Category Archives: Stories

Carlos’ story

To demonstrate the power of counseling, we share the story of Carlos. We have changed the name and identifying details to preserve privacy.

“Sometimes it feels like my life is a roller coaster and counseling is my seat belt.” ~ Carlos

Carlos has experienced great hardship in his young life. He came to the United States five years ago at age three. He came with his mother, who migrated from Mexico to search for a job and security. But it hasn’t been easy for Carlos or his mother. Sadly, there has been much heartbreak. Carlos experienced abuse by another adult, and he witnessed violence upon his mother. Trauma has long-lasting effects on people, especially when it happens in childhood.

Carlos’ mother did not know where to turn for help. She works the nightshift at a low-wage job and has very little household resources, yet she found her way to a bilingual children’s counselor, Alicia Krpan, at the Center’s through it’s specialized services for children and adolescents, C.O.O.L. (Children Overcoming the Obstacles in Life). COOL is an experienctial approach to therapy, integrating art, play, food, sports, nature and music into the counseling process. Alicia provides services at the Center’s home facility and also at a satellite center in the Drake neighborhood. Both locations provide the a safe, welcoming place for children like Carlos to find hope and healing.

Alicia Krpan, t.L.M.H.C., bilingual counselor

“It has been such a privilege to help Carlos to know that the trauma he and his mother experienced was not his fault,” said his counselor Alicia. “He now knows that he did nothing wrong. In his counseling sessions I can remind him he is brave and beautiful and awesome.”

Alicia employed the use of a therapeutic sand table (more info here) to help Carlos communicate his concerns, and to help Carlos to understand that he can heal and become whole again.

Carlos and his counselor Alicia communicate in English, but his mother only speaks Spanish. It is scary for a parent to sign up their child for a service in a language they don’t understand. It could put the child in an awkward position of translating their own counseling sessions for their parents. However, counselor Alicia is able to speak with Carlos’ mother in Spanish and help her to understand the process. Carlos only needs to think about his own healing, and not how to explain it to his mother. Carlos can stay focused on being a child.

Sand Therapy

Sand therapy is a powerful therapeutic technique used by counselors at the Center to help clients process their trauma. It is especially useful to help children to find ways to communicate their experiences. Clients choose small objects that describe, say, their family or home. The skilled clinician will help the child explore their fears and experiences by asking questions about their choices of objects. The counselors helps the child to learn that healing is possible. (See last photo.)

Children learn that it is possible to heal. Sand objects in this photo represent a broken heart, a repaired heart and a patched heart.

For more information about C.O.O.L. (Children Overcoming the Obstacles of Life)

What is Calling You in 2018?

Billie Wade, writer

special to the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, January 2018

by Billie Wade

We’ve survived the holidays. We made it through January 1. 2018 has arrived. Each new year holds possibilities that life will be somehow different than in the past.

We now face the blank slate between New Year’s Day and Memorial Day. Most of nature is dormant. The excitement of the holidays is over, and life has resumed at a less frenetic pace. We may feel bored, unusually tired, or just a bit out of sorts. Some people made epic New Year’s resolutions that seem daunting as life or second thoughts get in the way or perhaps they’ve lost their appeal. The shine has worn off. The grand letdown happens every year. We may feel a sense of dread as we envision weather-related confinement.

Despite the long five-month stretch, each month has moments of distinction that help ease the transition. January and February are perhaps the most desolate, but the two months combined are only nine weeks, and the time passes quickly. March brings the beginning of Daylight Savings Time and the first day of Spring. Trees and plants bud in April and herald the welcome return of songbirds. May shows off huge blooms of peonies—pink, white, and deep red—and fills the air with the fragrant blossoms of lilacs. Life is stretching itself awake after a long winter snooze. When I look at the stretch and remember what each month offers, the time passes easier as I’m less restless, less anxious, and less depressed.

The transition from winter into spring is a time for refreshing, recuperating, rejuvenating and transforming. On the surface, everything is drab, brown, and gray. Underneath, however, new life is resting until the warm rains of Spring signal that it’s time to come forth. We may look out our windows and see drifts of sparkling snow and icy sidewalks. Or, we may have escaped to a warm climate. We may have plenty to do to ward off cabin fever. Or, we may wonder what we can do to occupy the time. We have a stellar opportunity to create new practices and habits that serve us, an ideal time to ask the deeper questions about what matters most and how we want our lives to unfold over the next twelve months. What is calling us?

