Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Long Journey and Time to Catch My Breath

Reflections on my years at Insight Counseling Centers & 
A Time for New Beginnings

(This entry is more of a personal reflection on my professional journey.  It is longer than many things I have written.  I wanted it to be shorter, but I wanted to honor the journey that has led me to the new beginnings I have entered this month.)

In December 1993 I had finished seminary with a sense of call to pastoral care and counseling. I did  some training as a hospital chaplain.  In 1995 I started a job as an alcohol and drug counselor in high school north of Nashville.  Also in 1995 my wife and I were in marriage counseling at the Brentwood office of the Pastoral Counseling Centers of Tennessee (PCCT) (Now Insight CounselingCenters).  I was not a great client, but over the next several months, I learned a lot about myself and I learned a lot about my wife.  As a couple we made tremendous progress and I loved the patient, caring, and thoughtful way our therapist had dealt with us – or more specifically with me.  As we were moving towards terminating our therapy, I asked my therapist one day in session, “If I wanted to do what you do, how would I do it?”  

My counselor told me of his own path towards becoming a pastoral psychotherapist and told me of a training program at Pastoral Counseling Centers that I could apply to.  I met with the Executive Director and prepared my materials.  I was interviewed later by the Executive Director, Jim Coffman, and training faculty member, Dick Bruehl.  I do not remember who else was there that day, but I remember those two.  The therapist I had seen, Bruce Vaughn, Dr.Jim Coffman, Dr. Dick Bruehl, along with Dr. Evon Flesberg, Dr. TomKnowles-Bagwell and others all became part of my training.  For two years I did clinical work at the Pastoral Counseling Centers, I had lectures and supervision by the faculty at PCCT.  These people challenged me personally in ways that made me learn about myself.  They challenged me professionally to become a better therapist with the clients I encountered.  I remember when I first sat in a room with these mentors on a Friday morning for case consultation and how intimidated I was by the quality and depth of the conversations.  I was sure that they had made a huge mistake by allowing me to enter the training program, but I also was amazed by the way that the group reflected on the theological themes of the clinical material presented and how they reflected psychologically on the religious material presented.  My life experience had been that I could not separate one part of myself from another and I could not talk about anything going on with me without reflecting on what it meant for my faith and my relationship with God.  Here I heard people doing this in a professional and profound way that was both inviting and amazing to me. 

In 1999, I was hired to the full-time staff of PCCT.  I served the organization as a site Coordinator for offices in Manchester, Tullahoma, and Franklin, Tennessee.  I later served as Clinical Director.  In 2004 I earned a Master of Marriage & Family Therapy, became a Fellow in the American Association of PastoralCounselors (AAPC), and was licensed in Tennessee as Clinical Pastoral Therapist.  In 2005, after Jim Coffman left the organization and again in 2007, I served as interim Co-Executive Director and focused on the clinical and training aspects of the work while my Co-Executive Director, Chrissa Jennings Walsh, focused on Finances and Development for the organization.  We had some very difficult years from 2007 to 2012.  By the end of 2012 the organization had stabilized financially and the staff that had been there through the difficulty had become a close and supportive family.  

At the end of 2012, Chrissa Jennings left PCCT and I moved into a position of sole Executive Director.  The organization hired a new Development Director.  I took on more of the administrative and financial roles that Chrissa had filled.  Somewhere in there I managed to become a Diplomate in AAPC, but there were new challenges as the organization was ready to move from surviving to thriving.  The Board of Directors undertook a process of strategic planning and adopted a new name (Insight Counseling).  The organization became more visible through events and programs that highlighted the services during Mental Health Awareness Month in May of 2016.   However, through all of this growth, there were many personal losses for me. 

We had lost some key therapists from the staff.  We had lost some long-time board members from the board of directors.  I had cut my own counseling to a minimal caseload.  Somewhere in those years between 2013 and 2016, I began to lose a sense of myself.  I did not feel as grounded in the work as I once had.  I was dealing with challenges I had not had to deal with in past years.  I began to tell people that I felt “off balance” and “insecure in my identity.”  This feeling of unrest grew in me until events in early 2016.  

 In early 2016, I attended two ordination services at my church.  One for Brandon Owen and one for ShannonMeadors.  I was surprised to find myself tearful through both of these services as I recalled my own ordination and the work of pastoral care and counseling to which I originally felt called.  I began to feel I wanted to just return to that work.  In June of 2016, I resigned as Executive Director at was then Insight Counseling Centers and in August I began work with the group practice of Sage Hill Counseling in Nashville.  The desire to embody the work of pastoral psychotherapy that I had been trained in has become of upmost importance for me.  Working at Sage Hill as a PastoralTherapist offers me the opportunity to focus on the counseling and care work that I had originally felt called to in seminary and later refined as I sat in our marriage counseling.  I have described this to people as a desire to return to “breath”.  Just as in mindfulness practice when a person becomes distracted by thoughts or surroundings, one might instruct them to just return to their focus on their breathing.  Pastoral Care and Counseling is the core of my professional identity.  I do not know what other opportunities might arise or where the work at Sage Hill might lead, but for now, I want to rest in my ministerial identity as a provider of pastoral care and counseling and just breathe for a while.