Crisis clinic head to retire

The director of the Kitsap County Crisis Clinic is retiring next week after 28 years on the job, a time that has demonstrated an evolution in the attitude toward and treatment of mental health ailments.

“My ideas are no longer bright and edgy,” said Riki Jacobs, 65. “Running the crisis clinic now requires a greater knowledge of technology than I have — or want to acquire.”

One aspect of running the crisis center that has not changed with the advent of new technology is the ability to listen, which Jacobs said is the most important trait that a volunteer can have.

“The choice is whether we want a relationship or whether we want to ‘do it right,’” Jacobs said. “Having a relationship is more important. Too often people have to be right. It is part of the rugged individualism on which this country was built. But we need to teach people that they don't need to be right.

“If your mother believes that your father is still alive and he is not,” she said, “you need to ask yourself if it hurts her to believe this. There is nothing wrong if a child has an imaginary friend.”

Jacobs counsels volunteers to respect other people’s point of view until the opposite is proven true.

“We all have our own realities,” Jacobs said. ”A good therapist will recognize this.”

The crisis center, located in proximity to the Kitsap Mental Health Services facility in Bremerton, handles about 20,000 calls per year from people in various stages of distress. These can range from a full-blown mental collapse to a less-consequential situation. But it is the latter that is an important part of preventive care.

“There are a lot of people who just want to talk,” Jacobs said. “They can’t pay the bills or find a rental they can afford. People who call are looking for someone to help them process the situation before it develops into a full-blown crisis.”

The crisis center actually has fewer volunteers than when Jacobs started the job, even as the need has increased.

“In the 1970s, there weren’t as many volunteer opportunities that were as interesting or challenging,” she said. “Many women didn’t work and we had better access to shipyard employees. In the time since the first President Bush and the ‘1,000 points of light,’ everyone volunteers. So it is more competitive.”

The volunteer force is comprised of a mixed bag — Navy spouses, seniors, professionals and people in transition. This can lead to a career path. Kelly Schwab, who will take over for Jacobs after her retirement, began as a volunteer.

Volunteers need to take about 33 hours worth of classes and commit to four hours per week and one overnight shift per month.

“Volunteers need to have an interest in sharing,” she said. “You need to be non-judgmental and a good listener. And while you will hear the same thing over and over, you need to react to is as if it were new every time.”

Friends and colleagues Jacobs are invited to a retirement reception in her honor from 1 to 4 p.m. June 28 at Kitsap Mental Health Services in Bremerton.

For more information call (360) 415-5800.

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