"Shine a Light on It"
Ansel drove slowly and carefully,
not wanting to disrupt the fragile calm
that had settled over Kyle after
their visit to Bouchet College.
"I don't know what's wrong with me,"
Kyle said softly. "Usually I can keep it
together, but right now I feel like
everything's out of control."
"College is a big change, even when
it goes smoothly, let alone when it gets
bumpy," Ansel said. "Most students take
a year or two to level out again. That's okay.
You have people like me to help you get
back in control when you wobble."
"Yeah, that helps," Kyle said.
"I'm glad Mr. Ashby spoke up. I was
too swamped to realized that I'd
gotten in over my head."
"That happens to everyone
sometimes," Ansel reminded him.
"It's why people need people."
A deer startled out of the trees as
they approached a peaceful creek, and
Ansel tapped on the brakes to let him pass.
The stag bounded away, flag held high.
"Nice buck," Kyle said. "He'd make
somebody a lot of tasty venison."
"Do you hunt?" Ansel asked as
they drove over the low stone bridge
across the creek. "I usually do."
"I try to get out at least once a year,
but I'm not very good at it," Kyle said.
"Mostly I just eat what my father
and my aunts bring home."
"If you take that guitar to deer camp,
I bet you'd be real popular," Ansel said
with a wink. "You wouldn't have to tell
anyone that you didn't personally shoot
all the venison that you're carrying back."
Kyle chuckled a little, which gave Ansel
hope that things would turn out all right.
They kept their conversation light
all the way to the community center.
Ansel pulled past the arch that marked
the main entrance into the café and foyer,
parking near the smaller entrance that led
to the food pantry and the old pastor's office
now devoted to community counseling.
A few stubborn chrysanthemums still bloomed
in the flowerpots beside the door, but the rest
of the plants had already gone dormant.
Ansel turned left just inside the door,
guiding Kyle into the counseling office.
The walls were a warm beige, with a row
of long windows near the ceiling. The front of
the room had two padded leather chairs, while
the back had an arrangement of desks and
office equipment. A bookcase held stationery,
pencils, art, journals, and assorted workbooks.
The woman behind the desk smiled at them
as they came in. "What can I do for you?"
she asked. "I have an appointment in
forty-five minutes, so I can give you
a little over half an hour now."
"Good afternoon, Alma," said Ansel.
"I brought Kyle here for some help."
"I'm so glad you came today, Kyle,"
the counselor said. "Several folks have
expressed concerns about you; I had to remind
them I couldn't just shanghai you. So I was hoping
you might drop by to talk about whatever it is."
"College has been rough," Kyle said.
"I'm so jangled, I can't hear myself think."
"We got a call from Mr. Ashby this morning,
because he worried that Kyle might wander
out into traffic," Ansel said. "When I arrived,
that seemed like a credible concern."
"How did you handle that?" Alma asked.
"I talked Kyle into having lunch with me, and
we discussed his issues a bit," Ansel said.
"Then we went to Bouchet College to update
his major. The practical problem-solving is in
motion; what we need now is someone to help
with emotional stress and boost his coping skills."
"Counseling sessions are usually private,
except for family therapy or support groups,"
Alma said gently, looking from Ansel to Kyle.
"I don't need to know the details, I just want
to make sure that my concerns and those of
the community get addressed," said Ansel. "If
you want me to leave, Kyle, just say the word."
"No, it's okay for you to stay," Kyle said with
a shake of his head. "I know how I feel, but
I think it would help to hear another viewpoint.
Besides, it's nice to know that someone cares."
"In that case, both of you take a seat, and I'll
move my office chair," said Alma, using her feet
to make the chair skitter around the desk.
Kyle laughed. "I didn't know grownups did that."
"What grownup?" Alma said, making a show
of looking around the room. "There's Ansel,
but he's got both of his feet on the ground."
Well, that was because this chair
didn't have wheels on the bottom.
"Thanks," Kyle said. "I needed the laugh.
"Why don't you tell me a little about
what has you feeling down?" Alma said.
"Then we can talk about what might help."
"College has been great in some ways,
but really disappointing in others," Kyle said.
"I thought I'd get to learn more stuff that I need
instead of just junk that other people think is
important. So when my grades started
slipping, I felt totally overwhelmed ..."
Alma let him ramble for a good ten minutes,
nodding and making noises of encouragement.
When Kyle finally wound down, she said, "It
sounds like you feel out of your depth, and
that makes it hard to handle your emotions."
"Yeah," said Kyle. "So how do we fix that?"
"Well, that depends on your goals," said Alma.
"You've given me a good idea what's going
wrong. How would your life look, fixed?
What do you want to be doing?"
"I want to stay at Bouchet, but learn things
that really apply to my career as a busker,"
not waste time on stuff for other professions,"
Kyle said. "I want my teachers to support that,
listen to me, help me figure out what things I need
to study, and maybe spot problems I wouldn't
notice until I ran smack into them."
"Those sound like good practical objectives,"
Alma said. "I have plenty of materials on
setting and pursuing personal goals.
Now, how would you like to feel?"
"I want to feel like I am in charge of
my own life, and not freaking out because
everything is spinning out of control," Kyle said.
