Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Benefits of Therapy

Millions of people seek treatment through therapists like Ava Dorrance every year. The once taboo practice has now become a much more common and widely appreciated form of treatment. People today seek out therapy for a myriad of personal and individual reasons. Therapy provides relief for those dealing with a traumatic experience, undergoing marital strife, suffering from an intense fear, going through a period of grief, and much more.

Therapy provides many benefits. Though it may accompany medical treatment, therapy in itself does not necessarily entail medication but instead constitutes a natural form of treatment. A therapist can act as a sounding board, often for individuals who would otherwise have no one to talk to. Therapy has proven extremely beneficial in helping those struggling with drug addiction, eating disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Though medication can also help with these issues, the ability to work through past issues and develop new strategies for coping represents a fundamental part of moving beyond one’s problems. Many studies demonstrate that this treatment approach greatly enhances what psychotropic drugs alone cannot provide. This makes sense, since, although antidepressants can lead to better emotions overall, they cannot teach coping skills the way a good dose of cognitive behavior therapy can.

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Posted by on October 14, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Coping with a Loved One Suffering from an Eating Disorder

By Ava Dorrance

As a therapist, I often work with clients suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. I also have the opportunity to meet and speak with the loved ones of these individuals, including parents, spouses, friends, and siblings. Though eating disorders are incredibly hard on the people afflicted with them, they can also impose hardships on those supporting the victim. Often, friends and family do not know how to deal with issues related to eating disorders. They worry about making things worse or wonder how they can help.

The first thing that loved ones must realize is that they cannot control the person with the eating disorder. One cannot force an anorexic to eat or a bulimic to stop the binge-and-purge process. No amount of pressure or guilt imposed from an outsider will ever be enough to cause a person suffering from these illnesses to change course suddenly. What family and friends should provide is unconditional love. The victim needs you; he or she must feel supported and loved throughout this difficult process, not pushed away or belittled.

The process of overcoming these conditions can be long and tedious. Much like an addiction, these sorts of maladies generally linger beneath the surface for a lifetime, even after successful treatment. Those caring for a sufferer must be willing to stick by him or her for the long haul, understanding that the journey is long and relapse possible. No quick fix exists for eating disorders.

More than anything else, it is important to be there when your loved one needs someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on. Especially in the case of a parent whose child suffers from an eating disorder, support people themselves may find that they need some counseling of their own.

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Posted by on October 14, 2011 in Uncategorized


Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

I have over 20 years of experience as a clinical social worker, serving in a variety of facilities in the state of Iowa. In my clinical work with patients, I apply a variety of different treatment modalities, each customized to the needs of the individual. For extremely unstable patients, and for those at risk of suicide or self-harm, I often employ dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Developed in the 1970s and 1980s by psychologist Marsha M. Linehan, DBT grew out of her attempts to treat women suffering from borderline personality disorder. Linehan published the results of her work in a landmark paper in 1993, and she has further codified the approach over the subsequent years. Linehan developed DBT based on her experiences with standard cognitive behavioral therapy. In the process, she discovered several problems. First of all, the focus on personal change in cognitive behavioral therapy caused many of the women to drop out. As their emotional experiences were not recognized as legitimate by cognitive behavioral therapy, the constant admonition to change became demoralizing. Secondly, volatile patients often had control over therapists in cognitive behavioral therapy. Treatment providers were reluctant to breach topics that would lead to violent emotional outbursts by the patients, and patients learned to use such reactions to avoid topics they were uncomfortable with discussing. Finally, when dealing with suicidal, non-compliant patients, therapists simply did not have the time to conduct a thorough cognitive behavioral therapeutic approach. As a result, Linehan developed an approach that begins with an acceptance of the patient’s condition. Suicidal and violent tendencies are recognized as logical, if unhealthy, reactions, and through a variety of treatment steps, patients learn when to trust their emotional reactions. DBT attempts first to decrease high-risk behaviors such as suicide or self-harm, then reduce behaviors that prevent the therapy from being effective, and finally decrease those activities that negatively affect the patient’s quality of life. Subsequently, patients learn enhanced self-respect and how to efficiently deal with stressors in their lives. The process of DBT generally consists of four modules. In the Mindfulness module, the patient learns to pay attention to what is happening at any given moment. The Distress Tolerance module teaches patients how to adapt to difficult situations in their lives. For highly volatile individuals, the Emotional Regulation module helps them to develop control over their emotions. Finally, the Interpersonal Effectiveness module teaches patients how to better interact with other people. DBT has been the subject of a large body of rigorous clinical research involving randomized clinical trials, and it has been shown to lead to greater treatment retention than many other approaches when treating patients with borderline personality disorder or those who wish to harm themselves. DBT has also been used successfully to treat eating disorders and substance abuse.

