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Getting Started

February 19, 2009
by Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D.
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Hello! This is my first blog entry and there are a lot of things I’d like to talk about in the future-- Medicaid, the recovery model, physical and behavioral health integration, strategic planning, etc. But in this first entry I just want to share a little about me and where I came from.

It was well over 30 years ago and I was loafing around having just gotten out of graduate school with masters in psychology. To my great surprise the man on the phone said I got the job as an entry level therapist at rural mental health center down in Mississippi. Just three weeks after graduation I found myself in a stuffy tiny windowless back office waiting to see my first real client. With great satisfaction I surveyed my little desk, my walnut pipe rack, the glass humidor full of tobacco, my yellow legal pad, blue pens and the highly inspiring Fritz Perls posters on the wall. I had managed to dodge almost all practical experience in graduate school and so I rarely had to deal with a real human, being more comfortable with theory than practice anyway.

I was hoping for something intriguing or else very easy. To my disappointment my first client turned out to be a lanky and sullen teenage boy. As we enter the small darkly paneled office, I shifted into rapport building mode and gently told him to sit where ever he felt most comfortable. He immediately jumped behind my little desk and sunk into my chair. I mentally noted a possible problem with authority figures and wished I hadn't been quite so adept at avoiding field placements.

Since this was the 1970's I offered the kid a cigarette to "deepen rapport" and, since I was frantically puffing on my pipe, it only seemed fair. The kid declined the Marlboro and I asked him why he was sent to me. "I got kicked out of school." he drawled. "What for?" I asked without thinking. "Smoking!", he laughed in my face. This wasn't going exactly as I had imagined it.

We spared for another 15 minutes or so and then I threw him out of my chair, told him to quit laughing, and relit my pipe for the eighteenth time. I was starting to feel better, even if he wasn't. We finally got around to talking about his family and I noticed that when we broached the subject of his father, his eyes seemed to tears up.

Had I actually done something right? This was certainly more like it. Emotions! Catharsis! Abreaction! Unresolved Oedipal conflict. I was going for broke. Drawing upon all my training and razor sharp clinical instincts, I was determine not to let this opportunity slip away. Coolly maintaining unconditional positive regard, I waited until just the opportune therapeutic juncture and then with great empathy reflected, "I hear you saying that you feel sad when talking about your father." The kid looked up at me through his moist red eyes, coughed and said in a raspy voice, "Heck no. There's so much damn smoke in this room, I can hardly breathe!"




Hi, Terry. That's a really great first post! You are quite the storyteller! But I knew that already :)


Terry Stawar

President/CEO (LifeSpring, Inc.)

Terry Stawar


Terry L. Stawar, EdD, is President and CEO of LifeSpring Health Systems, a community behavioral...

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