Help for the Helpers

I read a book* recently about how community helpers are susceptible to vicarious (meaning, indirect) trauma due to being in close proximity to others trauma and mental health needs for an extended period of time. Completely rocked my way of thinking about my job as a therapist and the importance of a helper receiving adequate support.

My ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) score is 2 (Find out more about this scale at Other than grief/loss through divorce and familial death and growing up in a culture of racial microaggressions and systemic racism, I consider myself one of the lucky ones when it comes to Trauma.

So, what does it mean when I find myself wanting to avoid my clients, when I battle anxiety and irritability on a daily basis, or experience a steady decline in passion and purpose connected with my role as a therapist/healer…especially since there are no other personal traumas to correlate to my symptoms? It could mean that I’m experiencing compassion fatigue, better known as vicarious trauma or secondary traumatization.

I completed an informal poll on social media recently, asking those who consider themselves “helpers”, what they needed most. The answers varied, but I did notice a pattern: the themes of “rest”, “support”, and “increased resources to do my job effectively” tended to show up more often. Research I’ve found correlated these deficits with the likelihood of helpers experiencing vicarious trauma.

Working in community mental health is especially draining/challenging. The expectations often focus on maximizing quantity of services provided, rather than providing adequate training and daily support to provide quality services. “How can we get the most out of our helpers?” rather than “How can we inspire the best within our helpers?” is often the agenda. We are encouraged to be more fiscally minded in order to strategize service to a maximum amount of people. But, what I’ve found is that this often does a disservice to clients in need, essentially, due to high employee turnover (overworked employees do not stay at the same agency and clients may have an average of 2-3 different people performing the same role), and high levels of absenteeism (because helpers are sick more often or use more mental health days due to burnout). The culture within these types of agencies cause a deep divide between helpers; a face-off occurs between those who value competitiveness and the bottom line and those who value balance and feeling purposeful over feeling useful. It’s possible that the former will thrive and the latter will silently suffer.

But, this isn’t just about my job. It’s a common occurrence across our entire country; stemming from a struggling system of mental health/human services that is called upon to constantly prove itself. Insurance companies and legal entities look for value in what we offer to people from the gate; often refusing to reimburse providers if persons having never met either therapist or client are not convinced that this treatment is worth the cost. Therapists at private practices are left to become like salesmen before insurance boards; “selling” themselves in order to be credentialed. This trickles down into how supervisors see value in their supervisees within agencies. Those who bill more are automatically seen as more valuable over the employee who bill below average. Again, quantity is preferred over quality.

Meanwhile, the people around us continue to struggle. We see after tragedies, such as school shootings and drug crises that helpers are essential to the thriving of our communities. We are the white blood cells of the community’s body, as it were. But imagine the priorities shifting every few years (or even within each fiscal year), where helpers are never sure if they are truly valued – both within their perspective agencies and from the viewpoints of local, state, and federal governments. We are now in a country where it is more feasible to spend money to arm teachers with weapons, rather than ensuring they have adequate financial support to purchase classroom materials. The priorities are indeed different, and the rate of this shift is unsettling.

So, that leaves me with an inner conundrum; how hard should I work to change the narrative? Where can I find a better sense of balance? And what, if anything, can I do to better assist the helpers that will arrive after me? The ones that desire, albeit naively, to change the world for the better? I believe my burden lies, not just in changing my own situation, but to alter the culture so that future helpers may not struggle so frequently. EAP support (that’s mental health support found with most benefited positions), though typically suggested for helpers with internal struggles, doesn’t seem to help employees shoulder the daily load of helping. There is a problem with work culture.

Then there are our immediate supervisors, who are more overloaded than we are, often provide little or inconsistent encouragement and are left to be our administrative monitors. Even the most well-meaning ones will have an “open door policy” that accepts questions and will give guidance to supervisees that ask, and yet fail to provide a balanced environment of noticing strengths and actively building weaknesses of their employees. We are supported by way of checking off boxes, compliance with paperwork requirements and are monitored so not to steal company time and resources. The term “gatekeeper” has taken on a different meaning, because what it means to supervise a mental health worker has differing priorities. For example, resident counselors are forced to have two different supervisors during residency – one is more administrative and required for your employment at your place of residency and another for guidance with clinical skills. You are lucky if they are one in the same.

