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Small town’s ‘big practice’ at 35

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Layh & Associates turned 35 this year. Founded by clinical psychologist and longtime villager Jack Layh in 1980, the multi-specialty mental health practice shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, said Layh in a recent interview, the practice is at capacity, thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act, which has expanded people’s access to mental health treatment, he speculated.

“Being busy is both a good thing and a bad thing in this field,” Layh said. “But we’re glad we’re here to help.”

For 35 years, “here” has been three different locations in Yellow Springs. About 25 years ago, a Craftsman-style house (already in commercial use) at the corner of Davis Street and Xenia Avenue came on the market, and Layh snapped it up “within 24 hours,” he said. That location, just adjacent to downtown, evidently suited the practice (and even allowed its expansion, into a converted garage). It’s been operating at the Xenia Avenue address ever since.

Though longevity has made Layh & Associates a fixture in the village, some Yellow Springers may not know just how extensive the practice is. (Full disclosure: this reporter was formerly employed as a receptionist there.)

In fact, it’s one of the larger private providers of outpatient psychological services in the state, according to villager Bruce Heckman, a clinical counselor on staff since 1987. Like most of Layh & Associates’ 14 clinical staff members, Heckman practices there part time, currently balancing his case load with other duties in the hospice program at Community Mercy in Springfield.

Villager Kate LeVesconte is another part-time therapist on staff. She joined Layh & Associates as a postdoctoral student in 1989, and practiced there full time until 2002, when she was tapped to direct community and clinical services at Oesterlen Services for Youth in Springfield. But she’s maintained a small caseload at Layh & Associates because, she said, “I love working directly with clients,” a sentiment Heckman echoed.

Both Heckman and LeVesconte are on the verge of retiring from their other positions (LeVesconte at the end of the year, Heckman next summer), and both said they’re excited to scale up their time at Layh & Associates.

“I love this work. They’ll have to take me out in a box,” said Heckman.

Other villagers among the clinical staff include psychologists Judith Skillings and Marcie Rogers, as well as licensed professional counselor Steve Piatt.

Psychologists Casey Kelliher and Melissa Layman-Guadalupe, psychiatric nurse Bobbie Fussichen and licensed professional counselors Pat Copas, Jennifer Hudson, Rachel Mitchell and Renee Pinkelman, as well as psychology intern Tammy Hardy, round out the clinical staff. About half of Layh & Associates’ clinicians have been with the practice for 20 years or more, said Layh. The practice also currently employs five support staff, one of whom, administrative receptionist and villager Katie Malone, has been “keeping us organized,” said Layh, for more than 20 years.

Layh & Associates is structured as a “practice within a practice,” he explained. Clinicians handle their own case loads, but benefit from administrative and collegial support.
“It’s a fabulous work environment,” said LeVesconte.

The psychological services the practice offers are diverse, ranging from psychological testing to drug and alcohol addiction counseling to individual, marital and family therapy, including counseling for children and teens.

“We’ve tried to develop a practice that’s a one-stop shop,” said Layh. “I like to think we’re relatively expert at everything.”

Given the small size of Yellow Springs, many of Layh & Associates’ clients come from outside the village — Xenia, Fairborn, Beavercreek, Enon, Springfield, Jamestown and other Greene, Clark and Montogomery county communities. But Layh said he’s always made a special effort to go “above and beyond” for local clients, as well as local referring providers.

“We’re in this community, and we have a special sense of obligation to help here at home,” he said. In that spirit, the practice has in past years partnered with Yellow Springs schools to provide counseling to children and teens and their families, as well as school staff. And for many years, it worked closely with the Yellow Springs police, especially under Chief James McKee, to help villagers struggling with mental illness.

“[Local police] made referrals to us and we made sure they got in,” said Layh. The relationship with police was more informal in the past, he added, and casual collaboration is now less common.

The village’s primary care providers refer dozens of patients to Layh & Associates every year, and the practice’s care in “closing the loop” by following up with referring providers is one reason it’s been successful, Layh said. Heckman voiced a similar view.

“Local physicians send a lot of referrals our way,” Heckman said. “They’re not trying to be therapists, and they trust us with their patients.”

