Creating a Culture of Non-Violence

Recently I participated on a video conference call with students and staff from various school districts in Washington County about the growing concerns of school violence and the impact resulting from the shooting in Parkland Florida. The growing fear in our youth is understandable and normal as there is a collective sense of powerlessness among our children.  This most recent shooting is not the start of this discussion but a reigniting of debate started years ago. The unfortunate fact is that nothing has been done to calm the fears other than to let time pass. However, as shown by the courage of the Parkland High School students, the time is now to create change. But how do we create change. First it is important to understand school violence more accurately. Mental illness is not the driving cause of school violence. Sure, kids who shoot up a school definitely struggle with something but it is not just those diagnosed with a mental disorder. School violence is a symptom of many issues we face today. Drilling it down to one issue such as mental health or guns is irresponsible.  According to a recent article on gun violence by the American Psychological Association, the authors reported that there is no single profile that can reliably predict who will become violent. They continue to identify that there is a complex and variable constellation of risk and protective factors that leads a person to be more or less likely to use a firearm against themselves or others. However, there are some things we know that works to prevent and reduce the risk of gun violence either on themselves or others. Creating programs in schools and other environments that encourages a culture of non-violence. For example, schools creating a district wide campaign of non-violence as a way to resolve issues or problems. But that requires us as adults to change the way we handle behaviors. As a society we are a punishment-oriented society which illustrates a tit for tat mentality. You do something I don’t like, I will punish you for it. Unintentionally we create a culture that encourages retaliation for hurting or disrupting our daily functioning. Setting up ways to safely resolve conflict, encourage belonging and support to students that are struggling to maintain appropriate behavior as opposed to exclusion and rejection.

Although there is not a direct link of violence to mental health, mental health is a factor in why someone would try to commit such a tragic act. A Native American proverb “Hurt People Hurt People” illustrates this concept as people that commit such violence are trying to cope with some adverse experience or painful event(s).  Normalizing mental health in society is also important so we encourage people to recognize that expressing yourself to a trusted adult is a sign of strength and not weakness. Expressing your feelings, especially with males, is often characterized as a weakness when in actuality being self-aware and going against social norms by expressing themselves to a trust adult is an act of courage.   Aligned with normalizing mental health, building resilience in our youth to equip them with the skills to manage stress safely should be a priority. All behavior, no matter how violent or difficult to understand, comes from a developmental need not being met. One developmental concept, originated out of Native American child rearing practices and advances in neurosciences is the Circle of Courage. (https://reclaimingyouthatrisk.org/courses/the-resilient-brain/) This developmental model is universal and focuses on meeting the needs of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity. When these needs are met, kids will thrive. However when we have broken circles, kids struggle. In trying to understand the why’s of things like school violence and determine effective solutions, meeting the needs of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity provides an excellent foundation. When we lack belonging or worse feel rejected and abandoned, our ability to reach out to others is difficult and unfortunately can lead to self-destructive behaviors such as self-harm, suicide and violence towards others. Building a community of love and acceptance has to be a priority for us all.  Life & Purpose Behavioral Health is a community mental health agency focused on helping those in need and work to support other entities in improving the overall health of our community. In addition to providing mental health services, we also provide training and consultation in areas of Trauma informed care and trauma specific intervention, strength-based intervention, neuro-effective treatment and developmentally appropriate interventions. If in need of training or consultation, please go to our contact page on this website.  

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May the Force be with You!

In the spirit of the Star Wars Last Jedi release, I thought it would be apropos to discuss the overlap between Star Wars Movies and mental health recovery. The force, good versus evil, and the dark side versus the light side all mirror things that either we struggle with or can help us make positive, transformational change. In fact, I think that Yoda was more of a therapist than a trainer of Jedi Padawans. “In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way.” Self-awareness is a critical factor in our transformation as most of what we do has been pre-programmed from our early life experiences. Behavioral templates establish even before we had conscious memory. Our brain doesn’t enjoy overworking itself so it relies on habit and our unconscious to lead our way through the world. Many of our habits are behaviors we utilize to escape the dark experience. Examples such as drug use, suicidality, or self-harm.

“A lesson quickly forgotten is a lesson poorly learned.” A statement borrowed from Star Wars lore; what if we looked at negative life events as a lesson learned and use these experiences not to be self-critical and judgmental of ourselves but to recognize how we can make our life situation better. This is a struggle for both the client and the therapist but a struggle worth facing. The power of these negative experiences has its strength in the unprocessed. In order to reduce the power, we have to process the experience in order for our brain to effectively make sense of it and file it away like it does for non-threatening experiences.

