Cummins Values: Why Respect Is at the Core of Our Work

Think back to a time in your life when someone treated you with disrespect.

How did you feel when this happened? Did you become annoyed? Angry? Humiliated? And how did it affect your opinion of the person who disrespected you? Did you lose some of your trust and respect in them?

Now think of a person who has always treated you with the respect you deserve. Do you feel understood and accepted when you speak to them? Do you trust them with personal information that you wouldn’t tell just anyone? Do you respect their thoughts and opinions when they share them with you?

Respect plays an important role in how we view and interact with other people. In fact, feeling respected by other people increases our self-esteem, sense of affiliation, and sense of belonging in a group. In mental health settings, respect can help a person feel comfortable to honestly share their thoughts and emotions, which is crucial for any therapeutic relationship.

At Cummins Behavioral Health, respect is one of the core values that guides the work we do each day. We strive for all of our actions to convey respect for the uniqueness, dignity and worth of every individual we interact with. Individually and collectively, we seek to be advocates for those we serve.

To better understand what respect means at Cummins, we spoke to four members of our staff who embody this value: Suzette Corrie, Marion County Access Team Lead; Melissa Bush, Licensed Therapist and Clinical Team Lead; Pati Hopkins, Medical Services Liaison for State Hospital and Civil Commitments; and Melissa Lawson, School-based Life Skills Specialist.

In this post, they explain not only why respect matters, but also how they show it in their day-to-day work.

What Respect Means for Our Staff

Suzette Corrie (left); Melissa Bush, LMHC (center); and Melissa Lawson, LSS (right). Not pictured: Pati Hopkins, LSW.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, to show respect toward someone means “to consider (them) worthy of high regard.” However, the ways in which someone shows respect through their words and actions can vary greatly.

For our staff, showing respect means treating people in a way that is nonjudgmental and that acknowledges their value as an individual. “Respect means always showing someone you care by actively listening, offering support and confidentiality, and above all treating others how you wish to be treated,” Melissa Lawson says.

Pati agrees, adding, “Respect means treating others in a way that allows them to maintain and maximize their dignity. To validate and encourage, to support them, to advocate for them, to stand for them. To show that they matter.”

All four providers indicated that their personal sense of respect could be traced back to a family member who influenced them in their youth. “Two people who shaped my thoughts on respect are my parents,” Suzette says. “They both showed and taught me that no matter what you might be going through, there is always someone who has it worse. That statement goes through my mind almost daily.”

For Melissa Bush, her father played an enormous role in shaping her deep-seated belief in respecting others. “He was a Navy and Vietnam veteran,” Melissa explains. “He instilled in me a core belief system consistent with the Golden Rule. He believed that all humans are truly created equally and are worthy to be treated as such. He instilled the value of service in me.”

Why Respect Matters—in Therapy and in Everyday Life

As we mentioned above, the presence or absence of respect makes a profound difference in our relationships with other people. When we believe that others respect us, we feel included and valued. And by contrast, when we sense disrespect from others, we feel excluded and devalued, and our self-worth may be damaged as a result.

“I know the positives that respect brings, and I know the damage and pain that disrespect does,” Pati says. “I abhor when persons are disrespectful and tear others down. Basic human dignity matters. Kindness matters.”

It is vital for every person’s self-esteem and wellness to feel respected in their day-to-day life. Respect is even more important in the context of therapy and counseling, because a consumer must be able to trust that their provider always has their best interests in mind. Melissa Bush explains, “Each person has incredible value. They are someone’s son, daughter, parent, grandparent, sibling, or loved one. They deserve to have five-star care. This person’s journey has brought them to us, and they entrust us with so much.”

Of course, treating others with respect is easy when that respect is reciprocated in turn. The true test—and the moment when respect is most crucial—is when we are confronted with disrespect. Our providers suggested that part of their job involves responding to disrespect with grace and understanding.

“When someone is disrespectful towards me, I try not to take it personally,” Suzette says. “I don’t know everything about what is going on in their lives or what happened before they walked in. I try to calm them down by listening and not reacting to their disrespectful comments.”

Melissa Lawson adds that the appropriate response to an instance of disrespect depends on how harmful that disrespect may be to others. “Knowing that others have different perspectives and attitudes, I let it go if it is something inconsequential. If it will have a negative impact on me or on someone else, then I let the person know how I feel and how I want myself or others to be treated,” she says.

How Our Providers Show Respect to Cummins’ Consumers

In some ways, the respect that a therapist or counselor shows to a consumer looks much the same as the respect that any person shows toward another. Respect means listening to the other person, acknowledging their worth, and treating them as they wish to be treated. But in a therapeutic relationship, respect also means establishing a supportive and collaborative relationship between provider and consumer.