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Posted by on August 23, 2010 in Uncategorized


Wildlife Conservation: The National Audubon Society and the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union

Outside of my work as a clinical social worker, I belong to several organizations that support wildlife conservation, including the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union and the National Audubon Society. Founded over 80 years ago, the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union (IOU) promotes the study and protection of the state’s birds. The Union also offers a variety of activities and programs geared toward hobbyist birdwatchers as well as professionals in the field of conservation. The Iowa Ornithologists’ Union publishes two quarterly journals, Iowa Bird Life and IOU News. Additionally, the Union organizes birding trips both in state and across the country. Semi-annual meetings also allow bird lovers to network and learn more about the field, and the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union website hosts a photo gallery of rare or unusual bird sightings. For conservation professionals, the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union offers a project grant program. Reviewed by a board of ornithologists, proposals are evaluated on the basis of their ability to protect or improve important bird habitats or contribute to the scientific understanding of Iowa birds. Grants are usually disbursed in conjunction with the annual IOU spring meeting. More information on the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union is available at The National Audubon Society strives to conserve and restore ecosystems for birds and other animals through its series of scientific and educational programs, as well as through advocacy activities conducted by the organization’s nature centers and chapters. Founded over 100 years ago, the National Audubon Society grew out of a movement protesting the illegal killing of birds. Through the organization’s efforts, anti-poaching laws and hunting regulations were instituted, and President Theodore Roosevelt created the first National Wildlife Refuge. In more recent years, the National Audubon Society has led scientific research efforts that have proven instrumental in bird conservation efforts. The National Audubon Society has played a major role in assessing the risk to birds posed by the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and it has maintained an annual Christmas bird count every year since 1900. The National Audubon Society offers a range of educational activities for children and adults, and over 1 million people visit Audubon Centers across the United States on an annual basis. For young students, the Audubon Adventures program offers in-class and after-school programs that can be integrated with local curriculums. For more information on the National Audubon Society and its activities, or to become a member, visit

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Posted by on August 23, 2010 in Uncategorized


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About Ava Dorrance!

Ava Dorrance has touched innumerable lives in more than twenty years as a social worker specializing in mental health. Her first job was with Covenant Medical Center, where Ava Dorrance designed a treatment program for those with eating disorders and led therapy sessions for individuals, families, and groups. Ava Dorrance later worked as a Mental Health Consultant for the Iowa Department of Human Services, a Psychiatric Social Worker for the Robert Young Center for Community Mental Health, a Psychiatric Social Worker and Therapist for Genesis Psychology Associates, and a Psychiatric Social Worker for the Cass County Memorial Hospital, her current position. In her community, Ava Dorrance has donated to her local library and has also been involved with the American Cancer Society and The Humane Society. She also participates in charitable events organized by her church. Volunteering with the YMCA Service Club, Ava Dorrance recently helped raise funds to cover the costs of a daycare center and summer camp programs. In her free time, Ava Dorrance enjoys socializing with friends and family and is an avid reader. Especially fond of books related to psychology and spirituality, Ava Dorrance counts Kenneth S. Pope, Eckhart Tolle, Patricia Cornwell, and Willa Cather among her favorite authors. Ava Dorrance also strives to stay in shape through hiking and weight training. Currently residing in Iowa, Ava Dorrance is a member of the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union and the National Audubon Society. In addition to working full-time, Ava Dorrance has devoted herself to the care of her elderly parents.

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Posted by on June 16, 2010 in Uncategorized


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