An excellent drama is presented within the BBC video production, “Mountain Gorilla, Kingdom in the Clouds” involving a three-year-old baby gorilla abandoned by her mother in the mountains of the African Congo. The baby was part of a Gorilla troop, but ignored and forgotten by the other members. This is a very dangerous situation for an infant gorilla who is normally well tended by her mother until the age of five or later. The other mothers took their babies into the tree tops to nest for the night, leaving this baby alone on the cold ground. The leader of the Gorilla family is a massive male Silverback a powerful and dangerous animal exercising total control of the troop. He’s too heavy for the slender tree tops, so sleeps on the ground. His huge muscular body generates plenty of heat so he stays warm all night. Silverbacks are known to kill infant gorillas they don’t recognize; the Silverback is not one to trifle with. With this scenario the men observing and filming this group leave for the evening, concerned for the baby. The observers are not allowed to stay the night for their own safety. The men return the next morning and find the baby missing. As they search around they discover the baby snuggled up in the arms of the sleeping giant, lazing about in the cool morning. The 400 pound Silverback permitted the baby to approach and even accepted and adopted her thereafter. It’s a small part of the entire story, but a part with a striking and heart-warming message. Sometimes trusting is the only option left to one in need.

We all want to be independent, healthy and strong. But our situation and our fortune can change unexpectedly and often we’re not prepared for the change. The baby gorilla had to take a chance approaching the Silverback or perhaps die in the cold mountain night. Our circumstances may rarely be about life or death, but they could be. It is very common to face a puzzling array of confusing issues that may feel like a trap; there is just no apparent safe way to go. This is when we need to trust the help that is available. An empathetic, quarter-ton gorilla may not be the answer for us but like the wizened, experienced, powerful Silverback, a highly trained, experienced, empathetic person is often the dream come true for a person overwhelmed by circumstances. The therapists and counselors of Eastside Center for Families are able to shoulder the issues you might encounter that exceed your present limits. The professional skills and experience available to you to meet most any needs you may have recognize the trust you bring to the therapeutic session. Like the BBC video, our gorillas are strong, smart and deeply concerned with the care, protection and growth of those who come to us for help.

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How people make the decision to pick one counselor or program over another when seeking help seems to come down to one thing, does the therapist call you back.  If you are able to get a call back what to ask is the next step towards getting in to see if you like the person and their philosophy.

I am particularly sensitive to times when a person talks about their experience in seeing a therapist for the first time and leaving feeling like they drove into a cul-de-sac and came back to the point they started.  No doubt it is frustrating to look for someone, fill out the paperwork, make time in your day to go to an appointment, get there and discover it feels all wrong and you cannot believe all you went through for very little.

I am a pragmatist, for the most part, and it seems to me that word of mouth is a helpful way to choose someone who has helped a friend. But is that the best approach to choosing a counselor? What worked for a friend may have very little applicability as it relates to personality, the issue at hand as well as availability.

One thing to help with this is to ask a counselor if they would talk with you by phone for a few minutes giving you an opportunity to screen him or her.  Preparing a list of questions before the call is essential when speaking to the average busy therapist.  In my case I schedule phone appointments for this purpose for 15 minutes to help us both figure out if the issue that a person is seeking resolve for is something I can help.  Questions about training that you may find helpful include:

•How many years has the person practiced their approach?

•Do they receive supervision for their services from a more experienced and skilled therapist on a regular basis (monthly is very common)?

•How did they come to find this approach (their life experience led them, a friend who had the issue, etc)?

•Why do they find the approach helpful?

•How do they address the problem of a client not improving, do they have a time frame they work in, do they give you a referral, will they inquire about what is being done outside of sessions to improve the outcome)?

One approach to choosing a counselor is to screen for someone with the same beliefs as you.  Getting validation from a like minded professional can sometimes be the most valuable help of all in a time when you are feeling wobbly about what you are doing.  You may be approaching something effectively but if self doubt is eroding your confidence getting time to discuss your situation discreetly can be a valuable form of support.

Another approach is to find someone with a different way of seeing things or with training in a specific area in which you can learn something different from what you’ve tried.  Like the years spent in school, we learn new things that give us information to examine our own beliefs and challenge the notion of “that’s the way it’s always worked.”

Would you be willing to take a moment to pause?    Take a deep breath….then think for a moment about how you make choices. Take another pause and breathe again.  Ask yourself these questions:

1. What component of your dilemma is causing you to look for help?
2. How will you know you are accomplishing your goals?
3. What outcome you are seeking?

Laura J. Halford

compassion fatigue

In doing a little research recently, I came upon a site that talked about Mother Teresa’s philosophy on the work of helping others.  Her plan indicated that she understood compassion fatigue based on her recommendation that her nuns take a year off from their work every five years to allow them time to heal from their work of care giving.

The effects of living with someone who suffers from a mental health disorder, substance use disorder or is otherwise ailing can become debilitating for the care giver.  The effects of providing compassionate care to another person year after year can eventually begin to negatively affect the caregiver.  Like the build up of a relapse, compassion fatigue is a process that over time accumulates to the point of exhaustion emotionally and physically.  This buildup can eventually result in a state of numbness that short circuits an otherwise caring and loving person’s ability to fully experience emotion and feel connected to others

How does a person know if they are at risk?  To the degree that an individual is exposed to situations that over power one’s ability to cope or that cause strong reactions on a repeated basis are indicators of the need to maintain a plan for self care.  Signs of compassion fatigue include the following:

  • Feeling exhausted
  • Having little tolerance for others and becoming irritated easily
  • Becoming overly involved with others
  • Feeling as though little is accomplished but working harder than ever
  • Feeling ill and/or having physical pain
  • Wanting to avoid work
  • Feeling disconnected from others
  • Upon waking the feeling as if you did not sleep
  • Stress response to situations that feels traumatic
  • Difficulty with boundaries with others and with one’s self
  • Becoming indifferent or lacking compassion for others

Tips to help:

 

  • Find a confidante or therapist and talk to them regularly
  • Write a daily gratitude list
  • Look for fun activities and hobbies and do them
  • Take vacations and mini getaways
  • Eat healthfully
  • Exercise daily
  • Meditate
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or using drugs to take off the edge
  • Identify personal strengths
  • Take daily breaks to step out of the situation, breath, wash your hands, walk the block, stretch
  • Acknowledge your on feelings

 

 

 

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