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By The Rev. Dr. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA Executive Director


A favorite detective show recently got me thinking about how misunderstood counseling is in so many people’s minds. The detective’s partner had been shot and killed. Recognizing the detective’s growing rage, his supervisor kept bugging him to see the department therapist. The detective delayed, saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m gonna do it.” But he never did.


Confiding to his new partner he said, “I don’t need any of that psychobabble crap! What am I supposed to do, talk about it, and that’s supposed to make it better? My partner’s dead!” The new partner replied, “It made me better.” The detective looked at him, shook his head, and said, “Probably because you’re a headcase already. Not me!”


Dismissing therapy after trauma has been a familiar theme on television and film for decades. It’s an easy target because most people don’t really know what happens in counseling. Unlike regular medical care where we and others can see tests, procedures, and treatments, in counseling, healing takes place privately, behind closed doors.


Yet counselors are as skilled as any in the medical field. They use a combination of scientifically proven techniques and artfully crafted skills. Counseling practices are rooted in empirical studies demonstrating what works best, but counselors are also students of human thinking, emotion, and behavior. They’ve devoted their lives to understanding people and relationships.


So, what really takes place behind the therapeutic walls?


First, counselors focus on building trust. Before any real healing can take place, a client needs to trust his or her therapist. So, the first few sessions are devoted to building a trusting relationship. It explains why you’ll hear some dismissively say, “Yeah, I went to therapy for a few sessions. It didn’t do anything for me!” Of course, it didn’t. The therapist was mostly listening in order to build trust.


The person coming to counseling is struggling with issues built on decades of accumulated pain and struggles. These can’t be fixed in two or three sessions, and the more resistant someone is to counseling the longer it takes to build a trust deep enough to go deep.

Next, counselors explore with us. The deep work of counseling is exploring—exploring present problems, past experiences, and possible futures. Exploring someone’s past is hard work because memories aren’t factual. They’re emotional. It takes time to sift through how past events have shaped and even misshaped our present lives. Counselors identify how these experiences have created emotional and mental reactions to triggers, and how they’ve formed unhealthy actions and habits.


Counselors also explore possible new futures by helping people reimagine what a different life might look like They help us detach from painful pasts and unhealthy thoughts that have led to bad choices and explore better choices for a happier life. Then they help us consider healthy futures.

Finally, counselors help us reconfigure our lives. They help us change our thinking and doing so we can realize a new future. Reconfiguring is extremely difficult work because it’s so easy to feel trapped by the decisions we’ve made and the lives we’ve lived. We may have to end a toxic relationship and embrace a new path that’s unfamiliar and scary. Maybe we’ll have to leave a job or vocation to take on an unaccustomed, healthier one. Maybe we’ll need to let go of unhealthy, addictive habits and to form seeming alien, healthier ones. Maybe we’ll have to change how we remember and regard ourselves, our pasts, the people in our lives, and the world around us so that we can see everything and everyone, including ourselves, in a renewed light.


All of this takes time. It takes building strong relationships with counselors, exploring past and future, and then making decisions to change lives.


What we’re so proud of at Samaritan is that we are a center of highest quality counselors who heal from the highest levels of compassion, commitment, and competency. I hope this helps you understand what we do.


Be blessed.


The Rev. Dr. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA

Executive Director





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Updated: Jun 2, 2023



I love the Apple television show, "Ted Lasso." It’s become a cultural phenomenon. Why? I think the main reason is the show’s positivity. In a time when everyone seems constantly offended and outraged, continually in conflict, always angry, and permanently polarized, the show offers hope.

The characters, despite high pressure and lots of conflicted situations, find ways to put aside division, work collaboratively, and overcome obstacles together. Ted Lasso himself responds to criticism and manipulations with self-awareness, humility, compassion, and humor. He’s a role model for how not to follow our culture down a mental health abyss that’s swallowing up so many.


It’s also interesting how the show has dealt with the mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and grief. In season 2 the team hires a therapist to help the players, coaches, and staff. Ted Lasso supports her work with everyone else, but sadly, not for himself. He derides it, calling it psychobabble.

He exemplifies an attitude held by too many people. One that’s expressed on many television shows and movies, especially detective shows: “therapy is for weak people,” “therapy is nothing but psychobabble,” “I’m handling my problems well enough,” “I don’t need to talk about this crap,” “therapists get paid to pretend they care,” yada, yada, yada.


