Advice for a new Bishop


What advice would you give to a new bishop? I suppose it would depend on the makeup of the ward, wouldn’t it? A singles ward is vastly different from a family ward. I serve as the ward clerk of our local stake young adult ward. We do not have concerns about staffing the Primary or the Young Men or Young Women‘s organizations. Our biggest budget expense is for activities.

I don’t think I am revealing any church secrets when I share that one of the primary concerns of the bishop of a young singles ward is helping the ward members understand and accept the direction of the Lord in regards to keeping oneself morally pure. The youth of today’s world are subject to temptations that just did not exist when I was dating and preparing for marriage.

Dealing with moral issues

Perhaps you would suggest to the bishop that he become very familiar with Elder Holland‘s wonderful address to BYU students over twenty years ago that is still just as applicable today, “Of Souls, Symbols and Sacraments.” I imagine if you were his Stake President you would want to bless the Bishop with an extra dose of patience in dealing with moral issues in his ward.

Dealing with pornography is not limited to bishops of Young Single adult wards. I am grateful to see more and more church resources dedicated to helping leaders and individuals deal with this issue. The General Conference address on pornography by Elder Oaks a few years ago is just one example of the counsel that the prophets and apostles have delivered over the years.

Same gender attraction

While not as common an issue, I believe that counseling youth who have concerns with same-sex attraction is becoming a larger part of the bishop’s workload than it was when I was growing up. I am of the opinion that the way the church has advised leaders in this area has also changed over the years. I was pleased to read the recent discussions by Elder Oaks and Elder Wickman.

When I was a youth, our bishops relied on a couple of booklets that could be considered a little harsh by today’s standards. One was “A Letter to a Friend,” by President Kimball. The other was “To the One,” by President Boyd K. Packer. Today, I am impressed with the tone of articles from the Ensign like this one from Elder Holland, and this one, God loveth His Children.

Update: A very important resource I missed is this Oct 95 Ensign article from Elder Oaks. It is an excellent resource for reviewing the doctrinal statements of the church about the issue.

Feelings and behavior

In my opinion, counseling an individual struggling with unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction is similar to helping someone who is dealing with an addiction to pornography. The doctrine is clear and will not change. It is our behavior that the Master requires us to discipline. The church does not take a stand on whether one is born with same-sex inclinations or develops them.

Elder Oaks has helped clarify the issue for me when he stated that homosexuality “is not a noun that describes a condition. It’s an adjective that describes feelings or behavior.” This makes so much sense to me. Just as the desire to view pornography is a temptation, the feelings of same-gender attraction and the desire to engage in homosexual behavior are temptations.

Sources for help

I know I have probably simplified the matter and look forward to hearing from some of you who care to educate me further. I welcome your comments. Are you aware of the organization Evergreen International? Besides LDS Family Services, I think it is one of the best kept secrets among LDS people for family help. It is not a part of the church but provides a valuable service.

For any priesthood leader who is looking for help in counseling those who are struggling with same gender attraction, homosexual behavior, pornography, depression and suicide, I have not found a better list of articles so thoughtfully organized than the Evergreen resource page. The material is helpful to anyone who is concerned for a family member or other loved one.

Becoming more like Christ

A new Bishop has the opportunity to change some of our responses as a church to those who are attracted to the gay lifestyle. I have served with some bishops who were hard-liners from the old days. Their counseling style left something to be desired when dealing with those who came to them for help in understanding the sometimes confusing feelings of same-gender attraction.

I would hope that a priesthood leader who is called to be the shepherd to the flock would do everything in their power to understand how the Savior would help those who struggle with SSA. Just as some of the hard-line attitudes of the past in counseling young boys who struggle with masturbation has caused some to commit suicide, those with SSA face the same dilemma.

The gospel in the home

As a church, we do NOT teach that parents have to turn their children out into the street if they come to them declaring that they want to be identified as gay. It is our doctrine that parents are to follow the example of the Savior. We love our children who have decided to believe as the world believes and participate in behaviors of which we know the Lord does not approve.

