It all Makes me Grateful

Were someone to analyze my posts from the time I began my blog, July 2003 until now, they would notice a recurring theme - gratitude. I have written about it many times, and when I ponder what to write, it keeps popping up.

I do not think, "Gee, I think I will write about gratitude again." Instead, some event of the day comes to mind, then I leap right to that feeling, state-of-mind, condition, attitude, or whatever you want to call it. Today is no exception. One of my encounters steered me to the "G" word and I found myself thanking God for something new.

If you read my posts, you know that I am a Licensed Professional Counselor. I work at a mental health clinic and I do intake assessments. I like the job for many reasons, but perhaps one of those high on the list of reasons is it keeps me humble. Every day I come face to face with people who are struggling and suffering. Though some suffer with self-inflicted problems, more often than not, a perfect storm of circumstances has struck a hard knock down blow.

The humility I mentioned arises from the realization that, "But for the grace of God, go I." I have struggled at times in life. I have had to overcome obstacles, but I am fortunate to have many things others do not. I have health, friends, family, and enough money to let me sleep at night. I am thankful everyday for it, but I know my time will come. Health problems, death, and loss come to us all.

Today, I went up front to meet the person I was to assess. The individual was about my age, which always triggers a comparison. The person had difficulty walking because of neurological difficulties. They could only walk with assistance. I could make a long list of what that person did not have, what that person could not do, and the problems that person has had. I will, however, not tempt the HIPPA police.

The point is, I reacted with thanks and appreciation to God. That then motivates me to help, to do what I can to ease suffering or connect with a resource to improve a life. It is not a sense of pity, but a desire to help fueled by an awareness of what I have and what I do not have to deal with.

Lord, the world is full of people who suffer. Who, no fault of their own, have much less than do I. I did not do anything to deserve it. I know that someday, suffering will visit me. I know you will carry me through it and I thank you in advance for that deliverance. In the meantime, I hope I will make a positive difference in the lives of those I try to help - In appreciation and gratitude I offer this prayer. -Amen.

Until the next time

John Strain


Photos from Manresa

Here are a few photos taken at my recent retreat at Manresa on the Mississippi in Convent, LA.


A Prayer from Manresa

Each year about this time, I go to a Jesuit retreat center by the name of Manresa on the Mississippi. I look forward to this time of year to walk the beautiful grounds and to be quiet.

One day I was sitting outside the cafeteria before the noon meal. I had some thoughts that I have recorded here in the form of a prayer.


Lord God my Father,

I set out thinking today about the life that you gave me. I was sitting in a beautiful place in your world. The beauty of springtime was everywhere. I began thanking you for my eyes that took in the dazzling colors. Then I thanked you for my ears, which listened to the birds of all kinds nearby and farther away. The gentle breeze moved through the trees like a tender caress. My sense of smell let in the sweet spring fragrances and I drew them deep within me with each breath of the pungent air.

I was aware of being at peace and I gave you thanks and praise for that knowledge. At times, my life is hurried and laden with stress, but I often suffer more than I need too. Like the panicked swimmer who does not realize his feet can touch bottom I often flail away at life instead of standing on the firm footing of your promises. Life can always be more peaceful and less fearful if I would only turn my attention to you.

I thought about the hands you gave me. My hands have done so much in 53 years. They have lifted the food you provided to my mouth for enjoyment and nourishment. They have touched loved ones. They have reached out to both give and receive help. With my hand, I cover my heart to express honor and respect for the country in which you placed me. In exuberance I have given wild high fives to my friends when sporting events call for it. You have given me so many ways to express myself.

I must thank you for my legs. They have carried me many miles to many places. I have walked down aisles to give my heart to you, to marry the woman you made for me, and to graduate from institutions you used to prepare me for my life. My legs have carried me in marathons and along the race that is set before me like the writer of Hebrews said in chapter 12.

Some things will always be a mystery to me, but the longer I live, the more you reveal to me. For instance, I know that you have given me certain gifts as you have everyone. Challenges in life only serve to make these gifts more useful. Struggle has made me better. I have learned to appreciate you more. I know that you are there and whatever happens, you are aware of it.

For all these things Lord, I thank you. And this I ask. Make my eyes more sensitive to those around me I can help in your name. If it is a kind word, money, or my time, may I be willing to give it.

I pray you help me to hear you with both my ears and my heart. May I follow your direction and become more obedient to your word as I continue in this wonderful life you have given me.

Help me use my hands to offer that cup of cold water in your name. May I give more than I take and I pray others would feel you have touched them from my dealings with them.

Strengthen my legs to carry me farther. Lead me in your path, wherever that goes.

