I know I’ve said this before, but I really mean it—it is the highlight of my week, to me, to meet with my client. There are truly no barriers in between me and my client.

Los AngelesLCSW2022

Chrissy, Volunteer Engagement Manager, had the joy of speaking with one of our A Home Within-CASA Therapy Project volunteers, Gabriel McGowan, LCSW. Read the transcript of our rich conversation below, or watch the recording of the interview here.

How and when did you first get involved with A Home Within, and why were you drawn to it?

Gosh, this March (2024) is going to be two years working with my client and working with A Home Within. I first got involved through a message I got on LinkedIn from one of your staff. Honestly, I don’t ever look at messages on LinkedIn - you know, you get a million of them, most of them are spam, I wasn't looking for a new job. But it just happened to catch my eye and it came at kind of an interesting time. I was just dipping my toes into private practice, and I saw this message and one thing that jumped out immediately was the fact that it was one client, one hour a week. And I thought, “Oh, I could do that! Pretty much anybody could do that!” That’s very doable and a very gentle way to explore private practice via Telehealth. I had done it in person, but I had never done it via Telehealth. So that immediately jumped out at me.
The other thing that immediately jumped out at me was the foster connection. I know I’ve shared this before, but when I was a kid, my parents fostered a young girl who had come from Mexico, and she was totally blind and she was in the foster care system from a very young age. I stayed in touch with her from the time we first fostered her when I was in elementary school all the way through both of us being adults.
That experience really changed my view of the foster care system. I think I just assumed, maybe like many people assume, that, “Oh, it’s a whole system!” And yes, the system has problems, but I assumed that mental health was just a part of that system and that it was accessible, and that it was covered financially by the foster system. It didn’t occur to me that either foster youth or especially young folks who are aging out of the foster system just wouldn’t have access to mental health services. So, hearing about some of the trauma that she [that foster youth who was in my parents’ home] went through, some of the abuse that she suffered while she was in the system, and then finding out there’s really not any sort of system in place for long-term, one-to-one mental health support was a wakeup call. So getting that message from A Home Within and finding out that this is really filling a need that I am aware of but didn’t know there was an organization that was filling it—it was really just perfect timing.

What would you say to someone considering volunteering with and/or donating to A Home Within?

The first thing I would say is that so many of us who are working in mental health and who are clinicians have all sorts of things going on. A lot of us work for agencies, I have a day job working for Los Angeles County, a lot of folks I know have agency jobs and then they have private practice on the side—so we all have a lot going on. I would say that this commitment is very doable. It’s not hours and hours of time. It’s not a massive amount of additional paperwork and stuff on top of your existing commitments. This is very doable, it’s literally one hour a week, one client to start, and then the documentation that goes with that.
For people who already have a private practice infrastructure set up, it’s so easy to just plug your A Home Within client into your existing infrastructure just as another timeslot.
So that’s the first thing I would say, because I feel like people see it and the immediate thought is, “Oh, I don’t have time for another commitment.” You do! You really do, and you want to, because it is such a population that does not have access to services. Within the foster care system, there may be mental health support, but it’s often scattered, disorganized, you’re seeing multiple clinicians at different times, there’s not continuity, and being able to be one client, one clinician, together for literally as your materials say, as long as it takes, I think is is so incredibly important. This is also a group of clients whose life involves so much instability, and you can add a stable, lasting connection for them that I think is just so important.
The other thing that I would say, and I’ve talked about this before, is the fact that it's pro bono, the fact that you’re volunteering your time. You don’t have to worry about your client’s financial situation, you don’t have to worry about sessions getting denied suddenly, you don’t have to worry about a six-session limit like you might see with an employee-assistance program or something, where you can barely even scratch the surface. You can literally take your time with the client, you can take as much time as they need, you can go as slow or as quickly as they want, and you don’t have to worry about a middle man coming and saying, “You’re going too slowly, this is taking too long.” You can really work at the client’s pace.

What do you think people not yet familiar with A Home Within would find most surprising about the work the organization does?

There’s a couple things that come to mind. I think what I found most surprising about it is that there’s not another organization that does this! I assumed that there was this whole structure in place, especially for people who have aged out of the foster care system. I assumed that consistent mental health support was just available. And there are some resources for young people who have aged out of the system, they do get Medical for a period of time, but there’s not a connection with a mental health clinician on a consistent basis that is truly disconnected from the client’s financial ability to pay for services. The reality is mental healthcare, especially private practice mental health is hard to access, it’s expensive, even if you have insurance it’s difficult to find a provider who takes your insurance. And so I think the most surprising thing to me was that this is really a need that is not being met anywhere else.
The other thing too that I think I didn’t realize is that the support is both therapeutic and it’s practical. A lot of people in the foster care system don’t have a family of origin that teaches them or shows them how to do just everyday stuff, like interviewing for a job, getting a job and then they get a W-2 in the mail, and it’s like, “Well, what do i do with this?” Filing taxes, “How do I do that?” There’s not that family support where you turn to someone and you say, “Yeah, I don’t know how to do this, teach me how to do this.”
So not only is the support that we can offer as clinicians therapeutic, and we’re talking about trauma and we’re doing CBT and DBT and all of the interventions that we’ve learned, but we’re also just offering a really practical, supportive person just to deal with everyday life stuff that comes up that these clients don’t have a big network of people to rely on.

