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Northwest Counseling marks 20 years of service

What began in a small office space at Holy Family Hospital in New Richmond 20 years ago has become Hudson's longest running family therapy practice with offices in both cities and eight therapists on staff.

The practice was started by Dr. Christopher Babbitt and his wife, Peg Audley, a clinical social worker. Babbitt has built a reputation working with children. He recalls that there were few child therapists around back then and his work with them has only grown over the years.

As the number of children he and his colleagues see has increased, the issues facing their young clients have gotten bigger and more serious.

"It isn't clear exactly why, but a lot of the kids we see have a little bit of a lot of things that create problems for them. Things like allergies, learning disabilities, sensory issues, neurological problems and depression." he said. "There are very few with just a single issue and it can be tough to find where to put the focus."

Babbitt said environmental factors like food, water and air quality can contribute to problems in his young clients who can be sensitive to any or all of them.

And family changes, things like divorce, death or addiction, continue to be serious issues for many children and their parents and siblings.

"Even with all the things we know, parents still are not getting it about taking care of the kids first during a divorce," he said.

Babbitt's experience has also led him into work as a forensic psychologist where he evaluates and testifies on child custody issues.

In recent years Babbitt says he has seen a shift away from the managed care approach to mental health issues that allowed for only a few sessions for patients to recognition of those issues as an integral part of overall health.

"I think we are finally getting to the point where there is some parody between mental health and other medical issues," he said.

Babbitt said part of the success of the practice in both communities over the years has been because of the core group of therapists he works with at Northwest, who have been together for more than 10 years. Audley no longer works day to day at Northwest but continues to manage the business side of the practice.

"It is a great gift to work with the same people over 10-15 years," he said. "They are a very active and dynamic group, each with great strengths and skills we all continue to learn from. We've gotten to know each other so well over the years and of course watch each other get older as well."

Northwest's reputation has brought them clients from the Twin Cities, Eau Claire and northern Wisconsin as well as from the St. Croix Valley. Babbitt estimates that they have served more than 10,000 clients over the past two decades. During that time, they have seen the families they serve change and grow and come back again when they need help.

"That's very valuable perspective in our line of work," he said. "We haven't helped everybody but I believe our crew has touched many over the years and helped them deal with some very important, very hard, very demanding things. That's a good feeling and we'll be at it for a long time to come."