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Beekeeping

In a recent class on beekeeping, I learned a few fascinating things about honey bees.
–The honey bee is the state insect of NC (and 17 other states).
–One hive can contain as many as 60,000 bees!
–They have 4 wings that hook to each other in pairs, like velcro.
–Healthy bees usually live 63 days before their wings wear out.
–Averaging 15 flights per day, they collect pollen from only one kind of flower per trip.
–Bees may collectively fly over 50,000 miles to collect enough nectar (from 2,000,000 flowers) to make one pound of honey. In its lifetime, the average worker bee may make 1/12 teaspoon of honey.
–Their internal clocks have 3 different timekeeping mechanisms.
–Their 5 eyes work like a GPS, using the sun to plot routes and know the time of day.
–They only sting when it is a life or death situation, because to sting is to die.

Honey, just of one of the natural products made by bees, is an ingredient in cosmetics. It keeps skin hydrated, prevents drying, lessens scarring, encourages the growth of new tissues, and prevents wound dressings from sticking to the skin.

Would you believe that therapy is a lot like keeping bees?

When beekeepers approach bee hives, they pay careful attention to everything about the hive, as therapists do their clients. Since every trip to a hive may be different, beekeepers, like therapists, take an “I don’t know” attitude, one of curiosity. Since I don’t have a crystal ball that tells me everything going on in someone’s life, I pay careful, gentle attention to what is said, how one sits and moves, and the emotions in the room. Beekeepers do the same thing, but they can calm things down using smoke! I have to use other means….

Just as it is the nature of bees to make honey, there is a built-in capacity in everyone for healing. It’s a good thing, too, since everyone has some sort of emotional, physical, mental or spiritual injury! As a pastoral psychotherapist, it is a joy to foster that capacity to heal by paying attention while clients make sense of traumas, work through depressions and/or anxieties, and come to terms with all sorts of losses.

The problem with tending bees, and going to counseling, is that there will be pain. Yep, honey comes at a price, no matter how adept and experienced the beekeeper is. When a bee stings, the beekeeper smarts, but the bee dies. Therapy can hurt when we relive a painful experience or face an uncomfortable truth. Sometimes it stings to give up a bad habit or attitude because we don’t know who we are without it. Perhaps it may hurt to face that someone has injured us and decide that it’s time to forgive. After going through the pain, however, we feel so much better.

I think honey & butter on hot waffles, with a side of sausage, is as good as it gets. All of the ingredients, however, cost someone something. Thank God for beekeepers, cowboys, and farmers; for clients and their therapists, all of whom give up something to get to the sweet stuff.

Robert Cooke
June 13, 2016

An Inclusive Mission

A counseling client came into my office recently and began the session by saying:

“This appointment could not have come at a better time. I am so disturbed by what is happening in the world right now. The political climate during this election season feels toxic to me. The conflict and ugliness over HB2 in North Carolina is deeply disturbing. I needed this hour to get some of these feelings out in a safe place.”

Two things struck me about these words. First, people seek counseling not only for personal or family issues. What happens in the world has a dramatic impact on our emotional wellbeing. Violence, cruelty, and discrimination get into our bodies like a virus infecting our tissues, even if we are not the ones being targeted directly. In the information age we are constantly aware of what is happening around us and sometimes that awareness creates anxiety, depression, and despair.

The other realization the client’s words brought to me was the fact that he saw TPC as a safe place to work out these feelings. While he could not know my specific political or social views, he did have the sense that he could express his concerns without fear of judgment.

The Mission Statement TPC has adopted for itself is a guiding light for how we choose to be present to our clients. Let me share it with you.

“The mission of TPC (Triangle Pastoral Counseling, Inc.) is to be a professional extension of the counseling ministries of the spiritual and faith communities of the Triangle area.

Because we believe that each person’s emotional and spiritual journeys are closely intertwined, we provide counseling, psychotherapy, consultation and education that integrate spiritual and psychological perspectives in our healing work.

In order to provide services of the highest quality, we are committed to:

-A professionally licensed and certified staff.
-A collegial working environment.
-Providing services to all who seek them while maintaining fiscal integrity.
-Making services available without regard to race, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or religious belief.”