"I want my peace of mind back. Music used
to make me feel calm, but now I'm antsy."
"First things first," Alma said. "Have
you done a patchwork check yet?"
"I don't think so?" Kyle said.
"It doesn't sound familiar."
"Most people learn a decent set of
life skills growing up, but few people learn
all of them," Alma said. "We recommend
that new adults check their fluency, and then
patch any gaps that we find. This center offers
a variety of classes and programs for that, so
it doesn't all have to come in counseling."
"That's probably a good idea,"
Kyle said. "I've gotten so caught up
in college that I haven't thought about
much else lately. Maybe I need
to put my ear to the ground."
"Check your course catalog too,"
Ansel said. "If you have a big gap, you
might as well get credit for it. Colleges
usually offer some classes to help students
catch up on things that they missed earlier.
I was worried you didn't have all the skills
you needed to handle this situation.
"Yeah, I'll check that," Kyle said,
making a note on his smartphone.
"Moving along, I have manuals and
workbooks for coping skills and emotions,"
said Alma. "We could use one of those
to outline a series of counseling sessions,
or mix and match chapters you want.
The people who asked me about you
were concerned that you sounded
distressed more and more often."
"I'm good with workbooks," Kyle said.
"I might need help with organization,
though -- I'm so scattered right now,
it's hard to plan anything."
"That's what I'm here for,"
Alma assured him.
"Thanks," Kyle said. "It helps
just having people listen to me.
I was starting to feel like a ghost."
He stared down at his hands.
"Talk therapy is the best practice for
any 'unheard' problem," Alma said.
"You speak, I listen, and that releases
the pressure for what went unsaid or
ignored. I can also help you work
through your feelings about it."
"You might consider working on
your communication skills, too,"
said Ansel. "That could help you
express your needs and convince
people to make necessary changes.
It's also a good skill for entertainers."
"I have materials for that," Alma said.
"There's a communication group too."
"College has Speech Com classes
and Psych and stuff," said Kyle, making
another note. "Let me ask what I could get
credit for, and if that doesn't cover it all, then
I can do the rest in counseling or groups."
"That reminds me, Alma," said Ansel.
"Please check with student counseling,
because they may be going overboard
with distress tolerance. A little bit is good,
but they had Kyle treating a clay problem
like a rock problem. We don't need that."
"Thanks for the tip; I'll meet with them,"
Alma said. "To be fair, most problems they
see are either academic or personal, and
distress tolerance helps with both emotions
and the angst left over after you've studied
all you can. But it does have limits."
"I appreciate your help," Ansel said.
"I didn't exactly get a warm reception
from Kyle's former academic advisor."
Kyle snickered. "Yeah, but you
put her right down," he said. Then
he looked at Ansel. "Would you really
have called your boss, or brought it up
in a town meeting? It's just me ..."
"I would have, and we don't know that
it's just you. Probably it's not," Ansel said.
"If other college students are floundering for
fixable reasons, then we need to know that and
take care of it. New adults often stumble when
they're learning how to make their own way in
the world, and we need to make sure they
don't crash before they've even started."
"That's really something," Kyle said.
"Usually people just blow me off."
"We can work on that too," Alma said.
"I hope so," Kyle said. "I'm a little worried
about handing my life over to someone like this,
but it's a mess and I don't know what else to do.
It's like I'm trying to read in the dark."
"You're not handing your life over,"
Alma said. "You have the sheet music;
I just shine a light on it so you can read it.
When the sun rises, you won't need me anymore."
"Okay," Kyle said. "That sounds good to me.
What else do you need to know about this?"
"For now, I think we have enough to start on,"
Alma said. "Let's make an appointment
when you can take some assessments
and I'll do a more detailed intake. Then
we can make some specific plans."
"All right," Kyle said, and they
checked their schedules
to pick a suitable time.
"It's been a pleasure," Alma said
as she shook their hands. "Kyle, I
look forward to seeing you on Friday."
They hadn't solved everything today,
but at least Kyle seemed more
at peace with himself now.
As they walked out of the office,
Ansel said, "Where to? You've
probably lost your pitch by now;
Ashby's Feed & Seed is popular."
"Yeah, everybody's buying bird seed,"
Kyle said, but then shook his head.
"Never mind, just drop me back at college.
I've got Glee Club in the evenings."
"No problem," Ansel said.
"Thank you for listening to me
instead of trying to blow me off."
"I hate it when people do that to me,"
Kyle said. "I won't do to anyone else."
Ansel clapped him on the shoulder.
"Now that is an excellent life skill."
* * *
Alma Cuddy -- She has fair skin, brown eyes, and long straight brown hair. She works as a community counselor, usually in the Bluehill Community Center, but she also travels around town to reach people in other locations. Alma enjoys the great outdoors and often meets clients outside.
Qualities: Master (+6) Lovingkindness, Expert (+4) Accommodating, Expert (+4) Interpersonal Intelligence, Good (+2) Community Counselor, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Outdoor Skills
Poor (-2) Alcohol Intolerance
* * *
“Good… Bad? I’m not here to judge where you’re at or where you’ve been. I’m simply here to encourage you in where you would like to go. You have the map; I’ll shine the light on it so you can better read it. And eventually, the sun will rise again in your life and you’ll no longer need my light to assist you.”