I’ve made plans to improve two big areas of my life in 2018, my health and my writing. There is so much more I want to accomplish, but I take care not to overwhelm myself and invite shutdown.

Early in 2017, I created a list of forty-eight life questions to explore. I spend time contemplating the state of my life now, and what I want from life moving forward. I then delve into identifying the steps to turn each into a manageable goal with realistic action steps. What follows are variations of some of the questions.

What do I want my attitude to be in 2018? This is possibly the most important and the most difficult question to ask. Attitude is one area of my life where I have control. How I approach life’s drawbacks can mean the difference between peace and serenity, and hopelessness and despair. I adjust my attitude by getting as much information about my situation as possible, journaling, and talking to people I trust.

What do I want to affirm in 2018? I reflect on 2017 and think about epiphanies and insights that brought focus and clarity to my life. I’m learning to ask for help and to be vulnerable with the people in my life who love and care about me. In the process, I’m affirming that I’m worth the time and attention of other people.

How do I want to spend my time in 2018? Every year has 525,600 minutes, 1,440 minutes per day. Those minutes tick away whether I notice them, or they pass by without getting my attention. I want to engage in activities that are important to me, that bring me joy and peace and evoke a sense of awe and wonder. I want to invite experiences into my life that transform me emotionally and spiritually. I want to invite more play and recreation into my life.

Who are the people I want in my life? I look at the relationships in my life and determine whether they support or cause me pain. Relationships are complex, and I can’t always create a desirable distance between another person and me. I take care to ensure that I am safe before making drastic changes to my relationships. I consider such factors as how much the relationship means to me and how I can deal with the situation in ways that maintain dignity for everyone involved.

What do I want to do differently in 2018? I turn my attention to my intentions, goals, and dreams and choose with care activities that nurture me. I map out doable steps to help me attain my definition of success in my endeavors.

The winter months with the shortened amount of daylight can put the strongest emotional resolve to the test. Dark days and cloudy skies can contribute to a host of emotional issues. Living with emotional upheaval or pain and chronic issues can mean just getting through the day is progress. I try to remember that, back on December 21, the beginning of Winter and the shortest day of the year, meant that subsequent days would become increasingly longer and that sunlight in abundance would return. I know that the darkness and time of dormancy are temporary.

We can look forward to this time of year with a spirit of appreciating and celebrating the seasonal changes. We can welcome each change as an unfolding of the ever-flowing energy of life. We can participate in the transitions and match the rhythm of nature with our own. May 2018 be a year of renewal for you.

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.

It’s been a great year

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

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


It’s been a great year.

December 5, 2016 I began my tenure at the executive director of the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center (DMPCC). I had the privilege of two weeks of sitting at the feet of Ellery Duke who served this institution for forty years. He didn’t quite impart all his wisdom in that time, but had a plane ticket, so had to depart for warmer climes on December 23, 2016. The way I see it, my tenure really began once everyone returned from holiday break on January 3, 2017.

It’s been a great year.

How do I capture all that is good about this place? It’s been a whirlwind for me personally and professionally, so putting my thoughts into a tidy box of memories hardly seems fair. One construct that works for me is all that we learned undergoing a strategic planning process ably led by our consultant Sheri Vohs, thanks to a generous grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines. During the process, we explored the “Value Proposition” of our work here at the Center. Let me reflect a bit on how I have witnessed one of those values lived out in the day to day lives of the many people connected to our organization.

People. It is clear to me on a daily basis that this place is special because of the people involved in our organization. It starts with our clients. They are courageous. They accept the responsibility of vulnerability in order to face whatever it takes to work on hope and healing in their lives. There are often stigmas to our work. These folks testify to the brokenness that is a part of each of us and that it’s ok to own the limitations and contingency of our lives and that by doing so in the context of a safe environment, we can all live more fully. Wow, that was a long sentence, read it again! One comment that came up during the planning process is that we meet people where they are and not as a problem that needs to be fixed–as a person who just needs someone to walk with them. We respect the people who come through our door and the values they bring with them. We love them rather than manage their issues. That’s a high bar and an important value added to our community.

