I never dreamt that an any point in my career I would ever make a house call, and here I am, employed as an in-home therapist for my pre-doctoral internship year. I cover a stretch of Western Maricopa County in Arizona that spans about forty miles in width and fifty-five miles in length, bouncing to and fro from suburban cookie-cutter homes seemingly stacked on top of one another to tiny trailers surrounded by swaths of untouched desert. To say this is a unique experience would be the understatement of the decade, and the stories generated by this job will live with me for the rest of my time as a therapist.
If you’ve read my posts, you may have come across a little ditty describing my lack of awareness when it comes to interacting with canines. This weakness of mine gets exploited constantly in my work, as clients and their families feverishly fawn over their mutts and expect me, the one committed to showing them unconditional positive regard, to join in. I never do, because I cannot authentically match their jubilation, and to try to do so would be inauthentic and, therefore, not therapeutic. So when, despite my clear comments saying I had no interest in meeting Julie, my client’s mother burst into the crowded living room with what I believed was a pony, I shriveled into an awkward husk of a man and cowered until the great dane was yanked away and sent back outside.
One of the joys of working in Arizona is that when your client wants to sit in the back yard for therapy in December, you can reasonably and pleasantly make that accommodation. What is not so pleasant is when you notice halfway through the session that there is an empty terrarium with a shriveled lizard corpse in the corner. Its vacant eye sockets are locked onto my gaze. My mind races with the saga of how this poor pruny reptile came to meet its fate. On the wall at the back of the yard, a still living lizard—perhaps the widow—scampers up the stones. All the while, my client’s story falls on my ears unheard because I followed my rabbit trail.
When the mother of my school-aged client said they lived on a dairy farm, she was not speaking the full truth. They live ON a dairy farm. The homes are not marked with true addresses, and the line between livestock living areas and worker residences is not always delineated with as much clarity as I would have expected. On my first visit, I was greeted by an exasperated man, raising his arms in protest and confusion, as my plunky little Kia chugged across what was either his driveway or his front lawn. After frantically reversing and placing a quick phone call, I eventually found the right dwelling.
I, being a well-to-do, easy-going, say-sorry-even-when-you-didn’t-do-anything-wrong kind of person from the Midwest, was reluctant to set foot on people’s property in get-off-my-lawn-you-don’t-get-a-warning-shot rural Arizona. So when I rolled into a dirt driveway after passing several “No Trespassing” signs, noticed two unchained dogs wandering around the home, and realized I barely had any cell service, I began to ponder if I was satisfied about this being the end of the road for me. Maria-Renee is a spectacular mother, and Celia is going to grow up great and inspired to fight for justice knowing that her father was robbed from her at such a young age by a burst of buckshot to the face. I mustered the courage, trudged up to the door with my roller bag, knocked, and was greeted by an incredibly confused gentlemen who confirmed to me that I did, indeed, have the wrong house. Most people’s survival mode would have involved an air of confidence and calm. I went full-blown Midwest: “I’m so sorry, let me just, uh, get on out of your hair then. Sorry to bug you! So very sorry. Have a great day! I’m leaving right now!” I imagine he stared at my back wondering how God could ever have created such a sheepish man.
Other therapists on the in-home team are told that they can set up shop at a local coffee joint or restaurant if they need to catch up on paperwork or do some other administrative task. In my neck of the woods, the Google search for “coffee” brings up a trailer in someone’s backyard. Some days, my only option for solace is a large truck stop gas station, where I can stock up on either Mike n’ Ikes or a thirteen-foot USB charge cable—you know, whatever I’m in need of that day. If a client cancels and I need to stretch my legs, I wander between the trucks, wondering if my checkered shirt tucked into my slim fit khakis makes me look like just another one of the boys trekkin’ across the good ol’ U.S. of A.
Each day, my car’s odometer takes another tick toward its last. I have worn my own tread tracks into the highway to-and-from, to-and-from, to-and-from. I have gagged on the suffocating stench emanating from chicken farms down the road from one of my client’s schools. Each day is truly a new and unique day.
Matt Coldagelli (’14) majored in English writing and psychology at Calvin. He’s currently pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology with an emphasis on children and adolescents. He watches an absurd amount of TV and is a certified craft beer snob. His emotional wellbeing is overly dependent on Wisconsin sports, and thus he finds himself often in a state of disappointment. Matt lives with his lovely wife and daughter in Phoenix, AZ.