This commitment to being inclusive in our mission is rooted in our professional ethic and our belief that people experience healing when they find a place where they will be understood and accepted for who they are.

TPC has been that kind of place for 40 years. We are committed to keeping it so.

–Jack McKinney

“Raising” by Denise Smith Cline

Mother’s yeast rolls. Once again I gather what I need to make them. Now that she is gone, I worry over the enigma of her recipes— for rolls, for child-rearing, for patience and kindness. The ingredients for rolls are simple enough. Warm water, flour, yeast, oil, an egg, a bit of salt and a touch of sugar for the rising. That’s what it says in my own handwriting on the recipe card. She dictated the recipe to me while she was stirring something else, her then-steady voice hinting at the first grade teacher she had been.

Even though the handwriting is mine, it baffles me now. I can barely recall what my life was like when it looked as my handwriting does on the card. Neat, confident, legible and suggesting the hope of a new wife, eager to learn and please, to master old, hard things like marriage and yeast rolls. But now the recipe card is stained from my many efforts, partial successes, utter failures.

Like the ingredients, some measurements are straightforward:
One egg.
Two packages of dry yeast.
And then the clarity disappears. “How much flour?” I’m sure
I asked. And the answer on the card reads as it always has, “Enough so that the spoon doesn’t stick.”

As a young woman writing on the card, I didn’t understand how narrow the path is between the soft dough of the right consistency and the dough of too dry, too much.

What does that mean, “doesn’t stick?” Doesn’t stick at all? What kind of spoon? A wooden spoon seems a good guess but there is a big difference between a wooden spoon and a silver one.
“Don’t worry about those small things,” she would say, a lesson in her tone. “Just add it till it seems right.”

When I could still call her and ask these questions, I did. But she often offered more
ambiguity: “Well, when it’s wet, you need more flour, and when it’s not, you need less.”
Once, covered in flour and flushed with frustration, I called in a panic. She could not look through the phone line and figure out what I had done or failed to do. But I knew she
understood my predicament.

Then she told me that as a young wife who could not even boil an egg, she tried to make Daddy a batch of biscuits for his birthday.
“I don’t know what got into me, thinking I could go from nothing to biscuits, but I was young and dumb,” she laughed.

She told me she had used her own mother-in-law’s recipe, but put in a quarter cup of soda in instead of a quarter teaspoon. After tasting the dough, she rushed to bury it in the back yard before he came home. By late afternoon, the biscuits had risen so much Daddy found them peeping out of their shallow grave when he went out to feed the dog.

We both laughed at that baking story, and now I think she was trying to tell me: Sometimes there is too little. Sometimes there is too much. Sometimes when we try to bury our mistakes they rise up from the grave. And sometimes we can laugh at that.

A mother to five, she had the same gentle ease raising children. “Let them play,” she would say when I tried to enforce strict schedules with my own children. I despaired at
mothering when my own 13-year old daughter did what she was supposed to do and suddenly became my most devastating critic. Mother listened and offered advice for bakers and mothers alike: “Honey,” she said, “It’s not personal and it’s not permanent. “

Other times, she tried to soften that most difficult answer—that there is not one. But how do I go forward when the yeast is stale, the water won’t warm? Must I stay in this dry job? Do I leave this sometimes kind man? Most essentially, how will I know?

I remember her frail, thin hand tightly clasping my own, her nails polished a rosy pink even to the end of her days. Her answer: “I don’t know. But you do.”

And yet I don’t, and the boxes I brought back when we cleared out her house are still stacked in my own attic. I held out hope that in those boxes, filled with paper and drying relics of her full life, there would be further guidance, her own handwritten recipe. Instead I find clippings of us all, Daddy’s successes, our school plays, printed programs from decades of garden club and Circle meetings, letters from her sisters.

