Cover Story

JAMIE KENNEDYWhen school psychologist Gib Condie, PhD, advises couples against inappropriate displays of affection in the high school hallways, he knows his reminder of the school rules won't likely be brushed aside.

After all, in the days ahead, the teens won't be able to avoid Condie in the small town where they all live.

"They respond because they see you at football games, church, the grocery store," says Condie, who has worked in the rural community of Powell, Wyo., and its surrounding areas since 1991.

Condie has, by circumstance, a heavy presence and involvement in the lives of his patients in the community of about 5,000 people, where he holds the role of psychologist as well as neighbor, friend and spiritual leader. He's a Mormon bishop to 400 people in Powell.

Powell, which is largely supported by sugar beet and barley farming, ranching and tourism, is about 70 miles east of Yellowstone National Park and 90 miles south of Billings, Mont. When Condie moved there to serve as a psychologist for the community's middle and high school--the position, vacant for several years, had drawn him to Powell--newspaper articles announced his arrival.

"It's a small town," he says, dismissing the media attention. "Divorces and traffic tickets are in the paper." But Condie, the only psychologist in a 25-mile radius, quickly became a sought-after professional.

When not at the schools, where he counsels students and parents, Condie is treating developmentally delayed patients with dual diagnoses, screening job applicants for local police agencies, doing testing for other school systems or giving forensic testimony at court hearings. He also co-manages an expanding private practice and serves as the school psychologist representative on the Wyoming State Board of Psychology.

Condie founded and helps operate two group homes for troubled teenagers who otherwise would be sent to correctional facilities as far as 300 miles away for three to 12 months. Now they remain in their community, closer to family and friends, he says.

"We did this so they could maintain the positive relationships they have here," he explains. "In this type of rural area, there is more of the idea that the entire community helps in raising a child."

The closeness of the community combined with Condie's ubiquity often restricts his ability to maintain a clinical distance, he says.

"The hardest part of my job is having a front-row seat to things like the dissolution of a family," he explains. "There's not the distance you might have in another area." Condie says staying in a strictly defined role as a psychologist is often difficult because the scarcity of his services leaves patients unconcerned about dual relationships.

Condie recalls the challenge of assisting a woman with cancer during his first six months in Powell. The mother of two Powell Middle School students asked him to watch out for her children. Condie took her hand at her hospice bedside and assured her he would do what he could for the youths, who would be left in the care of an alcoholic father.

"You do it not because you're a psychologist, but because you're a human being," he says. Later, the woman's daughter hugged Condie as she left his school office. Although the experience was a breach of therapeutic etiquette, he says, "you can't push an 11-year-old girl away."

However, when Condie does feel uncomfortable serving as someone's therapeutic or spiritual counselor, or when he encounters conflicts of interest, he refers patients to other mental health professionals in surrounding areas.

Condie feels that many benefits associated with a rural practice far outweigh the cost. "I couldn't be happier," he says. "Most days I almost feel guilty getting paid."