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International Self-Care Day 2021: Self-Care for Therapists and Other Helping Professionals

For those who work in the helping professions—such as medicine, nursing, therapy and counseling, social work, education, public health, human services, criminal justice, and religious leadership—caring for the well-being of others is all in a day’s work.

However, spending so much time caring for others can sometimes cause problems for helping professionals. Stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue are all fairly common in these professions, which can lead to high employee turnover and have lasting negative effects for workers’ health and wellness. For example, an estimated 21–67% of workers in mental health services may be experiencing high levels of burnout, which can lead to a variety of physical and emotional health impairments, research shows.

The good news is that robust self-care practices can help to mitigate or even prevent symptoms of work-related stress and burnout. With International Self-Care Day coming up on July 24th, we’d like to help caregivers and helping professionals who are looking for ways to improve their self-care.

In this blog post, we approach self-care by dividing the self into its many unique dimensions and explaining how you can care for each facet of yourself. We share some tips and suggestions that may be useful for helping professionals, and we highlight some situations that are very harmful to self-care and should be avoided at all costs. This post draws inspiration from the book The Resilient Practitioner: Burnout Prevention and Self-Care Strategies for Counselors, Therapists, Teachers, and Health Professionals by Thomas Skovholt and Michelle Trotter-Mathison, which we think is a great resource on the subject.

For additional self-care resources and guidance, we highly recommend "The Resilient Practitioner" by Thomas Skovholt and Michelle Trotter-Mathison

Exploring the Many Dimensions of the Self

To begin, it should be noted that we each have a professional self and a personal self, and both of these must be nurtured to maintain good self-care.

Our professional self is that part of ourselves that identifies with the work we do for a living. It is nurtured when our work is personally meaningful to us and when we believe our career is progressing in the way we’d like it to. A healthy professional self is important to our overall well-being, but we’d like to focus more closely on our personal self, which comprises all the parts of us that are not associated with our work.

In fact, our personal self can be divided into 12 distinct parts, which are:

  • Emotional self: the part of us that thrives on experiencing and expressing emotions of all kinds
  • Financial self: the part of us that looks for ways to earn and save money
  • Humorous self: the part of us that loves a good laugh
  • Loving self: the part of us that needs to express affection and receive affection from other people
  • Nutritious self: the part of us that craves healthy foods to provide fuel for our bodies
  • Physical self: the part of us that enjoys being active and exercising our body
  • Playful self: the part of us that likes to “joke around” and be silly and light-hearted
  • Priority-setting self: the part of us that’s most comfortable when our to-do list is organized
  • Recreational self: the part of us that likes to have hobbies and interests outside our professional obligations
  • Relaxation and stress-reduction self: the part of us that desires peace and serenity
  • Solitary self: the part of us that enjoys being alone from time to time
  • Spiritual or religious self: the part of us that seeks connection to something larger than ourselves

Caring for Each Part of Our Personal Self

The dimensions of the self described above are universal to all of us. We each have these unique selves inside us, although how they are expressed and how much nurturing they require varies from person to person. In order to achieve good self-care, you’ll need to determine how much you must nurture each dimension and what methods work best for you.

However, there are a variety of activities that are successful at nurturing these parts of the self for many people. Here are the 12 parts of the self again, this time listed alongside ideas and strategies for nurturing each part:

  • The emotional self: keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings; engage with different forms of art; talk with friends and family
  • The financial self: create and maintain a financial budget; put money into a savings account or 401k; keep money set aside for emergency expenses
  • The humorous self: look for humor in everyday life; use humor and laughter to lighten stressful situations
  • The loving self: spend time with friends, family and loved ones; volunteer or donate to causes you believe in
  • The nutritious self: eat a diet high in vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and whole grains; avoid highly processed foods and refined sugars
  • The physical self: engage in physical activities that you enjoy; exercise regularly; get plenty of sleep to rest and recover
  • The playful self: develop personal relationships with work colleagues; find ways to respectfully joke about work situations; do things just to make others laugh
  • The priority-setting self: set realistic goals for yourself; maintain control over personal and professional responsibilities
  • The recreational self: engage in leisure activities that you enjoy; take up a hobby you enjoy; take vacations or travel in your free time
  • The relaxation and stress-reduction self: balance your personal and professional life; practice self-awareness and mindfulness; take vacations from work
  • The solitary self: spend time by yourself; read for pleasure or education; engage in quiet leisure activities
  • The spiritual or religious self: develop a set of personal values; develop personal spiritual practices

