All posts by Mark Wilhelm

Child Abuse Prevention Month 2021: Tools and Resources to Help End Abuse

“From a very early age, people did things to me. I don’t know if they singled me out or if I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I do know that, almost from the beginning of life as I knew it, things were done to me. As I grew older, I began to realize that the things that were being done to me were bad, but I was powerless to stop them or to get away from them. So ‘life’ continued to happen, and I kept living as best I knew. Life was not always easy.” — from the book Healing Neen by Tonier Cain


Child abuse and neglect are topics that many people might try to avoid thinking about. This happens for good reason: not only are they deeply unpleasant subjects, but we may also feel powerless to do anything about them. But not thinking about abuse is a luxury that survivors of abuse do not have, because it often affects their lives negatively for years or decades afterward.

Consider the story of Tonier Cain, who as a young girl suffered continual abuse in many different forms. As an adult, she struggled with substance use and addiction, worked in prostitution to make ends meet, and was arrested more than 80 times over 15 years. It was only after she received treatment for her childhood trauma that she was able to end this destructive cycle and recover from the abuse she experienced. Today, Cain is an internationally-recognized expert on trauma informed care and recovery from abuse.

As Cain’s story illustrates, the consequences of child abuse can be extreme. That’s why it’s important for everyone to understand the signs of abuse and know how to prevent it from occurring. Most of all, we must be brave enough to talk about abuse so that we can do our part to help reduce it. According to Ashlee Prewitt, our Director of Specialty Programs,

Ashlee Prewitt
Ashlee Prewitt, LMHC, CSAYC, Director of Specialty Services at Cummins Behavioral Health

“A lot of times our society shies away from having conversations about abuse because we’re scared of what’s going on and what the reality looks like. It is very, very important that we have this conversation, and that we’re not scared to talk about abuse, whether it’s physical abuse, sexual abuse or mental abuse.”

Defining Abuse: Statistics and Common Warning Signs

When talking about child abuse and neglect, which are sometimes combined into the term “child maltreatment,” it’s important to understand how these terms are defined.

Each U.S. state has its own definitions of child abuse and neglect based on standards set by federal law. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, first signed into law in 1974, defines child abuse and neglect as any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act, which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.”

According to the 2019 Child Maltreatment Report from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Children’s Bureau, there were 656,000 reported victims of child abuse in the U.S. in 2019. This equates to 8.9 victims per 1,000 children in the population. However, since many instances of child maltreatment go unreported, the CDC estimates that the true number of victims each year may be closer to 1 in 7 children, or 10.5 million individuals.

Abusive or neglectful behavior comes in many different forms, but there are several common symptoms of maltreatment that care professionals look for. These include:

  • The child has unexplained bruises on their body, especially on areas like the buttocks, face, neck, and backs of legs.
  • The child has unexplained lacerations, abrasions, burns, bleeding, or other injuries.
  • The child has oral or dental injuries.
  • The child seems depressed or appears to suffer from low self-esteem.
  • The child seems excessively eager to please or appears to be frightened of their caretaker.
  • The child is easily startled and has an exaggerated startle response.
  • The child is frequently absent from school.
  • The caretaker talks about the child in a consistently negative manner.
  • The caretaker conceals the child’s injuries or becomes defensive when questioned about them.
  • The caretaker is known to be a harsh disciplinarian.
  • The caretaker is known to have problems with substance use.

Why Prevention Works to Eliminate Abuse

If a child is discovered to be living in an abusive environment, intervention services such as those provided by the Indiana Department of Child Services can be of tremendous help. The child can receive physical and psychological care and be placed in a safe environment until their caretaker can be rehabilitated, or until a new caretaker can be found for them. These actions can minimize the harm done to the child. Unfortunately, intervention efforts cannot undue any harm that the child has already suffered.

On the other hand, prevention efforts can stop this harm from occurring in the first place. For example, home visiting programs for new parents are more effective at preventing child maltreatment than interventions that seek to change abusive behaviors. Prevention programs aimed at children can even help them understand what maltreatment looks like and feel more confident about disclosing abuse if it occurs.

According to the Children’s Bureau, effective prevention of child abuse and neglect operates on five different levels:

  1. Society: when effective, our society at large encourages positive parenting practices, enacts government policies that are supportive of families, and extends these policies equitably to all families
  2. System: when effective, our public health system assesses the needs of communities through data collection and analysis, collaborates with community stakeholders on prevention initiatives, and enacts prevention strategies that are directed at the general population
  3. Organization: when effective, public health organizations provide support to caregivers as well as children, implement trauma-informed care practices, and understand the protective effects of positive childhood experiences
  4. Community: when effective, family support agencies value input from community members when implementing prevention programs, and they seek to grow authentic partnerships with parents, caregivers and youth in their community
  5. Family: when effective, individual families are characterized by the protective factors of nurturing and attachment, knowledge of parenting, parental resilience, social connections, concrete support, and social/emotional competence

When prevention efforts are effective at all five levels for a particular child, their risk of experiencing abuse or neglect is dramatically reduced.

Tools, Resources, and Ways to Get Involved in Child Abuse Prevention

There are a variety of ways that anyone can get involved to help prevent child abuse and neglect in their community.

First and foremost, if you know a child who you believe to be experiencing maltreatment, we encourage you to call the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-800-5556. Indiana is a mandatory reporting state, which means that anyone who suspects a child is being abused is legally obligated to report it. DCS is required by law to keep the names and contact information of report filers confidential, so no one else will know if you report a tip.

If you are a caretaker in need of child support services, the Indiana DCS website can help you find any resources or assistance you require. On the other hand, if you might be interested in adopting a child or becoming a foster parent, you can also investigate these options on the DCS website. Or if you’d just like more information and resources for preventing child abuse, you can visit the Children’s Bureau’s website for National Child Abuse Prevention Month, including its comprehensive Resource Guide and Conversation Guides for caregivers.

If you’d like to support an organization that works toward child abuse prevention, then Prevent Child Abuse America is a great place to start. You can visit the website of the Indiana chapter if you’d like to donate, volunteer, or join the Local Council. In addition, Darkness to Light is another organization you could support that focuses specifically on prevention of child sexual abuse.

Finally, there are several events happening in Indiana for Child Abuse Prevention Month that you can participate in if you are interested:

  • 15th Annual Matt Breman Memorial Run 4Kids — April 24th. This family-friendly 4K walk/run on the downtown Indianapolis canal will help raise vital
    funds and awareness for Child Abuse Prevention in Indiana. You may attend in person or join virtually. More details here.
  • Darkness to Light National Prevention Conference — April 27th–29th. This virtual conference will engage attendees on a national level to equip, strengthen, and organize their child sexual abuse prevention initiatives as well as provide advanced training, thought-provoking interactive sessions, and help individuals and organizations bring back fresh ideas to their communities. More details here.
  • Plant a Virtual Pinwheel Garden — all month. Purchase and plant a virtual pinwheel in a digital pinwheel garden! Customize your pinwheel
    by changing the color or adding a message. Click here to participate.

Abuse, neglect and maltreatment affect millions of children each year, and they can be profoundly harmful to a child’s health and well-being. Children cannot always protect themselves from abuse, which is why it’s all of our responsibilities to act on their behalf.

This Child Abuse Awareness Month, we encourage you to learn more about abuse and get involved with prevention efforts in your community. If you or your family needs help, consider reaching out to Indiana DCS. Cummins Behavioral Health may also be able to provide support if therapy or counseling services are needed.

If we all work together and do our part, we can create a future free from abuse for all children!

Cummins Behavioral Health Systems, Inc. Awarded Grant to Become Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic

$4M in Funding Will Be Used to Expand Scope of Services Provided in Hendricks County

AVON, IN – The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has announced that it has awarded Cummins Behavioral Health Systems, Inc. with a two-year, $4M grant to expand and enhance services in Hendricks County. This funding comes from SAMHSA’s Fiscal Year 2021 Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) Expansion Grant, which also awarded funding to nine other care centers in Indiana.

Using this additional funding, Cummins Behavioral Health will expand the scope of services it provides to consumers in Hendricks County and become federally designated as a CCBHC for that county. The CCBHC designation was created by the Excellence in Mental Health Act of 2013 to describe organizations providing comprehensive services for individuals with severe and complex mental illnesses and substance use disorders.

“Cummins has been a community mental health center in existence since 1972,” said Amy Mace, CEO. “We were formed strictly for behavioral health services, which is a combination of both mental health and substance use services. However, we know that whole-person health is important. We cannot just focus on the behavioral health side; we also need to be concerned with primary health care in addition to social determinants of health like employment, housing, and food security. That’s why we’re so excited to have this opportunity to focus on whole-person care.”

