Pain and Purpose | A Discussion With Author Dr. David Henderson

Kathleen Mills

Kathleen is a creative and gifted therapist who has extensive experience in helping children, adolescents, and adults with a variety of issues.

Summary: Kathleen Mills of Life Tree Counseling takes a little time out of her busy schedule to share some quality java-time with Dr. David Henderson, a noted psychiatrist in the DFW area.

Episode #17 | Finding Purpose Beyond Our Pain, Dr. David Henderson

Kathleen Mills-Proprietor, Counselor at Life Tree Counseling
Phillip Crum-The Content Marketing Coach
Dr. David Henderson-Psychiatrist, Author, World Traveler

PHILLIP CRUM: And we are back.

KATHLEEN Mills: Hello, Phillip.

PC: Hello, Kathleen. It’s time for another edition of “It’s Just Coffee”.

KM: It is Friday. And guess what?

PC: We have Dr. David Henderson in the house?

KM: Yep.

PC: All right. I’m glad Dr. David Henderson is here.

KM: I am, too.

PC: I’ve been hearing about him for a week.

KM: I know.

PC: You forgot to tell me he was ridiculously handsome.

KM: And he’s got a tie on. What’s the deal with the tie, Phillip?

PC: I don’t know. I don’t do ties anymore.

KM: Maybe people are trying to encourage you to…

PC: I doubt that.

KM: You don’t think so?

PC: No.

KM: You had a nice vacation, didn’t you?

PC: I did. I went to the Buckeye State. I spent a little time, did a little family background. I still haven’t found any horse thieves or anyone hanged or anything like that, but I’m still looking.

KM: It still doesn’t explain you, does it?

PC: No.

KM: You’re still searching.

PC: For horse thieves.

KM: Well, maybe Dr. Henderson can help you.

PC: Perhaps.

KM: Perhaps.

PC: He’s a Buckeye, isn’t he?

DAVID HENDERSON: I am. I can use my expertise in locating people.

KM: There you go. Fair enough.

PC: You have a couple of new hires, or one, at least?

KM: Well, one.

PC: Are you sure?

KM: And a couple more coming down the pike, and I don’t know what I’m going to do with that. I know what I’m going to do, but I’m excited.

PC: Get out of the way. Take off Fridays.

KM: Well, I won’t be taking off Fridays if I add more people, but heck, that’s kind of nice, right? So I’m excited.

PC: Why don’t we get to it? Tell me how you met this gentleman, and tell me a little bit about him, and let’s let him talk.

KM: We’re going to let him talk because I’m really thrilled that you’re here. You’re on my bucket list. So I met David Henderson – you were doing a caps presentation and you were talking about the book we’re going to be talking about.

DH: That’s right.

KM: And it was at a time in my life where it was very difficult for me to hear you, but needed it. And you had the books nicely stacked on the table and I kept looking at the table and I kept listening to – you were exactly what I needed to hear. And I’m trying to figure out the why and the purpose and I knew it was beyond the pain and trying to get anchored. So I bought the book and the title of the book is Finding Purpose Beyond the Pain. And then, in between that – those titles – on the front cover was “Uncover the hidden potential in life’s most common struggles.”

After I read the little print that went with the big print, I was pretty much hooked and knew that this was something that I absolutely had to read. I knew I was there for a reason. a friend of mine had invited to go because I hadn’t been out of my hobbit hole for quite some time. And so I bought the book and I’ve never looked back. It was really, truly, a wonderful thing, so I want to thank you for that.

DH: Absolutely.

KM: So now you’re here, and I’m just totally blessed.

PC: I think you have a groupie.

KM: You do.

DH: It’s nice to have people

PC: Tell me about this gentleman’s background.

KM: DAVID HENDERSON. There’s a couple of things that y’all need to know. He’s a psychiatrist at Southwest Clinical and Forensics. He is also a professor and director of counseling of psychology at Criswell College here in Dallas. He also has an abundance of radio and media productions on his website, and he’s also a wonderful writer, because he’s now launching into his author mode and as a result of this particular book that we’re talking about. Hi, David.

DH: Hi.

KM: I’m so glad you’re here.

DH: Absolutely.

KM: Tell me about your book. Tell me about Finding Purpose Beyond Our Pain.