People in our organization are talented. Clinicians, spiritual directors and all our staff live out our mission to bring understanding hope and healing to others each day. The quality of our staff and the diversity of our services make this place hum with activity. There is a tremendous amount of intellectual curiosity around this place. Folks are always trying to figure out how to get better. Our value of trying to serve as many people as possible regardless of ability to pay requires great sacrifice of time and resources. I am inspired by the commitment of my colleagues and have learned much from them in my first year. I thank them for grace and patience as we all grow as leaders in this field.

The value of people in our organization stretches well beyond the confines of this building. There are many stakeholders that contribute to our success: volunteers, friends, donors, foundations, politicians and anyone who recommends to a friend or family member that we can help. I have enjoyed meeting many of you and look forward to meeting many more. Thank you!

All of you contribute to other values that we had a hard time naming. Words like peaceful, holistic, and spirit came up. When pushed to the limit of words, I often resort to stories. As I head out of this place for a meeting or engagement in the community, I often hold the door for someone entering the Center and say hello. I respect their privacy and don’t make much small talk. There is still a connection, at least for me. I know that regardless of why they are here, for counseling, spiritual direction, scheduling a future appointment, addressing a question about a bill,  a class, a prescription re-fill, or any other number of reasons, I know they will encounter someone who cares. I like to think they will leave this place with a stronger sense of peace; that whatever strategy for healing is necessary, their whole story (body, mind and spirit) will be taken into account; that their spirit will be lifted up as a result of their time with us.

Knowing that I work in a place that does that kind of work brings me great joy, along with a healthy dose of humility and privilege. Thank you, all of you, for all you do to make it possible to carry on this crucial mission.

It’s been a great year.

I can’t wait for an even better 2018.



More blog posts from Jim Hayes here:


If you are still making end of year philanthropy decisions, please consider helping children, teens and adults who need access to mental health counseling and education.DonateNow

Meet board member Shirley Poertner

Shirley Poertner, a member of the Center’s Board of Directors

The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center is grateful for our volunteer, community-based board of directors. They give generously of their time, talents and treasures to advance the mission of understanding, hope and healing. Why? One board member, Shirley Poertner, agreed to share about herself and her motivations. Thank you, Shirley!


What are your hobbies?  travel, mystery novels, gardening, walking with my dog, Cooper

What is your professional background? I worked in banking for ten years before taking corporate positions at Meredith Corporation and DuPont Pioneer. I formed a management consulting firm in 1994 and for twenty years, offered leadership development, executive coaching , and strategic planning services. The last ten years of my professional career, I was an Associate of VitalSmarts LLC in Provo, UT and marketed, sold and delivered workshops based on the New York Times bestselling book, Crucial Conversations.

Tell us about your educational background: I have a teaching degree from NE MO State University (…now Truman U) and a Master’s in adult education from Drake University.

How did you get involved with the Center’s Board of Directors? I had used the Center’s services over the last fifteen years, donated annually, and I knew a number of the Center’s staff and board members. I had always thought the Center would be a wonderful place to contribute by sharing some of my professional skills. When my name was mentioned as a potential board member and I was contacted, I immediately said, “Yes!”

What do you find most inspiring about the Center’s mission? The most inspiring aspect of the Center for me is its spiritually integrated counseling and its focus on holistic healing and self-discovery. The Center’s services that I tapped into in the early 2000’s literally changed my life, enriching my perspective on who I am and what I have to offer the world.

What would you like others to know about the Center? I’d like others to know what a unique place the Center is, its diversity of services, its inclusiveness and accessibility. We don’t turn anyone away who is in need of healing, offering a sliding fee schedule and assistance funds.


If you are still making end of year philanthropy decisions, please consider helping children, teens and adults who need access to mental health counseling and education. DonateNow

In gratitude to Betty Durden

Betty Durden: Leaving a legacy for the Center’s future

Betty Durden (photo courtesy of her family)

(October 2017) – Betty Durden lived large and gave generously. A woman of extensive accomplishment, she led with courage even when personal risk was high and rewards limited.

