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Five Good Minutes With Seth Knobel

Patch catches up with the newly appointed director of Niles Family Services.

Even though Seth Knobel has been doing the job for the past year, he's only just receiving the title. Knobel was recently appointed as the director of Niles Family Services.

Patch: You've been "acting director" for the past 365 days or so; how did you first get started in this field?

Seth Knobel: I've been with Niles Family Services for about 10 years now. I started here as an intern. After I received my master's degree in social work, I worked with a couple of schools (Evanston Township High School and Niles West High School). There's a limited amount of things you can actually do in a school system to be able to have an impact on the mental health of a student. So having the opportunity to do the therapy end of things (at Niles Family Services) fit more with what I wanted to do.

Patch: For those who might not be aware, what kinds of services does the department offer?

SK: Primarily we provide therapy to residents of the village of Niles as well as its employees and their family members. We see people with disabilities, people from the senior population. Some family issues, some adolescent issues. We've been doing a lot of couples' counseling. We also do case management for people who are having financial trouble. We've been seeing a lot of people who we wouldn't have normally seen, working-class folks who have been out of work for a year or two by now. 

There was a recent suicide in the village, and we were called out to give immediate grief and trauma counseling for the family and the neighbors as well. We advised the family about what they need to accomplish, helped facilitate whether one member was going to stay in the home or with family for a little while and the logistics of that.

Usually, if we don't hear from someone but we still have some concerns that ongoing service might be helpful, we're definitely going to follow up. In this case, the wife had a tremendously supportive network, but the family knew we were there to help if they needed it.

What we do is we're a buffer between the family, neighbors, community and the police and/or fire department. They have a specific job they need to do. They're not in the position, even though I'm sure they'd want to be, of being able to help console families in a step-by-step process because they need to take care of the issues at hand.

Patch: How do you handle various cultural differences that might arise?

SK: That's all part of our training. Being culturally sensitive is a very important component for us. Some of our resource materials lay out the various cultures and their attitudes about mental health and illness.

For instance, in working with some Korean families, the oldest males usually make the decisions. I could be having a meeting at a table with the whole family, and I would need to identify the oldest male. And in some cases, he may not even be at the table. He might be back in Korea. 

A lot of people who have a tight cultural background that they still adhere to seek help outside their culture because they want to keep it separate from their community. And to be honest, we're just as respectful for American families who have been here for generations too. A lot of times, the important thing is to identify the culture of the family, whether it's ethnicity, religion, or just practice.

Patch: What about language barriers?

SK: We do work with non-English-speakers. We have a Spanish-speaker on staff, and we're taking on an intern who speaks Polish. And we have a list of about 100 or so people who speak different languages. When someone we're working with speaks limited English, there are usually people who speak both languages in the community around the individual.

Patch: With all of the recent budget cuts, how's your department doing? 

We're busy. We have a tremendous amount of support from our trustees and the administration. We certainly are aware that we're not part of the bare bones of what government would look at, but I think we're seen as a critical component to the village. We are actually affected more by the cuts from other agencies from the state and federal government. There are a lot of impacts, fewer homeless shelters and less money for financial assistance. We can always use more staff. We have three full-time employees, six part-time and our office manager.

Patch: Some people may not be aware of the Family Services department or how to get help. What's the most important thing you'd like people to know about your office? 

SK: That we're here to help. Don't wait until the problem gets to a point where you're in crisis. We're here to help, and we really, really care. Everyone on staff is a professional who went into this field specifically to help people.

To get help, call (847) 588-8460. We accept insurance and Medicare, but we also work with people to get it figured out. People don't need to feel like they're alone. We're here, and we care.

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