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

I’ve long been fascinated by people who’ve overcome despair, catastrophe, and trauma and forged new ways of living filled with hope, joy, gratitude, meaning, and purpose. I’ve spent a lot of years studying their lives.

Some have lived in modern times, but the ones who stand out to me are those who lived in history’s truly difficult times. Among them are people like St. Francis, who lived in the 12th Century. He had been a young, wealthy dilatant, preoccupied with drinking and chasing young women. Suddenly his whole life was turned upside down after being captured in the first moments of a battle he had no training or skill for. Spending a year in a festering, squalid dungeon, he re-emerged as a changed man who was ready to devote his life to compassion, love, and faith.

Another, Ignatius of Loyola, had been a magnificent and glorified soldier. During a battle his leg was shattered by a cannonball, which led him to spend more than a year in bed convalescing. He developed a new vision for his life and became a deeply spiritual man, eventually helping to found the Jesuits in 1539—a society for Catholics committed to education, self-reflection, and service.

The one who stands out to me the most is St. Patrick. There are so many fanciful myths about the man, but even when you strip those away, his story was amazing. As a 5th Century teen from a wealthy family in the southwestern part of the Roman province of Britain, he was captured by Celtic raiders and taken back to Ireland. He was forced to live as a slave for nine years, mostly as a 24 hour-a-day, 365 days-a-year shepherd.

Constantly starving and exposed to the elements, Patrick had to become physically, emotionally, and spiritually resilient. He had to develop strength he hadn’t had before. He also discovered God’s presence peeking through nature all around him. Responding to a dream telling him that a boat was waiting to take him home, he eventually embarked on a frightening march to the sea. When he got there, miraculously a group of traders were already there and agreed to take him back to Britain.

If you or I had escaped slavery, the last thing we’d want to do is to return to live among our captors. Amazingly, upon his return home, Patrick felt a call to return to Ireland as a priest and a bishop to minister to the Celtic people, who at that time were a fiercely tribal and violent people. What would cause him to want to go back? He spent the next ten years being trained as a priest and was finally named the Bishop of Ireland prior to his return. What allowed him to grow from his experiences rather than to be crushed by them?

These people inspire me. We’ve grown sensitive to people who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Our therapists do tremendous work with those suffering the trauma of war, abuse, severe bullying, tragedies and more. Still, there are some who face trauma and grow in response. They still have some level of PTSD, but that’s overcome by what’s called Post-Traumatic Growth Syndrome (PTGS). Patrick was a person who clearly had PTSD, but he found a way to develop PTGS. He had resilience physically, emotionally, spiritually. So many of us struggle with life, especially in response to the twin traumas of our culture—pandemic and polarization.

How do we develop a resilient response to the struggles we face? Let me share some ideas:

Assessing Reality: Those who develop this kind of resiliency are neither optimistic nor pessimistic. They’re realists. They fully understand the situations they are in and accept them as reality. At the same time, they also recognize that they can create their own reality by how they respond to their situation. There’s the reality of their situation in life, and there’s the reality of how to respond to it, which leads us to…

Appreciation over Depreciation: Those with resilience learn to look at life with a sense of appreciation rather than depreciation. In other words, as bad as things are around them, they can be like St. Patrick, who began to experience God through the beauty of the surrounding hills, trees, grass, sheep, sun, moon, stars, and more. He experienced God in a beauty that contrasted with the ugliness of humanity.

Imagine a New Reality: Resilient people assess their present reality, but because they are appreciative, they can imagine a life beyond their present reality. They become intentional about crafting a different way of life. They choose to look for what’s possible, and as a result change their reality, even if it takes time.

Letting go of Loss: These people do recognize and grieve over what’s been lost through their turmoil and trauma. They don’t deny it, they work through it. And then they let go of the loss in order to move forward toward…

Obstacles turn into Opportunity: No matter how much we may want to change, we will always face obstacles. Always! The obstacles aren’t the problem. It’s how we respond to the obstacles that matter. Do we confront the obstacles and become stuck, or do we take advantage of them as opportunities to grow in new directions? My guiding metaphor for this is water. Notice how water reacts with obstacles. It either goes in new directions, finds a way to overcome them, or erodes them. Water doesn’t stop. Francis used imprisonment to grow. Ignatius used convalescence to grow. Patrick used his slavery and shepherding to grow. How do we use our situations to grow?

Resilient people aren’t necessarily special people. Instead, they are people who face the same dilemmas we face, or worse, and find ways to grow through them. Samaritan is here to help.

