American Association of Pastoral Counselors – Professionally Integrating Psychotherapy and Spirituality
Realities, Expectations and Renewed Mission
Douglas Ronsheim, D. Min., Executive Director
Several years ago, AAPC embarked on a strategic planning process with consultant, Jess Jamieson. This was followed by a messaging and marketing initiative undertaken with the Hatcher Group, based in Bethesda, Maryland. Many of you contributed responses to surveys and participated in conversation groups and leadership meetings. These initiatives were precipitated by several important realities: declining membership, primarily due to lessening of value of certification in the marketplace, and higher rates of retirement of members than those who were joining. Thus AAPC’s earned revenue was decreasing on an annual basis.
AAPC also faced fixed costs (taxes, condo fees, repairs etc.) in owning two properties, one a rental and the other housing the AAPC office. In the past three years both of these units have been sold. The AAPC office is leasing back the space to the present owner. Thus AAPC is no longer encumbered with these fixed costs. Additionally, as the membership in the Association decreased, staffing needs were lessened accordingly. These decisions came about as a result of a detailed and realistic assessment of the Association’s financial situation and projections for the future.
AAPC’s historical mission, certification, required a centralized space in the office in Fairfax, Virginia. Thus interested people came to us. As we are most aware, interest in the field of spirituality and health (emotional and physical) is growing exponentially “out there”. Over the past five years, the great majority of individuals joining AAPC do not desire certification but want to learn how to do this integrative process “better.” They desire to be part of a learning community in order to serve one’s constituents. Thus a viable future for our field and Association is based on engaging interested parties in our communities and regions, in person and on the web. A parallel story is explicated in a recent article in the magazine, Christian Century, (http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2016-01/seminary-s-calculated-risk)
In this issue of Currents, you will read of examples of colleagues who are assisting in making this “mid-life transition” of AAPC in their regions and communities. Be aware that all of us are not at the same place at this point in time in our individual or regional lives. Life cycles are daily facts of life for those whom we serve as they are for us.
Pam Holliman, Ph. D., AAPC President
One of the major challenges of teaching seminary students is preparing them for a future that neither I nor they can imagine. For students, they often have little idea of what day to day ministry entails, the constant moving in and out of roles, the emotional challenges, and the relational work required. I am challenged to imagine ways to prepare future clergy in a variety of ministry settings that are only partially emerging in our midst. They usually have little in their personal experience in which to imagine what the future may be like. Frankly, at times they are quite dubious when I describe issues that arise in congregations, the many ways people can deceive and hurt. Balanced with this reality is the privilege of being present in the struggles, as well as the joys that we share in the profound work of ministry. We remind them ministry is a community effort, that in the darkest times we have each other. That often the struggles bring opportunity to transform our understanding of ourselves, our relationships and our faith. But, really, at base, they often have no clue. Seminary disrupts their expectations, their identities and their goals.
Institutions including AAPC, find our lives at a particularly difficult juncture, where many expectations, identities and goals that provide clarity and foundation to our lives are radically changing. Randy and Doug in other articles in this edition speak to the processes the board, regions and all groups within AAPC have been engaged over the last 3 years. All of us involved in leading through this time have experienced the confusion and dubious responses my students often express when they encounter the many changes that growing into ministry may require.
Without a doubt, my most consistent response to the work we have been engaged over the last 3 years is one of gratitude. Particularly as I leave this role, I want to thank the many regional leaders who have graciously and with patience pushed at the decisions the board has made. You have welcomed board members to your regional meetings in ways that helped us communicate more clearly, articulate options more precisely, and affirmed that this community of pastoral care and counseling will continue. Your board has worked tirelessly in ways that find our future more defined and possible. I am privileged to have worked with each of them.
We are beginning to glimpse the future of the association as well as how pastoral care and counseling may function in new settings. Thank you to the membership for allowing me to be part of this transformative moment in our history.
Reflection on AAPC Transitions
Randy J. Simmonds, Ph.D., AAPC Vice President
I am sitting in the Denver airport as I write this reflection on the transitions that face AAPC. I see folks coming and going, off to destinations all around the world. I am reminded of how fluid and global our world has become. Changes are everywhere, and they happen faster than I would like most of the time. Changes are certainly occurring in our organization as well.
