When A Sustainability Advocate Required Counseling

Ever since I vowed to become a counselor, I also made it clear that I would not be the conventional type. Whenever I talk about “conventional,” I envision someone wearing thick glasses and staying cooped up in their office every day until their retirement. I have nothing against mental health professionals who loved that lifestyle, but that’s not the kind of life I ever wanted for myself. In my book, offering counseling should not mean that I would have to be one of them.

Source: pexels.com

One way to achieve my goal was to join a humanitarian group that built sustainable houses for less fortunate people. It was not a full-time thing; I still kept an office in the city where I met some clients a few hours a day. But I was in one outreach program after another, especially during the weekends. I would even sometimes go overseas and join their international teams.

What did I do there, you might ask? Of course, among my tasks was still take part in the building process of the houses. They needed all the hands they could get to finish the project early and move on to the following location. Whether they needed someone to push the wheelbarrow, carry sacks of cement, or at least stack up some hollow blocks, I did it.

Nevertheless, my primary goal was to offer counsel to the people who needed help from a humanitarian group to have a roof over their heads. You see, they were the ones who got displaced after hurricanes, floods, and sometimes even forest fires. The natural phenomena took away their possessions and resources, and they might have gone homeless if not for the group that was willing to give them free houses.

Source: pexels.com

When Helpers Needed Counseling, Too

I had been helping out for a few months already when I met Drake. He was very young; he just had his 18th birthday at the time. However, he had been volunteering with the humanitarian group with his parents since he was 15 years old. His parents were not satisfied with merely giving money to a charity; they wanted to put a lot of effort into helping others. At least, that’s what my friends in the group had told me.

The thing was, Drake was alone that day. The reason was that there was a fire on the side of the mountain where they lived, and his mom and dad did not make it. Drake only survived because he was out playing basketball with his friends. By the time he reached home, there were already many fire trucks and police cars in his neighborhood, and it took more than 24 hours before he found out what happened to his parents. In an instant, the sustainability helper needed help.

As a counselor, I was not supposed to diagnose mental disorders in a patient because that’s a psychologist’s or psychiatrist’s job. However, I knew what grief and a sense of loss looked like, and that’s what I saw in Drake. I knew that the next best thing for him right then was to have someone talk to you about the recent unfortunate incident. So I decided to approach him during one of our short breaks.

Source: pexels.com

“Hey, Drake,” I started. “I don’t think that we have officially met, but I am technically the resident counselor in our little humanitarian group. I offer mental health services to the people that we build houses for and help them accept and get over the reason why they needed help in the first place so that they could start anew.”

“Yes, I know you. My parents thought you were doing great, considering you never ask for money, even if counseling tends to cost a lot in the outside world,” Drake replied.

I smiled. “Still, my services do not need to end there. In truth, I can offer the same thing to you and the other volunteers here whenever you need it.”

I was mildly surprised when Drake bent his head down and began sobbing. I immediately felt terrible towards this young sustainability advocate. Here he was, practically an orphan and almost a homeless person if his grandparents didn’t take him in, but he continued his parents’ vocation. I asked him to visit me in my office the next day to talk away from the concerned yet prying eyes of the other members.

Source: pexels.com

That was the beginning of Drake’s counseling journey. It took him some time to get over his parents’ sudden death; he had even been diagnosed with depression not too long after that. But the kid eventually learned how to handle all the emotions hitting him at once.

On one occasion, Drake’s grandparents joined our humanitarian project, and they made a point of thanking me for my work with their grandson. I merely replied that my doors were always open if they needed assistance. That’s especially true since the world needed more kids like Drake, who cared for others and the world in general.

Prioritizing Sustainability While Renovating My Counseling Facility

Source: pexels.com

One thing you should know about me is that I come from a family of mental health professionals. My grandfather worked as a psychiatrist for decades; then, my mother decided to become a psychologist. It was during her training that she met my father, who was also a psychiatrist. So, when it was time for me to choose my career, I decided to become the first counselor in the family.

I would say that it was the best decision in my life. Apart from the fact that the world needs more counselors, my family already established a small mental health hospital in town. People from other cities would flock to our facility to receive mental health treatments. Medical hospitals would also recommend patients to us continuously. From a business perspective, it was booming.

Since the facility was a little outdated, it incurred a lot of damages when a terrible hurricane came. First came the flood, which went up to our thighs. We thought that that was it, but then the roof caved in, and the windows shattered. After a bit of discussion with my parents, we thought it was high time for a significant renovation. It would be easier to set up tents outside of it anyway than accommodating our patients in a broken-down facility.

Source: pexels.com

Priorities Before Renovation

Despite being successful in their fields, my parents remained as frugal as they could be. The first thing they told me before the renovation even happened was to find the cheapest contractor. “We just need a new roof and some new windows, and that’s it,” they said. However, I begged to disagree.

The reality that some older people may not see was that buildings in the past were not built with sustainability in mind. For example, we still used a lot of electricity because everything was closed in, and it was so hot in every room. The floors were not sealed and waterproofed either, so when the water rushed into the facility, the tiled floors went beyond repair. It was a long discussion, but I finally got my parents to find a contractor who prioritized sustainability during the renovation process.

What Happened

I could tell you how challenging it was to find a sustainable contractor. Of course, although more and more people wanted to have eco-friendly homes and buildings, there were still many more who wanted to save on construction expenses, so that’s who they cater to. But when I finally found one, I was over the moon about everything they wanted to do with our facility.

Source: pexels.com

For one, the contractor wanted to replace the ceramic tiles on the floor with solid wood. They knew a place that sold reclaimed solid wood panels, so it would be like recycling better materials, which I loved. We just needed to decide on the colors in times of war, and that was it.

Another thing that the contractor mentioned was using bigger windows. The old design of our facility barely had any windows because mental health was technically taboo for decades. However, since society accepts the subject more now than ever, it may be ideal for adding more windows that would allow the light to come into every room. Of course, they would still be one-way windows to follow our confidentiality promise to our clients, but it might help more than bother them if they could see the outside world.

The contractor and I also talked about using solar panels for the entire building. I found this ideal, considering we did not need electricity in the facility 24/7. My parents tried to say no to this because those were technically expensive, but we would not need to pay another dime to an electric company in the long run. The latter thankfully won them over, so we got solar panels.

Source: pexels.com

The unique idea that my contractor presented had a garden roof. Instead of the regular galvanized iron, they would fill the entire roof with grass and plants. Everyone could go up and relax there while waiting for their turn. More importantly, it could provide enough fresh air and shade, so we might not need air conditioners too much.

Final Thoughts

With all the renovations happening at once, I was surprised when the contractor pointed out that four months already passed since the hurricane devastated our facility. I honestly forgot that that was the sole reason why my parents agreed on renovating our small mental health hospital anyway. The process fascinated me so much that it felt like we were doing it as an improvement, not as a necessity.

Well, I would have to backtrack on the latter statement. Given how much our climate changed over the years, it’s necessary to make sustainable homes and facilities. For instance, we would not be burning as much fossil fuel with the solar panels installed as before. We could even plant fruits and vegetables on the garden roof to avoid buying plastic-covered fresh produce in the markets. Also, we would no longer need to rely on air conditioning units too much because the facility would be well-ventilated.

It was a win, for sure.