Peer and Clinician: Different Roles

Some of you know what it is like to step into a counselor’s office to discuss the most intimate thoughts and emotions you’ve ever experienced. You open up and reveal your fears, your confusion, your quest to know where the illness came from, how it can be treated, and lots of other questions. I’ve poured my heart out to people who nodded in predictable places, who said things like, I understand, or asking, How does that make you feel, What do you think about that, What do you think you should do? Here’s some homework, Ben. Work on it and we’ll discuss it when you return.

I still see my doctor regularly. The thing that seems to always put the visit in perspective isn’t something said. It’s a quick turn of the wrist and a glance at a watch, or eyes shifting to a clock on the wall.  That’s the signal to wrap it up. Time’s up Mr. Overby. Stop by the front desk and the receptionist will make an appointment for next time. And just like that, I’m out.

We are not peers. Not a complaint. Just a difference.

I’ve found that one of the less obvious differences between a peer and a clinician is eye contact. Psychologists really look at you. I’ve tried to out stare them and always lose. They are analyzing, assessing, and formulating clinical judgments.

Recently I purchased a coffee pot. Ignoring the insult of written instructions, I studied it, analyzed the buttons, tried to figure out how it worked. I punched Power and waited for a response. I haven’t figured out how to work the auto on function, but it won’t be long.

We pay clinicians to figure us out, voluntarily permitting them to punch our buttons, jot down our response, eventually suggesting a treatment plan. That’s how it works according to my experience.

Peers don’t try to figure each other out. We don’t stare at each other or push buttons or attempt to provide treatment. When I’m talking with a peer he or she doesn’t look at me but with me. I’ve had lots of people gaze into my life through their eyes; only peers can look at my life through my eyes.

Ben Overby

Conversation/Christ-Centered Peer Support

[Ben Overby invites interested individuals to participate in an exploratory conversation to discuss his vision for Christ-Centered Peer Support]

I hope you’ve had a great summer and you find yourself in good health. I continue to work as a Certified Peer Specialist with the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network supporting peers as they make the transition from the hospital into the community.

I’m very interested in connecting with Christians who would like to hear about Christ-centered peer support. I’ve blended the power of the gospel with evidence-based peer support and believe you can utilize the concepts in order to have an enormous, positive impact. Using a low number, we have 200,000 people in the Columbus Metro Area. Research shows that 22% of the population lives with a mental illness. Doing the math we see that there are 44,000 people suffering with depression, bipolar, PTSD, panic attacks, etc. in our area.

We have some great and over-worked community services such as West Central Regional, New Horizons, America Works, among others. In addition we have several clinical professionals in private practice in the community; counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. NAMI  also has a presence in Columbus.

The one thing each has in common is that the service provided is secular (with the exception of the pastoral institute). But I believe we need an effective option for people searching for Christ-centered peer support. People in and out of the church are vulnerable and need us to support their healing process. You can learn to intentionally provide peer support moving people toward recovery and growth in Christ.

I want to put together an exploratory conversation to be held at Edgewood Baptist, November 6th, at 7pm. I want to outline my suggestions, get feedback in order to help shape the work I’ve done, and perhaps get a volunteer or two to help. I’m also prepared to coach churches in putting together an outreach program if you know of anyone interested. Let me know ASAP if interested in joining the conversation.

Thanks,

Ben Overby, 706.457.3479    benoverby@yahoo.com

The Meaning of Your Past

Meaning is the ‘one thing’ a person intends to communicate. If I warn you that there is danger ahead, then that’s the meaning I intend. You either accept the warning or ignore it. But past is not a person. It doesn’t intend to communicate anything. It has no life. Past is like ice cream without flavor. We choose the topping, the ingredients that give it taste. Without our decision, ice cream doesn’t take charge and say, “I am strawberry!”

Past is the ice cream. What it means is actually the one thing we are communicating to ourselves about the past. It is a waste of time to blame our past; after all, it is tasteless. It exists in our memory, waiting for a topping.

Are you giving your past life, giving it a voice? Is your past saying your are doomed to failure? Is it communicating that you are fat, ugly, dumb, and destined for poverty? Maybe it is conveying that you can succeed and only succeed? Is it warning you? Is it encouraging you?

We should accept past for what it is. It is a cluster of events. Nothing more. It can only mean the meaning we give it. If we don’t like chocolate ice cream, then we should reject it and demand strawberry. We can do it because it is in our power alone. We (not past) are literally talking to ourselves. So, take charge–when necessary spare the messenger and kill the message.

© Ben Overby, 2014

DBSA Support Group

I’ve been contacted by several people from the Chattahoochee Valley area lately indicating a desire to participate in a support group focused on bipolar disorder and unipolar depression. We’ve put together a few groups in the past year but they never got “lift off.” No doubt there are several reasons why this is the case. For anyone who wants to participate, I will coordinate a Skype group beginning September 1, 2014. This will give us plenty of time to put the group together.

Please use the contact form to indicate your interest. I’ll provide Skype instructions later about how to check in.