I have had the supreme privilege of having amazing licensed/unlicensed therapists, professors, colleagues and peers that have guided me through this road to becoming a better therapist, and I can say without a doubt that it was their impartations that aided me developing my own theoretical orientation, uniqueness, and competencies. From my experience, it is clear where building quality helpers is a high priority and where it is secondary…or even nonexistent.

So, if you have accepted the call to be a helper (I wrote from the perspective of a mental health therapist, but you may be a caregiver for the elderly, a pediatric nurse, or run a community-based non-profit), I encourage you to examine the culture around you. Find resources, programs, and relationships that actively BUILD YOU UP. Ask yourself what/who replenishes you and find a way to make that a priority. Out of many others in our communities, YOU are needed most. And there is a mandate for helpers to be the first to seek health and wholeness. We are all works in progress, of course, but we can show our communities what it means to live out true resiliency.


* Trauma Stewardship by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky and Connie Burk



This isn’t an attempt to make you feel guilty about Black Friday shopping, but since we’re discussing money, it’s good to have a reminder that we actually have options for how we’d like to spend our hard-earned incomes.  It’s refreshing to know that not ALL of my paycheck have to be held hostage by car repairs, credit card debt, and overpriced internet service.

I noticed this year that the #GIVINGTUESDAY efforts are much more streamlined and intentional this year, so I wanted to do my part by compiling a list of my Top 10 (which was SUPER DIFFICULT to do) Favorite Local organizations who are so deserving of contributions this Tuesday.

(Please note that this are based in Central VA, with a photo/quoted blurb from their FB pages along with the applicable link, and the list is in no particular order.)


Anne Spencer Memorial Foundation, Inc.


“The Anne Spencer Memorial Foundation, Inc. supports the Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum, the historic home of Harlem-Renaissance poet, civil rights activist, wife, mother, gardener, librarian and educator, Anne Spencer.

Your tax deductible contribution will help The Anne Spencer Memorial Foundation to fund education, community outreach, and preservation of the 100+ year old historic home, cottage, and garden.”

Make sure and look over their FB page, as well as their website, for more information and direct access to donation opportunities. This foundation also have a #GIVINGTUESDAY FB event, which can be found here!


The Listening, Inc.


“The idea was that people could still get together and create art and memories while also engaging with each other and learning about one another. Throughout that year, a small community began to take form, joining the creative renaissance already taking place within the city of Lynchburg, Virginia. Using the open mic format, they discussed themes like “Confessions” and “Classics”.

After a brief hiatus, The Listening returned in 2014 with the theme “Legacy”. Since then, the concept of creating art with intentionality and performing with passion and purpose has grown. A far cry from what it looked like in a loft-style living room session, the pursuit is still the same: to engage with people, to change people’s perceptions of what performance art can do and look like, and to save lives with our stories.

We’ve officially moved from a big idea to a powerful, community-based movement.”

Please check out the TLI’s website, as well as their FB page for ways to learn more, volunteer, get involved, and donate!

STITCH After-school Tutorial Program


“The Stitch After-School Program is a non-profit organization sponsored by the Stacia Nicole Anderson Memorial Fund. This program is designed to provide free tutoring services for students in the local community, all in memory of the beautiful daughter of Dr. Keith and Mrs. Renee Anderson.”

Please mail all monetary gifts to the address provided:

Bank of the James

Stacia Anderson Memorial Fund

5204 Fort Avenue

Lynchburg, VA. 24502


The Motherhood Collective

19113953_1373382902710029_5101366169759340612_n“Specializing in walking with women from preconception through preschool. With immense value placed on peer-to-peer support we find that offering women a place to belong results in deeper connection to her community and increased opportunities for education. Our programs serve both the dark and sunshiny days of motherhood; recognizing that not all roads to motherhood look the same.”

TMC is actually having an All-Day LIVE STREAMING Party on #GIVINGTUESDAY, which can be found here. If you’d like a bookmark for early/late donations, check out their website!

