Wren Fritzlan

Interview with Wren Fritzlan, Class of 1987

What work have you done since graduation?

I've been working with people who have persistent and severe mental illness at various sites within the Mental Health Center of Boulder County. Presently, I'm the team leader at Friendship House.

What does your job involve?

I do all of the team's clinical supervision, I provide therapy to the clients, I do case management for each of our clients and I'm responsible for all of the administrative aspects of running Friendship House.

Do you find your work fulfilling?

On a personal level, the work I'm doing is good for me in that it allows me to be helpful to others. I seem to have a talent for working with clients who most people find impossible to work with at all. Part of the reason for this, I think, is that I grew up in a family that has developmentally disabled people in it and I grew up in a Christian church that had a very strong service ethic. The work I'm doing now lets me express these parts of myself. In that way, I'd say that my work is very fulfilling.

On a societal level, I feel that I'm helping in an important way. At Friendship House we have created a treatment environment and a home environment for our clients ?all in one? which is much more cost effective than a hospital setting. I have the opportunity to work with mentally ill people in the least restrictive way possible, and to help train others to do the same, which makes the work very satisfying.

What stands out for you about your time as a student at Naropa that most prepared you to work with others?

I studied with very good teachers, including the people who created the Windhorse model to begin with. Friendship House is the fruition of their work. I learned so much about basic attendance and working with my mind at Naropa. Some of those teachers aren't there anymore, but Friendship House still provides an environment for students to have a clinical experience doing basic attendance.

How does Friendship House figure into the education of contemplative psychotherapists?

The answer to your question is two-pronged. For one thing, students who work at Friendship House learn that basic attendance has a clinical component, it's not just hanging out with people. It's about working within community, working within the environment in order to reflect brilliant sanity.

Second, two contemplative psychotherapy faculty members, Karen Kissel Wegela and Bob Unger each volunteer their time to support the team in looking at our work with the clients. We do Body, Speech, Mind presentations, just as they're taught in the Contemplative Psychotherapy program, which enable us to get away from psychological jargon and to talk about how we feel as we work with particular clients.

The Body, Speech, Mind form gives us the space to talk about our feelings honestly, no matter what they are. We don't judge our feelings, but by talking about them we discover what we need to know about transference and exchange, and that helps us to be helpful to our clients.

What stands out for you about your time as a student at Naropa that most prepared you to work with others?

The Maitri Program stands out, because it taught me how to work with my own mind and it taught me about recognizing basic goodness. In this system it is easy to lose touch with whether we're 'being helpful' or not to our clients. At Naropa, I learned how to think about that question in a way that encourages me to stay open to what 'being helpful' might mean in any given moment. This makes it possible for me to do my work without losing my sense of purpose. I can enter any situation knowing that I can be helpful, because I can relate to myself and to others by trusting in basic goodness.

At the Maitri retreat I also learned to love myself and to be kind to myself, which is the foundation for basic attendance. This carries directly into my work, because instead of seeing clients first and foremost as mentally ill people, I see them as family members, as workers, as students, as whole people, whoever they are, but not just as being mentally ill. I am able to see all aspects of who they are and to recognize their basic goodness.

What do you most value about your Naropa training?

I think that the value of the Naropa program is the opportunity to learn about how one's mind works. This is effective because it's the only mind we have to work with.

Can you speak to how your contemplative training is helpful to you when you're working in a mainstream mental health setting?

Sure. Here's an example: In the medical model, where working with the other person's mind is the focus, there's a danger of 'having to know.' When we get into that position, there's a trade off. We risk playing games or having a power trip over the person we're supposed to be helping. What I learned at Naropa is that I don't have to know everything. I don't need to come up with something just to make me feel like I'm doing my work. I can be honest and say, 'I'll do my best, but I?m not sure that I can fix this.'

In meetings with other team leaders about budget cuts, sometimes I will offer tidbits of feedback from discussions I have had with residents of Friendship House. Sometimes other team leaders are inspired by how open I am with residents about budget concerns. I don't see any reason not to bring them along. The funding crisis is more about their lives than it is about my life. There's a tendency in the medical model to withhold information until we feel diagnostically accurate.

Any words of wisdom to share with prospective students?

Reflecting on my own journey, I'd urge prospective students to prepare carefully for what they're setting themselves up for financially, in terms of loans and financial aid. Look closely at the realities of making a living once you've graduated so that you know what you're getting into.

In general, are you glad that you completed this program?

I'd say that I'm very glad I completed the MA psych program. There have been a few things that I've had to learn on the job that I didn't learn as a student, but what I've learned at Naropa I can't learn anywhere else. The rest I can learn anywhere.