“Let us then try what love can do”, this much treasured quotation from William Penn,has provided guidance for Friends for 350 years, urging us to welcome all who come through the Meeting House door and to walk with them in times of trouble and times of joy.
The different ways that trouble can visit are endless and frequently need a number of different resources to help bring relief. All of us, at times, face situations that challenge or even overwhelm us, the death of a loved one, chronic illness, disabling depression, anxiety, or loss of a job.
As a non-pastoral congregation we sometimes struggle to discern the best way to help our fellow Friends, love is not always enough. This is why, in the 1970’s, Lovett Dewees founded the Friends Counseling Service (FCS), a service run by mental health Professionals who are also Friends, to work with members and attenders of Friends’ Meetings to help alleviate some of their suffering.
There are times when the FCS has received a call from Care and Visiting Committee of a meeting struggling to find the best and most compassionate way to help a member of their community. Their best efforts have not resolved the situation in a satisfactory manner.
Several years ago, there was a call from a monthly meeting who had been financially supporting a family for many years and had realized that they no longer had the resources to continue. This was a situation where the meeting, working from the basis of loving kindness, had actually not been helpful to the family, cultivating, instead of self-reliance, a climate of dependency. Sometimes, discerning the wise path is not simple and the input of an outside eye can be helpful. FCS Counselors can help the meeting look at all angles of a problem and support the meeting in finding a resolution.
As the coordinator of the FCS for the last 15 years, the service has received many calls from meeting members seeking counseling for themselves or their family. A mother called, worried about her daughter who was becoming increasingly withdrawn at home and having some social problems at school, a young couple, struggling to balance the demands of work, children and tight finances were experiencing tension in their marriage, a man wanted to discuss a possible career change, an older couple needed help to renegotiate their relationship following retirement.
These are just a few examples of the issues brought to the counseling service. Usually, the caller is referred to a FCS therapist who is fairly close geographically either to the Friend’s work or home and who has some expertise in the area with which they need help. Among the specialties offered by our therapists are couple and family therapy, addiction counseling, individual therapy for depression, anxiety or trauma, specialized counseling for children and adolescents, hypnotherapy, and training in mindfulness meditation.
The Counselors in the FCS are all active members of PYM who are also licensed mental health professionals. They are widely distributed through the greater Philadelphia area with practitioners as far apart as Wilmington, Bensalem, and Lancaster as well as others closer to the City. The fee is set at a rate that each person can afford, based on their income. Some therapists can take insurance. The clients’ anonymity is protected by the therapists and all services are strictly confidential.
Many of our clients appreciate that when they come to one of our counselors, they know that there will be a shared spiritual as well as cultural understanding. If the client wishes, there may be a short period of silence at the beginning or end of a session, some clients may ask to share a prayer while others may want to explore their belief or lack of belief with a sympathetic and open ear.
Deborah Cooper, a member of Germantown Friends Meeting, has been the Coordinator of the Friends Counseling Service since 1997.