The Power Of Presence As a psychologist and Red Cross volunteer, Debbie Hall is guided by her belief in the healing power of simply being there for others. She finds that it is the state of being, not doing, that often means the most.
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The Power Of Presence

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The Power Of Presence

The Power Of Presence

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Unidentified Woman #1: I believe in the ingredients of love.

Unidentified Man #1: I believe in freedom of speech.

Unidentified Woman #2: I believe that a little outrage can take you a long way.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe in truth.

Unidentified Woman #3: I believe in being black and angry.

Unidentified Woman #4: I believe in empathy.

Unidentified Man #3: I believe in honor, faith and service to one's country and to mankind.

Unidentified Man #4: This I believe.


On Mondays, we bring you our series, This I Believe. More than 9,000 of you have sent us essays, including Debbie Hall, a psychologist at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. She's a volunteer for the disaster mental health team of her local Red Cross. Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON reporting:

After Hurricane Katrina, many of you had a desire to help and sent us essays about beliefs which require the proof of action. Debbie Hall was prompted to write after the hurricane, but her belief is proven in a way by the most subtle of actions. Yet she is convinced that makes it no less helpful to others. Here is Debbie Hall with her essay for This I Believe.


I believe in the power of presence. I was recently reminded of this belief when I and several other Red Cross volunteers met a group of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. We were there as mental health professionals to offer psychological first aid. Despite all the training in how to debrief, to educate about stress reactions, and to screen for those needing therapy, I was struck again by the simple healing power of presence. Even as we walked in the gate to the shelter, we were greeted with a burst of gratitude from the first person we encountered. I felt appreciated but somewhat guilty because I hadn't really done anything yet.

Presence is a noun, not a verb. It is a state of being, not doing. States of being are not highly valued in a culture which places a high priority on doing. Yet true presence or being with another person carries with it a silent power: to bear witness to a passage; to help carry an emotional burden or to begin healing a healing process. In it, there is an intimate connection with another that is perhaps too seldom felt in a society that strives for ever faster connectivity.

I was first hurled into an ambivalent presence many years ago when a friend's mother died unexpectedly. Part of me wanted to rush down to the hospital, but another part of me didn't want to intrude on this acute and very personal phase of grief. I was torn about what to do. Another friend with me at the time said, `Just go. Just be there.' I did and I will never regret it.

Since then, I have not hesitated to be in the presence of others for whom I could do nothing. I sat at the bedside of a young man in a morphine coma to blunt the pain of his AIDS-related dying. We spoke to him about this inevitable journey out of this life. He later told his parents in a brief moment of lucidity that he had felt us with him.

Another time, I visited a former colleague dying of cancer in a local hospice. She, too, was not awake and presumably unaware of others' presence with her. The atmosphere was by no means solemn. Her family had come to terms with her passing and were playing guitars and singing. They allowed her to be present with them as though she were still fully alive.

With therapy clients, I am still pulled by the need to do more than be, yet repeatedly struck by the healing power of connection created by being fully there in the quiet understanding of another. I believe in the power of presence. And it is not only something we give to others. It always changes me and always for the better.

ALLISON: Debbie Hall of Escondido, California, with her essay for This I Believe. Hall told us that writing her thoughts clarified a believe she had long held yet never articulated. We hope you might consider writing for our series. For information, visit our Web site,, or call 202-408-0300. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

SIEGEL: Next Monday on "Morning Edition," a This I Believe essay from astrophysicist Alan Lightman.

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