Poor Self-Care Situations to Avoid

As we mentioned above, self-care can look a bit different for everyone, because the ways we choose to nurture our personal selves may vary between individuals. One person’s successful self-care regimen may appear insufficient to another person, depending on how their priorities differ. Therefore, it’s important to discover which balance and which self-care activities work best for you.

There are some situations that are almost universally harmful to a person’s self-care and well-being, though. You should be on the lookout for these situations in your personal and professional life and take action to rectify them if at all possible.

These situations include:

  • Toxic supervisor and/or colleagues. Poor relationships with our work peers can be extremely draining on our motivation and emotional state. Sometimes, we can compensate for this by increasing self-care in other areas and seeking emotional support from friends and loved ones. In other cases, it may be necessary to change our working situation.
  • Little fun in life or work. Taking life too seriously all the time can often make it seem joyless and dull. If we find ourselves in this situation, we can work at “manufacturing” fun by actively exercising our humorous and playful selves.
  • Lack of a professional development process. We may lose all joy in our work over time if we’re unable to see a clear path of professional progression. It can be helpful to map out the “big picture” of where we’d like our career to go and then strategize each step we can make toward that goal. This might also be a topic to discuss with a supportive supervisor.
  • No energy-giving personal life. Even the most fulfilling work in the world can leave us feeling empty if we don’t have a rich personal life to balance it. This is why it’s so important to develop and nurture the 12 dimensions of our personal self!
  • Inability to say no to unreasonable requests. As helping professionals, helping others is what we do, sometimes at our own expense. But we must have boundaries in place that prevent us from giving so much that we can no longer care for ourselves. This is where our priority-setting self comes into play.
  • Giving too much in our personal relationships. Again, it can be easy for helping professionals to slip into the habit of giving too much, even in our personal lives. We must work to build relationships where we both give and receive support in order to keep our emotional and loving selves well cared for.
  • Constant perfectionism in work tasks. Being consistently too demanding of ourselves is a guaranteed recipe for frustration and burnout. We must give ourselves permission to make the occasional mistake, just as we do for the individuals we serve.
  • Professional success defined solely by client success or appreciation. When our job is to help other people get better, it can be difficult to separate our success from their success—or even from their appreciation of our efforts. To counteract this tendency, it can be helpful to develop the parts of our personal self that are more inwardly focused, such as our solitary and spiritual selves.

Proper self-care is important for everyone, but especially for those who spend their professionals lives caring for others. Therefore, we encourage you to take some time to assess your own level of self-care!

Write down the 12 dimensions of the personal self and what activities you are currently doing to nurture each one. Then give yourself a score between 1 and 5 to indicate how well each part of yourself is being nurtured.

When you’ve finished, take note of your three strongest personal self-care areas and your three weakest areas. For your weakest areas, brainstorm activities you could do to nurture these areas. If appropriate, you could even set schedules to work on these areas of weakness.

We hope the information in this post helps you strengthen your self-care practices so you can continue your important work of caring for those you serve!

EMDR Therapy: A Primer for Cummins Consumers

“Changing the memories that form the way we see ourselves also changes the way we view others. Therefore, our relationships, job performance, what we are willing to do or are able to resist, all move in a positive direction.” — Francine Shapiro, creator of EMDR therapy

We are all susceptible to traumatic experiences and the negative effects they can cause. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives. Individuals who have experienced abuse, homelessness, economic hardship, who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, or who have served in the Armed Forces may be especially vulnerable to the long-term effects of trauma.