Of the many organizations Betty supported, she gave to the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center throughout her lifetime including serving as a member of the Center’s Foundation Board and advising on human resource best practices. At the time of her death she left a large legacy gift to the Center – a bequest that will help ensure access to counseling services for others, for years to come.

On October 12, 2017, the family of Betty Durden hosted a reception at the Center to honor Betty, and to present a large bequest check from Betty’s estate to fulfill her philanthropic wishes. Center staff were grateful for the invitation to join in the celebration of Betty’s life, and to witness the gift presentation following comments offered by Betty’s daughter, Barbara Durden Davis (see transcript below).

We are forever grateful for Betty Durden’s vision, support and remarkable legacy — supporting our shared mission of understanding, hope and healing far into the future.

The full transcript of Barbara Durden Davis’ presentation

The family of Betty Durden, along with the Center’s executive director Jim Hayes, board vice chair Sally Wood, and Center founders Ellery Duke and Eileen Burtle.

Good Afternoon –

My name is Barbara Durden Davis and I am the daughter of Betty J. Durden.  My oldest brother, Rick Durden is here as is my other brother, David.  Along with David is his wife Loretta and with me are my husband Mark Davis, my daughters Erin and Erika Romar and my granddaughter Kiylah Reed. My first cousin, my mother’s nephew Ron Morden is also here (see family photo above). My brother Rick’s wife, Karen, was going to come but unfortunately was unable to do so at the last minute.

Our Mother, Betty, died on February 20th of this year and my brothers and I are carrying out the wishes she specifically delineated in her will.  But before we make the check presentation, I’d like to tell you a bit about her.

She received her BA in English from Drake in 1948 after having a couple of hiccups in her education due to time spent at the FBI in Washington D.C. in the steno pool and serving as a Yeoman in the WAVES.

She received an MSE in Guidance and Counseling in 1971 and then an Ed.D in 1990 when she was 67 years old.  Both of these were from Drake University.

While she was in a volunteer position at the Des Moines YWCA, she was approached during the summer of 1969 to join Drake University as Director of Women Programs where she was to set up a program of continuing education for women.  She accepted and was appointed Assistant to the Dean of Continuing Education.  She stayed with Drake through 1988 retiring as Director of Human Resources and Special Assistant to the President for Equal Opportunity Programs.

In 1984 she had been honored as a YWCA Woman of the Achievement.

In her “spare” time, she organized and chaired Governor Robert D. Ray’s Commission on the Status of Women, was the State Chair of ERA of Iowa, sat on boards of Interstate Association of Commissions of Status of Women, Children and Families of Iowa, Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, and Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center.

In talking with your Director Emeritus, Ellery Duke, I found out how our Mother began her relationship with Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center.  Although he didn’t remember who had recommended for her to come on the Board, it was her knowledge of personnel issues which made her a valuable asset to Ellery and the Center.  She and the Personnel Committee of the Board reviewed the employment handbook and helped make sure the Center was complying with employment rules and regulations.  Ellery said he relied on her for her expertise in the area of Human Resources.

When her term as a regular board member was coming to an end, she wanted to become a Foundation Board member and did so.  Which she then became the President of.  A former employee here recalls our Mother’s tremendous organizational skills and the follow-up she provided.  She always had an agenda ready for the meeting and provided typed minutes to the Board members thereafter.  Although no longer the President, Mother was an active member of the Foundation Board during the time of the Capital Campaign which resulted in the facility we are in now.   And, fortunately, she was able to live the benefits of this new facility through partaking in the therapy services herself and personally knowing that others were receiving the help they needed.

A little insight into her private life: She had her hair done weekly. She would not go anywhere without her lipstick on.  She had a passion for fine jewelry and Persian rugs.  When most people walk into a room they notice the walls, the furniture and maybe the lighting.  Our mother walked in with her head down, inspecting what covering was on the floors.  She collected teacups and saucers.  She loved eggs made out of all kinds of substances; stone, malachite, porcelain, glass…  She felt that eggs were a representation of life’s renewal.  She studied and educated herself on various religions. Oh, and she was a published author at age 90.  She wrote “Sanity after Seventy, a humorous and poignant look at life in the very mature years….by a woman who is living them.”

