Apr 10

Guest post: Family Therapy… You are worth it! by Phillip Quinn, M.Ed., LCPC

Living with a family member that is struggling—whether from trauma, depression, anxiety, cognitive delays, or anything else—takes a toll. It can feel like a hopeless situation. This is where family therapy comes in.

Family therapy isn’t about getting blamed or identifying the problem person. It’s not about finding a scapegoat or finding an ally to prove a point. It is about learning how to communicate with each other, accept each other’s feelings and experience, and developing the skills to support each other. It is about learning that, contrary to the cliché, we do often live on islands but strive to keep them close together and need to work to keep those connections.

When the islands separate, the counselor’s job is to help you connect and bring those islands together or at least Family-walking-on-a-trail-in-the-fall-1024x703build bridges and ferries back and forth. And like so many other things our children need us to lead the way because they don’t know how. They don’t know how to be vulnerable until they see us do it. They don’t know how to manage their anger in a healthy way until they see us do it. And if we aren’t sure how to do it, then we need to experience it too and let the therapy relationship teach us. Family therapy is the safe place to do it. It will be hard, there will be tears, there may be anger and yelling, and hurt and sadness will almost certainly come out. But in the midst of that hard work, there will be laughter, joy, and a closeness your family longs for.

If there is something I can guarantee, it will be worth it. It will bring you closer together, even though you all may want to push away at times. When all is said and done the islands will be connected by bridges, boats, planes, and smoke signals and the family will enjoy these connections. There will still be arguments and frustrations and hurt, but there will also be the skills and willingness to heal, to open up, and repair.

If your family is struggling, or even certain relationships within the family, it is time to consider family therapy. It is time to bring the islands back together, to find your path to your family’s happiness. Family therapy will undoubtedly be hard and uncomfortable at times, but…You are worth it.

– Phillip Quinn, M.Ed., LCPC

Intermountain’s Family-based services

Mar 18

IM Moment: Changing attitudes towards mental health and the church



“In this life you WILL have trouble,” Jesus said, “but take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The troubles that come our way are various and sometimes complicated. Physical, mental, emotional, and relational difficulties can intertwine themselves into a big, BIG ball of overwhelming force that threatens to shake our faith at times. So, what can we do to create a supportive community where people can authentically present their difficulties–especially around mental health and parenting traumatized children–without fear of judgment? How can we come alongside those who are struggling with a message of hope, even when their prayers for relief from depression or anxiety have seemingly gone unanswered?

In my conversation with Joelle Johnson, LCSW, LCC, we spoke about the power of changing the language around the various struggles those in our churches might face. There is a tremendous potential healing power that comes from connecting an individual’s trials and tribulations to the larger narrative of their faith tradition. However, if the attitudes and behaviors in a faith community suggest that it is up to them to figure things out on their own before they can fully participate in the fellowship of believers, the pain and shame of a mental health crisis can be compounded.

So, what can we do to help… especially when we might not have the whole picture or the individual might be pulling away from fellowship because of their expectations of how they will be treated or perceived if they reveal what their struggle might be?

  • Don’t wait until a mental health crisis occurs in your church or faith community to talk about mental health in your church! Add those struggling with mental health (in a general way) to your prayers or petitions in worship. Preach on mental health or look for stories or illustrations in preaching and teaching that touch on mental health issues. Include Intermountain Moment bulletin inserts to keep the subject before your congregation. Look for resources from your denomination on issues of mental health. [NOTE: there probably already IS a mental health crisis going on in your faith community, but could be disguised as something else]
  • For those “pulling away,” practice a stance of compassion, just as if that individual had had a physical health crisis like a stroke or injury that caused them to be a shut in for some time. Why mention this? Well, my experience suggests that sometimes those who find themselves in a sudden hospitalization and have to be home bound for some time are appreciative of the visits that members of the church make and the outreach the church mobilizes around their need. What if we organized a “meal train” or regular visitation for those experiencing a mental health crisis (and their families) just as we would for a new baby in the family or a physical health issue, like recovering from a surgery?
  • Be careful around the conversation of “healing” for mental health issues. Often, these conditions or illnesses will be continuing issues for them, without a “healing” in site. If someone with a mental health diagnosis senses that they “should be healed” after they pray with us, it creates an expectation and culture that inhibits authenticity. Because the illness is hidden, the “healing” can be faked… out of their desire to please us and be healed, not based in their reality and true experience.