One of the most common ways to treat post-traumatic stress disorder is with cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. This type of therapy focuses on changing patterns of thought, with the goal of replacing maladaptive beliefs with more constructive beliefs. CBT has been proven effective at treating trauma and PTSD, but it can take time to produce significant results for some people. For example, although CBT or “talk therapy” for PTSD can produce results within 6 to 12 weeks according to the National Institute of Mental Health, some people may continue to struggle with symptoms for much longer.

However, there is an alternative type of therapy for PTSD, anxiety, depression and some other disorders that often produces results much sooner. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, is a newer form of treatment that also helps people change maladaptive beliefs they may have about a traumatic experience. But unlike CBT and traditional talk therapies, EMDR leverages physiology and neuroscience to facilitate these changes. As a result, many people experience relief from their symptoms much sooner than with CBT—sometimes after only a few sessions.

Here at Cummins, several of our care providers are trained in EMDR therapy, and we’ve begun offerings trainings for others who want to learn. In order to familiarize our consumers with this newer form of treatment, we spoke to Laura Coffey, MSW, LSW, who has experience working with several of her consumers using EMDR. In this post, Laura explains the fundamentals of EMDR, including how it’s different from other therapies, how it affects the brain, what a typical session is like, and how she has seen it help her consumers.

What Is EMDR Therapy?

Laura Coffey, MSW, LSW, Marion County School-based Therapist at Cummins Behavioral Health

At its core, EMDR therapy is designed to help the client reframe upsetting thoughts and feelings about past experiences. As Laura explains, “It’s a phased, focused approach for treating traumatic and other symptoms that reconnects clients to the images of their trauma in a safe way. It works with thoughts, emotions and body sensations that are associated with the trauma, and it helps the brain move toward an adaptive resolution for the client.”

The major difference between EMDR and other forms of cognitive therapy lies in how these goals are achieved. As its name suggests, EMDR incorporates controlled eye movement—often referred to as “bilateral stimulation”—into the therapeutic process.

In a typical EMDR session, the therapist asks the client to recall a traumatic experience while moving their eyes from side to side. Traditionally, the therapist might hold up one finger and ask the client to follow it with their eyes, but there are alternative techniques that also work, such as moving lights or moving shapes on a screen. In fact, other forms of bilateral stimulation can also be used, such as a sound that moves from the left ear to the right ear or alternating touches on each side of the body.

Although it may seem unusual at first, this combination of cognitive therapy and bilateral stimulation is very effective at treating post-traumatic stress and anxiety. In fact, EMDR therapy tends to produce positive results much more quickly than other forms of treatment, as Laura explains:

“With traditional cognitive-based therapy or dialectical behavior therapy, you might see a therapist for six months to a year for trauma, and sometimes longer. I’ve had trauma patients who I saw for two to four years, and we still didn’t get to the core of everything with cognitive therapy. Using EMDR, I’ve seen that time cut at least in half, depending on the amount of trauma. For a single trauma, symptoms can sometimes be alleviated within three or four sessions using EMDR.”

How Does EMDR Work?

Why does adding eye movement to cognitive-based therapy improve results for clients? It has to do with the structure of our brains and how they operate.

First, it’s important to understand the difference between short-term memory and long-term memory. Short-term memory is where new memories are formed, and this information is stored near the front of the brain. By contrast, long-term memory stores this information for later retrieval, and it’s believed that this happens near the back of the brain. Traumatic experiences can sometimes make us believe negative things about ourselves—such as that we were responsible for the event or that we are worthless because the event happened to us—and these negative self-beliefs may get stored in long-term memory.

When a client recalls a traumatic experience in therapy, they move it from long-term memory into short-term or “working memory,” where it can then be reprocessed so that it no longer triggers symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Laura explains,

“First the person chooses the experience they want to reprocess, then they choose a negative belief they have about themselves because of that experience, and then they choose a positive belief they would rather believe about themselves. That protocol is then used for the desensitization process and the reprocessing process. The idea is to remove the negative belief that they have about themselves because of that experience, and then to replace it with a positive belief that they want to have about themselves, so that when they recall that event, or anytime they experience something that’s similar, they won’t have the negative belief anymore.”

