Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships


It’s true. The time has come to quit. The time is right. It has been 28 years since I wrote my first column in January 1984 for the Rapid City Journal. I didn’t know what kind of journey I was on or where it would take me. But I began with a sense of mission and that sense of mission has sustained me.


I began with the idea of writing about rural life, rural mental health, and the farm crisis. Was a column like this ever needed at that time! Waves of anger, despair and raw emotion were tearing apart farm families, marriages and rural communities. Though the seeds of the farm crisis were sown before 1984, that was the year that farmers started to talk about the private hell they were experiencing.

Because of pride and self-sufficiency, each was feeling he or she had been cut out of the herd as defective. They blamed themselves because of mistakes that should and could have been anticipated. With the spate of media attention, they came to the realization that the whole herd was in trouble.

Farm and ranch families needed to know they weren’t alone. My column was validation. They were worth something. The mistakes weren’t just their own and there was a story to tell. I was privileged to tell part of that story.

I put a megaphone to the cries of heartbreak and struggles families were going through. In my way, I gave advice on stress and coping to help people define and deal successfully with what they were going through. There was a lot to write about. I was flooded almost immediately with an impassioned response that I used to broadcast throughout rural America.

Broadening the mission. After a couple of years, I expanded my column to address mental health topics in general. In a religious sense, I wanted to make popular that which was good and make unpopular that which was evil. I wanted to represent what was the best research and wisdom from my profession in this fight. Popular culture was eroding so much of what was good and wonderful about family and community life.

I also had an active clinical practice as a psychologist. I was a witness to human error and foibles that created much suffering and heartache. I distilled my therapeutic wisdom, insights and techniques into my column to address common mistakes and concerns. I could write with compassion, realism and freshness because I had the unique privilege of being a part of many people’s lives.

I drew on the research of my colleagues in psychology and rural sociology to tell other stories of professionals whose work I knew and trusted. Conservatives liked my writing because of the spiritual and moral underpinnings. Liberals liked it because it was fact and research based. Whatever the column’s appeal, it was generally concise, practical, and readable.

Making it personal. Occasionally and to the chagrin of my wife and children, I made it personal, disclosing things about myself and my family that also had a message. I wasn’t perfect and neither were they. Our struggles humanized the column.

I am a Mormon. I didn’t disguise my beliefs or affiliation nor did I blandish or proselyte them. Initially, I was viewed by some with skepticism and wariness, but I became a trusted ally and resource for pastors, ministers, priests and lay leaders as we shared common goals and concerns. Thank you for that acceptance.

I became a fixture in people’s lives. It has won me many friends and the ire of more than a few offended readers. My column has been a steady weekly challenge for me and a reliable and generally welcome visitor into the homes and lives of my readers.

So why quit? Good question. As we moved from the Dakotas to Missouri, my wife Darlene and I were puzzled over our lives. We had a goal of serving a mission for our church.

Six of our seven children are married and have settled into careers and lives that are stable and rewarding. Our seventh child, still single, is graduating from college this next spring. We didn’t want to put our lives on hold waiting for Cupid’s arrow to strike.

Darlene has studied and spoke Russian for more than 15 years. She deserves a chance to use that language. I want her to have that experience and to share her incredible talents and wisdom with others. She had been the reluctant one - always reminding me to my value to the audience that depends on the column and the personal good that comes from my counseling.

We finally made the decision to end the column by the end of March 2012. Since then something remarkable happened.

An Iowa farmer and psychologist, Dr. Mike Rosmann, - a colleague and leader with considerable reputation, a man who loves and cares for rural people as much or more than I do - has committed himself to take over the column. I will introduce him to you in a future column.

I couldn’t be more pleased. I won’t be abandoning my readers after all. We will move on to new adventures and leave you in capable hands.