I’d love to continue the conversation that Joelle and I had around these issues with you and your community! If you haven’t engaged the curriculum Bruised Reeds and Smoldering Wicks, it can be VERY helpful in building a culture within your church that addresses mental health and trauma in a way that is healing and redemptive. You can also contact Intermountain and arrange for a speaker, training, or additional information.



Mar 08

Intermountain Moment: Elaina’s story

At age four, “Elaina” remembers wandering the streets of her hometown on her own. Her parents were using drugs and severely neglecting her. She has just a few fuzzy memories of that time: “I know that the refrigerator was green,” she says, “but it didn’t matter, because there was never anything in it.”

To make matters worse, her mom got in a car accident when Elaina was five or six. Her mom was never the same again. Elaina remembers her mom reaching towards her when she woke up in the hospital. “Call grandma and get me my heroine,” were her first words to her little girl.redhead-girl-Elaina

Elaina was removed from her home and placed with her grandma and uncle who also used drugs. Tragically, Elaina’s grandma died soon after that placement. Elaina was then placed with her other grandmother. This grandmother adopted Elaina, but almost unbelievably, she soon passed away as well.

Elaina then moved in with her grandpa and an aunt and uncle. By this time she was in 6th grade. She says she would often cry alone in her bed, but no one would come to comfort her. She knew they could hear her through the thin walls, but they didn’t come. She felt like no one in the world cared about her. She had lived in eight different homes with eight different families in her 12 short years.

Last summer, Elaina moved in with another aunt and uncle who have a few young children of their own. Intermountain is working hard to make sure this will be Elaina’s forever family. Elaina is convinced that her aunt and uncle will either reject her at some point or pass away unexpectedly, and it’s easy to see why she feels that way. At one point, Elaina was so uncontrollable she had to spend time in a psychiatric hospital. She was terrified to be there because, she says, her sister had gone to that facility before, and she never saw her again.

She’s back at home now and in therapy at Intermountain. She has a love-hate relationship with her therapist in that she both loves and hates how he’s able to see through the walls she’s built around herself and help her be emotionally vulnerable. There’s been progress at home as well. “She’s to the point where she’s wishing she’d been born to this family in the first place,” her therapist says, “and that’s a huge step forward.”

Thank you for supporting Intermountain. For more information or to find out how you can help children like Elaina, call 406-457-4804.


For a bulletin insert to share Elaina’s story, CLICK HERE

Feb 21

Learning how to help others & loving our “neighbors”

“It is more blessed to give than to receive…” (Acts 20:35)

Recently, our children assembled hygiene kits for students in Africa as part of a special service project. These hygiene kits are given to students that come from far away to attend the International Evangelism Centre in Salika, Tanzania. At the Centre, these students prepare to be church planters and pastors to a number of countries in East Africa. The relatively few supplies—all fitting into a 1 gallon Ziplock bag—are a tremendous blessing to these eager, but often impoverished, students.

Combined with this activity, and as part of our resilience series, we talked about the Parable of the Good Samaritan and just what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” We discussed how it can be hard to know how to ask for help,IMG_2585 and how we can be hesitant to offer assistance, too. In assembling the kits, our children were encouraged to write a note of blessing to the students that would receive their gift, and how the note from them was just as important as the tangible gifts they were giving… because it symbolized their desire to connect on a personal level.

For many of our children, uprooted from their homes and working through some very difficult issues and matters of relationship, it was a healthy reminder that they, too, have something to give. They could see in a very tangible way that they had been blessed to be a blessing.

In the Chaplain’s Program at Intermountain, we feel it is important for the children to learn compassion, empathy, and the positive sense of self that comes from giving oneself in service to another. From the spirit and the energy that flowed from our chapel service, it is hard to argue against the therapeutic power of service and acts of kindness and encouragement. I hope you enjoy reading two of the notes that were included in our hygiene kits:

Tiger-TY-hygiene-kit3 Crosses-TY-hygiene-kit

Feb 10

Would you consider Change for Children this Lent and Easter season? (free object lessons!)

