behind bars. She couldn’t sleep. She was connected to the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center through Polk County Crisis and Advocacy Services, a unit of the district attorney’s office. She said she saw her therapist two to three times a week at first, and continued for six months. She said counseling got her to a good place.

“I’d been in abusive relationships before and would just end up in another abusive relationship, and the men were getting worse and worse,” said Abigail. “I worked hard to make sure I never end up with one of those kinds of guys again, you know, and I’ve learned so much about myself through counseling.”

Abigail said her treatment included Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocess (EMDR) Therapy. This is an evidence-based treatment proven to be effective for the resolution of Post Traumatic Stress.

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Abigail is a dreamer and a doer. She advocates for tougher laws on perpetrators of domestic violence. She intends to complete her Bachelor of Arts degree and has her eyes set on a master’s degree. She shares her story in motivational speeches to youth to educate about dating and break-up violence.

“I’m not saying that my story is any worse than others, but what happened to me was pretty bad and if I can take this and turn it around then hopefully it will inspire other people to make the best of their lives.” ~

Note: We’ve changed the client’s name and identifying details to preserve privacy. Photo is a stock image.

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"Both Marsha and I believe in the healing power of counseling. That’s why we have decided to offer a $1,000 challenge grant for the #GivingTuesday campaign." ~ Ellery Duke

“Both Marsha and I believe in the healing power of counseling.” ~ Ellery Duke

 

Please consider a gift so that persons who are struggling with life’s challenges – like Abigail – can receive quality counseling services when they need them most. Grief does not take a holiday. Your donation will help people find a way to cope and could save a life. 

DonateNow