Local Grief Support Group

For anyone looking for a grief support group, check out this one at St. John the Evangelist Church.

Many who are grieving, find it a longer process than they would like or anticipate. Many in the grief process find that others do not understand why they are grieving or what it is like for them and a support group can be a powerful and helpful tool to connect with others who understand.

Grief Share (above) begins soon so check it out for yourself or a loved one.

Take good care.


Technology in Mental Health Treatment

Melissa Hansen, MS, LPC

Technology has been developing, and is developing, at an exponential rate. We interact with it in countless ways throughout our daily lives. Technological advances always precede legal and ethical parameters. While technology, of course, is designed to enhance life, there are often unforeseen drawbacks, side effects, and even detriments. For example, cell phones were designed to increase our ability to communicate and, in some ways, they have enhanced communication, but in some significant ways they have hindered communication. We have no idea of all the social and emotional effects of technology when it is functioning well and certainly not when it breaks down.

Technology has been used in mental health treatment for a long time. One example of this is the suicide hotline which has been around for decades. In the most crucial moments – when someone’s life is at stake – one can call and speak with a complete stranger who might be hundreds of miles away. And the military has long been using technology in mental health treatment to work with personnel around the world in order to offer consistency of treatment. In fact, their set-up is such that a counselor licensed in one state, who ordinarily cannot practice outside that state (nor can any of their clients be outside that state), will receive reciprocity and can practice in any United States jurisdiction with military personnel.

There are many clinicians in the mental health field who are resistant or terrified to use technology due to the many drawbacks and potential pitfalls and their lack of knowledge about it. There are certainly many complications. As you can imagine there are numerous issues that are raised when bringing technology into a process as intimate as mental healthcare. And while some clinicians are able and willing to do phone sessions (and many do not realize the legal, ethical, or practical concerns) they would never dream of doing a video session.

There are also treatment concerns, particularly around safety issues (like suicidal ideation) and these must be considered. This is an area that is growing very quickly and, like most areas where technology is concerned, more and more people want to utilize it, the young in particular who do not remember life before everyone had a device in hand.

Of course, there will always be an essential place for face-to-face, physically present mental healthcare. And some practitioners will probably resist using technology to the degree to which they are able. But there are some arguments for it offering benefits to those with whom we work. Recently there was a significant snowfall and had there been a set-up with encrypted, HIPPA secure technology that was legally, ethically, and thoughtfully put together, it might have offered clients a consistency of care that they were not afforded otherwise. Some clients with high social anxiety prefer this treatment modality, particularly if they are comfortable with technology. In fact, some clients might seek treatment they would not otherwise, due to the intimidating nature of being physically present. There are a remarkable number of resources available if you are interested in learning more about telehealth:



Shook, M. (Producer). (2017, November 24). Online Counseling and Telemental Health: A Conversation with Telehealth Certification Institute’s Ray Barrett [Audio Podcast]. The Thoughtful Counselor. Retrieved from https://wp.me/p7R6fn-hS


A Reflection

Bill Huffman M.Div., M.A., LPC

 Consider the wisdom in this short prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Whether we are a person of faith or have no faith at all, this prayer penned by the famous American Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, provides us with the opportunity to take advantage of his life experience and to see that our struggle in life can be significantly reduced by incorporating the wisdom of this prayer. By letting go of our need to change things or people that can’t be changed, we eliminate many of our frustrations in life and we can start to view others with compassion and patience and accept the way things are in life. And, by changing what we can, we improve our lives and the lives of others. My father used to say,” A wise man learns from experience; however, a wiser one learns from the experience of others.” This is our opportunity to exercise that wisdom and improve our lives.

New Psychotherapist Associate to Join VPCC

Valley Pastoral Counseling Center is pleased to announce that Sarah G. Simmons, MSS, LCSW will be joining Valley Pastoral Counseling as a part-time psychotherapist Monday, June 4, 2018.

