Chattanooga Schools Welcome Mental Health Therapists
The Mental Health Cooperative (MHC) of Chattanooga announced a partnership with the Hamilton County Department of Education. MHC will provide evidence-based counseling services for children and adolescents at eleven local schools including elementary, middle and high schools.
“We know from research that parents appreciate the convenience of being able to access this assistance for their children at their local school,” said Michael Kirshner, LPC/MHSP, Vice President of Business Development for MHC. “Having to pull children out of school to take them to their behavioral health appointments is disruptive for the child, school and parents and wastes very valuable academic time. MHC will attempt to see children during non-academic times, when possible.”
“We are pleased to be able to work with Mental Health Cooperative,” said Margaret Abernathy, Ed.S, Director of Exceptional Education for the Hamilton County Department of Education. “Hamilton County Schools provide needed supports to assist our student in increasing skills in all necessary areas for independence as adults, as well as post-secondary readiness.”
MHC “School-Based Therapists” will work closely with parents, teachers, school counselors, local pediatricians and other community supports to provide integrated care where everyone is working together toward a common goal. MHC also provides Care Management for those who would benefit from assistance in the community including in-home behavior management, transportation, linking to eligibility benefits and local resources, etc.
Chattanooga Central High School staff has expanded to include MHC’s care manager Bethanie Slaughter and therapist Nathan Harris. The duo will have an opportunity to lend a helping hand to students as they navigate through their last years of grade school. “I honestly love working at Central High School. Students, staff, and faculty have all been so welcoming, and I feel like part of the team,” Harris explained, “Also, I enjoy the culture of Central. The students and teachers all have different stories and backgrounds, and I’ve appreciated getting to meet so many unique people.”
Harris earned his master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Richmont Graduate University. After graduating in 2016, Harris started off working with several clients in the community. His clients were a really diverse group of people, ranging from six to seventy years old. “I have always known that I love people and wanted to work in a field where I was able to help others,” Harris revealed, “I went to college to study psychology because I wanted to learn more about people and why we behave the way we do. I quickly fell in love with all my psychology courses (especially Abnormal Psychology), and I wanted to pursue a graduate degree in this field. I love going to work everyday because I get to better learn about someone’s story every time I work.”
It was at UTC where Slaughter obtained her bachelor’s degree in psychology. As a student worker for the campus Disability Center, she helped others with developmental disabilities and mental disorders. She started her career as a child and youth care manager later in 2015, after showing great interest in mental health and behavior. “I have always been fascinated with the different explanations of human behavior and the inner workings of the mind,” Slaughter divulged, “There are many different career paths that fall under the larger umbrella of ‘psychology’. To name a few, there are careers in human resources, mental and behavioral health, therapy, research, and even social work! Psychology is involved in many different facets of our life.”
Through the Mental Health Cooperative, both Harris and Slaughter are able to work at several schools in Hamilton County. Slaughter has previous experience with students, but this will be the first time that Harris has worked with high school students. “I am no stranger to working with teenagers, but this is my first time working in a school system. Before working as a school-based therapist, I worked with Georgia HOPE where I provided therapy in my clients’ homes,” Harris explained.
High school students are constantly being reminded to prepare for college life and all of the responsibilities associated with it. Most students are a little unnerved by the idea of being more independent in college, so it seems like high school and college students do not have much in common.
“Surprisingly, it is not as different as you might expect! High school and college students share a lot of similarities in terms of their goals and the obstacles they face,” Slaughter admitted. “Honestly, every individual is so different from the next one that my experience has never been the same with any two people! I really enjoy this aspect of my job, because I am constantly learning and developing relationships with all types of people.”
Slaughter plays a significant role in bridging the gap between home and school life. She specializes in maximizing her clients’ potential for success. “I work with a treatment team that includes a psychiatrist, nurses, care managers and other providers to develop the plan with our clients that enable and encourage them to succeed,” Slaughter elaborated, “Being a child and youth care manager, a lot of my job revolves around meeting with kids at home and school, advocating for them when needed, and coordinating with the school and family to ensure that the client is able to reach their goals, with the least amount of obstacles.”
“I think the most important quality to possess as a counselor is the ability to be genuine. I tell my clients all the time that I am not a robot which means I have my background and experiences too. I have my own story, and I want my clients to know that I am human too,” expressed Harris. “Along with the ability to be genuine, I believe counselors should possess the ability to be open. Every one of my clients is different than me, and I learn from them just as much as they learn from me.”
Transitioning into high school can be a bit overwhelming to freshmen, and upperclassmen face many challenges as well. If students need any assistance with life transitions,relationship problems, depression, anxiety, identity issues, or trauma, then they can get in touch with Harris. “I see myself as having three main responsibilities: [First] to provide mental health awareness to clients, parents, teachers, and other professionals who I interact with. I am trying to constantly stay up to date on latest research and literature so that I can provide the best possible information.[Second] to use evidence-based therapies to counsel my clients and encourage them to express their feelings about what is happening in their lives.[Third] to work closely with the school counseling team, teachers, and others to promote the well being of my clients,” Harris expounded.
Counselors are not the only ones serving as role models and confidants. Students are the prime example of our world’s future citizens, and provide a lot of insight to teachers and leaders. “I have also learned a lot about myself from working with high school kids, including the fact that I’m not as young and hip as I originally thought I was!” Slaughter confessed. “Luckily, I’ve got them to teach me the new words and sayings so I’m not too far out of touch.”
It is important for everyone, even as young people, to understand their own beliefs and use their identities to inspire others and live life the way they want to. Sometimes life can appear to be in disarray, but it is important to remember that there are other out there who are going through the same thing you are along with people to talk to.
If for any reason students would like to reach out to Ms. Slaughter and Mr. Harris, they can do so by visiting one of the administrators in the guidance office. Harris is here on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and he or Slaughter would be more than willing to arrange a meeting with students. “I think the best advice I could give to students would be to try your best and do the best you can, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Give yourself a break every once in awhile and if you ever feel that you can’t carry all the weight of school, friends, family, life, (etc.) don’t be afraid to ask for a little help!” implored Slaughter.
“Feel free to reach out to me or another therapist if you are going through a rough time in life or just need someone to talk to. My personal opinion (which may be a bit biased) is that we could all use a therapist at some point during our lives,” Harris concluded.
Most children across the country, who can benefit from behavioral health services, receive them in schools. Services are completely voluntary, confidential and parents are encouraged to actively participate when possible. For additional information about this program in the Chattanooga school system, contact Kara Coleman at (423) 697-5952 or KaColeman@mhc-tn.org or www.mhc-tn.org. For MHC services in other schools, please contact Michael Kirshner at (615) 743-1623 or firstname.lastname@example.org.