In Our Own Words: Moments that Matter – Helga Tone

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Helga Tone
Jan 15, 2021

In our own words: Stories from those who have been there and are determined to give back. Featuring contributions from the Avenues Recovery Family.

This is Helga, I am one of the counselors at the Avenues in Metairie, Louisiana. I have just listened to the podcast and wanted to share my feedback with you. As I was listening to Emily Cukier, I felt inspired and motivated by her elan and enthusiasm, and I was so drawn by her passion and genuineness.

In my role as a therapist, it is sometimes difficult to remember that every single thing you do is to bring hope to a human being. There is paperwork, overwhelming caseloads and the inevitable times where everything we pour into a client seems not to take. As much joy as this profession brings, crushing disappointment is part of the deal too. AMAs. Relapse. Setbacks. 

For me, to keep going you need to hold on to the moments that make everything worth it. Those moments when the light bulb sputters, flashes, and suddenly bursts into a blinding light. When I see that unexpected spark in a client, my heart fills and I feel like I can fly.

“there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for”

My boyfriend asked me the other day, “What drives you to do your job?”.

I said, “Babe, I find value in helping my clients heal, helping them better their lives. Even if I only teach one client one skill that helps enlighten them and helps them heal a wound, it’s all worth it to me!  What drives me is the faith I have in our humanity; the hope that people can change. That they are able if they are willing, that healing and transformation are possible. I believe that we are given free will and we are strong together to heal and live in harmony.”

There was a client that was sexually abused since childhood. I am trained in EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) and depending on the client, I try to reserve at least one session for trauma therapy. This client was able to stay longer than 4 weeks, so trauma therapy was definitely on the menu for her. It has been something that she carried with her for many years, buried and avoided, because facing it was just too much.

We started the session and processed it successfully despite intense emotional dysregulation at times. The client was able to come back to the normal threshold of tolerance and pushed through heroically. After completing the session, the client said that the extreme tension (subjective units of distress) in her stomach, shoulders and neck was completely gone and she couldn’t believe how light and liberated she felt. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and especially physically. She had always felt that nobody would ever be able to help her with that and the burden will be hers to carry all alone, all her life.

Her body was now healed, and she was ready to start a new life. The client didn’t have to carry such a heavy rock with her anymore, the tension was released, the story was integrated and processed. Sobriety is now a strong and viable option for her. She is not tied down by her past, she is learning new skills, surrounded by a strong sober support system, and receiving guidance in making life decision.  A real transformation has begun!

A few days before that fateful EMDR meeting, we had held a family session with this client and her mother and I really wasn’t sure if it had made the impact we so desperately needed.  I was questioning myself, ” I am not sure if this went well, have I really done the best I could have done, maybe I could have been more empathic.”  While the self-doubt was plaguing me, the client caught me in the hallway.  

She was exuberant.  “About that session between me and my mother. I talked to her last night for one hour and I felt so close to her. I haven’t felt that in so very long. Thank you so much! I have my mother back now!”

These are the moments that carry me, that help me persevere.

My work as an addictions therapist is challenging. It is exhausting, draining, and sometimes discouraging. However, moments of triumph make up for it all. They fuel my passion and energy for helping clients heal and never giving up on the hope I have for humanity. I strive to teach compassion, vulnerability, trauma healing and healthy boundaries, and I work together with my clients in trying to implement them in my own life as well.

I am going to conclude with saying that chances are that this world will always be broken, and I wish that evil would never happen. But in the face of the inevitable suffering, we have the choice to become either bitter or better.

I choose to believe, to hope that together we can heal and be better, come out stronger and united.

To all those precious people struggling with addiction. Always remember this.
Your worth and value are found in your humanity; you are cherished because you are human. This is not negotiable. Your actions will have consequences, but your worthiness is intrinsic, you carry it within you.

Tolkien in Lord of the Rings said it so well.

Sam: “It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.

Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding on to, Sam?

Sam : That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for

Helga Tone has graduated from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary with a master’s degree in counseling, with specialization in Clinical Mental Health. Helga worked in the addiction field for two years upon graduation, after which she worked for the Children’s Bureau as a school counselor in the heart of New Orleans, treating children with severe trauma and maladaptive coping skills by heavily using TBRI (trust based relational intervention – a trauma therapy model developed specifically for children who struggle). When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, schools were closed, and counseling projects were shut down in the city and nationwide. Helga currently works as a residential treatment counselor for Avenues Recovery and treats clients who struggle with addiction from a trauma informed therapeutic standpoint. The hallmark of her counseling style involves EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), Somatic Experience Exercises, and lastly, and possibly the component which makes all healing possible, empathy and compassion. While she has learned from many great therapy giants, and has deep respect for existential psychotherapists in particular, Helga found her own voice about how to implement the approaches developed by others in a way that seeks to honor the unique battle each client must fight. Therapeutic models have been so heavily cognitive or behavioristic and have ignored the somatic component of our humanity. She strives to help clients find healing by guiding them to listen to the body with compassion and curiosity and integrate the somatic experiences, so that positive cognitions finally ring true, and the body and is truly healed.

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