Tag Archives: mental health

Feeling Free Through Prolonged Exposure

Easter Seals Greater Houston has a branch of programs serving Veterans, Service Members and Military-Connected Families. Our mission is to assist military-connected families in building the lives they want during and after the military to meet their needs around reintegration, stability, wellness, and growth. Our goal is to provide an easy point of entry for Service Members, Veterans, and Military-Connected families to a range of behavioral health services.

Our team of clinicians serving Service Members, Veterans and Military-Connected Families uses many evidenced-based treatment modalities.  Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy teaches individuals to approach their trauma-related memories, feelings, and situations.  The outcome is learning the trauma-related memories are not dangerous and do not need to be avoided.  In other words, learning to confront the trauma instead of avoiding the trauma. 

Prolonged Exposure is difficult because the immediate response to those difficult memories and feelings is to avoid.  It is our natural default to protect ourselves from the danger.  However, the trauma is never processed, and those symptoms continue to keep the avoidance of places, people, situations, feelings, etc.  It keeps a hold on our lives.  In PE, we confront and explore the trauma in detail.

One success story of PE is of a client being able to take his son to Galveston.  He had always wanted to, but a previous trauma caused a fear of driving, and that prevented the trip from ever happening.  After doing PE with our clinician, the client made the trip and enjoyed every minute of it. 

Another success story of PE is a client being able to relate to a friend who was experiencing hardship due to abuse.  He was able to tell his story and the changes in his life he made.  His friend was grateful and decided to seek his own counseling.  Speaking about his trauma was a fear he had, and he had never spoken about the trauma prior to PE.

Lastly, after doing PE, a client described herself as feeling “free” for the first time in ten years.  Through PE, she started to recognize that she had to address the trauma and her discomfort with it in order to move forward with her life.  She said, “For the first time, I can see my life without my trauma being the highlight of it.”

Special thanks to STRONG STAR (South Texas Research Organizational Network Guiding Studies on Trauma and Resilience) for providing Easter Seals Greater Houston’s clinicians with Prolonged Exposure training.

Learn more about Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Veterans, Service Members and Military-Connected Family Programs.

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Running Past the Limits

My name is Jennifer Wright, PsyD and I am so happy to be part of the Easter Seals Greater Houston team. I started as a Harvey Case Manager over three years ago and will surely retire at ESGH! I now have the honor of working with clients through the Service Members, Veterans and Military-Connected Families Programs.

It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with West Nile Virus Encephalitis at age 40 that I wanted to run. The neurologist told me he wasn’t sure if I would ever roller blade or run again. I didn’t have my impulse control back yet…I told him, “Forget it! You don’t know who you are talking to. I am going to roller blade and run some day! Ridiculous!” I stormed out of the doctor’s office, wanting to proving him wrong. In that second, I made the decision to dedicate my daily life to helping people find hope.

Being sick kept me from being able to sit up and caused me to fall over in the shower. Though I had never been a runner before, these new obstacles made me want to run more than ever. I also began working at Easter Seals Greater Houston, loving that the organization brought individuals hope from every interaction. The agency exemplifies this in every interaction with clients, from our initial conversation at intake to follow through several months later.

I was inspired to run the Woodlands Marathon because there are families who no longer have loved ones that can run (death, injury, suicide etc…) or there are families whose kids need 24 hour care. At mile 18 and 22, I was so nauseous from the pain. I felt the tears down on my face- I kept telling myself…”your veterans and families with disabilities push through difficult moments every single day. They embrace this because their struggle never goes away. You breathe through it, in the same way they do. They can do it…you can do it- just like them!” I made it to the finish line thanks to the families who share their stories with me at Easter Seals Greater Houston.

Watch the incredible Jennifer Wright finish her race here! Learn more about Easter Seals Greater Houston’s programs that serve veterans, service members, children and adults with disabilities and their families.

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Santa and Veterans Team Deliver for Christmas

Thanks to Dr. Jennifer Wright and Tim Stroud from Easter Seals Greater Houston Veteran, Service Member, Military-Connected Family Program as well as a host of donors, one Houston Veteran slept in a REAL bed for the holidays. After connecting to the homeless Veteran, Dr. Wright reached out to others for help. As a frontline worker, Dr. Wright’s first action was to ensure the Veteran was in a safe place and had the right mental attitude. In the military, safe is an objective term. He was living in his car with his two dogs and since they are his emotional support animals, he would not go live in a shelter without them. 

