Psychologist Irvin Yalom stated that one of the most important agents of change that the therapist can use to assist the client is the instillation of hope.

While I am not an expert in the process, I did want to share a few lessons that I have learned that hopefully will be of benefit to you.


We instill hope, not install it

We are not the therapy versions of the Best Buy Geek Squad. We don’t install hope, like they would install high-definition television sets. During the counseling sessions we strive to “instill” hope. Instilling is defined as the process of “gradually but firmly establishing”. In therapy we try to “gradually but firmly” connect the client to the hope that is already inside them. It took hope for the client to even come to the counseling session. So they already have the hope, we just have to help them increase it.

We bring the belief of hope with us

Even though we don’t install hope, we do bring the belief that the client has hope inside them, which can be built upon. We bring the hope that the time spent in counseling will bring about a positive result. We bring the hope that we have been educated and prepared to journey with our clients through whatever challenges life has given them.

We hope in God

As great as our clinical skills may be, I personally believe that God is in the room as well. And that other person is God. I recognize that everyone may not embrace this hope and I understand that. When I feel lost in session, (and even when I don’t), I try to stay constantly aware that God is in the room and His love and grace are present as well. I also have hope that His love for the client, (and for me), is operating even more than my clinical skills and techniques. This is not to absolve me of being prepared, present and focused in session, but it is a sense or comfort.

Also as the semester begins, realize that hope is for you too! There may be times when you will feel that you are losing hope yourself. It may be after an unfruitful session with a client or after getting a bad grade. It may even be when the rest of your life intrudes and you are started to feel overwhelmed. When that happens remember this anonymous quote, “When the world says, “Give up,” Hope whispers, “Try it one more time”.

From Here to There

Someone is praying me to another path.

My path at Loyola has ended its long loving curve in my life. Finding my way here was an adventure in miracles. Most of those miracles occurred behind my back and without my permission yet that didn’t stop me from grabbing the opportunities  and reaping the rewards.

One of those rewards has been this cozy little relationship with Meaning Making. When the call for writers went out, I fell all over myself sending in my submission. When Betsy Davis asked me to take over the role of editor, I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough. My idea of heaven is to sit, read, talk, and write endlessly about spirituality, God, religion, faith, humans, love, and Jesus, and never stir from my laptop.

It was almost a relationship of disordered affection. What else could be more important than writing about what is meaningful in life and how to make meaning, especially during times when it appears that events are meaningless? As a pastoral counselor, I was learning to help people find what Viktor Frankl called their “will to meaning.” Frankl believed, as I do, that when humans reach for more than who they believe they are and find their meaning, they become who they truly are. I was deliriously happy to find my meaning in reading and writing.

Fortunately, my comfort zone was often challenged in the presence of other blog writers. People like Vernon, Glenda, JoAnn, Andrea, and Kate made my editorial life a dream while writing about what compels us to grow, what drives us to find meaning, and what humbles us in our humanity. In them, I found myself. In finding myself, I realized that I have to do more than mouth the witty words and write the pretty paragraphs. I have to live the lessons.

Just as I am compassionate and caring with others, I have to be the same for me. And, yet, I have learned that, no, it’s not all about me. We are the manifestations of the Divine Spirit come to physical life here on planet earth. On my journey here at Loyola, I have learned that I am seeking that which I already am. I found all of me here.

And now I am taking me out there.


The Power of Release: Getting Rid of “Stuff”

Several years ago, I never missed an episode of Clean House starring comedienne Niecy Nash.  Ms. Nash helped homeowners recognize the benefit of parting with excess and useless possessions. She endowed them with a modern, efficient, and attractive living space which more closely reflected their personalities and lifestyles.

As counselors, we have similar roles in our clients’ lives. We facilitate their examination and assessment of thoughts, relationships, emotions, and actions which contribute negatively to their growth. Consequently, healing can begin when toxic issues are replaced by healthier lifestyles, nurturing support systems, and a more resourceful, positive sense of self.

But what happens when we are the ones who need to take stock of our lives? What if our workload is too demanding or our dance card is too full? Are we ready and willing to offload some of our activities to enjoy a more balanced lifestyle? That was my reality as I prepared to return to the classroom in just over two weeks. I realized that it was time to apply a Clean House intervention and rid myself of excess and useless activities that I had accumulated.

