Midwest Psychiatric Center, Inc. is a private psychiatric practice owned by my colleague, Dr. Rakesh Kaneria. I provide therapy to adults and a small number of children/adolescents at this location. We can accept most commercial insurances, as well as Caresource (of Ohio Medicaid) and Medicare. Adult clients who work with me at MPC also have the option to see Dr. Kaneria for evaluation and medication management if desired or needed. Child psychiatric evaluation and medication management are not available with MPC. We are located in West Chester, OH near the UC West Chester Hospital, just off I-75, between Liberty Way. and Tylersville Rd.
“Something Beautiful” by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet is a poignant picture book that I was first introduced to years ago. I was working as a clinical intern at the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute in Washington DC, and one of the staff members shared it with me. I have used the book in my practice with adults and children ever since, as it tells a story of resilience, mindfulness, and gratitude.
The story is of a little girl growing up in a neighborhood where she sees a lot of things that are not so lovely: brick walls, broken glass, litter, graffiti, homelessness, and dangerous dark alleys. Then at school she learns to spell the word, “beautiful” and subsequently goes on a scavenger hunt through her little world, asking people to help her find “a something beautiful.” Various people share examples of ways they recognize beauty in their daily lives, and our little protagonist discovers ways to find beauty and create positive change. She even makes discoveries about her own beauty.
Illustrations by Chris K. Sointpiet
Themes of connection, friendship, hope, and resilience permeate this story, which both acknowledges the presence of ugliness in our world but celebrates the enduring beauty that can be found despite i
Illustrations by Chris K. Sointpiet
At a time when we are seeing a lot of fear, hatred, anger, violence, intolerance, disease, and death, I find this inspiring children’s book especially meaningful. It offers a reminder to readers, both young and old, that beauty in not lost in times of hardship. Going further, we are invited to participate in healing, positive change, and connection.
When I share this story with my clients, I typically encourage them to spend some time looking for the beautiful things in their world. Sometimes the answers are obvious, but other times we have to look really hard. However bleak it may seem, glimmers or hope and hidden treasures can still be found. It’s an exercise in mindful awareness and gratitude.
Making my own way through a very challenging time, I find myself searching for “a something beautiful” and feeling encouraged when I discover them. Below are a few examples of beautiful things that have been uplifting to me in recent weeks.
I give this book an A+.
What I love about “Something Beautiful” is that it is not a fluffy, saccharine story that tells children (and adults) that the world is all bubbles and sunshine. It acknowledges that there is ugliness in this world. It validates that life is hard and downright scary sometimes, but Wyeth and Sointpiet help us to remember that all is not lost, even in the darkest times. There is a great deal of beauty to be found, and I believe when we find beauty we can help it grow, as the little girl in the story does.
Soentpiet’s illustrations are very artfully done, depicting the realities of our world, celebrating diversity, and highlighting the human spirit. Wyeth’s simple and direct story telling inspires, brings a smile, and encourages gratitude.
The book itself is “something beautiful.”
Wyeth, S. D. (2002). Something Beautiful. New York: Random House USA Inc.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has been a game-changer for just about every aspect of daily life for most of us. The way we eat, work, dress, communicate, shop…it often seems like everything has changed. Counseling is no different. In an attempt to maintain access to psychotherapy services, many mental health care providers are continuing to practice via Telehealth, which has posed a challenge for both patient and provider alike. Many people find Telehealth to be intimidating, unfamiliar, and even scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some things you need to know about remote mental health care that will help make it easier, less intimidating, and even more fruitful.
What is Telehealth?
There are a lot of terms going around to describe the process of working with a healthcare provider over technology, as opposed to in person. Generally speaking, the terms “Telehealth” and “Telemedicine” can be used interchangeably to describe the practice of health care over some form of technology when the practitioner and patient/client are not physically present with one another. It is typically conducted over some video-conferencing platform specially equipped with privacy and confidentiality protection. While HIPAA regulations for Telehealth have been relaxed due to the Pandemic, Telehealth is typically not conducted over less secure platforms such as FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, or social media. Some examples of more secure platforms for Telehealth include SnapMD, eVisit, CarePaths, American Well, and Doxy.me.
Teletherapy is a specific type of Telehealth. It is the practice of providing psychotherapy services through online video connection. Ideally, the same treatment that would be offered in person is offered remotely.
What technology is involved?
Most Telehealth platforms allow the patient/client to easily participate using a variety of devices. Smartphones, tablets, and computers (laptop and desktop) will work, as long camera and microphone are enabled. (On most devices this is automatic, and you don’t need to do anything, other than maybe click an “allow” button.). Some platforms work better on certain web browsers. Your provider should let you know if you need to use a specific browser like Firefox, Google Chrome, etc.
