What to Say in a Crisis


Rosalynn Carter, former First Lady, reminds us that there are only four kinds of people in the world:

  • Those who have been caregivers
  • Those who are currently caregivers
  • Those who will be caregivers
  • Those who will need caregivers

Whether that caregiving role is to the aged, bereaved, or survivor victims of major trauma or death, we ALL need more genuine compassion and better skills in these challenging situations.

Glenn Davis, D.Min. is chaplain for Community Crisis Response at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, NC.  He offers some examples of things to say that may be helpful, although the list is incomplete given all the circumstances we might encounter.

“I’m sorry it happened.”

“I cannot know or understand what you are feeling, but I care.”

“This must be awful for you.”

“Will you let me help you?” (Remember all victims are not incapacitated and have the right to make informed choices to empower themselves.)

“You are safe now.”  (You can say this if this is, in fact, true.)

“How are you doing NOW?”  (Not: “How are you doing?”)

“It’s OK to cry.” (Timing is important. Saying this prematurely can shutdown emotions, especially for males.)

“It’s normal to be angry.”

“You must have loved _______ so much.” (Mention the loved one’s name.)

“Tell me about him/her.” (This can be an opportunity to share history and invite trust and also invites story-telling.)

“He/She meant so much to me.” (You can say this if you knew the deceased and have been personally impacted by the death.)

“It wasn’t your fault.” (You can say this if you know this to be true.)

“Your reactions are normal; the event is abnormal.” (This is important to hear because many survivors have no point of reference.)

“You are not crazy.” (Remember that many survivors will fear the loss of control.)

“It’s OK. You don’t have to talk.” (Be an advocate if others try to make survivors talk.)

“It will never be the same, but you can get better.” (This is an affirmative response to the survivor’s anxiety and fears about the future.)

“I want to be with you through this.”  (Fears of abandonment and exploitation are paramount with many survivors. Vulnerability is high.)

“I am praying for you.”

“Let’s stay in contact and do it soon.” (Say this when your physical presence is no longer needed or when other support has arrived.)

Victims are more apt to forgive our transgressions and missteps as caregivers when they know our compassion is genuine.


Do You Know?

Senior man (60s) and grandson (9 years) holding hands, walking in the park.

A friend of mine recently shared with me about a road trip he took “down memory lane.”  He and his son and the two grandsons drove through several towns where my friend once lived.  He pointed out to them the houses where he lived, schools he attended, playgrounds he enjoyed, churches he attended where his father served as pastor, along with other special memory spots he wanted them to see.  The trip was meaningful for all of them, but in different ways.

His trip reminded me of an article I read last year (Christian Century, p.21, September 30, 2015).  The article told about Marshall and Sara Duke, both psychologists, who have studied the relationship between young people’s knowledge of family stories and their resilience.  They found that knowing even simple things about your own family can improve your chances of successfully facing life’s challenges, especially disappointments and trauma.

Marshal Duke and another colleague developed a “Do You Know?” scale based on a series of questions:

  • Do you know where your grandparents grew up?
  • Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school?
  • Do you know where your parents met?
  • Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family?
  • Do you know the story of your birth?

According to Bruce Feiler, who wrote about this research in a 2013 New York Times article, “The ‘Do You Know?’ scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”

Perhaps a good road trip down memory lane, or some old-fashioned sit-down conversation, would help our kids and/or grandkids know more of their family history.  Such stories may even contribute to healthier and happier living.

By Ron Davis, DMin, MDiv, LMFT
Covenant Counseling Center

Communicating to Relate or to Control?


Most of us want to be loved for who we are.  But for that to happen, we must reveal ourselves.  That can be uncomfortable, even scary at times.  Self-disclosure takes practice with intentionality.  Learning to relate more openly and to control less is vital to healthy relationships.

There are important distinctions between communicating to control and communicating to relate.  Control communication values getting a predictable outcome that does not challenge the ego’s defense system.  The goal is to look good, act more in control than we feel, and try to avoid emotional discomfort.  Such communication is pretty automatic and reflects what we do most of the time.

Communicating to relate, however, values sharing authentic feelings and risks transparency.  We let go of the need to control even if it feels uncomfortable.  This type of communication encourages knowing and being known; understanding and being understood.

Susan Campbell and John Grey address this important subject and offer some differences between controlling and relating communication in their book:  Five-Minute Relationship Repair, 2015, New World Library. Here are some examples: 


  • Seeks to know the other person and to be known
  • Values being real, unique, and open to surprise
  • Uses “I” messages and self-disclosure
  • Listens openly, with curiosity and empathy, showing an ability to hold and wait
  • Is responsive to the other person’s pain or fear—with empathy and reassurance
  • Collaborates to find an outcome that takes both partners’ needs into account


  • Seeks comfort, looking good, and appearing in control
  • Values being right, knowing what will happen, having things all figured out
  • Uses “you” messages, sales pitches, power tactics, and manipulation
  • Makes assumptions and generalizations about the other and believes these are right
  • Ignores the other person’s feelings and focuses on own needs
  • Assumes that being open to a partner’s needs means giving up one’s own

Relating involves two-way communication.  The goal is to know and be known by our partner at the deepest level—not to win, be right, or stay out of trouble. It affords an opportunity to grow and deepen a cherished relationship.

