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The Subtle Role of the Windhorse Housemate

The role of housemate might possibly be one of the least understood facets of the Windhorse community. The close relationship that develops between a client and housemate allows for the creation of a safe container in which the recovery process may take place. Within this environment a relationship develops with a mutual sense of respect. The growth that occurs in this shared home can foster a deeper experience of the important concepts of trust, communication and mutual healing. For Stu Wetherbe, whose personal life experiences and contemplative practice brought him to Windhorse, “It’s all about relationships.” In this interview he discusses his experience in what he calls the “subtle role” on the treatment team.

ellen: What drew you to Windhorse?

stu: What actually drew me to the Northampton area was the meditation community. My first contact with Windhorse was when someone invited me to go to a discussion group based around the writings of Ken Wilber. One of the people in that group was Michael Herrick. He had recently been appointed to the executive directorship. As he was talking about Windhorse I could hear the sense of personal enthusiasm and commitment he had for his work, so that made a big impression on me. In the fall I saw an advertisement for housemates looking for people who had a contemplative practice. When I came here and heard what it was all about, I felt, “this is made for me.”

ellen: How do you explain this role to people in your life outside of the Windhorse community?

stu: (Laughing) That’s very difficult, yeah. You start generally, “I work with a mental health organization and I’m working with someone who’s a client there. My job is to be with them in a way that creates a stable household environment that supports them.” That’s usually enough to satisfy most people. Sometimes you can go into it a little more, about what’s really happening in the situation.

ellen: What can you say is the most stimulating aspect of your role?

stu: It’s all about relationships. I see myself being reflected back in relationship and this is what my life is about.

ellen: What would you say are some of the commonalities you share with your housemate? What makes the space more like a home instead of just a house?

stu: What occurs to me around that is a mutual respect and consideration for each other. I could say something else like, “I’m interested in photography; he’s interested in photography,” but at a more basic level — I really care for my housemate and he recognizes that. Trust is established over time through being able to recognize everything as OK — whatever may be happening. This allows the client to take risks in reaching out in new ways.

ellen: Had you any experience dealing with extreme mind states previous to your time at Windhorse?

stu: I had some very intimate experience with my own extreme mind states. I had depression for ten years and there were multiple times that I tried to kill myself. I saw a psychiatrist once a month for fifteen minutes — that was my treatment. There was no exploration of exchange between us. He told me what medications might help. I took them and they created the ground for my own internal investigation. I’d done a lot of inner exploration around that whole process and my inner process. Eventually I worked out of it and out of that came my contemplative practice.

ellen: Does your personal experience have anything to do with your interest in doing this work?

stu: Yes, my interest in it came directly from my personal experience with it. It’s more my contemplative practice that allows me to be with people who are paranoid or obsessive and to be able to find that place in myself that’s paranoid or anxious. I think that part of it is being able to see that in myself in a very open way. This makes it possible for me to be in that space with other people. So it’s not simply a desire to be compassionate with whatever comes up. There is an actual being in that space and everything felt and expressed being OK.

ellen: Since there’s a level of intimacy in sharing a home with someone, I’m wondering if you might see your housemate in a way that’s different from how a professional sees them on a three hours shift.

stu: I very definitely see aspects of the client that the rest of the team doesn’t and the team sees aspects of the client that I don’t see. We have some shared experience and I have my own experience. There ends up being a lot of exchange within the team. I think that helps the team as a whole to be more cohesive and focused in terms of working with each other and the client.

ellen: What special set of skills do you feel you’re employing?

stu: The “skills” that I bring to this seem to be from my life experience. Quite frankly the skills that I bring to it I can’t get by going to school. I think what this job really requires, at base level, is a willingness to look at what is going around us as a reflection of ourselves. When a client is in an extreme state, we’re letting them do whatever they do, protecting them if they need protection. At the same time we’re watching ourselves and our reactions to what’s going on and working with that so that it’s not about them, it’s about us — it’s about me. And we all come in at different places along the road with that but I think that a strong commitment to that baseline is what’s required.

ellen: Would you say that you feel supported in this community in your exploration of your own experience while interacting with your client housemate?

stu: One thing that’s talked about a lot here is mutual recovery. In other words, we as employed participants in the Windhorse process are in recovery as much as clients are. When I hear that question, I very often see individuals in their own recovery as they are going through that sometimes and I am totally in awe and amazed at how I see them working through that. Other times I see people struggling and feel a little distressed with that, but, you know, this is where we all are this is what we’re all doing.

ellen: Do you have any personal struggles with that?

stu: For the most part I feel like I’m being paid to be me in the household and what could be better than that? And yet I have had difficult times where I have been challenged and that’s really one of the best reasons for me to be here at Windhorse. It’s really what it’s all about to me. One of the reasons why I like this is to be able to have my buttons pushed. I get to find out where I’m holding on to my own ego about things and say “oh, there it is — I get to look at it now.”

ellen: What help do you get here when your buttons get pushed? Do you feel like you get supervision, like you get a place to work through that? Or do you have to work it through on your own?

stu: All of the above. Ultimately I need to work through it on my own; nobody can do the work for me. It’s also useful to be able to talk through these things with somebody. It just kind of helps to clarify things. The housemate supervision meeting is where a lot of that happens. It’s a weekly meeting with the team leader where we talk about what’s going on, what’s going on with my process as well as what’s going on dynamically in the housemate interaction. It’s a chance to talk about those things and explore them.

ellen: Is there anything you have to offer to help individuals or families who are considering becoming a part of the Windhorse process?

stu: That’s a great question. I sometimes get the sense that even when clients or parents might have heard about the Windhorse approach, they really don’t get the housemate role. I often think of the housemate position as the “subtle role.” There is still a sense of relying on the therapy because “that’s where it all happens.” And things do happen there of course, but the day-to-day relationship stuff, having different examples of issues coming up and different ways to resolve them, offers people different ways of thinking about how they relate to people.

ellen: You spoke about the day-to-day, can you give an example of what you mean?

stu: There’s a kind of we’re in the trenches together type of thing. Being a housemate is more like a 24/7 job and those shining moments of the relationship can happen at 1 o’clock in the morning, when something just kind of comes up to the surface and it’s just something occurring in the moment. Let me give you an example: Middle of the night, my housemate is on the Internet and it’s noisy. I wake up and am ready to ask him to tone it down when I see he is racing in his thoughts while looking at so much stimulation online. I am exhausted, but here is a moment to exchange with him. We talk, I listen, he listens and we reach a “moment of clarity” that relieves the intensity that’s built up. We share that together. It just comes from the natural trajectory of life. You can’t time it. There’s a touching that happens, if you want to get new-agey about it. To have somebody have a moment of clarity arise and say “Oh, look at this!” And have someone actually acknowledge “Oh yeah! Yeah!”

ellen: That’s a really satisfying description you just gave, thank you…Well, you know, this is love; I almost get teary to say that, but it’s love.

stu: Yeah it is. ellen: There’s nothing new-agey about that