We love our children who struggle with pornography, with alcoholism, with drugs, with thoughts of suicide or any of the other temptations that can keep us from the Lord, including homosexual behavior. God loves all of his children. Because he loves us, he has offered to share with us all that He has. God is pure and invites us to be pure so that we may enjoy his gifts for eternity.

Summary and conclusion

The doctrine has not changed and it never will. The Lord’s standards on moral purity are clear. However, I think we as a church are coming to realize that some have feelings that are much more tender than those of previous generations. They do not need to be beat over the head to convince them of the doctrine. They just need our help building desire to control the behavior.

As Elder Packer has clearly stated, “We may one day stand alone, but we will not change or lower our standards or change our course.” We cannot. This is the Lord’s church and kingdom. It was not established by man. We do not have the right to change what the Lord has put into place. The standards of moral purity were given by the Lord. Our behavior is our gift to Him.

16 Responses

  1. I have to take exception with your statement that the things kids deal with today didn’t exist when you were young. I disagree to a certain extent. There may be more immorality and temptation readily available today, but the temptation to morally sin was always there undermining the moral foundation of young people. Girls in the fifties still got pregnant. Boys still fantizied about naked women and looked at girly magazines. There was homosexuality, but not spoken of until Rock Hudson’s time. It’s just broadcast more now that ever before by the media. And you’re right, it is more blatant and seems to seep into every aspect of our lives. You’ve touched upon a subject that will not be settled with a quick answer no matter how much we debate it. Sin is sin. There is no way around it. If I want to remain a true Latter Day Saint and I have the prepensitiy to steel, I must make a choice not to steel while being a member of the church. There is always a choice. People who say that they can’t help who they are or were born as always have a choice to act on their impulses or not. I believe that individuals in the church can be harsh and treat people that live alternative life styles cruely. It is not the way the Savior taught. We should leave the judgments up to him and Heavenly Father. Our only charge from the Savior was to love everyone as ourselves. I wish there was a happy answer to those who feel the church as dealt them a killing blow. But there isn’t an easy or a happy answer. My only charge is to do the best I can with what the Lord allows me to be caretaker of. I appreciate your comments.

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  2. Evergreen is a wonderful resource, but not the only LDS resource for members of the church with SSA and their families/friends. There’s an online website http://northstarlds.org/, which was formed by active LDS people who have SSA for the purpose of providing community, uplift, and information. There are support groups for youth, young adults, spouses who are married to an SSA man or woman, and friends and families. The group was spearheaded by a few men and women from different walks of life, who understand firsthand the obstacles faced by people with SSA. The site also links to a blog, http://ldslights.org in which several permabloggers talk about their individual experiences and offer uplifting commentary (one post from this blog was featured in the “Mormon Times” last week.I’ve participated in the programs sponsored by Evergreen (my husband and I were on a panel in a workshop about mixed-orientation marriages last year at the conference, and I also spoke at the closing fireside), so I don’t want to sound as if I’m unsupportive–but I’m pretty excited about Northstar. It seems to offer more and allow for immediate contact and community, not just information. Both are good to have around. :)

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  3. Elder Oaks also said this: “We should note that the words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns to identify particular conditions or specific persons. Our religious doctrine dictates this usage. It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.”Whether you agree that it is OK to treat nouns as adjectives or that referring to someone by a designation implies that a person is “consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of behavior,” the point Elder Oaks seems to be making is that there is no such thing as a homosexual; there are only homosexual temptations and actions.But that simply is not born out by reality. Homosexuality is more than simply what one does. It is more than “lifestyle” or choices one makes or behavior. It describes a core aspect of that person. And the church is finally beginning to acknowledge that reality.Oaks has been unwilling to speak of a “homosexual orientation.” Such would suggest an innate or inherent condition. But Wickman did mention “orientation” in the Interview. And the church officially incorporated the understanding that some people are fundamentally oriented sexually to those of the same sex, in God Loveth All His Children.So, I think it is fundamentally wrong to compare homosexuality with something like pornography, alcoholism, drug usage, or “other temptations.” I realize that effectively the remedy has been to simply control one’s behavior. And if we were giving advise to a new bishop, we must be careful to not reduce something which is a core aspect of a person to merely “inclinations” of “temptations.” Gay people are aptly capable of controlling their behavior. The problem for the church is much deeper than that, and the new bishop must recognize that there is no simple remedy. We have a religion who’s soteriolgy is based on a heterosexual model. Telling a gay person to simply control his or her behavior does not resolve the enormous conflict and lack of compatibility for the gay member.

