There are countless challenges that therapists and counselors inevitably face during the course of their professional careers. Ranging from the small and passing to the immensely difficult, these challenges help to shape not only the experience of the professional, but can shape the profession itself, as well. Jim Cates of Topeka, Indiana, is one mental health professional with a challenge that truly reveals the ability of psychotherapy to transcend traditional use and setting.
As Alix Spiegel of National Public Radio related this week, Cates has found that the majority of his clients are those belonging to the local Amish community. A group known for its reliably manual labor and farming, along with seemingly strict or outdated lifestyle mandates, the Amish would seem at the outset to be an unusual subject for psychotherapy. But Cates’ practice has been useful in treating Amish teenagers, many of whom are assigned to Cates after running into trouble with the law for drinking or other related misdemeanors. The Amish rite of passage known as Rumspringa allows teens approaching adulthood to break free of their traditional constraints and experience life as a “regular” American teenager. Often, the teens find that a return to their familiar Amish customs is a positive choice, but some find themselves caught up in the excitement and intrigue of alcohol, drugs, and other potentially harmful things.
Cates has had to adapt his practice — and his professional understanding — to suit the needs of this particular community. Often holding sessions in his clients’ homes, as the Amish tend to dislike offices, Cates regularly sees patients surrounded by their extended families. Coupled with the need for sessions that function beyond common forms, the reluctance of Amish teens to speak at length about themselves has been met with what Cates describes as a kind of feminist therapy, encouraging talk about others and eventually drawing back to the self. For mental health work that truly thinks outside the box, Cates is garnering a warm reputation among a community benefiting from his quality care.
© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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