Everyone needs someone to talk to sometimes — someone to console them when they are down, listen when they feel forgotten, lead them when they are lost or at times share some of their deepest horrors.

Or people may just need to shoot the breeze, gossip, argue about politics and preach the gospel.

For the needier patrons, some seek a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist. Others tend to open up better over a few brews at the local bar to a bartender, but with the overindulgence of liquid courage they may not remember what advice they get or even what they themselves said.

But there is another avenue of release. Psychology Today in the July 3, 2012, article, “The Psychology of Hair Salons and Stylists: Therapy for Free,” by Psychologist Seth Meyers says, “Hairstylists are the go-to therapist for countless men and women, providing two services – a haircut and therapy – that everyone needs on a fairly regular basis.”

 

Jake’s Place

Jake’s Place in Pekin has become a resting place for veterans haunted by the ghosts of the wars they fought, just as Jake Ista does. Ista, 39, is a barber and disabled veteran and lives with PTSD. His goal is to help veterans through hard times.

Brant Buggar, of Pekin, was in the U.S. Army for nine years, six months and three days. Buggar was permanently disabled when a skid on a Huey helicopter hit him in the shoulder on take off and launched him through the air.

“I’m disabled,” said Buggar as Ista cut his hair. “That’s why I didn’t do 20-plus.

“This is therapy. We’ve got a common background. I’ve known Jake for a long, long time. I’m going to say I’m a couple days older than Jake and I’ve always thought of him like my little brother — bigger little brother.  I don’t know what it is. From day one that I met him I’ve had him along sharing my life.”

Ista said, “It’s the like-mindedness, knowing you were Army, I’m Army.”

“The like-mindedness — we can tell when each other is not right,” said Buggar. “This is a comfortable place to come, really, you can come in here and there’s no expectations of anything, no judgement.

“I can say pretty much what I want to say and there’s somebody here who understands it.”

“I can tell when he’s walking in the door, and it doesn’t have to be Brant, it could be any other veteran,” said Ista. “I can tell if he smells right — I can tell if he’s hurt. We all have a certain smell.”

Ista and Buggar talk about some of the tough subjects as well — politics and religion.

“Remember when your pastor was in here?” asked Buggar.

“Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh,” said Ista. “I was saying just the opposite this morning, that we talk more politics in here than we do religion.”

“Maybe I always luck out when the pastor is here,” said Buggar.

“Maybe that’s someone else preaching to ya buddy,” said Ista.

“Well, I needed it this past year,” said Buggar. “You know that.”

“Just about everybody gets what they need out of this place,” said Ista. “Sometimes they don’t get what they want, but sometimes they typically get what they need, even if it’s not a haircut.”

The daily interaction with people is what Ista loves about his profession, but one-on-one, he said. He has a private room at Jake’s away from the waiting room. 

“I don’t like crowds,” said Ista. “You heard me say I’m 100 percent disabled and I’m 100 percent zero for PTSD.

“I find that I like it back here in my own private room, but still being able to cater to veterans walking in the door who are very geared towards other veterans. I like being able to help those guys out still. Most of the military in the area knows if they want to get a military haircut they go to Jake’s Place, which is awesome. That’s what I wanted Jake’s Place to be.”

 

Homeless veterans

Ista goes to Goodwill Industries every month to give haircuts for homeless veterans and veterans in need, usually 10 to 12 haircuts. Ista said there are not as many homeless veterans, “which is a good thing, but if we’re opening it up for more veterans in need we’re making strides in the right direction. At any given time we’re giving 10 to 12 haircuts down there a month, so it’s worth it for us to go down especially if they can’t get over here.”

Ista has a voucher program in which people can buy a voucher and designate it for a veteran’s haircut. The voucher can go to someone the purchaser knows or it can be left at Jake’s and they are given to veterans there.

“We decided to say thank you on more than just Veterans Day,” said Ista.

He participates in the Goodwill Stand Down for homeless veterans in Peoria each year. Stand Down is a term from the past in which soldiers would be resupplied when they returned home from the service.

“We do the same thing,” said Ista. “It’s a chance for them to get some cold weather boots, socks, blankets, basic cold weather clothing.

“They get to see the doctor when they’re there, so the VA is there giving physicals, medications and shots or whatever. It takes place at Dozer Park in Peoria, so they are even allowed to go downstairs and use the locker rooms if they need a shower. Then they come see the barber and get cleaned up. We can roll through 60 or 70 guys in one morning down there with everyone that’s cutting hair. Jake’s Place goes down as a shop.”

The homeless event gives veterans a comforting ear as well.

“I’ve had many veterans of all ages — young, and I’m talking guys who have gotten out as early as 20, 21-years-old, and they’ve come in for a haircut and they have some recent stories,” said Ista. “And then I’ve had 80-year-old men sit down in my chair and start talking about stories, and their wives will turn around and say they’ve never heard that before.

