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Companioning: Showing Up As Your Authentic Self
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“I think of Companioning as a verb, as an art form. It is about showing up as your whole authentic self at any given time, in order to understand who residents are and what is manifesting in their lives and their illnesses,” says Lisa Bakke. She is the House Manager at the Plymouth House of Healing in Seattle, Washington. Her role is to train new Companions in what she calls the “art of companioning,” to guide them to walk a path alongside residents who are recently discharged from psychiatric treatment.

The Plymouth House of Healing is a residential facility in Seattle, Washington founded by minister and author Craig Rennebohm. The House of Healing works closely with The Harborview Medical Center to refer patients who are being discharged from the psychiatric unit. Patients are received at the House of Healing by Companions who live, eat, share rooms and walk a path together side by side to help residents heal.

Lisa Bakke is the Plymouth House of Healing House Manager, and her role is to help guide, shape, and support the life of the house. She is also the professional liaison between the house and Harborview Medical Center. Lisa provides educational guidance to Companions, offering guidance both tangible and intangible. “I have had many years of experience living and working as a Companion. I help Companions to discern what their year at Plymouth House can be for them and the residents they will build relationships with,” says Lisa.

Lisa teaches Companionship skills in direct partnership with Craig Rennebohm and with Gary Southerton, the program’s Executive Director. She is, however, the primary connection for Companions. “I think of Companioning as a verb, as an art form. It is about showing up as your whole authentic self at any given time, in order to understand who residents are and what is manifesting in their lives and their illnesses,” says Lisa.

She poses the question: “How do all of these strangers turn into a community and how do we attend to the spiritual life of the house?” At the Plymouth House of Healing Companions share rooms with residents and are in close proximity with residents on a regular basis.

Lisa sees Companioning as tending to an energy, as something as simple and profound, something to be illuminated and filled with fresh air. When the group sits at the table together, Lisa says that she is willing to show her emotions. She believes that it shows strength and tenderness. She feels it is important and takes it very seriously. It also requires great self-care. Companions learn to practice self-care, which Lisa considers to be critical for working with people who have tremendous needs.

“How are we to be incredibly caring but not give ourselves away?” asks Lisa. She sees the solution as simple. It is part of a lifelong learning curve that includes asking reflective questions such as, “How can I rearrange my day?” “Am I going too fast”? “Can I ask for help?”

“The House of Healing is always changing and people are always coming and going. Individuals can find themselves triggered by other people, sometimes in wonderful ways and sometimes in not so wonderful ways,” says Lisa. It becomes important for everyone to learn to set boundaries. Lisa shares that she learned from Craig how important it is to be his most authentic self by having the ability to set boundaries in a loving way. She has heard him say to someone, “I still see you. I still care about you and I can’t do that right now.”

Of the Companions that come to Healing House, those who succeed are those who are capable of deep reflection and who are willing to check in with Lisa about what they are experiencing. Many people come with different expectations of wanting structure, order, and checklists. One young Companion arrived at the Healing House as a medical school student. In the outside world, she strove to be someone who could fix people. As a result of her time as a Companion, she has come to understand the value of simply listening to other people’s stories. Reflecting on her prior perspective, she shared, “I used to see people on the street and judgment would come up first, but now my first wonder is about their story, and who they are.”

The work of Companioning is not about friendship, but it is friendly and requires significant reflection. Lisa’s stories about people who live as residents include stories of hushed reverence, caring, gratitude, growth, and movement towards independence and healing.

“How revolutionary it is, when you can sit around the table and simply say, ‘Pass the salad dressing.’ It is powerful for me,” shared a resident, someone who had very little experience sitting down to share meals with other people.

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