“I express sincerely how honored I am to work with them, to be entrusted with such important life issues and needs,” Melissa Bush says. “I respond quickly when they reach out to me with a need. I ask them for feedback about our work so I can adjust to their needs.”

Melissa Lawson adds, “I show respect to consumers by building a collaborative partnership, being present and positive in reflecting on their feelings and needs, supporting consumers’ efforts by focusing on their strengths, maintaining confidentiality, and providing frequent feedback on positive growth.”

A foundation of respect in the provider-consumer relationship can sometimes solve problems that would be otherwise unsolvable without it. For instance, all four providers we spoke to could think of a time when the respect they showed a consumer made a significant difference in that person’s experience at Cummins.

“One time my respect made a difference for a Cummins consumer,” Suzette says, “was when a mother came in very upset that her child was not going to be seen due to her being a few minutes late for her appointment. I asked her if she would like to go into another room so we could talk about it in private. We did, and I found out that the reason she was late was through no fault of hers. I asked her to wait in the room while I went to talk to the provider, and her child ended up being seen. The mother was very pleased.”

Pati shares another experience when her respect made a big difference for a consumer: “Someone I provided services to had a significant trauma history. She didn’t believe that she ‘deserved’ respect. She was very uncomfortable with the concept. Over time, with practice and trust, she came to see that she not only deserved to be treated with respect, but she expected to be treated with respect. She set boundaries, and if persons in her life couldn’t step up, she set them free. She grew to become confident rather than scared. It was beautiful to see her respect herself.”

Here at Cummins, we believe every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Respect helps us see and believe in our worth as people, and it is the backbone of any trusting relationship. That’s why respect is one of the core values that guides our actions as individuals and as an organization.

Thank you to Suzette Corrie, Melissa Bush, Pati Hopkins and Melissa Lawson for explaining what respect means and how it touches the lives of the individuals they serve. Our organization would be nothing without the care and devotion of team members like you!

Self-Harm Awareness: Why People Self-Injure and How Therapy Can Help

Have you ever experienced a situation when you felt overwhelmed by your emotions?

Perhaps you were overcome with intense anger, frustration, or sadness about some situation or person in your life. Possibly you felt deeply ashamed about yourself or guilty about something you did. Or on the other hand, maybe you felt emotionally numb and desperate to experience some sort of sensation, whatever it might be.

In your situation, what did you do to work through your difficult feelings? Did you use a positive coping strategy like getting some exercise or practicing mindfulness to redirect your thoughts? Did you turn to a trusted person in your life to help you feel better? Or did you try something else?

When we encounter emotional challenges, we can cope in ways that are constructive—ways that solve the problem and make us more resilient to future challenges—or destructive—ways that solve the problem but cause harm to our mind or body. For some people, self-harm is an effective method for coping with intense emotional pain. Unfortunately, self-harm is a destructive coping strategy that can ultimately cause more suffering than it alleviates.

To better understand self-harm, we spoke with Tara Wilkins, one of our outpatient therapist who has helped many consumers who struggle with self-harm. In this blog post, Tara explains some common reasons why people self-injure—and how therapy can help them find more constructive ways to cope with their emotions.

Tara Wilkins, MSW, LSW
Tara Wilkins, MSW, LSW, a Master's-level therapist at our Marion County outpatient office

What Is Self-Harm, and What Does It Look Like?

Mental Health America defines self-harm (which may also be called self-injury, self-mutilation, or self-abuse) as occurring “when someone intentionally and repeatedly harms themselves in a way that is impulsive and not intended to be lethal.” Although self-harm can sometimes result in death, most people do not self-injure with the intention of ending their life.

Many people associate self-harm with skin cutting, which is one of the most common methods of self-injury. However, the specific behaviors involved in self-harm may vary from person to person. For example, other common types of self-harm include:

  • Burning the skin, such as with lit matches or heated objects
  • Excessive scratching, often to the point of drawing blood
  • Hitting or punching oneself, or hitting/banging one’s head
  • Piercing the skin with sharp objects
  • Inserting objects under the skin or into body openings
  • Intentionally breaking bones
  • Ingesting harmful chemicals

Tara agrees, “A lot of people think of self-harming as cutting, but it’s different for every person. I work with someone who will pick at their skin until they bleed. Some people might pull their hair out or bang their heads. There are a variety of ways someone might self-harm.”

According to Mental Health America, as many as 4% of U.S. adults struggle with self-harm. However, rates of self-harm are even higher for adolescents and young adults. Approximately 15% of teens report engaging in some form of self-injury, as do 17–35% of college students.

What Causes Someone to Self-Harm?

It can be difficult to understand why a person would intentionally injure themselves in the ways we’ve described. After all, most people dislike pain and do not typically seek to experience it. So why do some people willingly harm themselves, sometimes to the point of serious injury?