DH: It’s interesting because I always knew that I wanted to be a physician. That was something that I felt – if you want to say called to do – even since I was a little kid in third grade. And part of that, I think, is that I had an older brother who was a doctor. He’s eleven years older than I am, so I always looked up to him and wanted to emulate him. What I did not realize was that the calling was going to extend into the field of psychiatry.

But I had a passion for people. I had a passion for ministry, but never really called to go into full-time vocational ministry. So when I got into medical school, it was really exciting because, as I went through my psychiatric rotation, the light bulb went on, and it was almost as if God was giving me an opportunity to do both. I could be both a physician and be able to prescribe medication, work with people with their medical illness, psychiatric illnesses, but also be a pastor or a minister of sorts through the counseling aspect. I never looked back. It was something that just took hold of me and I began to pursue. I did my residency at the University of South Carolina and the struggle as I went through the training – the focus obviously was very much on relieving people’s suffering.

You get people that come to you are suffering with any number of conditions, whether they’re physical illnesses – brain diseases – or just psychological distress, circumstances of life have become so overwhelming for them that it has affected them emotionally. And then, of course, people also struggling with what I would describe as metaphysical questions – spiritual questions – why am I here? What is my purpose in life? Is there a God? If there is, does He care about me? All these kinds of questions that really tug at the hearts of people when they’re in the midst of a great struggle.

I was feeling particularly discouraged in my own life, having gone through some things myself, and some significant challenges. The question that really came to my mind is “I believe in God, I believe there is a God. I believe that he is a personal God and he cares about me. He has a plan for my life, and if that is the case, and I face pain, I experience pain and this God, who is all-powerful, allows me to go through it, then there has to be a point – there has to be a purpose for it. Here I am, trying to relieve people’s suffering, my own included, and the question that came to my mind is, “Are there certain types of pain that not only can we not avoid them, we are going to face them at some point in our lives. It’s inevitable, so we can’t avoid them. Is there, perhaps, pain that is purposeful, that there is an aspect to it that actually we need to suffer, we need to experience in order to grow, whether it’s physically, emotionally, spiritually. That’s how the book sort of began to develop.

I started thinking through, what are some of these generalized kinds of pain. When we wrote the book, we came up with seven of them. I’m sure people can come up with others, but we focused on seven very overarching, what we called universal struggles. Those include injustice; rejection; loneliness; loss; discipline, which is the idea of training ourselves or someone else entering into our lives; imparting discipline into our lives; failure, which, even when we are disciplined, we still fail and struggle; and the last obviously one being the greatest struggle of all, the facing of death, the ultimate challenge of being alive, being a living creature. With each one of those, we designated a section of the book to just give an overview. There’s quite a number of stories to illustrate the examples of how some of these pains in life can actually be purposeful experiences if your mindset, if your perspective is right.

KM: I think that’s a great point, because the whole book is understanding that, and when you combine it with the pain, it doesn’t make the pain so inherently bad. When I opened up the book, the scripture in there immediately, I was hooked right after. Your premise was – let me read it – “I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born, says the Lord.” And that’s Isaiah 66:9. When I read that, I knew that this book was going to be full. And it was. It was so substantive.

DH: That verse has really become, I think, one of my life verses in the sense that I have to believe. Doing what I do on a day-to-day basis, and you know this as well, doing therapy and counseling people on a day-to-day basis, if you don’t believe that, if you don’t believe that God in the allowance of pain in life, does not have the desire for something new to be born within us or through us, then why are we doing what we do? There’s really no point. That has become the truth that I hold onto with every client that I see. I don’t care how horrific the pain has been, I have to believe that given the desire and given the work involved, if we take the pain that we face in life, and we allow God to take it and use it and transform it, there is something very redemptive, transforming that which was meant for evil into something used for good. I believe that that can be the case for anyone, no matter what their situation.

KM: That is so powerful when you reframe it that way. There’s so much vindication and redemption and not just that, but just complete blessing of the sovereignty and the power of the whole purpose just gets totally glorified.

DH: Absolutely. And one of the things that I’ll say right off the bat is that, having that perspective doesn’t necessarily take the pain away.

KM: No. It makes it manageable.

DH: It makes it manageable in the sense that, “Okay, I have to endure this. It’s miserable. I feel horrible. I even sometimes question, is it ever going to go away.”

