National Rural Health Day is commemorated on the third Thursday of November. Rural communities pay a price for their peaceful settings: access to physical and behavioral healthcare may be limited and sometimes difficult to reach. Spectrum Health opened its first counseling center in Springville in southern Erie County in 1973. Our Wyoming County Counseling Center followed a few years later. In 2021, we received a multi-million dollar grant to open two HELP Centers in rural communities to treat individuals with non life-threatening behavioral health and substance abuse needs (the HELP Center@Springville opened in October and a similar site will open in Warsaw in 2023.) We also have a Mobile Therapy Unit which travels to two sites in Perry every week. It’s a privilege to serve in these spaces.
Clinician Deborah LaBounty shares her experiences in service at our Wyoming County Counseling Center.
When I was seeking a position as a clinician, I sent out resumes to several agencies, more than 50. One of the calls I received was from a very nice gentleman named Eric Dryja. We connected immediately and I was optimistic this would be the position for me. Just before we agreed on meeting and ended the call, he said, “Do you know where Warsaw is?” I paused to register what he asked. I replied, “Wait, what? Warsaw? Where the heck is Warsaw?”
Interestingly, I had finished reading an article from Counseling Today that talked about counseling in the rural communities. The need was great and the workers few. This got my attention. Not only was I looking to immerse myself in a new culture, I wanted to go where I was needed the most.
Rural communities have a distinct culture. Little did I know when I started working in Wyoming County that it is not just a matter of providing counseling in rural areas, it is a matter of providing rural counseling. In an urban area, a counselor might encourage a depressed client to get out of the house and visit a museum. In the country it might be suggested they go to a school sports event or being active in the woods. Many of their values and beliefs revolve around family.
Building Community, One Person at a Time
The strength of the counseling is in the connection between the counselor and the community. You are in a fishbowl where “everyone knows your name.” You will be on stage most of the time. You will need to be a generalist who is prepared for anything within your ability. Heavy caseloads, navigating boundary issues, and isolation are the challenges you will face. You will also experience the slower pace of life, the peace and beauty of their surroundings and the rich, deep relationships neighbors develop within their communities.