In many situations, a good pair of headphones or earbuds can be helpful for Teletherapy, though they are usually not required. They help minimize distractions, and increase privacy. Some even filter out background noise. If you want to use headphones or earbuds, be sure they also have a microphone function.
General suggestions for clients:
Prepare for your session as you would an in-person session. Budget the same amount of time for your session, including transition time before and after your session. If needed and if possible, arrange for child care. If you were given homework and a between session task, do your best to complete it. Set the tone for yourself by getting dressed and grooming as you would an in-person session. You will be more invested in the work.
Ask questions. This is new for most of us. If you are nervous or confused, ask questions. If you need help understanding the technology involved, it’s okay to ask for assistance. There is not shame in asking a question to better understand your treatment.
Be patient. Because this is new to many providers, as well as their clientele, obstacles and challenges will get in the way. In general, accessing Telehealth platforms is easy and intuitive, but as with anything, there can be complications. Try to be patient if technology fails or isn’t working properly. Remember there is a learning curve for most people as they learn how to utilize Telehealth. Also remember it’s okay if things feel a little awkward at first. Teletherapy is a very different type of interaction from an in-person session, and it’s okay if there is some adjustment. Likewise, it is okay to give yourself permission to grieve the change, even the loss experienced by changed interactions with your therapist. Don’t be afraid to bring that up in session if needed!
Choose your environment intentionally. Consider who is nearby when you are having a teletherapy session. Can you be overheard? Will you be un interrupted? Are you safe and relatively comfortable in the space you chose? Can you give your undivided attention to the session? It may be necessary to make some accommodations for the session like adjusting the light, asking family members to respect your privacy, crating the dog, or even asking someone to sit with the children. Consider any comfort items or therapeutic tools you may want to have close by like a box of tissues, cozy blanket, glass of water, fidget toys, or aromatherapy.
Have a pen and paper available during your session. In case audio fails, it can be helpful to communicate a brief solution, such as “I’m logging out and back in” or “I will call you on the phone.” It may also be helpful to write down notes or ideas. Writing down the date, time, and log in instructions for your next appointment may also be useful.
Cue your therapist. Remember, your therapist can’t read your body language and other cues as well by telecommunication as she/he can in person. It may be necessary to be a little more direct in verbalizing emotions, shifting thoughts/feelings, and needs. It is helpful to cue your therapist about how you are responding to the session. For example, “I’m starting to feel a little overwhelmed”, “I’m doing okay”, “I can keep working on this”, or “This is too much for me today.”
Make the most of the opportunity. There are some unique benefits to Teletherapy clients may wish to take advantage of. For example, bringing a companion animal to the session, sharing expressive artwork, playing a musical instrument, and being in the comfort of your own home can sometimes enhance the therapeutic experience. It should be noted though, that these things can present as distractions as well. Additionally, home is unfortunately not a safe or secure environment for everyone. Be sure to communicate with your therapist about the pros/cons of the environment you are in for your session.
Ask for what you need. It’s always a good idea to give your therapist feedback about how treatment is going, if adjustments are needed, or if there is a change in your needs or priorities for therapy. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
What to expect for Teletherapy with Me
Doxy.me is the platform I am currently using to conduct Teletherapy sessions. It works on a smartphone, tablet, or computer, as long as whatever device you are using has internet connection, a camera, a microphone, and functioning speakers. Prior to your session, support staff will contact you with a link that is unique to my practice. You will follow that link to log in, identify yourself, and check into a “virtual waiting room.” The prompts are clear and easy to follow. Once you are waiting, I will see your name in a queue, along with a still picture of you when you logged in. I will begin the session as soon as I can. I may be wrapping up the session before yours, taking a phone call, etc. If you are kept waiting more that 10 minutes past your session start time, call the office. Otherwise, don’t worry! I won’t forget you!
For those of my clients receiving EMDR Therapy, we can continue our work even though we are not meeting in person. Modifications to EMDR protocols can be made in simple ways that we can discuss and evaluate for your comfort and needs. All modifications I utilize are approved by the EMDR International Association, as well as taught and recommended by EMDR experts. I also sometimes use a program called EMDR Remote, which has Doxy.me embedded in it. Through EMDR Remote, I can provide eye movement and/or auditory bilateral stimulation. The log in process is slightly different but very simple and straight forward. EMDR Remote works best on a laptop or desktop computer, as a screen that is at least six inches wide is best. Some tablets will work as well. The makers of EMDR Remote recommend using Google Chrome or Fire Fox as your browser. We will discuss details prior to an EMDR session to hep assure everything goes as smoothly as possible, so don’t worry. You’ll know everything you need to know to get started.
Below are some screen shots which show what clients see on their screens while utilizing the two platforms I work through. Thank you to my good friend, Liz, and my husband, Chris for being my models!
This image shows what a client will see in a session via Doxy.Me. The client video is in the top right corner and can be moved to a different spot on the screen or removed entirely. This mock session was conducted with the “client” using an iPhone.