Thanks,

Ben Overby, CPS

Stuck In the Mud

We’ve all been stuck. It’s frustrating to have a clear goal in mind only to be sidelined by procrastination. Maybe we’re stuck between competing goals–a desire to run the race neutralized by contentment with the couch. Those of us living with a mental illness often have recovery goals. Our health and relationships depend on us staying out of the mud, staying focused on our targets. We can’t afford to get bogged down, to get stuck, and if we do we have to get freed up asap.

We hear it all the time; “I feel like I’m stuck in the mud.” The question is, how do we get out.

When I was much younger, occasionally I’d frog gig. I’ll spare you the gory details and simply note that it is impossible to gig frogs without getting in the mud. Getting in mud isn’t necessarily a problem. But if the mud is thick and deep enough it is easy to get stuck. It wasn’t unusual to find myself glued to the edge of a pond like a fly on fly paper. I’ve actually pulled so hard that my foot has left my shoe behind.

Options for responding to being stuck in the mud:

1. Fight it. Not an effective strategy. The harder you pull on the boot, the stronger its grip. When sheer willpower wrestles old habits it can leave us frustrated, getting nowhere.

2. Leave the boots behind. However, ignoring a sticky situation will not make it go away. If you step out of the boot, then what? Not a pretty picture.

3. Shout for help. A friend or coach will come running and pull you out of the mud. But at what expense? Often the result is a temporary fix. Movement toward a goal might last for just a week or two before you step right back into the old pattern, feeling like a failure, losing confidence that you can consistently achieve your desires.

4. Find a mentor who understands the issue, someone who has ventured into the same place, gotten stuck, and found his/her way out. A good coach will encourage and support you as you break free. Chances are he’ll suggest that you stop fighting the mud and resolve the problem while retaining your shoes. The coach may suggest that you do something similar to what I did when I was up to my ankles in mud. Lift your foot slowly and patiently. Pulling the foot and shoe free is possible. And we enjoy a tremendous advantage by leaning on a trusted shoulder for balance.

Working as a peer mentor and whole health coach in the mental health field has reinforced (for me) that the way to help people out of the mud is through support–sharing wisdom that comes only with experience. The person usually breaks free, reaching the goal slowly and methodically, not as a student but empowered by finding inner strength. I’ve found providing a shoulder for balance to be an invaluable strategy along the way.

Put another way, I’ve found it effective to model what it is like to get unstuck. If you want to achieve what you really want to achieve, don’t allow someone to yank, pull or try to do it for you. Chances are you’ll both end up stuck, neither one hitting the intended target, sinking deep into long-term frustration.

So don’t just stand there. Doing something now to get out of the mud.

Ben Overby

Hatred and Boiling Vinegar

Websters defines hate as: intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury b : extreme dislike or antipathy : loathing

One of the more complicated challenges I face personally as well as many of the peers I mentor is self-hatred. It usually takes the form of self-criticism or self-condemnation. It is that nagging voice that refuses to shut-up.

Aversion is repugnance. It is a desire to turn away. When we avoid someone because we’re angry or afraid of them or sense they’ve injured us it is signaling hatred.

My mom pickled cucumbers when I was a kid. I hated the smell. It was repulsive to me. I had an aversion to it, which explains why I ran outside and refused to return until the coast was clear of the stench. Sometimes we feel that way toward others. And sometimes we feel that way about ourselves.

The trouble is I can’t run away from me. I’m stuck in my own skin. Sometimes the hatred is because I’m afraid of myself. Experience with mania over the 33 years has left deep scars. Though manic experiences are now controlled by medication, the fear remains close by. Sometimes I’m angry at myself. To really complicate things, a lot of the time I’m angry with myself because I’m angry with myself and want to stop being angry with myself but feel powerless. I’m sealed in a room with boiling vinegar, no ventilation, no escape route.

Often fear and anger have self-injury as the source. We can injure ourselves a thousand different ways.

For those raised in a performance-based family this is a particular problem. Did your parents connect their love for you with your performance, your behavior, your goodness however they defined it? When I kept the rules I was a “good boy.” When I violated the rules (some I didn’t know existed until it was too late!) I was bad. Expressions of love came with contingencies. So, if my parents couldn’t love me because I didn’t meet the standard, then it didn’t take long before I didn’t love me for failing my parents. And this failure to love myself was, and still can be, a devastating injury to the self.

A lot of the peers I work with, or people that I coach, loath themselves. Sometimes it is countered with substance abuse. Other times it results in attempts to snatch love from anyone who will give it (or at least appear to). There’s a craving for intimacy. At other times the person disconnects from their own emotions, thinking they are escaping the repugnant smell, ignoring the fact that at some point they are going to have to breathe.

The remedy is simple but difficult. It’s love–the prescription that heals hatred. Love does not run away but runs to. It is not angry but is understanding. It puts into context perceived self-injuries, accepts them for what they are, and forgives; lets it go. We get a double benefit because we also stop being angry at other people, cease being afraid, and stop attempting to injure the other.

I’m not an expert on any of this; I’m not a counselor and certainly not a psychologist.  I trust Jesus. He didn’t study human behavior. He knew it. He knew what was real and passed it on to his apprentices. And one of them expressed it better than I can, and I’ll stop with this;

“My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God!” from The Message, 1 John.

Ben Overby
Hopeful Living
BKO Consultants, LLC
DBSA-CV, INC