Anna Braun Schiesher

(my grandma)

Circa 1910

Personal Background

 

 

My treatment philosophy includes sharing relevant information about myself at appropriate times when it is in service to my client, to illustrate a point or to build relationship rapport. Toward that end, and to help you to decide if I may be the correct therapist for you, I share here more than a bit of personal background information with you.

 

I grew up on the south side of Chicago, Illinois.  I was the fifth of six children. I have four sisters and one brother. We lived in a house on an elm tree lined street in an established suburb, with a large backyard and a basketball court. I played constantly outside and inside the house with friends and by myself. I attended the same Catholic elementary school for seven years. I had lots of friends and played basketball and American football. I was an altar boy and collected holy cards with pictures of saints on them. My brother, who is six years older than me, came out as gay in his first year at university and after the initial surprise, my parents soon came to accept and love him for who he is.

 

At 13 years old, my family moved to south Florida to escape the cold, icy winters. This was a big change in my life and I left a lot of childhood friends behind, but I adapted quickly and made plenty of new friends in my new school. I finished 8th grade also in a Catholic elementary school and then attended a Catholic high school for four years. I played three high school sports and worked at my dad's candy store on the weekends to earn pocket money. I loved living so close to the Atlantic Ocean and often went to the beach to snorkel and hang out with friends.

 

My mother (1922-2012) was raised by an alcoholic and abusive father. Her mother died when she was 11 years old, and after a few years, her father was found unfit to raise his children, so her and her brothers were all removed from their home in Oxen Hill, Maryland and placed with a stable and loving foster family in Baltimore.  Mom had contracted polio as a young child and had numerous operations to correct her disfigured feet and legs, resulting in her walking with a significant limp for the rest of her life. Despite her very difficult childhood, she was a tireless mother who cooked and baked and cleaned non-stop, providing a comfortable home environment where we had all that we needed materially. She was strict and was the one who wielded the belt when we needed discipline and punishment. Emotionally, mom was wounded from her childhood and that came out in bitterness, rigidity, anger and criticism towards our dad and us children. 

 

My father (1922-2008) was raised by two stable and loving parents who immigrated to the U.S. from Hungary and Germany in the early 1900’s and lived in a small farming community northwest of Chicago (see photo above of my dad's grandparents and mom). Dad served in WWII as a telephone wire linesman and lost his brother Donny when his Merchant Marine boat was sunk off the coast of Norway in 1945. Dad provided the unconditional love and gentle nature that we all gravitated towards. He was a hard worker as a Karmelkorn Shoppe owner where all of us worked while growing up, providing us with a happy sanctuary away from an often tense home environment. He was a very humble man steeped in his Catholic faith demonstrated by prayer and service to others. 

My parents were married for more than 60 years, ending only with my father's death at the age of 86 in 2008. My mother followed him four years later at the age of 90. My grief for them was complicated only by the fact that I was living in Switzerland and could not make it home to be with them as they passed. Mom was not an easy person to live with, but dad's gentle and patient manner usually allowed the criticism to roll right off. He very seldom raised his voice to my mom's angry yelling. We all learned from him how best to deal with mom. Mom chose the ideal man. Not many others would have lasted long with her.

 

I inherited my father’s interest in religion and spirituality, so much so that I spent my first two years of university in the seminary program at the University of Notre Dame intending to become a priest. However, at the end of my first year of seminary I fell in love with a Chinese-American student at the university. We married one month after graduation and within five years were the young proud parents of two children. Problems began to surface in our relationship around year six. After three years of marital counselling, we decided to divorce in 1990. This was the most emotionally difficult period of my life, where I depended on counselling services to help me get through, such as individual psychotherapy, a separation and divorce support group at my local church and a men's group, in addition to a strong group of caring friends.

 

This began a 10 year period of my life of rapid growth where I was a single dad, and where I joined the dating scene and a spiritual group led by a woman who channelled spiritual beings, where we travelled around the globe with huge crystals communicating with the beings of lakes, mountains and trees. You can read about those travels here. My professional life of working with unaccompanied refugee kids in foster care was stable and progressing to greater levels of responsibility, until I reached the point where I was working less directly with clients and more with spreadsheets and budgets, which was not as fulfilling. I resigned from the job after 12 years and almost immediately received a request from a former supervisor to join him in Tirana, Albania, where he was working with the Kosovar refugees during the war in 1999. I worked in Tirana for three months before the international work bug bit me hard and I found myself returning overseas later that year to work in a refugee camp in northern Kenya interviewing the 'Lost Boys' of South Sudan for resettlement to the U.S. More information about my professional background can be found here.

 

After returning to Minnesota, I began a three year period of working in a middle school as a clinical social worker, counselling 11 to 15 year old students and giving advice to parents and teachers. I enjoyed that work very much. Yet I resigned from that job in 2003 to move to Geneva, Switzerland to begin a new life with a new love, an Italian-Swiss woman from Geneva. This began my second life and another very difficult adjustment to so many changes in making an international move to a country where I did not speak the language, I did not have any friends or family, and I did not have a job or a work permit and I was a long way away from my children, who were both young adults. Another difficult adjustment was parenting again, but this time as a step-father, as my second wife had two young daughters who were ages 5 and 8. I also really missed my two children that I left in the States attending to their university educations, and felt guilty about having less contact with them..

 

Seventeen years later, in 2020, we arrive in present time, where my psychotherapy practice has matured into the best job I've ever had and where my wife and I have been happily together for 17 years.  The passage of time also saw the marriages of my two eldest children (ages 38 and 34) and the birth of two granddaughters (ages 3.5 and 1), all of whom live in the States (California and Minnesota). My two step-daughters (ages 25 and 22) are also grown now and involved in their higher education pursuits, one in Paris and the other living with us here.

 

Thank you for reading all the way to the end! I hope that it gives you an overall view of me and my life to this point and that you will find a few intersections and similarities with your life and most importantly that I hope it gives you a better sense if I would be the right therapist for you.