I suppose I should probably introduce myself and talk a little bit about why I am so passionate about mental health and dogs.
I'll give you guys a brief resume of my work experience, and then make connections as to how all of my work up to this point has me excited about this new opportunity.
I began working at 16 as a lifeguard while I was in high school. I learned all about team work and what it meant to be supportive, helpful and proud about what I did. It was in high school that I took an interest in mental health, when I took an Intro to Psychology class during my senior year. I dissected and label a sheep brain! The class taught me all about cognitive functioning, and how it affects behavior.
Shortly after high school, I enlisted in the United States Navy as an Aviation Electrician's Mate. I survived boot camp, as well as several different schools that focused on training me to be a sailor and an electrician. I spent seven years on active duty, and progressed through the ranks pretty quickly. During my last several years I was deployed twice to the Persian Gulf on an aircraft carrier. During my first deployment, we lost an aircraft as well as a pilot. It was devastating. I can't say that it didn't affect me, but I can also say that I was lucky enough to have a support system that I heavily relied on to recover. I believe that had a large impact on my ability to bounce back and continue functioning in my daily activities. I can't imagine how difficult it would have been to process and recover from what happened had I not had the resources available to me. It is disheartening to know that so many veterans experience trauma while in the service, and are not given the appropriate resources or support to assist them in recovery.
After I separated from the Navy, I finished up my Bachelor's Degree and then went straight to complete my Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology. I began working with the Thresholds Veterans Project, where I was exposed to the VALOR program (see previous blog post). Unfortunately, I was not able to receive my clinical hours working there, so I had to leave after being there for approximately one year. I had the privilege of obtaining a part time job with the Veteran's Resource Center at my school, and I also did my practicum and internship at the Prince Veterans Home in Manteno, IL. I absolutely loved it, and I learned so much from veterans who came from different communities, and different war eras. One thing we all shared was our pride of serving in the military. During my last semester, I was given the opportunity to develop an undergraduate Military Psychology course with the help of a faculty member. I created a 13 week course that covered military culture and customs, common mental health challenges, treatment modalities, and VA challenges. I have not been able to teach this to anyone yet, but I hope to be able to in the future.
After graduating with my MA, I moved out to the Quad Cities to move in with my now husband (boyfriend at the time). I was able to obtain a job with the Robert Young Center where I began working as a crisis clinician, and working towards licensure. After a year of working in crisis, I began working as a mental health counselor. I became involved with our sex offender treatment program, and began working part time for the local jail and prison. I know it sounds odd, but I absolutely love working with the corrections population. I believe that there are so many individuals out there who have experienced trauma, and were not given the appropriate resources to process and recover. So many times this links to developing poor coping responses which often involves committing crimes. There is also a large population of veterans who are incarcerated that are not being given the resources they need to be successful within the community.
Although our focus right now is to begin with the veteran population, my hope is to expand to other populations. If we are successful, I want to include groups for At Risk Youth, inmates, parolees and probationees. This is something that is so needed in our community, and I am hoping that this program will get the support it needs to be successful!