This image is also a client’s view during a Doxy.me session. It also shows the control buttons at the bottom of the screen. The camera icon allows you to turn the video function on/off. If it is off, I cannot see you. The microphone icon will turn the audio on/off. If it is off, I cannot hear you. The next icon over controls more advanced settings. The red telephone icon will end the session. You can adjust volume using the usual controls on your device.
This is an example of what clients see while using EMDR remote. The light bar is at the top of the screen where the blue oval is. I control the functions of the light bar and can make adjustments according to your preferences (e.g. color, shape, speed). The video underneath the light bar is the same as on a Doxy.me session. Also, isn’t my husband handsome? 😉
This is what clients will see during an EMDR reprocessing session when I turn on the light bar. My image will go away so all you see is the black screen with the light moving across from left to right. You will continue you hear me, and I will continue to hear and see you when the light bar is on. When the light bar is not on, it will return to the view pictured above.
Client’s wishing to engage in Teletherapy can be assured of my continued commitment to privacy and confidentiality. I will utilize headphones/earbuds to assure your end of the conversation is only heard by me. No one will be in the room with me during the session without your knowledge, and efforts will be made to prevent sound travel from my end of the conversation.
I will likely ask questions to confirm your location, privacy, and safety at the beginning of session. Crisis resources and safety plans will be reviewed as appropriate, as my ability to address safety concerns is more limited when I am working remotely. It is my commitment to offer the same quality of care remotely as I would offer at an in-person session. We may need to work together to “find a groove” with Teletherapy, even if we already had a comfort level and routine already established in our in-person sessions. We will be patient with one another and find our way through it together!
I plan to keep Teletherapy available to my clients as we continue to make our way through (and out of!) the Pandemic. When office policies permit in-person sessions, I will continue to provide the option of Teletherapy for those clients who are in at-risk groups, such as senior citizens, those with compromised immune systems, pregnant women, those with respiratory conditions, etc. In-person sessions are still preferred, though not at the cost of one’s health, safety, or peace of mind.
Summer 2019 was a very challenging time for the Greater Dayton, Ohio area, and a time that landed the community in the national news on multiple occasions. A Ku Klux Klan rally on May 25th brought a tangible sense of hate to our streets, followed by 14 tornadoes causing devastation across the area on the 27th, leaving many families without homes and many businesses destroyed. June brought more heartache as it became known that a former elementary school teacher in the area had sexually abused 28 first grade girls. Perhaps the most nationally visible tragedy of all came in August when a heavily armed shooter opened fire at a club in the popular Oregon District, killing 9 people, injuring 27, and forever changing the neighborhood and its businesses.
Photo Credit: Tabitha Guidone, Creative Director & Owner Decoy Art Center
Don’t let this string of events lead you to believe that the Greater Dayton Area is weakened. In fact, we are coming together in the most beautiful ways! From food drives, to fund raisers, to community events, Dayton has come together in healing and in love. One unique example is the Greater Dayton Mugs of Hope program, spearheaded by Paintbrush Pottery of Springboro (owner Kelsey Richard) and Decoy Art Center of Beavercreek (owner Tabitha Guidone). Richard and Guidone envisioned an opportunity for Daytonians to come together to create painted mugs to be distributed across the area (along with prizes and gift cards) to encourage those in need and spread a message of love, hope, and healing. Guidone explains, “We wanted to provide that vessel to allow one person to reach another anonymously but sincerely.”
With the support of Mayco Colors (who provided supplies) and Cozy Melts Pottery (who donated kiln usage), as well as event host locations including Sugarcreek Parks, Star City Brewery, Broken & Beloved, Cornell Studio Supply, Grass Roots Enrichment, We Care Arts, and Front Street, Richard and Guidone were able to offer mug painting parties across the Miami Valley. Over the fall months, a total of 500 mugs will be handprinted by Daytonians wishing to spread a message of comfort, hope, and healing. Additionally, thanks to donors, a $5 registration fee/donation from participants will be funneled directly into the community, distributing over $2000 among local programs and charities. Recipient charities include Community Action Partnership, which offers relief to those affected by tornadoes in Greene and Montgomery Counties, BOGG Ministries, which works to reduce hunger in the area, Dayton Children’s Hospital, and the Dayton Foundation. Guidone observed, “Everyone has such a big heart, and [is] willing to give and never asked for anything in return. We have an amazing community filled with lovely people and business owners.”
Photo Credit: Tabitha Guidone, Creative Director & Owner Decoy Art Center
The mugs were distributed in waves across the Dayton area, each filled with goodies, gift cards, prizes, and bearing a message of community and hope. Some of the messages, carefully chosen and painted on the mugs include: “Dayton Strong”, “We are united”, “You are loved”, “You are worthy”, and “Dayton Proud.” Each painter was encouraged to express the message they most wanted to share with another Daytonian who might be hurting, so painters were able to experience some healing themselves as they freely expressed themselves artistically and contributed to Good in the community.