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  4. Samantha,Thank you for pointing out the additional online resources for those dealing with SSA. I was not aware of them previously. I agree that forums and discussion groups are a huge part of the success of the new media. They add a dimension that goes beyond one-way information. The sense of community from forums and blogs is one of the main attractions for me.I visited both North Star and Northern Lights. I found them both to be professional in appearance and helpful in content. I agree, the post by Kim Mack on Requirements was exceptional and inspiring.Thanks again for sharing these additional resources.

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  5. Steven B,Thank you for visiting my blog and adding your comments. Since the intent of the essay was to offer unsolicited office to a new bishop on counseling those with SSA, I would like to focus on that aspect of your comments. The issue of deciding if SSA is a sexual orientation was not my intent.I stand by my suggestion that it is good practice to help the member dealing with unwanted SSA feelings to approach it in the same way as we would in overcoming temptation such as pornography. The issue is controlling behavior. I maintain that such an approach is the only one that will work. There is no doubt that it is hard, but life is meant to be hard.We are taught and I believe that gender was an essential part of our identity before we were born. I am not denying that some may be born into mortality with a tendency to be more susceptible to homosexual urges. I am also of the opinion that for many, it is a learned or chosen set of beliefs and behaviors. There are varying levels of this temptation, but you’ll notice that I still call it a temptation.Perhaps the best advice for the new bishop is to have him direct the individual seeking help in this area to professional counselors who are more adequately trained to be of assistance. Bishops deal with so many issues. Although we expect them to stretch and grow in their calling, it is easy to get burned out by investing a disproportionate amount of time in energy in such a difficult issue.Some bishops are gifted in being able to offer financial advice, some excel at helping those dealing with marital difficulties and others, like me, can help members with computer issues. But bishops are not called because of their technical expertise. They are to function as a spiritual counselor, one who helps the individual understand the doctrines as found in the scriptures and the policies as found in the Church handbook.So perhaps the best help to a new Bishop in this area would be to ensure that he understands clearly how to refer members to LDS Family Services. He can read the scriptures with the member, pray with them and offer priesthood blessings. His calling is to counsel under the inspiration of the Spirit of the Lord. Each situation will be different. He may be more involved with some who request SSA counseling than others.If I haven’t been clear about where I stand on this issue, I will be. I concur with Elder Oaks that there is a difference between same-gender attraction and homosexual behavior. I do not believe that homosexuality is a core aspect of who we are. I do not believe that the church has acknowledged that at all. I do not know why some have to deal with this issue more than others but we all have different kinds and levels of adversity to overcome in life.I know this is contrary to what you have expressed so perhaps we will have to agree to disagree on this. Some things we will not know until we get to the spirit world. I have written previously about how I feel we can be influenced by those who are living on the other side of the veil, both the righteous and the wicked. I believe this influence plays a large role in this issue and intend to write more about this idea in future essays. Thanks again for your visit and your thoughtful comments.

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  6. Tim, yes we will have to agree to disagree. Especially regarding the attitude that SSA is merely another type of temptation. I think that the important thing for a new bishop to understand is that SSA is NOT just a set of temptations and urges.Regarding the core aspect issue, I will direct you to Ron Schow’s blog, where he has all the references:http://ldsresourcesinfo.blogspot.com/2007/10/what-follows-is-summary-of-some-remarks.htmlBut I won’t go back and forth with you on this, other than to add an additional resource, with info, some of which is not likely to appear at the Evergreen site.http://www.ldsresources.info/

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  7. Steven B,Ah, this is what I love about blogging. You were so kind to come back, read my comments and respond. You have done me a real service. I don’t think I would have found the LDS Resources or the blog on my own. It is good to read professional and intelligent commentary on the issue. You are a scholar and a gentleman for sharing the resource – most helpful. I am getting an education.