Lynchburg Beacon of Hope

14732137_543466295859275_676909801217671345_n“What is the purpose of the Beacon of Hope?

To instill in ALL Lynchburg City Public School students the aspiration to pursue AND to provide them with the tools and resources to attain a post-secondary education.

To provide college opportunities for those would not be able to attend college otherwise

To change the culture in the Lynchburg community to a PreK-16 division

To create a stream of qualified/educationally prepared talent for the greater Lynchburg workforce

To ensure that all children who graduate from Lynchburg City Schools are prepared for the next step in life: 4 year college, 2 year college, technical / community/trade school, industry certification

To improve the quality of life in our community by investing in our most precious resource—our children—who are our future

To compile and disseminate data on current and continuing post-secondary education of Lynchburg’s student

What are the components the Beacon of Hope?

FUTURE CENTERS housed in both LCS High Schools (staffed, maintained, and funded by the Beacon of Hope) which provide resources on financial aid and college admissions for ALL LCS students, guidance on local and federal financial aid.

MENTORING PROGRAMS which diligently work to encourage students to apply AND leverage all available resources.

Programs in the Elementary and Middle Schools that plant the seeds of COLLEGE ATTAINABILITY for younger students.

Ultimately, SCHOLARSHIP opportunities above and beyond last dollar earned to level the playing field and get students onto post secondary education.

PARTNERSHIPS with our local businesses to provide funding and internship opportunities, so that the intellectual capital that is created through the Beacon does not “leak away” from Lynchburg after students earn post-secondary degrees.”

What an amazing opportunity to support this effort. Please go to their website to see just where your future donations are going towards.


Jubilee Family Development Center

11855626_1143502818997682_6483896979668992849_n“Our Programs provide opportunities for young people that center on educational enrichment and academic assistance, athletic programs and occupational training. Three are described below.
After School Tutorial Program- 90% of students participating demonstrated academic improvement by one letter grade.

Mentoring Program- Improves self-esteem, exposes youth to positive role models, increases social awareness and teaches problem solving skills.

Summer Enrichment Camp- Provides a disciplined and structured environment where children take part in high quality summer programs that blend academics, art, sports and technology which stave off summer learning loss.”

Check out their website to seek more of what they are doing in the community, and also check out their FB page where you can donate to their amazing cause.


Kids’ Haven

“Kids’ Haven was founded as a community outreach project of the Junior League of Lynchburg. In 1998 we were chartered as an independent not-for-profit organization with the sole mission of serving, through the provision of support and educational programming, the unique needs of children grieving the death of a person who was significant in their lives. Kids Haven is a local non profit dedicated to providing peer support to grieving children, ages 3-18, and their families.”
You can visit their website, as well as look for them on Facebook in order to make a donation.

YWCA of Central Virginia


“The YWCA of Central Virginia is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.”

Please visit the YWCA FB website, as well as their full website, for much more information and direct access to donation opportunities!

Miriam’s House


“Miriam’s House is designed to end homelessness for women and families by providing them with stability and the skills to succeed in permanent housing.
All of the programs and services offered at Miriam’s House are based on the Housing First model, rooted in the belief that ending a client’s homelessness quickly and providing for her most basic needs will empower her to achieve goals in other areas including mental health, substance use, money management and parenting. Miriam’s House staff provides intensive case management and works in partnership with each client to build upon her strengths and resiliency. Miriam’s House coordinates referrals to therapists, mental health support workers, recovery services, job coaches, and social workers to ensure that ongoing, comprehensive services are available to clients even after they complete their program at Miriam’s House.”
Visit the Miriam’s House website, or their FB page to see more info & hit the “Donate” button!

The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lynchburg


“The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lynchburg provides a positive, fun and stable environment for youth that produces winners, leaders and role models who make a lasting impact within our community. BE GREAT!”


Please visit Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lynchburg & HERE to donate!

10 Reasons Why I Love Play Therapy

1. Kids are typically more honest than adults.
And not necessarily in the way that leads to insight. If a kid does not want to engage with you, they will let you know. I don’t have to do the guess work of whether they are genuinely getting something out of being in therapy. You will be able to tell. Most of the time, a child hasn’t learned yet how to lie.

