Travis Atkinson

Travis Atkinson, Care Enough To Listen

Is it just me, or does this world dish out more than we can take? ….. Who cares enough to listen? ….. Do you care enough to take the time to hold my hand through this phone? Because I’m feeling a long way from home.

I’m so glad you called….. You are so much braver than you realize. I feel your pain thought this phone, you are not alone. You are stronger than the struggle deep inside…..if you cannot find your candle, you can use the light of mine. I care enough to listen.

When Travis Atkinson was 15, he dreamed of being a psychiatrist. As he moved in the direction of this dream, it quickly became apparent that a masters-level counselor was much more realistic time and money-wise, and he headed off into the world many of us do once their degree is in hand: crisis residential treatment.

Travis was no typical counselor in this milieu. He’s credited with bringing healing into clinical environments in counter-cultural ways, using music to support resilience and communicate. He’s even used it as a treatment in facilities where groups, meds, and SOAP (subjective, objective, assessment, and plan) notes are the lay of the land. In an eating disorder group, Travis helped people to find their words around what good came out of their struggle. He then set it to music, inviting them to explore how their feelings might sound. Clients would write a song together, and when each person was discharged, they were given a recording of the song they collaboratively created.

He’s the first to admit that it would have been easier to just go along with the status quo. Bringing your creativity into a setting and working with people who have to brave deep vulnerability to put their words and feelings to music was a whole-hearted, difficult process for everyone. But the pay-off was significant. Travis reflects back on that time and says people underestimate our power to heal each other, and often the environments created for healing are anything but. He says recovery environments often “over-regulate and don’t have the patience for interventions that work.”

At the request of a crisis call center, another very regulated and challenging work environment, Travis wrote a song. Called “Care Enough to Listen.” It’s featured at the top of this article and describes the courage it takes to pick up the phone and talk to a stranger during a dark time. And on the other end of the phone, an example of the heart and presence it takes to be there for someone who could be in real danger. Any crisis line counselor will tell you, this is meaningful work. The mission is what keeps people connected to it, but turnover is high, and burn-out is a risky reality for caller and call-answerer. Hope is essential for both.

Check out more of Travis’ music here:

Author Lindsay Branine
Lindsay has worked in the mental health field for more than 20 years, 18 with a focus on crisis work; working on crisis lines, in emergency rooms, and with innovative leadership teams to change the way we view, access, and manage mental health crisis care.