In preparation for Lent, I have written seven free lessons for your use! My hope is that you will find this resource helpful for you as you interpret the “Change for Children” campaign to the young people of your church. While written primarily for a Children’s Sermon format, these object lessons could be used in a Sunday school setting, youth CFC-logogroup, or even as sermon illustrations.

 7 Object Lessons for Change for Children 2019 – Lent & Easter

2019 marks the twenty-third year I’ve been in children’s and youth ministry, and I have found that the object lessons I have used for children’s sermon times have been a very effective way of communicating the truth of God’s Word. Many of the adults in the congregations I’ve served have told me they preferred my children’s sermons to my “regular” sermons.  Jesus taught in object lessons and word pictures, too, so it should be no surprise to us that this method is highly effective—surely Jesus knew what he was doing and set an example for us to follow!

These lessons have been carefully crafted around the stories of the Lenten season (Year C), how the Easter story impacts our hearts and lives, and the ways in which your church can connect to the ministry of Intermountain. I hope this resource blesses you, saves you time in preparation, and makes your workload a little lighter. It is my hope that our relationship will truly be a partnership of mutual benefit. As Intermountain’s chaplain, I want to be a resource to you and an encouragement in your work with children and families.

If you haven’t visited the resource page to see what is there, I encourage you to do so. There are bulletin inserts and announcement “slides” for PowerPoint that will prove helpful in rallying congregational support around a Change for Children campaign. And, if you or your congregation would like to make use of any of the videos we have produced, make sure you check out the video page as well!

[click here to jump to one of Chris’ favorites… “What If?”]

Jan 30

Intermountain Moment: Six-year-old “Lenny”

Last fall six-year-old “Lenny” moved to Montana with his mom. He had suffered horrible sexual abuse at the hands of his step-father. Like many kids who’ve suffered greatly, Lenny pretends like everything is okay and wears a steady smile. But in play therapy at Intermountain, Lenny would make up stories that always included “bad guys.” The bad guys were relentless, Lenny’s therapist says, and the good guys would play dead to trick the bad guys, but the bad guys would always come back.blonde-boy-Lenny

Lenny was getting in fights at school, in particular with another boy who resembled the step-dad who had abused him. Play therapy is working, though, and Lenny is making progress. His grades are decent and he’s discovered he loves basketball. At each therapy session, he chooses the toys he wants to use. Lenny’s therapist lets him direct the play. “His feelings come out through play,” the therapist says, “and I help him put words around what he’s expressing.”

There are still bad guys in Lenny’s play, but they’re just “there” now. They’re still scary, but they’re often placed at the other side of the room. Lenny says he sometimes feels like a bad guy inside, but that he’s choosing to be a good guy. He knows that there is evil in the world, but that it doesn’t have to destroy him.

Thank you for supporting Intermountain and helping children like Lenny move past his hurts and embrace hope for a brighter future.

For more information on how you can support the work of Intermountain, call 406-457-4804

Jan 10

Intermountain Moment: Safety first! Working with trauma-affected individuals



Safety. It’s something that many of us take for granted. But for many of the clients Intermountain works with, and especially the trauma-affected children that come to us in our residential program, safety is certainly not a “given.”


While it may seem odd to those who have not experienced childhood trauma or adversity, an individual who felt unsafe as an infant or child can have a disruption in their relational, physical, and emotional development that inhibits their brain’s ability to accurately interpret their world. Stress hormones can flood their brain and send them into a state of re-traumatization (sometimes referred to as “being triggered,” but it’s more like a switch has been flipped or the floodgates on an emotional dam have been released!) that makes it impossible for them to engage in higher level thinking tasks while in that heightened emotional state. Everything in their brain is telling them they should rightly fear for their life and either run, fight, or shut down (“play possum”) in order to survive that moment.


