The Windhorse Approach
By offering genuine and compassionate relationships, we invite people to relax into who they are authentically — beneath turmoil and distress — and to reconnect gradually with other people and with the world around them.
Such healing relationships develop especially within the client’s team, which In its fullest expression includes the client or person at the center of concern, a therapeutic housemate, an individual psychotherapist, a wellness nurse, a team leader who coordinates care, and one or two counselors or peer counselors who —along with the team leader — practice what we call “basic attendance.”
As the team develops safety and trust, all members collaborate together to open dialogue and deepen connection. This healing network expands, when appropriate, to include family members and others in the person’s community.
“Basic attendance” is the heart of our approach and threads itself throughout every aspect of our work. It’s a grounded, compassionate, human-to-human way of being with another person. It’s ‘basic’ because it includes all of the stuff of everyday life – from doing the dishes, to sitting in silence, to hiking, to having dinner and seeing a movie. ‘Attendance’ describes a present and open awareness to whatever arises in oneself, in our relationships, and in the environment. Paying attention in this way invites the other person to be more present and fosters connection.
Authentic connection can offer a much needed bridge to others and to life as a whole, potentially healing some of the devastating loneliness that afflicts so many people. Basic Attendance formally takes place during a “shift,” which is typically three hours. Shifts occur with team counselors and peer counselors, as well as with the team leader.
Basic Attendance formally takes place during a “shift,” which is typically three hours. Shifts occur with team counselors and peer counselors, as well as with the team leader. During a shift, the two people involved may take care of household tasks, sit and talk at a coffeeshop, go for a walk in the woods, or run errands in the community.
The team member offering basic attendance can provide concrete help or simple companionship as the client faces tasks that may feel intimidating or even overwhelming. Routine occurrences like shopping for groceries become opportunities to connect and learn. Preferred activities that the client might typically do alone – such as watching a favorite show, doing yoga, or reading quietly – can be shared and enjoyed with a companion. Shifts are flexible and collaborative, shaped by the client’s needs and interests and the unique chemistry of the two people involved.
Psychotherapy at Windhorse stems from the view that each person, regardless of their present state of mind, possesses fundamental goodness and dignity. Therapist and client work together to foster connection and nurture moments of clarity and insight. By developing a trusting, genuine relationship, psychotherapy—in collaboration with a supportive team—offers a bridge out of isolation and supports the client’s natural impulse toward healing and growth.
Relating to the earthy situation of one’s home can be a powerful, challenging, and often grounding part of one’s recovery. With this in mind, we support people in recovering from extreme mind states in a home-environment, within the wider community. This often includes living with a therapeutic housemate — someone who is not a clinician and who lives alongside the person receiving services. The housemate shares in household tasks, stays overnight, and provides friendly companionship for the client.
In addition to offering a friendly and grounded presence in the home, he or she helps uplift the environment and serves as an ongoing source of connection and interpersonal learning. The housemate also participates in clinical team meetings and receives supervision from the team leader.
The team wellness nurse works with the client to address needs, difficulties, and aspirations related to diet, exercise, sleep, and all aspects of physical health and wellness. These areas, which can often be charged with vulnerability and even shame, are approached within the context of a warm, supportive relationship.
Wellness meetings happen one-on-one and can take place in a private office, at a person’s home, or out on a walk. The nurse also interfaces with the psychiatrist, helping with medication and supplements and can help the client connect with both medical and alternative healing providers in the wider community.
At Windhorse, our team leaders don’t “lead” in the sense of calling the shots or directing the team; they lead by paying attention to details and supporting the flow of communication. This includes facilitating team meetings and house meetings, working closely with the team psychotherapist and supervising the housemate, and serving as a point person for family members and outside providers.
The team leader also attends to the various logistics of a team — from scheduling to household concerns, from transportation needs to unexpected emergencies, and so on. All such activity is interwoven with basic attendance, and the team leader and client have regular shifts together. This shared experience of basic attendance helps ground the team leader’s activity in an intimate connection with the client, infusing the team’s direction with understanding and compassion.
Windhorse consults with a local psychiatrist who specializes in holistic psychiatry and integrative medicine. The psychiatrist comes to the Windhorse office twice monthly to meet with our clients. These meetings are also attended by the team wellness nurse and one or more other team members, such as the team psychotherapist and team leader.
Our approach has sometimes been described as “environmental therapy”, but by “environment,” we don’t necessarily mean being outdoors in the natural world. While team members sometime spend time together hiking, swimming, or sitting quietly under a tree, we value the importance of every environment and every aspect of daily life.
This includes the household, the local community, the grocery store, the coffee shop—wherever we find ourselves throughout the day. This can also include various groups and social events within the Windhorse Community. With respect and curiosity, we notice how these environments impact us on every level. We recognize, in short, that recovery takes place within the dynamic environment of one’s life.
Home is one of the most significant environments in anyone’s life. This is equally true for someone in recovery. Beginning with a sense of safety and hospitality, we support people in relating to the household as a place of relaxation, independence, and possibility. From sweeping the floor, to navigating conflicts, to deciding where to put the furniture, every aspect of the household becomes an opportunity to experiment and learn.
A central aspect of our work is basic attendance, when a staff member mindfully spends time with the client in the natural setting of life. In addition to relaxing and working together in the household, people often venture out into the local community. This could involve running errands, having dinner together, or watching a movie. Sharing time in this way offers companionship, moral support, and a bridge to feeling more at home in the wider world.
At Windhorse, we think of each team as a small community. Beyond that, we regularly offer groups and social events where clients and staff alike can connect and get to know one another. This widens each person’s network of connection and support. Unlike some other programs, however, all of our groups and social events are purely voluntary. Each member of our community chooses how and when they participate.
In addition to paying attention to physical environments, we recognize the power and influence of interpersonal environments. For example, any relationship between two people—such as a parent and child or two people meeting for basic attendance—has its own unique qualities, or we might say “ecology.” This kind of interpersonal environment also extends to groups such as families and therapeutic teams. Over time, we work with each environment to support its unique healing and enriching qualities. Supporting interpersonal environments promotes the health and well-being of everyone involved.
At first it was sort of overwhelming to have so much freedom and to be treated like a person and not have to stand in medication lines. It felt like this place was real and they were treating me like a real person.