Kelsey Richard, owner of Paintbrush Pottery, observes that she and her co-planner were inspired by the response of businesses, painters, and mug recipients. “I am truly humbled by the amount of people that got involved. We have awesome communities that make up the Greater Dayton region. 2019 has proved we are Dayton Strong. Dayton is a great city. The people in Dayton are incredible for coming together and proving that we are a city of love, strength, and hope!”
Photo Credit: Liz Engel
I personally was very excited to participate in Mugs of Hope as a painter, thanks to the invitation and suggestion of my dear friend Liz, who knows I was deeply saddened by the series of community traumas Dayton endured in Summer 2019. A fellow creative and a positive soul, Liz was the perfect painting buddy! We painted our mugs in September, and it was a very therapeutic experience. The opportunity to express our feelings artistically and participate in community healing in some small way had a powerful impact on us both. We met some other great Daytonians and enjoyed seeing the artwork and messages others wanted to share. I believe both Liz and I left the event feeling more hopeful and connected.
To the individual who received the mug I painted, I pray it brings you some sunshine (I painted a sun) and a smile. When you sip from your mug, know that I was thinking of you when I painted it, whoever you are. May it stir in you positive energy, resilience, and of course hope!
For ages, trees have carried a lot of metaphorical, symbolic, cultural, and spiritual meaning across the globe. Art, literature, and spiritual practices present us with many examples of rich metaphors trees can offer us. It’s now wonder then, that tree images can be powerful tools in healing, recovery, and building on strengths. Think about all the different kinds of trees in diverse climates around the world. There are mighty pines, which maintain the green color throughout the year, while others transform and go through cycles of dormancy and rejuvenation. There are palm trees with flexible trunks, able to withstand hurricane force winds. There are fruit bearing trees which offer sustenance.
What type of tree resonates with you? How does it represent your journey? What type of tree helps you build the strengths, skills, or attitudes you need to navigate life with resilience? What parts of the tree are significant to you? The roots, trunk, branches, fruit
Here’s a little about my tree…
Through the years, there has been a cluster of trees in a certain location in Northern Michigan that has always carried a lot of meaning for me. I grew up visiting Traverse City, Michigan and its surrounding areas with my family, and we now have members of our extended family who have made their homes “Up North.” This area has always been a place where I feel connected to my loved ones and to nature, where I can relax and recharge. A place we frequently visit is the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, a part of the National Parks on the shore of Lake Michigan in Empire, Michigan.
In September my husband and I took a trip “Up North” to visit family. I was so eager to show him the places that are so important to me. We visited Sleeping Bear on a chilly, windy day. The sky was gray and spitting misty rain on and off. Not the most picturesque but beautiful in a very different way.
The “Brave Trees” at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, Lake Michigan Overlook. September 2019.
At one spot called “The Lake Michigan Overlook” we came upon the cluster of trees of which I am so fond. I have seen them in gleaming sunshine, blistering heat, snow, rain, and wind. They’re still there. I’m not sure what kind of trees they are – I’m no arborist – but I call them the Brave Trees. Through the many years that I have returned to this spot, these trees have survived. They lean out over a steep cliff-like sand dune, out over the expansive lake 450 feet below. They have withstood the harsh elements, erosion, and time. To me, they represent courage, perseverance, resilience, and fortitude. They are my Brave Trees. When I need to cue up some courage, when I need to stir up some inner strength, these trees inspire me.
There are lots of ways to explore the symbolic meaning of trees using visualization, movement, and art. Consider drawing, painting, or sculpting a tree that you find meaningful. Experiment with “planting your roots” or “waving your branches” through movement. Ask your therapist to guide you through a meditation using tree imagery.
Here is a great guided visualization called “Grounding Tree” from Dr. Jamie Marich, founder of the Institute for Creative Mindfulness.
When scary things happen, like the terrible shooting in Dayton last night, it’s good to make an effort to restore feelings of safety as much as possible. That’s one of the reasons the Dayton Convention Center has been converted to a Family Resource Center to help people reunite with loved ones and get and feel safe again.
I was not directly affected by the shooting, but someone very dear to us was there and played an important part in helping the victims of the shooting. The Oregon District has been a place I’ve enjoyed good food and friendship. This horrific shooting rocked my sense of safety in very new and real ways, and I am brokenhearted for the city I call home.
Trying to find some reassurance and calm again, I went to two places today that reliably help me settle down: my church and the farmer’s market. The opportunity to cry, pray, sing, and receive some comforting words from our associate pastor did wonders for me, but I still needed more. So this afternoon I went to a farmer’s market near our home. It smelled of sweet melons that were warm from the sun. I took my time looking and smelling and picking. I chatted with the kind woman working there. Soon I felt a little more relief.