At times she was quite haughty and a snob.  She was almost the spitting image of Queen Elizabeth II and in our family, she WAS the Queen. But she was a very loving mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She was an excellent role model for women and she had an adage for us: if you join a group and don’t like how it is run, either quit or take it over!

Our Mother was a huge believer in education and in helping others.  She had a deep sense of faith.  Ellery Duke told me that Mother was especially pleased with Des Moines Pastoral Counseling because of your ability to integrate spirituality and human need.  This bequest to Des Moines Pastoral Counseling was not a last minute decision nor was it made lightly.  I was her attorney for many years and every time we dealt with her estate planning, she made sure that she would be providing for this Center.  And as such, our Mother presents to you a check.


For more information about the benefits of estate giving, please visit

Oliver’s Story

Oliver is a thoughtful, curious first grader. With a backpack full of school supplies and a renewed sense of resilience, Oliver is classroom ready. But last year was different. He grew uninterested and aggressive. One day he stood in the middle of his kindergarten classroom and screamed. His worried parents knew he needed professional counseling but they worked multiple jobs and relied on public transit. It seemed impossible to find a qualified children’s counselor on a bus line, plus take unpaid time off from work.

This is where the good news comes in. Oliver’s teacher referred the family to the Center’s new counseling outreach program located in the same building as Oliver’s free afterschool program, in the heart of urban Des Moines. His parents signed him up and Oliver met with his counselor once a week. Oliver found a way to communicate his fears through art and play. His counselor taught him age appropriate methods to work through his anxiety. Now, Oliver is back to school and feeling strong.

We launched the counseling outreach program in February 2017 in partnership with Grace United Methodist Church and Trinity/Los Americas United Methodist Church. Referrals also come from Free Clinics of Iowa and the Des Moines Public Schools. We are excited to grow the program to serve more children like Oliver, and we invite you to join us. Will you please give a gift to help more children and families access quality counseling?


If you have questions or ideas, please contact Terri Speirs, director of development and marketing at (515) 251-6670,

Thank you for your consideration!

(Name and identifying details have been changed to protect privacy.)

Let’s talk about grief

special to the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, September 2017

By Billie Wade

Billie Wade, writer

Grief, despite its proliferation in human life, is a taboo subject. We don’t like to see other people hurting, so we ply each other with platitudes of hope. Grief has a bad reputation, at least when it lasts more than a predetermined period. We appear strong as we handle the whirlwind of initial responsibilities. After that, we’re expected to bounce back, buck up, get over it, and get on with our life. Bereaved people are perceived to be in a state of weakness.

Within days of the loss, we are expected to be back in the full swing of life as we begin our adjustment to a “new “normal. Friends and family members no longer stop by or call to check on us or invite us to coffee or dinner. We no longer hear the words, “Let me know if you just need to talk.” They observe, “She’s so strong. Her husband passed away a month ago, she’s returned to work, and she’s looking great!” “Well, you know, his wife was sick for a long time. He’s probably relieved.” “She’s so vibrant and savvy. She’ll have a new job in no time.”

People referring to grief typically are talking about the loss of a loved one, but grief encompasses so much more. Other losses may be just as devastating, and wreak as much havoc in our lives. Grief can happen in minute quantities that we may not notice consciously. Some losses may be almost imperceptible and bind to existing losses, forming a tangled ball of grief. I grieved the loss of my auburn-brown hair as it gave way to mixed gray, which in reality was the grieving of the loss of my youth and an acknowledgment of years of hard experiences and choices.

Grief in everyday life can’t be overlooked or de-emphasized, but it can be over-simplified. Various “experts” have laid out identifiable phases of grief: shock, numbness, denial, bargaining, anger, depression, sadness, and acceptance, characterized by a host of predictable and observable signs and symptoms. Cut-and-dried stages, while useful for research and treatment protocols, fall short of capturing individual experience and rob the griever of valuable support, insight, and transformation. An undercurrent of deeper meaning flows in spite of the phase. The woman grieving the loss of her job may be grappling with issues of identity, trust, faith, shame, and fear of an uncertain financial future. The man grieving the loss of his wife or partner may be battling overwhelming feelings of guilt, regret, the loss of partnership, and lack of direction. People grieving the loss of a pet may be feeling the emptiness of the companionship and no longer caring for another living being.

