Providing the tools to handle stress, anxiety: Counseling center helps people get back on track.

In 1985, when Rich Wemhoff and Fran Regdos opened Emmaus Counseling in a 1920s house at 8920 165th Ave. NE in Redmond, Wemhoff had doubts about hanging a sign outside of this quaint building in a residential neighborhood.

He told Regdos, who is his wife and a fellow mental health counselor, “People are going to have to sneak in here. People are not going to want to be seen walking out of here, onto that sidewalk with a sign saying ‘counseling.’ Maybe we should be in a clinic with other practitioners, so no one will know if they’re seeing a dentist or a pediatrician or a counselor.”

Reminiscing about the decision to go ahead and display that sign, Wemhoff commented, “Now more people are open, not ashamed to seek counseling.”

In this economic climate, when so many lives have been turned upside down by job loss or debt, it’s not surprising that all kinds of people are plagued with anxiety and depression.

Therapists at Emmaus work with people holistically by keeping in contact with clients’ other health care providers. Counseling from a Christian viewpoint is also available, although not mandatory.

The name Emmaus comes from a town outside of Jerusalem. According to Scripture, after Jesus Christ was crucified, two of his disciples, wracked with sorrow, were comforted by Jesus, who appeared as a stranger and walked beside them.

Therapists at Emmaus Counseling offer to “walk with” people experiencing emotional anguish, said Michele Fritz, the practice’s marketing coordinator.

Staff members specialize in wide-ranging mental health issues.

Wemhoff said most of his clients are middle-aged men facing job stress, unemployment and/or conflict in their personal lives.

“I see a lot of adjustment disorder — something going on in the person’s life,” he explained. “It could be a situational problem. … A lot of people use the word ‘tools.’ They want tools to help them deal with stress at work or in relationships.”

Those tools could include calming techniques such as meditation or visualization, said Wemhoff. He also works with people cognitively, to stop certain thought processes and replace them with less anxious thinking. He asks them to avoid “worst case scenarios” and focus on what is happening in the present, or “What do I need to do in terms of next steps?”

Regdos sees a lot of couples who feel trapped in bad marriages because of money. They can’t sell their house or can’t afford to maintain separate households. She also sees many who want to save their marriages, “but it takes a lot of discipline,” she said.

Another therapist, Wendy Berg added, “Many would be better off leaving but they can’t.”

So what do they do?

“Treat it like college roommates, like you’re stuck in the lease but can’t get out,” said Berg. “Sometimes Dad ends up living in the basement. It’s hard for the couple but harder still for the kids.”

Divorce and its toll on childrens’ emotions is a constant source of mental health issues, the therapists agreed.

Amy Nichols and Wendy Wahlroos also see children and teens who are overwhelmed with activities, expectations and social pressures. From culminating projects to college acceptance and fears about poverty, kids have much more to worry about than their parents’ generation did.

“And school does not feel so safe anymore. Weapons are more readily accessible,” Wahlroos said.

Berg said she’s seeing many people who have conflicts in their workplace.

Technology also can negatively impact the way people communicate, particularly kids.

“They’re texting all the time, have relationships online. Parents may be out of the loop,” said Wahlroos.

“All the multi-tasking contributes to attentional problems,” said Kelly Moore.