Mrs. Simmons holds a Masters of Social Service from Bryn Mawr College located outside of Philadelphia, PA and has practiced as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Virginia for over 12 years.  She began her career at Valley Community Services Board first as an Intensive In-home Therapist and later as an Outpatient Clinician with the Child and Family Department.  She then transitioned into private practice in Staunton.

Mrs. Simmons has extensive experience working with individuals, couples, and families.  Areas of experience and interest include work related to parenting support, anxiety and depression, relationships and communication, life transitions, grief and loss, career/work related stress, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

She focuses on creating a safe, comfortable, and collaborative environment for individuals to explore their concerns.  She is holistic in her approach, looking at spiritual, physical, emotional, and relational aspects of what individuals bring to the counseling relationship.  Simmons provides a blend of therapy that allows for introspection and personal growth in combination with concrete tools and methods for self-care and coping through the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

A native of Augusta County, Simmons continues to make her home there with her husband and three children.  She can be reached at Valley Pastoral Counseling Center by calling (540) 943-9722.

Caring for the Whole Self:  Herbs and Psychotherapy

Emilie S. Thomas, MA LMFT

In the past few years of practicing at Valley Pastoral Counseling Center I have noticed an increase in clients who would like to explore natural ways of supporting their therapeutic treatment of depression, anxiety, or other issues, whether through taking herbs and supplements or changing the diet. In response to this observation, I have embarked on a rigorous certification program in herbalism that, once completed, can expand my scope of practice to include the ability to make informed suggestions concerning herbal and nutritional supplements, addressing concerns related to mood and overall well-being. I have been excited from the start to learn additional ways to relieve acute conditions in a way that empowers the client to put him or herself in charge of healing.

Little did I know, however, how much the theoretical base of herbal medicine has in common with that of psychodynamic psychotherapy, the focus of my therapy practice. While many forms of therapy focus on teaching coping skills and changing surface behaviors to relieve acute suffering, psychodynamic therapy delves deeper into the self to root out the cause of the troubling symptoms and to resolve them on the level at which they originated. The root may be quite different than the symptom and escape notice for many years; for instance, a client who struggles with self-esteem may not understand at first that the parent who adored him and praised him constantly has contributed to his issue by creating an unrealistic image of himself that he can never live up to, creating a deep sense of failure. Though it takes longer and often involves challenging work, the results of this in-depth therapy tend to be more permanent and manifest an overall stronger, more resilient self. Herbal medicine uses the same approach when treating the body’s suffering. Combinations of herbs are used not just to treat a symptom but also to find the true origin of the imbalance, which is often not in the direction a client suspects.  A common example is in working with mood issues due to hormone imbalances, which in herbal medicine involves not just the hormones but also the liver. This is because if the liver is not functioning optimally, it cannot metabolize the hormones synthesized in the body well and imbalance can easily result. Ultimately good herbal treatment also strengthens the body’s overall functioning and leaves it in a better shape than it was before the illness, just as psychodynamic therapy does for the emotional self.

Neither of these approaches ignores acute suffering. As a therapist, I take emergency measures to help relieve intense emotional pain with appropriate interventions when necessary in a crisis. These measures are part of a toolbox built from many different therapeutic orientations to handle each situation as it comes. I do not insist on talking about someone’s childhood when a client needs hospitalization, medicine, education, or a lot of support and comfort in his or her grief. Similarly, herbal medicine also has treatments for immediate illnesses with herbs that kill bacteria, viruses, boost immunity, and relieve pain. Yet in both views, once the crisis is averted, it is important to focus on the wellness of the client, not just the eradication of disease. After all, health- both mental and physical- is ideally measured in bountiful energy, refreshing sleep, contentment, strength of character, ability to love and know joy, and to find purpose and meaning in one’s life. Such values do not describe the goal of a simple absence of pathology. Shouldn’t it follow then, that our treatment be aimed in the same direction?

Please feel free to call me with any questions or to make an appointment at 540-932-1476.