So many things I failed to ask. How to forgive, to dissolve years-old lumps of betrayal and arrogance I’ve held onto, mine and others? How to move beyond big and little failures and exhaustion and keep rising as she did? “This is the day the Lord
hath made, rejoice and be glad in it” she would say as we groaned awake on Saturday mornings

I weep to remember the times I made her cry—I was sassy, selfish, and now, it seems to me, young and cold. Perhaps she knew it wasn’t personal, wasn’t permanent.

And so today, I pour in the flour—a lot because it’s damp—and stir, enough so that on the third or fourth try, the spoon, wooden this time, mostly doesn’t stick. The result is yeasty and warm and the smell calls up memories of her and all that she did to try to explain the unexplainable. I set the bowl on the back of the stove and watch it rise.

-Denise is a member of the Board for TPC.

Thoughts for the New Year

My father was a good preacher. He didn’t like everything about being a Southern Baptist pastor, but he loved chewing on ideas and crafting good sermons out of them. About a month before he died, he gave me a sermon idea. “It’ll preach!” His eyes lit up as he told me. “But I won’t have time to preach it, so I want you to have it.”

This gift of his idea was as precious to me as an heirloom pocket watch or a lucky rabbit’s foot. It was a part of him – one of the best parts. “The idea I’ve been working on is the difference between two words. They sound almost identical, but they are worlds apart, and the one you choose will make all the difference.

These two words are EXPECTATION and EXPECTANCY. “There is a huge difference,” he explained, “between a life lived with expectation and one lived with expectancy.” These hold the key to whether your life will be marred by disappointment or surprised by joy.

EXPECTATION is heavy, burdensome, a narrowing field of possibility. We come up with a belief about The Way Life Should Be. And then if that belief is not realized we are left bitter, resentful, let down once again. This attitude can infect everything from a simple meal to a whole relationship. If the turkey is dry, the whole Thanksgiving is a bust. If we do not have the 2 successful kids, the white picket fence and the hefty IRA, then we are failures.

The antidote to this poisonous thinking is found in EXPECTANCY. This describes a state of wonder, of relentlessly fresh curiosity. EXPECTANCY is expansive: it is wide and spacious, characterized by openness and flexibility. When we are not insisting on the way life should be, we do not feel terribly disappointed when it is hard, and we are much more apt to be delighted when things go well. When we are not focused on the way other people should be, we are much more likely to experience intimacy with a true “other.”

The brilliant dancer and choreographer, Agnes de Mille said, “Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know too much, you begin to die a little.” So, in this new year, I invite you to put EXPECTATIONS aside as often as you can – do not overburden your life or your loved ones with them. Instead, experiment with a stance of EXPECTANCY, in which each day is a surprise gift to be unwrapped, and each person is someone who is worthy of wonder.

Suzanne W. Luper, LPC
January 2016

Goodbye, TPC

As I write this blog entry, I am less than two weeks away from my retirement from TPC. I’ve been here for the last fifteen years of my working life. What a great place to work it has been!
A couple of years ago I wrote something here about the nature of pastoral counseling, drawing on my personal experience of it as a client. I’m still working on the question and I’ve decided to take another brief run at it, as a way of saying goodbye.

No one has a monopoly on the name “pastoral counselor.” My experience with pastoral counseling has been under the aegis of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. AAPC was founded in the 1960’s in response to the small but growing presence of pastoral counselors and pastoral counseling centers in communities across the country. The practitioners and educators who started the organization did so in order to bring professional standards and accountability to this movement, and to promote the training of pastoral counselors.

AAPC has always been non-sectarian and open to clergy of all faiths, although Protestant Christians started the organization and have continued to make up the bulk of the membership. We are people of faith, but we do not push faith or religion on anyone or seek conversions from one faith to another.

So the question arose early on, “What distinguishes pastoral counselors from other practitioners of psychotherapy?” We’ve answered it in various ways over the years. Earlier this year I began to formulate an answer I haven’t heard before elsewhere.