As we mentioned above, a person may choose to self-harm when they are experiencing great emotional pain and do not know how to cope with this pain. As Tara explains, “I see people come in with what I call maladaptive coping skills. They struggle to properly cope with difficult things—with trauma, with anxiety, with depression, whatever it is they’re facing. Self-harming is one of those ways that they cope.”

In some cases, self-harm helps to distract a person from an emotional pain they are feeling by focusing their attention on physical pain instead. In other cases, self-harm may help a person feel something—anything—when they are experiencing an unpleasant state of emotional numbness. Through self-harm, a person may be attempting to do one or more of the following things:

  • Distract themselves from painful emotions like worthlessness, loneliness, panic, anger, guilt, rejection or self-hatred
  • Achieve relief from severe distress or anxiety
  • Feel a sense of control over their body, emotions, or life situation
  • Feel anything, even physical pain, when experiencing emotional numbness or emptiness
  • Express internal feelings in an external way
  • Punish themselves for perceived faults or wrongdoings

In addition, Tara explains that some people may use self-harm as a way of legitimizing their emotional pain to themselves and others:

“Mental health has such a stigma to it. People are often told, ‘It’s all in your head.’ Because of that, they might not know if what they’re feeling is ‘real’ or if whatever they’re facing is valid. By contrast, physical pain is sometimes easier to deal with than emotional pain. If you have any kind of physical ailment, you go to a doctor and get treated. We never question any kind of physical pain. So, these injuries can kind of prove to the person that their emotional pain is real and valid. In a way, self-harm can validate this pain, or transfer this emotional pain to physical pain, so to speak.”

How Treatment Can Help Someone Who Struggles with Self-Harm

Fortunately, behavioral health treatment can help many people reduce and manage their urges to engage in self-harm.

In many cases, people turn to self-harm as a coping strategy because they suffer from unresolved psychological challenges. For example, self-harm behavior sometimes co-occurs with borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic distress disorder, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety disorders. The ultimate objective of treatment is to address a person’s root causes for engaging in self-harm behavior.

Until this long-term goal is achieved, therapy can also help someone replace self-harm behaviors with less destructive coping strategies. “There are a lot of alternatives for self-harming if someone is looking for a physical outlet,” Tara explains. “For example, rubbing ice on the skin instead of cutting, or flicking their wrist with a rubber band. There are also tactile balls out there that can be kind of pointy, and they can squeeze those.”

Ideally, therapy can even help someone replace self-harm with constructive coping skills like exercise or mindfulness. However, Tara cautions that even constructive behaviors can become destructive if they are used excessively, which is why it’s important for a person to have a full “toolbox” of strategies:

“I use the metaphor of building a house. If we were to build a house, we wouldn’t want to use just one or two tools. We use multiple tools when building a house, and when we’re using coping skills, it’s the exact same way. We want to make sure we have a well-rounded toolbox so that we have many tools to use when we’re needing to cope, and when we reach in there, we’re going to have different things to use at different times. For example, if we’re only using a hammer to build a house, that hammer is not going to be useful at some point, or we’re going to use it too much. In the same way, if we’re only using exercise as a coping skill, we’re either going to use it in excess, or we’re going to get tired of using it to the point that it’s not going to be effective anymore. I usually say that we need to have five to seven different skills that we know are going to be effective. That doesn’t mean you have to use them all in one day, but you need to have at least five to seven that help you.”

Finally, some individuals may have more success refraining from self-harm if they identify a trusted individual to provide support and hold them accountable to their goals. “I like to encourage everyone to have what I call an ‘accountability partner,’ “ Tara says. “One person they can talk to if they’re having a really tough day, to say, ‘I tried all these things and it’s not working. I’m really thinking about self-harming, and I’m struggling, and I need to talk to somebody.’ And that somebody needs to not be a paid provider, because sometimes your therapist or your skills specialist isn’t going to be able to pick up the phone right when you need them.”

The persistent urge to injure oneself, while not a distinct psychological disorder, is nevertheless a very real mental health challenge that especially affects adolescents and young adults. Although some individuals may “grow out of” these behaviors with age, they still pose a serious risk to their physical and mental well-being. If left untreated, self-harm behaviors can result in long-lasting bodily and psychological injury.

Fortunately, many people can recover from self-harm tendencies with the proper treatment and support. If you or someone you know is struggling with self-harm, we encourage you to reach out to a behavioral health professional. You can call us at (888) 714-1927 if you’d like to discuss options for treatment with Cummins Behavioral Health.

If you’d like to learn more about other issues related to self-harm, we recommend reading our blog posts on suicide prevention myths and trauma-informed care!

Observing Self-Harm Awareness Month: Cummins CCO Robb Enlow on 13 Myths and Misconceptions of Suicide
Trauma-Informed Care: What It Means and How It Can Be Implemented in Behavioral Health