Marriage Education (ME) is touching the lives of couples, families and children across the country. “I Am ME” profiles individuals and couples teaching relationship and marriage education classes in their local communities.
Helen Gallen, LMSW, is a social worker at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia working with veterans with mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI). She received her MSW at Tulane School of Social Work in 2007. Helen was introduced to PAIRS over Valentine’s Day weekend in 2009 when PAIRS Foundation contributed a marriage enrichment retreat for a group of combat veterans and their spouses. This retreat was only a few months after Helen’s wedding to her college sweetheart Tom. Several months later, she completed training to be a PAIRS instructor and began co-leading marriage enrichment retreats for returning combat veterans and their spouses through the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center. Helen has also assisted in training other behavioral health specialists and chaplains serving veterans nationwide to contribute to effective, new models to strengthen the marriages and families of veterans who have served America in Iraq and Afghanistan.
1. What led you to want to teach relationship and marriage education?
As a social worker, I value all human relationships and have always had a particular interest in working with couples. I saw a powerful response from the veterans and their spouses in that first weekend PAIRS retreat, how couples who when they arrived barely had eye contact and weren’t touching were suddenly holding hands and connecting with each other. I was amazed by how quickly this transformation occurred and I wanted to be a part of sharing these skills with as many couples as possible. Divorce rates for individuals who have had a traumatic brain injury are extremely high. I am very grateful to be able to share the PAIRS tools and skills with this population.
2. How are the challenges facing young couples today different?
I would consider myself one of those “young couples today.” My husband and I were both blessed with parents who modeled strong collaborative marriages and good communication. So many of our friends were not as lucky to have strong models growing up and I believe this makes their marriages even more challenging in addition to the universal stressors around money, raising children, etc. Additionally, so many young couples have to cope with long physical separations due to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan with long deployments, physical, emotional and mental injuries which all impact marriages and the family as a whole. I feel a commitment to provide extra support for these families as they have made such a sacrifice for our country.
3. How has being a marriage education instructor impacted your marriage?
It has been a blessing to be exposed to the PAIRS material so early in our marriage and for my husband to be exposed to it as well. It has given us an opportunity to use these tools and communications skills to best meet each others’ needs and address conflict in a non-destructive way. It’s enhanced the way we are able to understand each other and ourselves and how we mesh together. It feels like we’ve been given a priceless gift of being able to have these skills and tools so early in our marriage to prevent hurt and miscommunication in the future.
4. What are some favorite hobbies you enjoy sharing with each other?
My husband and I enjoy taking our yorkies, Bella and Baci, for walks, talking, traveling, cooking meals together, ballroom dancing classes, and reading/sharing books together.
5. What three qualities would you like your spouse to most admire about you?
Loyalty, Compassion, and Integrity.
Helen Gallen, LMSW
Polytrauma Social Work Case Manager
(706) 733-0188, Ext. 7632
Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center
1 Freedom Way
Augusta, GA 30904-6285
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