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Updated: Mar 16, 2021

By The Rev. Dr. Graham Standish, Executive Director

Did you see Meghan’s and Harry’s recent Oprah Winfrey interview? It was a revelation,… and disconcerting. The couple verbalized what we at Samaritan fight against day in and day out—the social stigma surrounding mental health issues. This stigma creates a culture of crisis for millions of people every day who need help but are afraid to admit it or seek it.

Meghan’s suicidal admissions caught everyone by surprise, confessing that “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore… That was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought.” She shared how she slowly started to collapse under the blanket of isolation that comes with being part of the royal family—what she called “the institution.” Making it worse was the vicious, and sometimes racist, criticism from the British press, blaming her for creating strife that she wasn’t even involved in.

She asked for counseling but was dismissed: “I was told that I couldn’t, that it wouldn’t be good for the institution.” She sent “emails and begging for help, saying very specifically, ‘I am concerned for my mental welfare.’” They agreed that her situation was “dispropor-tionately terrible,” but then wouldn’t help because she wasn’t an employee. Where could she turn? Seeking therapy on her own would have amplified the criticism because of the stigma once the press found out. You could just imagine the British press coming up with new names for her, calling her “Mad, Mad Meghan,” or “the Disturbed Duchess.”

Harry admitted that he was “ashamed” to ask the family for help because they simply didn’t understand how the life they lived, and the pressures that life created for Meghan, could cause someone to deteriorate mentally and emotionally. They had dealt with the pressures all their lives, so they lacked compassion: “This is just how it is, this is how it is meant to be, you can’t change it. We’ve all been through it.” In other words, “toughen up, Buttercup!”

She captured in a nutshell the ignorant bias of so many when it comes to mental health. So many people falsely believe that to be strong mentally means toughing it out. Toughness doesn’t make us better. It does the exact opposite. It makes us weaker by isolating us, shrinking our resources, diminishing our compassion and empathy, and degrading our ability to connect with others and create healthy environments. Most “tough” people live isolated lives. They may have people who love them, but their distance weakens them by making them afraid of deeper, more loving relationships. They’re afraid of intimacy.

It’s also easy to dismiss Meghan’s plight by retorting, “Look at how rich she is. I wish I had her problems. Boohoo!” Maybe her situation is different from ours, but that’s a shallow reading of her quandary. Instead, look at the similarities? How many people live within unsympathetic families? How many feel imprisoned by life situations they find demeaning? How many feel powerless to verbalize their struggles? How many have reached out for help, only to be dismissively told to “deal with it,” which actually makes them less able to deal with it? How many are afraid to seek help because of the stigma associated with mental and emotional struggles (let alone spiritual struggles, which we also help with)?

Meghan’s lament feels personal to us at Samaritan because she is exactly the kind of person Samaritan helps. Okay,… we don’t deal with royalty much, but we do help people who feel isolated, criticized, dismissed, denigrated, accused, ignored, abused, and so much more. We will often talk about how we help those with “hidden wounds.”

Meghan’s wounds were hidden. Who knew that her smiling face on the cover of People Magazine hid such despair? Who knew that beneath the millions of fashionable images on the internet was a woman considering suicide? Deep wounds like these are often hidden beneath smiling faces and private lifestyles.

Growing up I saw personally how beautiful houses and lavish lifestyles can sometimes hide deep pain. At Samaritan, we’re the ones willing to look deeper and respond with care. You can’t lift the lid off Samaritan and see the healing we do, but it’s happening every day.

So, reflecting on Meghan’s interview, what can you do to overcome the stigma of mental and emotional trauma and help others? You can help people like her by doing several things:

1. If you know someone who is struggling, never, ever tell her or him to “deal with it” or “tough it out.” Refer her or him to Samaritan or another counseling agency. If you refer someone to us and we don’t have the right therapist, we will find the right therapist. Little known fact: we are so committed to healing that if we can’t help, we will find someone who can. We’re Samaritans. What we care about is healing.

2. Modulate your own thinking about mental health issues. Work on recognizing that engaging in therapy is a strength. Remember that seeking counseling reflects great strength, not weakness. Think about it. If you are going to seek counseling, you have to overcome your own stigmas against it. It takes courage to do that. So take that courageous step.

3. Be a person who cares… be a Samaritan. Encourage people who are struggling to become stronger through counseling. Meghan showed great strength in admitting her struggles. Help others to admit theirs, and help them to find help.

4. Be strong yourself by seeking your own help. If you are struggling, reach out to us. Sometimes it only takes a few sessions for people to feel better through therapy. Don’t “tough out” your own struggles. Let us or another center help you.