What might set of a state of re-traumatization differs from individual to individual based on their experience. The response that care givers, friends, family members, and hopefully faith communities can react with is to establish felt safety. This can be hard to learn, as those who are re-traumatized in the moment and are feeling unsafe often express it in unsafe ways! This, in turn, can cause those of us caring for these individuals to feel unsafe and have our own fight-flight-freeze response. Only by being consciously aware of our responses, taking a moment to regulate ourselves, can we then provide a response that will communicate safety and calm to the re-traumatized individual we are seeking to help.


When seeking to establish or re-establish felt safety it is important to remember a few things:


1. “Felt” safety is just that… Ask, “What is going to FEEL safe to the individual?” This is not the time to argue or convince… remember the individual is not in command of their executive functioning or reasoning skills anyway! Telling someone, “You are safe… no one is trying to hurt you!” is not as powerful as checking your posture, your tone of voice, and the setting to see what can be done to communicate safety.


2. Understand that when someone is traumatized or triggered, their responses will be more “all or nothing”; extreme; black or white; friend or foe. They may not even be seeing you as the “safe person” you are, but rather might be seeing you as their abuser. Do not take offense! This moment will pass.


3. Give simple, direct instructions… one at a time. Your anxiety in the situation may lead you to want to give more than one instruction at a time or pile on words (that’s what I tend to do!). So, an example would be: “I can see something has upset you… please take a deep breath with me.” Repeat that as many times as needed to get them to slow down and take a deep breath. Taking deep breaths is a scientifically proven way to help move someone from the flight-flight-freeze response to a more regulated position from which they can be calmed and reasoned with. If you are curious about why that is, you can read more HERE. After you get them to take a breath, then you can continue with other simple, direct instructions related to safety.


I have found that having to step in for a child to help them regulate from a re-traumatizing experience is almost always embarrassing for them, bringing up a sense of shame or brokenness. As ML Rutherford suggests in the video above, ultimately that child or individual you are working with will thank you for demanding that they be safe and that you ensure a safe environment be present for them, as well. This might involve certain structures in place or circumstances that apply to them that don’t apply to other children. If these requirements always relate back to safety (especially that FELT safety, remember!) and don’t appear arbitrary or punishing, these limits communicate the LOVE we want to express to those who are trauma-affected.


Ultimately, as ML says, these children (and older individuals!) will thank you for your care and understanding of their needs. And, if we can teach them self-awareness about how they can establish safe boundaries for themselves and the ways they get “triggered” and can either prevent or move through those events, we will have brought a greater sense of healing and wholeness to them that gives them a sense of dignity and ownership of their emotional world.



Dec 18

FREE resource! Children’s Object Lesson for the 4th Sunday of Advent (Year C)

Objects needed: A jump rope.
Theme/Main Idea: God keeps his promises, and that should cause us to jump for joy!jumping-rope

“Have you ever been so happy that it was hard to hold it in? Yes? What are some of the reasons you have had to be happy?

[let children share]

Wow! Those are great reasons to be excited and happy. Now, I am wondering if anyone here can tell me, without using a word, that they are happy? Can someone here act out being happy for us without shouting or making any noise?

[as time permits, let a few children ‘act out’ their expressions of happiness]

Amazing, you guys! I could tell that each of you were happy and you didn’t have to say a thing. But, I suppose I should get on with the object lesson… what do you think? Would you like to see what I brought today? Yes… okay. Here is it!

[take out the jump rope]

I suppose you all know what this is? Right. It’s a jump rope. Do you know why I have a jump rope? It has something to do with our lesson from Luke, chapter 1 today. It’s the story of Mary, just pregnant with Jesus, visiting her relative, Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist. When Mary calls out to greet Elizabeth, the baby inside her jumps for joy! Even still inside Elizabeth, waiting to be born, John recognizes how important it is that Mary is going to be the mother of Jesus.

Incredible, isn’t it? Elizabeth certainly thought it was. She made sure to tell Mary that the baby in her jumped for joy. There was a lot of joy and anticipation coming before that first Christmas morning. I hope that we can hold on to some of that excitement, too, and even let our bodies express it. Maybe thinking about how amazing it is that Jesus was born to show us God’s love makes you jump for joy, too? I sure hope so.

We are so close to Christmas! Part of the joy of celebrating comes not only from the gifts we think we are going to receive, but also from the gifts we give and are excited to see others get!