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  8. “The youth of today’s world are subject to temptations that just did not exist when I was dating and preparing for marriage.”What? Sex did not exist back when you were young? Wow! When did it come out?Just kiding, I had to tease you but I in fact really appreciate your blog. I think I am going to bookmark this and I think that your mom is really proud of you. I have read pieces of your blog today and I can see how/what you took from her.

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  9. Hi backandthen,The openness and acceptance of casual sex was not as prevalent when Carol and I were younger as it it is today. The internet did not exist when I was growing up and thus the temptations of pornography were not just a mouse click away as they are now. That is a big problem with a lot of men today, even in the church.Since you say you read some of my blog I read most of yours. Thank you so much for your courage in sharing your journey back into the church. What an amazing thing to find someone who lives in France and blogs in English. I enjoyed reading the entries in your blog and wish I knew more about you. I can tell that you are intelligent and have a passion for sharing.You mentioned your mission and that you were endowed and a bit about your own family struggles as you were growing up. You also wrote about your work with forgiveness. We have a lot in common. That has been the thing that has done more for me in my efforts to overcome emotional and psychological difficulties in my life – forgiving others and myself.It must be terribly frustrating that your records were lost. Although the individual’s name is removed from the membership records of the church, a copy of the records can be obtained from the Office of the First Presidency when needed. I had to laugh when I read some of the things you said about your Stake President. You are right that some priesthood leaders can be very insensitive.I appreciate you comments about my mother. Thank you for reading my essay about her life in the church. Yes, my mother was the woman of greatest influence in my life and gave me so much of the drive and ambition I have today. She was also the greatest source of my frustration as she dealt with her own demons and struggles with mental illness.Perhaps that is the curse of high intelligence – a corresponding amount of confusing and unhealthy self-destructive behavior. She was stubborn and strong-willed. She knew what she wanted and she went for it. She usually got what she wanted too. That’s why she struggled so much with the idea of priesthood. Her impatience with men of lesser intelligence was obvious to all around her.I congratulate you for your decision to come back to church. I sympathize with your struggles and pray the Lord’s blessings upon you, especially that you can find the sweet peace that comes from forgiving others. Sometimes it is difficult to understand why some things bother us. The mechanics of forgiving is helped when the old memories that afflict and torment us can be be brought to the light. That’s what I write about on my Holistic Healing blog.I look forward to reading more from you. Keep visiting and leave me comments. That reminds me to go and read what you have written. If you will accept it in the spirit it is offered, I extend to you my love and the love of the Savior, but from what you have been writing, I think you already have been feeling his love in your life again. Cheers.

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  10. Your mother sounds a lot like mine with a lot of differences such as my mother is probably not as smart as your mother was and she is probably more sick and more proud. Yet she is smart enough to twist reality so that it will fit her purpose (such as not recognizing that she is sick) and to make anyone who does not know her that it is the truth.But I see common point in this way that my mother is also the kind of woman who raised me with an urge to learn as much as I could. I think that this is the thing that I should be thankful for. I love to learn and test anything I can. This is the only time I have no problem with humility: when there is a chance to learn and understand something.And yes you are more than welcome to comment on my blog.

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  11. Much better than LDS Social Services, Evergreen, and counseling, is energy/ meridian work, such as EFT (emotional freedom technique).

    I agree with both you and Steven B, and take it one step further: we are all born in certain ways, and we are all conditioned in certain ways. That’s that. Now, what we do with it, from as much as we can according to our abilities, can and should be something else (though sometimes it’s not, because even this–how we deal with things, our emotional responses, etc.–are also part of inheritance, be it given or learned).

    SSA can be something one is born with or conditioned, or both; just like most every other trial there is in life.

    I believe that the viewpoint of the brethren regarding SSA as a condition is changing from unbelief to belief–something about a difference between Elder Oaks’ interview and Pres. Faust’s very similar/ identical position, to Elder Oaks’ general conference talk on healing. Also, there is personal correspondence that suggests there is much more openness and understanding now than there was previously.

    Still, as with all other challenges of the flesh, the position is clear: don’t. I strongly believe that there is no need for a person who truly tried all to fear punishment from God (be it with SSA or anything else).

    (I believe that SSA is an illness, and that maybe in a way or two, the removal of SSA from the DSM-IV was a curse to some church members with SSA. Maybe.)