If any of you are feeling unsettled, frightened, or unsafe after the news of the shootings that have occurred in El Paso and Dayton, or certainly if you were directly affected by these incidents, I encourage you to take some steps to help reassure you body and your mind of your current safety. We cannot guarantee safety everywhere 100% of the time, but we can seek out moments of calm and safety when we need them.
One tool that I teach many of my clients to help find some calm when life feels chaotic or scary is a resource called “The Calm Space.” It’s a very simple visualization technique that can help settle the body and the mind, releasing tension, quieting racing thoughts, and slowing down the activated central nervous system. It’s a fairly simple process.
To start with, find a physical space where you can sit or lie still with minimal distractions. You might have to tell people around you to not bother you for a few minutes.
Get in a comfortable posture in which your body is supported, like lying down on your back or sitting in a comfortable chair.
Start to deepen your breathing, making sure you take full breaths that cause your belly to expand, as opposed to a shallow breath that makes your shoulders move a lot.
Begin to picture in your mind a place where you feel calm and safe. It can be made up or real. It could be the beach, a field of sunflowers, a cabin by the lake, or even a space in your own home.
Once you have the place in your mind, bring up the sensations that you enjoy in that place: the things you see (colors, shapes, movement), sounds (distinct sounds or ambient noise), smells, tastes, and things you can feel through the sense of touch (temperature, texture, objects to hold). Take your time to enjoy these pleasant sensations and savor them.
If you like, pick one specific detail to focus on for a new moments – for me right now it’s the smell of the sugar cube melons at the farmer’s market!
When you’re done enjoying your calm space, slowly and gently start to shift your attention back to the present moment, maybe by noticing the breath or the sensations in the space where you are sitting/lying.
Notice how your mind and body feel different now.
The Calm Space resource is a great way to help relax a tense body and quiet an overactive mind. It’s best to use this when you intellectually know you are safe, but you body and emotions cause you to feel unsafe. Do not use this resource if you are currently in a dangerous environment or one that requires alertness like while driving a car.
Resources and coping skills like this can help you manage between counseling sessions are while you are working on setting up counseling services, but they do not replace psychotherapy. If you are in need of crisis services or ongoing counseling help is available. If you have medical insurance, your insurance card will have a phone number on the back that you can call to find a counselor. You could also try doing a provider search on your insurance company’s website. Another resource for those with and without insurance in your county’s mental health board. A simple google search will likely help you find a phone number for them. You may also call my office at 513-217-5221. If I cannot help you myself, I will help you find someone who can!
Friday, June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. On that day, communities in the USA and all over the world will sponsor events to highlight solutions to this systemic social challenge.
As Americans, we believe in justice for all. Yet we fail to live up to this promise when we allow older members of our society to be abused or neglected. Older people are vital, contributing members of American society, and their maltreatment diminishes all of us. Just as we have confronted and addressed the social issues of child abuse and domestic violence, so too can we find solutions to address issues like elder abuse, which also threatens the well-being of our community.
Our policies and practices make it hard for older people to stay involved with and connected to our communities as they age. As a result, older people are more likely to experience social isolation, which increases the likelihood of abuse and neglect. We can design stronger societal supports to keep our older people connected and protect them from abuse, whether financial, emotional, physical, or sexual. When we address a root cause, like social isolation, we also make it less likely that people will neglect themselves (self-neglect). Older adults who are socially connected and protected from harm are less likely to be hospitalized, less likely to go into nursing homes, and less likely to die.
We can and must create healthier and safer living environments for older adults, including their homes, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities.
Get more information about how to make a difference by visiting the National Center on Elder Abuse https://ncea.acl.gov or by calling the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 to explore local community services and supports.
Originally published in 1995, Gary Chapman’s book, “The Five Love Languages: The Secrets to Love That Lasts” has become a very popular reading choice for couples looking to deepen, strengthen, and maintain the love that forms the foundation of their relationship. The subsequent editions of the book have been updated and the author has also written additional books applying the Five Love Languages to the unique needs and experiences of children, teens, and men.
Chapman identifies the Five Love Languages as:
Words of Affirmation
Acts of Service
His premise is that we all give and receive love in different ways, but we can run into trouble in relationships if we are not “speaking the same language” as our partner. We can miss expressions of love from our partner if we’re not away of the way they say “I love you”, and we can be misunderstood just the same.
As a Baptist Pastor, Chapman’s presentation of the Five Languages takes a very Biblical and Christian slant, though his degrees in Anthropology clearly inform his work as well. Though the book has a “churchy” feel in a lot of ways, I believe non-Christian readers can certainly benefit from the book.
