Healing the Hills

Locals know the residence at 229 W. Fifth St. in Florence variously as the Big House, the Hardey House, even The Castle.

John Lehman and Bev Wiebe, founders of Wellspring Counseling Services, hope the beautiful Victorian structure becomes known in the area as a house of healing and wholeness.

The pair began offering counseling services there after moving to Florence from Evanston, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, last February. Their approach is overtly Christian and their methods seek to integrate psychology and spirituality.

“We seek to work with Jesus in finding truth, life and healing for the hurts and problems that affect all of us, and to open the springs within,” they write in an introductory brochure. “While we want to be open about our faith, persons of all faiths are welcome.”

Their approach may sound unorthodox in the sometimes clinical world of counseling and psychiatric treatment, but it’s no more so than the thought of two suburban Chicago practitioners leaving the city to set up their practice in a rural Kansas village.

“We still laugh at that,” said Wiebe. “Sometimes it’s hard to believe it ourselves.”

Their migration to Florence was more a response to family interests than any cosmic call to the rural wilderness.

John and his wife, Joanna, have a daughter, son-in-law and grandchild living in Hesston and wanted to live closer to them.

Wiebe, meanwhile, is a native of Garden City, a 1978 graduate of Tabor College and has parents needing her nearer because of their health.

Besides those ties, Wiebe said she downright missed her home state during the 14-plus years she and Lehman operated their counseling service in Illinois.

“After I was there for a year, I really felt homesick,” Wiebe said. “I finally figured out I was homesick for sky. In Evanston, you don’t see the sky.”

But why Florence?

Lehman, born in West Virginia and raised in Pennsylvania, said he fell in love with the Flint Hills while visiting the area to mentor some church-planting projects. Lehman was a founding member of Reba Place Fellowship, an intentional Christian community in Evanston.

Keith Harder, former pastor of First Mennonite Church in Hillsboro and fellow mentor at the time, sometimes took Lehman on excursions into the Flint Hills, where Harder’s family owns property.

On one such excursion, Harder showed the Lehman family a collection of 50 different flowers and cacti he had collected in the hills.

“That opened my eyes to what all was here,” Lehman said. “I just like the Flint Hills. And to be within a half hour of our daughter and grandchildren at this age is important.”

Through local contacts, Lehman and Wiebe found out about the house on Fifth Street.

Built at the turn of the century by a local merchant named Batty, the grand house had been abandoned for some 10 years and left for rot when George and Earline Hardey bought it in the late 1950s and did extensive restoration.

Now that the Hardeys were ready to sell it, Lehman’s daughter sent her parents a video tour of the house. The Lehmans bought it otherwise sight unseen and moved to town in February.

The Lehmans also live in the house. Wiebe has a house of her own, also in Florence.

In one sense, locating in the wide-open expanse of the Flint Hills is appropriate for Wellspring Counseling Services, because the strategies Lehman and Wiebe use make them something of pioneers in the counseling field.

They specialize in a relatively new approach called Theophostic Ministry, which proponents call a biblical approach to counseling that brings about expedient healing and restoration in the lives of hurting people.

Theophostic Ministry believes a person’s present emotional pain comes from the misinterpretation- or lies-embedded in his or her memories and not the memories themselves.

Clients are asked to identify the feeling of their particular discomfort-such as anxiety or depression-and then go back to the root of it, Lehman said.

“We encourage them to let Jesus take them back to the root, the beginning of it,” he said. “At the point where you identify the lie you came to believe, then you ask Jesus to come and tell you the truth.”

To illustrate, Lehman described an occasion when he was asked to visit a 16-year-old girl who was struggling with anorexia, a common eating disorder among teenagers.

“She quickly went back to a time when she was 10 and was with a bunch of her cousins in Alberta,” Lehman said. “They were having fun dressing up and decided to go into the bathroom and put on makeup. There was a scale there and they weighed themselves. She weighed in at 20 pounds more than the rest. And they said, ‘Oh my goodness, are you heavy!'”

Believing that “lie” was enough to set this girl on the trail to anorexia, Lehman said

After she recalled the incident, Lehman said the young woman was quiet for some time.

“I thought she was losing focus, but then she just started laughing,” he said. “She said, ‘Jesus said, “Stand back and look at yourself. You’re two years older and six inches taller. Of course you’re going to weigh 20 pounds more!'” She was just ecstatic.”

Lehman and Wiebe said Theophostic-which combines words for “God” (theo) and “light” (phostic)-Ministry is no magical cure and isn’t the answer for everyone. But it has been found to be effective with sexual abuse issues, marital counseling, traumatic memory, grief and loss, homosexuality, ritual abuse, post-traumatic stress syndrome, dissociative disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse and various addictions.

Another approach they use at Wellspring is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Discovered by psychologist Francine Shapiro in 1987, EMDR suggests that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts under certain conditions.

“It’s a secular approach to treating trauma, but it has a lot of parallels with Theophostic,” Lehman said.

“The basic theory is that we store trauma in a different place in our brain than the general library file,” he said. “This eye movement will reactivate that part of the brain where the trauma is, get to it quickly, and then you can reprocess it. It’s not super-sophisticated.”

With these two tools at their disposal, Lehman and Wiebe said they they can meet the needs of a variety of people. Theophostic works well with people sympathetic to spirituality, while EMDR can also include those who aren’t.

Currently, Lehman works primarily with adults, while Wiebe focuses on children and families.

To this point, clients have come to them primarily from Marion County and surrounding counties. Many come from referrals from professionals who have participated in the Theophostic seminars they have conducted in the area.

Wiebe said she understands how rural folks sometimes look at going for counseling as an admission of weakness. She and Lehman want it to be nonthreatening for people to become acquainted with them and the services they offer.

“One of the things we recommend to new clients is that they just come for one session to meet us and to get a sense of whether we’re the right people to help them,” she said. “And we can get a sense of whether we can help them, too. We don’t charge for that first session.”

Ideally, they would like to locate their practice in the country, where clients could stay for longer periods if necessary and where they can feel protected from the eyes of curious neighbors.

Until such a day, Lehman and Wiebe say they want to do whatever they can to make it easier for people with emotional hurts to find help and healing.

“I don’t know if we’ve lived in the area long enough yet to say that we provide something that other (counseling resources) don’t,” Wiebe said. “We just want to be another resource in a rural area.”

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