Oct 11

Guest post: Proactive Parenting by Tracie Dahl, LCPC

Parents can easily describe many pressures from their own “tween” and teen years which bring back awkward memories and cringe-worthy recollections. However, the world has changed exponentially in the last several decades and continues to undergo rapid changes at an erratic and unpredictable pace.

The world today is filled with what can only be perceived by teens as unsafe events. War, bullying, gun violence, natural disasters, and the constant stream of reporting of these events via every available media source from television to internet streams; there is a never ending, shock provoking flood of horrifying news.Boys-on-phones-Proactive-Parenting-post

Adults must help adolescents learn how to navigate the perils, reduce anxiety, and build the strength and tools they will need when their instinct is to protect and shelter them as the adult response to the very real threats in the world today may also be an increase in fear and anxiety. Here are three suggestions:

  1. Start by using supportive problem solving which gives adolescents the opportunity to learn to think for themselves instead of making decisions for them. Any setbacks or mistakes become learning experiences, while successes allow children the ability to feel truly capable of handling difficult situations. As a result, both their resilience and confidence will grow. Oftentimes, I have coached parents in my practice to ask their kids when they present a problematic situation to them to respond with the question, “Do you want me to help you with this or do you just need to vent?” Kids want someone they trust to listen as they search for the answer themselves.
  2. Be a model of responsibility and allow children opportunities to help others. A child’s intrinsic need to help triggers anxiety while feeling helpless to improve the state of the world we live in. Conversely, having the ability to actually help others reinforces both responsibility and a sense of empathy while giving kids a sense of ownership and investment in their own destiny. Serving others gives tweens and teens an appreciation of how their actions affect and impact others, and a genuine feeling of positivity and success.
  3. Approach the world with a healthy dose of optimism, hope, and courage and model this for your children. We must remember that what is reported on the news and coming across our social media platforms is largely negative, so it is apparent why anxiety, fear, and depression are triggered. As adults we can choose to be optimistic about situations, people, and the future. We can choose hope while instilling courage in adolescents. The solution lies in changing our mindset, shifting our view, and promoting individual strengths instead of weaknesses.

And, remember… no one is perfect! You are doing your best as a parent, and if it ever seems to much it’s okay to ask for help! Perhaps Intermountain can be a resource for you? Call Intermountain at 406-442-7920 to see what we offer for parents and children.

-Tracie Dahl, LCPC

Day Treatment Director

Sep 01

Guest post: A look into the classroom with Kathy Brandt


It is difficult to define success in the classroom, especially in a Residential Treatment Center. Mostly because many of the students who come to our program have not previously experienced success in areas that reinforce healthy development such as; social interaction, academic growth, being able to self-monitor behavior, and general school work.

I have had the pleasure of watching every one of my students grow in all of these areas. Through this I have found joy is watching students begin to take risks on challenging tasks, initiate and maintain friendships, accept difficult feedback and mentor around unhealthy choices. Above all, joy is watching these students begin to trust that they are competent and valued.

Over the course of a year, our students learn they can achieve success by becoming less dependent on adults and more confident in their own ability to sets goals and meet them. My students have an end of the day self-reflection where they can assess whether or not they were able to be safe with their body and words, responsible with school work, and respectful in their interactions with both peers and adults. This allows them to take ownership of their school day and visually see their personal growth with a sticker chart. By the end of treatment, the student can see that the reward really isn’t a sticker, or a positive reward, but rather it is an intrinsic one of feeling good about their daily choices and hard work.

Looking to the year ahead, I hope that the classroom will be an engaging, challenging and rewarding environment that students want to come to everyday. Also, that each child discovers how they are smart. Whether that is in math, interpersonal relationships, nature, athletics, all kids have gifts and talents they possess, so it is just a matter of getting to know each student both academically and emotionally. One of my favorite quotes that I keep in my desk is by Michelangelo. ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ I find being a teacher is a very similar process of carving away the unhealthy patterns, or beliefs in a child’s life and helping to bring out his/her value that was already there from the beginning until the end result is nothing less than a beautiful masterpiece of a child being free to make mistakes, learn from them and have hope for a positive future.

