by Mary Peterson, LAS, Heartbeat Housing Specialist
It took me awhile to get it.
Geries Shaheen, a Therapist and Adjunct Professor in Psychology, was delivering a workshop entitled "The 3 Indispensable Elements of Holistic Services." It was the last session at the 2017 Heartbeat Conference and my head was already full of faces and new ideas. But eventually, his core message started to click: Doing life together in a maternity home IS the heart of program.
Using principles of pyschology, Shaheen invited participants to think of their work in the maternity home as "naturally conditioning individuals to become active participants in their own reality." In that way, the work of maternity housing staff is less about creating the perfectly managed structure and more about granting the mother opportunities for healthy experiences and helping her make sense of those experiences when needed.
"Organizations tend to ask questions like, 'How many house outings should we plan per month?' but it would be much more natural to approach outings in a more human way. For example, 'How many outings do I go on per month myself? What does my family do?'" Rather than focusing on executing an overly rigid structure, Shaheen encouraged the natural spontaneity of life to have a central place in the life of maternity homes.
"The spontaneous moments of praise that are part of daily life," he taught, "give the brain little boosts of dopamine.” Giving clients these doses of encouragement for small tasks...for example, giving praise when putting on the seat belt...is actually allowing the brain to experience pleasure which in turn, trains the brain to create new neurological pathways. He continued, "We are beings that FEEL first. THEN, we make meaning." Thus, in our interactions with residents, we should allow and invite feelings -- praise, safety, forgiveness, beginning again.
Pointing to various types of therapy, Shaheen acknowledged the role of the clinician. He encouraged homes to actively engage with counselors and therapists. Homes can request "summaries of treatment" and "overview of the goals for the client." Or even “results to a psychological evaluation” which would include mental health goals. But, having been a house-father in a maternity home, he repeatedly returned to the power of relationship.
There is something in his message that I continue to mull on. In my own thinking about the big picture of maternity housing, I've been grappling with the difference and the lack of difference between homes with clinical staff such as counselors, social workers, and therapists, and those without. What is lost? What is gained? In Shaheen's insights, there is a kernel that bridges the therapeutic environment with the loving home. That is simply, the centrality of relationship in experiencing healing and change.
Interested in hearing this workshop or others from the 2017 Heartbeat International Annual Conference? Click here to order.
Geries Shaheen is a Provisionally Licensed Professional Counselor operating in and around St. Louis Missouri. He is the behavioral ministries department head at Saint Louis Christian College and teaches psychology classes. He invested 3 years in the lives of pregnant and parenting teens as a house parent through The Sparrow's Nest Maternity Home. Geries provides Adolescent/ Family Therapy through Preferred Family Healthcare, holding his BA in Intercultural Studies from Lincoln Christian University, and his MA in Professional Counseling from Lindenwood University.