During EMDR, bilateral stimulation serves to activate both hemispheres, or halves, of the brain at the same time, which affects our cognitive functioning in a few important ways. First, it serves to desensitize the client to the memory of their traumatic experience, which makes it less upsetting to recall during the treatment session. Second, research suggests that bilateral stimulation also makes it easier to reprocess traumatic memories in a more positive light.

“Our brain already has the healing capacity to be able to deal with this trauma and to fix the things that are wrong,” Laura says. “It just needs a little help sometimes to stimulate those healing abilities, and EMDR does that extremely well.”

What Happens in a Typical EMDR Session?

Almost anyone can be a candidate for receiving EMDR therapy, even children ages 7 and older. If you’re considering giving EMDR a try, then it might help to know what you can expect in a typical session. Treatment with EMDR is carefully regimented and separated into eight distinct phases.

Phase 1: History taking and treatment planning

In your very first appointment with a therapist, you’ll mostly discuss why you sought out treatment and what you hope to achieve from it. The therapist will ask about any thoughts or self-beliefs that are bothering you, and they’ll work with you to create a list of items you’d like to address. “It’s a client-based assessment,” Laura says. “They tell me what’s going on, and I’m listening very closely to hear what things are the most traumatic for them, or are causing the greatest anxiety or depression, or whatever it is that they’re experiencing right now.”

Phase 2: Preparation

Once planning is complete, the therapist will explain how treatment works and help prepare you for the kinds of emotions and experiences you can expect during your sessions. One way this is done is by helping the client create a mental “safe space.” Laura explains, “I ask them to think of a real or imagined place where they feel safe. We do some visualization exercises to make sure that everything they see there is safe and nothing there is disturbing to them there. And I have them create a box in their safe place, and that box represents where we will pull the memories from. At the beginning of every session we open the box, at the end of every session we close the box and lock it.”

Phase 3: Assessment

When both you and the therapist are confident that you’re ready to begin treatment, you’ll choose the first memory that you want to work on. This is known as choosing your “target.” “We choose a very specific memory with a very specific feeling, and they will gauge it for me on two different scales,” Laura says. “One is the positive belief they want to have and how much they believe that now. And the other scale is how much this memory bothers them right now. That’s how I assess where they are at the beginning of every session.”

Phases 4–7: Desensitization, Installation, Body Scan, and Closure

During the next four phases, the therapist will begin bilateral stimulation in conjunction with cognitive therapy, with the goal of removing the negative belief associated with the memory and instilling the positive belief instead. This process might take several sessions to complete, and it will likely elicit some amount of emotional distress. “Almost all the time, there are emotional reactions during bilateral stimulation,” Laura says. “Sometimes they’re very difficult, because they’ll reveal past trauma or past experiences that are very hurtful for the client, and they’re reliving the emotion. Clients will often feel tired or sleepy after these sessions, and I will warn them about that, because it’s emotionally draining to go through.”

At the end of each session, the therapist will lead you in a “grounding exercise” to ensure that you leave feeling calm and relaxed. “I help them re-enter a state of relaxation and safety before they ever leave my office or the computer screen. And after the first session, I always call the next day to make sure they’re doing OK,” Laura says.

Phase 8: Re-evaluation

At the beginning of each subsequent session, the therapist will evaluate what progress has been made toward your target and what still remains to be done. If you have not yet achieved, or “cleared,” your target, then treatment will resume at Phase 4. If you have cleared your target, then you and the therapist can discuss other targets that you’d like to work toward next. “After they’ve cleared a target, I revisit that in the next session just to make sure that they have cleared that target and that there’s no residual feelings or emotions as a result of clearing that target,” Laura says.