All CCBHCs must provide a specific array of services to the populations they serve. Cummins Behavioral Health already offers several of these services to its consumers, such as outpatient mental health and substance use services, patient-centered treatment planning, peer support services, and services for members of the armed forces. However, several new clinical services will be added using funding from the grant.

“With a CCBHC designation, some additional clinical models will be added, such as the Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) Model, Veterans Trauma Treatment Protocols, and Care Coordination. Care coordination is a service where people seeking services that have complex health care needs are given assistance in ensuring they are able to schedule and receive necessary physical health treatments,” said Robb Enlow, Cummins’ Chief Clinical Officer.

Several of Cummins’ new services as a CCBHC will require modifications and enhancements to its current operational procedures. Significant emphasis will be placed on increasing availability of care and strengthening partnerships with community health care providers, including primary care providers.

“While many of the CCBHC grant requirements confirm that we are already on the right track, some of the new services, or modifications to our current services, will drive operational and staffing changes,” said Russ Greene, COO of Cummins. “The requirement to provide 24/7/365 crisis services will prompt us to operationally modify how we provide those services. Additionally, although we already have great community partnerships, the CCBHC designation will help us further expand care coordination with other health care providers, social service providers and law enforcement.”

Expansion of services will begin with an in-depth Community Needs Assessment in Hendricks County to ensure that the needs of all consumers will be met moving forward. This assessment will build on insights gathered from the Community Satisfaction Survey that is currently being conducted in the county.

Cummins Behavioral Health Systems, Inc. is a community behavioral health center serving Marion, Hendricks, Boone, Montgomery and Putnam counties in Indiana. Our mission is to inspire the hope of recovery, to achieve excellence in all aspects of care, and to make the goals and aspirations of those we serve our highest priority. For more information about our services, please call (888) 714-1927 or browse our website.

To learn more, watch our video with Cummins CEO Amy Mace below!

Questions and Answers about the Current Vaccines for COVID-19

It’s been more than a year since COVID-19 disease appeared in the world, and it has changed all of our lives drastically. Many people have lost their lives, lost a loved one, lost employment or financial security, or suffered with long-term health consequences from the illness. Although the world will likely continue to live with this disease for years to come, there is hope for a brighter future.

One source of hope is the global medical community, which has been working tirelessly to treat those who are sick and limit the spread of the disease. In addition to discovering and implementing more effective treatments, the medical community has also managed to develop several vaccines for COVID-19. These vaccines provide a high degree of immunity from the virus, making it much safer for those who have been vaccinated to resume normal public interactions.

However, public opinion toward these vaccines has been mixed. While some people are eager to receive one, others have questions about the vaccines or are even distrustful of them. Some of these concerns are rooted in very real ways that our health institutions have not always served the public as they should. Others stem from lack of information or misunderstanding about what’s in the vaccines, how they work, and what effects they have on the human body.

As a community health organization, we believe it’s our responsibility to help address the questions and concerns that individuals in our community have about the COVID-19 vaccines. In this blog post, we share some of the most important information and vaccine facts from trusted sources in the hopes of dispelling misconceptions and helping our consumers make informed decisions about COVID-19 vaccination.

What’s in the COVID-19 Vaccines, and How Do They Work?

At the time of this post’s publication, there are currently three different vaccines for COVID-19 being administered in the U.S.

The first vaccine, known as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, was developed by BioNTech SE, a German biotechnology company, in collaboration with Pfizer Inc., an American pharmaceutical corporation. The second vaccine, called the Moderna vaccine, was jointly developed by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and the American pharmaceutical company Moderna, Inc. The third vaccine, called the Janssen vaccine or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was developed by Janssen Biotech, Inc., a subsidiary of the American multinational corporation Johnson & Johnson. All three vaccines were approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after clinical trials to study their safety and effectiveness.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines belong to a new category of vaccines called mRNA vaccines. This type of vaccine contains “instructions” that our cells need to produce specific antibodies, which can protect us from getting infected if we’re exposed to the COVID-19 virus. You can read more about mRNA vaccines on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, but here is an excerpt:

“COVID-19 mRNA vaccines give instructions for our cells to make a harmless piece of what is called the “spike protein.” The spike protein is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are given in the upper arm muscle. Once the instructions (mRNA) are inside the immune cells, the cells use them to make the protein piece. After the protein piece is made, the cell breaks down the instructions and gets rid of them. Next, the cell displays the protein piece on its surface. Our immune systems recognize that the protein doesn’t belong there and begin building an immune response and making antibodies, like what happens in natural infection against COVID-19. At the end of the process, our bodies have learned how to protect against future infection. The benefit of mRNA vaccines, like all vaccines, is those vaccinated gain this protection without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick with COVID-19.”

The Janssen vaccine, by contrast, is a viral vector vaccine. This type of vaccine uses a modified version of another virus (in this case, a common cold virus that is incapable of replicating inside the body) to carry genetic instructions into our cells. These instructions tell our cells to produce the same “spike protein” mentioned above, which triggers an immune response. You can read more about viral vector COVID-19 vaccines on the CDC’s website.

As for the ingredients of each vaccine, they are listed in full in Pfizer’s vaccine fact sheet (on page 2), Moderna’s vaccine fact sheet (on page 2), and Janssen’s vaccine fact sheet (page 2).

What Are the Effects and Side Effects?

First and foremost, all three vaccines have been proven in clinical trials to protect against COVID-19 illness. According to the CDC, the Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective at preventing illness, the Moderna vaccine is 94.1% effective at preventing illness, and the Janssen vaccine is 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe illness and 85% effective at preventing severe illness. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses to be fully effective. For the Pfizer vaccine, the two doses should be received 21 days (three weeks) apart, and for the Moderna vaccine, they should be received 28 days (four weeks) apart. The Janssen vaccine requires only one dose to be fully effective.

As with most medications, the vaccines may cause side effects. Common side effects include pain, swelling and redness near the site of the injection as well as chills, tiredness, headache, and other flu-like symptoms. For most people, these side effects are mild or moderate in intensity, but they can be severe for a small percentage of people. In addition, some people may experience a severe allergic reaction after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, although this is rare. If you have ever had an allergic reaction to an ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine—including polyethylene glycol (PEG) or polysorbate—then the CDC advises that you should not receive the vaccine.

According to the CDC, the following is also true of all three COVID-19 vaccines:

  • A COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19. This is because the vaccine does not contain the live viruses that cause COVID-19.
  • Receiving a vaccine will not make you test positive for COVID-19 on a viral test. However, there is a possibility you might test positive on an antibody test.
  • A COVID-19 vaccine will not alter your DNA. The mRNA in the vaccines does not enter the nuclei of our cells, which means it cannot interact with the DNA stored there.
  • If you’ve already had COVID-19 and recovered, it is recommended that you still receive a vaccine. This is because experts believe it’s possible to get sick with COVID-19 more than once.
  • A COVID-19 vaccine does not pose a risk to you if you would like to become pregnant in the future.

However, there are still several things that are not yet known about the COVID-19 vaccines. First, there is currently limited data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines administered during pregnancy. Additional research is planned to study the effects of the vaccines among pregnant women. Second, we don’t know how long immunity lasts after vaccination. Researchers will need to gather more data from people who have been vaccinated before we can know for sure.

Finally, we don’t know if receiving a COVID-19 vaccine prevents you from spreading the virus to other people. As the CDC website explains, “If you are vaccinated against COVID-19, you may still be exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19. After exposure, people can be infected with or ‘carry’ the virus that causes COVID-19 but not feel sick or have any symptoms. Experts call this ‘asymptomatic infection.’ For this reason, even after vaccination, we need to continue using all the tools available to help stop this pandemic as we learn more about how COVID-19 vaccines work in real-world conditions.”

Why Should We Trust the Organizations Behind the Vaccines?

Some people may feel skeptical toward the COVID-19 vaccines because they do not trust the organizations that created them.

Large pharmaceutical corporations are frequently accused of prioritizing financial profits over public health, so it’s understandable to feel some amount of distrust toward these organizations. In fact, many of these organizations are still facing lawsuits for their role in causing the opioid epidemic that our country hasn’t fully recovered from.

Some people also feel negatively about the American medical establishment due to various ways it has abused public trust over the decades. Distrust may be particularly high among people who belong to ethnic minority groups—such as African American, Indigenous American, and Latino/Latina individuals—who have historically been subjected to discrimination and abuse by medical authorities.