Ted goes to a therapy session, but then tells her that therapy is for losers and storms out. Eventually he returns, only to storm out again. Finally, days later he returns and recognizes that the problem isn’t therapy but his fear of confronting his inner woundedness over his divorce, the team’s losses, his own loneliness, and unresolved issues regarding his father’s suicide. Therapy changes him for the better. "Ted Lasso" the show is brilliant at showing both the resistance to counseling we all have, and the healing that counseling brings, which makes their lives better.


So how and why does therapy work?

  • Therapy is a relationship, and like all relationships it takes time. Ever hear someone say, usually in a cranky voice, “I went to therapy for two or three sessions. It didn’t do me any good!” Well,… they’re right. Therapy generally doesn’t “work” in the first two or three sessions. Why? Because the therapist uses those sessions primarily to establish a relationship. A good therapist wants to make sure you can trust her or him and that you feel safe. She or he will offer insights, but the deeper ones come later when the client is ready to trust. When we bail after two or three sessions, we’ve bailed before the trusting, caring relationship can be set.


  • Therapy heals, but we have to be ready to do what leads to healing: Another reason people leave therapy before it can make an impact is that they’re simply not ready for therapy. They aren’t willing to face their struggles, explore their pain, and examine their wounds. It takes a lot of mental, emotional, and spiritual courage to go to therapy for healing. This means that therapy isn’t something that someone does to us, but it’s something we engage in. The healing comes out of the relationship.


  • Therapy helps uncover hidden wounds so they can be healed. All of us carry unhealed, hidden wounds. We’re just not very aware of them, nor of their impact on us, yet they influence our thinking, emotions, behavior, work, and relationships. This is true of everyone. We’ve all had difficult experiences in our past. Ignoring then often means they influence us in potentially harmful ways. We react to them almost automatically, meaning we’re not choosing how to live but reacting to life instinctively or impulsively. A good therapist (like ours) helps us recognize our hidden wounds, explores them with us, and then helps us heal.


  • Therapy identifies and replaces unhealthy and destructive ways of thinking. The most basic therapy all therapists are trained in is something called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Most of us have some sort of trigger(s) in life we react to in unhealthy ways that lead to unhealthy relationships and/or lives. CBT helps us identify emotional triggers, determine the emotions they spark in us and why, articulate the sometimes distorted thoughts we develop in response, and recognize how these often lead to troublesome acts that harm our lives. CBT helps us think differently in response to triggers, which then results in choosing healthier ways of reacting. It’s very hard to find these connections on our own, but a good therapist helps us change how we act so that we can live life more intentionally.


  • Therapy frees us to choose how we want to live. A key component of therapy is freedom—freedom from the pain of past experiences, freedom from unhealthy emotions and thoughts, freedom from life patterns that trap us, and freedom from living life reactively. Yet it all begins with the slow process of building a healing relationship with our therapist.


At Samaritan, we are always ready to help people heal and forge renewed lives.

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by Rachel Fagan, M.Ed, Samaritan's Life Coach


Joe sets aside an hour of designated time to work on a project at his office, only to be interrupted fifteen minutes in by a coworker who stops by with a “quick question,” one that requires him to send an email. While in his account, he notices the list of unread emails that will “just take a minute to respond to,” so he does. As he sits back down to work, he receives a text message on his smartwatch from his wife asking if he can pick their daughter up from swim lessons that night while she runs errands. Joe responds and returns to his work, his mind now swirling with lingering thoughts about his coworker’s question. He can’t even remember where he left off on his project, and he’s now tired and has completely lost interest in the task at hand. He steps out to grab a coffee from the kitchenette to help reset. Sixty minutes have passed, and very little has been accomplished in terms of what Joe intended to focus on.


While the example is fictional, it isn’t far-fetched. In fact, it likely underrepresents the number of interruptions and distractions that the average person experiences, something glaringly evident even for myself as I write this article. We are living in a culture of instant gratification and a general expectation of being available “on demand.” However, constantly being “available” is not typically sustainable over long periods of time. Furthermore, there are increasing numbers of research studies that indicate that distractions are quite costly in terms of productivity, efficiency, energy, attention, communication, comprehension, and overall performance.

Why It Happens

According to Dr. David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Institute, our “attention is a limited resource.” Focusing attention on something costs us energy, and the more our energy is drained without being restored, the more difficult it is to focus. Furthermore, every time we become distracted, we move our attention to focus on something else (also known as task-switching), and this costs even more energy (Rock, 2009)


When people think of distractions, external triggers are often what first come to mind. These originate outside of us, such as people, objects, noises, technology, etc. Our bodies are equipped with senses to make us aware of our surroundings, so the more people and things we allow in our surroundings, the more our senses will have to filter.

