Helping Hurricane Victims One Therapy Session at a Time
One of Mike Jahn’s goals after graduating from Antioch University Seattle’s Couple and Family Therapy program in June 2016 was to volunteer as a mental health worker to help those impacted by disasters. At the time, however, he had no idea how to begin working toward that goal.
Then, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey that devastated Houston in August, Jahn found his opportunity to help disaster victims. Jahn, who moved to Houston prior to internship (he found an internship site there), immediately took action when he saw the hurricane’s impact on the neighborhoods around him.
“I knew I wanted to use the information I learned at Antioch to help others who were affected by this natural disaster,” he says.
Jahn was inspired to become a counselor after his own process of going through counseling had changed him and enabled him to grow. When he began looking at schools, he appreciated Antioch’s class schedule flexibility and noted that Antioch stood out to him as being the top school in counseling. “Since I wanted to be at the top in my career, I knew that Antioch was where I had to go,” he says.
Throughout his time in the counseling program, Jahn learned how to listen to others without letting his own issues get in the way. He also learned not to take things personally. He credits Antioch with teaching him how to look deeper into client issues in order to help them see patterns and release self-blame, which opens the door to greater learning and lasting growth.
“I learned to have confidence in my ability to help others get through hard issues to a place of enjoying life,” Jahn says.
In Texas, that confidence in his ability led him to help others navigate the emotional aftermath of the hurricane. He helped co-found a support group, which joined with another group and met a local school for shelter, food, and clothing. When he saw a couple come in who looked like they were in shock from the events, Jahn immediately asked them if he could help them. They went to an area where they could talk privately and Jahn used solution-focused therapy to help them take on their new challenge with creativity. Jahn knew he wanted to help more people; he just needed to figure out how to find them.
Not long after, Jahn drove to an area that was no longer under water and began knocking on doors, asking people if they needed help. He introduced himself as a counselor and let them know he was a volunteer with a couple of organizations who had volunteers ready to help.
“Most people I spoke with were in a daze and some started crying,” he says. “They didn’t know what to do, where to start, and 95 percent of them did not have flood insurance.”
Jahn used solution-focused therapy with the flood victims. He talked to more than 100 homeowners in the week that followed, using that model of therapy to help them get through the shock of their loss. “Many of them lost almost everything ¾ they only had their lives left,” he recalls.
Days later, Jahn participated on a panel of speakers who addressed hundreds of hurricane victims. He talked about managing stress in the wake of a disaster and offered five free counseling sessions to anyone affected by the hurricane; he currently sees those who took him up on his offer in his private practice.
He continued knocking on doors in areas that were getting ready to rebuild, offering solution-focused therapy to those who needed it.
Feeling the call to help even more, Jahn signed up with the Red Cross as a mental health volunteer. Now, he visits communities around Houston with the Red Cross and talks with people who were affected by the flooding. Recently, he learned he can travel to Puerto Rico with the Red Cross for 12 days, doing the same work as a mental health volunteer that he has been doing in Houston. Volunteers are waiting for power to be restored so that the Red Cross can safely send them in to help the victims of Hurricane Irma.
Although he had an interest in disaster relief long ago, Jahn didn’t know how to offer mental health services to disaster victims until Hurricane Harvey struck. “Thanks to this experience, I now do. My plan is to volunteer once or twice a year with the Red Cross as a mental health counselor for the rest of my life. Thanks to Antioch, I have the skills to do that,” Jahn says.