For those who find the book helpful, online resources on the Five Love Languages (including a really fun test you can take to identify your love language!) are available at www.5lovelanguages.com.
I give this book a B+.
Chapman gives practical advice that can be applied in everyday life, which is one of the primary things I look for in any self-help book. I love the specific instructions and guidance he offers of things to try, even in the most challenging of relationship dynamics (see Chapter 12: Loving the Unlovely). One recommendation Chapman encourages that I find essential for a healthy relationship (and I’m speaking as both a therapist and as a married woman) is prioritizing a regular date night. He even offers solutions for prioritizing time together when schedules and budgets are tight.
I do have some complaints about this book, however. While I feel very confident that Chapman has noble intentions, “The Five Love Languages” does lack attention to diversity. Chapman’s examples and recommendations reflect a strong bias toward the white Christian (and Protestant) heterosexual relationship. I suspect many non-Christians might be turned off or even discount what could otherwise be very helpful. Additionally, Chapman’s writing is only minimally trauma informed. His recommendations related to physical intimacy lack an awareness toward survivors of sexual trauma, and there is minimal consideration of dysfunctional power dynamics linked to domestic violence.
As with all self-help books, this cannot take the place of therapy (especially couple’s therapy), but it can supplement or even help identify areas to address with a therapist.
Chapman, G.D. (2015). The 5 love languages. Chicago: Northfield Pub.
Many individuals I work with or have worked with in the past have been involved in Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as AA. During a recent session, one of my clients asked if I had ever seen the film, “My Name is Bill W.”, which I hadn’t. This client went on to tell about the 1989 Warner Brothers film and lent me his copy of the DVD at his next session. I’m so glad he did!
“My Name is Bill W.” tells the story of Bill Wilson (played by James Woods), a WWI veteran who became one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, along with physician Bob Smith (played by James Garner). JoBeth Williams plays Lois “Lo” Wilson, Bill’s wife, who struggles with heartbreak, loss, and codependency. The movie tells the story of Bill’s struggles with alcoholism, compounded by the trauma of having served in a bloody war and later working the fast-paced and competitive business world as a civilian. Through the story we watch the effects of alcoholism play out in Bill’s marriage, professional life, friendships, and finances. We see his struggles with legal problems, physical injury, and withdrawal.
Eventually Bill comes to acknowledge the problem and begins to make changes. Through a friendship with Bob and another friend, Ebby (played by Gary Sinise), Bill begins to discover what sobriety can be like. Ultimately he becomes involved with “The Oxford Group” (through his friend Ebby), which emphasize sobriety through a spiritual program of action. From that experience Bill and Bob founded Alcoholics Anonymous in Akron, Ohio in 1935, and the “Big Book” was first published in 1939.
There are several very poignant and powerful moments in the movie that really caught my attention. One was a scene where Lois has come to recognize the patterns of codependency that are making her life unmanageable as her husband continues to abuse alcohol. She confronts him:
“Who am I? I am your nurse, your caretaker, your cleaning lady, when all I really wanted to be is your wife. I let you drag me down with you, deprive me of love, warmth, friendship, even common decency! But I won’t go on with it anymore. I can’t! No more! If you want to die, die! But I’m not gonna let you take me down with you. I want to live. I’m going to live!”
This scene marks a turning point in the Wilson’s marriage and, while dramatic and intensely emotional, begins to stimulate healthy change.
Another scene that really hit home with me is a scene in the hospital, where Lois is talking with Bill’s doctor, Dr. Silkworth (played by Ray Reinhardt). Dr. Silkworth, who later wrote the preface to the Big Book, “A Doctor’s Opinion”, presented what was a novel view of alcoholism at that time:
“I’ve seen a lot of men like Bill. I’ve got a theory, not too popular with my fellow doctors. Excessive drinking is a disease, an allergic addiction. It’s got nothing to do with lack of will power or moral fiber. Some people can’t be temperate drinkers.”
Indeed alcoholism is a disease and not a reflection of an individual’s true character. There are people who can drink responsibly and in healthy moderation, and there are those who cannot and become dependent. We can take Dr. Silkworth’s message even further, knowing all that we know about dependency on other substances. A substance use disorder of any kind (regardless of the drug of choice) is a disease. Bill acknowledges his powerlessness over alcohol, the grip the disease has on him in this passionate monologue:
“It’s not you. It’s me… I look out the window, and I watch all the normal people walking by. It’s funny. I don’t think I’ve ever felt really normal in all my life. I mean, like other people. I feel differently somehow. Like I don’t quite measure up. Ever since I can remember I’ve had this feeling deep down in my gut. Scared. I see people laughing, at ease with each other. I’m on the outside looking in, afraid may that I won’t be accepted. And then overseas I found that a drink, a few drinks makes me feel comfortable, like I always want to feel. It gives me courage to be with people, do things. To dream. The money, the success, it was all good for a while, but it never seems enough. I always want doubles of everything to make me feel alive, worthwhile inside. But then, that all began to slip away. I feel cheated. Angry. Always so full of fear. So I drink…more…and it makes it okay for a while. I convince myself that this will turn around, tomorrow, soon. That I’ll make it all up for you. But it only gets worse. I keep promising you, others, myself, ‘That’s it, no more, going on the wagon. That’s it!’ And I think I mean it, but the guilt and the depression. I can’t look in the mirror ore at you, especially you, especially at you. I’ve stopped believing in everything: people, God, myself. I know it sounds insane, Lois, but in spite of all this, what I want right now more than anything else is another drink.”