    On the other hand, research such as shown in “The Genie in Your Genes” and “The Biology of Belief” show that the excuse “born that way” is nowhere near as valid as one used to assume it to be.

    Add in energy work, and I surmise that someone with a true desire and dedication could possibly overcome “learned/ conditioned SSA” in one day to one week, and “born SSA” in a month or two. (Then maybe time for the needed changes in habits, environment, etc. to support the change.)

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  12. Well said Grego. Thanks for sharing and adding to the dialog. I’m intrigued by your reference to EFT. I’m on your side on this one but note that you and I are a rarity – believing that there may just be something to energy work like EFT. I have had personal experience in this area and can tell you that the effects are real. I have experienced measurable relief from stress through a similar technique, which you can read about on one of my old blogs: Holistic Research.

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  13. Oh yeah, a few of my siblings think it’s from the devil–even while they’ve experienced great blessings and relief from it. “Jesus is good enough”–yet they’re still in pain, and I wonder how much they’ve even sought/ used His healing power… They’ll get a priesthood blessing and see a doctor, but not that “weird stuff”!

    I’ve shared all kinds of things about EFT, NLP, QT (Quantum Touch), etc. I’ve recently stumbled on to Reference Point Therapy and In the Moment, after failures with Matrix Energetics (I’ll try again) and ThetaHealing (though there was lots of good summary material in the book).

    I use EFT all the time with self, family, and children (I teach)–stomachaches, headaches, sprained ankles, falling down and getting hurt, hitting heads on walls, vomiting, crying, malaise, fears, etc.

    I’ve even used it at church, to help members. (They’re a little more allowing and accepting here.)

    No one experiencing it can deny it. Knee pain for 30 years? Gone in 10 minutes. You don’t even have to have faith in it for it to work.

    With a few tweaks, I do it surrogately, rapidly, and completely in my mind. (I’m not sure which freaks people out more–when I tap on them, or on me for them, or in my mind.) Of course tonight–after writing that–not much seems to be working on my wife’s chest pain, other than some head acupuncture and water. Priesthood blessing time–the one healing method I’m most blessed with.

    I admit I don’t have much patience with the Church on this point–talk after talk after article after article about pornography, Word of Wisdom, addiction, money problems, gambling, marriage relationships, etc.–then LDS Social Services/ BYU/ church counseling/ Ensign/ etc. refuse to try energy work, relying instead on expensive, time-consuming, and especially pretty fruitless methods. (My family has experienced LDS counseling three times: it might have helped once and it made things worse twice. Not to mention a psychiatrist/ psychologist bishop and a family counselor were two big (adultery) excommunications in our stake!)

    I’ve written about three spirits, “spirit release”, EFT, and the LDS Social Services experience on my blog, for more info, which talks about the above much more and in much greater detail.

    Muscle testing! I rarely get it to work, though it seems to be getting better. I think it has to do with my bad energy… ;)

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  14. “LDS Social Services/ BYU/ church counseling/ Ensign/ etc. refuse to try energy work, relying instead on expensive, time-consuming, and especially pretty fruitless methods.”

    grego – Obviously I can’t speak for others, or for your experience, but I disagree with your blanket statement that Family Services and etc. all use “pretty fruitless methods.” I actually use the “other” EFT (Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy), and it has some solid research around it – 90% improve and 70% experience a full recovery from distress in their marriage.

    I will agree, there are plenty of mediocre counselors (as well as treatments), but there are also many that work, that are not time-consuming, and that are heavily researched. Don’t lump them all together in your attempt to promote what you, in your own anecdotal way, believe in.

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  15. adamf,

    I apologize, my statement was meant as a general statement, not a blanket statement. No, not every counselor is bad, not every method is completely fruitless. Even “pretty fruitless” is too strong; I apologize.

    From what I’ve seen, most counselors and methods don’t get anywhere near the results they could be gotten.

