FamilyMeans Staff Makes the First Step Less Difficult

Kathleen Charlsen

Sometimes the hardest thing to do when going through a difficult time is to pick up the phone or walk into your first appointment, but luckily FamilyMeans’ employees Kathleen Charlsen and Gary Swanson know that, too.

Kathleen sits at the front desk of FamilyMeans and Gary receives the intake calls for mental health; both are often the first contacts for people arriving to or calling FamilyMeans for the first time.

“I always try to have a warm smile and welcoming welcome for all, no matter who they’re coming to see or why,” said Kathleen, who has been with FamilyMeans for more than two years. “I hope I give a sense of comfort and compassion to people when they enter the lobby.”

FamilyMeans sees people for a number of reasons, but the primary reasons for coming to the agency’s Stillwater location are to meet with professionals for counseling in mental health, consumer credit or employee assistance. Feelings of uncertainty, embarrassment, and frustration can be common. But, fortunately, feelings of hope and relief are common, too.

Because it’s impossible to get facial expression cues over the phone, Gary assesses callers by asking what kind of issue prompted their call. If the person on the other end of the line sounds angry or depressed, he will ask them to elaborate on the issue. Sometimes callers are referred and don’t know exactly what it is they’re calling for, in which case Gary tries to determine the best next step to get them scheduled with a clinician accordingly.

“For many, making this initial phone call is a very difficult step, so I try to validate their feelings and let the caller know it was a brave decision,” said Gary, who often times is told many of the details for the phone call. “I try to be as gracious as I can because I know the callers just want help to get out of a troubling time. Humor, I find, is a great way to help people to relax if they sound stressed or tense. We want people to be comfortable, and I hope that is conveyed when they call.”

Gary began working at FamilyMeans nearly 10 years ago, and says understanding people’s situations and getting them scheduled with the clinician best suited for their individual needs is a good feeling.

“There are so many variables that go into each person’s situation,” Gary added. “Calls can be very intense, but it’s encouraging when the call ends with the person on the other line sounding calmer than when the conversation began. It’s also reassuring to hear ‘thanks for the help’ or ‘you have been so nice’ and, hopefully, this is the start of a successful process for the person seeking help.”