Many people with substance use disorders are able to achieve recovery. As many do, Bill eventually comes to a crossroads, and he commits to sober living. While in treatment, he shares with Dr. Silkworth of a deeply spiritual experience, one which he struggled to understand logically, but that marked a turning point in his recovery. At this point, it appears Bill begins to fully acknowledge (step 2) and surrender to (step 3) a Higher Power.
Bill:“All I remember is I was asleep and yet I wasn’t. I had this terrible fear – sense of dread- that I was going out of my mind, dying. And yet I wouldn’t let go. Couldn’t. And then…how do I explain this? The room was filled with light from out there. And I was at peace. A kind of comfort I have never known before. And the the light was gone but the peace still remained. Dr. Silkworth, tell me this is not another hallucination, the condition of a damaged brain.”
Dr. S: “From the look of you, Bill, right now, I’d say no. But, well, I’m a man of Science. I don’t pretend to understand something like this. Whatever happened, hang on to it. It’s so much better than what you had yesterday.”
As Bill begins to experience healing and sober living, like many in recovery, he is able to experience life on a deeper and more meaningful level. Sober living brings him relief and vitality. Many individuals who achieve longterm sobriety report fuller lives and healthier relationships. Bill tries to put this experience into words:
“I can’t tell you how different I feel. I can taste again and feel and smell. I’m alive. I’m really alive. I haven’t felt this way in years.”
What I love about this film is the honest depiction of addiction and recovery, as well as the expression of hope. Healing, whole hearted living, and sobriety are available, and the AA approach offers a structured spiritual program of action to help those with substance use disorders achieve recover. I recommend this film for anyone whose life has been impacted by a substance use disorder, including those who struggle with addiction themselves, as well as family and friends. Much can be learned from Bill’s story, both in this film and in the Big Book. “My Name is Bill W.” can be an invitation to reflect, observe, and even challenge.
I give this film an A-.
In general, this film is well done. It is well written, and the actors portray many realities about alcoholism and recovery. My primary complaint about this film however, is that I would have liked to have seen and learned more about the evolution of AA. Bill’s story is definitely a powerful, however common story of addiction and recovery. What makes his story extraordinary in my eyes is the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous. I would have liked to have learned more about the establishment of the fellowship, as well as the writing and publishing of the book.
Duchow, P. (Producer), Garner, J. (Producer), & Petrie, D. (Director). (1989). My name is Bill W [Motion Picture]. United States: Warner Brothers.
For more information on AA, consider visiting thewww.aa.org or reading my earlier post, “AA 101.”
On April 7th I had the honor of participating in a very special community concert in Dayton. The choir I sing with at Incarnation Catholic Church in Centerville joined together with many other community choirs and music groups to put on a concert called “Unity through Harmony” with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Neal Gittleman. The concert featured sacred music from around the world representing multiple religions, ethnicities, and languages. Some of the participating choral groups included the Dayton Jewish Chorale, Omega Baptist Church Choir, Ministerio de Música Hispano Nuevo Amanecer, the University of Dayton Ebony Heritage Singers, and the University of Dayton World Music Chorale. We performed at the Dayton Masonic Center to a large and enthusiastic audience.
At this special event we were able to celebrate diversity and a shared love of music. We learned to move to the music in new ways, sing in new languages, and form relationships with our neighbors of different religious backgrounds. At one of the rehearsals, I had a lovely conversation with some singers representing the Jewish community. We were able to draw interesting parallels between our two religions and learn about one another. It was a reminder to me that Truth can be found in connecting with strangers…who can become friends!
The concert itself was a moving experience, particularly in the pieces we performed after intermission when all the choral groups joined together in one massive choir. The fullness of sound when all those voices of different ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, and faiths sang as one ensemble made my heart swell with joy! I was encouraged to see such unity at a time when division in our country seems to be increasing. While there were times when the combined choirs sang in harmony, one of the pieces (One Voice by Ruth Moody, arranged by Neal Gittleman), closed in unison with the following moving lyrics:
This is the sound of one voice.
One people, one voice,
A song for every one of us.
This is the sound of one voice.
