The death of local psychotherapist Diruhi Mattian at the hands of her patient was very rare, and should not hinder the use of a growing approach to psychotherapy known as home-based care, according to doctors, psychology experts and those who work in the field.
Mattian was stabbed to death Wednesday night by her 19-year-old patient Thomas Belanger. The 53-year-old Wilmington woman went to the North Andover apartment Belanger lived in with his mother to take away a knife he said he was hiding. Mattian was afraid the 19-year-old might hurt himself or his younger sister. Belanger slit his own throat during the incident, but survived.
While Mattian's death was tragic, those interviewed said that in general, the benefits of home-based care for those with mental illnesses far outweigh the potential dangers. They said by working within a patient's natural surroundings — their homes, schools and churches — patients recognize themselves as members of their families and communities. In doing so, practitioners say, patients make steps toward living life as most people do.
"Despite the horrible thing that happened, we're in hundreds of homes every single week," said Skip Stuck, executive director of Family Continuity, the nonprofit mental health and social services agency that Mattian worked for.
"While Diruhi's death is an incredible tragedy, the reason why we have not had this happen before ... is because we go into homes as allies and advocates," he said.
That's what Mattian was trying to be for Thomas Belanger.
Home-based care a growing practice
Family Continuity, where Mattian worked for 10 years, provides home-based care for patients statewide. While its administrative offices are in Beverly, it has offices in Lawrence, Plymouth, Hyannis and Whittinsville, near Worcester. The agency is one of many contracted through the state Department of Mental Health to provide services in local communities.