If you missed it, Serving the Amish author James Cates answered your questions in the comments section of our previous post. I’ll share a couple of them here (plus three of my own at the end of this post). First, from Loretta:

Amish often have large families and children are considered a blessing from the Lord. What I haven’t understood is why it is hush-hush when the wife is expecting. We Englishe are anxious to share our news so that others can rejoice with us. For such a natural thing as having a child, why do they wait until they “show” before acknowledging the joyous event?

Serving the Amish James CatesJim’s response:

My experience on this is twofold. First, much depends on the settlement. In some areas the pregnancy is announced much earlier than others. Second, when it comes to “news” among the Amish there is what is “known,” and what is “supposed to be known.” Not all that different from those of us who are not Amish, but it seems more strictly enforced in a collective society. So at times I have “known” that a wife was expecting, but did not yet “know” because I was told in deepest secrecy. My impression (although I can’t base this in fact) is that the Amish attitude of reticence toward discussing sexual matters leads to the reluctance to acknowledge another child until a woman is obviously pregnant. That may well be a question Amish readers want to address, and can address better than me!

Kim H asks:

I’m curious if this book covers any areas of hostility from one group to the other, such as dealing with a police officer who has a chip on his shoulder regarding Amish or vice versa.


Serving the Amish does not deal with individuals who feel animosity. Too often, individual discomfort with a group is unique to that individual, and represents a personal experience, a mindset passed down by family, or a cultural “norm” that is difficult to change without understanding their personal history. The book does address more general aspects of social misunderstanding. For example, in the Elkhart-LaGrange settlement youth sometimes speak of being stopped by police for “DWA” – “Driving While Amish.” The term is humorous, but refers to the ongoing tension that exists between some law enforcement personnel and Amish youth who feel they are the unfair focus of traffic stops.

Read the rest of the responses here.

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Three More Questions

I asked Jim an additional three questions about his work with the Amish:

What are typical pitfalls in working with the Amish? What are the challenges that are unique to this community, or at the least uncommon or unseen among the English?

First and foremost, the human experience is universal. Every person becomes stressed, depressed, anxious, frightened, and fearful. We all make poor choices and ultimately face the fallout of those poor choices. And – hopefully – we learn from these experiences and become stronger, with a better knowledge of ourselves and the world around us. In that sense the challenges of working with the Amish are no different than working with anyone else.

And yet in parallel the challenges are indeed unique. Mental health counselors, healthcare professionals, social service personnel, law enforcement – any of us who deal with the intimate aspects of people’s live on a routine basis develop a style of doing so. And we develop our timing, rhythm, even a “sixth sense” or intuition about how to handle a given situation based on these interactions as they usually occur. If we are unfamiliar with the Amish, it is all too easy to misread the signs and assume we are successfully meeting a need, only too often to find ourselves feeling like Alice at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

At the risk of mixing metaphors like a food processor, I’ve used this phrase elsewhere, but always and forever, when working with any Plain people there is a line in the sand that we cannot cross. To “be” Amish means not only to embrace a way of life, but to turn one’s back on the world in doing so. The Amish become adept at observing the world while the world observes them – as tourists, in business transactions, in casual acquaintances, and even deeper friendships. When we assume a role in a helping profession however, we also assume the potential to be invasive in a way that other “worldly” interactions do not. As a result, we must remain keenly aware of the vulnerability our role creates and tread lightly – ever so lightly – into a realm in which we are often either uninvited, or at most tentatively welcomed guests.

As I read back over this response I realize it offers little of substance. The problem is that the most unique challenge with this community is the need to listen with the heart, a demand that does not lend itself to practical, hands-on advice. Too often we retreat into our roles: “counselor,” “doctor,” “nurse,” “cop,” and interact professionally from there. The challenge here is the demand to be authentic. Without a genuine person fulfilling the role there is no trust; and without trust, there is no substantive work to be accomplished. The Amish say with sincerity “We don’t care how much you know until we know how much you care.”

How are Amish patients/clients different from mainstream patients/clients?

I would not presume to speak for all Amish service providers, but I can give an opinion based on my experience seeing Amish clients in a variety of settings, and having talked with numerous other professionals as well.

The Amish may have a respect for English professionals, but that respect is tinged with an awareness that these are people of the world. They do not view the advances of science or the wonders of technology with our view. Not only does their education end at the 8th grade, but for those who were taught in Amish schools, the emphasis on science and technology has been more practical, rather than dedicated to the subtle but pervasive belief that science is a panacea that holds the solutions to our global problems.

There is less respect accorded to professionals then, simply by virtue of the fact that they hold advanced degrees or certifications, or a position of authority. It is easy to mistake the general deference or humility that the Amish often portray in interactions with the world as a manifestation of such respect, but it is a humility accorded to all, and not only to those who are in a position of authority.

Another factor plays into their attitude toward illness and emotional distress. The Amish, akin to many fundamental Christian sects, believe in a God who is actively and busily involved in affairs on earth. They view this life as momentary, and eternity as the ongoing, endless presence of the soul, a time that they hope will be spent with God (since it would be a sign of pride to assume salvation). They are therefore more fatalistic about life experiences than those who perceive themselves as more empowered to change the course of events, and place greater emphasis on the importance of the present. Their belief does not override self-preservation or a desire to achieve happiness and a sense of peace in this life, but it can mute these desires in comparison with the mainstream.

How do the Amish view mental health services? Do they perceive a need? How often are services ordered by a court or other entity?

There are probably as many views of mental health services as there are Amish individuals! However these views fall in three broad categories. There are those who believe that “counseling” (their generic term for mental health services) of any type is unnecessary. Jesus is the Counselor, and adherence to the scriptures and a Godly life is the sole requirement to address mental health. Unfortunately, at the extreme such views have led to tragedy when persons with a serious mental illness (such as schizophrenia or a serious Bipolar Disorder) have gone untreated. There are those who believe that counseling has a place, but that counseling should be reserved for Amish counselors or (in some cases) Plain people counselors. And there is a third group who believe that counseling has a place and encourages the use of English counselors.

The attitude toward those with what I would term a Serious and Persistent Mental Illness will sometimes cut across these views. That is, persons who may believe that Jesus is the only necessary counselor, or those who believe in Plain people counselors often still understand the need for psychiatric hospitalization for persons who struggle with a mental illness in which they lose contact with reality, are unable to care for themselves, and need medication to maintain stability.

The Amish also provide residential treatment facilities that are Amish-run. Some are freestanding, served by and for the Amish community. Others partner with community mental health centers and utilize professional staff for a portion of services. These types of services are continuing to evolve and change and the models for service are changing even as I write.

My involvement with the Amish became more in-depth as a result of the effort to provide an alcohol education program for Amish adolescents who were arrested in the Elkhart-LaGrange settlement for offenses related to alcohol consumption, often while driving a motorized vehicle or a buggy. This is the most common charge for which Amish youth (and at times adults) are mandated by the Courts for services.

Some Amish clergy and parents continue to defend the use of alcohol during rumspringa and believe their children are unfairly targeted for arrest during these times. This is an issue that stirs me deeply. In the same way that I do not want to see English drivers on the road endangering either the English or the Amish who share it, I do not want to see the Amish on the road endangering other Amish or the English who share it. I am at a loss as to how some Amish can argue that their children should be allowed to drink and drive, endangering themselves and others, without experiencing consequences when they are caught.

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