The Healing Power of Therapy

Parrish Medical Center’s Healing Circles Therapy Groups saves lives by taking empathy to the next level

Maybe this story will resonate with you. Maybe it will remind you of a friend. And, maybe it will sound like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Yes, it’s complicated. But as Theresa St. Peter learned, her situation is also frighteningly common.

“The men in my life have not been the best influence. My stepfather was sexually abusive, and later in life I was in another abusive relationship,” explains St. Peter.

Overeating was a source of solace.

The pattern of abuse continued when St. Peter married a man she had been in a relationship with for 10 years. During the following 13 years, he grew increasingly abusive – verbally and physically – toward her and her four children, whom he had adopted.

St. Peter’s daughter, Kristina Weaver recalls, “When we were younger, we didn’t know any different. But when we were in high school, we started to resent him and we wanted her to get out of that situation.”


Getting out of “that” situation meant emerging from a deep, dark tunnel from which St. Peter could see no escape. “I felt like I had lost myself over the past 23 years. I was hopeless. It was like I was in a hole,” St. Peter describes.

From the outside looking in, St. Peter held herself together well. She was the mother of two sets of twins, was working full time, attending college, and climbing the corporate ladder. She was the one her family and business associates could rely on to say, “Yes, I can do that!”

Yet she had no friends, no self-confidence and no hope.

Finally, with her children’s support and encouragement, St. Peter found the courage to divorce her abusive husband. Her family applauded this as a step in the right direction.

But when her ex-husband died only a few months later, a familiar range of emotions began to flood St. Peter’s heart and mind: sadness, guilt, depression, grief and disorientation. His death triggered self-destructive behavior that was commonplace to St. Peter and her children.

Food comforted the chaos.
“I was really having a hard time of it, even though we were divorced. It was difficult because we had a pretty harsh conversation about a week before he passed. I had a lot of mixed emotions and guilty feelings because there was no true goodbye,” St. Peter remembers.


That’s when her daughter, Weaver, told her about behavioral therapist and licensed clinical social worker Helen Duane at Parrish Medical Center. “Mom really didn’t know about the options out there. So I told her about Helen and I kept reminding her to meet with her,”
says Weaver.

St. Peter began meeting with Duane, and the healing began.

“This was a brand new experience for me. I was nervous and I didn’t know what to expect. You have this idea of lying down on a couch and confessing all your stuff to a stranger. But it wasn’t like that. There was no couch, and I could open up to her and know that I was not being judged,” explains St. Peter.

“We focused on balancing life. Because when your weight is out of balance, your life is out of balance,” says Duane, who has been with Parrish Medical Center for about a year.

Eventually, St. Peter transitioned from private counseling sessions with Duane to a Healing Circles Therapy Group called “Weigh” Out. Within this group, she began to learn how her thoughts and feelings had been affecting her overeating behavior. She began to take care of herself. She began enjoying life.

“If I hadn’t gone, I’m not sure where I’d be. It really saved my life,” says St. Peter.

“All of my kids are thrilled with the new me. I’m 49, and I’m looking better than I did when I was 30. I have less stress and I’ve lost weight. My diabetes is now under control. I’m working out four to five times a week; I’m snorkeling, kayaking and running 5Ks. I’m even planning to jump (skydive) on my 50th birthday,” St. Peter cheerfully conveys.


Healing Circles Therapy Groups are for people facing everyday challenges. Circles Groups bring people together to talk about and conquer similar struggles, with proven strategies for averting pitfalls.

“There is a stigma about therapy that something is wrong with you. But for most people, there’s more right with them than wrong. They’re just not aware of it,” says Duane, who leads the Circles Groups.


  • Chronic Disease/Pain and Stress Management Circle.
    This group provides those with chronic pain and disease opportunities to learn a wide variety of effective coping skills, along with others who struggle with similar issues.
  • A “Weigh” Out Circle.
    Those who battle obesity will learn effective strategies for designing a weight loss and maintenance plan that is successful. Participants learn how to address issues that have been a barrier to achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight in the past.
  • Stress Less Circle.
    This group is designed to provide skills to better manage the daily pressures we all face. Participants learn to increase self-awareness and explore issues related to stress and anxiety. The group can benefit anyone who has stress, however it may be particularly helpful for those facing new challenges such as divorce, job loss, or a recent shift in circumstances.

One Comment

  • susan wilbur
    January 23, 2012 | Permalink |

    That Helen Duane sounds wonderful! I wish I lived in Florida so I could attend her sessions. Parrish Hospital must be so proud to have her be part of their team!

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