“I think it’s because they’re comfortable knowing that I’m a two-time combat vet, being able to sit down in the chair, and I don’t know if they’re trying to heal for whatever reason, or if they are comfortable enough to talk about it. I’m glad they are. Getting it out starts the healing process.”

 

What to know

There is a rule of thumb when it comes to veterans, said Ista.

“The severity of problems that people have coming in the door, you can tell who is afflicted, I guess you would say, who have seen some things, but we don’t ever pry,” said Ista. “If a patron wants to discuss it, then that’s fine, but we let them go at their own pace.

“So as far as the  horrificness of the tales that they have been told, I can’t say that I’ve heard very much. It’s just something that isn’t talked about with veterans. You never, ever, ever ask a veteran how many people he’s killed. You’re never going to get an answer. On some level it’s disrespectful, even amongst veterans it’s something we don’t like talking about. When we do discuss being overseas we try to talk about positives. You try to dwell more on those good flashbacks rather than the bad ones. You try so long to bury the bad ones.”

Ista said there is one battle in Iraq that still haunts a lot of veterans in the Peoria area. It was April 9, 2004, and the 724th Transportation Company out of Bartonville was attacked by the enemy. Ista was not yet assigned to that unit. Ista lost two buddies in that attack.

“And that’s what you hear,” said Ista. “I had a buddy that didn’t make it back. You don’t hear about the details.”

Ista said the older veterans have a rougher time than some of the younger veterans.

“Some of these guys, and especially the older ones, the Vietnam vets and the remaining World War II vets and Korea vets that are out there, they’ve got some real horror stories,” said Ista. “I’m not going to say that Iraq didn’t have its own horror stories, but you look at the casualty count between Iraq and Vietnam and we’re doing something right.

“Five thousand vs 63,000 (lost) is, wow. You know, technology has advanced and that type of thing. I would say it is more comfortable for them to sit down in a veterans chair (at Ista’s shop). And I’m really happy to be able to say the military has touched everyone in this building in some way or another.”

Barber Tim Harr was 2nd Armored Division out of Fort Polk in Louisiana for three years. Barber Sue Nolan was born on an Air Force base in England and lived on the Isle of Wight until age 14. Her father served in Vietnam. Massage Therapist Jennifer Meyers is a staff sergeant with the 733rd Maintenance Company out of Canton. They all work at Jake’s Place.

 

The beginning

Ista received a lot of his advanced barber training in Iraq after he was deployed there in 2003 and again in 2009. Ista started as a barracks barber when he joined the Army in 1998.

“I did my first haircut on myself just because I didn’t want to go to the barber shop anymore and pay their prices,” said Ista. “Before I knew it I had five guys I was cutting hair for before I left (Advanced Individual Training).

“It just kind of grew from there. When I deployed in ‘03 to Iraq I cut hair for my entire unit while I was gone. They would actually take me off mission on Thursday so I could open up a barber shop and everybody could get a haircut.”

Ista did the same thing during his second deployment. He was a squad leader with the 724th Transportation Company, 2nd Platoon out of Bartonville in 2009. That deployment is where Jake’s Place was born.

“It kind of gave us something to look at other than the reality over there,” said Ista. “It was just a bunch of us really sitting around.

“Sgt. 1st Class Tom Brown, he was probably one of my closest buddies over there. (Brown) looked at me one day and said, ‘You’re freakin’ ... awesome at (barbering), why don’t you do it for a living and open up your own place. I didn’t have any prospects at home, so I really started thinking about it.”

 

A psychologists viewpoint

Meyers said in his article that people are comfortable sharing personal and painful details of their private lives with people with no mental health training, some simply because hair care professionals are fun and therapists have to be professional.

Some of the openness Meyers attributes to seating.

“They’re not facing each other,” said Meyers. “The client looks into the mirror and can see the reflection of the stylist standing behind, but it’s far less threatening than the dynamic in psychotherapy in which the therapist sits across from the client and looks directly into the client’s eyes.

“In other words, the mirror creates the illusion of distance which makes the client feel more comfortable as he or she shares deeply personal details.”

Meyers said people want to talk to a degree about their conflicts, but don’t want to go too deep.

“Come to think of it, sharing your sins with your stylist isn’t that different from a quick trip to confession where a congregant drops a bombshell behind a closed door with a priest, and goes back out into the world feeling better  — and absolved — 10 minutes later,” said Meyersin his article.. “ At the salon, a client can share tawdry details but not have to worry that the stylist will hold them accountable and encourage them to change their negative behavior.”

Meyers said, “My only hope is that you seek out a trained mental health professional if the emotional problem you’re dealing with becomes a pattern and requires more time than a monthly haircut allows you.”