Letting go is not easy, especially when the relationship seems to be both harmless and enjoyable. The tendency is to hold on and try to make it work. This is akin to hoarding. The most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) introduces hoarding as a distinct disorder. While hoarding usually refers to objects, if we were to focus on the “distress” factor, we may see similarities in a lifestyle that keeps us tired, under-performing, and unbalanced.

How do we determine which activities we wish to continue or suspend?  In my case, I asked the question, is it purposeful? Does this activity contribute in a meaningful way to my lifestyle or goals?  Can I allocate the time I spend on it to something more important or necessary?  I tried to respond objectively to determine what I would keep and what I would let go, and although in some cases it was heart-wrenching to release an activity, I realized that it was necessary.

When I finally decided what should be eliminated, it was liberating, and I experienced a discharge of tension that I had not previously felt. This reflected Eckhart Tolle’s statement that “sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.” I can now look forward to enjoying a sense of balance as I allocate my time to meaningful and purposeful projects, and focus on excellence in fewer goals, rather than mediocrity in many.

Can We “Rule-Out” the Dream?

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” –
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King


To be extremely transparent, this has probably been the hardest blog post for me to write. I have started, stopped, reconsidered, rewrote, and second-guessed almost every word. The topic is so sensitive, and the possibility of being misunderstood is so great, even attempting to grasp it with one blog entry seems impossible.

To say nothing would be negligent with the Trayvon Martin murder trial verdict just a few weeks in the past and the commemoration of the 50-year anniversary of the March on Washington and the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech given by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King literally days away. Can we definitely say one way or the other that as a society we judge people by the “content of their character and not the color of their skin”? I think there can be some consensus that we are not in that place yet.

Can we “rule-out” that the dream that Dr. King talked about will ever come to fruition? I don’t have enough information to make that diagnosis. I am hopeful that in the future months and years, our nation will take strides to listen to each other and not make the erroneous assumption that we have arrived in a “post-racial” utopia that does not presently exist.

It starts with less talking and more listening. It continues with people being less concerned with being right and more concerned about being compassionate. It is realizing that I can’t really put myself “in your shoes.” I have to listen to you and hear you when you tell me what wearing your shoes is like. It starts with something as simple as looking at each and every person and giving them the respect of being an individual regardless of their differences.

In less than a month, we will be back in classrooms with our fellow classmates. I encourage you to have the tough conversations and ask, respectfully, the questions that may be sensitive. That is how we will grow as individuals and as a society.

Why should this even be a concern for counselors? It is a consideration because the client sitting across from you or in your counseling group or your colleague or friend has a dream, too.  That dream may be a part of the American Dream, a part of the dream of equality or another dream entirely. Listening to, respecting, and even advocating for their dream may be the help that they need from you.


How To Succeed At Staying Stagnant Without Even Trying

by Kathleen Gerwin

Personal growth, self-actualization, spiritual maturity—that’s all we seem to talk about in the pastoral counseling profession! But what about advice for those who would like to remain stuck, possibly depressed and certainly 100% growth-free? Here’s a helpful “How To” list for anyone who would like to succeed at staying stagnant—with as little effort as possible, of course…

  • Seek the company of friends who won’t—under any circumstances— challenge you. In fact, see if you can find a community of these like-minded folks and spend all of your time with them. Another possible un-growth strategy is to avoid people all together.
  • Be sure not to engage in a spiritual practice on a regular basis—talking about praying, meditating or practicing awareness is fine, but be careful not to actually DO these things!
  • Load up on a daily diet of stress, drama, and distractions. If these three “stagnation” building blocks are in place, you’re well on your way to setting yourself up to becoming growth-free. Conversely, healthy eating, regular exercise, and a daily self-care practice create optimal conditions for growth, so try to avoid these.
  • Stay firmly fixed in your routines, habits, and viewpoints. Studies show that those who take well thought-out risks tend to be happier and have a more positive over-all attitude, so remember to engage in risk-aversion at every opportunity!
  • If you’re the type of person who likes to avoid your feelings or any type of inner work, then you’re already at a relatively low risk for growth. But don’t worry if you’re the type who likes to endlessly ruminate and stay joylessly mired in you’re inner depths for weeks—there’s hope for you, too! This can be just as an effective strategy for staying stagnant.
  • Be on the lookout for the ways in which joy and humor might subtly work their ways into your life—these two little sneaks can take you outside of yourself and connect you to others in a way that can be very dangerous for anyone trying to stay on the path to stagnation. Be especially careful never to cultivate a light-hearted, grateful attitude!