Campbell, S. and Grey, J. (2015). Five-minute relationship repair: Quickly heal upsets, deepen intimacy, and use differences to strengthen love. HJ Kramer/New World Library.

How to Talk to Children When Tragedy Strikes

father comforting young son

As parents, we often want to shelter our children from the news of tragic events.  Unfortunately, it seems that every time we watch the news, we hear of another shooting or bombing.  It can be very scary for anyone to watch the news and wonder if it will happen in our hometown, our office building, or our children’s school.  Talking to children about tragedy is difficult.  Figuring out what to say and what not to say can be complicated.  Here are some suggestions on navigating the difficult questions children will inevitably ask.

Be honest, but consider the child’s age and find out what the child knows first.  If the child asks you a question about the event, respond first by asking the child what he/she has heard.  You don’t want to provide more information than necessary.  Younger children do not need detailed information about the event nor will they understand much of what actually happened.  Older children may have more specific questions and are looking to you for an honest answer to their concerns.

Assure them they are safe.  A child may exhibit fear and anxiety out of concern for their own safety.  Children are looking to you to help them feel secure.  Reassure them that they are currently in no danger.  Talk with them about the safety measures in their school and community.

Turn off the TV and news and avoid social media. Watching a tragic event over and over may increase anxiety and fear.  We often stay glued to the TV when something tragic happens.  To avoid increased anxiety, turn off the news and social media and do something together as a family or watch something inspiring and uplifting.

Be careful what you say and how you act.  Children are very observant and will model your behavior.  Don’t avoid reacting to the news of the tragedy, but be aware of how your reactions affect your children.  You want to create an environment in which you react appropriately to the tragic news, while being sensitive to your children’s needs.  Balance is key.  Let them know that it is okay to be sad or scared and direct them to accept their feelings as a normal reaction to a difficult situation.  Showing your child extra physical affection can help them feel more secure, so make time for extra hugs and cuddling.

Be okay with “I don’t know.”  Perhaps one of the most daunting questions we all ask, and children are no exception, is “Why?”  Do not be afraid to tell them “I don’t know.”  We don’t always have the answer, and sometimes a child just needs a listening ear.

Give them the opportunity to pray for the victims and their families.  Show your children that they can help by praying.  Pray with your children, pray for them, and teach them to pray for others.

Find the helpers.  As our childhood icon Mr. Rogers so eloquently said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially, in time of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers- so many caring people in this world” (Rogers, 2002).  It is easy to focus on the “bad guy” and lose sight of all the heroes in the event.  Point your children to find those heroes.

Get involved and show your appreciation to your local emergency personnel.  Encourage your children to write a thank you note to a police officer, firefighter, or paramedic.  Grab some sweet treats at the store and take them to your local police department, fire department, or rescue squad.  Not only will your children get to see the police cars and maybe honk the horn of the fire truck, they will get to meet and talk with their local heroes.  Teach your children that these are the people who respond to tragic events and they are the ones who keep us safe.  This will give children a sense of security each time they see an emergency vehicle with its lights and sirens.

Seek professional help if needed.  If you feel your child has developed more anxiety and fear than normal, do not hesitate to seek help from a professional.  If your child begins to have behavior changes, sleep problems, eating issues, and trouble concentrating, it may be time to talk with a professional.  Counseling can be beneficial in helping your children learn essential coping skills when faced with tragedy.

Rogers, F. (2002). The Mister Rogers Parenting Book: Helping to understand your young child. Philadelphia,      PA: Running Press

By Heather Braddock, MA
Covenant Counseling Center



EMDR: Help for Trauma and Distress

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What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a cost-effective, non-invasive, evidence-based method of therapy that tends to help clients reprocess traumatic or distressful experiences in a way that rapidly leads to peaceful resolution. Under the guidance of a trained therapist, EMDR accomplishes this resolution by using bi-lateral alternating sensory stimulation, such as eye-movement, auditory tones, or tactile stimulation.

EMDR often results in increased helpful insight about previously disturbing events.  A shift away from long held negative, unhelpful thoughts about the self is often experienced, as well.

Francine Shapiro, PhD, an American psychologist, developed EMDR in the late 1980’s. An ever-growing community of therapists soon saw its power to transform lives. At the same time, controlled research studies consistently demonstrated its effectiveness.