–Kathy Brandt, Special Education Teacher

Intermountain Residential

Aug 09

Flashback Friday: “My Tears in His Bottle,” a devotional by Pat Hays

Pat Hays has written a devotional book that gives wonderful insight into the joys and struggles that parenting a child with emotional special needs presents. Her book, My Tears in His Bottle: prayers from the heart of a special needs’ mom, contains excerpts from her personal prayer journal as she worked through the last fifteen years of

My Tears in His Bottle, by Pat Hays

My Tears in His Bottle, by Pat Hays

balancing her calling to be an adoptive parent with the roadblocks she encountered in her neighborhood, friendships, school district, marriage, and church as she sought understanding, acceptance, and peace for her and her family.

As a chaplain at a residential facility working with children with special needs (kids on the spectrum, emotional disturbance, trauma recovery, etc.), Pat Hays’ story feel very familiar. Nearly every family I meet at intake says, “We were going to church until…” and then proceeds to tell a story about how they looked for comfort and healing in the church and they had a hard time making connections and feeling understood. Worn out from advocating for their children at school, in the neighborhood, with doctors and nurses, therapists, and many others that come into the lives of a special needs family, Pat Hays holds out hope that some pastors and some churches really to “get it” and want to support and uplift families of special needs children.

That’s why I am so enthusiastically supportive of this book! Honestly, it does what coaching and training in trauma-informed principles can’t do… it expresses the heart of a mother seeking to make sense of the parenting challenge God has given her. Only when that empathy is built can a community of faith make the leap from seeing special needs children as a challenge to endure to a blessing for the church.

I would love for churches, small groups, and individuals who have a “Pat Hays” in their life to read this book and meditate on the scriptures she pairs with her prayers. Pat masterfully walks the line between holding out the hope we have in Jesus Christ while embracing the reality that discipleship often means suffering, difficulty and the loss of what we envisioned for ourselves and our families.

There are no Hallmark card pithy platitudes within the pages of this book, and in embracing the grittiness needed for true Christian discipleship, it has the ability to provide the “comfort with which we ourselves have been comforted” (2 Cor. 1:3-5). It’s an amazing book and I couldn’t recommend it more highly!

If you are interested in My Tears in His Bottle, you can order the book through Amazon.com by clicking this LINK.

Jul 30

IM Moment Video: Perseverance and finding joy while working with challenging children


In this post, I thought it would be good to share a pair of clips from conversations I had with Steff Turner and ML Rutherford, two key leaders at Intermountain in Community-based Services and Residential Services. Together, they represent decades of experience in working alongside parents, foster parents, grandparents, educators, therapists, and other caregivers to provide care and support for struggling children and families.


Parenting and caregiving–the general act of raising a child– can be difficult, even in instances where the child or family are not in duress. The perceived need to be strong and persevere when addressing the special needs of a trauma-affected or emotionally disturbed child makes caregiving that much more exhausting. This need can also be a source of extreme joy… Yes, you heard me right! JOY.


Joy can come from the deep satisfaction of being  what a struggling child desperately needs. The words, “I love you” from a child that struggles to trust and attach in relationships means so much more knowing just how hard those words are to say for them. Joy also comes from finding your own soul’s unfinished work in the process. This is something that can allow you to be more authentic and real before God and others.



So, to all those caring for struggling children… hang in there. In the end, your perseverance could lead to joy. In those hard, sometimes soul-crushing moments, hold on to the hope that God is with you and loves both you and the child you are caring for more than you could imagine.


And, to those who are not currently caring for a child or a teen in need, look for ways to encourage, support and lift up those that are engaged in the ministry. Remember, listening can be a more powerful tool than offering advice and providing practical help (run errands, provide respite, offer to help with a meal or anything else the family might appreciate) can give a much needed break.


