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“Every life has meaning, and every person can teach you something.”

Woodley House is fortunate to have dedicated employees who care deeply about helping people with mental health problems reclaim their lives and reach their personal goals and aspirations.

In this blog, I would like to introduce you to our Director of Clinical Services, Maria Paipa. Maria grew up in Argentina and was convinced she would study medicine and become a physician like her father, but she realized she was more interested in human nature and human behavior than medicine.

She received her M.A. in clinical psychology from University of Buenos Aires in Argentina and worked in clinical and community settings across Argentina and in Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, New York, and London before coming to Woodley House in 2004.

Much of Maria’s time is spent supervising staff and working with agencies, part of the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health, to provide and coordinate psychiatric treatment for eligible consumers. In Washington, DC, most consumers are served by one core service agency that acts as a “clinical home” to integrate clinical care for that person’s unique needs. The goal of this model is to improve quality of care and reduce waste that can occur when providers don’t communicate with each other.

As a social service agency that provides supportive housing services, Woodley House is an excellent partner to core service agencies that provide clinical care. “Many times we tell them something that is happening with the consumers that they don’t know about because they see them once, maybe twice a month, and we see them every day.”

Her favorite part of her job is working directly with consumers. She says consumers and their families frequently turn to Woodley House because they are overwhelmed and frustrated and just need help to manage the consequences of the illness in their daily lives.

For example, some people with mental illness are physically and emotionally isolated from their community. Living under the supportive care of Woodley House counselors and life skills trainers can help them find the tools to connect with other people and bring more meaning into their life. Maria describes one recent example where Woodley House could help:

“We had this young man come to us who was living at home with his mother. He was depressed and showing psychotic symptoms, and was basically doing nothing with his life. He had no meaningful activity, no enjoyment.

He came to live at Valenti House for about nine months, and little by little, he started to connect and to engage in some of our group activities. He also started connecting with his church activities, with music, and testing the social/communications skills learned in the program with other people living at Valenti House. He started to connect with people in his own age group, which was a milestone since he had always kept himself within his family circle.

His mother helped him find a place in the community close to her, and he is living alone now. I think his experience at Valenti House, which gave him the confidence in connecting with different types of people, was really helpful to him. He still has his issues and he struggles sometimes, but he comes to visit and lets us know how he is progressing.”

Sometimes depression creates a barrier to self-care, and Woodley House counselors can help create a supportive environment for action for consumers who live independently. For example:

“We have another consumer who was referred by Georgetown Hospital. Her social worker called us because she thought our services would be good for her. She is a published writer and lives by herself. We are meeting with her once a week. She suffers from depression, so day-to-day living is very difficult for her. Sometimes she struggles to take her medication on time, so we help her with med-education and management. She has recently been diagnosed with hypertension, so we are helping her manage her symptoms and follow doctors’ recommendations.”

Some people living with mental illness experience feelings of paranoia that make it difficult to connect with other people. Maria describes one recent situation where Woodley House was able to help a man who lived independently:

“The sister of a man who had lived at Valenti House twenty years ago called us. She said her brother was struggling with paranoia, so he didn’t trust people and he didn’t get out much. She wanted to try something new to help him. We started to meet with him once a week, in the place of his choice in his neighborhood, so he was comfortable with the location. We learned he didn’t trust his pharmacy and so sometimes he wouldn’t take his medications. So we made sure his questions and concerns were answered and helped him manage his medications. We learned he was in the process of relocating from one apartment to another, and organizing the new place was an issue for him because he didn’t trust new people to do that. So we helped him organize his new place, and he was very thankful to us for helping with the transition.

One day he said came to us and said, ‘This has been very helpful, but I am not going to be able to keep on coming.’ One of the biggest reasons was his private insurance didn’t cover our services. That is something that I hope will change, especially with efforts around mental health parity. It is less expensive to cover the kind of supportive services we deliver at Woodley House than intensive psychiatric care brought on by a crisis.”

Maria would like to make sure people with mental illness and their families know that in addition to the supportive services Woodley House offers at residential facilities throughout Washington, DC, counselors are increasingly making a difference by offering supportive services in the community where people with mental illness live independently. Woodley House has ten skills trainers who can meet with people living with mental illness who may not need a very structured living environment like Valenti House or Holly House, but can benefit from a weekly check in from a supportive skills trainer.

For more information on Woodley House’s community-based support, reach out to Maria at 202-629-1532 or mpaipa@woodleyhouse.org.

For Maria, working at Woodley House reaffirms her belief that “every life has meaning, and every person can teach you something.”

We hope you will join us in thanking Maria for her dedication to making Woodley House a pathway to recovery for hundreds of Washington, DC area residents each year.

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