How does EMDR work?

As research advances our understanding of how the brain processes intense memories and emotions, a number of neuropsychologists believe EMDR enables a person to rapidly access traumatic memories and process them emotionally and cognitively. This integration of emotions and thoughts appears to facilitate rapid resolution of traumatic stress. Typically, by accessing these memories in a safe, therapeutic environment, new learning occurs that eliminates emotional distress and encourages new, helpful perspectives about the memories.

“We believe that EMDR induces a fundamental change in brain circuitry similar to what happens in REM sleep—that allows the person undergoing treatment to more effectively process and incorporate traumatic memories into general association networks in the brain. This helps the individual integrate and understand the memories within the larger context of his or her life experience.”Robert Stickgold, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School

What is an EMDR Session like?

EMDR offers rapid therapy for a person who has experienced intense distress or trauma. Consequently, it is important at the outset for the client to know that he or she is in charge at all times.

To begin the EMDR protocol, the therapist will guide the client in identifying a “safe place” mental image. For example, the client could envision being on a peaceful beach, beside a lazy river, or in a quiet library—whatever works best for the individual. The therapist can use this individualized, soothing image later to reassure the client that they are in control.

Next, the client identifies a “mental snapshot” of the disturbing experience and discusses with the therapist how the experience has affected her or him. Then, as the therapist guides, the client will identify the negative cognition connected with the trauma, and a positive cognition the client would prefer to have instead. When these are established, the client is ready to begin.

The therapist will have thoroughly explained one of the bi-lateral, alternating sensory applications mentioned above and will guide the client through the reprocessing experience. It is during this part of the therapy that the negative cognition of self associated with the trauma is more thoroughly processed. Again, the client can be assured that he or she is in control at all times. The therapist will check in with the client several times to assess the client’s sense of empowerment.

Empowerment is reinforced toward the end of the EMDR session by focusing on the positive cognition in connection with the trauma. During this segment, the bi-lateral sensory stimulation often signals new, more positive perceptions of self for the client. These more empowering perceptions of self, along with other insights that might have surfaced, are reviewed as the session concludes.

As the session concludes, a follow-up session would be scheduled to check in with the client. Important insight and understanding often occur following the EMDR session. Consequently, the therapist follows up with client to evaluate any additional reprocessing and check for other therapeutic issues that might have come up during the days following the EMDR.

Today, many therapists and clients consider EMDR a “gift” to the therapeutic goals of improved self-image, relationships, and well-being.

“EMDR is one of the most powerful tools I’ve encountered for treating posttraumatic stress. In the hands of a competent and compassionate therapist, it gives people the means to heal themselves.”

Steven Silver, Ph.D.
Former director of the PTSD  Unit,
Veterans Administration Medical Center,
Coatesville,  Pennsylvania

For further references and information, please see this link:

By Nancy Cross, M.A., LPC-MHSP
EMDR Therapist
Covenant Counseling Center



May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We are going to highlight anxiety as a means to increase awareness.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms is the first step. Seeking the help of a counselor is the next step in the process of gaining empowerment and a voice to recovery. The process of change in recovery can be scary sometimes but change can bring a life of hope, love, and fulfillment.

Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety

“Over 21% of American adults between the ages of 18-64 will have diagnosable anxiety disorders in a given year” (www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may). Anxiety impacts all aspects of an individual’s life – the physical body, the mind, and relationships.

Some symptoms of anxiety on the physical body include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, stomach discomfort, nausea, fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headaches, and trouble sleeping.

Some anxiety symptoms that impact the mind are exaggerated worry about everyday life, fear of dying, repeated unwanted thoughts, nightmares or flashbacks, irritability, anger, trouble focusing, and negative thinking.

Behaviors that manifest in an individual struggling with anxiety impact relationships. Some of these behaviors include avoidance or anger outbursts. Sometimes ritual behaviors take hold and leave an individual feeling out of control.

Coping with Anxiety

There are a number of tools that can help you cope with anxiety. Skills to help reduce the physical response to anxiety include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, prayer and meditation, as well as yoga and other forms of exercise. Additionally, utilizing pleasurable activities to decrease stress and increase the brain’s production of serotonin naturally.

Counseling can provide coping tools to deal with the panic and anxiety. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) aids in thought stopping and challenging thoughts. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps identify the thoughts that are increasing worry, analyze those thoughts to determine if they are accurate or faulty thinking, and then challenge and replace thoughts that are faulty. Additionally, a therapist who is using CBT will be working with the client to identify core beliefs that relate to the anxiety that may also need to be challenged and replaced. The beliefs are sometimes so ingrained, it is hard for the client to realize until they are talking about and analyzing with the help of a therapist.