When we reach the “destination” of acceptance, we supposedly are healed and ready to move on with life. But, we humans don’t neatly fit into prescribed categories, and grief is rarely precise and tidy. We may ping-pong among the various phases, we may feel several simultaneously, or we may skip some entirely. The gamut of attendant feelings and the manner in which each person traverses them are as unique as fingerprints.

Acceptance means seeing a situation as it is, and knowing that it, and the people involved, won’t change. We need time and support to adjust to our new normal. Grief catapults us into previously unknown territory and requires a new language. Acceptance is a process that unfolds as we face each new day. We may integrate acceptance into our lives, several times. Or, we may bounce off acceptance like a force field. For instance, we may feel anger, sadness, and acceptance all at the same time. We may find ourselves at different points of the grief continuum in multiple situations.

Every experience of grief differs from its predecessor. My sister, my mother, and my partner died within a thirteen month period, my mother and partner ten weeks apart. I grieve each of them differently, but no less intensely, as they each played a different role in my life. I love them all for different, but no less important, reasons. Their lives brought value to mine in unique ways.

We need to be wary when someone tries to stuff us into a phase, or ridicules or discounts us about where we are in our grief. We feel what we feel when we feel it. Several years ago I grieved my father as he suffocated over a two-year period from lung cancer, emphysema, and asthma. Therapists and counselors call this “anticipatory grief.” A friend of mine was adamant that I couldn’t grieve my father ahead of his passing. He couldn’t understand that I was grieving the relationship that I could never establish with my father, in addition to watching him die slowly. I had been grieving the physical and emotional absence of my father my whole life, and those feelings intensified with his impending death. I appeared stoic at my father’s visitation, which my friend deemed inappropriate. He subsequently ended our relationship because I was “doing it wrong.”

The grief I have experienced was in addition to and different from the bouts of depression and anxiety I live with on a daily basis. I benefitted from honoring the directives of my body—eating and sleeping when I needed to rather than trying to adhere to a rigid schedule, maintaining my social support system and continuing with professional counseling. I learned what was right for me. For awhile, I needed a specific time to go to bed and to get up in the mornings. That schedule gave me a sense of control when everything else felt out of control. I took naps when I needed to without setting the alarm.

Grief is a universally human process. All grieving deserves respect and compassion, from ourselves as well as from others, no matter how insignificant it may seem.

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.

The gift of counseling

special to the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, July 2017

By Billie Wade

Billie Wade

Counseling is a gift accessible to most people who want to explore and transform their lives. My experience with the gift of counseling spans several decades as a client as well as a seven-year stretch during which I sat in the counselor’s chair as a chemical dependency treatment counselor. I was a counselor in counseling, which is imperative. Counseling provides a safe place to explore my inner world and help me reframe the outer world. Counseling is a gift I receive on my journey of self-discovery. Counseling frees me to voice my deepest thoughts, confront my most pressing problems, and receive feedback, encouragement, guidance, support, and reflection.

The eldest of three children, I grew up in a turbulent home. At age thirteen, I wanted counseling, but my mother refused, thinking counseling was for “crazy” people. My family doctor prescribed “nerve pills.” Shortly after my fifteenth birthday, I experienced a miscarriage. I graduated from high school at age seventeen and married a year later. At the age of twenty-two, I attempted suicide. My husband ridiculed me. The medical staff in the emergency room told me not to do it again and sent me home. In my mid-twenties, my doctor diagnosed me with clinical depression. Thus, began my rounds with counseling and medication.

Counseling helps me detangle the tightly woven threads of confusion and shame that I’ve protected for years. Counseling helps me face the challenges as I confront the issues of my life. Counseling helps me gain clarity about the events of my life. I can see options as I learn to look at my life from a new vantage. Talking with someone I trust helps me see a problem as it is. Unless I share my thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and opinions, they go unchecked. I think I am right and I may be wrong, very wrong. My counselor validates my process by encouraging me to explore my experiences and feelings.

Counseling has carried me through many difficulties. Family of origin. A difficult marriage, and divorce. The birth of my child. My return to school as an adult learner. A career change. Loss of two jobs. Loss of identity. Grad school. Forced retirement. The deaths of my parents, sister, and partner. I could not have walked those dark hallways alone. I’ve needed a nonjudgmental person who could see all of me, help me recognize patterns and blind spots, and cheer me on in my growth.

