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Darren* surprised me. At ten years old, his mother brought him to see me because she was worried he was being abused at his father’s house. Darren was glad to talk. He was responsible for a number of chores, and if he did not complete these he might miss a meal, or be shaken by his father. A part of him wanted to protect his dad; another part wanted to tell everything. He seemed so brave—it was easy to respect him. Our hour went quickly. I remember feeling hopeful about what could happen. I also felt powerless to protect him. That was the last time I saw Darren or his mom. I can’t tell you how that story ends.
That is often how it goes. I am a mental health service provider here in Lexington, working with a counseling center called EnterChange. Anyone who has been through therapy can verify that the process is difficult. We therapists ask hard questions, questions that clients may have been avoiding for years. We sometimes protect ourselves by saying things like, She wasn’t ready to change… On my better days, however, I try to consider my responsibility.
An important component of a therapeutic relationship is welcome, or hospitality. First impressions matter. Unfortunately, many people who need mental health services are treated as nuisances. Without welcome, these people can feel shut out, marginalized. But humans do incur wounds in this life; pain is universal. Hospitality can have the effect of humanizing a person so much that the wounds are not a cause for isolation. Rather, they become a connecting point. We begin to share our hurts.
Furthermore, welcome is one of the few things I can control. I cannot anticipate how many times I will see a client. I cannot predict a relapse, or a miracle cure. But I can be responsible to welcome a new person into our office, to offer a cup of tea, and to be ready to recognize the growth that has already begun.
This welcome I hold in tension with another responsibility. Some of what I do is fairly uncomfortable. I ask questions when I hear something disturbing. I probe for details. A death in the family, or a suicide, is something I cannot breeze by as I create space for a relationship. The long silences—it is best not to spill these with a comment about the weather, or the Wildcats. It is better to permit the quiet, to let it be a safe place. Such discomfort may send people away; I regret that. It may seem insensitive, but it is calculated and (hopefully) tempered by warmth.
* * *
Emotional health requires that a life has meaning, and that a person has the capacity to make or discover meaning. People must have a reason, a why, to bear the burden of the pace of this life, or the burden of the pain we encounter. It is my hope that people who come into this place will find welcome. I hope they find the health they seek, the wholeness they deserve.
(Ryan Koch, LPCA, is a therapist with EnterChange Personal Support Network and can be reached at 233-9777.)
*This name was changed to protect confidentiality.