The following is an email interview with Marietta College’s fellowship grant recipient Amy Cross. In November 2019, Marietta College was awarded multi-year funding to address the need for behavioral and mental health counselors to combat the substance use disorder epidemic in the Mid-Ohio Valley. With these SHF funds, Marietta College fully funded the tuition of a graduate student pursuing the Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. After receiving licensure as a counselor, this student recipient will work and provide counseling services in the region for three years.

What is your impression of your first year and what do you look forward to in your second year and beyond?

While reflecting on my first year as a student in Marietta College’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, I think I was most surprised by how much intentionality there is regarding counseling. Understanding that there is a purpose for every question and statement during a session has made the biggest impression on me this first year.

Trying to look at the process in an objective light, therapy, in and of itself, is somewhat of an art. This first year I have been able to learn which medium serves me best through my theoretical orientation and my different brushes and mixtures of paints being the techniques that I am developing. Next year will be focused more on the framing and mounting of the art in the way of treatment planning and diagnosing, so I am very excited to learn this part as it seems to be the framework of our profession. I have also enjoyed learning more about myself, especially my own cultural heritage and the importance of other’s social and cultural foundations.

What can you tell us about the need for a strong behavioral health workforce in the MOV?

What I have noticed during my practicum this past semester is that there are not nearly enough licensed counselors in the area to meet the needs of the community. There has been a steady uptick in new clients, young and old, at my practicum site, and the counselors are already seeing clients back-to-back all day long. This also seems to be the consensus of what my colleagues are experiencing at their sites as well. I have also noticed that the past year has been a stressor for many, so I imagine the number of people seeking mental health help will continue to rise.

Who have helped you on your journey to where you are now?

This past year has been an adjustment for many different reasons, but I am so appreciative of the patience and understanding from my husband and my two kids. They have been extraordinarily supportive of me during this journey.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues in my cohort for their support. I have learned from each one of you and just knowing that I can shoot you all a text when I have a question about something, or I am lost or confused on an assignment, has been helpful. I know that this coming year will be stressful with our upcoming internships, and simply knowing that I am not alone and that we are all experiencing feelings of being overwhelmed from time to time has been somewhat of a lifeline.

What is your advice for students thinking about pursuing the Mental Health Counseling in this area?

If you have been considering going into a program for Clinical Mental Health Counseling, don’t hesitate and make the jump! I am beyond happy with my decision to come to Marietta College and get out of my own way to further my education. I had honestly never imagined that I would be able to attend graduate school, because I have so many responsibilities here at home, but with the college being in the MOV I knew that it was attainable. My professors have also been very supportive and helpful as well. I would make the decision to come to Marietta College for the CMHC program time and time again.

Where do you see mental health in the map of holistic wellness and treatment in this area in the future?

For me, you cannot have holistic wellness and treatment without mental health. Our mental health affects all aspects of our whole selves, so I don’t believe that there can be one without the other. I also believe that there will be much more connectedness in the future as the stigma of mental health slowly falls to the wayside and there is more acceptance and understanding.

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Assistant Professor of Clinical Mental Health Counseling Kendra Shoge, Ph.D., LPC (MO) of the Psychology Department at Marietta College gave her perspective on the college’s program and the region’s workforce. She stated that mental health “is often overlooked when discussing healthcare and wellness. Increasing the number of mental health practitioners in the area will serve to reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment, as more people will know someone working in the field or receiving treatment. There will also be greater access to mental health treatment, which will highlight the significance of mental health within overall health and wellness. And, this will all serve to shine a light on the connection between the mental, physical, spiritual, etc. health. Facilities offering holistic treatment will increase in the MOV.”

We thank Amy Cross and Dr. Kendra Shoge for taking the time and space to share their insights. We thank Marietta College for being an integral part in strengthening the pipeline to a stronger mental health workforce in the Mid-Ohio Valley.