After the concert ended, and we all said our goodbyes, I found myself reflecting on the powerful experience I had rehearsing for and performing in this concert. The therapist that I am, I couldn’t help but think about the mental health benefits of what we had just experienced as a group of musicians, and more importantly, as human beings. It’s also no wonder then, that 32.5 million Americans regularly sing in a choral group (Chorus America, 2009).
In one of my favorite books on trauma treatment and recovery, “The Body Keeps the Score,” Bessel Van Der Kolk (2014) writes about the benefits of communal rhythm, theatre, and group song. He reminds us that humanity has used creative expression, especially music, “to cope with [our] most powerful and terrifying feelings” (p. 332) and that, “Collective movement and music create a larger context for our lives, a meaning beyond our individual fate” (p. 333). Throughout history, communities have used music to express, cope, heal, teach, and grow. We see this in examples such as Ancient Greek Theatre, the religious rituals practiced around the world, military drills, and cheers and songs at sporting events. During the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, group song encouraged growth and healing for the nation, particularly the well-known anthem, “We Shall Overcome.” Similarly, communal song and dance were integral parts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work in South Africa in 1996 as the country healed from the wounds of Apartheid. As Van Der Kolk states, “Our sense of agency, how much we feel in control, is defined by our relationship with our bodies and its rhythms. Our waking and sleeping and how we eat, sit, and walk definitely the contours of our day” (p. 331). So it’s no wonder we find relief and healing in movement and song.
In 2011, the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation in Australia published a survey and literature review highlighting the benefits of group singing for individuals and communities. The publication emphasized that findings in numerous studies show group song leads to increased self-confidence, empowerment, sense of wellbeing, and interpersonal skills. It decreases feelings of isolation, increases social capital, and fosters denser social and friendship networks. I’ve condensed some of the specifics of these findings below.
The truly beneficial impact of group singing continues to be reaffirmed, study after study. The positive social, personal, and functional outcomes of making music with others cannot be denied, especially in offering healthy meaningful activity and social connectedness even for those in adversity (Dingle, et. Al., 2013).
I can attest to the many benefits of group singing from both my personal experiences and those shared with me by friends, family, and clients. Even for those who claim they are “not musically inclined” group singing can bring such joy and togetherness.
I close with some poignant yet playful lyrics from an old school Sesame Street song (Rapso, 1971). This song has become a classic, covered by many artists and singing groups. I hope in encourages you to smile and lift your voice in song, friends!
Sing, sing a song Let the world sing along Sing of love there could be Sing for you and for me.
Van Der Kolk, B. (2014). The Body keeps the score brain, mind and body in the healing of trauma. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Gridley, H., Astbury, J., et. Al. (2011). Benefits of group singing for community mental health and wellbeing: Survey and literature review. Victorian Health promotion Foundation (VicHealth), Carlton, Australia.
Chorus America. (2009). How children, adults, and communities benefit from choruses: The Chorus Impact Study.Washington, DC: Chorus America.
Dingle, G. A., Brander, C., Ballantyne, J., & Baker, F. A. (2013). ‘To be heard’: The social and mental health benefits of choir singing for disadvantaged adults. Psychology of Music, 41(4), 405–421.
Mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, and mental illnesses are common and treatable. So much of what we do physically impacts us mentally – it’s important to pay attention to both your physical health and your mental health, which can help you achieve overall wellness and set you on a path to recovery.
Did you know that Mental Health America (MHA) founded May is Mental Health Month back in 1949? That means this year marks MHA’s 70th year celebrating Mental Health Month!
MHA is expanding its focus from 2018 and raising awareness about the connection between physical health and mental health, through the theme #4Mind4Body. We are invited to join in exploring the topics of animal companionship, spirituality and religion, humor, work-life balance, and recreation and social connections as ways to boost mental health and general wellness. A healthy lifestyle can help to prevent the onset or worsening of mental health conditions, as well as chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. It can also help people recover from these conditions. For those dealing with a chronic health condition and the people who care for them, it can be especially important to focus on mental health. When dealing with dueling diagnoses, focusing on both physical and mental health concerns can be daunting – but critically important in achieving overall wellness.
There are things you can do that may help. Finding a reason to laugh, going for a walk with a friend, meditating, playing with a pet, or working from home once a week can go a long way in making you both physically and mentally healthy. The company of animals – whether as pets or service animals— can have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life and ability to recover from illnesses. A pet can be a source of comfort and can help us to live mentally healthier lives. And whether you go to church, meditate daily, or simply find time to enjoy that cup of tea each morning while checking in with yourself – it can be important to connect with your spiritual side in order to find that mind-body connection.
Mental illnesses are real, and recovery is always the goal. Living a healthy lifestyle may not be easy but can be achieved by gradually making small changes and building on those successes. Finding the balance between work and play, the ups and downs of life, physical health and mental health, can help you on the path towards focusing both mind and body.