Fr. Dale Matson
[Note: I was invited to give an address on Wellness to the San Joaquin Counselor’s association on Wednesday. I thought it would be useful to put it on “Soundings” too.]
I would like to begin by thanking you folks for inviting me to share with you today. I came to Fresno 24 years ago. My mentor Bob Wilson was younger then at age 65 than I am now and was head of the School Counseling School Psychology programs at Fresno Pacific University. It was called Fresno Pacific College then. He died at age 71 and that is how old I am now. This talk begins with a looking back of sorts for me.
I am also a former member of the San Joaquin Counselors' Association and attended my first meeting in the fall of 1992 held at Duncan Gardens here in Fresno. Bob Wilson, who would later receive the McDaniel Award as outstanding California Counselor, introduced me to many of the counselors. I also met Diane Talbot at that meeting. She was a deserving recipient of the McDaniel Award also. At that time she was a counselor at Tranquility High School. I would later recommend her as Bob’s replacement as head of counseling at Fresno Pacific when he retired. She obtained her doctorate, held that position and later become my department head when I stepped down. She retired this year from Fresno Pacific as director of Counseling and School Psychology. I am so proud of Bob and Diane and the programs at FPU have prospered under their wonderful guidance. It was a joy to share many years' worth of conversations and lunches with both Diane and Bob.
With that said, it brings me to the topic at hand, “Wellness”. When I attended my first meeting in 1992, it was sadly evident that many of the counselors were burned out. Some told me candidly that it was all they could do just to make it through another school day. They were stressed and stretched beyond their ability to cope.
I left that meeting wondering why Bob at age 65 had more enthusiasm for helping others and more fire in his belly for the profession of counseling than many of these young counselors. I wondered how the students they worked with could be helped if their own issues distracted the counselors themselves.
Additionally, we were preparing graduate counselors and school psychologists at a Christian university. What could and should be different about our training approach than other preparation programs? How could we train our students that would make them more resilient to the job stresses they would be immersed in once they became employed? The California Commission on Credentialing had standards we had to meet for our programs to be accredited. Could we include a “Wellness” component into our classes that would help the students become more resilient and robust themselves? We set out to do just that using Bob himself as the incarnation of what it means to be a healthy individual. Bob was one of the most resilient individuals I have ever met and he had beaten back cancer for the last 12 years.
Bob and I both discussed this situation and realized that the most important treatment variable in counseling was not treatment technique. Research had demonstrated that all forms of treatment like behavioral, cognitive, psychodynamic and family systems all had about the same amount of treatment efficacy. In other words, they all worked about the same. The bottom line was counseling was better than no counseling.
Our second conclusion was that if the chief treatment variable was not technique then it must be the individual counselor. The wellness of the individual counselor was the chief treatment variable. How could we help the counselor develop behaviors that would model self-nurturing not self-destruction?
Bob himself was involved in his Roman Catholic Church and was a man of deep faith. He had come to a place where he accepted God’s will totally. For Bob, each day was truly a gift. He was also a strong advocate of Logotherapy. Victor Frankel wrote the book “Man’s Search For Meaning” http://www.amazon.com/Mans-Search-Meaning-Viktor-Frankl/dp/080701429X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1464121082&sr=1-1&keywords=Man%E2%80%99s+Search+For+Meaning
And it became the platform for Bob’s use of the Socratic method and helping others find meaning in their life. The main principles of Logotherapy are:
•Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
•Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
•We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.
While Bob never said these verses from Scripture to me, I think they best typify his counseling and his life. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34b) When Bob interacted with others, they always discovered the best parts of themselves. There were good things they may never have seen before.
Wellness is not just taking on a hopeful and positive attitude about self and others. It is also walking the walk with behaviors that enrich life including self-discipline and a regulated life. When I see Diane, I often ask her if she is still working out at the fitness center in the morning and her reply is always in the affirmative. Bob walked 5 miles every morning using hand weights.