I was reading an article in a journal I take. The article consisted of an interview of Paul Ornstein in celebration of his ninetieth birthday. Paul Ornstein was a student and later an interpreter of Heinz Kohut, the psychological theorist who has most influenced me. At one point the interviewer asked Dr. Ornstein about his approach to clinical supervision of practitioners in training in connection with a core therapeutic skill, difficult to teach. He responded as follows:

How do we…teach therapists how to imaginatively feel and think their way into their patient’s world? …[F]irst, we portray it for the trainee by being empathic with him or her; second, we ask questions that guide the learner to focus on his or her experience with the patient and articulate the meaning of these experiences; third we demonstrate how we attempt to put ourselves in the patient’s shoes, using all that the learner has presented to us….*

When I read this, I thought, “This is exactly how I try to teach my clinical supervisees this core skill.” Later, as I thought about the interview, I was thinking how much I had in common with Dr. Ornstein and his interviewer in approach to both practice and clinical supervision. At the same time, I realized I would not be able to use this interview to fully describe what my work as a pastoral counselor and trainer of pastoral counselors has been about.

The difference has to do with the field of vision in view. As a pastoral counselor I have in view the whole of a person’s experience–including its spiritual dimensions. This, I believe, is the distinctive mark of pastoral counseling as I have known it and tried to practice and teach it. This field of vision is not unique to pastoral counselors. Many practitioners of other stripes share it. However, it is the field of vision that all pastoral counselors share.

So pastoral counseling, as I have known it, is not defined by a particular psychological theory, a particular faith stance or particular methods, practices or techniques. It is defined by a field of vision that includes the spiritual dimensions of our humanness. If you come to see one of us, you can count on this.

*Quoted from International Journal of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology 10: 2 (April/June, 2015), p. 100.

David C. Verner, Ph.D.
December 2015

What’s your story?

Stories are important, vital to who we are and what we will become. Stories are agents of grace and hope. Stories reveal our emotions of joy and happiness. They are also our pathways to and through pain and grief. If you think about it, it’s why there are toasts to the bride and groom at our weddings. It’s why there are eulogies at our funerals. All of these are the stories we share of those whom we love. Through our stories we give life to the persons and experiences that have sustained our own lives in some way. We give immortality to that which deserves to live forever.

I have spent much of my adult life in ministries that involves pastoral counseling. Through the years I have come to realize that I have a “catchphrase”, a method to get at what a person might be feeling or experiencing. Three simple words posed as a question.

What’s your story?

And, with patience and sometimes emotional pain, the stories come. Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Our individual stories are important. There’s a tremendous risk when a family or community doesn’t share its stories from generation to generation. The risk is having something fragmented or splintered where our children lack appropriate identity forming experiences.

The blessing of story-telling in a family as well as a community is sharing in something holistic, meaningful, deep-rooted, and dynamic, that is, it has movement toward the future even as the stories are in the past.

Stories can drive us and connect us in ways that are meaningful and dynamic.

Some of our stories are complicated and in need of untangling. We lead complicated lives. And without working through our stories, we run the risk of losing or missing something of great importance.

In my own experience, people had so many stories to tell about my grandfather. They helped me “untangle” who he was.

Consider the following story, a reflection I wrote a number of years ago when I held and experienced a memorial of my grandfather.

I held my grandfather’s wallet the other night. It is black leather and worn smooth from a few years’ use. Curiously, I held it in my hands a moment or two before exploring its contents. I saw his membership card to the National Letter Carriers’ Association as well as the receipts for the annual dues he’d paid. I read a notice raising his salary to just above $5,800 a year. In his own handwriting, he’d filled out the “In case of an emergency” card to say: Mrs. Hazel C. Newell. I saw pictures of her and their three sons. He also carried there his driver’s license and social security card.

I imagined it was the same wallet he’d used when buying his three sons each an Almond Joy as a gift upon his return from World War II. I wondered if that was the same wallet from which he took his tithe to the Clark Street United Methodist Church. I speculated further that this money pouch was never really used as a place to hold his money, but was used to hold pieces of his identity.

I held in my warm hands links to a person I’d never met. He died before I was born, but he was most definitely someone I knew. From my early years as a child, I was told story after story about the character of my grandfather – the veteran, the church leader, the coach. Introducing me to him, folks would say, “I played ball for your grandfather. He was a fine man.” I held in my hands something that had been in his hands the last day he lived. That day he got up, got ready for work, wound his watch and put his wallet in his pocket. He went off to deliver the day’s mail and was killed when another vehicle smashed into his mail truck. It was then, perhaps, that his wallet was taken from his pocket to notify his nearest kin.

