Authored by Allan Pauole

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Growth in Life: A Mental Health Counselor’s Perspective

July 2, 2024 | Behavioral Health

Discover how growth in life happens from a mental health perspective


Recently, I was having lunch with a young 19-year-old who is transitioning from foster care to being out on his own. As I was pushing him to take greater risks in his life, he got a little upset with me and said, “ I just feel like you want me to fail.” My reply was, “Yes, that sounds about right.” I paused and let that sink in before following up. He seemed surprised, and rightfully so. I wanted to validate his perspective while simultaneously providing an alternative perspective which I thought he needed. After all, perspective is reality. I let him know that I was pushing him to make some uncomfortable yet mature decisions with his life. I also expressed my absolute confidence in his ability to pursue whatever goals or passions he had for his life. I let him know that I, and plenty of others, would be available for support and feedback as he made these major life decisions. I clarified that I did not want him to fail so much as I expected him to fail. I also expected him to learn and grow from those failures. I also shared with him a book called Trying by Kobi Yamada, which is about learning to appreciate and even embrace those failures for growth.

Don’t Apologize for the Truth

Jake Garn served as a US senator representing Utah for almost 20 years. One of his responsibilities as a senator was overseeing the budget for NASA. It was always his desire to fly in space, and he repeatedly hounded the administration about doing so. He was eventually given permission to fly, but people saw this as a political stunt and questioned why it was necessary. Some even viewed it as a privilege because he was a senator. He was eventually interviewed on The Today Show by Jane Pauley who questioned the wisdom of this decision by asking, “Isn’t it true that the only reason why you are going into space is because you are a senator?” Senator Garn’s response was “Yes,” which took all of the steam out of her interview. He then elaborated further on why he was going. He was an accomplished military pilot having served in both the US Navy and the Utah Air National Guard with over 17,000 hours of flying time. He had as many or more hours than any of the astronauts currently with NASA. He also had a responsibility as a senator to ensure that public funds were being spent appropriately, and there probably wasn’t anyone more qualified in Congress to oversee this department. Incidentally, nobody questioned him regarding the motives of NASA after that interview. I think it is important for each of us to own our opinions, not run away or hide from them. We shouldn’t make apologies for the truth, regardless of who or what it may inconvenience or even hurt. We don’t need to be brash or overbearing in our approach, but there is immense value in sharing the truth with others.


This trait, along with trust, represents the foundation of every great relationship. Being honest does not mean that we are unnecessarily mean. After all, brutal honesty is still brutality. It also doesn’t mean that we share everything with anybody. It does mean that we are direct and transparent when needed. I have learned the value of surrounding myself with smart people who disagree with me and are willing to voice it. I was meeting with a teenager who had type 1 diabetes and required a lot of additional Community Services because of choices made by his family members. Several years ago, his brother who was close in age passed away from a childhood terminal illness. It was incredibly challenging to get the teenager to open up and share his feelings about this loss. He would always put me off by saying something like, “ I don’t really want to talk about that stuff,” or “Can we just talk about something else, because this always puts me in a bad place?” Unfortunately, this avoidance led him to utilize some unhealthy coping strategies, and he was nearing a point where he would be removed from his home and placed further away from his family. We were at a critical point in his treatment. Then one day, he started to open up about his feelings regarding his brother. As expected, it was incredibly emotional but also relieving to finally unload what he had been carrying around for several years. He admitted that talking about it was not as hard as he thought it was going to be. Then one day, he took it to another level and finally started to talk about why he was angry and came up with a fairly lengthy list to describe his emotions. He almost seemed to be vomiting his feelings out and was not particularly interested in what that looked like or even how it sounded. However, releasing the tension and frustration that he had built up over the years became cathartic for him. There was no need for me to solve the problems because feeling validated was enough. This important experience required him to be honest about his experiences, needs, and wants.


I did a little experiment with my youngest daughter. I asked her to tell me where she thought I was typically on random days and times throughout the week. For example, “Where am I on Tuesday at 2:34 pm or Saturday at 6:17 am?” To her surprise, she answered every question perfectly. I wanted her to understand that despite whatever chaos or problems were going on in her life, she could know what to expect and rely on me to be where I say I am. This trust builds confidence in our children and helps reassure them that they will be supported in whatever problems arise. Few things invite chaos into our lives more than an inability to trust. Even exaggerating our wants and needs invites uncertainty into our relationships. My general feeling is that most people can handle whatever we share with them because it helps them know what to expect.


