I’ve Got Low Friends in High Places. By Melissa Koch

Author Melissa Koch

Here’s the deal, I left my job after six months. Not exactly the intention I set out with. When it was offered, I thought I had finally made it. The facility being one of the best in the country, I felt pretty legit about carving out my career path. Important, since I started out in this field late in life. As often happens, things didn’t present themselves as I had been led to believe. I’m going to exercise restraint and stop myself so I don’t turn this into a victimy bedtime story about therapists and career seeking adults (all aboard the train to Snoozeville).

I’m trained as a clinician, so I can sit and talk therapy you ALLLLL day. However, I chose my hippie dippy master’s program because I love nature and wanted to reconnect people with the real living world (not the one humans have manufactured) and they offered classes on how to do just that. In my commonsensical mind, the source of most our malaise is linked to our separation from nature and disconnection from each other. These relationships, or absence of them, tend to reinforce each other either negatively or positively. I witnessed this throughout my former career landscaping and gardening. During this time, I noticed two things: people who work in a natural setting seem happier, and they also appeared to form stronger connections with each other. Seeing as we’re wired to maintain strong connections, it seems natural for secure relationships to correlate with happiness. Call it a happiness feedback loop or magic juju, I don’t care, I just know it works and I don’t need to research it.

The setting of my former facility was phenomenal. Large granite mountains dominated the immediate view while distant mountains scattered the horizon in varying blue hues. The landscaping was intelligent and characterized by native and other plant selections appropriate for the area. Quail and bunnies hopped around and crossed the walkways perfectly tame; seemingly unaware of the magnitude of people’s inner issues or the endless administrative corporate hierarchy. Rain came and went while the fresh smell of creosote overtook the air. Sunsets lit the desert skies like a billion dishes of sherbet while long shadows prostrated themselves against the earth, signaling the end of the day was arriving.



Frequently, there would be some crisis and the miserable, the detoxing, the anxious, and the traumatized would mill around among the scenery. Sometimes talking to each other, sometimes talking to one of us residential therapists about a trigger, dissociation, or drama with another client. Sometimes it was anger with the facility for fucking something up with their meds or schedule. Staff trudged back and forth in their business casual attire. The most important, top of the food chain folks mostly stayed in the main building with their offices close together. Maybe strength in numbers in case there was an uprising? Not sure, but regardless, all of this took place against the back drop of the ever-shifting expressions of nature. Unfortunately, everyone was too caught up in whatever it was to notice the immense stillness sitting right behind the breeze in the trees, the bunnies, the wobbling gate of quail, sherbet skies and long shadows. Don’t get me wrong, the activity of skittering creatures, sights, sounds, and smells was amazing, but that stillness living right behind the activity was the true antidote to many inner disturbances. Consequently, it was also the one thing no one noticed. They looked for answers everywhere but there.

Even though the facility was constructed in a remarkable setting, it’s beauty was underutilized in treatment. I conducted a nature-based mindfulness activity weekly, but typically clients weren’t into it (maybe I was boring?). There were several times when I took clients outside as they were processing or panicking. We would sit for a while as they lost their shit. I listened intently, but I must admit, half my focus was on the amazing variety of cacti and palo verde set in contrast to the pink granite hues of the mountains. It was always right there, ready to be accessed, but I understood why it was so hard for clients to give themselves over to stillness and beauty. The mind plays tricks on us, something I know too well. Nature had always provided me with peace; a kind of recompense for afflictions. If there was a way to access it, nature was something that no one could take away and it always reset my perspective. Looking at those archaic mountains made almost everything small and petty next to its endurance and immensity. Residential drama, the ever-revolving regime of administrators and their guidelines, and my own drama and disdain for operating within the corporate milieu faded into the background when reverence was present.


I stuck it out as long as I did thanks to two factors: being able to allow myself to be dwarfed by resting in the presence of those mountains, and the comradery of the other residential therapists or RTs, as we were called.

Us RT’s formed our own little community of support. Giggling behind closed doors and consistently backing each other up. We took turns with client calls and checks, and helped each other lead groups and shared materials, but most of all, we shared a connection. We understood the position and what it took to work within the structure set forth by administration. We were the bad kids, the art hall kids, the band nerds in the back of the room during staffing. We all had our master’s degrees and several of us had our LACs, but for some reason, the position instigated a feeling of being shunned by rest of the clinical staff. It was a corporate game they played well and we were the pimply kids in the back who only served a specific function. It was a lot like a high school scenario playing out all over again. We didn’t play the game too well. I certainly failed at the game, and did so with a certain amount of gusto; it wasn’t my first bullshit rodeo so I opted out.

After a long six months, I left for a place where my skills and abilities could be utilized, expanded, and appreciated (hopefully). A big chunk of my work is outside with kids, horses, and gardens too, when we get the rest of the infrastructure in place. Sure, there are many beautiful views. I drive through Saguaro National Park and Tucson Mountain Park to get there. My coworkers, so far, seem kind, but there’s always that discomfort starting out new again. It adds to missing the people I know and trust. I know we’ll stay friends, but the dynamics will change. I will no longer be able to get lost in those mountain views only to find myself among my friends laughing over snarky comments and eating stress relief baguettes with a pun or two thrown in just to remind us, in actuality, we’re the cool kids.

2 thoughts on “I’ve Got Low Friends in High Places. By Melissa Koch

  1. Wow! Sounds like I dodged a bullet by not working “there.” Glad to hear you “moved on” to happier pastures. I suspect what you described will be the undoing of that place. And I say good riddence! Great article!


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