Unlike Bob, I am a prodigal who spent about 20 years of my early adult life killing myself on the installment plan with cigarettes and alcohol. Christ rescued me from an unproductive and self-destructive life and running the good race has remained my objective. I have led a disciplined life because at mid life I chose with God’s help, life not death. God is a God of life.
Every morning for the last 25 years, I have arisen at 4am. I begin by journaling the previous days activities. This has proven invaluable when reconstructing events, writing books and wrestling with personal issues over the years. Sharon, my wife has agreed to respect the privacy of these journals and burn them when I die. When I travel, including backpacking, I have a smaller travel journal that I take with me. I tear the pages out when I get home and put them in my regular journal. I also use a daily devotional and this year I am using a daily devotional I published last October. http://www.amazon.com/Daily-Devotional-Common-Morning-Lectionary/dp/1518731716/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1464123558&sr=8-1&keywords=daily+devotional+dale+matson
It was a blessing to write it in Lectio Divina format. The format is a verse or verses from Scripture, a reflection on the verse(s) followed by a prayer. Now I can read my own devotional after reading devotionals from the church fathers like St. Augustine for many years.Every morning I check my e-mail and check the news on the Internet including responses to the two blogs I moderate.
I run, swim or bike every morning. I heard it said once that sweat comes from places a shower never reaches! I also train with weights three times a week. Recently the research has indicated that weightlifting is not only good for maintaining upper body strength and cardiovascular health. It is also good for bone density and reduces the risk of dementia.
Sharon and I also walk our two Airedales together every morning. Although our first Airedale Brown has passed on, we have walked our dogs for 20 years together. Keeping in touch with your spouse is a way of loving them.
What else is important to personal wellness? Attending a religious service on a regular basis helps one deal with life on a spiritual level. Attending services is not only an exercise in faith, hope and love; it is basic Wellness. I would be willing to bet Bill W. who was a cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous based the 12 steps on the church liturgy. In the liturgy, we have confession, forgiveness, absolution and reconciliation and the promise of amendment of life. We are made well again.
Over the years I have also found that the song by Barbara Streisand, “People” sums our need for others quite well.
“People who need people
Are the luckiest people in the world,
We're children, needing other children
And yet letting our grown-up pride
Hide all the need inside,
Acting more like children
Human relationships form a psychological safety net and are the bedrock of Wellness. It is important to initiate and cultivate friendships. I have one friend Mark Allyn that I have known and remained in touch with for over 65 years. I have a group of friends that has met for over 20 years every Thursday morning for coffee and a bicycle ride. I am usually the one who initiates, who calls, who writes. Why not? If I didn’t the relationships might perish from neglect. Most people don’t initiate. Get over it.
I include family in this too. I can still remember meals at my parents' home when I was a child. My grandparents would be there along with my siblings and parents. We continue that tradition today and Sharon is very intentional and tenacious about making these events happen.
I read books also and many of the classics are available through Amazon at little or no cost as used books or via Kindle. In addition to Man's Search For Meaning, I would recommend Spiritual Passages: The Psychology Of Spiritual Development by the late Benedict Groeschel. http://www.amazon.com/Spiritual-Passages-Psychology-Development/dp/0824506286/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1464120788&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Psychology+Of+Spiritual+Development
The role of the Counselor is like the role of the Holy Spirit who is also referred to as “The Counselor”, “The Advocate”, and “The Paraclete”. The counselor is sometimes a bruised individual from a dysfunctional family. The counselor cannot help someone else find peace until the counselor has rewritten his or her own self-destructive life script. However God uses the broken people for their compassion. As St. Paul States in 2nd Corinthians. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (1:3-5)
My trainer, Fran Culbertson from the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater once told me, “A good counselor listens with his third ear.” How different is this in reality to the Old Testament passage from 1st Kings? “And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:11-12 KJV). The NIV version states, “The gentle whisper”. Are you listening for the gentle whisper in your counseling? Are you listening for the gentle whisper in your life?