Open Doors: How It Started. How It’s Going.
Northland joins forces with Open Doors Counseling Center to address mental health in the middle of a pandemic.
How it started
It was just over a year ago when all of our lives changed radically in a matter of days. The pandemic has affected us all in various ways—of course, death and critical illness, job insecurity—if not job loss—and having to rethink how we can work and go to school given the constraints of social distancing. Not surprisingly, we’ve seen our collective mental health suffer in ways we have no reference for in time.
A piece in Nature Magazine quotes the Center for Disease Control numbers, “More than 42% of people surveyed by the US Census Bureau reported symptoms of depression in December in 2020, an increase from 11% the previous year.” Similar numbers exist for increased anxiety disorder symptoms—the psychological cousin of depression. Presumably, to cope with mental and emotional stress, substance abuse has sharply been on the rise as well. 60% of participants in a study conducted by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reported an increase in alcohol use throughout 2020, and 47% of the participants claimed their increase in drinking was a direct result of the stress of the pandemic. More and more data is collected every day, and the picture is not an encouraging one.
As a therapist—in addition to contending with my own well-being and that of my family—I’ve seen firsthand the distress in my clients’ lives. Even in psychologically resilient or ‘high-functioning’ people, the stressors associated with where we’ve been over the last 13-14 months have simply been too overwhelming. Additionally, that unsettling feeling of not being sure when we can expect all this to be fully over has a disorienting effect as well. Yes, there is quite a bit of bad news from a mental health perspective, and there’s no way around that or any point in minimizing it. However, we are not people who “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thes 4:13). God’s promises are true, and He makes provision for us in desperate times
How it’s going
At the turn of the year, like everyone else, I held out some hope to turn a mindset corner, if not a literal one in terms of coronavirus and vaccines. And, to a degree, it seems we have. More of us are back at work and our kids are making their way back to in-person learning. The population has started the process of vaccinating, and there is hope on the horizon. That said, we’re not entirely out of the woods yet.
One way God has orchestrated and equipped Northland for caring for the mental and emotional well-being of our community has been through a partnership between Northland and Open Doors Counseling Center.
As you may have seen—either through renovation work taking place in The Rink building or social media posts— Northland has been on a journey the last several months with an established local private counseling practice, Open Doors Counseling Center, to provide a greater, more comprehensive level of care to our community on Northland’s campus.
My friends Ben and Aubrey Hutchings launched Open Doors Counseling Center in 2013. They became a principal counseling resource in the community as experts in working with children, primarily using a therapeutic approach called ‘play therapy,’ to help children process difficult feelings in a safe and emotionally secure environment. Currently, Open Doors conducts over 150 play therapy sessions per month. Over the last several years, Open Doors has expanded to include clinicians who serve a variety of populations—adults, couples, families, teens, and children suffering from anxiety, depression, complex trauma, marital distress, and more.
There is much more to the story of how the partnership between Northland and Open Doors was formed. In short, the leadership of Northland recognized a need to make changes in how we were operating the Care Center and providing mental, emotional, and spiritual care. Through a years-old relationship with Ben and Aubrey Hutchings, conversations started to take place in August of 2020 about what it would look like for the Care Center to discontinue as a Northland-run operation and for Open Doors to occupy the Care Center office spaces as a second location for them, as well as become an autonomous and self-sufficient private counseling practice providing mental health services right on Northland’s campus. Those conversations and plans continued, and in March of 2021, Open Doors held a ‘soft launch’ with the first clients coming into the space to receive mental health counseling. I, along with previous Northland’s counseling interns—Gary Beckman, Cristina Carmona-Portocarrero, and Somer Benjanin have joined the Open Doors staff, now totaling 13 clinicians in all. More information on all the services provided can be found at www.opendoorscc.com or under Pastoral Care on Northland’s website. If you or someone you care about are in need of counseling, please do not hesitate to reach out.
For more information about the Open Doors Counseling Center, visit them online at OpenDoorsCC.com.