“I am one with The Force. The Force is with me,” so meditatively stated over and over by Chirrut Imwe in the recent Rogue One movie. What is the force and how does it relate to us aspiring and wishful Jedi. The Force in the movies are famously described as “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.” There is energy in how we relate to each other and by carrying ourselves negatively, we give off negative energy and therefore create a negative experience. However, the reverse is true and staying positive and being positive creates a positive energy that impacts those around us. One of the primary tools of the Jedi is meditation. Concentration, focus, changing brain states from negative to positive all things that we can accomplish in our daily lives. Just as the Jedi has the power to change the energy force in their experience, we have the ability to change our own personal brain state as well as the energy we have with others in our lives. Although the Jedi in Star Wars have this genetic predisposition to be such, they require training and tutelage from a master to perfect this way of being. Changing and transforming out mental health requires training and tutelage from a therapist, mentor, and/or trusted adult. To be successful, the brain requires repetition, repetition, repetition in order to change old, self-defeating pathways in the brain to more effective and health pathways that we create through new therapeutic experiences.

“Yes, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quickly to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice,” stated by Yoda to young Luke Skywalker speaking about how easily it can be to be seduced by the dark side. Yoda highlighted the timeline of Fear leading to anger leading to hate leading to suffering. What is therapy but finding healthy ways to relieve suffering. Anger, fear, impulse to be aggressive, all feelings that everyone of us feel and have felt throughout our lives but the purpose of early training is for us to garner strength to resist the seduction by the power of those feelings. Jedi training, therapy, mentorship, faith based experience are all tools to help you live a productive, enriching and healthy life. Find your inner strength to live the life you want to live and May the Force be with You!

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The Strength of Asking for Help!

Expressing that you suffer from depression or anxiety or experienced some difficult adverse life event is a courageous act. One of the reasons it is courageous is because as a society, asking for help with a mental health condition such as depression or PTSD is considered weak. “You just need to get over it.” What if just like when we have flu like symptoms, we recognize that we need help because the fever, congestion, aches are not going away on its own. Instead of denying to ourselves that we are suffering from unrelenting sadness or anxiety, we pick up the phone and call for a counseling appointment. What if we broke our leg, would we continue to walk on it, tell people that nothing is wrong despite the femur bone protruding through our skin? Would we continue to writhe in pain and scream and cry because going to the doctor would mean that we are weak. Chances are, unless you are an anomaly, you go to the doctor or the ER to work on your recovery from the injury or illness.  Feelings for most are considered a weakness which is a cultural construct that has been continually reinforced over generations. Most advertisements for mental health treatment focuses on demystifying the idea of treatment. How many billboards do you see where we are encouraging people who suffered a broken leg to get help?

Untreated mental health problems do not get better on their own by doing nothing. Talking about your feelings is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. Asking for help is moving yourself from a victim to a survivor; showing resilience when facing adversity. To go against society stereotypes and generalizations such as mental health problems makes you weak, takes strength and courage because not only are you willing to go against societal norms, you are willing to face something scary. Bravery or courage is not the absence of fear, it’s about facing your fear and it doesn’t matter if you face that fear alone or with support. “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional,” a quote by Haruki Murakami and a construct of many of my therapy sessions, guides my intervention to help people recognize that pain will happen in our lives but we have control in how we manage that pain and grow from the experience no matter how painful. The earlier we recognize the symptoms and ask for help the better chance we have for recovery. What if, like with our primary doctor’s well check appointments, we have yearly well check appointments for our mental health. We do that with current clients, but maybe if everyone had yearly mental health well checks, problems would be caught earlier and people would be more willing to tend to those mental health needs like we tend to our physical health needs. If you are suffering in any way and need help to face the fears inside, please call Life & Purpose Behavioral Health so we can help you start your journey to wellness. It starts with you!

 

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Message from the CEO

Since starting as CEO in July, 2017, it has been my goal to create an agency that not only provides quality and comprehensive services to the local area, but also acts as a safe haven that our local community can depend on. Within the agency, we strive to create transformational change in an individual so that he or she may engage in life more effectively and with greater personal reward. To help achieve this, we are initially focused on the hiring of talented clinicians and the development of specific programs that allow us to more closely meet the needs of the community.

The men, women and children that come to our agency epitomize strength every day. The act of seeking help as well as the willingness to face the uncomfortable, are true signs of this. At Life & Purpose Behavioral Health, we witness clients facing tremendous adversity in their lives every day yet continuously, they are able to pick themselves up and move forward. They are truly survivors.

Bruce Lee once said, “The medicine for my suffering has been within me all along.” Such enlightening words illustrate the power that we all have within ourselves to change the course of our lives towards joy and fulfillment. My hope is that any person that receives help at our agency will walk away one step closer to realizing that life can be better.

In the current climate we face in Washington County, the state, and the country, it is imperative that quality services be made available to the public. We will continue our work to help demystify the concept of mental health treatment as well as normalize the process of change. Ultimately, we will help clients re-engage in their life and live to their fullest potential. 

-Douglas Pfeifer MA, LPCC-S

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