Like any form of therapy, EMDR is not a surefire recipe for recovery. However, it has been shown to greatly help many people who suffer from trauma and PTSD as well as other challenges like anxiety and depression. For her part, therapist Laura Coffey has seen the difference it’s made for a number of her consumers: “More often than not, they say they feel like a huge weight has been lifted off their shoulders. They say that they feel so light. And they’re smiling and laughing by the end of the session, even if it’s been difficult. They come out very, very happy.”

If you’re an existing Cummins consumer and you think you might like to try EMDR for yourself or your child, we encourage you to bring it up with your care provider. They will be able to discuss treatment options with you. Or if you aren’t yet a Cummins consumer, you can call us at (888) 714-1927 to speak with someone about receiving services.

Cummins Behavioral Health Systems, Inc. to Enhance Treatment for Youth Experiencing Trauma in Montgomery County with Award Funding

Will Use $5,000 Grant from Montgomery County Community Foundation to Train Staff in Trust-Based Relational Intervention

From left to right: Kelly Taylor, CEO of Montgomery County Community Foundation; Shelby Rusk, therapist at Cummins Behavioral Health Systems; Doug Phillips, Director of Montgomery County Operations for Cummins BHS

CRAWFORDSVILLE, IN – The Montgomery County Community Foundation (MCCF) has awarded Cummins Behavioral Health Systems, Inc. with $5,000 to improve its ability to treat children and teens who suffer from psychological trauma in Montgomery County. The funding comes as part of MCCF’s first grant cycle for 2021 and was awarded based on a proposal submitted by Cummins Behavioral Health staff.

“The grant will be utilized to provide specialized training to two counselors who will subsequently provide Trust-Based Relational Intervention in community youth and school-based environments,” said Doug Phillips, Cummins’ Director of County Operations for Montgomery County. “Cummins currently specializes in school-based counseling, and this grant will strengthen and innovate the therapeutic approach used with this important population.”

Statistics show that Montgomery County has a high rate of childhood adversity and early harm. In 2020, the Department of Child Services received ninety-four reports of sexual abuse alone. This was 10.4% of all reports received in the county, compared to the state average of 11.6%.

Youth who have experienced trauma may have complex needs and find it difficult to trust others. Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) is a therapeutic framework that takes these factors into account, allowing treatment providers and caregivers to more effectively help children who suffer from trauma.

“We are very excited to be able to receive training in TBRI,” said Shelby Rusk, a youth therapist who co-wrote the grant application for Cummins. “This program will allow us to teach and offer support to caregivers and children to see the need behind certain behaviors and to focus on the whole child. This will help create attunement, attachment, and empowerment for the child and caregiver.”

Cummins Behavioral Health will apply for Rusk and fellow therapist Keri Francis, the grant’s other co-author, to receive training in TBRI through the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development when training sessions become available in 2022. After they have been trained, Rusk and Francis will conduct community outreach to educate the public about childhood trauma and trauma resiliency. They will also begin implementing TBRI in their counseling services when appropriate.

To learn more about Trust-Based Relational Intervention, visit the website of the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at child.tcu.edu/about-us/tbri/. For more information about Montgomery County Community Foundation and its charitable initiatives, visit www.mccf-in.org.

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 visit www.cumminsbhs.org.

Indy Pride Festival 2021: How Cummins Is Showing Its Support!

In the United States and some other parts of the world, the month of June is recognized as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month. The U.S. Library of Congress describes Pride Month as a “month-long celebration [that] demonstrates how LGBTQ Americans have strengthened our country, by using their talent and creativity to help create awareness and goodwill.”

In central Indiana, the Indy Pride Festival is a major staple of Pride Month celebrations, dating as far back as the 1980s. Every year, tens of thousands of participants gather at Historic Military Park in downtown Indianapolis to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and their contributions to society.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the festival’s cancellation in 2020. This year, with the virus under better control in Indiana but by no means defeated, Indy Pride, Inc. has made the decision to hold an all-virtual festival. Although attendees won’t be able to gather in person, they’ll still be able to connect with entertainers, vendors, and community organizations through platforms like Twitch and Zoom.