KM: It’s like Job.

DH: Yeah, but recognizing that truth, I do think, does give you the strength to be able to endure it.

PC: Pain is one of the points on the emotional continuum that we have to live through, and there’s no reason it’s not special, it’s not in a little bucket by itself. Pain is here, and all the other emotions are over; it’s one of the emotions. If you’re saying – I’m thinking about this as we’re going here; this is quite interesting – it’s all how you look at things.

DH: And C.S. Lewis said, pain is a fact that must be fit into any system of belief. Any worldview that you have, you have to have an explanation for pain because it is a reality, it is a fact. You don’t – there’s no escaping that truth about life.

PC: That’s exactly what I was going to say before you cut me off. I like that. So the book’s focus is about how to view pain and what do with it and how to deal with it. Is there a particular market that the book is for? Everybody on the planet, or is it?

DH: I think the truth is, and what I’ve come to discover having written, and it’s been several years since the book has been out, I think many people – it’s interesting. Nobody wants to read a book on pain, particularly if they’re not going through a season of pain. I recognize that. I get that. It’s for the individual who may be at least in the midst of suffering and needs some hope, or somebody who is just recently coming out of a very difficult situation dealing with the aftermath of a significant challenge in their life, and they want a new direction. They want to start thinking about how can I use this experience that I have gone through, or maybe that I’m in the midst of – coming out of, how can I use this experience to actually have some redemption.

Because there are seasons in life where we face a betrayal or rejection. Maybe we experience a loss of some kind, and the immediacy of the pain is gone in the sense that the struggle has passed but we’re still left with that bitter taste in our mouth, and we’re still asking that question, “Why did that have to happen?” And I think that’s the focus, in essence, of the book, and that’s the audience that we’ve really directed to. It is the person, the individual, who needs hope, needs the new direction, wants the new perspective on how to process the circumstances that they’ve either been through recently, or even currently, in the midst of.

KM: When you reframe pain in your book, and you said – let me see – realizing pain is not the enemy. Once you understand that pain is not necessarily my enemy. And you go from there, from that vantage point.

DH: Sure.

KM: And you cannot live pain-free – that’s a myth, that’s not reality.

DH: Exactly, and there are very real physical examples of that. I remember in writing the book, I was actually reading a book by Phillip Yancey and a guy by the name of Paul Brand who was a hand surgeon who spent many, many years overseas in India working with the leprosy population. He was one of the ones to discover what was causing leprosy. There was another disease, as well, that he worked quite a bit with and it was a disease called congenital insensitivity to pain. These were individuals who physically, their nerves could not communicate the signal of pain. What would happen, while they would start losing bits and pieces of their limbs because they would get an injury – they wouldn’t recognize that they had an injury – the injury would then get infected and it would begin to start destroying their body.

In fact, there was a very graphic but almost comical example that he gave of one man that they were working with. They had bandaged up his feet and his hands, they were doing everything to try to protect him, and he still kept losing parts of his fingers and his toes. They could not figure out what was going on until they had someone sit up with this man through the night in his hut, and they realized that a rat was sneaking into the hut and nibbling off his toes, his appendages in the middle of the night while he was sleeping, and he had no clue. So the very simple solution was they got the guy a cat and he didn’t have any further problems. I think that story, in a very physical way, illustrates the fact that pain is necessary.

PC: It was a prescription cat.

KM: It was a prescription cat?

DH: It was a prescription cat, exactly. I have never written a prescription, “Go get a cat,” but that’s probably what he did. I think the reality is that we translate to an emotional, psychological and even spiritual level. The same can be said of the stress, maybe tension in our relationships, challenges that we face emotionally on a day-to-day basis. If we maintain a proper perspective, we can recognize that, yeah, as unpleasant as it is, pain and the experience of emotional pain, can, if we do what’s right with it, can save us from further problems down the road, and that’s why I just many times, sit in my office when I’m working with clients and just admire these folks who are psychologically-minded and recognize “I need help.

I’m willing to put myself in a humbling situation where I’m opening up about my personal struggles, but I recognize that it’s important. I recognize that I need it and my desire is not just to save myself from future pain, but to experience more joy, more happiness in the midst of the trials.”

