5 Questions with Earl J. Nichols: Pastoral counselor at the Pastoral Institute

You're a licensed marriage and family therapist. What's a simple way for someone to improve his or her relationships?

One simple thing individuals can do to improve their relationships is realize that most of their difficulties are not about who's right and who's wrong. More often the problems are about the amazingly creative ways we annoy each other. So to improve a relationship? Identify one's own annoying behaviors and begin working to change those. The temptation is to try to change your partner. You can't. So work at changing yourself.

Have you heard about marital problems caused by social networks like Facebook?

Yes. I've had clients who so invested themselves in social media that it became a threat to the relationship. Lately I've been studying what some call "Process Addictions." These are addictions that are not substance-related -- like sex, pornography or the Internet. They can certainly function like addictions. They draw time, energy and affection away from the relationship.

If someone thinks a friend should see a therapist, what's the best way to approach the topic?

Make sure that your concern is deeply genuine for the other person. Express your caring and concern. Affirm the person's previous attempts to change. Cautiously and respectfully suggest that the person might benefit by speaking to a "third party." Offer to accompany the person to the first session.

My experience has been if you suggest to a person to "go for counseling," perhaps a fourth of them will follow through. It takes real courage to call for an appointment. If you offer to accompany the person, it is much more likely they'll follow through.

What's missing from our nation's approach to mental health issues?

We haven't figured out how to connect our vast resources -- the medical community, agencies, churches, faith-based initiatives, people, money and other resources to the equally great needs of people.

I trust that some day we will find creative ways to deliver the resources to meet the need.

What's the best-kept secret in the Chattahoochee Valley?

I recently moved here, so I may not yet know our best-kept secret. But before I moved here I spoke with many people who "knew Columbus" and the Valley. They had lived here or visited here. I think the best-kept secret about the Chattahoochee Valley is its leap into the 21st century.

In the few weeks I've been here, I attended excellent concerts and recitals at the School of Music. I've attended an inspiring African-American Gospel concert at Carver High School. I've walked around the campus of a fine university. I hear of a coming medical school. I hear of coming whitewater rafting. I hear of continuing community development.

And if all that's our secret, it won't be a secret much longer.