House of Mercy

House of Mercy Director Dolores Mortimer demonstrates a counseling technique called sandbox therapy. 


DUNEDIN — For the past dozen years, House of Mercy and Encouragement, tucked away behind a shopping center at 2030 Main St., west of Belcher Road on King Arthur Court, has helped children, teens, parents, couples and grandparents cope with the emotional pain, pressures, anxieties, strains and impacts of everyday life.

Director and founder Dolores Mortimer noted that it is getting more difficult for everyone from children to adults to cope with a barrage of issues that are no fault of their own.

Mortimer, a licensed mental health counselor and registered play therapist with a masters degree in education from University of South Florida, said The House Of Mercy and Encouragement Foundation, a nonprofit organization, “is dedicated to faithfully providing mental health and educational services to children and their families that encourage caring, compassion, and a sense of well-being in a welcoming and comfortable environment.”

“The seed of the House of Mercy and Encouragement,” she said, “began with the providence of God on June 24, 2005, when our son, Timothy Mortimer and his cousin, Michael Celidonio, our godson, were tragically killed in a car accident.”

Being a mental health counselor, and seeing her own son consumed by depression during his adolescent and young adult years, she said, God encouraged her to do something in remembrance of the boys to help others.

“It only seemed natural to do something to help other parents to cope with their children who exhibit emotional, educational and mental health problems, by offering a variety of support through; counseling, family therapy, play therapy, tutoring, behavior management, and social skills programs,” Mortimer said.

In 2018 the home helped 296 families and 257 children in distress and conducted 65 group sessions, 1,939 individual counseling sessions, and 139 educational tutoring sessions. 

The House of Mercy’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. It was recently presented with the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce's Outstanding Non-Profit of the Year award. 

The acronym HOME is fitting as the organization want to welcome all who seek help by providing comfortable, nurturing environment, she said.

During one-on-one counseling sessions, youngsters and teens get to work out a variety of issues and participate in play and art therapy sessions that allows them to reveal and express emotions in a number of ways. 

Art therapy uses the subconscious to reveal complex feelings and issues impacting their lives using imagination. Painting a photo of themselves, relatives, people they know, or happy, stressful and sad times, can vividly reveal hidden emotions on canvas.

Another method called Sandbox Therapy uses a youngster’s or teenager’s imagination to reveal subconscious thoughts and fears, ranging from the past to the present and future. As part of the process, school-age children or teens are asked to place figurines in a sandbox divided into two sections, with one side depicting the best part of their lives and another the worse, or one side showing when they felt happiest and another saddest, bad or scared. Such creative therapy can reveal hidden emotions that the therapist can then address.

Each process gives the therapist a glimpse into a person’s thoughts, mind and psyche; it opens up paths to understanding, discussing and coping with issues.

“We help children and teens face all types of anxieties, fears, and life stressors that are no fault of their own,” Mortimer said.

Therapists are seeing more problems created by social media and video games, she noted. There are more victims of bullying, nowadays, because the mental abuse and harassment does not stop when youngsters come home from school. It can continue on social media and through texting, where the bully does not have to face their victim. Life is especially tough if the child or teen has emotional or developmental issues such as attention deficient disorder, learning difficulties or forms of autism.

Through role play and talking to trained therapists, a child or teen learns how to deal with a range of emotions ranging from bullying to academic achievement issues. 

Therapists are also being called upon, more often, to help deal with changes to family dynamics. For example, youngsters must learn how to cope and avoid family members who have alcohol or drug issues, or absent parents. And more and more grandparents are raising the children of parents who are deceased, in treatment or incarcerated, she added.

The entire family can find peace, solace and hope by learning coping skills, she said.

Mortimer calls Nobel Prize recipient Mother Theresa her “spiritual mentor.” She said she tries to reflect the saint’s charisms or spiritual gifts of love, peace and charity in her own “small and humble way.”

Among their varied programs are individual therapy sessions for children through adolescents, as well as counseling for adults and couples, including marriage and relationship counseling.

Mortimer noted social media has also created a whole host of new relationship problems for adults. Couples don’t communicate face-to-face as much as they used to or should. 

They text each other rather than communicate with each other. Texting does not let a person pick up on emotional cues like facial or vocal expression. It also eliminates the eye contact that is so important, she explained.

Many do not realize the harm social media is having on their relationships; a therapist can help them realize how simple changes in the way they communicate can improve their lives.

Also, because of the isolation of video games and social media, many youngsters have to be taught social skills of how to interact in person with adults and peers in a variety of settings, she said. Therapists use a variety of board games to teach social interaction.

Therapists also help children and teens with behavioral challenging conduct, ranging from youngsters who cut themselves to those who are afraid to be in the company of others or act-out and rebel.

While local groups and agencies support their efforts to provide scholarships for those who cannot afford their service, or whose medical insurance does not cover treatment, Mortimer hopes more will come forward to help spread hope, caring and love to those who are hurting. 

Mortimer added her biggest dream is to find larger quarters to help more youngsters and adults. She hopes someone will come forward with larger facility that they can call HOME.

Mortimer plans to host a Coffee with The Counselor session on navigating treatment options in dealing with depression, anxiety, mood disorders at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church Conmy Center, 750 San Salvador Drive, on Tuesday, April 9, 6:30 pm. To reserve a spot those interested can email: