Shame-Informed Therapy: Debunking the Lies That Shame Tells Us

“If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.” — Brené Brown

At some point in our lives, most of us have had an experience where we felt we were not good enough in some way. As a result, just about all of us know what it’s like to feel shame.

Shame is a complicated emotion. We are first able to experience shame around the age of three, and it can feel somewhat different from person to person. However, shame is always about hiding some part of ourselves from other people. When we feel ashamed about something, we are desperate to keep it hidden from others, because we fear that they will judge us negatively for it. In fact, the word “shame” is believed to come from an old Indo-European word meaning “to cover.”

Not only is shame upsetting to experience, but deep-seated shame can create a variety of challenges in a person’s life. Shame can make relationships with other people difficult, and it can also complicate mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and PTSD. Shame is also deceptive by nature: shame tells us lies about ourselves, and if we believe these lies, they can cloud our judgment, interactions with others, and belief in ourselves.

Shame-informed therapy is a model of care that we are currently integrating into our services here at Cummins. This model is informed by modern neuroscience, which shows how activity in our brains and nervous systems can directly affect our thoughts and emotions. Most importantly, shame-informed therapy offers a pathway for overcoming shame and accepting ourselves for who we are.

Robb Enlow, our Chief Clinical Officer, is currently leading trainings to teach shame-informed therapy to our service providers. In this blog post, he explains how this approach to treatment can provide hope for those who struggle with shame and other related challenges.

Robb Enlow, LCSW, Chief Clinical Officer at Cummins BHS

Explaining Polyvagal Theory, the Foundation of Shame-Informed Therapy

Before we can talk specifically about shame and shame-informed therapy, we need to explain a concept known as polyvagal theory.

You’ve probably heard of a phenomenon called the “fight or flight” response. When a human being encounters a threatening person, creature or object, it’s crucial that they determine how to stay safe from this aggressor. In some situations, fighting the aggressor may seem like the best option for maintaining safety, while in others cases, fleeing from the aggressor might seem more practical. This decision often happens quickly, without much conscious thought, and is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system.

However, there is a third response to danger that a person might also choose, which is to stay very still, or “freeze.” Freezing behavior is sometimes an attempt to avoid being seen by an aggressor, which could be the best option if fighting or fleeing doesn’t seem possible, or it may result from an extreme stress response that temporarily “overloads” the nervous system. Freezing behavior can often be observed in children (as well as in animals), and according to polyvagal theory, this reaction is controlled by the dorsal vagus nerve and related dorsal vagal complex.

Fight, flight and freeze are all responses to danger that can increase our chances of survival. However, these responses also limit our ability to perform higher-level thinking and reasoning. When we are fighting, fleeing or freezing in response to a threat, we aren’t wondering if we can appease the threat or considering whether or not it truly is a threat to us. We are simply thinking about survival. In essence, we are physiologically “locked out” of higher-level cognitive processes.

According to polyvagal theory, these higher-level processes are only possible when the ventral vagus nerve and ventral vagal complex are activated. Importantly, this nerve is also associated with social engagement and emotions like joy, compassion, curiosity and mindfulness.

Shame in the Context of Polyvagal Theory

What does polyvagal theory have to do with shame? As it turns out, polyvagal theory does a good job of explaining what happens when someone experiences shame.

“From a neurological standpoint, shame functions like trauma in a lot of ways,” Robb explains. “Trauma and extreme periods of shame, particularly between the ages of three and eight, kind of captivate or capture people into this frozen state.”

As we mentioned above, freezing behavior is common among children who are experiencing emotional distress. Due to their youth and limited life experience, young children are easily overwhelmed by negative feelings and emotions. As Robb explains, frequent activation of the dorsal vagal complex—which triggers the freezing behavior—can lead to trauma and shame that gets carries into adulthood:

“Research shows that between the ages of three and eight, the nervous system is developing at a very quick rate within the child. The nervous system is beginning to make connections in the brain about, ‘This is how I feel when this thing happens.’ It could be as simple as, I look at something disgusting, and I think, ‘Ew, that’s gross!’ while I feel unwell in my body. That feeling relays through my nervous system back to the brain, which I then make meaning of when I say, ‘Oh, that’s gross. Don’t touch that.’ That process continues as people begin to make meaning of the world.

Now, I’m going to make up a story. A three-year-old girl starts to play with older brother’s boys’ toys. Mom says to the three-year-old girl, ‘Little girls don’t play with that. That’s not yours. You play with dolls.’ Or maybe the three-year-old girl says, ‘I don’t want to wear a dress, I want to wear pants.’ And mom says, ‘No, bad! Girls wear dresses, not pants.’ These are just single instances, but think of all the times when people get told ‘no, bad.’ What happens is, when they’re told that, they go into that frozen state. They go into that place where there’s that painful feeling, and it forces people to do one of two things. They either become engulfed by it, or they hide from it, they avoid it.”

The Self-Lies of Shame

When young children are subjected to this kind of criticism, they can easily internalize it. Over time, they might come to believe that they are “bad” or “not good enough.” In many cases, these negative self-beliefs are carried into adulthood, resulting in shame.

Because shame is such an unpleasant emotion, most people develop strategies for avoiding it. Robb explains, “This is how we develop what’s called the ‘masks of shame.’ These essentially become parts of ourselves that get easily triggered by other things that remind us of that past pain. Deep down, we know we don’t want to feel that pain, so we exile that part of ourselves. We try not to go into that frozen state, and instead, we develop cover-ups.”

These masks and cover-ups are related to a fourth kind of response to danger known as “fawning,” or hiding our true self in order to feel safe. Some common masks of shame include self-beliefs like “I’m a bad person,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m a failure,” “I’m a fraud,” and “I’m unlovable.” These masks may be covered up by behavior like shyness, secret-keeping, lying, co-dependence on others, substance use and addiction, and controlling behavior. But over time, these covering behaviors can actually reinforce the negative self-beliefs they were meant to hide.

All of these masks and corresponding behaviors can be highly destructive to the self and others. However, shame is almost always based on false beliefs. Put more accurately, shame results from false self-beliefs and misunderstandings about the origins of our behavior—behavior that was intended to help us feel safe and avoid our shame.

Robb explains in greater detail:

“I always like to tell people that shame is a lie, because it’s a cover. It’s always about not feeling what, for whatever reason, the body is trying to feel. And so shame will always have the ability to lie to people. It’ll always have the ability to tell people they’re not good enough, and they will even argue it as though it were the truth. It’s not until they recognize the origin of that shame, and how that origin played into their ability to maintain safety, that they realize, ‘OK, that had a reason. That had a purpose. And I can maintain my purpose and my safety without maintaining that behavior, that pattern.”

How Shame-Informed Therapy Helps Us Reprocess Shame

If we understand the root of shame, then we can understand how to eliminate shame. This is precisely what shame-informed therapy is designed to do.

“If I had to summarize it, you help people connect six things,” Robb says: “Feelings, body sensations, early memories of those feelings and body sensations, what core beliefs have developed in response to those memories, how are you really authentic today, and how can you create a new story to align all those pieces? That’s the process. You help people connect the dots with those things by gently talking about it in a safe environment.”

As we’ve discussed, revisiting or re-living feelings of shame is often an upsetting experience. This can emotionally and physiologically “trigger” someone, sending them into a defensive posture of freezing, fighting, or fleeing. In shame-informed therapy, every effort is taken to keep the ventral vagal complex activated so the individual can cognitively reprocess their shame. Robb explains,

“Part of what any therapist, nurse, teacher, or communicator has to do with other people is co-regulate. If you’re in an ugly frozen state, and the person you’re communicating with is in an ugly frozen state, that’s not a pretty conversation. In fact, sometimes we see that clinically. The parents are frustrated and triggered, the child is screaming and triggered, and neither one of them are communicating effectively with each other. They’re both frozen or very ‘fight or flight,’ and it’s just not working for them. The idea is we get them regulated to the ventral vagal state, or the social engagement state. When people are truly in the social engagement state, that’s when your brain is able to do miraculous things. When you calm down those cover ups, those protective, defensive parts, the rest of your brain is able to access creative, curious things that you’re just not able to access when you’re not in that state.

According to Robb, the ultimate goal of shame-informed therapy is to help people re-frame the beliefs and behaviors they feel shameful about. This process can help someone see that the behaviors they are ashamed of were always intended to help them feel safe:

“The good part about treatment is you can actually rewrite the way that the brain interprets information. The person who’s always believed, ‘I’m a bad person, I can do nothing right,’ maybe now has a new belief that, ‘OK, maybe I was never bad, maybe that’s what I had to do to get through the horrible trauma that I endured.’ In shame-informed therapy, this is what we call respecting and honoring the survival nature of what people have had to do to feel safe. That’s the key element there. If someone says, ‘Oh, I did that because that must be something I did that’s wrong,’ I’ll challenge that with, ‘No, you did that because that, at the time, is what you had to do to feel safe. And if you didn’t do that, I don’t know if you would be here today.’ And that’s hard for people to come to terms with, that, ‘OK, this very thing that causes me agony is also what’s helped me to establish who I am and feel safe.’ “

Shame is among the most difficult emotions that we can experience in our lives. Shame makes us believe that we are inferior or flawed, and to avoid feeling this way, we may develop behavioral patterns that harm ourselves or others. If we hope to overcome shame, it’s essential that we examine its origin, understand how it has influenced our behavior, and recognize the lies it has made us believe about ourselves.

If you are struggling with shame and would like to talk to a professional therapist or counselor, we have care providers who can help you. We invite you to give us a call at (888) 714-1927 if you would like to learn more or discuss treatment options. You are capable of living a life free from shame!

National Recovery Month 2021: Supporting Recovery from Substance Use Disorder in our Community

Substance use disorder continues to be a massive problem in our society. According to statistics from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, approximately 20.4 million people lived with a substance use disorder in 2019. In addition, it’s estimated that around 25 million people are in stable recovery from substance use disorder, meaning they have been successful in sobriety for one year or longer.

Even though we know more about the science of addiction than ever before, there is still a significant amount of stigma surrounding this subject. Individuals who struggle with substance use may be considered undesirable by some segments of society, and this prejudice may persist even after someone has been successful in their recovery for many years. For this reason, some people like to keep their recovery private, only discussing it in certain circles—which was one major appeal of Alcoholics Anonymous when that program first started.

However, times have changed since then, and a growing number of recovering individuals no longer want to be anonymous. Instead of feeling ashamed of their past substance use, they prefer to feel proud of their new lives in recovery, and they want to share their stories with others. This is the purpose of National Recovery Month, which this year focuses on the theme, “Recovery is for everyone: every person, every family, every community.”

Indeed, we can all play a part in supporting recovery in our communities, and there are many ways to help or receive help. We spoke with Erin Flick, our Substance Use Disorder Team Lead for Putnam County, to learn more.

Erin Flick, MSW, LCSW, LCAC, Substance Use Disorder Specialist and Team Lead at Cummins Behavioral Health
Erin Flick, MSW, LCSW, LCAC, Substance Use Disorder Specialist and Team Lead at Cummins Behavioral Health

Why National Recovery Month Matters

First observed in 1990, National Recovery Month is an annual celebration of the gains made by individuals in recovery, as well as of the treatments, recovery practices and community supports that have helped them along the way. “It’s an opportunity to bring awareness to recovery, as well as an opportunity for community stakeholders to come together and celebrate one another, and celebrate sobriety,” Erin says.

In recent years, there has been a growing movement in the recovery community to reject the stigma of substance use disorder and instead focus on the accomplishments of those in recovery. Erin explains, “Sometimes we’re tucked away in meeting rooms or in church basements, not always living out loud. We experience stigma every day in regards to substance use disorder. But about a decade ago, there was a surge in the recovering community, and we no longer want to be anonymous.”

Over time, public opinions about substance use disorder have started to change. Although stigma still remains, many people now know that addiction is a disease rather than a discipline issue, and our language for talking about addiction has become less discriminatory. Every year, the focus of National Recovery Month is on continuing these advances, as well as on supporting everyone whose life has been impacted by substance use disorder. As Erin says,

“It’s always nice to come together and celebrate, because with the disease of addiction, there’s so much trauma, tragedy, and premature death. But the great thing about the culture of recovery is that it’s more about the celebration of life and healing. And the most important piece is welcoming newcomers, showing them that they’re not alone, and showing them that if we can do it, they can do it.”

How You Can Support Others on Their Journey of Recovery

Although the stigma surrounding substance use disorder is lessening, and more individuals want to be “in the open” about their recovery, the fact remains that those in recovery need support from friends, family members, and their communities. Addiction is a chronic disease, and recovery from addiction is a lifelong process. Care and support from other people can often make the difference between continued sobriety and painful setbacks.

For both recovering individuals and those who know someone in recovery, Erin emphasizes the importance of open and honest communication. “For family or friends, my overall advice is just to talk out loud, to whomever, and eventually you’re going to get linked to something that might be beneficial for supporting that individual,” she says. “And for someone who is in recovery, the same thing: tell your story out loud, because you may say something that impacts someone who is struggling or a family member who doesn’t know what to do.”

However, if you do not personally have experience with substance use disorder, the first step is to seek to understand those who do. Erin explains, “As human beings, it can be easy to judge and take other people’s inventory. A lot of times, drugs and alcohol are a symptom of deeper issues—usually of trauma. If we listen to understand, then we can gain insight into an individual and their circumstances and have empathy, and by doing that, we can build knowledge about the disease of addiction.”

Finally, Erin stresses the importance of connecting with recovery-oriented organizations and participating in the recovery community:

“Do your research, get connected to community resources, and see what you can do, because we can’t do it alone. It takes a village. And a recovering community is a lot healthier than a community that says, ‘Not in my backyard.’ We can help individuals who are struggling become active participants of the community, whether it be through offering jobs, treatment, or an in-kind donation to a community resource. By the time someone gets to a point where they’re ready to make a change in their life, they might have nothing. So it’s about reaching out to the community to see how you can help. I just did this with a community member this week. In order to get them into sober living, where they really needed to be, it was going to cost $130 for their first week. I reached out to a church, and because they are recovery-informed, they committed to sponsoring the first week so this individual could get into sober living and be safe.”

Helpful Resources for Recovery

Fortunately, getting involved in your local recovery community isn’t difficult. There are many existing support groups for both individuals in recovery and those who know someone in recovery. Below, we’ve made a list of some of our favorite support organizations, as well as websites you can visit for useful facts and statistics about substance use and addiction.

Recovery & Support Groups
Learning Tools

Cummins Behavioral Health is proud to be an advocate for every person whose life is affected by substance use disorder, including all those who are successfully living their lives in recovery. This National Recovery Month, we encourage you to get involved in your local recovery community, seek support for your recovery if you need it, and “live out loud” regarding your personal experience with addiction and recovery!

If you know someone who could benefit from the information and resources in this article, please share it with them! Your care and support can make a lasting impact on someone else’s life.

Cummins Values: How Our Providers Inspire the Hope of Recovery

Take a moment to think about the importance that hope plays in your day-to-day life.

When you find that your current life circumstances don’t live up to your expectations, does hope for a better future help to improve your outlook? When you are faced with adversity, does hope help you push through the obstacles in front of you?

Or even worse, have you ever felt hopeless about some situation? If you have, then you surely know how demoralizing it can be. When we feel hopeless, we have no motivation to strive for something better, and we may also be vulnerable to experiencing mental health problems like distress, depression and anxiety.

Just as hope is important in life, it is also essential in recovery from a mental health challenge. Recovery from mental illness and addiction is not only possible—it is a journey of healing and transformation that enables individuals to live meaningful lives and to achieve their full potential. At Cummins, we believe in everyone’s potential for growth, change, and recovery, and we recognize that one of our primary roles is to help instill the hope of recovery in the people we serve.

In fact, hope of recovery is one of the core values that guides our organization and the work we do each day. To better understand how we inspire hope for our consumers, we spoke with four members of our staff who embody this value: Molly Pennell, Wraparound Facilitator and Master-level intern; Jenna Batta, Wraparound Facilitator; Christine Watson, Intake Specialist; and MeLinda Frazee, Licensed Mental Health Counselor.

In this post, they explain what hope of recovery means, why it matters, and how they strive to inspire hope for the individuals they serve.

What Does Hope of Recovery Mean?

Molly Pennell (left); Christine Watson, LCSW (middle); and MeLinda Frazee, LMHC (right). Not pictured: Jenna Batta, BS.

When discussing the hope of recovery, it’s important to first explain what this concept means. We all know what it’s like to feel hopeful about something, but what exactly does it mean to have hope of recovery?

In its simplest sense, hope of recovery is the belief that we can get better from whatever challenges we face and live happy, healthy lives. However, our providers offered some additional definitions that expand and enrich this meaning.

For example, Jenna believes that hope is about focusing on progress toward our goal rather than any setbacks that arise. “Hope of recovery means keeping your eye on the big picture so that you can remind families when the difficult days are becoming less and less and that their overall mental health is getting closer to their goals,” she says.