I know I am a sinner. My thoughts are not always of you. My tongue does not always speak your praise, and too many times I run off in my own direction. Lead me back to your way. Guide me with your hand that I may please you. I will endeavor to make better choices and convert my gratitude and appreciation into obedience for you.

You have given me so much, and a peaceful mind and heart thanks you for it.

It is through your Son Jesus I come to You. All praise, honor, and glory to You Lord Amen

Until the next time

John Strain


Evidence based practice and the art of therapy

Last summer I was sitting in a professional conference obtaining the necessary CEU's my LPC license requires. The speakers in the lectures kept referring to "evidence based" approaches to mental health treatment. In a nutshell, the term "evidence based" refers to methods that have measured up to the scrutiny of scientific research.

Nationwide, the term evidence based and best practice are liberally sprinkled throughout mental health discussions. The American Psychological Association adheres to this policy. While the policy reads well and makes sense to me, I think there are some developing unintended consequences.

While good at first blush, the implementation of evidence based practices has the potential to intrude on therapy sessions, effectively dumbing down what goes on in treatment. This is because those in control of the mental health delivery system / government, adhere to a top down method. A "one size fits all" system is good for those making reports and plugging data into spreadsheets, but unnecessarily limits what a therapist can do with a person seeking help.

There are things science cannot measure and there are variables that cannot be accounted.

I am not against "evidence based" methods, however, there is much more to therapy than what science can measure. A therapist is an artist. He/she weaves the knowledge derived from training, observation, peer discussions, and continued learning into a unique personality and philosophical point of view. That unique individual cannot be replicated anymore than one could reproduce a Beethoven, Babe Ruth, or Rembrandt. All therapists are not necessarily famous artists, but they are artists.

How do you measure devotion, love, compassion, hate, lust, ambition, indifference, perception, prejudice in an individual? How do you measure that in a therapist? How do you measure it in a patient? How do you measure the effect it has for outcome. How do you measure the outcome? 

Inter-rater reliability and statistical impressions of self-report surveys to study the therapeutic process are like using a magnifying glass to observe atoms. 

Research is not God to be worshiped nor is it the Devil to fear. It is a tool to use by skilled and sound individuals. Science has given us knowledge and breakthroughs in thought and understanding. Science has also been used to skew public opinion and to make money.

So I have written all of that to say this: Just because something does not have the "evidence based" stamp of approval on it does not mean it is ineffective or useless. It does not mean it works either. That is where a skilled therapist comes in. We do not want to shun something that may be effective, just because we do not have a proper yardstick with which to measure. 

Forcing mental health professionals to only use the "evidence based" methods takes effective tools out of the hands of skilled craftsmen 

The guise of doing what is best for everyone results in doing what is mediocre at best for everyone. 

Here's to the art of therapy, the artists who practice it, and to those who come seeking relief from their suffering.

Until the next time

John Strain


Good Friday: Love and Sacrifice

For Christians, Good Friday illustrates the depth of love, backed by sacrifice that God has for us. Love and sacrifice are inseparable terms. It is putting your money where your mouth is. God became flesh and lived as an example for us to follow. That kind of love got Jesus killed, but He did not waiver on his values.

Jesus' life was an example of how we are to live.

There are examples of love and sacrifice all around us. There are also those who "say" they love you, but do not back the words with any meaningful action.

You do not have to die for someone to prove you love them, but you may. Our servicemen and women give their lives to serve their country. They do it for their country, values, friends, and family. They do it for love.

Many have jobs that require their life be on the line. I do not think anything short of love could propel someone to disregard his/her own life to help another.

Christianity is rarely cool in the current culture. The Romans outlawed it and executed those who professed their faith. Christians have been martyred and persecuted just for being Christians throughout history.

Christians are free to operate in the United States and many parts of the world today. However it is not without its detractors. Many see the Faith as old fashioned at best. So called intellectuals and elitists think Christians are naive, ignorant, and simpletons. Paul dealt with the same thing in his day:

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  -I Corinthians 1:18

We all choose a way of life. If you decide to live as a Christian, you may be ridiculed and branded as, gasp, uncool. I happen to think the definition of "cool" includes thinking for yourself and making your own decisions instead of letting the fad of the moment be your rudder.

I am a Christian. I am not perfect by a long shot, but most of the time I am striving for those ideals. I know Jesus died for me and I am thankful. I have to sit and think about it and let it soak in. These things are not sound bites, they are truths that take a lifetime to comprehend.

That might be a good Good Friday assignment class. Think about how much God loves you. Think about how others have loved you and sacrificed for you. Think about how you have loved and sacrificed for others. Ask God to help you be a better person. 

Have a good Good Friday everyone,

Until the next time

John Strain