This distrust cannot be rebuilt quickly or easily, but community health organizations can do their part by talking about these issues openly and honestly. It is worth reiterating that both vaccines have been authorized for emergency use by the FDA after being proven safe in clinical trials, which included male and female participants of various ages and ethnicities. In addition, at least one independent medical organization—the National Medical Association, which is a professional society of African American doctors—has reviewed the data from these clinical trials and endorsed the FDA’s emergency authorizations.

Finally, it’s important to note that although the vaccines have been authorized for emergency use by the FDA, none have been “approved” by the FDA. This means that medical experts believe the benefits provided by the vaccines outweigh their risks, but that more extensive data collection and review is required before the vaccines can be approved for use outside of the current emergency situation. As the Pfizer vaccine data sheet states:

“The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has not undergone the same type of review as an FDA-approved or cleared product. FDA may issue an [emergency use authorization (EUA)] when certain criteria are met, which includes that there are no adequate, approved, available alternatives. In addition, the FDA decision is based on the totality of scientific evidence available showing that the product may be effective to prevent COVID-19 during the COVID-19 pandemic and that the known and potential benefits of the product outweigh the known and potential risks of the product. All of these criteria must be met to allow for the product to be used in the treatment of patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. The EUA for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine is in effect for the duration of the COVID-19 EUA declaration justifying emergency use of these products, unless terminated or revoked (after which the products may no longer be used).”

Although COVID-19 has been around for more than a year, there are still many things we do not fully understand about the illness, the ways it affects the human body, and the effectiveness of our current treatments for it. Health officials recommend that everyone receive the COVID-19 vaccine when they are able to, but it is ultimately your choice, and we want you to have the information you need to make the best possible decision for yourself. We hope we’ve been able to clear up some of the confusion and uncertainty surrounding this topic so you can make the right choice regarding your personal health and safety!

Celebrating National Mentoring Month: How Mentorship Powers Career Growth

Have you ever had a mentor in your personal or professional life?

If you have, take a moment to think about what that person did for you and what it meant to you. Maybe they helped guide you through a difficult situation in life that you didn’t know how to navigate on your own. Or perhaps they helped you make an important decision that changed your future for the better. Whatever it was, they likely made a profound and lasting impact on your life.

National Mentoring Month is observed each year in January to promote mentoring and mentorship programs in the United States. Decades of research has shown that mentoring can provide a variety of benefits for youth, including lower school dropout rates, improved self-esteem and self-confidence, and stronger relationships with parents, teachers and peers. However, mentoring continues to be extremely valuable into adulthood, especially when it comes to career growth and development.

At Cummins, we believe mentorship is an important part of our employees’ growth. That’s why we partner all our new care providers with a coach to help them get acclimated to their role. In honor of National Mentoring Month, we spoke with Yolanda Ursery, our Director of Orientation and Onboarding, to learn how mentorship empowers career growth and what that looks like at Cummins Behavioral Health.

The Benefits of Workplace Mentorship

As the Director of Orientation and Onboarding, Yolanda Ursery oversees all new employee coaching at Cummins

How can mentoring help someone progress in their work and in their career? First, for individuals who are new to the working world, it can help them learn indispensable professional skills.

According to Yolanda, “A mentor may be able to demonstrate understanding of a role, or the techniques or methods that providers need to implement with consumers, but they’re also teaching professionalism. How to come to work on time, how to organize your day, how to interact and collaborate with other staff persons, how to interact and collaborate with community personnel—our coaches are mentoring and demonstrating that as well. So not only are our providers learning how to interact with consumers, but they’re learning how to be a professional person, and how to continue to self-direct their learning.”

Aside from modeling basic professional skills, coaches and mentors also help new employees get acclimated to their role. More importantly, they can help someone determine if the role is truly a good fit for them. “When new providers come to Cummins, the orientation process is really their first entryway into our services and to who we are as an organization,” Yolanda explains. “I like to use this time with them to confirm whether or not they’re getting ready to embark on a role and a career that makes their heart sing. My hope is that as we’re coaching and mentoring, our staff is helping them verify that this is what they want to do. If they are doing that thing which makes their heart sing, they will want to join the chorus of other providers who are also moving toward the rhythm of their heartbeats.”

Once someone has adjusted to their work role and confirmed that it’s the right role for them now, continuing mentorship can help them discover what the right role might be for them in the future. Yolanda says, “We want to teach them and help them, but we also want them to be encouraged to grow and expand independently. As they’re working with a coach, they have an opportunity to experiment, to find or verify what role it is they’re really looking for. They have that mentor, that person to talk to, to bounce ideas off of, to ask questions, not only about that role, but about the role in general and how it impacts society.”

What Mentorship Looks Like at Cummins

At Cummins, mentorship for new employees begins as soon as they’ve finished their initial training and orientation. “Once they have completed that orientation, they are then connected to a coach—who we call an onboarding specialist—who provides mentoring and coaching to them over their initial onboarding period,” Yolanda explains. “My role in that regard is that I supervise the coaching.”

During this onboarding period, new providers may receive instruction on topics ranging from appointment scheduling and time management to consumer-provider interactions and problem-solving. Yolanda emphasizes that coaches work hard to establish trusting relationships with the people they coach. “From the moment we start working with them, one of our biggest priorities as coaches is to build relationships with those providers, because there needs to be a relationship where they trust the feedback we’re going to give them and they trust that we’re going to guide them in the best way possible,” she says.

According to Yolanda, these relationships founded on trust mirror the types of relationships that care providers build with their consumers:

“My hope is that we emulate with our providers the same methods we want them to use when they’re working with consumers, and helping consumers with a task, and helping consumers grow to reach their goals. For one of my coaches, one thing she really enjoys doing is teaching someone how to complete an intake assessment. She likes to demonstrate that for them so they can see how we engage with that consumer, what we say, how we handle objections and concerns, and then she lets them do that same thing, and she gives feedback and coaches them along the way. This is exactly like what we do when we’re teaching our consumers how to perform certain skills. And if we’re doing it properly, then the providers are reaching out to us, not only during that coaching period, but sometimes even afterwards. Because we’ve built that relationship with them, they want to call upon us and say, ‘Hey, I still need some help in this area,’ or, ‘Can you give me some further guidance?’ “

In some cases, these mentors might also be able to help employees with their career development goals in the future. “We may have providers who are working toward licensure, and so our coaches may be able to help them develop and understand aspects of their particular role that are required for that licensure,” Yolanda says.

How a Culture of Mentoring Improves the Whole Organization

One of the greatest benefits of professional mentorship is that it can help create a culture of learning within an organization. When mentorship is seen as a normal component of work interactions and professional development, then employees don’t worry as much about making mistakes or appearing unknowledgeable. And when this happens, team members are empowered to learn new skills, collaborate with their teammates, and become better at their work.

Yolanda illustrates this with a story from her days coaching new providers at Cummins:

“I can think of several times when I was working with a provider who was struggling to schedule enough services for their consumers to meet their care time goals. For all of our providers, there are some expectations related to their role and how much time they serve their consumers during their workweek. So, with me as a mentor, we would problem solve and look at what barriers were keeping them from meeting with those consumers. I remember one time when I made a suggestion about reaching out to some of our other team members, because maybe they had some consumers who they weren’t able to meet with that week, or maybe they needed help with some other task, like completing a treatment plan or an assessment. The provider said, ‘I can do that?’ And I said, ‘Yes, you definitely can. You can reach out and work with your team.’ So, it was really neat to talk with them and then come back the next week to see how they did, because they’d actually made a plan to manage their cancellations and to work more with their team members.”

Mentorship-inspired collaboration can be used not only to solve workflow issues, but also to help employees discover entirely new ways for completing tasks. As Yolanda explains, “Other situations may include working with a provider who is stuck on knowing what to do with their consumers from a clinical perspective—how to guide and help them. I can share my own experiences with certain situations and diagnoses, and then I can sit with that provider in session as they’re trying to implement a specific method. And afterwards they might say, ‘Wow that was really helpful,” or, ‘I didn’t think about it like that,’ or, “Hearing you say X, Y and Z was really helpful for me, now I know how to ask that question.’ “

And according to Yolanda, even those people who act as mentors can gain new knowledge and understanding from these interactions. “Even though I’m the mentor, they may be embarking on something that I’ve not tried yet,” she says. “So we have an opportunity to figure it out together, to learn together, and then come back and ask, “What do you think, did that work for you?” Because they may have some ideas as well.”

Mentorship is a powerful tool that can change the trajectory of a person’s life. In work settings, it can make the difference between an employee who simply gets by and an employee who thrives in their role.