Molly points out that hope of recovery is also about how care providers interact with the individuals they serve. “For me, hope of recovery means showing encouragement, a positive attitude, and kindness to every person who enters our doors regardless of their situation or their current stage of change,” she says.

Christine agrees, noting her important role as one of the first individuals a consumer will interact with when entering services: “For me, the hope of recovery means that when people get started in services, they know that they will have someone who is going to be there with them as they walk through their journey—someone who will encourage and support them.”

Finally, MeLinda likes to focus on the transformative effects that hope can have for someone in recovery. She explains, “For me, hope is about supporting a client’s desire to live an authentic life.”

Why Hope Matters for the Recovery Process

Above, we illustrated the difference that hope can make when we are faced with a difficult or discouraging situation. The truth is that entering mental health services can be quite difficult for many people. Suddenly, we have a problem we need to address and much work to do before we might feel well again. So how exactly can hope helps us throughout our recovery process?

For starters, hope is one of those forces that helps us keep going when the going gets tough. Jenna explains, “Hope is like an urge or an internal motivator. If we are having a hard day, we need something within us to remind us to move forward every moment, and recover from the bad days, whether that means owning up to our mistakes or simply trying again.”

As we mentioned, the recovery process can often be a difficult one, so hope is necessary to help us keep pushing forward. “I believe that hope is important in the recovery process because going through it can be scary, unfamiliar and uncomfortable,” Christine says. “It takes a lot for people to come in and start in services. It is important to instill hope in them throughout.”

Importantly, Molly points out that hope works because it focuses our attention away from negative present circumstances and toward positive circumstances we hope to achieve in the future. “Hope is essential to the recovery process because people need to know that things can get better, people can make positive change, circumstances do change, and there is hope for a more positive future. Hope can set a person up for success,” she says.

And again, MeLinda connects hope to authenticity, suggesting that hope helps us achieve the life we truly want for ourselves. “Much of the time, individuals start to work with me and don’t believe that the life they desire is possible,” she says. “I help them see that there is hope that they can have a successful job, positive relationships, increased self-worth, maintain their sobriety, etc. So many times people have been told they are not worthy, and I, like many other treatment providers, am here to tell them that they are worthy.”

How Our Providers Inspire Hope

Given the importance of hope during recovery, part of our job as care providers is to inspire this hope when our consumers may be struggling to find it on their own. The process of inspiring hope may look different from provider to provider and consumer to consumer, but generally speaking, it involves a combination of validation and encouragement.

“My work helps consumers believe they can get better because throughout the intake process, I validate the person and their experiences while also providing encouragement to them that things can get better and that they deserve good things in life,” Christine explains. She also offers an example of one time she did this for a consumer:

“One time when I helped a consumer find hope of recovery was when I was doing an intake with someone who was struggling with depression, anxiety, severe trauma, and substance use. She cried so much, as telling her story was very hard. She told me that she had put off the intake for a while. I was able to remind her of her incredible strengths as well as how excited I was for her to be getting into services. She told me how much she appreciated being heard and was now eager to start in services.”

Molly also focuses on praising consumers for their personal strengths. “I help them see the strengths they already possess to help them continue to fight for recovery,” she says. “I like to highlight that they are the experts in their own life and they have the ability to fight for an improved quality of life.” Molly also shares a story about how she has accomplished this:

“Before becoming a wraparound facilitator and intern, I worked as a DCS life skills specialist and provided skills training and supervised visitation for families. I always tried to help my families feel empowered and capable of making the positive changes needed to reunite with their children. I always felt like they needed someone to believe in them as a person and a parent to help them overcome their obstacles in life.”

When providers are able to help their consumers find hope, the results can be remarkable, as MeLinda shares through another story: “I remember a client who came to work with me and was so used to others not believing in them that they attended our first few sessions without speaking more than a few words, their head dropped, and very little eye contact. Their world had become so small and their hope had become invisible,” she says. “During our time together, this person was able to have stronger relationships with their children, increased desire to pursue their passions, and would come to my office open and excited to set goals. Hope is hard to define, but you know it when you see it and when you feel it.”

Jenna shares the following perspective in summary: “Every day and every conversation I’m having with the consumers and families I work with is planting seeds, and watering and caring for those seeds after they’ve been planted. That’s all I think any of us in the helping field are doing. I’ve had lots of consumers find hope for recovery, but often when they are telling me about it, I can think of many other people that have been lifting that person up at the same time.”

Hope is a powerful force. It gives us motivation when we are feeling defeated. It presents us with an image of what our lives could look like in the future. And it pushes us to become our best and most authentic selves. Hope is absolutely essential for any person in recovery from a behavioral health challenge, which is why we strive to nurture it in every individual we work with.

Thank you to Jenna Batta, Molly Pennell, Christine Watson and MeLinda Frazee for sharing their beliefs and insights about the hope of recovery. It’s because of your passion and commitment that we can bring new hope to the people we serve!


If you enjoyed this blog post about the hope of recovery at Cummins, then you might enjoy reading about our other organizational values below!

Why Respect Is at the Core of Our Work

How Cummins Behavioral Health and Hendricks County Work Release Are Giving Incarcerated Individuals a Chance at Rehabilitation

Individuals who serve time in prison, jail, or another correctional facility sometimes have difficulty re-entering society after completing their sentence. In some cases, they may lack certain skills that are needed to live responsibly and lawfully in society. Other times, they might have difficulty finding gainful employment because of their past conviction or convictions. In situations like these, a person might be tempted to turn to further criminal behaviors, which could then lead to subsequent arrests and convictions—a phenomenon known as recidivism.

Certain programs and interventions are effective at reducing recidivism and assisting these individuals to make a smooth transition back into their communities. One such program is Hendricks County Work Release (or simply “Work Release”) in Danville. Work release is a County-owned facility working in conjunction with the Indiana Department of Correction that provides the opportunity to remain connected to the community through employment opportunities as well as educational and vocational programs. The individuals in Work Release have been convicted of felonies and/or misdemeanors and are serving a sentence as ordered by the courts. This and other similar programs can serve as a bridge to community reintegration for individuals who are nearing the end of their sentences.

However, programs like these don’t always address any behavioral health challenges their participants may be experiencing. According to a 2014 report by the National Research Council, 64% of jail inmates, 54% of state prisoners and 45% of federal prisoners report some type of mental illness. Issues related to substance use are especially common among those who are incarcerated, as the Federal Bureau of Prisons reports that 46% of all current federal inmates were convicted for drug offenses. If these issues are not addressed, then the individual may be at a greater risk of subsequent offenses and convictions upon release from incarceration.

In an effort to prevent this, Hendricks County Work Release partners with Cummins Behavioral Health to provide incarcerated individuals with high quality, person-centered mental health care. In some cases, services are delivered within the Work Release Facility, reducing the need for transportation to our outpatient offices. According to Taylor Lewis, a Case Manager at Hendricks County Work Release, “The partnership gets offenders access to care within 72 hours, especially when time is of the essence, and it reduces idle time by providing structured treatment and education.”

To learn more about this partnership, we spoke with David Bonney, our Addictions Team Lead overseeing Marion and Hendricks Counties, who has provided services many times for the Work Release consumers. In this blog post, David explains what the partnership entails, how it works, and why it matters for the individuals served.

David Bonney, MA, LCAC, MAC, CADAC IV, Addictions Team Lead at Cummins Behavioral Health

Partnering for the Health of Offenders

The collaboration between Cummins and Hendricks County Work Release began when the two organizations saw an opportunity to better meet their mutual goals. “We discussed the opportunity to work with them and provide care for the Work Release consumers,” David explains. “In the correctional environment, the culture over time continues to change toward focusing on rehabilitation and providing treatment. I think it was part of that change in how we view people who are incarcerated and what their needs are, and recognition of mental health and substance use treatment.”

This partnership first began prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, Cummins was providing all services for Work Release at our outpatient office in Avon. “We actually went to Work Release to pick up the consumers and brought them back to the Cummins office for treatment,” David says.

This procedure, like many in the health care field, changed in the wake of the pandemic. “There was a hiatus on Intensive Outpatient Treatment for substance use (IOT) being offered at the Avon Office,” David says. Eventually, all IOT groups were switched to a virtual format, but this wasn’t possible with the Work Release consumers. “There were security concerns, so they were not able to participate in a virtual Group from the facility,” David continues.