2. Kids keep me on my toes.
Historically, I need to mentally prep more when I’m getting ready to have a therapy session with a child. They require constant observation and engagement. If I can be honest, it’s easier for your mind to wander when sitting across from an adult who’s been talking for 15 straight minutes about their problems. There’s no room for that in play therapy. I am all in, every moment I am with the child.

3. Kids are hilarious.
I wish I could compile a book of random, funny things my kid clients have said in session. It would legit become a best seller. Many of the kids I see struggle with appropriate social cues and development. But this makes for some hysterical conversations.

4. Play Therapy is powerful.
Who knew that a simple board game or a tray of sand can be used to express a child’s deepest fears and highest hopes? Simple materials can be transformed into tools to teach kids skills, help them learn emotion management, and exorcise traumatic memories. To an outsider, my office looks like a distraction or a way to introduce the actual treatment, but it IS the treatment for the child. It’s the focus and their language. I love that about Play.

5. My inner child has a regular place to go.
I think implementing Play Therapy helps me personally, too. I can remember part of my childhood being marred by seriousness and trauma. I had to grow up faster than I wanted. Play Therapy allows me to let my hair down and engage in a pure place. I love fostering this place for a child, as well. Not to mention I get to spend hours each week playing on the floor with Play-doh and Barbie dolls.

6. I love teaching parents how to play with their children.
There’s a powerful attachment that takes place when a child plays with a caregiver/adult. It’s actually more effective than moments where a parent implements discipline or instruction. Integral concepts like kindness, fairness, and reciprocity are fostered within the relationship during play. Without the child’s, and often the parent’s, awareness. You want to profoundly impact your child? Get on their level and play with them. I’ve been in moments where you can literally feel the bond between a child and the adult grow stronger, right in front of me in my office. It’s honestly one of my favorite parts of my job.

7. I teach children what to do with power.
This one sounds odd, I’ll admit. One of the reasons children misbehave is to gain power. This is an appropriate desire, because it’s connected to the path towards independence. It’s the adults’ (including teachers, family, counselors, etc. ) jobs to teach a child appropriate use of power and independence through self-control and respect for others. Giving a child age appropriate power is really the only way to teach them this. If you’re always telling a child what to do and never giving them spaces to decide for themselves, you are forcing compliance but not teaching self-control/independence. I like to use nondirective play therapy with my most oppositional kids. While they are used to fighting with adults over control of a time/environment, I give them a healthy amount of control through nondirective play. Meaning they decided what we do with the time in session. Hopefully, nondirective play can help satisfy a need for power little by little. I’ve had parents question this part of my treatment, but it truly is important.

8. Play is fun.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. 🙂

9. It has helped me be a better mommy.
I’ll admit, I use myself and my kids as guinea pigs when conceiving a new play technique. But it’s helpful for me to put myself, as a mom, in my client’s parents’ shoes. This helps me foster more empathy and patience with some of my most frustrated, stubborn parents. Empathy is essential. It’s easy for a play therapist to “blame” the parents for a child’s issues, but empathy helps see things from a family systems perspective. My kids/families teach me lessons on a constant basis and I eat a huge helping of humble pie daily.

10. I am a place a refuge for my kids.
It’s a thought that took a while to get over, but it is now a constant reminder of the important work I do every day. Many of the kids that come to see me for therapy have no other healthy, consistent attachment with another adult. When they sit and play and learn in my office, they are given an opportunity to express whatever they choose, without being forced, criticized, or judged.

There is a script Play Therapists say at the beginning of each session that I typically use:

“This is a safe place for you, and I am your safety person. You can do or say most anything you want while you are here. If you can’t, then I will let you know.”

Three Reasons Why I’m Not [Yet] a Great Writer

Three reasons why I am not yet a great writer:


Because I am not honest.

I would like to use obscenities sometimes, but I choose not to because I am a Christian. It’s not that I would like to be vulgar; I simply feel that there are times when expletives are necessary…

…like when it took me almost three hours to put my son to sleep. While tiptoeing out of his room, I step on a squeeky toy that I’d begged my daughter 12 times to pick up earlier, which wakes my son up.

or when I put my last $15 into my gas tank, hurry into my car to get to work, and it does not start.