Roll Like a Ball

Each summer since I have been at Loyola, I have concocted a “Summer Bucket List.”  The list includes those activities that I always wanted to do, but didn’t have the time because of class and clinical internship. One of the items on this year’s Summer Bucket List was to take up yoga. I have heard many great things about the benefits of yoga from fellow students, professors, clients, and even my doctor and I finally decided to give it a try.

My local gym had daily classes so I picked a morning one, showed up early, sat down on my newly purchased yoga mat, and prepared for fifty minutes of bliss.

It started out so well, a few stretches here, a few twists and turns there, and soothing music playing in the background. Then we really began, and it was not pretty. My “Downward Facing Dog” died mid pose, my “Warrior Stance” was AWOL, and I won’t even mention the horror which was my “Pigeon Pose.”  In fact, with the few exceptions of the “Mountain” and “Chair” poses, the relaxing morning of yoga was looking to be an ego-bursting, reality-bashing exercise in frustration. Then, the instructor led us into “Roll Like a Ball”. It turns out that in this I was a natural. My technique was perfect and I was able to balance mid roll on every occasion to my surprise and delight.

In some ways, my first year of clinical internship was very similar to my yoga experience. In the introductory phase, I approached clinicals with not only anticipation, but to be honest, also a slight sense of untested confidence. After some initial great sessions, I started working with the “real” clients and often felt like I did in yoga, wondering what in the world was going on. But, just like yoga, I stuck with it and improvement started to occur. Thankfully, there were “Roll Like a Ball” moments when there was a significant breakthrough with a client, or an effective treatment plan was written, or a highly productive supervisory session was held. These are the moments that you look forward to, but the other arduous moments are just as important for our growth and development as counselors.

I have no doubt that, if I continue, mastering a true “Tree” pose will be in my future, but until then I will keep showing up to yoga class. Each day I try to make the best of that time.

If we, as counselors, apply the same lesson in clinicals and try to make each day, each session, the best that we can, we will be “Rolling Like a Ball” in no time.


Creating Balance in Life

In a few days summer will be officially here. This is a much anticipated time for many of us. The weather forecasts are full of beautiful, sunny days, and opportunities abound to catch up with old friends, visit family, plan vacations, and tackle household projects. Summer can be a busy time, with a to-do list attached to each dawning day, and a zealous effort on the part of many to use the time wisely before cold weather returns. Yet, as I anticipate summer, I am mindful of the need to create balance in my life by including time to rest and rejuvenate.

In our current society, the words “rest” and “rejuvenate” may be considered old-school. Who has time to take a break? Even while asleep we remain connected with those who are awake through technology. Today, life’s pace is faster than it has ever been, and no one, including me, wants to be left in the wake of progress. I can recall dismal days that ended with no obvious outcome, feeling the rise of guilt, that I had allowed such emptiness into my schedule. Maybe they were not empty days after all; I just did not understand. Maybe their purpose was to allow my body and mind to enjoy a respite; a part of God’s plan. Rest and rejuvenation are indeed purposeful, and my goal this summer is to enjoy them.

When I consider the value of rest and rejuvenation, I am mindful of Ecclesiastes 3:1 which states “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” \”Turn Turn Turn\” – The Byrds

This verse does not only speak to the notion of purpose, but also to balance. Balance provides an essential dimension to life. The dictionary defines it as a state of equilibrium or emotional stability, qualities that are important for Pastoral Counselors who are charged with the mission of the psychospiritual care of clients. To maintain that emotional stability, it is recommended that we include self-care in our schedule.

How easy is it for you to relax? Do you practice self-care? In the past, I maximized every weekend, and as many evenings as possible during the summer, with tasks.  In the process of doing, I forgot how to be. I forgot how to be calm; I forgot how to be mindful; I forgot how to be relaxed. I forgot how to appreciate uneventful days and simple pleasurable acts. I replaced “to be” with “to do.” Gratefully, this was brought to my attention, and I decided to change. I invite those among us who are caught up in doing, to pause, and try to practice being. Allow yourself to be still for a few minutes each day so your body and mind can recharge. Give them a chance to restore so you may create balance in your life.

Prayed for

Somebody must have prayed for me.

As I listen to my clients’ stories, I know I have been blessed and prayed for. I never could have landed here on my own.

My story is no more and no less than their stories, and as I look back over the half century that my breath has filled this air, that my thoughts have contained this world, and that my words have expressed my being, I know that I have never been alone. Someone else’s breath has named my name. Someone else’s thoughts have held my sanity. Someone else’s words have prayed my existence.

