A few years ago I was at a conference and saw a display table for a program called “Spring Lake Ranch” and met Rachel Stark who was manning the booth and also was in charge of Admissions and Outreach. I found her to be a bit different, unlike others who were simply trying to sell a program. Rachel appeared to not be trying to sell a program so much as she was trying to promote an idea. This intrigued me mainly because it is how I feel about the programs that I developed and direct. Hers is not mainstream to say the least, which really is a shame when you think about it. Nestled on 600 acres of land in Vermont they have developed a true therapeutic community. The program blends ranch work with a therapeutic milieu; a combination of lay people and licensed pros make up the program staff. Clients take part in everything from growing food and animals, to woodwork, syrup making, maintenance etc. they learn how to adapt to life in more productive ways, how to address their issues, increase personal responsibility and self respect and also how to be both interdependent and as independent as possible; a combination that is hard to find.
Many of you know about the opening of Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm in Wolcott CT and our infancy as a program. It is currently in the first phase of implementation: we are big on dreams, short of money and looking for whatever helpful hints, suggestions and guidance we can find especially when it comes to fees, animals to include and exclude, planting, greenhouses etc. I have had many folks offer to offer guidance and consultation but they did so with a large price tag, so large that we were unable to access it. The good folks at Spring Lake however remember what it was like 82 years ago when they started so they are more than happy to help as they can. And help they did.
After a few emails and several false starts due to my ongoing health issues that prevented me from visiting, I found myself both healthy enough and able to make the 3-4 hour drive to the ranch. Rachel graciously cleared several hours from her day to meet with me and my crew from the farm. We found a great environment, shared a communal style meal (exactly what we envision for Pillwillop) and a host of folks who were happy to both encourage, offer guidance and lend an ear. The ability to share our thoughts and for them to share theirs, to hear how they build the program in stages, what has worked well, what has been discontinued etc. was worth more than could ever be paid in real dollars. The collaborative experience was one that sadly is not often found which is such a shame.
Mental health is a business to be sure, we need to make more than we spend, we have salaries to pay and overhead to be sure but unlike more traditional businesses, ours should not be one of rivalry but one of civility and camaraderie. If we can share our knowledge with others to help improve this profession I believe it is in all of our best interests to do so. We need not place a price tag on everything (that is not to say that paid professional consultations are wrong but even if you normally charge for such things a certain degree of free sharing is good for us all). To me, if we start treating this profession as one where every minute is a fee, we will lose more than potential dollars; we will also lose some of the core of our profession and also lose out on key ways to model behaviors that would benefit our clients.
I can’t speak for everyone but on behalf of Community Counseling of Central CT. Inc, Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm and my friends and colleagues at Silver Lake Ranch, I encourage you to set out a bit of your daily or weekly routine to give back to the profession in some small way. It may be a call, email, blog, pamphlet or any number of ways, but so long as it helps with the development of our profession it will not be time wasted.
As for me, well I am learning the art of wreath making up on the farm and day dreaming about the possibility of offering a yearly retreat for clinicians and clinicians in training to come visit the farm, talk about what they do, share ideas, help problem solve and building a stronger support network. My only question is whether or not I would be sitting there alone. My guess is that there are many folks who feel that clinicians are not competitors and as I sit by the camp fire, many others will be there as well. Be sure to bring marshmallows and a notebook…
Warren Corson III (Doc Warren) is a counselor and the clinical & executive director of a community counseling agency in central CT (www.docwarren.org).