What is the most special part about A Home Within to you?

It’s the connection with the client, by far. I know I’ve said this before, but I really mean it—it is the highlight of my week, to me, to meet with my client. There are truly no barriers in between me and my client. I’m not dealing with an insurance company, I’m not dealing with payment and working out arrangements, and I feel like I can take what I know and the skills that I've developed as a clinician and I can truly give those to someone with no expectation of anything in return. I think that means a lot to the client and it means a lot to me as a clinician. There’s a lot of discussion in mental health and in private practice about sliding scale slots, how many spots do you have, what do you charge for them, do you do it as a percentage of a client’s income, is that how you figure out the fee? But this is literally just completely volunteer, completely without cost to the client, and I think that is really really important.
The other piece of it is the continuing education that you all offer. We’ve all done CEU classes that are a bunch of reading, and then a little quiz at the end. The programming that you all offer is serious, topical, relevant to the work we’re doing, and it is with clinicians that are recognized in their field, and it adds a tremendous amount of value for me as a clinician, and I’m not just checking off a box, you know, “Oh yeah, I read this class and I took the quiz.” I actually attended this event, whether it’s virtual or in-person, and I really got something out of it.
So that’s a really unique aspect of what you all do for us that I think adds a lot to the program.

What impact has your work with A Home Within had on your life - personal, professional, or otherwise?

I‘m not going to lie, I mean it feels good to do this, it feels good to volunteer and really have it be with no expectations. But I think as far as clinical work goes, this has slowed me down in a really positive way. I’ve worked in private practice, I’ve worked in agencies, I have a day job with the county, and a lot of that is very fast, and you’re dealing with the structure of systems that are put in place that encourage you to go really quickly, make a diagnosis, create a treatment plan, you have six or ten sessions, you need to do your interventions, you need to administer a testing instrument like an anxiety scale, and you need to show a reduction in symptoms, and then you move on. What this has really done is shown me the incredible benefit of working at the client’s pace. Without going into any specifics about my client, I think I have really seen how taking time to build rapport is so incredibly helpful to the therapeutic process—even if that means you’re rapport-building for a year, or even two years. That might be necessary because the clients that we’re seeing have had so much instability in their lives, and it’s on us as clinicians to show, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m committed to this, and I’m committed to you, and I’m in this for as long as it takes. And if it takes two years for me to show that I’m serious about being here for you, no matter what, then that’s the time it takes.” I think it’s shown me the value of that—I honestly wish I could see all of my clients through A Home Within and have the luxury of that slower pace, because I think it’s so much more beneficial for the client. But it’s been a good reminder for me that even when I get caught up in the structure and I need to see X number of clients and I need to do five treatment plans—it’s been a good reminder to just slow down and build rapport, because that really benefits the client in the end.

What are some other projects and/or accomplishments outside of your volunteer work with A Home Within you are most proud of?

That is a good question! My day job is working with the County of LA department of mental health and I work with clients who are just getting out of state prison. It’s a very different population, but there are also some similarities as far as those clients often have had very chaotic upbringing, a lot of lack of structure, not a lot of adults, support system, family, loved ones in their lives that they can rely on for any support—whether it’s financial or practical. I’m proud of the work I do with the county, I think it’s important. It has taught me the value of being truly nonjudgmental when it comes to the clients that we serve and the value of believing that everyone deserves access to mental healthcare, no matter what their past is.
I recently adopted a cat, my very first cat, her name is Meow Meow, and she is currently eating some flowers that are on the table, which is a problem. I’ve never owned a cat before, but she stole my heart. She belonged to a neighbor who was not caring for her, and she showed up at my doorstep, and I made the mistake or the good fortune of inviting her in and she never left after that! So it’s been a year with Meow Meow.
Other than that, I think my day job, A Home Within, and being a cat parent keeps me busy.

Anything else you’d like us to know, or anything you want to leave us with?

I just have to say that I am so grateful for your work and the support and the need that you’re filling for these clients. It breaks my heart to hear that you guys have a waiting list, even if it’s a few days—but when it gets into weeks or months, this is such an important need, and a lot of these clients don’t have other… they can’t just call up their private insurance and ask for a referral to a clinician. I work for the county mental health system and I know that you can go through there, but the wait time is so long and maybe you’ll see someone once a month, if that. So, the fact that you all provide access to quality and consistent mental healthcare for these clients I think is so important.
And the care with which you do it—I know I’ve talked about the matching process before, just how deliberate you are in ensuring that it’s a good fit, ensuring that the client’s needs line up with the clinician’s scope of practice and their clinical interests. It’s done so thoughtfully and deliberately, and the support that you provide along the way—the consultation groups, the continuing education—it’s a full program that you offer, and I keep coming back to this, but it’s also a commitment that truly anybody has time for.
I feel so lucky to be a part of this. When I saw the message, even I thought, “Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I have time on top of everything else.” But honestly, if I can do it, anybody can do it! I look forward to continuing my work both with my client however long that goes, and whenever that’s over, with whoever’s next!

At a Glance

A Home Within’s community includes nearly 500 therapists in 20 chapters across 10 states.
Dozens of free consultation groups and continuing education events are offered each year.
This year, over 150 therapists nationwide became volunteers, leading to a 25% increase in our network!