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Men for Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Billie Wade, writer

To read more of Billie’s blogs – click HERE

Kathy Reardon – pioneer and educator

Dr. Jeff Means, licensed psychologist

(Back to Kathy Reardon tribute home page)

by Jeff Means, Ph.D., M.Div., licensed psychologist at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

As a pioneer and educator, Kathy brought new energy and vision to the Center. Over the many years we worked together, I came to respect Kathy’s centered sense of purpose, the compassion with which she listened deeply and intently to the longing spirits of those she served, and her strong and resilient character that would aid her in reinventing herself several times throughout her career. Kathy made these traits visible through her practice with individuals who sought her out, and they were expressed more widely throughout the Center as she took on the roles as a persuasive and tenacious advocate, relentless recruiter and perceptive translator.

I first met Kathy when Ellery Duke invited me to join him for a breakfast meeting with her at the Village Inn on University Avenue in West Des Moines. As I recall, Kathy had recently returned from a retreat with the Benedictine Sisters of Erie – one of her sacred places, and a place to which she would periodically return for strength and renewal. The purpose of the meeting was to learn more about Kathy and what her skills might bring to the Center’s work and mission.

In her vocational life, Kathy transitioned from her work as a Registered Nurse and counselor to a focus on wholistic healing, with training in Healing Touch and Spiritual Direction. Ellery and I came away from that meeting with a strong belief that Kathy’s background and perspective could benefit clients and enrich the clinical consultations among Center staff.

For a long time, Kathy faithfully attended case consultation and intake staffing groups advocating for a wholistic view of clients and their presenting problems. She stretched our thinking beyond more familiar psychological formulations. Her knowledge of energy work and the leading of the Spirit perplexed those of us steeped in psychological theory and traditional theology. Despite her skills at teaching and persuading, she faced the resistance of our implicit theoretical biases and the difficulty of opening our minds to how our clients could benefit from all she knew. Over time, the lack of counselor referrals from colleagues, and the lack of a felt sense of being valued as an equal part of the team, wore her down.

As pioneers do, when one path is blocked, they look for another route. Kathy took initiative as a relentless recruiter and mobilized her own referral base through the personal, professional, and religious networks she created. As clients came to see her at the Center, she helped them reflect on their human condition through her work as a Healing Touch practitioner and Spiritual Director. Kathy built a successful practice at the Center as her reputation blossomed as a respected teacher and wholistic practitioner. With her finely honed skills, Kathy provided comfort to those suffering from chronic pain and various health conditions, those struggling with life transitions, and those seeking a deeper spiritual life.

Through hard work, and her expanding knowledge and deepening commitment to Contemplative Spirituality, Kathy created the foundation for what, to my mind, was her major contribution to the Center’s life and mission – the development and subsequent institutionalization of PrairieFire. In collaboration with Kay Riley, Kathy brought the knowledge base and personal, contemplative practice experience needed to realize the vision of a non-therapeutic, group approach to rich personal growth and deepening spiritual development. She did this through the contributions she made to curricular content and teaching of the month-to-month didactic and experiential offerings of the program, her laser focus on the importance of the spiritual and personal growth of participants, her skill at building safe and sustaining communities of deep listening and mutual respect, and her persistent marketing and organizational skills.

Drawing upon the networks she had developed in the church and contemplative communities in Des Moines, Kathy’s relentless efforts at recruiting participants to the early offerings of PrairieFire were crucial to its wide success. Her skill at translating for folks the deeper spiritual longings that lay beneath many life difficulties and disappointments captured the imagination of people and made PrairieFire the amazing success it has achieved. Through sheer force of will, and her deeply held commitment to the growth and development of the spiritual lives of people, Kathy breathed life into a whole new dimension of the Center’s work. Because of the gift of herself, PrairieFire’s influence has grown well beyond the walls of the Center. Graduates now engage their respective communities in new ways, and an entirely new community of Spiritual Directors practice throughout the State.

As is often the case when Spirit takes the lead, none of us present in that first meeting at the Village Inn could have glimpsed what would actually lay ahead for Kathy’s work with us, or the many ups and downs her journey with us would take.  But the pioneering contributions she made are now etched into the soul of the Center, and they will continue to enrich many souls for a long time.

(back to Kathy Reardon tribute home page)

Kathy Reardon made the Center better

(back to the Kathy Reardon tribute home page)

by James E. Hayes, D.Min., executive director and spiritual director at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Kathy Reardon has made the Center better in many ways since she joined us in 2001. That’s why it was difficult for me to hear when she asked for some time last month to inform me that she planned to retire from the Center at the end of July 2020. Difficult to hear and yet I’m happy for her as this pandemic has helped her to discern the next chapter of her life and how she can continue to make a difference in the lives of others. She is already missed. Though she is retiring from the Center, she remains energized by her spiritual direction practice. She has found virtual meetings from her home cloister to be fruitful and she looks forward to continuing that practice. We look forward to her staying connected to the Center and being a resource for future inspirational offerings.

In typical Kathy fashion, she didn’t want to make a big deal about her retirement. Those who know her understand that she’s a contemplative at heart—and an introvert. Being the center of attention causes discomfort. Those who know her and how much she’s contributed to the Center also know that she has been a big deal in making a difference. She changed the way we serve by bringing her breadth of skills to the service of our mission. She created new services; changed our vocabulary as she helped us to understand words like “healing touch;” brought the heart of a prophet to our systems so that all might be treated with equal shares of love. I was privileged to experience many of her gifts in our short three years of working together. She helped me to understand this place as she asserted her leadership skills and gave me sound advice on issues that needed tending as I started my time as an executive director. She was a confidant when I needed advice on difficult decisions. She helped me to understand better what holistic healing means in our work. Most importantly, she helped me to grow in my own understanding of ultimate mystery through formal workshops and simple daily comments in the workplace that alerted us all to the depth of each moment in the context of the everlasting now. Thank you Kathy!

