Ressler opens heart and home to personal counseling

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Everyone can use a little help when the challenges along life’s path grow heavy.

Sharon Ressler is making herself available for that kind of assistance through Pathways Counseling, a service she has established in her home at 207 E. A St. in Hillsboro.

“Seeking help along the journey is a strength, not a weakness,” said Ressler, a licensed master social worker. “Counseling is not for the faint of heart. It requires focus, it requires honesty and it’s to be respected.”

Ressler is relatively new to the area, having moved to Hillsboro with husband Lawrence in July when he began working as vice president for academic affairs and student development at Tabor College.

She said being new to the community may be a hindrance or a help in her new venture. Not many people know her yet, but she can listen to them with a fresh perspective-and without much knowledge of their family connections.

Not that such knowledge would make a difference anyway.

“Confidentiality is critical, particularly in a small community,” Ressler said. “I understand there are many family relationships here, but there also are HIPA (Health Information Protection Act) laws, so confidentiality is absolute.”

Ressler grew up in Kidron, Ohio, and attended a Christian high school there before earning a degree in early-childhood education from Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia in 1978.

While in college, she met and eventually married Lawrence. They now have three adult children, ages 19 to 25, who live outside of Kansas. Two recently have gotten married.

During their nearly 30 years of marriage, the Resslers’ commitment to service has taken them to a variety of places. For three years, they lived in inner-city Philadelphia through Mennonite Voluntary Service.

Being in the extreme minority, “that experience was life changing, really,” she said.

With their first child in tow, they moved back to Ohio for about five years. They then lived near Harrisburg, Pa., for 10 years, including one year spent in Kentucky, where Sharon practiced social work among persons of the Appalachian culture.

In 1988, the Resslers lived in Kenya for six months, where Sharon did volunteer work in an orphanage for babies with AIDS.

Before moving to Hillsboro, the Ressler were living in Rochester, N.Y., where Sharon completed a master’s degree in social work in 2004 at Roberts Wesleyan College.

“We’ve moved a lot,” Ressler said. “I’d say that’s a huge thing with my life, so I understand very much persons who are dealing with changes-whether that’s a change of life stages, or whether that’s physical changes.

“I also understand adjusting to cultures and aim to make my practice culturely sensitive,” she added.

Until the past few years as a graduate student, Ressler said her primary focus has been nurturing her family, with some stints in the social-work field.

“I pretty much spent the rest of the years raising children and doing some part-time work,” she said.

But with her children entering adulthood, Ressler said it was time to find a new niche for service. Earning her master’s degree was part of her preparation, and she initially looked for a social-work opening when they moved to Kansas.

But family considerations contributed to her decision to move a different direction.

“I decided that probably for me, with three children, and with some of them living very far from here and my family being far from here, I really wanted a little more flexibility,” she said.

With the encouragement of friends and student-development colleagues of her husband at Tabor, she opened Pathways Counseling.

“I decided to move in this direction, realizing that it may be a challenge.” she said. “But I sensed the Lord’s leading in it. I figure I’ll take it as far as I can go.”

Ressler said counseling has been both a formal and informal endeavor through the years. While at Roberts Wesleyan, she volunteered though the college’s counseling department.

But her formal counseling experiences simply reflect her gifts as a listener in whatever environment she has found herself.

“It’s really been a lifelong affirmation,” she said. “People seem to feel comfortable talking to me. I think that’s my strength, developing rapport.”

Since she does not yet have a clinical license, Ressler said she will work under the supervision of a longtime licensed clinical social worker in Wichita.

“It’s always good to be under supervision anyway,” she said. “We will meet weekly to discuss cases and I’ll be guided by her expertise.”

Ressler said although she will counsel clients from a Christian perspective, she does not call herself a “Christian counselor.”

“While my Christian faith is foundational to who I am, not everyone who comes for counseling will have the beliefs, and I respect that,” she said.

“We may want to discuss spirituality or religion if the client chooses, and there may be areas where the most helpful thing is to refer a client elsewhere.

“But those concerns should not deter someone from calling with questions or setting up an appointment.”

Ressler said she intends to keep her clientele to individuals 18 years and older, including the elderly, and their families as appropriate.

“As you deal with individuals, so often it’s only prudent to work with the family, too,” she said. “Those decisions are made case by case in consultation with the client.”

Ressler has developed office space in her home and invites interested persons to call her for more information or to make an appointment. The phone number is 620-381-3397.

Ressler said she knows it will take some courage for people to make that initial call.

“The main thing is that there’s such a stigma (about seeing a counselor),” she said.

“If people can step back and challenge their own stereotypes and look deeper, they can understand that it’s not a weakness, it’s a strength. And that we stay stuck if we’re not willing to seek help.”

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