This was all the information that Dr. Wright needed to know. She sprang into action and contacted her internal team and then the resources in their network. Since Easter Seals Greater Houston is funded under the Texas Veterans + Family Alliance Grant program from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, they work with over 250 local and regional Veteran Service Organizations. 

Within a few days, the Veteran was living in a home, had food, furniture, clothes, dishes and all the comforts of home. The Veteran now works at a “no kill” animal shelter and is very thankful for the case management and care from our TVFA Network. When the supplies were delivered, the Veteran remarked through teary eyes that this was the nicest bed he has ever slept in. Rest well warrior. 

The Veteran, Tim, smiling with his own room with his two dogs

It is our honor to support a Veteran and to foster just a little bit more of hope. The Veteran, Tim Bergdoll, gave us permission to share his story and indicated that this was the best Christmas ever!

“Being out of my car, sleeping in a warm bed, and watching Pico and Buddy enjoy their warm shower truly was a blessing.” Thank you, for your swift action! Thank you, TVFA for making this a happy-ending!

“On Christmas Eve, I was at peace knowing that this little crew was taken care of” says Tim.

Did you know that Easter Seals Greater Houston offers a wide range of programs and resources for Veterans, Service Members and Military-Connected Families? Learn more.

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Celebrating Our Military Families and Their Successes

As Military Family Month, November, is coming to a close we continue to celebrate our families and their successes daily.   Having started our Veterans Services soon after we affiliated with Easter Seals in 2011 we began to understand the need and realized that our current programming would be off a huge asset and would translate easily. We initially started with service dogs and to date we have paired 25+ service dogs with veterans. Since then we have become the lead in VSO collaborative called Texas Veterans + Family Alliance serving thousands, we are especially proud of our counseling and mental health services open to not only Veterans and service members but also to family members. These are just a few of our most recent successes and we are truly honored to be in this space serving our military after they have served us. 

“F” is a female Veteran who has been in recovery for five years.  She has been attending AA meetings and has a sponsor she trusts and can turn to.  She has embraced the arts, especially dancing, as an escape.  Her fear is having a craving, because the people around her often talk about doing drugs and drinking.  She talked to her Easter Seals Greater Houston therapist about feeling exposed and vulnerable, so together they worked out plans for setting boundaries, and being mindful of her own feelings and of warning signs.  They also created a Crisis Response Plan, so that she has a plan of action for when a substance use crisis arises.

“H” is a Veteran who has worked all his life as a laborer, and that physical labor has caused degenerative spine disease.  Over the years as the pain worsened, he became addicted to meth.  H and his Easter Seals therapist are working together to navigate what he needs to do apply for disability and to stay clean.  Just recently, H discovered how much being in nature and working with nature helps him.  He has taken up rock collecting and rock polishing, and his meth use has decreased.

This story is about small steps.  Veteran “I” has misused alcohol for decades.  A week ago, he stopped for two days.  What caused the change?  He took a trip to see an old Marine friend, and saw in him a different way of living.  I told his Easter Seals therapist, “I work all day, drink all night, and then do it again the next day.  I realize now I don’t have to live this way.”

“D” is a female Veteran who has always drank and smoked.  Recently she got “the job”- the one she never felt like she’d ever get- and that one life change has increased her self-esteem tenfold.  D and her Easter Seals therapist have talked about how the job has made her feel so fulfilled, that she has realized she doesn’t need to drink and smoke anymore.

“L” is a Veteran and a single dad.  He has drank and smoked as long as he can remember, but after attending a retreat focused on mental health, he became motivated to find more purpose.  He and his Easter Seals therapist have been working to find ways for him to reconnect with his daughter.

“R” is a Veteran who has been in recovery for 23 years, and he faithfully meets with his Easter Seals therapist every two weeks.  R is knowledgeable about mental health, and he understands sobriety- most especially how fragile sobriety can be.  R has family with substance use issues, and they are living with his mother and not providing her with appropriate care.  R and his Easter Seals therapist have talked about how the stress weighs on him, and how he does not have to turn to substance.  R has taken up painting the interior of his house.  A task with a beginning and an end that he can control, and that he can see the result.