I wish I knew exactly how this grand experiment was going to turn out, and that I could outline clearly what our organization was going to look like five years from now. You all know that, at best, I would just be making an educated guess! As therapists, we are asked frequently about certainty for the future. Our clients are anxious and nervous about a future that they can’t control and don’t really see clearly. It is our task often to instill hope and to give encouragement to our client that they really can have a determinative effect on their own future by taking initiative and being engaged in the things that they really can change, and not being pre-occupied with the things that they can’t. (My apologies to that re-write of the Serenity Prayer).
As a professional organization, we are in much the same circumstance. Issues such as licensure, third party reimbursement, proliferation of competing professional groups, declining membership, competing demands for time and money, have all changed our future as pastoral counselors. AAPC cannot continue in the same ways that we have in the past. Reorganization and radical restructuring are no longer an option. If our organization is to survive at all, we must make the changes that allow for a leaner and more sustainable structure. The de-centralization that is taking place is an opportunity for more local engagement and involvement. It is a chance for more folks to be involved in the choices and decisions that affect them at the local level.
Regional chairs have been on monthly calls for the past year preparing for the changes that we face, and it has been inspiring to hear the creativity and initiative that have been a part of the conversations. There is so much thoughtfulness in our organization and we need tap into that, at all levels.
But, just as we tell our clients, “you can’t just sit back and hope for someone else to do it.” It is critical for all of us to engage this new opportunity with hope and enthusiasm. We need to look to the future, while celebrating a past and a heritage that is rich with meaning and purpose. I urge you to be involved in your region. Please contact your regional leadership and ask how you can help. The old wisdom, “Be the change that you want to be true” is now our individual task, opportunity and hope!
Embracing Change: Choosing to Thrive
Martha A. Brown, Ph.D, D.Min., Atlantic Regional Chair
Change can be so upsetting. It can be so disorienting. It can be so overwhelming. And if there is a way to avoid it, without leaving scars, we can spend a lot of time and effort trying to do just that – avoid change. And if avoidance doesn’t work, we can hunker down and find ways to throw out more than a few roadblocks in an effort to impede its progress. Or……seen as something positive, change can bring the unfolding of opportunities for something that is life-renewing and life-enhancing. The leaders of AAPC have responded to “the handwriting on the wall” that has been observable for the past several years. They have been proactive in instituting change that, if fully embraced, has the potential of strengthening the organization and making it more responsive to the needs of its members and the communities we serve.
The Executive Committee of the Atlantic Region made the decision to engage change as a friend rather than a foe. We decided early on in the process of de-centralizing AAPC, that we could serve the members best by asking what products and services they value and then redesign our governance structure so that we attend to what is valued by the membership and do it in such a way that those valued products and services are more easily accessible to them. The governance structure is now more aligned with mission and leadership within the organization is being expanded to include members who wish to serve as “Area Leaders,” persons who will help plan and deliver programs in their geographic localities.
We believe we have a wealth of talent in the Atlantic Region, much of it untapped. The identification of Area Leaders will tap into the reservoir of fine and extremely talented people who can help the Executive Committee in achieving its goals for this period of transition.
Goals have been developed and they address what is considered the urgency of 1) developing and nurturing relationships with other organizations whose missions align with that of AAPC, 2) planning and delivering educational experiences that are of interest to members of AAPC as well as others who serve in mission-aligned organizations and who share our interest in providing meaningful care and counseling, 3) retaining current members and attracting new members, 4) improving communications with and among the membership, and 5) maintaining administrative and fiscal accountability for the well-being of AAPC and its membership. This is the work that will be engaging the expanded cadre of leaders in the Atlantic Region over the next several months.
Sustained by a deep commitment to the organization, an understanding that change is not an option but a requirement if AAPC is to continue to have a positive impact on its members and the individuals, families, and communities we serve, and sustained by a belief that we are the change we want to see, the Atlantic Region moves forward into what surely feels like an uncertain future yet confident in our ability to call forth something positive, meaningful, and exciting that will continue to propel us forward as the new AAPC.
The Atlantic Region, as well as the AAPC leadership and members across all the Regions, know how to help others through the changes they face in their individual and communal lives. We have a history of successful interventions in the lives of those who have come to us for support and the tools needed to re-engage life as it is as opposed to how they would like life to be. What we have been doing so well for others, we now have the opportunity to do for ourselves.
We will navigate the waters of restructuring and find ourselves strengthened for the new life ahead. The Atlantic Region, past the discomfort that change brings, is excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. We hope this sense of excitement is contagious within and throughout the Regions and that those faithful leaders who have led us to this place in our organizational life will not be concerned about the future of AAPC now in our hands. What that future looks like may not be fully available to us in this moment, yet perhaps it is enough for this moment in time to know that there is a future for AAPC.
