An Exciting Challenge

“Congratulations!” I cheered with Suzanne, one the graduates from our program who came by my office this week for a cup of tea. She’s just received her LPC license after serving in rural East Texas as part of our Harrison Fellows program for Seminary of the Southwest graduates. The program was named in honor of Bishop Dena Harrison and is funded by a partnership with the Episcopal Health Fund.

Our Harrison Fellows are graduates from our counseling program who serve in paid full-time internships working with clients from underserved, rural communities, and receiving supervision toward their full licensure. Our Fellows earn a really good living, while helping fill a gap in needed services. And they tell us the training is phenomenal!

Suzanne completed her training at Burke — which is probably one of the most dynamic, innovative organizations I’ve ever known. Burke serves over a dozen rural counties in East Texas. And she’s loving it so much, and Burke loves the work she’s doing so much, they’ve offered her a full-time job.

I asked Suzanne to share with me some of her experiences working in the rural, high-needs communities on the outskirts of Nacogdoches, Texas. “What are some of the obstacles to health and wellness your clients are facing?”

“Poverty,” she said. “Poverty, poverty, poverty… lack of resources is one of the biggest obstacles to health in this community.”

I asked Suzanne for an example, and she said, “I worked with one client, he reminded me of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. He just seemed so miserable when we first met. We tried several things together. I tried some family therapy. I used some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and person-centered approaches with him. We worked on parenting. And he really improved his relationship with his son! One session he brought up God and so we talked about faith, belief, hope… and I think that started him doing some internal searching. And I saw him becoming more hopeful. He’s gone from angry to hopeful. It was the unconditional acceptance that did it, I think. No criticism… just loving him, trying to understand him. And it worked!”

I asked Suzanne, “In what ways do you feel our counseling program helped prepare you to take on such an exciting, challenging internship?” She said, “The experience students have here is life-changing! There’s no place like the Seminary of the Southwest anywhere; it’s hard to measure how much a caring environment is worth. I was not sure where to serve, where to use my degree… then God just opened this door! I’m so thankful. I’ve felt really supported.”

Our Harrison Fellows program congratulates Suzanne and all of her colleagues serving in rural, underserved communities across Texas, to bring compassionate, comprehensive, and spiritually-integrated mental health care to those most in need.

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