Counseling offers a safe place to process the fears, the anger, the irritability and intrusive thoughts and can help to challenge these thoughts and provide insight and replacement thoughts that are based in truth. Finally, counseling can provide a place to process the feelings that become overwhelming and aid in reducing the impact on relationships.

Contact a Counselor

If you feel you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or any other mental health diagnoses, the following link provides screening tools. These are not diagnostic but can provide information to help you in speaking with a counselor. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/mental-health-screening-tools.

At Covenant Counseling Center, we would like to walk this journey with you as you seek the path to recovery. If you would like to make an appointment, please contact us at 423-247-5676.



6 Needs of Those Who Have Lost a Loved One


Sometimes those on the outside looking in at someone who has lost a loved one may not know how to help or how to respond. When someone you love dies, the world as you know it is turned upside down.  It is in that moment and the moments, days, months and years following that the hardest work begins – the healing process.  This process requires the support and understanding of those around you as well as a willingness to embrace the pain of the loss.  While everyone has their own unique journey through grief, there are some common needs for those experiencing grief.

Need #1 – Patience of Self and Others While Accepting the Reality of Death

It takes time and patience for those grieving and those of us in a support position to accept and embrace a painful reality that is not quick, easy, or efficient. This reality often takes weeks or months and these weeks and months may be unpredictable – tolerable one moment and unbearable the next.  Have compassion for yourself and be willing to be compassionate toward those in need of support.

Need #2 – Feel What You Need to Feel

Grief hurts emotionally, physically and spiritually. It does not feel good to be consumed and gripped by overwhelming sadness, anxiety, longing and yearning.  It is okay to feel what you need to feel.  There may be times when you distract yourself from the pain and other days when you fully embrace the pain.  For those in support positions, be sensitive to and mindful of well-intended phrases that may come across to the one in grief as judgmental and insensitive such as: “it’s time to get over it”, “keep your chin up”, “keep busy”, “just have to stay strong”, “accept it and get on with your life”, “think about what you have to be thankful for”.  The grief process is extremely hard work.  Will the person learn how to integrate the loss of their loved one into a new normal? Yes.  But get over it? Never.

Need #3 – Staying Connected

The beauty of memories is we can always stay connected to and carry our loved ones with us. For those grieving, find ways to stay connected to and keep the memory of your loved one vibrant and alive:  writing down favorite memories; creating a memory box filled with memorabilia related to the loved one; making a quilt made of the loved ones shirts/clothes; organizing/framing photos; planting a favorite tree or flowers of the loved one; visiting special places.  For those in the support network, don’t be afraid to talk about the loved one that has passed.  It is often comforting to the ones grieving to know others are fondly remembering their loved one too.

Need #4 – Developing a New Self-Identity

When someone you love dies, the way you see yourself or the role you had in that relationship naturally changes. All of a sudden you go from being a “spouse” to being a “widow(er)”, from being “married” to “single”, from being a “parent” to being a “bereaved parent”.  Everything you knew to be a solid reality is now fluid and uncertain.  Don’t be afraid to ask for or receive help from your support network.  To those supporting, look for practical needs to fill:  lawn mowing, leaf raking, errand running, care taking, childcare, etc.

Need #5 – Meaning and Purpose

It is likely after the death of a loved one that questions concerning the meaning and purpose of life will arise. The reality of death can be a powerful reminder of the lack of control we have over life and death.  Therefore, finding meaning and purpose in life once again can seem monumental and at times improbable.  You may question your faith and be challenged spiritually.  The mourning process will help you sort out those questions and find meaning in your continued living and ultimately honoring your loved one by pursuing that meaning and purpose.  In supporting those in grief, allow them to ask the hard, challenging questions with loving and supportive responses.

Need #6 – Let Others Walk With You

You cannot, nor should you, do this alone. Leaning on others (whether friends, family, pastor, or counselor) is not a sign of weakness, but of courage and healthy human need.  There may be an inclination to isolate from others.  While some alone time can be good, extended isolation can be unhealthy.  Those in your support system are there to help you and it is okay to ask for help and allow them to help.  People in the support network, you must appreciate the impact of death on the one you are supporting and must not see it as something to overcome or an enemy to be vanquished, but rather a necessary experience.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “it takes a village”? Learning how to fully live after the death of a loved one feels like a gargantuan task not even a village can handle.  But a wise man once told me the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.  Grief can seem large and looming.  Take it one day, one hour, one minute at a time.  Through being gentle, patient, and compassionate with yourself and leaning on your support system, fully living will, over time, return.  And…if you are not there yet, it is okay.  Take all the time you need.

Wolfelt, A. Understanding your grief: Ten essentials touchstones for finding hope and healing your heart.  Fort Collins, CO:  Companion Press.

Written by  Jessica Owen, MSMFCT
Covenant Counseling Center