“M” is Veteran who drinks a lot.  As he said to his Easter Seals therapist, “If I’m not working, I’m drinking.”  M is participating in PE or Prolonged Exposure, a specific type of cognitive behavioral therapy that teaches individuals to gradually approach trauma-related memories, feelings and situations.  PE has helped M deal with his PTSD, and he recently reported to his therapist that he is drinking only on weekends, and no longer throughout the evening after work each weekday.     

Congratulations to you all! Learn more and get involved!   

Services to Veterans, Military and their family members FY 2020 to date:

357 Adult Veterans or family members are receiving mental health supports.

38 Adult Veterans or family members received I&R supports.

93 Children of Veterans are receiving mental health supports.

7 Children of Veterans received I&R supports.

201 Adult Veterans or family members are receiving individual counseling.

166 Adult Veterans or family members reported substance use concerns.

40 Children of Veterans are receiving individual counseling.

5 Children of Veterans reported substance use concerns.

Easter Seals Greater Houston is proudly serving current Service members, Veterans and their families in Harris and all surrounding counties.Our reach can extend to those throughout the state who are interested in tele-mental health services. Our mission is to assist military-connected families in building the lives they want during and after the military to meet their needs around reintegration, stability, wellness, and growth. Our goal is not to duplicate services offered in the community, but rather be an easy point of entry for finding and connecting with needed resources. Learn more here and contact us at 346.330.3859 or Veterans@eastersealshouston.org to get plugged into Service Members, Veterans and Military-Connected Family Services.

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Transition and Employment in the Pandemic

2020 has been anything but usual for the adolescents and adults Easter Seals Greater Houston serves and it has certainly been different for our staff. We have learned to provide services remotely and to help both job seekers and employers adapt to the changing circumstances in which people work and supervise the people who work in their companies.

In March, COVID-19 halted in-person services for high school students in our summer program which, after a two month hiatus, returned as remote services. Our staff, Robert Aranda, Ron Taylor, and Jacquie Privitera, had to figure out how to make lessons interesting and engaging for the students while meeting the requirements of the Texas Workforce Commission, the sponsors of the program. Our students and staff designed a commercial for a network consulting firm and then presented that commercial to a panel of judges from local corporations. All of this was done remotely, including a job performed, for pay, by one of our students for the networking company, Sepulveda Technology Consultants.

Job seekers, and the companies that employ them, have also had to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, a group of young men with autism, who were completing internships in the IT Department for Chevron, had to adjust to working from home. Despite the stereotype of persons with autism preferring solitude, these men had a difficult time adjusting to not being with their supervisors and coworkers. Their Employment Specialist, Robert Aranda, had to switch from providing face to face services to making contact only by telephone. After many sessions between Robert and the employees and supervisors, all four of the interns were offered permanent positions at Chevron. They still hold their positions and are successfully working remotely today.

For some workers, going to work in an office or warehouse is not possible because of medical issues or mental illness. Ron Taylor, one of our Employment Specialists, worked remotely for several months with a person with severe back pain, searching for the right opportunity. They found a position with Walgreens that let her work from home. Ron worked with our partners at Texas Workforce Solutions to procure a chair and desk that would support her back and let her work. As her personal computer was not suitable for her job, Ron arranged for a donated computer to be made available until she can purchase her own laptop. She is now working from home, processing orders for Walgreens and is on her way to having the funds to purchase her own computer.

Robert Williams, Easter Seals Greater Houston,
Program Director – Employment/Transition Services

Easter Seals Greater Houston provides Transition Services for youth ages 16-27 with autism and mental health conditions. Services include transition evaluation and planning, social skills training, family and community resources and goals which reflect the youth’s realizable aspirations in areas of education or work, peer supports, job placement, job coaching and supported employment. Learn more.

High School/High Tech is a community-based partnership of parents, educators, rehabilitation professionals and business representatives working together to encourage students with disabilities to explore the fields of science, engineering and technology. High School/High Tech also offers a mentoring program called RAMP – Ready to Achieve Mentor Program. Learn more.