Also remember that Intermountain supports all those struggling to find joy. We are here to help build healthy relationship so if we can help in any way, please let us know!

Jul 08

Intermountain Moment: Ice cream for “Amber!”

Ice Cream for “Amber”

Intermountain’s Summer Program allows kids to continue the work they had been doing in their school-based program into the summer months. One of the most important things the program does, the director says, is give kids “normative childhood experiences.” He calls them “firsts.”girl-ice-cream

For eight-year-old “Amber,” it was eating her first ice cream cone. “I’ll never forget the smile on her face,” the Intermountain therapist says. Amber ordered three scoops in three different flavors: chocolate with red hots, bubblegum, and coffee.

It couldn’t have tasted very good together, but she ate every bit and she, “probably said thank-you 150 times.”

Eating an ice cream cone on a summer day is something most of us take for granted, but for Amber, who had been placed in eight different homes in the same number of years, it was a “first” and will hopefully be a good memory she’ll always have with her.

Thank you for supporting Intermountain with your prayers and faithful support.

Chaplain Chris Haughee


Click HERE for a bulletin insert to share this story with your congregation:

July-August-2019-Intermountain bulletin insert-Ice Cream for Amber

Jun 20

“Give Me A Harvest… Brother Van: Pioneer Methodist Preacher” video from First UMC, Billings

This wonderful video produced by First United Methodist Church of Billings, Montana, chronicles the amazing life and ministry of Montana’s best known pioneer preacher: Brother William Wesley Van Orsdel. “Brother Van” as he was known, founded Intermountain 110 years ago with the help of the Deaconesses who ably cared for the children, helped raise money, and administered the services of the school and boarding house in those early years.

The video concludes with a sing along of the hymn “Harvest Time,” a favorite of Brother Van’s. He was known for his singing an boldness in championing the gospel and the cause of those often overlooked, including the children of Montana. The people of billing’s First United Methodist Church hope you enjoy this video, and I am thankful to have such an excellent telling of Intermountain’s founder to share with you!

Sincerely, Chaplain Chris Haughee


Jun 10

Guest post: “Good-Enough Parenting” by Katie Harlow, LCPC

Life often feels like a competition, and unfortunately so does parenting at times. How do you know if you are doing the right things when there are so many different opinions being thrown at you via our ever connected world every day? How do you know if your family relationships are healthy? Is it ok to admit you might not know what to do?

The good news is that you don’t have to be perfect in order to have a healthy relationship with your child. In fact, mom-and-daughter-god-enough-parentingresearch tells us that if we accurately respond to our child’s needs only 30% of the time, our child will have a healthy attachment to us- and have the foundation needed to build healthy relationships with others later in life. You don’t have to be the perfect parent in order to have healthy family relationships. What a relief. Making mistakes is ok, and can even be healthy. In fact, one of the best parts of parenting is that it is truly beneficial for your child’s development for you to not be perfect!

We often expect so much from ourselves as parents, but when we take a step back and consider what we want for our children, do we hold the expectation of perfection for them? We are the most important role models for our children; they look to us each and every day to see what is expected of them and how to grow into the people that they will be. If we think in that context, do we want to model the ruthless expectation of perfection or do we want to demonstrate a little bit of grace and flexibility with ourselves, and in turn with our children?

When we are able to model healthy expectations of ourselves, and in turn hold balanced expectations for our children, we are able to continue to sup-port their growth and development. We can model skills that will be vital for our children to learn and practice as they grow. That isn’t only “good enough” parenting, it’s ideal parenting in a world that can be difficult to navigate for all of us, parents and children alike.