At Cummins, we believe professional mentorship makes everyone better at what they do and fuels a culture of continuous learning and improvement. That’s why we’re proud to offer a glimpse into some of our own mentorship practices this National Mentoring Month!

For information on other topics related to mentoring, we recommend our posts on wraparound services and cyberbullying prevention below!

Wraparound Services: 360-Degree Support for Youth with Greater Behavioral Health Needs
How to Spot and Respond to Cyberbullying, a Growing Problem for Children and Teens

National Clean Off Your Desk Day: Exploring the Link Between Clutter, Stress and Productivity

Do you have a desk or dedicated work space at your job, or even in your home office? If you do, take a moment to examine it the next time you’re using it.

What does it look like? Is the surface clean and ready for use, or is it covered in dust and dirt? Is it tidy and well organized, or are there papers, writing utensils and other supplies scattered about haphazardly? Most importantly, when you look at it at the beginning of your day, does it make you feel calm and ready to get to work or stressed and ready to go back to bed?

The second Monday of every January is National Clean Off Your Desk Day, an invitation to begin the new year right by tidying up our work space. This isn’t just for the sake of cleanliness, however. Maintaining an organized desk or work space can help us focus on our work—and it can even have beneficial effects on our mental health and wellness.

In this blog post, we’ll explain how a simple task like cleaning off your desk can have a significantly positive effect on our peace of mind. A neat, clutter-free work space can be beneficial in two main ways: by decreasing stress and increasing productivity.

Clutter, the Enemy of Calm

We often associate stress—in this case, the negative form of stress, which is called “distress”—with high-stakes situations or demands on our attention. Think of an important job interview, a heated argument with a family member, or even a big date with a romantic partner, and you’ll know the discomfort that stress can create.

However, even a chaotic environment can cause us stress if we spend a lot of time in it. For example, one scientific study found that women who described their homes as cluttered also had heightened levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In addition, “Women with higher stressful home scores had increased depressed mood over the course of the day, whereas women with higher restorative home scores had decreased depressed mood over the day,” the authors wrote.

Living in a state of chronic stress is not only unpleasant, but it can also have negative long-term effects on physical and mental health. According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic stress may lead to anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleeping problems, weight gain, or impairment of memory and concentration.

Finally, a cluttered home environment can even negate the psychological sense of well-being that our home normally provides. “We conceptualize psychological home as a reflection of one’s need to identify self with a physical environment,” wrote the authors of one research study. “Findings reveal that…Clutter had a negative impact on psychological home and subjective well-being.”

This last point is especially relevant for the home offices and work-from-home environments that have become more common since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

How Chaotic Environments Affect Productivity

Working in a messy environment doesn’t just make us more susceptible to stress; it can also affect our ability to concentrate on our work. This can make us less productive than we would otherwise be in a clean, well-organized work space.

Human beings can only pay attention to so many things at once. For example, it’s often said that people can only hold 5–9 items or ideas in our short-term memory. According to the authors of a study on visual working memory, we can typically remember the details of three or four visual objects at a time, but this number decreases when other objects in our visual field distract us.

In short, items in our work space that are unrelated to the work we’re doing can pull our attention away from the things we ought to be focusing on. Some people are naturally good at ignoring these distractions, but other people aren’t quite so good at this. As the authors of the above study write, “Individuals [with high working memory capacity] actively suppress salient distractors, whereas low-capacity individuals are unable to suppress salient distractors in time to prevent those items from capturing attention.”

Whether you have a relatively large or small visual working memory, there’s a simple way to improve your focus: by removing unimportant items from your view. Another study on attention and the visual field found that “attentional modulation was greatest when neural competition was little influenced by bottom-up [stimulus driven] mechanisms.” In other words, it’s easiest to focus our attention on a task when there are fewer objects in our line of sight.

As it turns out, then, there is some truth to the old adage, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Fewer items in our view means fewer distractions and a greater ability to focus on our work.

Tips and Suggestions for Cleaning Off Your Desk

So you’ve decided that your desk or work space could use some tidying up, but what should that look like, exactly? How can you transform something that makes you feel stressed and distracted into something that makes you feel calm and focused?

Here are a few simple steps you can follow to put your work space in order:

  1. Remove everything from your desk or work space. While it’s cleared off, use a rag and cleaning solution to wipe away any dust, dirt and grime. This will ensure that your new work space is not only organized, but also clean!
  2. Take stock of everything that was on your desk. Think carefully about what you actually need on your desktop and what you don’t need.
  3. Replace all items that you truly need on your desktop each day. As you do so, wipe down hard surfaces with your rag and cleaning solution. You should also be sure to organize the items so you’ll know where to find them later. Group similar items into categories such as writing utensils, paper documents, and office supplies, and place them on your desk neatly.
  4. If there are any items that you still need for work but don’t necessarily need on your desktop, file them away in a drawer or other storage area. Again, clean each item before you put it away, and try to store everything in a logical, organized manner.
  5. Throw away any items that you no longer need for your work. If you don’t need them anymore, there’s no sense hanging onto them!
  6. Finally, if you use a computer for your work, take the time to clean off your virtual desktop, as well. Group your application icons neatly, consolidate infrequently used shortcuts into folders, and delete any shortcuts that you no longer need.

Any environment that we spend considerable time in can have an effect on our mental health, and our work environment is one that many people encounter frequently! Cleaning off your work space is a small thing anyone can do to decrease the amount of stress and distraction they experience in their work environment. We encourage you to start your year off right by tidying up your work space and seeing if you notice a difference in your peace of mind. You might be surprised!

Looking for more tips to help you manage and bolster your mental wellness? You might enjoy our blog posts on “flow” and WRAP below!

Explaining Flow: How “Getting in the Zone” Can Help with Mental Wellness
The Wellness Recovery Action Plan: Creating an Instruction Manual for Your Mental Health

Electronic Health Records: What Consumers Should Know about Cummins’ New System

Have you ever given much thought to your personal health records?

If you’re like most people, then this isn’t a subject that comes up often in your day-to-day life. However, the detailed records kept by your various health care providers play a vital role in your overall well-being. These records help providers track the progress of your health and any treatments you’ve received, which keeps everyone up to date so they can provide you with the best possible care.

These records have traditionally been kept in the form of paper documents and patient charts, but this is beginning to change as computer technologies become ever more pervasive. Many health care providers are now using digital versions of patient forms, known as electronic health records, or EHRs, to do everything from document consent to treat to return lab results and store medical information.

Here at Cummins, we have recently adopted an EHR system in order to better serve our consumers. However, this new system brings a few important changes to the way our consumers can engage with their care. In this blog post, we explain how EHRs enable better person-centered care for consumers and what changes you should expect as a result of our new system!

The Ins and Outs of EHR

As we mentioned above, an electronic health record is essentially a digital or electronic version of the paper charts in your health care provider’s office. You can think of it like a virtual filing cabinet, not unlike the “files” stored on a computer. The information in an EHR can be stored and accessed using specifically-designed software applications. explains, “EHRs are real-time, patient-centered records that make information available instantly and securely to authorized users. While an EHR does contain the medical and treatment histories of patients, an EHR system is built to go beyond standard clinical data collected in a provider’s office and can be inclusive of a broader view of a patient’s care.”

For example, an EHR may include the following information about a patient:

  • Medical history
  • Diagnoses
  • Prescribed medications
  • Current treatment plans
  • Immunization records
  • Allergies
  • Radiology images
  • Lab and test results

EHR software can automate and streamline the data information and retrieval that care providers must perform, and most importantly, allow them to easily share this information with providers at other health care organizations. continues, “EHRs are built to share information with other health care providers and organizations—such as laboratories, specialists, medical imaging facilities, pharmacies, emergency facilities, and school and workplace clinics—so they contain information from all clinicians involved in a patient’s care.”

How EHRs Benefit Health Care Consumers

The features and functionality of an EHR can improve a consumer’s care experience in several important ways.

First, EHRs can improve quality of care by helping providers adhere to evidence-based guidelines for treatment. One 2011 review of EHR systems states, “EHRs, especially those with clinical decision support tools, have been empirically linked to an increased adherence to evidence-based clinical guidelines and effective care. Despite the best intention of providers, various factors may result in patient encounters that do not adhere to best practice guidelines. Some reasons for this nonadherence include i) clinicians not knowing the guidelines, ii) clinicians not realizing that a guideline applies to a given patient, and iii) lack of time during the patient visit.”

Second, the digital nature of EHRs makes it easier for health care providers to share forms and information with each other. For example, this means that your therapist can share updates on your treatment and any new medications you may be taking with your primary care physician and any other clinicians you see. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, “When doctors, pharmacies, labs, and other members of your health care team are able to share information, you may no longer have to fill out all the same forms over and over again, wait for paper records to be passed from one doctor to the other, or carry those records yourself.”