PC: The book’s been out how long?

DH: It’s been out since 2009, so it’s been out for five years.

KM: Where can people get this book?

DH: They can check it out on Amazon. They can also, if they want to go to my blog. It’s actually my blog is a extension of some of the message that we lay out in the book. It’s purposebeyondpain dot com. It’s just a place where a lot of it is just me processing some of the things that I’m thinking about and wrestling with in my own life and also in the lives of the clients that I’m working with, but the theme is usually surrounding this issue of finding purpose beyond pain. Folks can check out the blog at purposebeyondpain dot com.

KM: It’s a great blog, actually.

DH: Thank you.

KM: You’re very welcome.

PC: Did you do well?

DH: Yeah, the book did really well. Again, it’s been a great launching point for me. In the social media world today, everybody talks about having a platform. I guess this would be my platform. This is what keeps me getting up in the morning. It’s always exciting when you write a book. You don’t expect, I don’t think, to make a whole lot of money off the book and obviously I did not write it for that purpose. The cool thing has been the connections that I’ve made with people, with Kathleen being one of them, just to be able to have an opportunity to take some of the things that I faced and encourage others with that and then to even see others then taking that and encouraging others is such a privilege.

It’s very humbling, too, because I don’t have it all together. That’s the first thing people need to recognize is that, when you write a book, it’s a lot of times you’re processing your own issues, and I still struggle with this concept. I still struggle with the challenges of trying to find purpose in the pain I experience in my own life. The cool thing are the stories that you hear and the stories, particularly, of redemption where God has reached into somebody’s life and done that transforming process and I get the privilege to sit back and hear about it. It’s so exciting.

KM: It’s hard to know when you’re going through that that’s something to look forward to. I think this book helps with the reader understanding that it will happen, you just have to be patient and go through this, because there’s a reason you’re not doing this all for naught.

DH: One of the things that I have found is – and I think this is a biblical Christian concept – is the idea of establishing monuments in your life. Maybe someone listening is in the midst of a painful circumstance and they’re not necessarily able to draw on anything from their past to gain encouragement in the midst of their current circumstances. That’s when you reach out to others. You listen to the testimonies of other people who maybe have been in a similar situation that you have been in.

As you go through life, and as you face pain after pain, and you see some of the redemptive things happening, I always encourage people to create some monuments in your life. I’ve got on my desk in my office, I have what they call an “inukshuk”, which I got in Canada. It was on a television program up in Canada and while I was there, bought this little statue. It’s a stone statue. The story behind it is that, in the Plains of Canada in the wintertime, it just gets covered with snow. You can’t see in front of you. You’re just all white. So what the folks there, the native folks who live there would do, they would build these monuments so that every mile or so, they could look out and they could see this huge stone monument out in the distance and they could recognize someone else has been out there before me. It would give them the courage to keep moving forward in that direction and keep traveling and that monument was what guided them.

KM: A sea of white, blinding.

DH: The monument idea or aspect, I believe, is essential because you’re in the midst of pain. It is, it’s like being in the midst of a fog, and you’re higher brain functioning, your higher executive functioning in your brain is shutting down because all of the emotional aspects are just overwhelming it. You have to have something that you can grasp onto.

I’ve got a little box at home with all these tiny little rocks, and each rock has written on it some epoch in my life, something good that has happened that I can look back to and be encouraged by it, and recognize, “Okay, I got through that, and I’ve been through this, and whatever it is that I’m facing right now, I know this is going to pass, too.” And that’s exciting, and that’s what I encourage my clients to do, as well.

PC: I got a box of rocks for Christmas one time, but there wasn’t anything written on any of them.

KM: I guess that’s why my monument is chocolate.

PC: That’ll work. What are you working on now? You’ve got anything?

DH: I do have a book, a second book, in the works. It’s going to be published with Thomas Nelson publishing company. It’s a subsidiary of Harper Collins now, and that should be coming out at the end of this year, hopefully. We don’t have a title yet, at this point, but it is a book focused on parents of adolescents trying to help parents who are struggling with the adolescent teen, 20-age population who just, for lack of a better term, is failing to launch from the family of origin.