― Alaric Hutchinson, Living Peace
"Policing with Velvet Gloves" is one exploration of improved handling for mental incidents. Another involves pairing police officers with mental health workers. These are typical of Terramagne-America, which makes it effective to seek police assistance in such cases. Don't try this at home, because local-American police tend to kill people with mental disabilities. This is an unfortunate result of two trends: cutting mental health care, and militarizing police. Some police departments are making new polices aimed at solving the problem of extrajudicial killing of the mentally ill, but it's not going to be enough without fixing the other half by providing appropriate care.
T-America also does a better job of teaching that everyone loses control sometimes, and everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes. What matters is supporting people so they develop the skills to handle big challenges and intense emotions, which minimizes the tendency to get swamped and lose their shit.
People need people, especially when times get hard. In a healthy family, children learn this from their parents, so it's relatively easy for other folks to remind them of it when they flounder. Isolation is devastating to mental and physical health, so T-America has many layers of social safety net aimed at helping people make connections. Sadly, the miserable conditions in L-America make people depressed and anxious, not because individuals are sick, but because they are living in a sick society with a lot of dysfunctional issues. Learn how to build a strong support network.
This is the bridge between Bouchet College and Cambridge Commons.
The Bluehill Community Center includes a small outdoor skate park and a playground, an indoor skate park with climbing wall, youth center, training center, 1600 seat auditorium, thrift store, classrooms, daycare, preschool, café, a small walk-in clinic with medical and dental care, three linkable banquet rooms, a counseling office in the "pastor" space, a kitchen, and a food pantry. Alma Cuddy is a community counselor working here. This started out as a religious facility, but has since become the secular center and the religious aspects are now at the YMCA and the People of Jesus Nondenominational Christian Church and Interfaith Center. Each offers services on a different schedule so that essentials like food are available most of the time to people in need. See the main entry and the door that leads to the counseling office and food pantry.
Community counselors look after the mental health and general functionality of the community as a whole. They form the front line of support through mental health education and walk-in care for noncritical mental issues. They also treat the vulnerable, such as homeless people, who may be unwilling and/or unable to access other services. A key reason why T-America functions better is simply that people have widespread opportunities to solve small to medium problems before anything blows up into major trouble that may not be fixable. Most towns there have at least one community counselor keeping an eye on the big picture, and larger populations have more.
Person-centered counseling focuses on the whole client, not just a diagnosis, and supports people in solving their own problems rather than relying on an expert to fix things for them. Because of this, a person-centered treatment plan features the client's own goals, rather than goals imposed by a therapist.
Mental wellness is more than the absence of mental illness or injury; like physical health, it spans positive behaviors and their benefits. T-America teaches the skills of mental wellness so that people tend to stay psychologically healthy, and it also normalizes idea of getting periodic checkups to prevent problems and keep up with the latest news on mental health. Browse some apps for mental wellness and a wellness workbook.
Resilience is the capacity to bounce back from stress and challenges. Family and community ties make individuals more resilient to hardships. Protective factors improve resilience for children and communities. T-America builds a great deal of fault tolerance into their social systems from top to bottom, which contributes to individual and communal health. Here are workbooks on building resilience and learning to relax, plus one on teaching resilience to children.
Counseling can have any number of sessions, short-term or long-term, close-ended or open-ended. Because it takes time to solve problems, and the process can get uncomfortable, counselors need ethical strategies in order to retain clients throughout the course of treatment. Here's an example of brief cognitive-behavioral therapy lasting 8 sessions. This one focuses on CBT tools. Browse an archive of CBT worksheets. This manual of CBT coping skills for substance abuse aims for 12 sessions. A booklet of coping skills for children and teens could support 18-20 sessions. In person-centered therapy, the client's own goals should guide the caregiver in designing a treatment plan.
Life skills are the basic techniques needed for everyday tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and shopping. This assessment tool measures how well children or teens are progressing toward independent living. This assessment focuses on people with disabilities or other challenges. Browse a manual of basic life skills. T-America encourages teens and new adults to measure their fluency in life skills, so they can fill any gaps before those cause serious trouble. You can pretty much walk into any community center or community clinic and they'll either have someone who does that stuff or they can tell you where to go for it. There are many more ways to improve your life.
Emotional intelligence is the awareness and management of your feelings. There are EI manuals for adults and teens.
Communication skills support healthy interactions. Browse some communication workbooks for families, volunteers, and employees. Everyone benefits from developing good communication skills.
Metaphors underlie a lot of speech. Clear communication requires matching the metaphors for social roles, life, and sensory modes. English makes it easy for sight-dominant people, but it's harder for hearing-dominant or touch-dominant people. Kyle is a music student, so Alma uses auditory and musical metaphors in speaking with him.
The Golden Rule appears in many variations. The Jewish version goes, "What is hateful to you, do not do unto your neighbor." This relates to the virtues of sincerity and consistency. Be a hero, not a hypocrite.