– Katie Harlow, LCPC

Clinical Supervisor, School-based services

May 21

Renewed faith and greater connection: a testimony to God’s grace in Michael’s life

We recently received this wonderful testimony from Andrea, Michael’s mother, after a home visit her son took as he nears the end of his time in residential treatment:

“Prior to his stay at Intermountain Residential, our son Michael was struggling so greatly that he had stopped attending religious education sessions and was not able to even attend church services. He was in such pain that he felt hopeless, rejected by God, and was losing his faith.  He has now been at Intermountain for just over a year, and in this time has participated in the Chaplain’s Program and in a Catholic mentoring program.

Michael is now on a better path, thanks to Intermountain

Though he entered these with trepidation, the support from these programs has helped him to grow into a renewed faith and a much closer relationship with God. He has better understanding of his religion and has learned how to find comfort in his spirituality.
Our family recently attended a special Mass where his sister received two sacraments. Michael not only participated in the service, but he was able to sit quietly in prayer and then rejoice for his sister. It was very moving for us to see that he is now able to find peace within his church community and is open to experiencing his faith.”

–Andrea, Michael’s mother

May 08

Intermountain Moment: 17-year old Kevin

“Kevin” recently returned to public school after serving a sentence in residential treatment for sexually abusing another child. The director of Intermountain’s school-based-services says that everyone was afraid of Kevin: the schools, his probation officer, his therapist. Even experienced staffers at Intermountain were afraid of Kevin.Kevin-guitar

However, Kevin was what people call a “paper monster.” On paper, he looked like he would be a monster. The school’s plan was to assign an adult to him throughout the day, to never let him out of their sight. It would be as if he was back behind bars.

Through working with his Intermountain therapist, Kevin is beginning to shed the “monster” label. He has discovered that he’s a talented songwriter and has begun seeking out leadership roles within his therapy groups. His music is helping him heal.

He’s working on two main goals: First, to be a safe person for other people to be around; and, second, to look at his own history of abuse and work through his pain.

He’s now not only making a difference in his own life, but he’s helping his therapy group to improve while sharing his music with the wider school community. The difference in his life now, his therapist says, is that Intermountain was willing to enter into a sincere relationship with this “paper monster.”

“You have to be able to see him as ‘Kevin,’” he says, “and not as ‘what Kevin has done.’”

Thank you for partnering with Intermountain to bring healing and hope to young people like Kevin.

Chaplain Chris Haughee


P.S. You can click HERE for a bulletin insert to share Kevin’s story with your congregation!

May 04

Handling Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in a trauma-informed church

Mother's-Day-GiftI recently had two events that caused me to think purposefully about what a responsible approach to the upcoming holidays of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day may be for a church that is seeking to be sensitive to the trauma histories that their worshipping community may have. The first was an invitation to preach at a church in my community that has done a great deal to advance the faith communities awareness to the effects of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and mental health needs within the community. I was invited to preach on Father’s Day, and I asked if the church had any traditions around the holiday. It sparked a wonderful cascade of insightful emails back and forth as to what kind of message would be best received by that worshipping congregation. The second was an instant message I received from a local children’s minister asking about how she out to approach Mother’s Day with the large group of children she serves, knowing many of them have high ACE scores and may be coming from families of divorce, separation, loss, or incarceration.


So, what would a trauma-informed approach to ministry on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day be? I am not sure I can offer a definitive answer, but I will hope to provide some insight, guidance, and a few leading questions that will hopefully help your church or faith community honor the mothers and fathers in your midst without also unintentionally doing harm to those that may struggle with these holidays for a myriad of reasons.


Building on the framework of SAMSHA’s definition of a trauma-informed organization, I have previously written about my working definition for a trauma-informed ministry. A Trauma-Informed Ministry intentionally shapes a culture within their worshipping community that:


  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma–those deeply distressing and emotional experiences that leave lasting effects–and provides practical ministry interventions as well as support for ongoing mental health interventions.
  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in the children, youth, men and women it ministers to as well as the effects that living with a traumatized individual has on all relationships–marriage, family, work, and social.
  3. Responds to the need within its worshipping community and the needs of its neighbors by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into church and ministry policies, procedures, and ministry practices. And,
  4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization that can occur when appropriate recognition and intervention is not wed with compassion and a commitment to stabilizing relationships and supportive structures that destigmatize mental health issues.


