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Counseling • Education • Training
Community Service

Heart & Soul Counseling Publications


NOT FOR PROFIT / Counseling Is Group's Heart & Soul
July 16, 2000 by S. Mitra Kalita. STAFF WRITER

FROM THE OUTSIDE, this yellow house resembles its neighbors: flowers along the footpath, a freshly mowed lawn and an unlocked screen door on breezy summer days. Inside, husbands and wives settle divorces and women read aloud stories of abuse, cancer and menopause.

This tree-lined street of colonial homes in West Babylon seems an unlikely place for a nonprofit company, but location has been central to the Heart & Soul Community Counseling Center's mission. Four years ago, when the center moved from Smithtown, executive director Tina Calabrese wanted headquarters to be in a working-class, diverse neighborhood. That way, she reasoned, the center could tackle issues of race, class and gender on both social and psychological levels.

Recently, Heart & Soul has opened its doors to fellow nonprofit groups, such as the Herstory Writers Workshop, a class for women writing their memoirs, and Out in LI, a club for gay and lesbian youth. Heart & Soul's own programming, meanwhile, has expanded to include more group sessions, divorce mediation and couples counseling.

In late 1997, the center hired a nurse practitioner to prescribe psychiatric medication and advise patients on nutrition, exercise and other health issues. "People in the psychological system see you for a few minutes, consult then prescribe," Calabrese explained. "It's overbooked and busy." A nurse practitioner helps keep costs down and can spend time with patients; an hourlong session at the center runs between $80 and $100, compared with an average $250 for a psychiatrist visit, Calabrese said. A visit with a clinical social worker costs about $40 for an individual session and $30 for a group session, although there is a sliding scale based upon family income.

Group therapy helped Betty Meadows, an East Patchogue mother of four, get through a "horrific" divorce and custody battle three years ago. She said she found peace of mind at Heart & Soul. "It's like a community, not just a counseling place," she said.

To combat the stigma associated with seeking psychological treatment, Calabrese and her staff have decorated the center to resemble a home. Pillows adorn couches and futons. Plants and flowers line windowsills and fill corners. A fish swims in a tank in Calabrese's office, while her Yorkshire terrier, Sergio, often roams the hallways.

That's not enough to lure some Long Islanders.

"Working-class, middle-class people don't want to go to a clinic, and they can't spend hundreds of dollars to see a therapist," said Calabrese. The center tries to attract this middle group dealing with divorce, substance abuse and depression, among other issues staff members say are common in suburbs such as Long Island. Many city and local businesses list Heart & Soul under their Employee Assistance Programs. The problem, Calabrese said, is that companies often pay for just a few visits. "We have to just get someone started and then say, 'Your company won't pay for any more sessions,'" Calabrese said. You wouldn't tell someone with cancer, you only get this much chemotherapy. In the long run, people are staying sick."

Heart & Soul's $123,000 operating budget comes from patient fees and insurance reimbursement, with few grants or funding, Calabrese said. Except Calabrese, the six-person staff works part time, she said. Heart & Soul accepts a number of insurance plans. But staff members say there are plenty of exceptions made, albeit at a loss to the center.

Mary A. Zingale, a social worker who works with adolescent girls, can't bear to tell one of her poorer clients to go elsewhere. "Continuity of treatment is so important," said Zingale.

Counselors say they try to be more than just social workers and therapists. Zingale adds job placement to her duties, scouring newspaper articles and advertisements for openings. People with mental health problems feel more productive and healthy if they are working, she said.

Counseling centers are increasingly running themselves as a business, Calabrese said. She repeatedly referred to "customers" instead of clients and patients. "That's so customers feel like they have power... which many have not had in their lives," she said.

The center also employs "psychodrama," where therapy groups perform scenes from one another's life. Psychodrama forces the client to confront a situation as reality, Calabrese said.

Confronting reality has not been easy, said Peter Bourque Jr., a 27-year-old Farmingville resident who is one of the 50 clients who walk through Heart & Soul's doors every week. Psychodrama, he said, "gives you the ability to step outside and have insight. It's finding out who you are."

With a rocky home life and an undiagnosed learning disability, Bourque said he turned to drinking and drugs to "kill the pain." Today, he lives in a newly purchased apartment with his wife of one year, studies nursing at Suffolk Community College and encourages people to seek help more often. "I hear so many guys, guys just like myself, are struggling," he said. "People are learning to share their feelings more, but I don't think a lot of people know how to handle that."   ■

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