On that Thanksgiving night, the same wallet that was pulled from my grandfather’s lifeless body was now in my hands telling his stories one more time.

You see, that same experience wouldn’t have been the same without family members and family friends, my baseball coaches, Sunday School teachers, and countless others. Without them, I would have never known about my grandfather.

But, because of them and the value of sharing and understanding story, I am able to to say, that although I never met my grandfather, Melvin Newell, but I most definitely know him in deep and meaningful ways.

So, what’s your story?

Dialectics: The Power of “And”

It is amazing how human language shapes our reality.  I want to share with you a small, but incredibly significant word- a word that can join together two seemingly contradictory experiences, expand our reality and bring us infinitely closer to the truth. This word is “and.”

Most of us live in a limited world of “either/or” without even knowing it.  Either we are successful or we are not. Either we are hard working, or we are not trying hard enough. Either it is our responsibility, or it is someone else’s. Either you love the person, or you do not. Either you are sorry or you don’t care.  A lot of energy and frustration is expended trying to rationalize our behavior, feelings and beliefs to fit one or the other. A patient first illustrated the power of “and” for me in a group demonstration in which she was asked to deliver effective criticism: “Jonathan, you are a wonderful employee AND I really need you to arrive on time to your shift.” There was no “but, you really need to …” which would have negated the initial compliment. Instead, these two seemingly opposing statements were joined together: Jonathan is a good employee and a valued member of the staff. He has also been late three times in a row, which is a legitimate problem. Both things are true. I encourage you to use this strategy in delivering criticism- it works quite nicely.

Dialectics are a foundational principle of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). The primary dialectic is “acceptance and change.” No matter who we are, we at all times, must balance acceptance of ourselves as we are with the need and desire to change.  We live into this tension with ourselves, as well as those we love. I have been amazed at how liberating, and validating, it is to join contradictory statements together. For example, “This is really hard, and I’m doing it”  …. “You are right and I am right”  …. “It is not my fault that x happened to me, and it is my responsibility to deal with it.” You can discover dialectics in any area of opposition – from Congress to your relationship with your family or yourself. So, the next time you find yourself in gridlock, try to name the dialectic and explore the expansion of a deeper, richer truth.

 

“Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

-Rumi

Elizabeth Harrison, MSW, LCSW

October 2015

Celebrating 40 Years

On September 15, TPC (formerly Triangle Pastoral Counseling) will celebrate 40 years serving the Triangle Area. Since our earliest days, TPC has been an extension of the faith communities of the Triangle Area. While some think that spirituality in behavioral and mental health is a new concept, TPC always welcomed the integration of spirit, mind and body.

If you take a moment and consider how the landscape of the faith communities has changed in the last 40 years, you might say it is a miracle that TPC is still around.

Originally a counseling center affiliated with Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, TPC has evolved with the needs of the diverse, international triangle community. We strive to welcome those of all faiths and spirituality. The staff is licensed in social work, professional counseling, psychology, as well as our original focus, pastoral counseling. All staff members are comfortable welcoming the faith/spiritual story of the client and exploring together how that part of their story informs the rest of their life.

Attention to spirituality and community does not end at the door of the counseling room. The staff of TPC, both administrative and therapeutic, works to care for one another. We invite honesty and good work.  The belief is that how we work together as an organization extends to the spirit of our center.  Our clients can tell that we care for them and for each other.

Currently TPC has 11 counselors and logs between 7500 – 9000 hours a year in client care. In 2014 12.1% of our client care was at or below minimum fee. 3.5% of that 12.1% were pro bono hours. As a non-profit, TPC offers sliding scale for payment and does have some client aid funds supported by donations.  As a 501(c) (3) donations are accepted and tax deductible.

Just as TPC has expanded its vision of being an extension of the faith communities of the Triangle, it has also expanded in size. The main office is at 312 W. Millbrook Road, Suite 109. We have doubled in office size in the last 12 years. TPC also has three satellite offices, one in Clayton, Chapel Hill and midtown Raleigh.