Counseling has helped me see other people differently as I bring my own life and behaviors into perspective. I more readily see that we all have something to offer each other. People I find abrasive or unpleasant may hold valuable lessons for me if I give them the opportunity. Likewise, I have wisdom and insight to share. I am now more prone to consider the difference between responsibility and fault.

I have learned to respect my needs. Despite societal messages to the contrary, seeking professional counseling takes courage. It takes courage to look in the mirror and accept that we need the guidance, support, and encouragement of another person. It takes courage to pick up the phone and stay on the line long enough to say, “I need to make an appointment.” It takes courage to show up the first time. It takes courage to lay one’s life in the lap of a stranger.

My journey led me to the door of Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center when the organization was on Ingersoll, then to Westown Parkway, and finally to the present location. Most recently, the Center has seen me through the past four years as I faced life-changing losses on several fronts.

I am grateful for the gifts of counseling and the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. Peace to everyone.

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.

When you can’t do it alone

Carol Bodensteiner is an award winning author, and a member of the 2017 Women Helping Women committee.

Special to The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

By Carol Bodensteiner

If you’re at all like me, you feel you should be able to handle what life throws your way. Sure we know we’re going to hit bumps in the road, but even when we go down, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, as the song goes, and start all over again.

My sense of how to handle life comes from my German and English heritage. From my mother’s side, I inherited the well known English traits of ‘stiff upper lip,’ and ‘keep calm and carry on.’ From my father’s side, I acquired the German ability to work hard and solve my own problems.

These traits served me well throughout my life. Successful career. Raising a son. Marriage – divorce – marriage. No challenge I couldn’t tackle. If I just put my head down and kept moving forward, all would be fine.

Until it wasn’t.

When my mother died in August 2007, it was a shock because she was healthy. Even though Mom was 91, her death seemed in the order of things. But when my sister died by suicide less than nine months later, I was knocked off balance. Within the following 18 months, two close cousins and my mother’s sister also passed away. Then my husband and I hit a rough spot in our marriage.

The magnitude of such significant losses in such a short time, as well as the threat to my marriage, shook the earth I stood on. Who was I without those people who raised and shaped me? How would I manage if my second marriage crumbled? I questioned everything and everyone, from my church, to the values I was raised with, to who I was and who I wanted to be.

Believe it or not, I thought I could still manage on my own. One foot in front of the other. Keep moving ahead. After all, what else can you do?

Except I wasn’t okay. When my husband lost his footing on a ladder and wound up in the emergency room with a broken ankle, I realized I was done. Life was ‘piling on,’ and I couldn’t take it anymore.

In a rare moment of open sharing, I unloaded my anxiety on a friend. She recommended the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. Even though I’d known about the Center for years, counseling is never my first thought. It’s not the way I was raised.

Yet I had nothing left and I knew it. I made an appointment. Then another and another.

Soft spoken and caring, my counselor helped me walk through the present-day trials, even as she teased out relevant factors from my childhood, my relationship with my parents, and my first marriage that contributed to the pit I found myself in.

As a writer, I process things by writing about them. I approached the counseling sessions the same way. Notebook on my lap, pen in hand, I recorded thoughts and words to consider later.

It is difficult to hear, to think, to talk, to write when you’re crying, which is what I did throughout most sessions. I needed to let it all go, and my counselor let me. Without judgment. Mostly she asked questions, forcing me to examine my own self. Periodically she suggested ways to think about a point and possible ways to move forward.

Above all, she gave me an unbiased, non-judgmental perspective, which I desperately needed. Over time I arrived in a better place.

I am grateful to the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center for offering a safe haven with talented counselors to help me and others through the rough spots, those times when even the most independent of us, in spite of our training and will, can’t go it alone.

Carol Bodensteiner is a writer who finds inspiration in the places, people, culture and history of the Midwest. After a successful career in public relations consulting, she turned to creative writing. She blogs about writing, her prairie, gardening, and whatever in life interests her at the moment. She published a memoir Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl in 2008. She indie published her debut novel Go Away Home in 2014. Go Away Home was acquired by Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon Publishing and re-launched in 2015.