Let’s pray:

“God, thank you for the best Christmas present we could have ever received: the joy that comes from knowing Jesus. Help us express that joy with our bodies, with our faces, and with our generosity towards others. Bless our efforts to be a light in the world, extending your grace and love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Key Text:  Luke 1:39-45 (NIrV)

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in Judea’s hill country. 40 There she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby inside her jumped. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she called out, “God has blessed you more than other women. And blessed is the child you will have! 43 But why is God so kind to me? Why has the mother of my Lord come to me? 44 As soon as I heard the sound of your voice, the baby inside me jumped for joy. 45 You are a woman God has blessed. You have believed that the Lord would keep his promises to you!”

Dec 10

Chaplain Chris’ curriculum, “Bruised Reeds & Smoldering Wicks” is now bigger and better!

I am pleased to announce that a NEW, 8-week version of the study, “Bruised Reeds and Smoldering Wicks,” is now available. Two additional weeks of materials have been added to address caring for adults who are experiencing trauma and a “where do we go from here?” lesson on implementation and strategic next steps for congregations seeking to be trauma-informed.


You can order the second edition of the curriculum by clicking HERE.

I am indebted to the over 100 congregations, homeless shelters, small groups and various ministries across the United States and Canada that engaged with the first edition of the materials. Their feedback and encouragement has hopefully made the second edition better and more comprehensive. I am thankful for those who are willing to explore these issues within their faith communities and I praise God for what that might mean for so many that have yet to find a church or fellowship that welcomes them as they work through their trauma story.

Some of those who used the first version of the curriculum volunteered to provide not just their feedback, but a short testimonial as to how they used the curriculum in their context and how they found it helpful:

“I am using it in a bible study for women living in a local shelter.  It has been very well received and the women have been interested to learn about ACEs and how Jesus interacted with those who have been through trauma… thank you for developing this study!”Deb Bishop, Orange City, Iowa

“Everyone, and I mean everyone, has really enjoyed the Bible studies… Our discussions have been rich, edifying, encouraging, and life-giving. Thank you so much for this wonderful work. More people need to experience it!”Dr. Stan Sonu, MD, MPH; Grady Memorial Hospital; Emory University School of Medicine

I give my highest recommendation of the Bruised Reeds & Smoldering Wicks adult study.  Each of the six classes provided valuable information about the importance of trauma-informed ministry.  In addition to learning more about compassionate care, I found the scripture, readings, short videos and discussions very uplifting to me personally by enriching my Christian faith.” Suzanne Mannix, Mental Health Advocate; Helena, MT.

“For a church that has been hosting an open community meal for years, this curriculum was an excellent first step toward a deeper understanding of how we can best love all people who walk in our door. Even those whose life experiences make them prickly or distant. It was a real launching point in the reshaping of our ministry together.”Jacqui Buschor; Columbus, OH

“The curriculum gave us a biblical framework that allowed us to address ACE’s with our congregation.” – Pastor Donald Spachman, Greenville 1st United Methodist Church; Greenville, Michigan

“The Bruised Reeds study was recommended to our church by a mental health professional who is also a Christian. We had already been learning about the scientific studies and medical evidence that have caught up with what God has already told us in His Word. Our faith is strengthened as we move forward in creating a new trauma-informed environment at our church… We participated in this study as a pre-cursor to starting a new ministry. The leaders have announced a fellowship meeting that will take place … and we invited all the people who expressed an interest in finding support at the church.”Heather Halverson; Annandale, VA.

Dec 07

From our children: a Christmas & holiday thank you card to our supporters!

As Intermountain’s chaplain, I have the opportunity to travel all across Montana (and sometimes across the country!) to share all that Intermountain is accomplishing in the lives of children and families we serve through your generous support. It’s an honor to be able to thank many of you in person as I visit your congregations and communities. It’s an advantage I have that our children don’t… to know many of you personally and to convey our heartfelt appreciation.

So, in order to express their gratitude, our children took some time in a recent chapel service to color, draw and write a few short messages of thanks. I took those pictures an scanned them into the “musical holiday/thank you card” you see below. We hope you enjoy it and share with others you know that support Intermountain!

Sincerely, Chaplain Chris Haughee


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