By Nicole Minier
COLUMBIA CITY — A former medical building is now a place to heal and grow, as Choices & Changes counseling service expands in Whitley County.
Jan Boggs started Choices & Changes in 2010 in Columbia City. In the past year, the practice has boomed and now has seven therapists and an ever-growing client base, making it the largest locally-owned private practice in Whitley County.
The innovative practice helps families and children through life’s struggles — whether life changes or traumatic events.
Bringing it home
Boggs left a larger practice in Fort Wayne to start her own business in Columbia City. At that time, she was the lone full-time private practitioner in town. In 2014, her daughter, Christy Garau, joined her.
“We have shared values and a passion for helping families heal,” Garau said.
Those shared values carry through with Nicole Trier, who joined Boggs and Garau in 2015. Choices & Changes brought on several newer therapists in the past year — Brittany Prater, Lyndsay Hayes, Stephanie Hammer, Michelle Beard and Dr. Lisa Wooley.
“As far as who has joined us, it feels like the right person at the right time,” Garau said. “All of us are from this community and we’re all really invested in the families of this community.”
Boggs didn’t expect the practice to grow into what it is today.
“I was on my own when I first started and I didn’t intend to grow,” Boggs said. “I was the janitor, bookkeeper and therapist — and was very happy.”
But as the needs of the community grew, so did Choices & Changes.
“There were more families than we were able to help,” Boggs said. “We can only do what we can handle, but we don’t want to turn people away.”
The practice was previously located on Diplomat Drive and had four therapy rooms. The new location on North Oak Street has seven therapy rooms with room to grow — which appears to be a real possibility, as new clients are added on a regular basis. The former medical office was empty for about a year as most doctors moved to the new Parkview Whitley Hospital and away from the hospital’s previous location on North Oak Street.
With the addition of new therapists, Choices & Changes is currently assisting about 150 clients. Since 2010, Boggs estimates the practice has served more than 600 clients.
Being a private practice allows therapists to have their own focus, which provides variety in services to help people with all needs, including individual counseling, family counseling, play therapy, group therapy and classes for parents looking to hone their skills.
Overall, as mental health in Whitley County is improved, life in Whitley County is improved.
Mental health issues have a ripple effect on others in the family and the community.
“I think most of our problems inter-personally are because we feel misunderstood or someone has hurt us and we haven’t known how to respond to or address that,” Garau said.
Un-addressed trauma and hurt can be expressed in many ways. Some people turn to drug and alcohol abuse, others aren’t able to properly care for their children and the cycle of trauma is continued through another generation.
“When people get counseling and that pain gets released, they don’t need to run from it anymore,” Garau said. “Someone is there to hold it with them and it breaks the cycle.”
In some instances, parents simply want to learn how to become better parents, but don’t know the next step. Choices & Changes works with many parents to establish co-parenting relationships that are beneficial for all involved.
“We emphasize that families have the strength to make the changes, and we can guide them to look at the healthy choices,” Boggs said.
When to seek help
One step in improving overall mental health of the community is knowing when to seek help. Sometimes, signs can be more easily seen in children, who may display regressive behavior, have difficultly sleeping or an increased frequency of meltdowns and anger.
Some children, however, don’t show outward signs of stress. Anytime a child has experience trauma or a major life change, it can be helpful to meet with a counselor.
Trauma can take many forms, such as divorce, parent incarceration, abuse, change in caregivers, death and moving.
“Working with a child earlier if there’s trauma gives them much more resilience as they go through life,” Boggs said. “Sometimes you have to readdress that trauma, but it’s not nearly what it is if you wait until adulthood.”
Adults with unaddressed trauma may face depression and anxiety issues, which in turn could affect their children.
“If mom is depressed, the child is likely picking up on that and trying to sort that out,” Garau said. “Mom might not have the energy to do things with them.”
Just because a child doesn’t talk about a traumatic doesn’t mean it doesn’t bother them.
“Whether or not you’ve talked to your child about it, they most likely know something,” Garau said. “If you don’t want it passed on to your child, bring them in. Some show it, and some internalize it — they look perfect on the outside but they’re hurting on the inside.”
Most adult clients at Choices & Changes have unaddressed trauma or undiagnosed issues, such as ADHD, that have followed them into adulthood, Boggs says.
“Most adults say their lives would have been better if they had therapy as a child,” Boggs said. “Some have lives full of impulsive behavior and difficulty with relationships and money.”
In the end, Choices & Changes seeks to provide a safe place for healing and life improvement.
“We value developing a safe relationship with our clients,” Boggs said. “We want families to come in, feel respected and take ownership in what they need to do to improve their lives. We coach, we guide, we give advice — we want people to leave feeling more equipped. Live. Heal. Grow.”
The family model
Mental health therapy looks much different than the days of laying on a couch and talking to a counselor, and Choices & Changes has implemented therapy techniques to best serve all clients, children and adults alike. The practice has a unique approach, especially when helping children and families — a model designed by Garau, that has shown strong success for local families.
Garau, who is also a parent of a child with special needs, designed Choices & Changes “family model” through both her experience as a therapist and as a mother.
“In my own personal journey of seeking help for my child, I realized how important it was for us (parents) to learn,” Garau said. “I know how hard it is as a parent, being worried about your child and their struggles and wanting to do something about it, but needing some other input.”
In the family model, rather than starting a child in counseling immediately like traditional therapy, counselors have sessions with parents to gain a better understanding of the child and other life circumstances.
“Working with the whole family is more beneficial than just working with the child,” Garau said. “A child’s problem is not just one incident that has happened or that child’s personality. In a child showing extreme signs of stress, there are many factors that contribute to that — some the parents have control over and some they don’t.”
In traditional therapy, oftentimes contributing factors are not addressed. Therapists could spend much time working with a child who continued to show signs of struggle due to other circumstances in their lives.
“We stepped back and said, ‘let’s involve the family from the beginning,’” Boggs said. “And that’s how Christy started the family model. It’s really changed the whole practice.”
While counselors have conversations with the adults in the child’s life, therapists take a different approach with children, who often express their feelings in other ways. Play therapy helps counselors understand what’s going on with the child, even if the child isn’t interested in talking.
“In play therapy, you’re not asking the child a lot of questions like you do with adults, like how or why things happened,” Garau said. “In play therapy, children use play to express their thoughts, feelings and attitudes about themselves, others and the world.”
In addition to the play therapy, therapists continue to gain background information from the parents, such as learning more about the family’s history, values, discipline and what they want to pass on to their children.
“We want to find out about what’s important to each family,” Garau said. “It’s not about our values, but helping to support their values.”
After assessment, therapists can then offer advice on how caregivers can continue to help their child in addition to therapy. Sometimes, a caregiver may have one value that they want to impart on their child, but they’re contradicting that value with their parenting style.
Where to start
If interested in seeking Choices & Changes services, call 244-0264. Choices & Changes accepts most commercial insurance policies, as well as Hoosier Healthwise and the Healthy Indiana Plan. Choices & Changes is located at 360 N. Oak St., Columbia City.