It was finally decided that the IOT groups, which are the most commonly used service among the Work Release consumers, could be offered in person at the Work Release Facility, while individuals could still be transported to the Cummins office for individual services. David explains,

“We started on February 1st, and that was the only in-person IOT group that Cummins was offering. We followed all the standard safety guidelines—social distancing and masks. And in my view, it actually turned out really successful, and we were able to work through all those unique circumstances and accommodations. And that has continued. We’ve surpassed six months of doing that Group now.”

How Services Work for Work Release Consumers

Whenever an individual is transferred to the Work Release Facility, the staff conducts an assessment to determine their behavioral health needs. “We look at current charges, substance abuse history, assessment scores regarding substance abuse, length of sentence and emotional/mental ability. If they come from probation or home detention due to violating a drug screen, they are automatically assessed for a substance abuse program,” explains HCWR’s Taylor Lewis.

Based on the results of this assessment, the case manager will refer the individual for the appropriate services. “They’ll send an intake referral over, and then we’ll go through our standard intake process just like we would with any consumer,” David says. After completing intake, the consumer is then referred to the appropriate services and service providers.

As mentioned above, many Work Release consumers are referred for IOT for substance use disorder, and they are able to attend group sessions within the Work Release Facility. David explains what this service typically looks like for Work Release consumers:

“Right now we are doing IOT three times a week, three hours a day, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. We’ll go to the Work Release Facility in Danville, and the consumers who are in the group will be released to come to that group. They’ll walk down the hall to a classroom that looks very much like what you would imagine a classroom to look like—tables, chairs, a whiteboard—and then we provide a regular Group session right there at the facility. Being in that space doesn’t feel much different than being at the Cummins office; the room has the feeling of a treatment center setting, which is great.”

If a Work Release consumer needs other services, such as individual therapy, life skills training, or medical services, they can receive these in person at the Cummins office. “They would come in to the outpatient office in Avon for the service they’re scheduled for, just like any other consumer would,” David says. “Work Release is also working with us to offer telehealth opportunities at the facility, but that is still on a case-by-case basis. Historically, that may not have been an option at all, so it’s an example of our growing partnership,” he adds.

Why It Matters for Consumers

How does the partnership between Cummins Behavioral Health and Hendricks County Work Release benefit the individuals who receive treatment? In David’s opinion, there are both immediate and long-term benefits.

First and most obvious is the fact that incarcerated individuals receive access to care for any mental health challenges they may face. As mentioned earlier, about half of all incarcerated people suffer from some type of mental illness, and receiving treatment is an essential step to improving their symptoms. In some cases, addressing any underlying mental illness may also address root causes for criminal behavior and recidivism.

Second, the partnership allows us to reduce the barriers to accessing treatment that these individuals typically face. “Many consumers do not have stable transportation or any transportation, and they ultimately would not be able to participate consistently at our office if we were doing it that way,” David explains.

Finally, the entire team strives to provide the highest possible quality of care for the consumers regardless of the fact that they are currently incarcerated. “It’s common for consumers to have had adverse experiences with treatment in the correctional setting,” David says. “We strive to provide the same quality of treatment as we do outside of the facility. We’re not providing a limited quality of treatment; we’re really trying to provide the best quality.”

For David, part of this high-quality treatment consists of addressing deeper behavioral problems in addition to the surface-level symptoms of illness:

“We try to look at the correlation between their underlying issues and the legal outcomes that they’re facing. We really work on understanding the subtle underlying reasons, such as, how did substance use contribute to your offenses that lead you to this facility? And what needs to be different for you to have different outcomes in your present and future legal issues?”

Ultimately, we hope that the services we provide for our Work Release consumers will help them address underlying mental health issues, complete their stay at Work Release satisfactorily, and stay out of the correctional system in the future. As David Bonney says, “Oftentimes we hear discontent about the facility or about the legal system itself. We try to affirm what we’re hearing from them and lead them to reframe their thoughts around the bigger picture—that the goal is not simply to be comfortable in Work Release, but to get out of Work Release and not come back. So they can be comfortable living their life the way they want to, not in a correctional facility.”

We’d like to recognize the hard work and dedication of everyone involved with the Work Release Partnership, including David Bonney, Michelle Freeman, our SUD treatment team, our Outpatient treatment team, our Medical team, and our Intake Specialists. We’d also like to thank Taylor Lewis and everyone at Hendricks County Work Release for giving us the chance to serve the individuals in their care. Together, we can continue to make a difference for every member of our community.

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 For more information about Montgomery County Community Foundation and its charitable initiatives, visit

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

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 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