Finally, EHRs give consumers an opportunity to take increased ownership over their care. Most EHRs include a “patient portal” through which consumers may access their care records, receive test results, review their treatment plan, and communicate with their care team. These features give consumers more ways to take control of their care, which can help to ensure that it is truly centered on the individual.

“EHRs and other health IT developments tend to make many patients more active participants in their own health care,” concludes.

Getting Started with Cummins’ New EHR System

Using Cummins’ new EHR will require you to familiarize yourself with the Patient Portal. The EHR system we use is called Streamline, and you’ll need to create a patient account on Streamline in order to begin using the portal. You can follow the steps below to get started.

Logging into Your Patient Portal

To access the Patient Portal, you’ll need to use the Google Chrome web browser on your mobile phone, tablet or PC. If you don’t have Google Chrome, you can download the browser by visiting and clicking the “Download Chrome” button.

From the Google Chrome browser, you can either:

  1. Navigate to and click the MyLink icon in the top right corner of the screen if you are on desktop, or find it in the menu sidebar if you are using a mobile device
  2. Navigate directly to
MyLink location on the desktop site
Location of menu sidebar on the mobile site
MyLink location within the menu sidebar

Updating Your Password and Security Questions

The first time you log into the Patient Portal, you’ll need to reset your password and choose your security questions. At the login screen, enter the username and password you were given by your care provider.

If you’ve forgotten your username and password, please make sure you have your personal information and identification number available, and then call our Centralized Access Department at (888) 714-1927. At the automated menu, press 5 to speak with other departments, then press 2 for Business Records & Health Information System.

After entering your username and password, click the Login button. You will see this message:


Click the OK button, and then you will see the following form:


Enter the password you were given in the “Old Password” field, and then enter a new password of your choice in the “New Password” and “Confirm Password” fields. Then click the OK button.

This will return you to the login screen with your username and new password pre-filled in the fields:

If for some reason your username and new password are not pre-filled, simply enter them in the fields. Then click the Login button.

You will then be presented with a form that asks you to select and answer three security questions:


Click the Save button when you’re finished, and you’ll be redirected to the Patient Portal homepage, which looks like this:


Changing Your Preferences

Once inside the Patient Portal, you can change your password, security questions, and contact preferences at any time. To do so, click the “My Office” tab at the top left of the screen, select “My Work” from the left-hand menu, and then select “My Preferences.”


You will be directed to the following screen:


After making any desired changes, click the green Save button in the top right corner.

Completing Registration Documents

Finally, new Cummins consumers will need to complete several forms inside the Patient Portal before their first appointment.

Adult consumers will need to complete the following forms:

  • Consent for treatment
  • Consent for virtual services
  • Physical health screening
  • PHQ-9
  • GAD-7

Child consumers (ages 5–11) will need to have the following forms completed by their parent or legal guardian:

  • Consent for treatment
  • Consent for virtual services
  • Physical health screening
  • Youth – CRAFFT
  • Parent Vanderbilt
  • Youth Symptom Checklist

Adolescent consumers (ages 12–17) will need their parent or legal guardian to complete the following forms:

  • Consent for treatment
  • Consent for virtual services
  • Physical health screening
  • Youth – CRAFFT
  • Parent Vanderbilt

In addition, adolescent consumers will also need to complete these forms by themselves:

  • PHQ-A
  • GAD-7

All of these forms can be found on the Patient Portal homepage. Make sure you’ve selected the tab with your name at the top left of the screen, then examine the left-hand menu and click on the form you’d like to fill out.


Electronic health records, like any new technology, can take some getting used to for both providers and consumers of behavioral health care. However, they’ve been shown to significantly improve quality of care, and they empower consumers to take greater control over their own health care!

We’re very excited to be using Streamline EHR to improve the services we provide here at Cummins Behavioral Health! If you have any questions about the new system, feel free to contact our Centralized Access Department at (888) 714-1927.

Tips for Nutrition and Healthy Eating During the Holiday Season

The end-of-year holidays have arrived, and for many people, the holiday season is closely connected to food.

Those of us who celebrate Christmas typically bake cookies, pies, and other sweets and cook traditional Christmas dinners featuring an abundance of hearty dishes. Celebrants of Hanukkah eat a variety of fried dough or fried potato treats like sufganiyot, latkes, and fritas de prasa, and they might also prepare feasts with roast goose. And although New Year’s Eve is often associated with alcoholic beverages, some Americans choose to celebrate the New Year by eating pork, cabbage, black-eyed peas, and lentil soup.

With all this food around, many people worry about gaining weight due to holiday-related eating. However, the effect of the food we eat goes beyond our waistline. As we’ve previously discussed on our blog, nutrition can also have a significant impact on our mental health. This is because the same nutrients that change our bodily functioning also affect the chemical processes in our brains, which can lead to changes in cognition and emotion.

Just as a little overindulgence won’t hurt our bodies in the long run, neither will it severely impact our mental health—but a consistently poor diet over a long period of time can be quite damaging to our physical and mental health. That’s why it’s important to be mindful of what and how much we eat, especially when we’re tempted by an abundance of delectable dishes.

In this blog post, we highlight several nutritional facts you should keep in mind to practice healthy eating throughout the holiday season!

Binge Eating and Mood Disorders

It’s very easy to overeat during the holidays, and many people end up consuming more calories than normal. Eating large amounts of food in a short period of time is known as “binge eating,” which isn’t particularly dangerous to our health if we only do it once in a while.

However, some people may feel the urge to binge eat more frequently, as often as one or more times each week. When this is the case, they may suffer from binge eating disorder, which the Mayo Clinic defines as “a serious eating disorder in which you frequently consume unusually large amounts of food and feel unable to stop eating.” People with binge eating disorder may feel that they can’t control how much they eat, and they may feel shame or disgust with themselves after binging.

It’s not surprising, then, that binge eating disorder tends to co-occur with mood and anxiety disorders. A person who has binge eating disorder may eat in order to improve their mood, but the resulting guilt about their actions may end up worsening their mood instead. Even people who experience depression alone may feel negatively about themselves after a period of binge eating, even if they only overeat a single time.

For these reasons, people who suffer from binge eating disorder or a mood or anxiety disorder should be cautious about overeating during the holidays.

Fatty Foods and Brain Health

For many years, nutritionists and dietitians have been sounding the alarm about high-fat diets and their harm on the human body. Most notably, diets that are high in cholesterol, saturated fats and trans fats are heavily associated with heart disease, which is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. These same “bad” fats can also cause irregularities in our brains.

The brain, like the rest of the body, actually needs a certain amount of dietary fats for healthy functioning. Medical writer Dr. Maria Cohut notes, “The brains of mammals, including humans, actually need certain fatty acids—such as omega-3—to function correctly. Humans bodies, in particular, cannot synthesize fatty acids on their own, and so they need to absorb these nutrients from food. However, not all fatty acids are as healthful, and the overaccumulation of fatty acids in the body can lead to health problems.”

For example, some research has linked fatty acid buildup in the brains of laboratory mice with symptoms of depression. “It seems the high levels of palmitic acid in the hypothalamus alter a signaling pathway that researchers associate with traits of depression,” Cohut writes. “Thus, in mice at least, the researchers were able to confirm that the absorption of certain dietary fats has a direct impact on brain-signaling pathways that influence the development of depression.”

Other research has shown that high-fat diets can cause inflammation in the hypothalamus, which may send signals that cause us to eat more and gain weight. All of which is to say that we should limit our consumption of highly fatty foods like red meat, processed meat, butter, palm oil, pastries, and full-fat dairy products.

Sugar, Cognition, and Cravings

Sugar, like fat, is an essential part of any diet. In fact, it’s an especially important nutrient for our brains. “The brain uses more energy than any other organ in the human body and glucose is its primary source of fuel,” writes Dr. Joel Fuhrman. But like many other dietary nutrients, too much sugar can be a bad thing for both our bodies and our minds.

Once again, higher levels of sugar consumption have been scientifically linked to higher instances of depression among the general population. And among people who have type 2 diabetes, elevated blood sugar levels have also been associated with feelings of both sadness and anxiety.

In addition, excessive amounts of sugar can have negative effects on our cognitive functioning. For example, studies have found that some diabetics suffer from  decreased cognitive performance that may worsen over time, leading to deficits in learning, memory, and motor speed. Fuhrman adds, “Even in those without diabetes, higher sugar consumption is associated with lower scores on tests of cognitive function. These effects are thought to be due to a combination of hyperglycemia, hypertension, insulin resistance, and elevated cholesterol.”