Internal triggers, on the other hand, originate within us from our own thoughts or emotions, and for this reason, they can sometimes be tricky to identify (Distractions, 2022). Self-doubt is a powerful internal trigger that creeps in when we lack confidence in ourselves and our abilities, making us second-guess our next move. Another internal trigger is mental clutter or having too much on our mind, causing us to frequently task-switch mentally, leading to fatigue, stress, or feeling overwhelmed. “Shiny object syndrome” occurs when something else seems more interesting, appealing, or worth pursuing than what is currently underway (Gardner, 2017).

What Can You Do About It?

The good news is that we can eliminate and prevent some of the distractions in our lives with a little intentional preparation.

Plan Your Environment-Our environments largely influence our triggers, so tidying up your surroundings is a great place to start. Be sure to have all necessary materials in place before starting on a task, and remove temptations (snacks, people, pets, games, devices, etc.), or at least make them inconvenient to access.

Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle-Physical discomfort is distracting in itself, so it should come as no surprise to hear that fueling your body with nutritious foods, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and exercising are all great steps to take toward boosting your immune system and supporting your mind to manage distractions when they are unavoidable.


Communicate Clearly-If you have not “trained” others how and when they can have access to you (and sometimes even if you have), people are going to proceed to get your attention however and whenever they choose to. Non-existing or unclear expectations and boundaries are often the cause of interruptions from others, so it can be helpful to communicate ahead of time exactly what you need and why, as well as options of what they could do while you are unavailable. This may include asking others to send you an email or schedule a meeting with you if they need your attention instead of “stopping by.”


Plan for Progress-Distractions kill productivity, and sometimes the way we approach tasks can lead to distractions. Set specific goals and deadlines, break large tasks down into less complex steps, and approach them one at a time. Designate specific periods of time for focused work, free thinking (where distractions and mind wandering are permitted), and breaks to recharge, and remember to set time limits for each. If you are easily distracted, aim for 25 minutes of focused work followed by a 5-minute break.


Unplug from Technology-Almost all forms of modern technology seem

to have a notification system, from the devices themselves to the programs they run. Some can be very helpful, but I often wonder if we sometimes go further than necessary with technology. I honestly cannot think of an instance where I would need to be notified when my cats enter and exit their litter boxes, but this technology exists. Just because we can be notified doesn’t mean it’s necessary. Take advantage of notification preference settings and unplug when you can. If you do not find value in a mailing list or channel that you subscribed to, UNSUBSCRIBE. When all else fails, Airplane Mode or Do Not Disturb work great.


Mind Your Mental Health-Being aware of your thoughts and feelings may very well be half the battle to combatting distraction, but tuning in takes some intentional practice. It may be helpful to keep track of your distractions for a few days to see if you notice any patterns. When you become aware of being distracted, immediately take action to redirect yourself. If you are distracted by self-doubt, work to build self-confidence. Start by recalling times in your past where you’ve felt valued or experienced success. Write these down and consider keeping them in a “Feel Good Folder” for days when you need a boost. If you have a lot on your mind, try doing a “brain dump,” where you write down everything without sorting or judging, and use this as a working task list. Track your progress for more challenging tasks so that you can see how much you are accomplishing. If you are confused or feeling overwhelmed with a task, ask for clarification or help. Finally, support good mental health by managing stress levels, keeping your brain sharp with concentration games and puzzles, and strengthening your focus stamina through meditation or practicing with short blocks of focus time followed by a “brain break” (Gardner, 2017).


Do you know what competes for your attention? Distractions may be all around us, but we can learn to work with them with a little intention. The key is knowing what your triggers are and having some strategies to counter them.


References

Gardner, M. (2017, October 13). 4 types of inner distraction and how to eliminate them. Medium. Retrieved February 25, 2023, from https://medium.com/@thetimedoctoruk/4-types-of-inner-distraction-and-how-to-eliminate-them-654560648d33


Rock, D. (2009, October 4). Easily distracted? Why it can be so hard to focus. Psychology Today. Retrieved February 25, 2023, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-brain-at-work/200910/easily-distracted


University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (2022, July 25). Distractions. Learning Center. Retrieved February 25, 2023,




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