We have the unique pleasure of having both Dr. Michelle Caulk and Sandi Brown with us for this interview. Oftentimes, when we feature co-authored books, we only get to speak to one of the co-authors. Today, we have two inspiring women and their perspectives on all things healing, counseling, shame and everything we want to leave behind and the things we want to embrace in this new year. A big ‘thank you’ to Poised PR for making this interview possible. Healing Out Loud is out now. Get your copy!
MW: What inspired you both to come together for this unique project?
Dr. Caulk: We both realized that the women in our lives – friends, sisters, clients – struggled with similar things: self-doubt, shame, negative thinking. Could they be helped by a peek into our “conversation from both side of the couch?” Once we ended our therapist/counselee relationship, a friendship and opportunity to write Healing Out Loud: How to Embrace God’s Love When You Don’t Like Yourself came about.
Sandi Brown: The counseling journey was life changing for me. I wanted everyone to taste some of the newfound freedom and healing that I experienced. The best way to share and invite others into their own healing journey seemed to be in a book.
“The counseling journey was life changing for me. I wanted everyone to taste some of the newfound freedom and healing that I experienced.”Sandi Brown
MW: I love that you came together and a huge part of the healing that is reflected throughout the book is thanks to the safety and safe space found in your relationship. Some of us may not have had positive counseling experiences. We all want a Dr. Caulk in our lives. Do you all have any tips for those who are looking for a good fit when it comes to counseling? Are there special resources that can help people find the God-centered help that they are looking for?
Dr. Caulk: It’s so critical to find a therapist who is a good fit for your personality, concerns, and goals. Ask your friends and family for names of their therapists – a referral is a great way to start. I recommend giving your therapist at least two sessions before you decide whether or not to continue. There are several great therapist directories, and you may narrow your search to include those who are faith-based: goodtherapy.com and psychologytoday.com/us/therapists are two resources.
Sandi Brown: I hit the “therapist jackpot” for sure with Dr. Caulk! I suggest asking a potential therapist (or perhaps 2-3 of them) for an exploratory phone call, at no charge. Take 30-45 minutes with the potential therapist (by phone) and ask them any question that will be helpful for you to discern if you feel comfortable with them. My first interaction with Dr. Caulk was an introductory phone call. I still remember verbatim some of the things she shared. She “got me” and addressed my concerns in a way that I understood. Had that not occurred, I was prepared to reach out to another potential therapist.
MW: Dr. Caulk, you wrote, “Someone has to be responsible, and shame tells us that it should be ourselves.” I am interested in both of your perspectives on this: What would you advise someone who is trying to confront his/her shame?
Dr. Caulk: Shame is fundamentally a tool that the enemy uses to keep us in a dark place. Shame says, “I don’t like myself.” When we carry that thought, everything in our lives is touched – relationships, our sense of self, and even the way we relate to God. Shame is so complex! The first step is to understand where it first came from – was it a message that someone told you in childhood? A mistake that you made that turned into shame? Then, with the help of a therapist or a trusted friend, you can begin to see the truth that God loves you despite your shame.
Sandi Brown: Consider that shame is not a truth speaker in your life. It took me a great deal of time and counseling to consider that I was listening to an untruthful voice (shame) in my life. Go into counseling (or vulnerable conversations) with an open mind and heart. Be open to the possibility that truth may look different than your shameful beliefs about yourself. Once open to truthful possibilities, be determined to anchor your thoughts to truth and not to shameful lies.
“Shame is fundamentally a tool that the enemy uses to keep us in a dark place.”Dr. Caulk
MW: Dr. Caulk, you were a research analyst and librarian before going back to school to earn your other degree. How did you know God was taking you in a whole new direction and what did you learn from that experience?
Dr. Caulk: God works in the unexpected! He called me to counseling when I was in the middle of building another career. At first, I laughed. Then, I resisted. Then, I prayed and sought wise counsel! When I made the decision, I felt a measure of grief of “giving up” my career as a research analyst and librarian. However, He has shown me how to be joyfully obedient, and how He doesn’t waste a single experience. All of that lead to all of this – a passion for walking with those on the healing journey.
MW: Dr. Caulk, there’s a strong emphasis in Healing Out Loud on being vulnerable and sharing our stories. What do you think makes our storytelling and sharing more effective?
