Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I am joined by Dr. Dan Dionne. Dr. Dionne is a medical doctor. He graduated from George Washington University School of Medicine. He’s an internal medicine specialist out of Spokane, Washington. He has more than 31 years of experience, particularly in internal medicine. I’m delighted that he’s here with us today to give us some healthy insight on this issue related to hormones. I know this is a question that many of us have. It’s something he thinks about often, but, for the general public, we look at hormones with their impact on the body as being very mysterious as to what we can say are causes, what the effects are on our human body, and the way we respond. These types of issues often come up in counseling, and we want to have a discussion today and allow him to give us some wisdom on some of these things. Dr. Dionne, we’re so glad that you’re here, welcome to the podcast.
Dan Dionne: Thanks Dale. A lot of people do think of hormones as being mysterious, but our whole hormonal system was designed by the Lord. I love that passage in Psalm 139 that says, “For you formed my inward parts, you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, my soul knows it very well.” God has designed the whole system of hormones to regulate our body’s work and it’s a beautiful thing. That’s exciting and it’s important to remember that it was his design in the first place. A lot of times people do get mystified by hormones and they wonder, “Do I have a hormone imbalance? Are hormones making me behave this way?” Sometimes men are mystified by their wives’ hormones and their daughters’ hormones and what’s going on there.
Let me give you a little story if I may. Many years ago, I had a patient who was named Rocky. He was an elder at our church and he was a man’s man. He worked at Kaiser Aluminum and he was a tough guy, but a godly man. One morning, he woke up and he said to his wife, “Ada, I just don’t feel right. I don’t know if I’m having a heart attack or what’s the matter with me, but I just feel really weird.” She said, “Rocky, I want to pray for you today.” That night when he came home, he still felt badly. He wasn’t sure what was going on. She said, “If you still feel this way in the morning then you should call Dan.” They were getting ready to go to bed and he took off his shirt to climb into bed, and she looked over and there was her hormone patch attached to his back and that was the answer. Rocky had been a woman for 24 hours and it just about freaked him out. This shows the power of hormones, what estrogen can do to a man, and how women feel when they have changes in their hormone levels.
Dale Johnson: With all that mystery surrounding hormones, the way we think about hormones, and the way it impacts us and we’re not sure how to handle it, what are the particular things that we need to know? How do we relate our understanding of hormones as counselors when we’re discussing the topic of biblical counseling?
Dan Dionne: A lot of times as a biblical counselor, you may have a woman who comes and says, “I think I’m menopausal,” or, “I’m struggling with PMS,” or, “I have lots of emotions around certain times of my cycle.” She’s going to ask those questions and wonder about them, and if you’re not a physician, you’re not in any place to give advice there. The first thing you want to do is ask, “Why don’t you go to your doctor and get checked out to find out what’s going on there?”
Dale Johnson: We understand that hormones are certainly not necessarily impacting just women. When we think about that impact, what would you recommend that a woman do if she comes to a biblical counselor? Obviously, we’re not going to give her medical advice, but as a counselor, we have to give her advice on her emotions in the things that she’s dealing with. What would you recommend that we do?
Dan Dionne: You can ask her to go see her physician. That might be a gynecologist or a family physician or an internist. Say, “Why don’t you ask them, ‘Are my emotions affected by my hormones and could the things that are out of balance be fixed or repaired or improved on?’” Then give her the option to explore that with her doctor.
Dale Johnson: Say she thinks about that with her doctor. What are the types of things that the counselee should be listening for to know if this is legitimate medical advice that she’s hearing relative to her hormones? Can she know certain tests that are being implemented to check her hormone levels at all by a physician? What are some things that you could advise her on?
Dan Dionne: She should get a good physical exam and she should tell her doctor what her concerns are. For a lot of women, when they get to be in their 50’s, they’re thinking about menopause. The big question would be, “Am I in menopause and am I approaching menopause?” A lot of times, a woman that’s approaching menopause will start to have irregular periods. She’ll have hot flashes. She may not be able to sleep well at night. Quite a few women get depressed when they’re starting to lose estrogen in their bodies. Some of them are sleep deprived and they have trouble even thinking clearly. They can ask their doctor, “Can you check my estrogen levels? Can you check to see if I’m in menopause or getting close?” Then they can start discussing some options.
Dale Johnson: You just mentioned several symptoms that I think are helpful for us as counselors to pay attention to if a woman is describing these types of issues in this age window. She might not even be thinking about menopause, but we’re hearing her say those things, that she’s having these symptoms, and she’s at this particular age. We may recommend, without her thinking about it, to go and see a physician. That’s wise counsel. As we think about reality and biblical counseling, sometimes we get the rep that we don’t want to discuss bodily issues, but the reality is our body does affect and influence us. How should a woman respond to these legitimate physical changes, these hormonal changes, like menopause? How do we help her to respond appropriately in this type of suffering?
Dan Dionne: I like that you say suffering, because when a woman is going through menopause or suffering from PMS, it is real suffering. As biblical counselors, we all need to have a theology about suffering and how important it is. I love that passage in Psalm 119 where it says, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” God uses suffering in all of our lives to grow us. He uses it with me all the time. I almost don’t learn unless I’m suffering because I’ll go on my little merry way and doing my thing. God uses suffering in that way. A woman could look at her menopausal symptoms as a God-given gift to grow her in her sanctification, but she’ll need to think rightly about that, and that will be hard when she’s suffering.
Dale Johnson: I’m reminded of 2 Corinthians 4, where Paul is describing to us that our outer man decays as our inner man is being renewed. This can be a scenario, a situation, and a point of suffering that women are called to endure in these particular times. She can be confident that those outer sufferings are not determinative of her inner growth. We can see very healthy growth in her through this process as we deal with these legitimate experiences and emotions that she’s feeling and having. Let me shift gears a little bit because I think this is a great question to ask relative to a relationship that she might be dealing with. Oftentimes, women are quite mysterious to men, anyway.
Dan Dionne: Amen.
Dale Johnson: When you think of a situation like menopause or PMS, a man seems to be more mystified in relation to a woman. Let’s think from the husband’s perspective. The wife is confused because he’s not understanding her situation. He’s confused. He likes to disengage. How should a husband support his wife through these types of hormonal problems?
Dan Dionne: It’s in his best advantage or in his best interest to help his wife in this way. You’re right, men do tend to disengage and say, “Oh you just go take care of that, honey, just talk to your doctor about it. Whatever you think is right.” Yet, I think a husband can be a big help to his wife once she has some decisions to make. She might come home from the doctor and the doctor says, “I can put you on this type of estrogen, this type of patch, or we could use these kinds of medications to help you with your symptoms.” He should be involved because he’s going to get to live with her and see how those medications might affect her. He could be a helpful part of the process or he could, again, be checked out and miss that opportunity to be a help to her.