Again, it has very similar qualities to this book in the sense that my perspective is that that failure to launch is because of a fear of potential pain. If you can get both the adolescent to recognize and understand the reward inherent in putting themselves in some of these painful situations, but also helping the parent to recognize it’s OK to step back and let your child suffer some, it’s a very interesting dynamic that often plays out. That’s going to be the focus and the idea.

PC: That’s going to be a very thick book.

KM: That’s going to be a wonderful book, because so many times, it’s painful to them to literally hand the baton. Let them take it, if they drop it, don’t pick it up, that kind of stuff. It’s painful for both.

DH: The idea of motivation is going to be something we really address. What motivates us as people and why do we do what we do and is there a way to not just inherently understand that, but change our motivation. I’m very excited. I’m enjoying the process. I love the process of writing and it’s been exciting or me. It’s a good outlet and I’ll have to let you know as it comes closer to the time.

KM: I want to read it now! But I have to be patient and wait.

DH: I can send you all my rough drafts…

KM: I would love it.

DH: And you can edit them for me.

KM: I don’t edit.

PC: She doesn’t edit.

KM: I don’t edit. I don’t write. That’s why we’re doing the podcast.

DH: I got you.

PC: Are you working on anything right now that listeners might be able help you with? Put you on the spot there. I don’t know if you’ve got any programs or experiments or anything that you’re doing that a listener says, “Boy, I’d sure like to work with this guy somehow or in some capacity.”

DH: That’s a great question. I never actually thought about that, to be honest, but there are a couple things that come to the forefront of my mind. One is the blog itself. I love when people interact with me on the blog. I may write something and the coolest thing is to get another person’s perspective. I’m processing it through my own mind and brain, but when I get somebody that actually reads what I’ve written and then comments and says, “I have a different perspective.” Even if it’s one that disagrees with mine, that’s just exciting to me because I feel like there’s a dialog taking place and it’s an educational process.

KM: And they’re really thinking about what you just wrote.

DH: Absolutely.

KM: Which is kind of nice.

DH: And the other issue is that part of the position is is I work at Criswell College and that’s right downtown Dallas. I know a lot of folks are interested in counseling. They’re interesting in maybe even in learning more about it and how they can do so whether it’s on a formal or an informal basis. I encourage folks always to check out the school and maybe even consider sitting on a class with me. I love to have people participate in that regard. If they are interested in doing that, they can call the school, Criswell College. They do have a blog. It’s called forchristandculture dot com. Reach out to us through that, as well. That would be great.

KM: You have so many resources. This is pretty amazing.

DH: Thank you, yeah.

KM: You’re very welcome.

PC: Any public speaking dates coming up?

DH: Yes. June 26th, I will be speaking at — Caron is the name of the hospital, Caron is having a lunch-and-learn. It’s at the Methodist church, I want to say it’s Highland Park Methodist.

PC: Info on your website?

KM: In Dallas?

DH: In Dallas. I will have to put that info on my website. I don’t have the actual specifics of it.

PC: I should have warned you that I was going to ask that.

DH: I do have one coming up on June 26th. I’ll be talking about some similar things related to this book, and that is “Why is Pain Important”. I’ll be laying out some of the specific things that pain actually does for us in our lives. I’ll put that up on my website and, again, if anyone’s interested, they can check it out. It is an event that you have to sign up for, but there’s going to be a neat group of people there. It’s not just me. I’m excited about it.

KM: You’re going to be the best one.

DH: Thank you.

PC: We’re about out of time. I don’t know if you read the fine print of your guest agreement, but it requires you to bring that baritone voice back.

DH: I’d love to come back. This has been a lot of fun.

PC: I hope so. We need to know where people can find you, Miss Kathleen.

KM: They can find me at the website hanging out, lifetreecounseling dot com. You can read all about what we do, our outpatient counseling groups, celebrating 22 years this month, or you can give me a call, 972-234-6634, extension 104. I do return all my calls.

PC: I’m still Phillip Crum, the content marketing coach at contentmarketingcoach dot us, or 214-264-6297, if you’re bored and lonely. This has been a lot of fun. You are far too young to be so wise.

DH: I’m going to walk out of here and not even be able to get through the door, my head will be so big.

KM: Thank you so much, David. I’m very blessed that you’re here.

PC: We appreciate everybody tuning in. We’ll see you next week, and on we go…

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