    Let’s take a look, for example, at the main thrust of the Church’s addiction program: a 12-step program. I wonder, what’s the success rate, what does the participant need to do, and where is the power? If it’s like other 12-step programs, success rate is low ( 0
    hate mom (not being fair, etc.): 5 -> 0
    dad and mom’s bad relationship example, blaming them for it causing her current bad relationship: 10 -> 0
    dislike of current relationship: 10 -> 0
    dislike spouse: 5 -> 0
    relationship dissatisfaction: 9 -> 1 (I decided to leave it here)
    want a better relationship?: 0 -> 10 (she expressed *no* hope or desire for a better relationship at the start!)
    recent relationship problems:
    A (“upset” over argument that morning): 10 -> 0
    B (“upset” argument the night before): 10 -> 0
    C (“upset” over past problem in relationship): 5 -> 0

    If that doesn’t seem like much when compared with the results you (and the other counselors) are getting from Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy and other methods, then that’s what it is–not that much better, and I happily take back all my negative words. I can live with that. I don’t have anything against methods that work–I just like that they work. The ones I know of, the ones that I have seen both in family (like the ones I mentioned) and out (previous counseling and counseling I do where I don’t/ can’t use EFT, other couples’ experiences, bishopric work, etc.), the ones that the Church works with, etc.–don’t give me that picture. Nor can the statistics back it up much (though most therapies can claim good stats–otherwise, how could they exist, market, and continue?).

    I just don’t agree that there are usually “many” typical methods that are of the same or even similar caliber, especially that the “Church” typically “uses”.

    As Grant McFetridge of http://www.peakstates.com says: “We are also pioneering a fairly radical new treatment model – our certified therapists only charge for results, so there is no charge if the treatment isn’t successful.” (And also a rant about traditional psychology being left in the dust by new research and new methods…)
    How many counselors in Family Services would be willing to go there–if patients needed to move at least three points on a 10-point scale before paying?

    I have found three methods that I believe do work (but I don’t know if it’s actually a resolution of the problem, or just a “rendering it powerless” type of thing–and still figuring out what the differences would be): Idenics, and two in the book “PEAT”.

    If you can point me to others to consider, I would appreciate that. (Like I said, I don’t really care the label or order, just the results at what prices.) Because I also know that many people aren’t open to energy work/ know many who aren’t open to it, and it would be nice to find something “better” than most methods to help them, too. (Idenics training costs a fortune, though the PEAT methods are wonderful.)

    -=-=-=
    P.S. When we got home, my wife was fine at night, but after a little looking, I figured my wife’s chest pains were gallstones–right place, right symptoms, tapping wasn’t working. The next day she had the constant heavy pain again when she got up, so we did a gallstone flush; two hours later, she was fine (not just pain-free, but the gallstones were out).

    grego

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  16. Messed up there, here is another go (ha, can’t remember what I wrote!):

    -=
    Let’s take a look, for example, at the main thrust of the Church’s addiction program: a 12-step program. I wonder: what’s the success rate, what does the participant need to do, and where is the power? If it’s like other 12-step programs, the success rate is very low (10%?), many meetings must be attended for the rest of life in addition to other things, and the power lies outside of the individual. To me, that’s a far cry from “successful”.

    With advanced EFT, here’s what happened with a woman when we met for 1 hr. 20 min., after a short explanation of what we were going to do:

    “hate dad: 9 3 1 0 (and she had said she wanted to start out small!)
    confused about hating dad: 5 8 9 (confusion went up–expected; as she got rid of blame, her confusion around the truthfulness of the reasons why she blamed him went up)
    accepting the confusion: 5 1 0 (confusion went up (see above), but acceptance of that confusion increased till the confusion didn’t trouble her)
    hate mom, mom not fair: 5 2 0
    confused about hating mom: 0
    dad and mom’s bad relationship example: 10 5 2 9 1 0 (all ok going down, then she thought of something right before the “9”; once that cleared, it went back down)
    dislike of current relationship: 10 5 0
    dislike spouse: 5 0
    relationship satisfaction: 1 9 (I decided to leave it here)
    want a better relationship?: 0 5 9 5 10 (she expressed *no* hope or desire for a better relationship at the start! how many traditional counselors/ psychiatrists can start from there and get to a 10 in a few minutes!)
    recent relationship problems:
    A (argument that morning): 10 0
    B (argument the night before): 10 10 10 0 (interesting–I usually try just three times without success before changing)
    C: 5 0

    After a month, those numbers have held.

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