I would think a “shit”, at the very least, is applicable here.

But I would rather be proper than be honest.


I am afraid.

Of being too….something… Too black. Too feminist. Too religious. Too typical. Too universal. Too tolerant. Too much.

Or even not enough of these things.

I’m afraid that it only took 18 years to write myself into a permanent circle; with no more depth or height in my words. Only monotony. Around and around.

Passing by the same street corners; going down the same avenues that I’ve always gone and never daring to venture down scenic routes.

I know for certain that there are undiscovered dark corners on the outskirts of my pages, but I am afraid of finding if there are other worlds there or simply a cliff. I am afraid of losing myself. And I’m afraid of finding myself.

And three.

This one is more insidious than the other two combined: I care too much about what you will think once I’ve said my peace. I’ll show a tiny bit of bravery here and talk about my book that I released this summer…

I’ve sold 10 copies total. And it took 5 months to sell 10 copies. 1 of them was purchased by me (which I eventually gave away) and another copy my mother bought. I’m afraid I care too much about this. Even now, you are reading these words and may feel pity for me. It’s not my intention, but I see there may be something meaningful, but hidden, lodged in between this book and my next one. And I wish to reveal and pry it loose. At this point, I feel that my words just may be currently unimpactful, at the end of the day. Good, in theory, and even welcomed, but lacking what’s necessary to draw a reader’s eye and appetite.

It is these reasons, among others, why I feel like I’m not yet a great writer.



I just self-published my first collection of poetry. It took me much longer than I’d like to admit, but I did it. Something concrete that I created is public. Open to be consumed and critiqued. Interpreted.

I hope people are inspired. I hope people understand me more. I hope to help others put their books out. I hope this is just the beginning.

I feel clean. Like I’ve made a lengthy confession about my first 31 years. Now that this is done, I can move on, and write more honestly. Clearer. Some of the poems in this book represent a trek from mindsets that I don’t even hold anymore. Battle wounds that are simply scars.


It’s done.

If you’re interested, find the book here:

For James

Safe Spaces (Thoughts on Being a Therapist)

I still experience brief panic whenever I’m notified that my next client has arrived. You would think that after working for 6 years in the mental health field, I’d more often face a new session with solid optimism and focus. There are times, admittedly not as often as in those earlier days, that I simply want to run away.

Is this the type of therapist that you’d want to see? Be honest. If you knew what went on in your counselor’s mind before, during, and after your sessions, would you feel offended? Would it lessen your desire to come back the following week? If you knew the script of anxiety, self-doubt, and soul sickness that he or she ruminated in their minds on a daily basis, how would it affect how you viewed their skills? I’d assume most of you would feel too squeamish to continue bringing your personal problems to someone like this.

Truthfully, I feel it is this, more than any of my therapeutic skills, that qualifies me to be a therapist. Let me explain….

I spend about 9 hours a day, Monday through Friday, helping others unpack and process the most horrific memories. The most dysfunctional thought and behavioral patterns. I walk people through their traumatic histories and admit their deepest secrets out loud for the first time. I’ve seen people cry in moments of grave despair and from being overwhelmed by relief. I’ve been a stand-in/substitute for people to unload their most narcissistic and down-right cruelest philosophies. I’ve seen my clients possess personal breakthroughs and insights, but also be gripped by irrational and rational fears.

Not a full week of sessions will go by without me identifying with something one (or more) of my clients say or do. I can’t help but see flashes of my face while listening; hearing my own voice serve as a faint echo when they speak. Even in some moments when they say something completely irrational, knowing the context, I secretly agree and will understand their thinking patterns.

It is a very thin line to walk. Crossing it would mean that I lose whatever insight I’ve gained through my own treatment. The torture lies in having to relive my history over and over. Circling back through whatever grief I’ve processed; being reminded of a painful past of which I’ve been able to stop dreaming. I sit in silence after a client leaves my office, and complete a self-check. There are moments when I am blind-sided and can only repeat out loud, “You’re okay. You are okay.”

