Khara Fuentes feels she owes her choice of career as a therapist to Ahwatukee’s big heart.
It dates back to her freshman year at Mountain Pointe High School and her brother’s grave condition caused by meningitis.
He was so ill that her parents had started planning his funeral.
And while he recovered, Fuentes still remembers how the community rallied around, as it so often does when one of its own is in dire straits.
“I think that if it weren’t for the support of the community and our church friends and family that it would have had a very different outcome,” she said. “I mean it was the support of the community and so I really kind of see what I do as a chance for me to give back a piece of that support that I got during the tough times.”
And since finishing her studies in California, she has been doing just that through her practice, Centre for Middle Ground, 15825 S. 46th St., Suite 122, Ahwatukee.
She has a helper too, and all 2 pounds of him scampers up to greet visitors to her office, calmly accepting pats on the head.
The 4-year-old Mi-Ki’s is a trained therapy dog that Fuentes sometimes uses with the three categories of patients she normally sees – adolescent girls, “emerging women” ages 22 to 40 and couples.
“Tino also helps motivate the occasional resistant teenage girl to actually start counseling when she wouldn’t otherwise be open to the process,” Fuentes explains. “While she may not want to see a therapist, she will come to see Tino. This allows me to begin building rapport and to start the therapy process.”
Fuentes enjoys working with girls in middle and high school.
On her website she explains that during this “time of growth and self-discovery,” a girl starts “to learn who she is and gains an awareness of how her environment has shaped her, while also learning how she can begin to influence it. She’s powerful and fabulous, she just doesn’t see it yet and I love to be part of her team to help her recognize it.”
She also thinks girls these days have a lot more to contend with than when she was their age, thanks to social media.
“The social aggression that you see among girls often would happen in person or on campus, on a school campus, but now, they can’t leave it. It’s happening online and so that’s a whole different dynamic that girls really struggle with,” Fuentes said.
But when those girls do come to her, Fuentes sees her job as making sure they don’t stay patients too long.
“I feel like when kids are coming into counseling, my job is to put myself out of a job,” she explained. “I don’t want any kids coming in here long-term. I don’t think they need it. I don’t think it’s necessarily helpful.”
So she tries to zero in as soon as possible on “figuring out what are the biggest issues that they’re struggling with.”
“I figure out what I can do to best support them and working through some of those issues. We come up with some clear goals and every session they’re coming in, I’m targeting something with the goals that we’ve set. I really try and move kids out when I feel like things are really good enough for them.”
In a way, that youngest set of patients set the table for her practice with the other two groups.
With women, she said, the issues can involve college pressures, problems involving a first job or more personal problems such as divorce.
But, she said, “I do think there are things that maybe if some of these women had learned early on or had some more self-awareness at an earlier age, maybe it would look different for them or they would be feel more equipped to handle things in life later on.”
As for couples, Fuentes said, “Once I started my work with kids, I realized that having a healthy relationship really changes the dynamic in the home environment that kids are growing up in. I guess what led me to my work with couples is that I realized that if I can really help couples have a healthy, satisfying relationship, they’re going to raise kids who are more successful and well adjusted.”
This year, Fuentes has two workshops for couples, with sessions from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and a separate workshop slated Oct. 26. Couples can register at centreformiddleground.com/workshops.
The workshop is based on seven principles developed by Dr. John Gottman that are aimed not just on addressing problems but also strengthening marriages and long-term relationships where there might not be any serious issue between the two people.
Gottman and his wife studied couples for four decades to develop these principles, and they identified “the things that couples do that lead to a healthy, satisfying relationship and the things that couples do that lead to a deterioration in the relationship,” Fuentes said.
“And the workshop is set up to kind of teach couples these tools to have a healthy, satisfying relationship,” she added. “There’s some instruction in there, but there’s also a chance for them to try out some of these tools.
“The difference between the workshop and seeing me privately is they’re not getting individualized feedback and direction on what’s happening and how they can improve or shift their process to be more effective for that couple. And that’s the benefit of couples counseling: It’s more tailored specifically to each couple’s needs versus this is what the research says and here’s what is helpful for couple.”
Even if there are no serious problems within a couple’s relationship, be they married or not, Fuentes said, “The cool thing about the workshop is it’s not just for couples that are having issues, but it’s for couples that just want to have a better, deeper connection with one another.”
“I wish more couples came in because they want to have a deeper relationship with one another,” Fuentes said. “But often what I see is ‘we’re already in conflict and we don’t know how to get out of this.’”
That prompts an observation from Fuentes that some might find startling:
“It’s funny, we have, you know, accountants and we have some of these other professionals that we check in with more often, but we don’t do that necessarily with counseling.”
Information: centreformiddleground.com or 602-741-3388