Dr. Caulk: The Bible, in essence, is God’s vulnerable story, showing us His characteristics, His love, His will, but He has also chosen to share the stories of others. I see storytelling as coming close to this beautiful example of God. Our stories have value: as cautionary tales, as proof of existence, as markers of memories. When we tell our stories, we are giving voice to our pain, but we are also sharing the hope that is inherent in each of our lives, because of Jesus. To tell a story is to be human, in all of our sadness, joy, struggles, and victories. And, storytelling requires a listener, too – just as an important role!
“Our stories have value: as cautionary tales, as proof of existence, as markers of memories.”Dr. Caulk
MW: Ms. Brown, you wrote: “Broken is what I knew.” You were really vulnerable and discussed sexual abuse trauma. Why was this an important thing to include in the book, for you?
Sandi Brown: Processing through past trauma was a key to my personal healing. Interestingly, before counseling, I had not connected the dots. I didn’t know that my past was a root to my struggles as an adult. So, I share about my past abuse in the book in case someone else needs help connecting the dots in their life too. Perhaps I’m not the only one who struggles today and may not realize the connection to past abuse. They may need the invitation to healing and hope from a friend who understands their past pain.
MW: Ms. Brown, there is discussion about cortisol and physical and emotional ties. Do you have any practical tips as to how you deal with cortisol? Any hacks you have learned?
Sandi Brown: Dr. Caulk explained that cortisol was released as my body was processing past trauma. I knew something was going on physically, but I didn’t know it was cortisol. Her advice was to exercise. I have found that walking is my go-to “cortisol hack.” It is exercise, but not stressful because I enjoy walking. It is a way for me to think and process, while exercising.
MW: Dr. Caulk, you said, “Grief is normal. Grief is good.” It is definitely a part of life, and for many of us in this season, it has been very front and center. You give great tips for how to lament. Given our grief-filled season, is there one tool of lament you have used the most?
Dr. Caulk: My father died unexpectedly about five years ago, and one of my best friends died from cancer a month later. When I consider that time, I felt confused, lost, unanchored, overwhelmed, and incredibly sad. I believe that all the tools of lament helped me move from that place to one where I can now feel a loosening, a changing, of the grief. I needed to re-identify and to know that God was (and is) my anchor. Although there are certainly days that I repeat the questioning step – “I’m back again, God – why did that all happen?”!
MW: Ms. Brown, you made an interesting list of things lost in Chapter 6. What is something you feel you have gained through your journey of healing?
Sandi Brown: Counseling has ushered in so many healing attributes into my life and relationships. Understanding is a key takeaway. I now have an understanding of my struggle, past pain, triggers, shame, etc. So, when I face a difficult emotion today, I approach it with greater insight and understanding. Which means that I spend more time leaning into truth than shame.
MW: Many of us who have struggled have found that we at times have a “deep-seated anger,” which you wrote about. (It’s very relatable). What would you say to a reader who is struggling with anger from past pain?
Sandi Brown: Every emotion we carry has a root and a voice. I have found that trying to ignore anger (or any other emotion) isn’t nearly as helpful as dealing with it. What is at the core of your anger? Why is it speaking so loudly to you? What if you gave it space to be completely explored and understood? That is what it took for my anger to dissipate. It simply needed to be heard, understood, acknowledged and grieved properly. Once it had space to be expressed in a healthy way, it didn’t clamor for as much attention in my mind and heart.
MW: If you had to define Christianity in one sentence, it would be:
Dr. Caulk: “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Sandi Brown: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13
MW: Thank you both so much for taking the time to share with us!
Get your copy of Healing Out Loud here.
About Sandi Brown:
Sandi Brown is the founder and President of Gateway Creative Broadcasting in St. Louis. She leads two radio stations, 99.1 JOY FM and BOOST Radio, with a combined weekly reach of over 500,000. Sandi’s latest book is Healing Out Loud, and she’s also the author of the devotionals A Little More Peace and Choose Joy. Sandi currently serves as chairperson for Christian Music Broadcasters. Previously, she worked as a writer and producer for Focus on the Family.
About Dr. Michelle Caulk:
Dr. Michelle Caulk, LPC is a graduate of Argosy University with an M.A. in Mental Health Counseling. Michelle also obtained her doctorate of philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision, and is currently an Assistant Professor and Director of Clinical Experiences at Huntington University in Indiana. Michelle currently lives in Chesterfield, Missouri, with her husband Jason. Healing Out Loud is her first book.
Until next time, keep witnessing!