Tools of the Trade

This past summer, Bridges of Hope hosted an excellent community training for those of us working in the “helping profession,” called Healing the Heart of the Healer presented by Chris Henley, MS, Licensed Psychologist. Chris says everyone is “hard- wired” for empathy, and as a result, we can be pulled in to another’s feelings by the work we do or the circumstances we experience in our life. We can become so focused on the other person’s feelings that we forget ourselves and the state of our own body and mind.  Chris teaches that when we learn to identify our own signs of hyperarousal, we can calm both ourselves and the other person too. Signs of hyperarousal can include an increased heart rate, increased respiration, a sense of not thinking clearly, sweating, and high blood pressure.

One of the lasting concepts that Chris shared that day was that we–those of us whose work is primarily focused on helping others–are the tools of our trade, so we need to take care of ourselves. She impressed on us the importance of maintaining our overall well-being and balance while continuing to facilitate our clients’ healing. The training also gave us several hands-on techniques to use when we are feeling stressed or fatigued, which are easy for anyone to use. If you experience a stress-filled situation or conversation, it’s time to “put on the brakes” mentally and begin to become aware of yourself and surroundings. Here’s how to do that:

1. BREATHE: Breathing is key. Take three slow deep breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.

2. RUB AND SHAKE: Rub the palms of your hands together quickly for three to five seconds to create heat, and then shake your hands to get rid of the energy. This helps clear your mind and release stress.

3. CHANGE YOUR POSITION: If you feel yourself being “pulled in” to the other person’s experience, deliberately change your body’s position by crossing your legs,  picking up you pen, or diverting your eyes.

The take-home message of the workshop was we need to be aware–aware that we’re hardwired for empathy, and aware that we can “catch” each other’s emotions. Once we’re able to identify our body’s signs of hyperarousal, we can practice ways to deactivate some of the stress and can maintain a healthier sense of well-being. If you start with the simple techniques described above, you will be taking the first steps to healing your own heart.

Other Self-Care Resources:


Music to My Ears

For many, the Holidays are a wonderful time of year filled with family, fun, laughter, giving (and eating!). One of my favorite things about the Holidays is the Christmas music. I am an avid collector of Christmas albums, and coming from a musical family means that singing in church and playing instruments is a part of the Holidays that always brings me joy.

As the season winds down, I usually feel a slight pang as Christmas music is no longer being played in church or on the radio. It somehow feels empty. This feeling also serves as a reminder to me about how this time of year is not a wonderful time for everyone. Some are experiencing a first Holiday without a loved one, some are feeling the pain of divorce and complicated Holiday celebrations, some have to face strained relationships with family members; and for many, the “winter blues” have begun to set in.

I think at some point everyone experiences a little of the “winter blues” here in Minnesota. The void of activity after a busy few months of Holiday celebrations, the cold of January and February, and the lack of sunlight is an easy recipe for feeling down or depressed. For some, staying active with friends and family both in or outdoors is enough to shake the mood. But for others, it’s not quite that simple, and it can become a very serious concern, like what happened in Carol’s family recently:

Carol’s Moment

girl sitting by a wallCarol felt like she was in over her head. A couple days after Christmas, her eldest daughter Laura confided in her about some frightening suicidal thoughts. A home-schooling mother of four with a husband who owned his own business, Carol felt that their family life was good and had been confident she was pretty in-tune with her children. Stunned with this news, Carol acted quickly and scheduled an appointment for Laura with the family doctor.

The doctor recommended Laura see a counselor, but after striking out on her first few attempts at scheduling an appointment, Carol called Bridges of Hope. During her conversation with a Bridges staff, Carol disclosed that she too had been personally struggling with depression for most of her adult life–especially during the winter months. Bridges of Hope was able to find two available appointments for both Laura & Carol at the same local counseling center.

A couple days after the appointment, the Bridges staff called Carol to see how things were going. Carol thanked her for helping set up the counseling and shared that she and Laura were both planning to see the counselors regularly over the next few months. Carol was grateful that BoH had been able to find counselors that were such a good fit for her family, right when they needed the support.