This isn’t denial. Simply reminding myself of my path. The steps that I’ve taken and the storms that I’ve endured to equip me to be a “healer”. I read in a book once that, historically, therapists were seen as healers. Synchronized with that of a shaman, in some cultures. Meaning, we help others fight against unseen sicknesses. Whatever your point of view regarding therapy, we can all agree that there is no poster child for issues such as depression and anxiety. The sufferer changes faces, races, and ages all the time. Healers are meant to be strategic, compassionate, but also experienced when faced with the plight of these sicknesses.

This is why I feel, in some strange way, thankful that I require a deep breath, a prayer, and a period of quiet before a session. I am thankful for the brief battle that occurs before I go out to the waiting room to greet my clients. There is a shift that needs to happen. There are things that I need to remember. I’m never totally sure what needs my clients will bring with them into session. Many times, they aren’t sure themselves. Which is why that moment of quiet is so necessary. If they need a safe space, then I will clear the room to help them create one.

Have the Conversation: My Thoughts on ’13 Reasons Why’

DISCLAIMER: The following blog discusses the topic of suicide in detail & may be inappropriate for some readers. I encourage the reader to divulge into this topic in the presence of a trusted support person, if needed. The information presented are from limited years of mental health work, culmination of academic study and passion for youth, and my own budding clinical judgment. It is not meant to be a substitute for clinical research.


My husband and I stumbled upon this show shortly after the buzz began generating on social media. We watched the first episode and expressed mixed feelings: shock over the content, and curiosity of hownthe writers would unfold the remainder of the story. We’re both mental health counselors who work with teenagers/children & felt a mixture of intrigue and dread. When I finished the final episode, I was deeply affected and incredibly sad. Faces of real-life would-be Hannahs, including myself, flashed across my memory. I made a mental check-list of folks I knew were watching to check up on & made a reminder to myself to talk the show over with my supervisor and colleagues. I gathered that whatever conclusions I would make about this show, I was responsible for what I did next.

’13 Reasons Why’ is probably one of the most successful shows Netflix has created in a long time, as far as viewership. But many parents and mental health professionals feel that the program is dangerous and irresponsible. As a mom I share in their caution. It is deeply upsetting to watch a beautiful, smart young girl  carry out a detailed plan to end her life. Secondly, it is normal for adult viewers to become disgusted and disturbed. However, after further processing, I felt the need to look at the popular program from a different angle.

Let’s walk through the criticisms I’ve heard about ’13 Reasons Why’:

  1. The show glorifies and/or oversimplifies suicide.

I must start off by stating that this program is rated TV-MA. Which means that it contains very disturbing material. The drama given to the storyline provided a necessary entertainment element, but I feel Hannah’s suicide, itself, was handled very openly.

Secondly, this isn’t the first time the topic of suicide was portrayed on television/movies.

Image-1Side note: If given the time, I can critique the above movies for their handling of the topic of suicide, but the fact still remains that many will still keep their acclaim. We ultimately  settle on the fact that the writers/directors have an artistic license to portray a topic and leave it in the hands of the consumer to view & digest responsibly.

To some critics, the writers portray suicide as a viable option – one both tragic and simple. Some say that the writers made suicide look easy to accomplish. I would have agreed with this criticism, if this wasn’t close to the train of thought held by many (not “all”) people who are suicidal. They may have moments of seeing death as easier, more peaceful, and better overall. They may feel it will ultimately ease suffering. It isn’t the NOT DYING part that’s difficult for a suicidal person, it’s LIVING that’s often too hard. If anything, the writers attempted to show how intently a person will pursue a suicidal plan if gotten to that point.

There is always hope, I sincerely believe, but because Hannah suffered very much alone, she had no one to help her grasp on to that hope. The tragedy behind Hannah’s fight with suicide is that it did not resolve her problems, ultimately.

The only critique I do have concerning this is that actually many who are suicidal have a methodical period but end up acting impulsively towards the end in order to complete suicide. Meaning, a suicide note is not commonplace (which Hannah’s tapes are considered akin to a suicide note.) The writers do portray Hannah to have been much more methodical than is realistic. However, this isn’t to say that some sufferers do not focus intently on escaping their pain and carry out a plan.

