By Rachel M. Anderson, Contributing Writer

(Faribault, MN.) – Mental illness is a bigger problem in Minnesota than many people realize. According to the Minnesota Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), more than 300,000 people, or 1-in-17 Minnesotans live with a serious and persistent mental illness.

Some of the illnesses that Minnesotans struggle with are anxiety and depression, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar affective disorder, among others. Although many who suffer take medications to help them cope with their illnesses, a clinic in Southern Minnesota goes beyond that with an innovative approach.

Cedar House, Inc. is an out-patient community-based mental health service that provides people with different mental health issues the tools they need to assist in their recovery. From the moment they set foot in one of Cedar House’s six locations in Albert Lea, Austin, Faribault, Jordan, Waconia and Northfield, it is very clear the experience consumers have will be different from what they have experienced in the past.

“Rather than a sterile, institutional type clinic, people find a very homey feel when they come to Cedar House and that atmosphere is very intentional. “We have made it a place where people will feel comfortable, not on guard,” said Cedar House’s Executive Clinical Director, Tamara Domazet, a licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW), who earned her Master of Social Work (MSW) from the University of Minnesota.

Domazet explains that everyone who comes to the clinic is welcome to move about the facility freely. “There are no doors with signs that say ‘No Admittance, Staff Only or Off Limits.’ If people want to walk in on a meeting that is underway, that’s totally fine with us. Again, we want people to feel comfortable,” she said.

Cedar House’s founders, social worker Simon Zeller and his wife, Karen, started the clinic 30 years ago as a place where they could put into practice the principles Zeller had learned from his friend and mentor, a psychiatrist, Dr. Harland Hermann.   “He was the ultimate in a person centered approach which he called ‘passivity’,” said Simon Zeller. “He passionately advocated letting the patient lead the way when it comes to his or her treatment.”

Passivity is just one of the four principles Zeller outlines in his recently published book, Think About This. The others are kindness, humility and tolerance, and together they serve as the cornerstone of Cedar House’s practices. “Our original goal was to have this book be a teaching tool for our staff, but I would like to see it incorporated into social work curriculum at the undergraduate and graduate level as another way of looking at social work concepts,” said Dr. Karen Zeller.

Simon Zeller has taught staff who work at Cedar House, Inc. to use the Socratic Method of questioning to enable consumers to begin to exercise personal control over their decision-making processes which empowers them as they work toward recovery.

Domazet shares an example of how these practices can make a difference, particularly for a person in crisis. “Recently, I had a client walk in and say, ‘I am going to stop taking my medication. I can’t handle the side effects anymore.’ Instead of saying to her, ‘No. You can’t do that,’ I said, ‘What do you think would happen if you do that?’”

"“The woman sat down and started thinking about it and said, ‘Oh yeah. The last time I went off my meds I lost my apartment and ended up in a foster home.’ All it took was for me to take a Socratic, passive approach by asking her a few questions which enabled her to realize that stopping her medications may not be such a good idea.  This, then, became her idea and not mine.”  

Simon Zeller hopes one day his approach to treatment will lead to some kind of certification that will be recognized by professionals all around the country. “I would also like to see a tolerance center built where people who have felt oppressed can come and speak on whatever topic they want,” he said. “We need to develop more tolerance in society for people and ideas that are different or unexpected.  Such a center would enable people to come and speak freely about various types of oppression or intolerance they have experienced in their lives and for those who listen to gain insight and compassion for others.

Cedar House, Inc., employs 75 people and serves an estimated 700 consumers every week both children and adults.  Most consumers interact with staff at one of the locations at least twice a week depending on their level of need. Transportation is provided.

For more information about the services offered by Cedar House, Inc., check out the website

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is being offered for your use copyright free and cost-free. High resolution photography is also available for free upon a request. If you prefer to do a story of your own, and/or would like to receive a review copy of Think About This, contact Rachel M. Anderson, Publicist, at 952-240-2513.

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