I know this to be true because even as my fingers find the letters to form these words, my tears find my eyes and release the divine truth that can only be felt within. This truth is unexplainable and its proof can be found in the footprints of my journey.

I never should have lived this long. I never should have created this peace. I never should have found sustenance by the energy of my creativity.

But I did. I found a path beyond confusion. I learned how life is often built on lies and that each of us has the right to find our own truths. I realized that I could make choices that took care of me and the world did not stop turning. The sun continues to meet me on schedule each morning.

Instead of a life of darkness and poverty, someone must have seen me living this life of light and abundance. Instead of a lonely life bereft of company except that of my own shadow, someone helped pray me a family and friends.

And in times of shadow, I simply have to pivot to see what is behind me and I see the divinity that is with me always.

When clients come to me for pastoral counseling and help that appears beyond the reach of human hands, I pray for their blessings and peace. Some of my clients are empty of hope. Some feel absolutely abandoned and alone with their secret horrors and bestial histories. They can envision no future without pain, no time without sorrow, no being without tears.

I will be their somebody.

The Rest that Comes After


“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” ― Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

The other day I was abruptly reminded that I needed to rest. I had just gotten home after a long day and somehow between turning off the engine and opening the door, I dozed off for 20 minutes. I might still be there if it had not been for the sound of a car door slamming somewhere else. I got inside the house and a familiar chorus ran through my mind, “I will rest after . . . .” After the treatment plan is done, after the chapter is read, after the email checked and after the project for work is completed. Rest for me did not come until after midnight.

I have talked to many of my colleagues, and my experience (with the exception of the car incident) is typical. Rest becomes the thing that comes after. Rest will come after work, after class, after meetings, after homework, after family responsibilities, and after essentially everything else. Quite often, the “after” does not come. We all know that we need rest, but making that rest a priority is a significant challenge.

A 2012 CDC study reported that more than 40 million U.S. workers get fewer than 6 hours of sleep per night. This obviously is less than the 7 ½ to 8 hours that is generally recommended. Just take a moment to reflect over the last month of your life and think of how many times you have gotten proper rest.

To make matters worse, our society often applauds persons for working themselves to the point of exhaustion.

So, we have exhausted counselors sitting across from exhausted clients. We have to do better and also have to encourage our clients to do better as well.

Rest always comes “after” something, but make sure that rest doesn’t come after everything!

Loving and Forgiving

PHOTO: L'Osservatore Romano


As I knelt in prayer after communion one Sunday morning, I became aware that my praying had been subliminally replaced by the words of the hymn being sung by the choir.  It was a sweet melody, and the lyrics had grabbed hold of my soul:


Loving and forgiving are you, O Lord,
slow to anger; rich in kindness,
loving and forgiving are you.

(You Tube: Psalm 103: Loving and Forgiving)

I stayed on my knees savoring the significance of the words, realizing how blessed I was to be the recipient of God’s love and forgiveness.  The hymn ended, but the lyrics continued to demand my attention. I imagined myself to be loving and forgiving, slow to anger, and rich in kindness. I thought “how awesome that would be.”

The themes of love and forgiveness are not new to Christians.  They echo through religious writings, and occur often in the Bible.  In Colossians, Chapter 3, we learn that “if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.”  In that same chapter, St. Paul reminds us to put on “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (v. 12), and “over all these things, put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (v. 14).

Practicing love and forgiveness is usually associated with spirituality, but it does not reside there alone.  If not in our personal lives, as pastoral counselors, we encounter clients whose health and/or relationships are compromised by an inability to forgive and love.  Oftentimes they believe that expressions of love or forgiveness might be misinterpreted for weakness.  Therefore, our initial task might sometimes be to help our clients release themselves from bondage by practicing forgiveness.  We help them recognize how challenging it is to love when filled with rage and resentment. Forgiveness offers them freedom to love.

What happens when one refuses to forgive?

If you’re unforgiving, you might pay the price repeatedly by bringing anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience.  Your life might become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can’t enjoy the present.  You might become depressed or anxious.  You might feel that your life lacks meaning or purpose, or that you’re at odds with your spiritual beliefs.  You might lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others. (Mayo Clinic)

We can reverse those symptoms.  When we love and forgive we imitate Jesus, who with his dying breath asked his heavenly father “forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  We must strive to love and forgive as our heavenly father loves and forgives us.  “God never gets tired of forgiving us; it is we who get tired of asking for forgiveness” (Pope Francis I).