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Letter from the Heart

To our friends at Easter Seals Greater Houston, I would like to thank you for the support you have given to our family as well as to many other families like ours. Your great contribution to many families like ours is extremely helpful, we are very grateful for the support that the Easter Seals Respite Program has given and this makes our life and work easier with our children and other families in special need. Respite Blog Careigiver for November spanish translation

Your work is not simply an office job but a way to be good human beings and in the same way, it will be rewarded with the best payment that they could accrue which is the blessing of God. You are the ones who who give hope to every person who labors with disability and makes things possible and others to relax, breathe and sit down with the support they need.

Hoping that these few but grateful words will come to your hearts, I am very grateful to them, that God will continue to bless them.

-Valentin, Easter Seals Respite Client

Respite Services provides relief options to parents who provide ongoing care of their family member who has a disability. Many parents of children and adults with disabilities have low incomes and cannot afford to hire providers to take time away from their children. Many people with disabilities require 24-hour, around-the-clock supervision, attention and care. This continuous demand becomes a tremendous drain on caregivers emotionally, physically and mentally-this care will remain constant as they grow older. Consequently, families of children with disabilities are at high risk for divorce, substance abuse and child abuse because of the continuing stress of caring for the child with disabilities. Respite care is an assistance program to parents, but just as importantly, is a prevention program aimed at stopping some of the social problems that can result from the tremendous demands made on families due to the disabilities of their child or the institutionalization of the family member with a disability. For more information click here. This important program is largely possible because of the generosity of our community, please consider donating today.

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Pursuing Hope

The following was written by Dr. Cristy Gamez, the Program Coordinator for Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Veterans, Service Member and Military-Connected Family Program.

I met a female Navy Veteran in 2017. At the time, she was a divorced mother of two and unemployed, living off her savings. She barely left the house given how unsafe she felt away from home. We started meeting weekly and she related an incident in the Navy that resulted in PTSD. We worked on her symptoms of PTSD using Prolonged Exposure and Accelerated Resolution Therapy, which was helpful with her depression. I won’t go into any more details about the therapy because I want to tell you about how life can change.

In the beginning, there were moments of hope that broke through the darkness of the depression and the ever-present paranoia and hypervigilance of PTSD. Eventually, the hope was real enough that she took steps to create the life she wanted. She filed and was awarded service-connection for PTSD. This meant she worried a little less about being homeless and losing her children. The service-connection opened up the chance to go to school and, hopefully, get a job. She spoke to vocational rehabilitation and found a science field she was interested in studying. She had wanted to study science since childhood. Her hope grew stronger. Maybe she could have the life she wanted. COVID hit and classes went on-line.  With the economic shutdown, she worried about whether there would be job opportunities after graduation.  As her savings depleted, her worry grew and hope sank. Her fear about the infringement on her rights because of the pandemic, worries about climate change, political unrest, and racial tension caused a resurgence of the paranoia, hypervigilance, insomnia, and isolation. She stayed engaged in therapy. This helped her identify things to do to help her be a little less stressed and address her fears. She started a garden and she became skilled at canning. Her self-sufficiency caused hope to resurface.

Sherry attended Easter Seals Greater Houston’s First Light Family Camp

Here we are at the end of September 2020 and things are so different. She started a job this week in her new career field, she is selling her house, and moving to a smaller city. Her dreams are coming true and she wants you to know yours can too.   

Dr. Cristy Gamez, Program Coordinator for Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Veterans, Service Member and Military-Connected Family Program

The Veterans, Service Member and Military-Connected Family Program is made possible by The 1687 Foundation,  BlueCross BlueShield of Texas, Employees Community Fund of Boeing Houston, Tom and Hetty Ball Foundation, The Christus Foundation, CVS Health, Houston Automobile Dealers Association, The Frees Foundation, The George Foundation, John O’Shea Foundation, The Strake Foundation, Texas Veterans Commission, WithMerci Foundation, and ESGH Youth Action Council. Special thanks for your generous support!

