Making an Impact: Creating Joy Improves Mood

In the Making an Impact series, clients and services are featured to expand awareness of the wide array of help available at JFS and to ensure donors understand the lives they touch and the difference they make throughout the community. Client names have been changed to protect their confidentiality.

Samantha was referred to our PEARLS (Program to Encourage Active and Rewarding Lives for Seniors) program from Entira Family Clinics for low mood before the pandemic began. As the quintessential stay-at-home mom-professional, she enjoyed cooking, cleaning, and making sure the needs of everyone else were met. She derived great meaning and purpose from her work at the county office.

As soon as the PEARLS counselor sat down at Sam’s kitchen table, she started to describe the abusive relationship with her direct supervisor, Mandy. Sam didn’t skip a detail with tears streaming down her face while retelling her experience with Mandy. The two African American women attended the same church as well, so they saw each other often. Mandy had very strong views on interracial marriage, and Sam was married to a Caucasian man. It started with little remarks, but over a few months, it turned into telling Sam that she would burn in hell for her actions against the black community.

The torment continued for months. Sam kept all the inappropriate emails and journal notes. One day Sam got the courage to speak to management. Mandy put up a fight and denied the accusations. The county dismissed Sam’s claims nonchalantly. Sam started missing work to avoid Mandy, and eventually quit. She took the county to court over for not dealing with the accusations properly despite the evidence of abuse she had provided.

Sam was still dealing with the courts during the PEARLS sessions. She was too anxious to leave her house because she feared seeing Mandy at church or the grocery store. Friends told her that Mandy was speaking poorly about her at church and ‘turning people against her.’

Sam was doubtful she would benefit from PEARLS. She had tried traditional therapy and felt like it didn’t do anything. The PEARLS counselor explained that this program leverages her natural abilities and strengths. After the first session, the counselor asked Sam to tell him what she felt was her best character trait or one she wished she possessed. She thought for a minute, and then said, “I want to feel like a warrior.” The counselor then gave Sam some homework. “I want you to write ‘I am a warrior’ over and over until you fill up an entire sheet of paper.” Sam scoffed at the homework assignment, along with the other PEARLS goals, but agreed to complete the assignment.

At the next session, Sam proudly displayed her paper filled with ‘I am a Warrior.’ The counselor told her to hang it on her fridge. They worked through the PEARLS program, focusing on her strengths and abilities instead of her issues and problems. They worked on positive self-talk, reframing, boundaries, physical fitness, positive social ties and doing things that SHE enjoyed, not just doing things for others. They focused on problem solving techniques to learn new ways of dealing with internal and external difficulties and hurdles.

Over the course of the program, Sam started to feel more comfortable going outside. She started having select friends over for dinner and felt confident in setting boundaries with those people about what she felt comfortable talking about. As she reported lower depression, her self-esteem rose.

Sam started attending a different church; the court proceedings were moving increasingly in her favor; her relationships grew stronger; and her depressive symptomology decreased significantly. Sam started exercising with her husband, first with walks around the block, and then early morning runs. Following the PEARLS protocol, Sam’s life started to shift. She initially self-reported a depression severity score of 16 on the PHQ-9 (Patient Health Questionnaire-9). At the final PEARLS sessions, she reported her score as 7.

During a follow up visit, Sam explained that she had won the court case which made her believe her issues were taken seriously, not just swatted away like an annoying fly. She is now an advocate in her community working with battered women. Before the conversation ended, Sam said she framed the sheet of paper that she wrote ‘I am a Warrior’ on. “It has given me strength and motivation to move through life,” she explained.