Other critics say that Hannah’s high school setting was overdramatized. It would be a mistake to believe that sexual assault, bullying, and harassment aren’t prevalent issues for our youth. Also, some feel that teens may over identify with Hannah. I say there may be more Hannahs than we are aware.

  1. It is an extended revenge fantasy; blaming those who mistreated Hannah for her death.

I’m often blown away at how much humans lack common courtesy and kindness towards one another. It shouldn’t take a television show to magnify this fact. However, the common culture among youth is fueled by bullying, scandal, and violence. For my adult readers, we all remember how tumultuous our teen years were…any mental health issues aside.

I’m constantly reminded how important it is to extend kindness to the next person, because what I do can deeply affect him/her. To deny the fact that her peers, family members, and school were partially responsible dances dangerously on the line of victim shaming. It places their pain center stage without taking into account the millions of interactions that led them to having suicidal thoughts.

Suicide has always been an “us” issue. Let me be clear, her classmates were not the CAUSE of her suicide, but did play a ROLE in her mental illness. We are all connected and responsible for one another. Hannah felt abandoned & mistreated by those around her. It’s not sound logic, we understand, but it doesn’t make it a fantasy. Rather than focusing on how intently Hannah unjustly sought revenge, let’s take a preventive stance by teaching our children how to treat one another.

  1. It encourages struggling students to not go to their guidance counselors/reach out for help.

This critique hit me hardest, considering I’m a counselor myself. Hannah’s guidance counselor, Mr. Porter, is completely unhelpful and distracted towards her. In Hannah’s tapes, she openly states that no one cared about her. Critics said that the show unjustly encourages Survivor Guilt. Here’s my take-away: Survivor Guilt will occur, regardless of the quality of relationships of those who remain after someone dies.

Also, the sinking feeling I was left with after witnessing Mr. Porter’s behavior was sobering. And I used it properly. It reminded me of my responsibility as an advocate. Simply put, if I am truly present on my job, then I can be a proper channel for change. Many of our counselors (especially school-based ones) are often burned out and overworked, distracted by test scores and administrative responsibilities.

But this actually segues into an even bigger conversation…which we won’t get into today.

To me, the most dangerous thing about the depiction of violence is not that our kids are watching violent content (and might be encouraged to reenact said violent content), but that even after hearing of teenagers struggling and dying, we still put the responsibility on entities that are not actually attached to our homes, classrooms, churches, and communities.

It has never been the responsibility of entertainment venues to educate or heal our children. Allowing them to consume without seeking them out to process afterwards is more irresponsible than the show being created in the first place. Much more. Entertainment is a good access point leading to the discussion, but they were never meant to BECOME the discussion.

  1. It will trigger those already struggling with suicidal thoughts or depression.

I had a friend who took to her FB status to ask others whether she should watch the show. I, more or less, replied, “Not alone.”. I would hope that those who are already getting treated for their depression will have the insight to stay away from watching, or at least be cautioned by a loved one or counselor to do so.

The population I feel the most concerned for are those who are without support and are struggling silently with depression and suicidal thoughts. However, I would still look towards those who are already called out to be the supporters/advocates; our teachers, counselors, pastors and family members. The girl scout leader and the mentor. Bus driver and the babysitter.

We are the “Village” that the quote “It takes a Village” speaks of. It is us that should be raising and safeguarding our children. The show presents a very real & important topic. One that our teens are faced with everyday; the hallways of their schools and text threads already contain the topics we shudder about. It’s our conversations with them after the last episode ends that will better determine their interpretation.

Important to note is that there is a 30 minute interview-style documentary on the hit series on Netflix, called ‘13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons‘, which contains more context and discussion about the content in the show from it’s actors, crew, and mental health professionals.

I also encourage anyone who knows a young person to arm yourself with knowledge on the topic of suicide, because this will be needed, even after the fame of this show ends. Here’s an amazing document I found on the SAVE/JED Foundation’s webpage ( , outlining 13 Talking Points when watching the show with a teenager.


Use it to start a conversation; one that someone you know may be afraid to have. If we can remove the taboo nature from suicide, then we might just become the right safe spaces for someone to take their first step towards desiring life.