ACA Blog

Chris Allen
Apr 07, 2011

Rolling Out the Model

Why do we take vacations? Do we take them to get away from stress and to forget about current circumstances? Do we take them so that we might re-connect with the people and friends that we love? The answer to all of these questions is undoubtedly “yes” for most of us. But, what happens when we come home from our time away on vacation? For awhile, we are relaxed but inevitably the problems we sought to avoid come back to haunt us with a vengeance. The healing and rejuvenation that we expected disappears for many of us.



And what about counseling? Why do clients seek your advice? The reasons are endless but the desires for healing and rejuvenation are generally the same as for someone wanting a vacation.

I would also venture to say that some of you have Clients that are forced to make a choice between going to Counseling and taking a vacation, due to both financial and time constraints. Many of you have clients that can’t even afford to do either.

Background: During my first year at Covenant, I received orders to deploy to Afghanistan for the first time. Jen was pregnant with our first of three daughters (Mackenzie), and I had to put Grad school on hold. Needless to say, the time away from each other was difficult. Jen gave birth to Mackenzie while I was away, and she did a superb job as a single mother for a year.

As you can imagine, when I returned home after being gone for a year, life was definitely not the same in the Allen household. Jen and I had expectations of each other that were not realistic. For those of you that are LPC’s, you can only imagine what we were going through in that first month back together.

Well, Jen happened to know about a bed and breakfast / winery in Bryan, Texas. The place is called Messina Hof Winery and Resort. Noticing the need for me and Jen to have some time away for ourselves, Jen’s mom offered to watch Mackenzie for a couple of days in Houston. We said goodbye to Mackenzie and embarked on a wonderful vacation.

We arrived to a beautiful room with chocolates on the bed and roses in a vase, very romantic. There was a great restaurant on site with a professional staff and great food as well. Needless to say, it was a totally relaxing trip for us. One morning while lying in bed, we had an idea at almost the same time.

We wondered together what it would be like to have a Veteran and Family Counseling Ranch in a similar setting, combining professional counseling services for Veterans and their families in a vacation atmosphere at no cost. That was back in 2006 and the dream has never faded for us. We’ve been doing research on the concept off and on ever since that first deployment as time and circumstances permit. In short, there’s not a model out there like what I will propose for Veterans and their family members.

We will call this new model Vine and Branch or simply (V&B). What follows is a brief description of the V&B, more importantly what it could look like if enough interest is generated for the concept.

Vine and Branch (V&B) Model: Vine and Branch will focus its efforts on Veterans and their family members, currently serving or in their retirement years. In a ranch / vacation type atmosphere, I want to integrate the best practices as they pertain to V&B guests of: Counseling, Psychiatry, Psychology, Social Work, and Leisure.

Firmly integrating the Church, Employer, Veteran, and health care providers under a unified effort, an effort not dependent on insurance companies or government grants is the goal. The V&B will also become a center for health care professionals, Clergy, and corporate leaders to come and learn about Veteran and Family care issues. They will become advocates for change through participation in our Best Practices Group.

I believe that our guests will be best cared for when Counselors, Physicians, Clergy, and leisure industry professionals work together in order to create create a holistic environment that fosters and sustains lasting growth, awareness, and healing through combining vacation activities, with both conventional and non conventional therapeutic interventions. Success of integrated care is dependent on active participation, training, and equipping of Veterans, their families, employers, Churches and healthcare providers. Care is tailored to a guest’s needs as opposed to rigid strategies. Instead, “technical eclecticism” is preferred.

The Treatment Staff:
Psychologist: Team Lead and responsible for treatment planning and testing.
Psychiatrist: Prescription management and integration.
Counselor: Standard of 12 cases per Counselor (These Counselors are basically the standard 60 minute session type individuals and lead groups dedicated to specific areas like: boundary setting, parenting, coping with physical impairments, etc.. .)
Leisure Focused Counselor (LFC’s): These Counselors are trained and certified just like the traditional Counselors above, but they focus on leading groups and or programs that are conducted outdoors. Areas of interaction on the Ranch for LFC’s are the following: Gardening, Livestock Management, Hunting, Fishing, Cooking, Massage Therapy (specific license), and Games.
Social Worker / Follow-on Care Planners: These Staff Members focus on securing follow-on care after V&B Clients complete their vacations. V&B’s Follow on Care Planners will work with local counseling agencies and Churches to provide / facilitate resources back at home. Working tirelessly to secure services back at home for our Guests, they all have experience and a passion for vocational rehabilitation. These people truly do not take “no” for an answer. Our Follow on Care Planners will also serve as recruiting / screening agents for our Best Practice Members described below.

Best Practice Members: Best Practice Members provide a number functions during their 3 week stay on the ranch. First, they bring a continuous fresh perspective to guests and staff during their visits. Because our Best Practice Group Members are leaders in V&B’s “key partnership areas” of the Church, Healthcare, and Civilian Industry, these men and women will gain valuable insights into Veteran and Family care. They will professionally develop themselves in various ways, bringing wide ranging benefits to the functional areas they represent and to Veterans and Family members they interact with outside of the V&B Ranch. Most importantly, they will be familiar and better equipped to interact with another culture. Like every V&B Staff Member, Best Practice Members have submitted to a previous background check and adhere to required confidentiality agreements mandated by local and State laws, and relevant accrediting agencies. Best Practice Members will also see the value of investing resources into V&B involvement / participation.
Trip Facilitators (TPF’s): V&B Trip Planners / Facilitators partner with designated counselors to provide continuity of care throughout a guest’s experience. These individuals are basically guides for our guests and ensure that they have a truly wonderful vacation. While also ensuring our guests have a great time, they also assist our Counselors and Social Workers with providing valuable feedback about a client’s progress. We call it “counseling in the gap.” Guests are aware and agree to these behind the scenes interactions with their Counselors.
Pastor(s): Tasks and purpose to be outlined in future posts
Support Staff: Tasks and purpose to be outlined in future posts.
Board of Directors: Tasks and purpose to be outlined in future posts.
Recreational Activities: Purpose (fun / generate material / facilitate change)
oGym
oDay Spa
oHorseback Riding
oHunting
oFishing
oGardening
oCooking
oMovie Nights
oFine Dinning
oConfidence Course

Living Accommodations for Staff and Guests will be described in future posts.
General Treatment Plan Progression will be described in future posts.
oPre-Treatment Change
oWeek 1. Individual focus
oWeek 2. Group Focus
oWeek 3. Giving back and exploring options
oFollow on care
Networking Partners: Future post
Funds Generation: Future post
Best Practices Group: Future post



Chris Allen is an Army Officer currently serving in Afghanistan who counsels Soldiers on a volunteer basis and will pursue licensure upon his return. He is passionate about developing counseling practices that best address Veterans and their families. Blog comments are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense.

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