As my time with Kathy was not decades in length, I asked colleagues who had such tenure to share some thoughts about Kathy’s contributions.

From Susan Ackelson, former Center counselor who also retired recently:

Kathy brought a focus on the body and spirituality with her holistic nursing, healing touch and spiritual direction along with her training in mental health.  The body aspect was completely new for the Center and her work in helping us integrate this new aspect of holistic treatment was critical.  She helped us expand our knowledge of other therapeutic body practices by inviting practitioners of alternative health modalities to meet the staff.  She then initiated community education forums for our clients and community members to educate on alternative health modalities.  She also developed a holistic assessment tool for therapists to use in evaluating their clients. Kathy led a weekly meditation group for our staff for years. 

From Ellery Duke, licensed psychologist and former executive director:

I recall the breakfast meeting at Village Inn in 2001when Jeff, Eileen and I met with Kathy about the prospect of her joining the Center’s staff, doing spiritual direction and Healing Touch.  We of course wanted her to bring spiritual direction and Healing Touch to the Center’s growing interest in the integration of mind, body, and spirit healing.  Kathy brought her understanding of, and expression of healing based in her nursing and spiritual direction backgrounds.  Through the ideas of Kathy, Jeff Means, Kay Riley, and others, the highly regarded PrairieFire program was launched.  Over 100 have been trained through PrairieFire.  It was through Kathy’s ground-breaking work in spirituality at the Center that Diane McClanahan came on board to further expand the Center’s offerings in spirituality and ministry.  Kathy’s spirit-based, mindful approach to life has certainly shaped how the Center expresses its mission.  Thank you.

As the pandemic precludes any formal gathering, we hope to gather more such thoughts to celebrate Kathy’s contributions to our mission. Feel free to send your recollections and notes of gratitude to her directly. If you send them to the Center, we’ll make sure she gets those. At some point we hope to have an appropriate celebration for any who have retired in this age of pandemic.

If you are interested in honoring Kathy with a donation to the PrairieFire fund,  you may donate here.

With gratitude for the many people touched by Kathy’s work, we ask that she be blessed with abundant life as she begins this next chapter of her life’s story.


How To Choose a Therapist

Billie Wade, writer

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

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

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

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

Our list of therapists supporting adults

Our list of therapists supporting children and adolescents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more of Billie’s Blogs, click HERE.

Listening Within, Listening With Others – Live Online

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

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

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

Tuition: $50


Questions? Please email Andrea Severson at


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

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

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


What does a physician assistant do at the Center?

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



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

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

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

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

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

Click to fill out an Intake Form

Abigail Schiltz, PA-C

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

Freedom to Choose Our Attitude

Billie Wade, writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Billie Wade, writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be well. Be safe. Be at peace.

Healing is Hard Work

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

I am white.

I am the son of an auto mechanic.

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

I was a first generation college student and athlete.

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

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

I have benefited from my status as a white male.

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

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

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

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

We have work to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healing begins when each of us takes responsibility.

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

For Immediate Release

For more information contact
Terri Speirs, Director of Community Relations
cell: 515-770-5155

A virtual Women Helping Women event raises $201,000 to provide mental health services for women, children and families in need

Mary M. Riche, 2020 Women Helping Women Honoree (high resolution image)

May 21, 2020, Des Moines, Iowa – More than 450 guests participated in the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center’s 22nd annual Women Helping Women event which raised $201,000. Funds will support mental health counseling, education, training and other services that impact women, children and families who are underinsured or from low income households. The May 15 event was transformed from a ballroom luncheon format to a live, online program for the first time in the annual event’s two-decade history, due to the covid-19 pandemic.

Mary M. Riche was the 2020 event honoree. She was recognized for her work as a mental health therapist, community leader, pragmatic executive and for her long-standing support for vulnerable women. In her live remarks, Mary laced in photos of her garden as a metaphor for how to care for one another. Her message was clear: “While I am honored to stand here today, this event is not about me. Today is about the women, the girls, the families and all the Center’s clients, regardless of their ability to pay, who need these vital, mental health services.”

Jackie Servellon, 2020 Women Helping Women keynote speaker (high resolution image)

Jackie Servellon delivered the keynote speech, Wounded Healer: My Story of Surviving Violence, Seeking Help, and Creating Beauty. As a survivor of domestic violence that started in childhood, Jackie shared her journey of hope and healing. Her remarks included wisdom she’s learned through therapy: “You can’t ‘un-do’ violence. You can’t un-do memories of violence. And you can’t un-do the sadness that comes along with it either. Therapy isn’t a tool to ‘fix’ the broken, because we are not broken.” Jackie shared how art and community helps her to heal.

She continued: “Today, I am certain that we can raise enough funds to provide access for these families and survivors that do not have the financial support or resources so they can live a life that isn’t shattered by trauma response from abuse.”

“A very special thank you goes to our generous sponsors, donors, volunteers and event participants,” said Laurie Betts Sloterdyk, the Center’s director of development, “The community stepped up to help others, and we are grateful for the support.”

Since 1998 the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center’s Women Helping Women annual event has raised more than $1.4 million, providing access and care to thousands of women – a population who experience poverty, crime and abuse at disproportionately high levels – and children and families. The 2020 virtual program is available for replay at

The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center is a nonprofit organization with a mission to walk with people through counseling and education to find hope and healing, and to live a fulfilling life. The Center is one of the only providers in Greater Des Moines that serves people from all walks of life including those who are uninsured or underinsured.