by Emma Mears
A Home Within Volunteer Therapist Mary Haake discovered in college that she wanted to work with people—maybe, she says, it’s because both her parents were educators who were passionate about improving the lives of kids and teens in her hometown of Redding, CA. After attending community college, Mary went to UC Santa Cruz. “I don’t think I understood at the time what it meant to do psychotherapy, so I was naive in a way,” Mary says with a laugh. “But I liked studying and thinking about psychology, which led me to apply and get into a PhD program in clinical psychology at UMass Amherst.”
At UMass, Mary gained a passion for family therapy, an interest she pursued in her postdoctoral internship at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic. “I got to work with a diverse group of families, many affected by poverty and racism. We learned about empowering parents to support their kids in new ways. It was pretty exciting.”
Back in California, Mary got a job at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, where she worked in the child and family service section of their psychiatry department for 26 years. During her time there, she was introduced to A Home Within. “Someone came to a meeting at Kaiser to present about the concept of long-term psychotherapy to heal the traumas of the foster care system, which I found really interesting,” Mary says. “I could see that these kids really needed long-term psychotherapy as a support, so I got excited about this opportunity and made some client referrals to A Home Within.”
Nine years ago, Mary transitioned to private practice, and decided to make the commitment to join A Home Within. “I have been working with an adult who was raised in foster care,” Mary says, “and it’s been an incredible experience. It’s incredible on so many levels, which is why I wanted to get involved as a Clinical Director to see if we could build and expand the opportunities for clients.” And she did, becoming Clinical Director of the Alameda County chapter last year.
As a Clinical Director, Mary has gotten to learn more about A Home Within and build connections. “It’s been great because I’ve been able to get acquainted with what is going on within the Alameda County chapter,” she says. “We currently have 18 volunteers including four consultation group leaders who provide ongoing support for our 14 therapists. The majority of the therapists have been working with their clients for six years or longer, so I have gotten to see how the work really is ongoing.”
A lot of the work at AHW is made possible through the consultation groups, weekly meetings during which volunteer clinicians can get support around their cases. Mary says the groups “are entirely essential. Anybody who has been through the foster care system has had to deal with instability and pain, so the group is essential to hold everything together. It is really rewarding to do this work with the group because they are there in the difficult moments. Many in the consultation groups have been working together for many years.”
Mary sees continuity as critical for success in both private practice and for the AHW client. “The A Home Within model is so exceptional because it is such a unique clinical opportunity for both the therapist and client,” says Mary. “I learn a lot in my consultation group. It’s a key part of my private practice experience. Especially this year dealing with the pandemic, to have this ongoing group to share experiences with has been so helpful. It’s been extremely valuable to know others in the field and their work. I am able to make referrals for clients with confidence to people I really trust.”
If you are able to volunteer with AHW, you have the opportunity to have an extended relationship with a client who could not otherwise have access to ongoing therapy. Mary says, “You have a chance to offer your professional expertise, which is of high value. You get to contribute your time and make an impact in your community and repair inequalities that we are becoming more aware of in terms of privilege, class, and race. You get to learn and connect to somebody in a way that is deeply meaningful.”
About Emma Mears
Emma is currently an intern at A Home Within. She was born and raised in Oakland, CA, and is a third-year Health and Society student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.