We’re excited to share that Cummins Behavioral Health will have a virtual booth in the Community Resources Vendor Village at this year’s Pride Festival! We believe this is an excellent opportunity to engage with our community and provide support for anyone who may be struggling with their mental health.

Jessica Hynson, our Director of Operations for Marion County, is in charge of organizing our presence at Pride Festival. We spoke with her to get a sense of why someone should consider attending Virtual Pride and what they can expect to find at our booth.

Jessica Hynson, Clinical Team Lead at Cummins Behavioral Health Systems
Jessica Hynson, MA, CSAYC, LMHC, Director of Operations for Marion County

Why Attend Virtual Pride?

Anyone who has been to Pride Festival knows what a fun, exciting and uplifting experience it can be. As Jessica puts it, “Pride is a fantastically, amazingly fun event. The things you see at Pride will leave you speechless. It’s just a celebration of humanity, of being who you are and not being afraid. It’s kind of awe-inspiring.”

While it’s unfortunate that an in-person event isn’t possible this year, there are plenty of great reasons to tune in virtually! Rather than exploring Military Park on foot, attendees will be able to peruse a digital map for events and activities. In many cases, you’ll be able to speak with booth representatives and other festival attendees via video chat. Some noteworthy events include the Community Conversations panel series, hair and makeup tutorials at the Peabody’s Parlor Beauty Hub, and the LGBTQ+ career hub.

Of course, Pride Festival wouldn’t be complete without the main stage entertainment, and this year’s event won’t disappoint. Non-stop entertainment will be livestreamed on Twitch from 12:00pm–8:00pm, including a drag show and performances from more than a dozen musical artists.

You can watch the videos below to get a preview of what the virtual festival will look like and see the full lineup of entertainers, or read more on the Guide to Virtual Pride page.

Reasons to Visit the Cummins Pride Booth

With so many exciting things to see and interesting people to talk to, it might be hard to understand why you’d want to spend your time speaking with a mental health representative. Why should you be concerned about mental health and wellness, anyway?

For starters, we know that nearly 1 in 5 adults live with a mental illness or disorder of some kind, and that the average delay before they receive treatment is more than a decade. We also know that many people who identify as LGBTQ+ face serious challenges to their mental health and well-being. For example, at least 1 in 4 LGBTQ+ people report experiencing some form of discrimination in their daily lives. And according to a 2019 survey conducted by The Trevor Project, 71% of LGBTQ+ youth reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in the past year, and 39% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide, with more than half of transgender and non-binary youth having seriously considered suicide.

Our volunteers at Pride Festival will be there to let attendees know they can get help for any mental health challenges they may be facing, if they want it. “We’ll be there for anyone who comes in to answer questions about how to get into services and what kind we offer,” Jessica explains. “I think there are so many people who don’t know how to access services, or don’t know that they should or that they can, or think that whatever they’re dealing with is too big of a problem.”

We also think that Pride is an excellent opportunity to show our support for the entire LGBTQ+ community. Jessica says, “We just want to let people know that we’re here for them, that we’re allies, and that we welcome everyone. It’s really important for us to show them that we’re not here to judge them for who they love, or how they identify, or how they want to dress, or anything like that.”

Above all, our hope is to facilitate deeper personal connections through honest discussion of mental health—because mental health is human health, most of us struggle from time to time, and no one should feel ashamed of any struggles they may have. As Jessica says, “Even if all we do is connect two people at our booth who are like, ‘I have depression’; ‘Oh my gosh, I have depression, too. I’m not alone”—if that’s all we do, then it’s worth it.”

The 2021 Indy Pride Festival runs from 12:00pm–8:00pm this Saturday, June 12th. All you need to do to attend is visit indypride.org/indy-pride-festival and start navigating the festival map.

If you’d like to drop by our virtual booth, simply click on Community Resources in the festival map, then find our name in the list of vendors. Click our logo and select “Virtual Booth” to join a live chat! You’ll need to download the free client software for our video messaging app, RingCentral.

We hope to see you there on Saturday, and we wish everyone a very happy LGBTQ+ Pride Month!

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

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

healing-neen

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

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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