5. Support us in our work.


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

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By The Rev. Dr. Graham Standish, Executive Director

We are a perilously divided country. For a long time it has felt as though we’re on the verge of destroying each other. How do we overcome this division?

You may believe that the incoming administration simply cannot bring healing. If that’s the case what can be done to start the healing? The work Samaritan does offers guidance because we are in the personal and relational healing business. So, let me offer you some ideas that America might hear from one of our therapists if it came to us for counseling:

  • Control and change what we can; live with what we can’t: For our country and our communities, WE are the answer to healing. WE have control over how we will respond to the anger and division around us by deciding to act on our fundamental freedom—to choose whether we’ll be controlled by anger, fear, and resentment, or choose a way of love, faith, and forgiving. We are responsible for being part of the solution. There are things we can do to promote that. One is to simply cut back on our social media addictions. We can reduce our constant views on Facebook, Twitter, and more. Another huge step would be to stop watching cable news opinion shows. Watch the news. Ditch the opinion. Finally, stop arguing either in reality or in our minds with others. Surround ourselves with media and influencers and activities that nurture peace, kindness, community, and compassion.

  • Choose the path out of dysfunction: Most people misunderstand the word, “dysfunction.” It doesn’t mean “not functioning. It means “functioning in pain.” The key is the prefix, “dys,” which means “pain.” When we are dysfunctional, we create pain in others. We are in deep pain as a nation. The key to overcoming dysfunction lies in people deciding that it’s time to reduce the pain. That means that we’re responsible for lifting others up rather than tearing them down. It means that we are responsible for changing our behaviors in ways that nurture healthy relationships.

  • We can’t change their behavior, but we can change our own: We can’t force others to be committed to healing, but we can make the decision to be healing ourselves. That means changing ourselves. It’s intentional, but it is also educational. To choose a new way we have to learn new ways, which means doing things like reading, praying, and talking with others (we have both counselors and spiritual directors who can help you with this) about how to change our behaviors. We can still have our political beliefs, but do they need to spill out to the point where we are responsible for dividing our families and our communities? An important question to ask ourselves is how committed we are to helping the country heal? Decide to be a healer. Making that decision for yourself and you may inspire others to join you.

  • Healing isn’t about figuring out who’s right, it’s about figuring out how to love: One of the things that causes division to persist in marriages, communities, and nations is the constant need to be “right.” “Right” is the enemy of relationships. The need to be right—not only when we’re wrong but especially when we’re right—creates division. The more we’re convinced that the other is a fascist, a communist, a traitor, or a seditionist, the more we turn the other into an enemy. Read that again: “…the more WE turn the OTHER into an enemy.” I’ll always cherish what C.S. Lewis wrote about “rightness” and “wrongness” from the perspective of heaven in his book, The Great Divorce: “That’s what we all find when we reach [heaven]. We’ve all been wrong! That’s the great joke. There’s no need to go on pretending one was right! After that we begin living.”

  • Healing isn’t found in compromise; it’s found in collaboration: Many people think “compromise” is a bad word. I consider it to be a great word, since at its root it means making a promise with others—“with” (com) + “promise.” It’s a promise to agree in some way. Still, compromise is painful because it means giving up what I cherish with the promise that the other will give up what she or he cherishes. There’s a step beyond compromise. It’s collaboration. We may begin with compromise, but we take the next step of “laboring together”—“with” (co) + “labor” (laborare). To collaborate means to work together to achieve something greater that binds us together. We don’t just give up, we create together.

  • Healing is found in validating each other, especially when we don’t agree: What fundamentally causes division isn’t the disagreement, it’s the invalidation of another person that comes from the division. When we are deeply divided, we tend to believe that the other person has no redeeming qualities. The person is less than human, and even more, the person is unworthy of my love, consideration, or even regard. With couples in turmoil, they often invalidate each other, meaning that each believes the other is terrible and unworthy of love, respect, and care. Validating others means that we communicate in some way that we care and respect them, especially in disagreement. A quick example: once at a party at my house, a guest and I had a very strong political disagreement. Both of us were starting to get angry. In the midst of this I noticed that his glass was empty. I said, “Hey, if we’re going to continue this, you need another glass.” We walked over to the bar and I talked to him about the different wines and said, “Let me go get another bottle. I want you to try one of my favorite wines.” I validated him by basically saying, “I may disagree with you, but you are worthy of my best!”

We face a long road ahead in our country. You and I can’t change that, nor can we overcome the division by ourselves, but we can learn from therapy how to begin the healing, and that’s what we’re each responsible for.


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

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