Alzheimer’s Disease: A Personal Perspective
Bill Zeckhausen, AAPC Diplomate
The following material I wrote for families and caregivers addressing Alzheimer's has appeared in New Hampshire papers and been shared on social media. Recipients have responded positively, saying they would send copies to affected parents, siblings, friends, and acquaintances. Three hundred members of my reunion class at Williams College received it. All the Congregational churches in New Hampshire are providing it to their members. Every physician in New Hampshire will be receiving it in their mid-winter medical publication. Alzheimer's is considered one of the most devastating diagnoses as we age. Although 50% of us will be afflicted by the time we reach age 75, the 50% who aren't will be impacted by spouses, parents, adult children, and friends who are.
Coincidentally, a local Florida newspaper recently published an article titled "Why some physicians don't share the Alzheimer's diagnosis with their patients." It was based on a survey of physicians who hid the diagnosis, fearing the patient response upon hearing it. Numerous similar articles may be found on-line. I wish to share what was missing for me for a year after my diagnosis, which would have made a major difference in my coping with it. Many physicians have too little, if any, training addressing an Alzheimer's diagnosis with their patients. Even diagnostic specialists for dementia may not suggest what to do about it. Two drugs are often suggested, which may not be effective and which have serious side effects. They might slow the progression of cognitive and memory decline for several months, but they don’t cure the disease. Clinical trials hold promise for a possible cure in a decade, which is too late for many of us. The diagnosis is depressing and frightening and can launch a painful struggle, with suicidal thoughts sometimes carried out. Following a diagnosis, the information below, at a minimum, should be given for support.
The Alzheimer's Association is online at http://www.alz.org and easily reached at (800)272-3900 for patients, family, friends, physicians and caregivers. They send a free packet with practical information and provide free phone coverage 24x7 with competent, compassionate, trained staff. I learned about it a year after my diagnosis. Bad news, having to wait so long. However, the good news of that experience provides motivation to share this, so readers who would benefit can receive relief and support.
The book, "Alzheimer's From The Inside Out", by Dr. Richard Taylor, a psychologist with Alzheimer’s himself, testified before Congress and presented at numerous medical schools in the US and Britain. After a year of feeling lost, when I read that book, I felt found. He described his inner experience with the disease, which echoed and normalized my experience. What a gift it has been. I learned of his book through the Alzheimer’s Association.
The helpful book “Taking Control - A Guide for Early-Stage Alzheimer’s Disease” is free with a call to the Alzheimer’s Association and available online at http://www.alzmass.org/pdf/Alzhiemer's_Guide_Book.pdf. A book for first or second stage of Alzheimer's is: “I’m Still Here - A New Philosophy of Alzheimer’s Care” by Dr. John Zeisel, which is empowering, and optimistic, in contrast to much writing which is informative but can be depressing.
A common response to the diagnosis is to try to hide it from others, which eventually becomes impossible. For the patient, and others who suspect something is wrong, "There is an elephant in the room, and we won't discuss it." It's a huge relief to become open about it.
I believe this information is relevant for many. If it has value for even one, I’m glad to have shared it.
AAPC members and the association office extend deepest sympathy to the families of the following members:
Robert A. Butziger, AAPC Fellow/Retired, passed away in Albuquerque on December 13, 2015. Please go to Face Book Tributes to Robert A. Butziger. Bob's Celebration of Life will be on Saturday, February 13, 2016, at 2PM in San Jose, California, at the Los Gatos Presbyterian Church.
Mwalimu Imara, Retired Diplomate in AAPC, in the SE Region, passed away October 6 2015.
GLYNN R. FORD (Age 87), AAPC Fellow, passed away on Tuesday, September 15, 2015 at his home surrounded by his family. The family held services on Friday, September 25, 2015 at McLean, Va., Baptist Church, with a celebration of Glynn's life held on Saturday, September 26.
Dwight Cumbee, Retired Diplomate in AAPC, passed away May 21, 2015. His memorial service was All Saints Day November 1, 2015, at Community Church of Rio Verde, in Arizona, near Scottsdale.
May 13-14, 2016
July 31-August 6, 2016 WRITING WITH SPIRIT, Creative Writing and Meditation with Nancy Kilgore at Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico. In this week at Ghost Ranch, in the sacred space of the high desert, you will combine meditation and writing to open into the depths of your own inner visions and express them in poetry, fiction, memoir, or creative nonfiction. More info and to register: Writing With Spirit or contact Nancy at firstname.lastname@example.org