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Thanking and Being the Reinforcements for Heroes

In spite of a year that has already included a pandemic, racial unrest, economic devastation and the most named storms ever, we live in a place where neighbors help each other, scientists and medical professionals bring hope, and parents, houses of faith, businesses and charities prove their resilience.  Underneath it all – we still live in the safest and most prosperous country – all because of the sacrifices our military has made to protect us.  As Tropical Storm Eta hits our neighbors, I am reminded of all the individuals, companies, foundations, governmental entities and volunteers who have been there – and continue to be here – for us through some extraordinary times. 

Three years after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, many of the roughly 400,000 veterans across Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast are still impacted by the storm’s devastating effects. In response to the disaster, the Qatar Harvey Fund partnered with the Bob Woodruff Foundation to deploy millions of dollars in grants to organizations serving veterans so they can rebuild, recover, and thrive after the hurricane. Those veterans now face new and urgent challenges of illness, unemployment, uncertainty, and isolation due to COVID-19. Over the past two years, this fund has supported Easter Seals Greater Houston’s mental health counseling, financial coaching and emergency financial assistance for veterans.  Many of those helped have truly begun to thrive.  This week we learned we will receive additional funding to support veterans who are still struggling with the impact of Hurricane Harvey and who have now been set back by 2020’s unprecedented events.  We are grateful to the Qatar Harvey Fund and the Bob Woodruff Foundation for the generous support, but mostly we are grateful that we will be able to support even more of the veterans who make our way of life possible.  This Veterans Day, let’s strive to be an American worth fighting for and please join me in celebrating all of you who generously make our services for military families possible. 

Sincerely,






Elise Hough
Easter Seals Greater Houston CEO

Learn more about Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Veterans, Service Members and Military-Connected Family Programs.

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Caregiving for the Caregiver

The following was written by a parent who receives Respite Services from Easter Seals Greater Houston.

I am an immigrant, single mother of a son who has autism and speech delay. I have a full-time job supporting my son and I. Things are difficult with no family in town and just a couple of friends. We essentially have little to no caregiver support here. Thanks to Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Respite Program I now have help. We are now connected with their Respite Program that provides the break and support that I was looked for and needed.

I have now opportunity once a week to not only take care of myself but also go out to social gatherings, spend time with friends and will be starting a dance class now too!  I am lucky to say that thanks to Easter Seals Greater Houston and their caregiver support, my life and family finally feels balanced.

Respite Parent, Easter Seals Greater Houston Respite Services

Many parents of children and adults with disabilities have low incomes and cannot afford to hire providers to take time away from their children. Many people with disabilities require 24-hour supervision, attention and care. This continuous demand becomes a tremendous drain on caregivers emotionally, physically and mentally-this care will remain constant as they grow older. Providing this much needed support for caregivers is only possible because of the generosity of the community. Would you please consider helping support the thousands of families that depend on Respite Services and donate today?

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Coping Strategy to Passion

Lou is a Veteran who has been working on reducing chronic stress in his life with Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Service Member, Veteran and Military-Connected Families Program.  After making lots of progress in therapy, COVID-19 presented new challenges and removed some of his coping strategies.  He was no longer able to attend therapeutic horsemanship at Reigning Strength, or volunteer to keep himself meaningfully occupied.  Visits with neighbors and friends were suspended during the stay-at-home orders. 

During a telehealth session with his psychologist, Amy Harkins, Ph.D. from Easter Seals Greater Houston, Lou decided on a plan to stop worry by snapping a few photos with his old camera.  After one week, he reported that photography was as good for his state of mind as breathing exercises, but not as good as spending time with his favorite horse, Iceman.  With photography, he learned he can shut out other thoughts and he said “it calms me down.”  He found himself surprised that he could be so interested looking at a bug on a rose, something that he normally would not have noticed.  Photography reminds him that there are other things happening in the world besides his own concerns and some of those things are “pretty darn good.”  Lou is thinking about using photography as a bridge back to older hobbies of painting and drawing.  When asked what he sees when he looks out the window, he explained “I used to only see clouds.  Now I am seeing the sun poking through those clouds.”

Easter Seals Greater Houston proudly serves Veterans, Service Members and Military-Connected Families with a wide variety of programs and resources. Learn more.

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