Radical Acceptance

The DBT concept of Radical Acceptance  (or how to quit your job skillfully)

Dr. Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), repeatedly uses the phrase “pain plus non-acceptance equals suffering.”

Most of us know a thing or two about the additional suffering that non-acceptance causes. At some point or another, we have all found ourselves gritting our teeth through life. For me, it was a job I had once. I still remember where I was when I learned that I had been passed up for the promotion I so desperately wanted. “Devastated” just does not do my feelings justice. I know intimately the urge to storm out, tell my boss off and scream “I quit!” Somehow, I managed to bite my tongue, but it was all I could do to just get through the days. Often I would burst into tears in the parking lot. Rinse, wash, repeat. This went on for weeks. I was stuck.

Enter Radical Acceptance.

Fortunately, I was teaching DBT at the time and during the radical acceptance module, I took a long hard look at myself. I recognized all the signs of non-acceptance: I was fighting. I was exhausted. I was suffering.

So what is Radical Acceptance?  Radical Acceptance is the concept of fully accepting, from deep within, full and total reality. Linehan defines it as “letting go of fighting reality.” Note that acceptance is not agreement and it is not about complacency. It is more like “acknowledgement”…it is about finding truth, not about liking it. There is nothing polyannaish about this practice. It is hard to acknowledge our pain and hurt, but it is actually the first step towards change and learning to bear pain skillfully. For those of us who have created our own versions of non-acceptance suffering, Linehan writes, “acceptance is the only way out of hell.”

For me, it looked something like this: “There are parts of my job that I love and there are considerably more parts of my job that I do not like. I do not feel valued in my current position and I have more to offer than I am allowed to give here.”  Truth washed over me and I breathed easier.

As I repeated this phrase, a heaviness was lifted and I began to see things in a new way. I began to see the problem as a goodness of fit issue as opposed to some grave injustice. Perhaps most importantly, I began to dream about what opportunities existed out there that would be a better fit. Slowly, I became unstuck. The next few months on my days off, I set up coffee dates with leaders in my field and became involved in meaningful organizations. Surprisingly, in the meantime, I enjoyed my current job more because I was no longer angry- because I was no longer trying to make it into something it was not. I had accepted it for what it was: a job. It was not my career and it certainly was not an indicator of my worth.  When I did find my dream job, I gave the appropriate notice and left with a glowing recommendation. Today, I have a wonderful working relationship with them and I can appreciate them as an excellent organization, for whom I was simply not a good fit.

I am forever grateful that I did not storm out mid-shift.

For additional information on Radical Acceptance and DBT: http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/radical_acceptance_part_1.html

Elizabeth Harrison, LCSW-A

June 2015

 

A Word About Gratitude

I am currently stenciling the following quote on a wall in my house: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.” The quote, by Cicero, is over 2000 years old. But it is not at all dated!

Today the most cutting edge neuroscience is showing us why this centuries old saying is true. An article called “The Grateful Brain,” by Alex Korb, Ph.D., explains the research done on gratefulness and its impact on our brains. Evidently gratitude stimulates the regions of the brain associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine. These might otherwise be known as “reward centers,” because dopamine makes us feel fantastic.

Studies show that keeping a daily gratitude journal significantly increases energy, attention and enthusiasm. Even in studies where people made only weekly journal entries, they showed greater optimism and a reduction in physical ailments. Gratitude has been linked to lower levels of depression and anxiety and to markedly improved sleep.

I often suggest to clients that they end each day by thinking back through their day and writing down 3 things for which they are grateful. These things can be very small, such as, “I’m grateful that I had a good bowl of soup for lunch, or, “I’m grateful for the warmth of my coat.” You can’t get it wrong – anything counts!

What a wonderful time to consider taking on a new habit – one that is free, simple and bound to improve your mental, spiritual and physical health. Start a gratitude journal. My hope is that your year will be rich and abundant with this greatest of virtues.

Suzanne Luper, M.Div.
January 2015