Finally, research suggests that sugar may activate the brain’s reward center in much the same way as alcohol and other addictive substances, which means that eating large amounts of sugar might make it harder to resist the craving for more. This is all the more reason to eat fewer sugary treats than we might like to this holiday season.

It’s hard to avoid a bit of unhealthy eating during the holidays, but we should always try to keep our health in mind as we celebrate! We encourage you to limit your dietary fats and sugars, avoid excessive overeating, and adhere to your regular diet as much as possible to help manage your mental health and wellness this holiday season.

On behalf of all of us at Cummins Behavioral Health, we wish you a very happy holiday season and a prosperous New Year!

Crisis De-Escalation: Tips and Advice for Defusing Difficult Situations

Think back to the last time you witnessed another person become very upset or agitated. What caused them to feel this way, and what did they do in response? Did you or another person attempt to calm them down? What did you try, and how effective was it? Was the situation defused successfully, or did it escalate?

When someone is extremely annoyed, angry or afraid, they may react with hostility toward the person or situation that caused these feelings. This can often lead to conflict between two or more people, which might include verbal argument or even physical violence. In some situations, the person may enter a state of crisis, which Merriam-Webster dictionary describes as a [sudden and violent] attack of pain, distress, or disordered function.”

A person who is in crisis may be especially dangerous during a conflict. Because they are highly agitated, they may act on their emotions without stopping to consider the consequences, which could bring harm to themselves or others. Knowing how to effectively calm a person in crisis— known as crisis de-escalation or intervention—is a highly valuable skill in these situations.

However, de-escalation can be a complicated task. The intervening person must be able to assess the situation and react in a way that will disarm it rather than inflame it. They must understand what has upset the person in crisis and know which words and actions have the best chance of calming them down.

To learn more about crisis de-escalation, we spoke with Carmen Bergman, MSW, LSW, a school-based therapist in Fort Wayne, IN. Bergman is a Master-level instructor of Nonviolent Crisis Intervention, a popular de-escalation model taught by the Crisis Prevention Institute. As an experienced trainer in the CPI model, Bergman explained how someone can identify when a crisis is developing, what they can do to defuse that crisis, and how they can stay calm and focused during the difficult work of de-escalation.

Spotting the Signs of Crisis

Carmen Bergman, MSW, LSW
Carmen Bergman, MSW, LSW, school-based therapist and Master-level instructor of CPI crisis de-escalation

To begin, it’s important to note that the goal of de-escalation is to defuse crises before they reach the point of physical aggression or violence. “When you talk about nonviolent crisis intervention, some people immediately think of holding skills and how to protect yourself from physical attacks. But that’s only a small chunk of it,” Bergman explains. “All the rest is about preventing escalation to the point where it becomes physical.”

Under the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention model, also known as the CPI model or simply CPI, the person doing de-escalation must think about the safety and well-being of everyone involved in a crisis situation. Bergman says, “The main philosophy is care, welfare, safety and security for all. It’s not just for the person who’s in crisis and the person handling the crisis; it’s also for any people who are witnessing the event.”

The first element of successful de-escalation is early identification that a crisis may be developing. Many factors go into this process, but it largely involves being aware of the person’s behavior and the larger situation at hand. Bergman explains some of the things she considers when looking for signs of crisis: “I’m assessing what’s in the room and who is in the room. I’m assessing nonverbal communication, because it’s not what someone says, but how they say it. I’m looking at facial expressions, I’m looking at body language, I’m looking at the spatial piece, like how close they are to me and how close I am to the exit. I’m also looking at how they’re speaking—their tone, their volume, and their cadence.”

Once we’ve assessed the potential for crisis—or how far the crisis has already progressed—we can begin to determine the appropriate response. Bergman illustrates what this might look like:

“As I’m collecting all this information, I use what’s called the ‘decision-making matrix’ to assess the situation. Whether it’s somebody I’ve worked with before or somebody I’ve never worked with before, I take all the information that’s coming in and continually use the decision-making matrix to assess: Do I just need verbal de-escalation? Or do I need to use disengagement skills, like protecting myself if somebody tries to hit or kick me, or if they’re grabbing at me? Or is it to the point where there’s immediate risk of harm to myself or others? Do I need to use a holding skill?”

Strategies for Verbal De-Escalation

Whenever possible, de-escalation should begin with a conversation between the person in crisis and the person attempting to intervene—otherwise known as verbal de-escalation. As always, the goal is to defuse the situation by making the agitated person feel heard, understood and respected.

The way we speak to a person during de-escalating is just as important as the words we say to them. “When I teach de-escalation, I talk about paraverbal and nonverbal communication. Paraverbal communication is the tone, the volume and the cadence,” Bergman explains. “For example, I immediately ask everybody, ‘Who speaks sarcasm as a second language?’ Because if you approach someone with sarcastic, dry humor to try to lighten the mood, it’s going to make it worse. Put the sarcasm away and just use very natural, even-keeled, even-toned patterns of communication.”

The volume of our speech is also important in these situations, and we can even use it to help lower the level of tension. Bergman says, “Sometimes if somebody is screaming and yelling, I’ll bring my volume down a notch, and sometimes they’ll match me. And I’ll bring it down a bit more, and they’ll match me again until we’re having a nice, even, calm conversation.”

Other strategies for verbal de-escalation include: lowering yourself to the other person’s eye level if you are taller than them, which can make you appear less threatening; persuading them to sit down with you, which can help them feel more calm; and standing beside them rather than across from them, which can make the conversation feel less confrontational.

It’s also important to remember that the individual in crisis may respond negatively to your de-escalation attempts, so you should try not to take any insults or aggression personally. Bergman explains,

“We talk about rationally detaching and not taking it personally. You know, it’s not about you. Sometimes we can get very egocentric, like, ‘If you don’t respect me, I don’t have to respect you.’ That’s kind of like two fools arguing; nobody wins in that situation. There have been times when I’ve taken it personally, and I needed to step back and take a breath. It’s not about me, but it became about me when I let that power struggle happen. If I’m met with rudeness and disrespect, I’m going to still respect the other person as a human being, because that’s who I am, and that’s my character.”

Staying Centered During De-Escalation

Unfortunately, crisis de-escalation can be very stressful work. It can be difficult to deal with aggression and negativity without reflecting it back to the person in crisis. Therefore, we need to know how to manage our own emotions and mental well-being in order to stay focused and effective during de-escalation.

Self-awareness is the first component of this. In order to regulate our emotions, we need to monitor how we feel and understand what things are likely to upset us. Bergman says, “What makes you anxious? What are the things that make you fearful? What are you worried about?” Once we know the answers to these questions, we’ll be better prepared to handle upsetting words and actions without becoming agitated.

Self-care is another vital part of maintaining resilience. Dealing with other people’s crises is mentally and emotionally taxing, which is why we must find ways to replenish that spent energy. Bergman refers to this as “refilling your Care Cup”: “We’re absorbing so much negative energy that we need to do something positive to fill up our Care Cup. We’re pouring so much out that if we don’t fill it up again, we’re not going to be useful anymore.” Normal wellness behaviors like getting plenty of sleep, eating a health diet, exercising regularly and practicing mindfulness can help with this.

Bergman points out that de-escalating with a team can be an excellent option if others are available to help. In these situations, one person can lead the de-escalation while the others provide support as needed. “When you respond as a team, sometimes the leader is the first person who arrives, sometimes it’s the person who has the best rapport with the individual, and sometimes it’s just the person who is most competent and confident,” Bergman says.

Finally, sometimes the best we can do just isn’t good enough. When this happens, it’s best to cut our losses and let someone else take over, if possible. “When I teach, I talk about ‘tap outs,’ “ Bergman explains. “If somebody is starting to add fuel to the fire—if you’re trying to de-escalate, but the person is mad at you—have somebody else step in. It’s not that you aren’t doing your job well enough. It has nothing to do with you. It’s just what’s best for that person at that moment.”

Conflict and crisis can be frightening and stressful when they occur. A person who is experiencing an emotional crisis may pose a danger to themselves and others, which is why proper de-escalation is so important.

We encourage you to use the information and strategies in this blog when attempting to de-escalate someone who is in crisis. However, you shouldn’t hesitate to seek out professional assistance when necessary. If you ever feel overwhelmed or afraid for your safety while attempting de-escalation,  get help from someone with more training and experience handling difficult situations!

With the right help, crises can be de-escalated and individuals who experience them can get the behavioral health care they deserve!

For advice on handling other types of difficult situations, we recommend reading our blog posts on Conscious Discipline and domestic violence intervention below!