Other reasons for its success, said LeVesconte, are Layh’s “entrepreneurial sense” and the wide array of clients the practice is geared up to serve, including those covered by Medicaid and Medicaid products. LeVesconte also noted that she, like other clinicians at the practice, opts to do some pro bono work.

Demand for psychological testing, including evaluations of children and teens, presurgical evaluations for bariatric patients and drug and alcohol evaluations, is high and growing, said Layh. These evaluations represent perhaps 15 to 20 percent of the 600 or so new clients the practice sees each year.

Layh’s own clinical experience is deep and varied. He graduated from Wright State with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology, practiced as a master’s-level clinician for several years, then went on to earn his doctorate in clinical psychology from Ohio University. An early and profoundly influential mentor was Harold Fishbain, a beloved Greene County psychiatrist and longtime Yellow Springer. (The mosaic mural outside the Yellow Springs Public Library — which happens to be just across the street from Layh & Associates — was created in Fishbain’s honor.)

Layh worked with Fishbain for five years at Mental Health Services of Clark County both before and after earning his doctorate. Then in 1980, in addition to starting Layh & Associates, he joined Fishbain at the newly created psychiatric unit at Greene Memorial Hospital, co-directing that inpatient unit for eight years. Layh went on to work with the Mental Health Resources Corporation in Greene County in the late 1980s, and when that organization became the Community Network (now known as TCN), served as its first clinical director for eight years, from 1990 to 1998.

Over the years, he’s also been active in numerous other mental health agencies and programs in the region, including Greene Hall Chemical Treatment Center, Parkside Recovery Unit and the McKinley Hall Chemical Dependency Program.

And these days, in addition to serving as clinical director of Layh & Associates and seeing his own clients there, Layh also works one day a week at Adena Counseling Center in Chillicothe.

“I’m the kind of person who needs to do a variety of things to stay in touch,” he said.
He sees his main role as listening to clients (“for some people being listened to is what’s helpful,” he said) and supporting their steps toward positive change. “I feel like I have the ability to empathize, and I don’t look for clients to meet my expectations,” he said. His approach is broadly cognitive-behavioral, focused on helping clients identify “errors in their thinking” and try out new behaviors.

“Connecting with people around their issues — that’s what I enjoy.”

Born on Long Island, Layh grew up in Dayton. He got his first taste of psychology as a senior in high school. A teacher, noticing that Layh habitually skipped study hall, put him in charge of a study hall class. “I fell for it hook, line and sinker,” Layh recalled. He never missed another study hall.

Only later, he said, did he perceive “how I had been manipulated” — laughing, he quickly changed the word to “influenced” — and was intrigued. Though he has seen all sorts of clients over the years, he said he has a soft spot for adolescents. “Probably because I can really relate to them!”

Layh moved to Yellow Springs in 1968, while still a college student. “This is a community that’s always been comfortable for me,” he said. “I like the attitude of tolerance and acceptance. People know your business but they don’t really care.”

He raised four daughters here; the youngest, Marlee, is in a doctoral psychology program in North Carolina. In 1980, he bought the house he still lives in, on Route 343. He’s been an active part of the community, transcending some discomfort, very early in his career, at encountering clients at the Little Art or at Tom’s. “That’s just part of a small-town practice,” he said. For 30 years, he played the devil in the Yellow Springs Medieval Christmas play, opposite Jim Felder’s God. An amateur chef, he did prep work at the Winds on Saturdays for a couple of years, and cooked one night a week at Sunrise Café — all while practicing his other art, psychology.

“I’m a Renaissance guy,” he said.

Thirty-five years is a long time to do anything, he admitted, but psychology isn’t just one thing; it’s many things. “Everybody is different, and everybody has unique issues,” he said. “To be able to provide a service to people — it’s meaningful to me.”

“The impressive thing about this practice is that it’s sustained relative health over such a period of time,” said LeVesconte. And that translates into help not just for individual clients, but the whole fabric of the community, she added.

Heckman likewise took a wider view. “This is a big practice in a small town,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of good.”

Toward the end of our interview, Layh touched on the Buddhist notion of “right livelihood” — work that is satisfying and ethically sound. A sudden smile lit his face.

“For me, that’s what this is.”


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