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Mindset: Timothy Tate Analyzes The Psyches Of Mountain Towns

From topics treated as personal taboo to social and environmental concern fomenting unrest, the Bozeman therapist ponders the multiple dimensions of mental health

Columnist Timothy Tate
In some towns even in the 21st century, an individual’s admission that she or he is involved with psychological therapy elicits the same kind of uncomfortable reactions as if a person speaks of attending AA, Al-Anon or the meetings of other organizations founded to deal with  forms of addiction, trauma and dysfunction.

For years, psychotherapist Timothy Tate operated a private counseling practice behind a blue door along Main Street in Bozeman, Montana.  Tate is a well-known figure in his community and he still sees clients at another office near downtown.

The clinician sees many parallels between the way individuals deal with issues affecting their lives and the way communities cope with them. Often, he notes, they can be inter-related.  In his column “Community Psyche,” Tate will take readers into the realm of social taboos, the stress points associated with personal and community stress and the search for transformation in times of great social and political uncertainty.

MOUNTAIN JOURNAL:  Tantalize us with a few things, not on a resume, that we need to know about the man with flowing snow-white hair who resembles a shaman like a fictional character in a novel about quests. Some may not realize that you have your own show spinning music and interviewing guests on the local college radio station, KGLT, that you’re an author, active in the arts scene, engaged in social issues and you worked at a home for troubled youth in eastern Montana.  Beyond that, what are some things that speak to who you are?

TIMOTHY TATE: My personal myth is rooted in the deep West's romantic ideal of the self-made man who knows the value and power of self-reliance fed by the rigors of nature and the resources of community. I am informed and inspired by our individual stories be they told through narrative, dream, or music. My archetypal stock is carved out of the twisted ancient tree standing on a wind-blown ridge silently witnessing the collective's notion of reality acted out in daily life.

MOJO: You are a practicing mental health therapist.  What do you find most interesting about the work you do?

TATE: I have shown up for my psychotherapy practice in our beloved Bozeman day in and out since 1983. Over that time, I have listened to hundreds of thousands of dreams and personal stories. What I hear is that one's personal life is a best guess at making sense of the chaos within our own version of reality while attempting to fulfill the dictates of social norms. What gives me goose bumps on a daily basis is when a person realizes how their insights change their reality.

MOJO: We welcome you to the Mountain Journal line-up because you, on a number of levels, have explored the inspiring and sometimes conflict-laden intersection between humans and the natural world.  Give us a sneak preview of things that intrigue you about that relationship?

: When we founded Headwaters Academy [a Bozeman-based alternative school] in 1990 it was evident to me that our youth must experience raw nature to learn what is essential about life. One of the first outdoor adventures was to sit with Doug Peacock around a campfire in Yellowstone Park as he prepared us for tracking grizzly bears in the Hayden Valley. The sense we all had in the light of dawn scampering along a forested trail led by a man who earlier had lived among bruins as a way of returning from the madness of the Vietnam war. It reminded us that we were not the dominant mammal and acknowledging it, with humility, etches character out of the clay of socialized reality.

MOJO:  What are the parallels that exist between the mental well-being of individual people and the collective psyches of communities?

TATE: Imagine that our ego isolates us from the nourishment of our common ground—that thing we call community. Then imagine that this symbiotic relationship is akin to the health of an animal that depends on what it eats for its strength to survive. Now finish with the idea that what nurtures an individual psyche is equivalent to the kind of sustenance that makes a community strong.  A healthy community can provide the individuals living inside it with healthy raw material. The inverse is also true. What is common to the health of both is a sense of place.

MOJO: With some of your clients you do dream work and help them sort out the signals being sent from their unconscious selves to the people they are, and purport to be in their public conscious lives.  Do communities similarly have dreams they live—and what would be some things you would briefly say about Bozeman's, with it being the largest town in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem?

TATE: Sadly, Bozeman does not have a shared dream driving its growth. We are at the mercy of imported patterns that determine wages and domicile. These templates of growth that come with the identified next hot profit zone rip at the fabric of diversity and local color. It is our collective task to confront and bear the tension of negotiating a common dream. This is the only way that we can realize a Bozeman dream unique to our character and not an interpretation handed to us or lifted out of a generic playbook written by the hands of greed.  This dream cannot happen by being asleep. If we want it to be real, we need to be wide awake and aware of choices now before us.

MOJO:  What is the most humbling things you've learned being a therapist?

TATE: That no amount of knowledge, experience, or wisdom can save a person intent on killing themselves. I am humbled everyday by the courage it takes for two of us to have an unedited sincere exchange about what is essential. There is a moment that arises out of the depth and intentionality of this soulful conversation that rings true in our hearts and minds becoming one's fresh true north. 
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