Conscious Discipline: A Constructive Approach to Behavior Modification for Children
Domestic Violence Intervention: How Rehabilitating Abusers Helps Victims

The Wellness Recovery Action Plan: Creating an Instruction Manual for Your Mental Health

Imagine you wake up one day and discover that you feel a bit “off.” Maybe you’re more irritable than usual, or maybe you just feel unmotivated. Maybe you find yourself straying from your normal morning routine. You can tell that something is different, but you can’t quite put your finger on it, so you try to go about your day as normal.

Later that day, something happens that upsets you. Perhaps someone makes a rude comment toward you, or perhaps you receive a piece of troubling news. This only worsens your mood, and you’re unable to stop thinking about the upsetting event as the day progresses. You keep revisiting it in your mind, but you don’t know what to do to make yourself feel better, so you simply try to ignore these thoughts as much as possible and make it through the rest of the day.

You succeed, but you don’t feel any better the next day. Or the day after that. Or next week. In fact, you seem to be getting worse. Little things that bother you keep happening each day, and your mood just won’t improve. You feel like there’s a dark cloud hanging over you everywhere you go. You’ve lost all interest in things you used to enjoy, and you realize that if something doesn’t change soon, your mental health is going to be in a very bad place. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t figure out what you need to do to start feeling better again.

At times like these, you might wish you had an instruction manual to tell you what’s wrong with your mental health and how you can fix it. The bad news is that no such manual exists—but the good news is that it’s possible to create one. It’s called a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (or WRAP), and it’s a tool you can use to track your mental wellness, identify sources of stress, and regain control when your health takes a turn for the worse.

In this blog post, Cummins’ Carman Allen, a Certified Recovery Specialist and Recovery Coach, walks us through the ins and outs of WRAP and how anyone can use it to create a personal instruction manual for their mental health.

Getting a Handle on WRAP

Carman Allen, Certified Recovery Coach at Cummins Behavioral Health
"WRAP is for individuals who are trying to identify their own process for recovery. It's a way to give them some tools," says Carman Allen, Certified Recovery Specialist at Cummins Behavioral Health.

The Wellness Recovery Action Plan was first developed in 1997 by a group of people who were searching for ways to overcome their own mental health challenges. The most prominent of these individuals was Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD, who remains the public face of WRAP today.

At its core, WRAP is a self-determined, evidence-based tool that a person can use to get well and stay well. The key to WRAP lies in self-observation, self-awareness, and thoughtful planning. As we said above, you can think of it as an instruction manual for your mental health that tells you what to do to stay well and how to start feeling better if you become unwell. “WRAP covers a vast amount of techniques people can use to be able to help themselves,” explains Cummins’ Carman Allen.

A WRAP (sometimes called a WRAP plan) consists of seven major elements:

  1. Wellness toolbox: These are activities you do in your life that help you feel well. They might include a wide variety of activities that are beneficial for your mental health, such as getting plenty of sleep every night, eating a healthy diet, exercising, talking with friends or family members, journaling, practicing relaxation techniques, practicing gratitude, receiving counseling, reading a book, enjoying nature, and so on.
  2. Daily plan, or what you’re like when you’re well: This is the routine you should follow every day to help yourself stay well. You can also look at this section as a description of what you do and how you feel on a day-to-day basis when you are mentally well.
  3. Stressors (also called triggers): These are external events and situations that might make you feel uncomfortable if they happen to you. Although it’s normal to be upset by these things, they can be detrimental to our wellness if we don’t have some method of dealing with them. A few common examples might include having someone argue with you or receiving bad news.
  4. Early warning signs: These are internal, subtle indications that you are beginning to feel worse. For example, you might feel more irritable then normal, sadder than normal, or you might find yourself replaying an upsetting event in your mind.
  5. When things are breaking down: These signs occur when you are feeling much worse than normal and are nearing a state of mental and emotional crisis. Some examples include feeling sad or angry all the time, problems at work or in school, problems in your relationships, or even hallucinations.
  6. Crisis plan: If your mental health deteriorates to the point that you are in crisis, you may not be able to make good decisions for yourself during that time. Your crisis plan identifies who should make important decisions for you and gives instructions about the types of assistance you do and do not want. Some of the details included in a crisis plan are: who should and should not assist with your care, which medications and treatments are preferred and which are not acceptable, what you do and do not want from your supporters during a crisis, and how they will know when you’re able to take care of yourself again.
  7. Post-crisis plan: This section lays out tasks and timelines for healing and returning to everyday life after a mental health crisis. This plan can be started prior to a crisis, but it will likely need to be completed or adjusted as you are beginning to recover from the crisis, as you should then have a clearer picture of what you need to do for yourself to get well.

How to Assemble Your Own WRAP

The nice thing about WRAP is that it isn’t too difficult to begin putting together a plan of your own. The WRAP website provides a variety of tools and resources you can use to start creating your own WRAP, including several reasonably-priced textbooks and workbooks. However, it’s also common to work with a behavioral health professional as you put your plan together. “Some people have the support of a therapist, or they can use it with a peer recovery specialist,” Carman says.

Although your WRAP should follow the basic structure laid out above, the details of each section should fit your personality and specific life circumstances. “What I love about the WRAP plan is that you, the person, the individual, get to identify what needs to go in it,” Carman explains. Even when she’s assisting a client with creating their WRAP, she is careful to act only as a guide and sounding board, ultimately leaving the final decisions to them. “I’m just there to help that person navigate the plan and identify their wellness tools, and that’s empowering,” she says.

When working on your WRAP, it’s important to remember that nothing is set in stone. In fact, you should expect the information in your plan to change as your life circumstances change. According to Carman, this is a normal part of keeping your WRAP up to date:

“Let me make this clear: this is a living, breathing document. Personally, I have a WRAP plan. I started my WRAP plan several years ago when I first got into mental health services myself. And since then, I have readdressed it over the years as I’ve gotten a job, as I’ve gotten better, as I’ve gotten married—every change in my life. Because those sections—triggers, early warning signs, when things are breaking down—all of those things are constantly changing. So I’m constantly reinventing it to meet where my needs are at that time. Where your plan starts off today, more than likely it will not stay there, because you’re going to hopefully get better, and you may find out, ‘Hey, this isn’t triggering me anymore,” or, “Things are getting better, so that’s absolutely not an early warning sign for me now.’ It will continue to take a life of its own.”

Tips for Living by Your WRAP

Let’s say you’ve reviewed a number of WRAP resources, you’ve done some brainstorming or spoken with a behavioral health professional, and you’ve put together your own plan. What happens next? How can you apply this personal instruction manual you’ve created to monitor and manage your mental health?

According to Carman, it all begins with understanding what you’re like when you’re well. “I have a mental illness,” she explains. “I understand this from many standpoints. My personal perspective is this: How do I know when I’m symptomatic? I know because I have identified what I’m like when I’m well. That is the first and most important part.”

Carman continues,

“For me, one of my big things when I’m well is I love to get up, open my curtains, do my daily meditations, all that kind of stuff. Suppose I don’t do that for two or three days. That’s not a big issue; maybe I just don’t feel like it. If I’m looking at seven to ten days that I haven’t done it, I understand that something else is going on here. I’ve created my own gauge. And it’s not an open-ended thing, like, ‘Oh, it’s OK, it’ll be alright next week.’ I know I have a time frame. As another example, some people with depression may understand that, ‘If I lay around for two or three days, or four days, or even a week, that’s not the worst it’s been for me. Now, if I’m going into two weeks, now I need to do something different.’ So, the basis is to first identify what you’re like when you’re well, and then you figure out, what do I do for myself when I’m well? And that’s not necessarily every day, but it’s more days than not.”

The challenge with mental wellness is that even when we’re doing all the things we should to stay well, we can still take a turn for the worse. When this happens, we need to be extra vigilant about stressors/triggers. Carman says, “In the course of those days that I’m not feeling my best, I’m also trying to be aware of what triggers can create another barrier. Suppose I’m feeling depressed, I haven’t gotten up, and now I have some bad news. Now I have a compound issue.”

The most important thing to remember about stressors/triggers is that sometimes they can’t be avoided. In these situations, we need to be able to deal with them in a way that minimizes risk for our mental health. As Carman points out, your WRAP can also help you with this:

“What have I put in place for that trigger, and what can I do now that the trigger is here? Because the fact is that triggers are going to happen, and we don’t have to stop our lives because they happen. What I do is I go back and I figure out, ‘OK, when this happens, this is what I said I’m going to do.’ Because the WRAP plan is set up in this way: not only do you identify the trigger, you identify your action plan for the trigger. So it’s not just, ‘That’s my trigger, I don’t know what to do about it.’ That would not be very helpful. Once you identify those triggers as much as you can—and you’ll continue to do that, because as I said, this is a living, breathing document—’OK, this is what triggered me.’ Maybe anxiety, maybe fear. ‘OK, what am I fearful of?’ I’m going to ask the questions, I’m going to talk to somebody. And so now I’m pulling in my responsibility, what I’m accountable for. Because people can’t help you if they don’t know.”