As a staff who works directly with families who reach out for support, I help with a wide variety of situations and struggles on a daily basis; however, over the past 3 and a half years, I have noticed some trends too. One is the increase in calls during January and February that are related to help with mental health and counseling. Although we do not provide the counseling ourselves, it feels so great to be able to make really good recommendations to our local therapists, based on the knowledge and relationships we have built with our therapists and counseling agencies in the area. Knowing that I am helping someone who is facing a dark time in their life is very rewarding. Following up with someone after their first appointment and hearing the change in their voice–a more relaxed, less burdened, lighter sounding voice–truly is music to my ears.


Are you, your child, or someone you know struggling with a mental health issue? Call Bridges of Hope today (218.825.7682). A staff member will gather some information from you and can help match you with a therapist who specializes in what you are looking for.

You can also learn more about our Mental Health Program here.

Michael and Susan’s Moment

Three-Year-Old Girl

Photo by Neree Jackson | Studio You

Susan contacted Bridges of Hope asking for help with a Security System for her home. Susan and her husband Michael have two grown children and recently adopted their two grandchildren, Olivia and Madison, ages 3 and 1. Olivia, at age 3, had already been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, a behavioral disorder, and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome–a trio of hefty diagnoses for such a little girl.

Susan explained that Olivia has trouble comprehending danger and she has even tried to leave their home at night. Susan and Michael were concerned that Olivia would eventually be successful in getting out at night and would wander off into the street. Susan had tried locking the door with a deadbolt, but Olivia was able to reach the lock. Susan was already seeking supportive services for Olivia’s mental health, but she was also very concerned for her granddaughter’s safety.

Convinced that a security system with an audible alarm would be the only way to keep Olivia safe, Michael got an estimate. The couple looked at their budget and decided they would be able to afford the monthly maintenance fees, but the instillation cost was just too much for them, especially after recently adopting two children. Since the total cost was also too much for Bridges of Hope on its own, a Family Service Worker helped Susan brainstorm several resources that might be able to help her. Susan explained that she had already contacted her own church and a local service club, and between them they would be able to assist with about a third of the cost. The Bridges staff then directed Susan to also contact a local Family Center, who agreed to assist with another third of the cost. Bridges of Hope was able to utilize its own internal funding for the balance of the installation cost of the security system, and it was installed the following week.

The owner of the security company commented that he was truly touched by the outpouring of support for this family, staying he had never had a firsthand encounter like it before. About a week later, the Bridges staff received a note from Susan and Michael, thanking Bridges of Hope for helping them keep Olivia safe—and for helping them all sleep better at night.

If you or someone you know is struggling with the care or safety of a preschooler, contact Bridges of Hope for assistance.

Rochelle’s Moment

RachealRochelle is a single mom of three boys, ages one, two and four. She called Bridges of Hope after hitting rock bottom mentally and emotionally. She had ended up at a local shelter after fleeing from years of abuse at the hands of her husband, who was in another state. Rochelle knew her decision to leave her husband was the right one, but it was still hard for her. She had been suffering from depression for years; and now, homeless and facing the daunting task of being a single parent to three children all under the age of five, she was feeling tremendously stressed and overwhelmed.

That’s when Rochelle called Bridges of Hope, explaining to the staff that she knew she needed to get her mental health under control before she could even begin to rebuild her life. Bridges of Hope was able to find a counselor who specialized in parenting and stress management as well as with survivors of domestic violence. Rochelle was set up with an immediate counseling appointment, and the Bridges staff simultaneously set up Crisis Nursery childcare for the children, so Rochelle could attend the appointment.

After her initial appointment, a Bridges staff followed up with Rochelle, who reported that the counseling appointment went really well and that she planned to continue to see the counselor. Bridges of Hope was able to set up Crisis Nursery a few more times during Rochelle’s subsequent counseling appointments; and now, a few months later, Rochelle has been able to move into her own place and has gotten a job at local retailer. She has been able to set up regular childcare and continues to move forward with her mental health.

Are you or someone you care about looking for the same kind of support that Rochelle needed? Bridges of Hope maintains a comprehensive database of our area therapists and their specialties. Click here to learn more.