John Morrison has seen families on their worst days, while working at a hospice, worked with the elderly at nursing homes, listened to couples experiencing marital problems and tried to get to the root of the problems for children struggling in school.
Morrison, 40, who lives in Monroe with his wife, Marianne, and their two daughters, Hannah, 5, and Claire, 4, is using all of the experience he gained over the years to help clients suffering from anxiety, depression and marital problems at his new practice, Garden of Hope Counseling.
He opened his office in Suite B of Building 4 at Bradford Green, 755 Main St., in July of 2023. Morrison will do telehealth sessions, but prefers to meet people in person.
“I promise I’ll do my best to listen and try to help them with that they’re dealing with at the time,” he said during a recent interview in his office. “Chemistry is really the main thing with therapy. It’s kind of like a dance partner. You’re sharing intimate details of your life. You have to feel comfortable with that person. I want them to feel listened to, not judged, and to guide them in a positive direction.”
Morrison grew up in Stamford and his family moved to Ohio, just outside of Cleveland, when he was age 12. He went on to earn B.S. and M.S. degrees in social work from Cleveland State University.
“It’s kind of like a dance partner. You’re sharing intimate details of your life. You have to feel comfortable with that person. I want them to feel listened to, not judged, and to guide them in a positive direction.” — John Morrison
“I just like helping people,” he said. “When I was younger I looked into teaching and social work and thought social work offered more broad opportunities for different things.”
Morrison did hospice work during and immediately after college. He said working with the patients and their families taught him how to talk to people suffering from grief the right way.
“It was a valuable experience to have that feel for when to engage, when to be quiet and listen, and to generally have a feel for what that person needs at the right moment,” Morrison said. “Just to meet that person where they’re at and know what they need at the moment.”
“It helps me to have serious adult conversations with people,” he continued. “It equipped me with a certain ability to talk to people with marital issues. It helped me to be a good therapist.”
“With compassion,” Marianne added.
Morrison said working in hospice care, and later as an administrator at a nursing home, allowed his to see the fuller picture of life early on.
“You’re more grateful for your health and what you do have,” he said. “As a younger man, it gave me a different perspective. In 10 years there was a lot of death.”
Morrison said the nursing home industry is extremely challenging with difficult work and long hours. After 10 years he decided on a career change. He moved back to Connecticut in 2014, met his future wife in 2015 and married her two years later.
After briefly living in Bridgeport, the couple bought a house in Monroe in 2019. The Morrisons enjoy what Monroe has to offer, from Wolfe Park to Edith Wheeler Memorial Library.
“We love the town,” Morrison said. “Everything about Monroe has been great since we came here. Hannah is a kindergartner at Fawn Hollow Elementary School.”
He also likes coming home to his wife and kids every day after sessions. “She helps me to relax,” he said of Marianne. “She’s my rock.”
“He’s my rock,” Marianne said.
Like a duck to water
Once in Connecticut, Morrison worked for Hartford HealthCare as a hospice social worker, traveling to people’s homes and visiting patients at hospitals.
“I loved doing it,” he said.
“And he did a great job,” Marianne said. “You were so strong for the patients and families going through loss.”
Morrison went on to join a therapy practice in Trumbull.
“I applied. It sounded like something I could do,” he recalled. “I could see children and couples and individuals. I felt like a duck to water.”
Morrison said he is constantly reading studies to stay on top of the latest therapy techniques to provide the best care for his clients.
“A lot of kids have issues with family and school,” he said, adding his sessions allow them the opportunity to talk to an older male who’s not their parent, someone stable to just listen.
“I’m not mom. I’m not dad. I won’t share everything with their parents,” he said.
Morrison teaches some children to play Chess and the bookshelf in his office has other popular board games like Clue, Sorry!, Operation and Battleship.
“I make them comfortable with snacks and games,” he said. “It’s therapy, but it’s disguised as fun. Most will open up when they see I want to help them and I’m not there to judge them.”
Based on the sessions, Morrison makes suggestions to parents on the best ways to communicate with their children to get them to open up.
“Sometimes it’s effective. Sometimes it’s not,” he said. “It’s meant to get kids in the right place.”
Morrison said he believes remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic was detrimental to children. He also recognizes issues some kids face from social media with sites like Instagram and TikTok.
Morrison said many parents see their children’s friends with cellphones and feel pressure to get phones for their own children.
“There’s a lot of pressure with social media. Screens in general are bad,” he said.
“You don’t have total control of it. You try to get kids in a better place and you try to be supportive of their parents,” Morrison said. “I take it seriously when they entrust their children with me. I try my best to help them with whatever problem they’re facing.”
When couples come to Garden of Hope Counseling for help with marital issues, Morrison first meets both clients in a joint session, before seeing each separately to delve deeper into the problem.
“Marital issues are always 100 percent communication,” he said. “‘What’s the issue? Is it really your mother-in-law or is it something from two years ago you never resolved?’ Then there are factors like cheating and substance abuse.”
While some relationships can be repaired, for others it can be too late.
“Sometimes I see a couple on the brink and wish they saw me sooner,” Morrison said.
Other clients who see Morrison are individuals with problems or even those who simply need a healthy outlet to vent.
“Sometimes people don’t have a problem,” he said. “They just need someone to talk to about dating or work stuff and have no one they can talk to or trust. They need an outlet. It’s private. You can talk about how much you don’t like your spouse, your co-worker.”
Based on the therapy sessions, Morrison will come up with action plans and use techniques such as journaling, which he said can be effective.
When things are going well for his clients, Morrison will suggest pulling back, spacing out sessions or leaving it open for whenever they feel the need to come back.
“It really feels great when a parent or an individual says, ‘I think things are going good right now. I want to pause the therapy,'” he said. “Ultimately, the best feeling is to hear, ‘I feel good. Things are going well. I don’t need therapy any more’ … to have a conclusion.”
Of Garden of Hope’s clients, a quarter are couples, a quarter are kids and half are individuals seeking one-on-one sessions, according to Morrison.
Garden of Hope’s hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and every other Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. To book an appointment, it is best to call the office at 203-590-3377.
“I was nervous starting my own practice,” Morrison said. “We’re pretty much booked and there is a lot of word of mouth referrals. That means a lot to me.”
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