WRAP is an easy-to-assemble, highly flexible, effective tool for managing your mental health on a day-to-day basis. As Carman Allen says, “The purpose of the WRAP plan is to help people identify how to get through mental health challenges. Because you talk to people all the time, and you say, ‘How did you get through that?’ And they say, ‘I don’t know, I just did it.’ The fact is, I need to know how I got through it, because more likely than not, I’m going to need to get through something else at another time. And the quicker I can pull that to my remembrance and start practicing that, the quicker I can get through it and get back to feeling better.”

We would highly encourage all our readers to take the time to put together a WRAP for use in their own lives. If you’d like assistance from a behavioral health professional, please give us a call at (888) 714-1927 to see if services at Cummins Behavioral Health might be right for you!

If you liked this article about the Wellness Recovery Action Plan, then you might also enjoy our blog on the Stages of Change model and how you can use it to make meaningful changes in your life!

How to Change Your Life Using the Stages of Change Model, with Cummins Therapist David Bonney

Domestic Violence Intervention: How Rehabilitating Abusers Helps Victims

Domestic violence, also known as family violence or intimate partner violence, affects millions of individuals in the U.S. every year. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that 12 million women and men are the victims of sexual assault, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner each year. In addition, 678,000 U.S. children were the victims of child abuse or neglect in 2018, according to the federal government’s 2018 Child Maltreatment Report.

One of the primary ways abusive behavior gets countered is through preventative action like education and advocacy. Government agencies, mental health care providers, and anti-abuse organizations spend much time and money working to stop domestic violence before it happens. But the fact remains that it still does happen millions of times a year, and for each person who suffers abuse, there is another person who has perpetrated it. What happens to the abuser after abuse has already occurred?

A domestic violence intervention program, also called a batterers intervention program (or BIP), is a learning curriculum aimed at rehabilitating individuals who have committed domestic violence. These programs challenge all types of abusive behavior and attempt to show participants that they alone are responsible and accountable for their harmful actions. Ultimately, intervention programs seek to protect potential victims by ending the cycle of abuse before it can start again.

Abuse Awareness and Accountability (or AAandA) is one such BIP that Cummins partners with in Montgomery County. To learn more about domestic violence intervention and why it matters, we spoke with Adam Myszak from AAandA and Mindy Frazee from our Crawfordsville outpatient office. Together, they explained how domestic violence intervention fills the gaps that prevention alone misses.

An Introduction to Domestic Violence Intervention

"Like most other things, not talking about abuse or violence does not make it go away," says Mindy Frazee, LMHCA, one of our outpatient therapists who collaborates with AAandA.

When we think about behaviors that constitute domestic violence, we often think of things like physical and sexual assault. However, domestic violence encompasses any and all behaviors that achieve control over another person through abusive methods. Besides physical and sexual abuse, a person may also commit verbal abuse, emotional abuse, mental abuse, spiritual abuse, or economic abuse.

Batterers intervention programs aim to root out and confront all forms of abuse. These programs teach offenders responsibility and accountability for their actions, emphasizing that their behavior was wrong and must change in the future. In Indiana, BIPs must be certified by the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) and must consist of at least 26 weekly sessions lasting 90 minutes or longer.

According to Mindy, this intervention is intended to help both perpetrators and victims of domestic violence. She says, “While I can understand how it may be difficult to discuss offering an individual treatment based on some of their behaviors, I think it’s important to zoom out of the topic and think about how treatment and support can impact not only the individual coming in for treatment, but also those around the individual. For example, their children, partners, friends, colleagues, and community members. Each of us touches many lives, and by offering an individual support on breaking abusive or unhealthy patterns, we can see how systems can also be impacted.”

Adam agrees. “It’s important to get these individuals the tools and education to change their patterns of abusive behavior,” he says. Without intervention, perpetrators will continue to use power and control and abuse their victims. We all agree that intervention is second to prevention, but if we can help stop the violence at any level, then we can help put victims’ safety first.”

Intervention in Action

A typical BIP class, such as those offered by Abuse Awareness and Accountability, consists of a lesson and group discussion facilitated by an instructor. The primary goal is to help participants identify abusive behaviors so they can begin to reinterpret their own actions in an objective light.

“For the most part, our clients do not see themselves as perpetrators and believe their actions were in the right,” Adam explains. “They have learned to blame the victim, and in that feel no guilt. They feel justified and have excuses, and they minimize their abuse because of this thinking error.” 

According to Mindy, this cognitive error may be caused by numerous factors in a person’s life: “There are often patterns in behavior that either come from early childhood or from things picked up along the way in one’s life. It can also be from lack of needs being met (i.e. their own emotional deprivation, lack of financial resources, lack of proper nutrition). Over time the client, with the support of their treatment team, can recognize their abusive patterns and begin to challenge them and replace them with healthy responses.

These behavioral patterns are often so deep-rooted that they do not change easily. As Adam mentioned, most people who have abused do not even believe that they need to change. “There is no excuse for abusing anyone, and that is why the Stages of Change start with pre-contemplation,” he says. “The critical thinking error that is present in these cases needs to be brought to the surface and held accountable. In order to intervene and make changes to behavior that has hurt and destroyed others, the client is challenged to first accept the behavior as abuse and then work though how to handle things without using power and control.”

As a person progresses through the program and starts to come to terms with their past behavior, they can benefit from additional support in the form of individual therapy or counseling outside of BIP classes. Mindy provides services of this type for some clients of AAandA. If they are in classes with Adam, then I like to explore what class was about that week and support them in processing their experience and how it applies to them on an individual level. And whether they’re in the class or not, I often support clients on improving communication, disrupting old patterns of thinking and acting, boundary setting, and emotion regulation,” she explains.

The Gift of a Second Chance

As we have said, the primary duty of any domestic violence intervention program is to protect victims of violence. If a person who has committed abuse can be persuaded to change their behavior, then other people will be protected from future instances of abuse. However, these programs also offer abusers a chance to change for the better.

Again, the most challenging part of rehabilitation is convincing the person that they have a problem. The group framework of a BIP class helps with this. “Working through the learned and chosen abusive behavior in a group setting allows for clients to let down their wall of resistance and let in that idea: ‘Do I have a problem, or am I abusive?’ ” Adam says.Once the client can take accountability without any minimizing or blame shifts for their behavior—100% accountability that no matter what, their actions were wrong—then partnering with individual therapeutic services is critical. At that stage, the therapist has a willing client ready to do some work on themselves and not resist the therapeutic work because ‘it’s somebody else’s fault.’ “

Mindy agrees that much of this work is best done in individual therapy, with the support of a trained therapist: If we know certain things upset us, or if we can recognize when we feel fear, shame, confusion, or we become agitated, we can work on identifying ways to decrease reactions that lead to abusive behaviors based from these difficult emotions and increase responses that can lead to healthier behaviors by acknowledging the emotions. When given a chance to explore the self in a safe, nonjudgmental space, then the opportunity to grow and find new ways to cope and live a life with more meaningful relationships, including the one with the self, is possible.”

Making personal changes of this magnitude is difficult, but as Adam explains, BIPs such as AAandA have been proven successful at creating this change in their clients. Therefore, evidence-based intervention combined with individual therapy can provide a second chance for both perpetrators and victims of domestic violence.

“As our program is the largest certified program for perpetrator services in the state of Indiana by the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, I think that we offer such a curriculum because we know the possibility of change is apparent, and the only way we can keep victims safe is to offer the opportunity,” Adam says.

Cummins Behavioral Health is proud to support Abuse Awareness and Accountability in its mission to protect victims of domestic violence and reform those who have committed abuse. As Mindy Frazee puts it:When you have two entities passionate about what they do for the communities they serve, it is priceless. Clients who are able to engage in both AAandA and therapy will know they are on a solid path toward recovery.

If you are interested in learning more about batterers intervention programs for yourself or someone else, we encourage you to visit the Abuse Awareness and Accountability website and look into their classes available throughout Indiana. Classes are open to court-mandated as well as voluntary participants, and you can sit in on a session for free to see if the program might be right for you. Recovery and rehabilitation from domestic violence is possible!