By: Maureen Linneman and Mary Ann Watjen
Eleven Years ago several wise leaders saw the need in our community to provide mental health services for the uninsured community. At All Souls Counseling Center (ASCC) the therapists and staff are able to do the work they love, and clients are welcomed into a warm and caring home-like environment.
We are therapists who listen with great respect to stories that are spoken with courage and hope. We are blessed to work in a place that honors the skills of our craft. Currently, economic concerns are an issue for many ASCC clients. Often, clients are uncertain about their potential, their future, or from where their rent and food money will come. Parents have the additional concern about their children’s future. The increasing cost of living and the inability to earn even a living wage are intrinsically connected to self esteem. Psychological and physiological states like anxiety and depression are, unfortunately, highly possible. A core societal belief is that success as a wage earner makes us worthy individuals. This belief can carry with it guilt and shame when we are unable to support ourselves or our children.
Many of the people who come through our doors are women. Traditionally, women’s sense of worth and purpose is oriented around relationships. In their book, The Healing Connection: How Women form Relationships In Therapy and In Life, Jean Baker Miller and Irene Pierce Stiver put forth the idea that women actively participate in the growth of other people. “By listening to the stories women tell about their lives, and examining these stories seriously, we have found that, quite contrary to what one would expect based on the governing models of development emphasizing separation, women’s sense of self and of worth is most often grounded in the ability to make and maintain relationships.” The success of family relationships, care of children, friendships, and social supports are often the work of women.
What we observe as therapists are women who, out of concern for their relationships with mates and children, typically make the phone call to initiate psychotherapy. Women are curious about their inner lives, want better understanding of themselves and loved ones, and often reveal more compassion toward others than to themselves. The core of our work as therapists is often centered on delving into these attributes, affirming them, and transforming their application in a woman’s life. We are able to witness the basic good of their person and support them in giving voice to their unspoken strengths. From our perspective, we have the privilege of shining a light on their strengths and accompanying them in the affirmation of their own gifts.
In our culture, one’s gifts, talents, and the unique place of the feminine are not often honored. When a person recognizes that their worth is not determined by their affluence or their power over others, there can be new self-awareness and self-esteem. In the process, women can start to put a different frame around their life and their potential for a resilient future. By learning about personal uniqueness, one can honor and respect the basic goodness within.
One client came to All Souls a year and half after leaving an abusive marriage. “I had a number of life problems. I had difficulty being an effective and in-control parent. My job was dead-end, my self-esteem remained dangerously low, I was withdrawn and moody. Going to All Souls was the best thing I have ever done. Through my experience there I was able to start working back through the many traumas of my previous marriage, and I finally came to understand that what I had been through was abuse and it was not my fault. It was a long road to get through the self-esteem and anger issues… and I continue to work with them today. I was able to start facing the many factors of my childhood that shaped my poor self-esteem and led me into such a horrible situation.”
As the client continues to unfold their story we begin to discover the vast resources of that individual’s special qualities and capabilities. Finding out what a person is most passionate about (a gift for art, the love of animals or the Earth, or simply the music they love) can help the client access their own resources. We can also explore how we really are surrounded by beauty, not just things. By inviting women to discover the wonder of opening their senses and feasting on the natural world, one can experience joy and comfort in living simpler pleasures than the world of consumerism offers. For instance, the coming season of fall invites us to walk, to open our eyes to color, the different tones of light and the sound of crackling leaves. Harvest brings about both the fruits of labor and the knowledge of dormant seasons. What needs to be released invites the winter. How does one face even loss and grief? Hope, of course, is always there, even during the starkness of the dark season. Going through the time of less light and staying with one’s interior resources does result in spring coming again.
No two stories are alike and each includes a personal history, culture, and the environment in which one was raised. Knowing our roots helps us understand how our past effects our present growth. These important aspects of our lives can aid us in understanding ourselves, giving us insight into making choices, and guiding us in how to relate to others.
Over time, those of us at All Souls Counseling Center have been asked about our roots and our name. The counseling center originated from the Cathedral of All Souls. The founders created a place where those in need could be served, but with the vision that the counseling center would eventually become independent. Much like the process of raising children, our center went on its own in 2001. During those early days, there were many discussions about our name. Would we keep it or did we need to change? The decision was to keep the name for a couple of reasons. First, like a family name, we wanted to honor our roots, and secondly, we wanted a name that conveyed an open and inclusive service. The rocking chair became one of our symbols of a homey atmosphere with pleasant and comfortable surroundings.
Our present center is located at 35 Arlington Street and is our first purchased home. Thanks to our many funders and supporters we are able to keep the doors open to a diverse community of clients. Though this article focuses on women, we serve women and men, families and couples on a sliding fee scale. We are a group of five staff, one psychiatrist, and 20 volunteer therapists, two of whom are bilingual. Our services are available to all people in Western North Carolina without insurance regardless of their ability to pay or their faith perspective. We are pleased to be a part of this Great Work!
We are grateful for this opportunity in WNC WOMAN to tell about our experiences as ASCC therapists to any who may be interested. Above all, we thank those many individuals who entrust us with their stories.
All Souls Counseling Center is located at 35 Arlington Street in Asheville. Phone: 828-259-3369. We can be found online at www.allsoulscounseling.com.
Maureen Linneman is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a mother and grandmother. Her career has been in the field of Public Mental Health and she has been a therapist at All Soul’s Counseling center since 2002. Of special interest to her is the field of eco-psychology and the care of creation.
Mary Ann Watjen, MSW is a licensed clinical social worker who in addition to enjoying her work a great deal, loves to ride her bike, drum and sing.