As I meet with individuals and ask questions about their needs, I try to understand what they think and why they think it. As I work with patients in the Weight Loss and Nutrition Center, I strongly encourage mindfulness when it comes to eating. This allows those individuals to be more aware of what they eat, and why they eat it, allowing them to better enjoy the experience. I will even give a small homework assignment for a patient to eat a small bowl of ice cream and then write 100 words about the experience. The goal is to enhance the experience without feeling the need to binge as I sometimes see with these patients. With teenagers and children, I like to play a game called, “This or That.” I will give two options for them to choose from with the understanding that there is no wrong answer. The only thing that matters is that they choose something and understand why they made that choice. Examples include,  “Mountains or beach?” “Long hair or short hair?”  “Hot dogs or hamburgers?” In our fast-paced world, I find it too easy to simply roll into choices without understanding why we do it. Being mindful of that process allows us to make better and healthier decisions. I once gave an assignment to a middle school student where he was to spend an entire week asking permission from his parents to do little things like go to the bathroom, grab a snack, and even make his bed. Over time, he was able to identify some of the thoughts that preceded the unhealthy choices that were causing him unnecessary stress.


I often say that unconditional love is important, but relationships cannot exist without conditions. Either we can set those boundaries or somebody else can. There are certain behaviors that we should be patient with, while others should never be tolerated. Behaviors that should never be tolerated are abuse in any form whether it’s sexual, physical, or emotional. As we age and mature, our relationships with those around us will naturally evolve. It can sometimes be difficult to let go of a past relationship or even accept that a current one is moving toward greater independence and autonomy that we may not be ready for. As I have watched four of my five children move into adulthood and practice accepting greater responsibility in their lives, it is always a scary proposition as the fear of making choices with lasting impact looms overhead. There is constant worry about the impact their choices will have on their lives. There is constant worry on the part of parents as to how much they can weather the impact of those choices. No parent likes to see their child fail or even suffer. Early this Fall, I am expecting my first grandchild. My daughter let me know that she plans on raising her children a little bit differently than she was raised. I sure hope she is right! It is reasonable to assume that the next generation will have vastly different challenges than previous ones. I believe we would all do well to look for similarities among the generations and build upon them. Sometimes our children have to knock us down a little bit in order to find their own identity and value system. I am comfortable with this idea. Testing those boundaries is important in our maturing process.


One of my favorite examples of acceptance and resilience involves Steve Jobs. He, along with his partner Steve Wozniak, formed Apple Computer in their garage together. In 10 years it grew to 4,000 employees and was worth around $2 billion dollars. After falling into some creative differences with the CEO, Jobs was eventually fired from the company that he started. Needless to say, he was embarrassed as it was a very public failure. He felt like he had let the next generation of entrepreneurs down. However, the pressure of being successful was soon replaced with feelings of being a beginner again. He was less sure of himself, but this freed him to enter one of the most creative times of his life. So, he went about starting 2 new companies. One of those companies eventually developed into what we now know as Pixar. Ironically, Apple saw what he was doing and decided to buy him out. He was able to take the great technology that he developed and launch some amazing products including the Nano, iPod, iPad, and eventually, the iPhone. He found the ability to persevere through difficult times and look for a more creative solution that met his individualized skill set. He learned the importance of looking forward, not backward. When planes encounter turbulence, they rarely return back to the airport of origin. They usually fly through it or make some other adjustments to the flight path. Sometimes, the best approach is to simply stay the course and learn to adjust to whatever difficulties arise rather than abandon the idea altogether.

Stay Connected with your Neighbors

For the past 14 years, we have had a German Shepherd named Kaipo. She is an amazing dog who never barks and has a great temperament and wonderful disposition. She is always outside but is never in her kennel, and we do not have a fenced yard. She roams the yard freely and with little supervision. Once in a while, she will wander over to see the neighbors, but it is always brief. On countless occasions, we will “catch” neighbors coming by just to pet or play with her. One day as my kids were coming home from school they discovered Kaipo in a neighbor’s garage playing with their small children. The kids said, “We were just protecting her from the thunder and lightning.” The image of several 5 and 6-year-olds protecting a German Shepherd made us all laugh. It also made me realize how connected we are with our neighbors and how important we are to one another. Our neighborhoods become an extension of our families and, ultimately, our physical and emotional safety nets. We learn that what happens to one, happens to all.
Allan Pauole, CMHC


Allan Pauole, CMHC

Allan Pauole is one of our mental health therapists. He has worked for Utah, Juab and Millard counties providing both mental health and substance abuse counseling for hospitals, Utah’s drug court population, and private agencies. Allan also worked for the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah as a social worker and served as the primary liaison for the tribe in all child custody hearings involving the Division of Child and Family Services and the juvenile courts. He is quite versed in navigating the sometimes dueling interests between the mental health and legal systems. Allan has been a licensed clinical mental health counselor for over 15 years and has extensive training in Motivational Interviewing (MI), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), substance abuse counseling, and Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy(TF-CBT). He is EMDR trained. He is also able to treat all forms of Anxiety, Depression, ADHD, PTSD, and Personality Disorders for patients of all ages. He has an especially strong interest in working with teens and college age adults as he recognizes the challenging and unique transition phase this can be.

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