‘Recovery model’ for counseling is just what Gus needed

Written by: Tammy Swift


I have a young friend who is going through a tough time.


My friend, we’ll call him Gus, is going through the challenges so common to all of us as we figure out our place in the world: relationship troubles, the loss of a beloved friend to suicide, the decisions about what to do with his life now that he’s no longer in high school.


I’ve never been a parent, but I’ve felt downright maternal as I’ve watched this funny, creative, warm-hearted young man slump into depression.


It breaks my heart. I can tell him that “when I was your age,” I also had my disappointments or burdens and also had no idea where I was headed.


But such words are cold comfort to the young. They tend to think we middle-aged folks were born old, or that we really don’t know what it’s like to have a bad day or a sad soul or a broken heart.


So the adults in Gus’s life were especially relieved when he agreed to talk to a counselor. At last he would get help. At least he could now talk to a trained professional, who would say all the right things and help point him in the right direction.


Unfortunately, our optimism was premature. It didn’t seem to be working. Gus wasn’t any better, and he confessed he didn’t like his counselor.


When I asked why, Gus responded that he felt like he was there to be lectured rather than helped. “It’s more like seeing a doctor,” he said. “I’m worried to say what’s really on my mind the whole time because I’m worried he’s going to argue with me about my feelings or judge everything I say.”


I recalled a conversation I’d had with an LSSND co-worker after Gus first started having problems. She had recommended one of LSS’s own programs – Abound Counseling – to me. At the time, I didn’t take it very seriously. As much as I respected Abound and its mission to help kids and families, I wasn’t sure they would have anyone available to treat someone older. Even more importantly, what if I stuck my neck out and sang the praises of Abound – and Gus hated it?


But when Gus’s mood didn’t improve, I decided something needed to be done. I asked Gus if he would give another counselor a try. Thankfully, he was willing to try anything.


On the day of his first appointment, I offered to give him a ride to Abound’s offices at LSS so he would know how to get there my himself the next week.


As we hung out in LSSND’s crowded waiting room – among a crowd of clients that ranged from elderly refugees to kiddos squabbling over the waiting room toys – my stomach did backflips. If this second attempt at therapy didn’t work, Gus might refuse to try therapy altogether. Then who would be able to help him? The adults surrounding him tried to be helpful, but we just didn’t have the objective eye and professional training that seemed so important right now.


Just then, Gus’s assigned therapist, Jeff, entered the waiting room. I vaguely knew Jeff from working in the same building, but I wondered what Gus thought as he was approached by this young guy – dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans and smiling broadly.


Jeff extended his hand, flashed a friendly smile and said: “Gus? I’m Jeff.” Gus’s whole body seemed to relax at the informality and warmth of the greeting. My anxiety started to thaw – just a little. “This could work,” I thought to myself. “Maybe it’s going to be alright.”


After their session, Jeff walked Gus up to my work cubicle. As they approached, I could hear them laughing and joking easily. When Jeff left, I couldn’t resist helicoptering a bit. “Well? How did it go?”


Gus smiled. A real smile. “Jeff is sooo cool!” he said. “We just talked. He was so easy to talk to, and I didn’t feel like I was seeing a doctor – not even once.”


Deep down, I knew there was a reason Gus’s appointment hadn’t felt like an appointment. From my previous experience writing about Abound, I knew this group of innovative therapists use a holistic, “recovery” model – a deeply personal, patient-centered approach that looks at all factors of wellness and focuses on building coping strategies, positive goal-setting and strengths rather than lingering on labels, deficits and symptoms. The recovery model might incorporate approaches such as skill-building activities, the inclusion of people who comprise the client’s support network and more frequent sessions vs. the once-weekly, talk-therapy approach of the more commonly used medical model.


There certainly is a time and place for both models and the recovery model isn’t for everyone.


But, in this particular case anyway, it was exactly what Gus needed. All I knew was that Abound had provided the right therapist, with the right approach, to reach out and connect with Gus at a time when he needed it most.


And that means the world to me.

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