Furthermore, it is characterized by the six key principles of a trauma-informed approach to service. They are:


  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and Transparency
  3. Peer support
  4. Collaboration and mutuality
  5. Empowerment, voice and choice
  6. Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues


So, let’s review the subject of observing or recognizing Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in the church using the “Four R’s” of the definition while “sprinkling in” the six principles above. For the sake of clarity and segmenting this into points of discussion that might be helpful for a church to explore, I’ll use a bulleted list to accomplish this.


  • First, the trauma-informed community of faith is intentional about shaping its culture in a way that recognizes the effects of trauma and adversity in childhood within its community. Everything that the church does is examined in light of wanting the “Good News” of Jesus to be accessible to the one-fifth to one-fourth of individuals that have experienced significant trauma or adversity in their communities. How will you honor the exceptional mothers and fathers in your community, while including grandparents that are parenting, foster parents, and adoptive parents? Will you keep in mind that some will have had very difficult relationships with their parents, and the lifting up of the “ideal parent” within the congregation just may cause them enough pain to choose to stay home those Sundays? You increase a sense of trust and transparency every time the church displays sensitivity around these issues, because people can be real and authentic instead of having to pretend to be something while in a faith-based setting.
  • Second, in recognizing the signs of trauma in individuals—the anxiety that can result from simply being around larger groups of people, for instance—does the church have a clearly articulated plan for ministering to those that may be overwhelmed at some point in the worship service or surrounding fellowship times? Are there entrances and exits where a person can discreetly come in or out without having to pass a line of “greeters” or those for whom the traumatized individual may feel they need to explain themselves? Is there a quiet room if an adult or child is needing a sensory break? It helps communicate physical and emotional safety to have thought through these questions and make accommodations. If you know that there are children in your Sunday school class or Children’s church program that have a complicated relationship with a birth mother, will this change the way you message your lesson or design a craft project? Having a conversation with the class around the special women in their lives and discuss who might be deserving of a special gift you are making together would be less likely to cause strong emotional reaction than just assuming everyone in the class has a parent they can give their gift to.
  • Third, take a look at the church’s policies, procedures and practices. Do sign in forms for the nursery only list a place for the “mother” or “father?” Could you add or replace those designations with the term “guardian” and avoid unintentionally harm? Do the mothers get carnations on Mother’s and are their special treats for the dads on Father’s Day? Do you ask them to stand during the worship service? Consider the role of cultural, historical, or gender issues that may be unintentionally causing decisions to be made in your fellowship that are hurting those that need your support. I have sat by my wife in the pew as she cried in service when the mothers were asked to stand, because having just lost an adoptive placement to the “system,” she felt she didn’t qualify as a mother and shouldn’t stand. Choose to empower those often overlooked and be sensitive to the pain that is often ignored or minimized for those with such experiences.
  • Fourth, the church can do a lot to help prepare a church for a different way of observing Mother’s and Father’s day by talking about issues of adversity in childhood, trauma-informed ministry practices, mental health issues, adoption/foster care, infertility, miscarriage, and many other very real and tangible issues for your congregations. In doing so, you help to normalize these discussion in a faith setting and reduce stigma. Most importantly, it can help your church from re-traumatizing an individual in a worship or church education setting! Give a sense of choice, power, and voice to those in your faith community to those from a variety of backgrounds so you can increase your awareness and compassion towards all children, individuals, and families.


Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be special observances within a church setting, and by intentionally working through some of the questions and issues raised within this article, I hope that many more children, men and women will feel included and embraced within those observances.


Even if you and your congregation should choose to change nothing about how you observe (or don’t observe!) these holidays, perhaps the conversation started about a “trauma-sensitive” approach will make you and your church more compassionate and aware of those that come to worship with you on these Sundays.


© 2019, Chaplain Chris Haughee

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