December 2020

You Are Not Alone: Meet the mental health professionals who can help you navigate the “new normal.”

Author: Special to CH2 | Photographer: M.KAT Photography

If there is a silver lining in the dumpster fire of a year that was 2020, it is this: all of us have gained a deeper appreciation for our own mental health. Even the most steadfast among us had their cages rattled this year, leading to the widespread popularity of the notion, “It’s okay to not be okay.”

And it is. All of us have, at some level, felt the stress creeping in from a year that packed in a whole decade worth of turmoil into 12 long months. And we’ve all tried to deal with it as best we can.

As you close out the year with a renewed focus on keeping your head on straight, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Whatever stigma there may have once been around seeking help, we can comfortably call it the product of a bygone era. Today we’re all hurting, we’re all feeling the pressure, and we could all use a hand up in getting through it.

When you’re ready for help, the folks on the following pages are just the people to take you into 2021 with a strong mind for whatever comes next.


Greg Schenkel, LISW-CP, JD, LMT
Practice: Helping people find the good in themselves, in others, in life.
Years as licensed psychologist/mental health professional: 6+
Years in mind-body healing: 30+

What inspired you to work in the mental health field?
Finding the layers of good in myself, in life, in my relationships, with the help of good counseling and mind/body practices. (As an attorney, I would hear of various suffering in people’s lives and always felt more interested in helping people find justice in themselves than justice in their legal affairs.)

Do you see an uptick in mental health crises around the holidays? If so, why do you think that is?
I was surprised to notice, at some point in my life, moments of quiet teary-ness during the holidays, which was very interesting for me to respect and process! Holidays can set our target high in our aim for a good life but may fall short in helping us to understand how to hit that target.

How do you differentiate between situational sadness and clinical depression?
Situational sadness is a normal and healthy part of moving through our life’s trials, while clinical depression is when situational sadness takes deeper roots into perceptions of self and life.

What’s the number one societal change you would like to see with regard to mental health?
I wish everyone knew how to practice good self-care. Most of us are taught how to take very good care of others and work hard, but when we tend to the garden of our inner well-being, we can be a more authentic source of good for ourselves and others.

What do you wish people knew about the work you do that is perhaps misunderstood?
In the same way most folks would go to a physician if some part of their body wasn’t functioning optimally, they can equally feel welcome to consult with a counselor when any part of their mental/emotional health isn’t optimal. It helps us broaden our perspectives, horizons, and quality of life.

Without revealing identifying information, can you share one of your success stories?
Me! My life has opened to so much more color, texture and richness since I began my journey of self-discovery!

Nature or nurture: Both, all the way, every day!


Jocelyn Ann Evans , MSW, LISW-CP, P.C.
Practice: Island Psychiatry and Psychotherapy
Years as a psychologist or psychiatrist: 27 years as a psychotherapist

What inspired you to work in the mental health field?
I was a theater major during my undergraduate years and teaching tennis in NYC to support that dream. I received a phone call on November 17, 1987 at the club where I taught. My mom told me my little sister Janie was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s. My world turned upside down, and my mom insisted that I and my two older siblings fly in for family therapy. We had a therapist at Dana Farber who supported us through Janie’s illness and death in 1988. At that moment, I realized I wanted to help, as our therapist did us, those suffering from trauma. I left NYC, went to graduate school in Boston, Mass. and have been privileged enough to work in myriad environments.

Do you see an uptick in mental health crises around the holidays? If so, why do you think that is?
There is always an uptick in mental health crises during the holidays, which is even more pronounced with
COVID. Oftentimes people hope and wish for harmony and joy during the holiday season only to face disappointment that all the unresolved issues with their families of origin remain the same. The goal is to relinquish one’s attachment to the end result.

How do you differentiate between situational sadness and clinical depression?
Depression lasts longer than two weeks and often paralyzes one from participating in daily activities and/or exacerbates a sense of impending doom. Sadness is a normal reaction to an event, which does not negatively impact or change one’s sense of self. Depression is equivalent to viewing the world through a black veil, in addition to seeing no light at the end of the tunnel.

What’s the number one societal change you would like to see in regard to mental health?
It should be recognized that the healthy people are those who seek therapy. They have the courage to self-examine and make changes. I wish society would ask, rather than, “Do you go to therapy,” “who is your therapist?”

What do you wish people knew about the work you do that is perhaps misunderstood?
People often ask, “How do you go from one session to the next without a break,” and “don’t you get tired?” Each client is different and has their own family of origin. They have different coping mechanisms; hence, my job is the most fascinating daily endeavor. It is incredibly fulfilling when someone implements a behavioral change that alleviates previously internalized stress or self-doubt.

Without revealing identifying information, can you share one of your success stories?
Actually, my clients do all the work, and I am proud of so many of them. I do recall when working in the emergency room at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. I was called in to see an 18-year-old pregnant woman who was a heroin addict. She was six weeks pregnant, and I made her see me every week, as the state wanted to take her baby. A year later, I was walking by the elevator at the hospital when this woman called out my last name (maiden) before the elevator closed and said, “Hey Awad, look at my baby girl that I got to keep thanks to you.” I smiled and responded before the door closed, “No girl, you did the work!” She reinforced that it is “always darkest before dawn.”

Nature or nurture?
Both. It is astonishing what unconditional love can accomplish when nature is marred. It is just as astounding when nurturing is nonexistent, yet some exhibit phenomenal resilience.


Philip Searcy, MSW, LISW-CP
Practice: Co-owner/therapist at Therapy Group, LLC
Years as a clinical therapist: 10

What inspired you to work in the mental health field?
The foundation of my drive to work in mental health was growing up in a Christian household. As a young kid, my family were missionaries in South America. This allowed me the opportunity to witness the significance of loving on people who are in need. I was able to watch and be a part of moments that gave others hope in life. As I got older, I realized my two passions in life were loving on people and bringing awareness to the life-changing benefits of mental health care. Being your therapist is a privilege that I strive never to take for granted.

Do you see an uptick in mental health crises around the holidays? If so, why do you think that is?
The holidays can be difficult times for a variety of reasons. For some, they highlight what/who is missing in our life. For others, they force moments where we have to interact with people we rarely spend much time around. There is a heightened level of stress with pressure to entertain, impress or be accepted. This sometimes leads to breakdowns and/or self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, etc. As a therapist, I see this pattern in people all year long, but it is common for the holidays to cause an increase.

How do you differentiate between situational sadness and clinical depression?
There are many overlaps of symptoms between these two. When life hits you unexpectedly, it is perfectly justified for someone to feel depressed and have a change in their physical and emotional behaviors. Oftentimes, six to twelve sessions with a therapist can assist with overall improvement. When symptoms continue for six months or more, it may be time to talk with your primary doctor and build a relationship with a licensed therapist.

What’s the number one societal change you would like to see in regard to mental health?
Educating children on mental health before they go into middle school. Humans are born with thoughts and emotions but never educated on how to effectively manage them.

What do you wish people knew about the work you do that is perhaps misunderstood?
It is very unlikely to find another relationship in life where you can be as vulnerable as you can with a therapist. Every other person in your life is emotionally invested, and they tend to give you advice based on what makes them feel comfortable. A therapist is there to build a trusting, non-judgmental relationship with you, where you can work towards becoming the person you want to be, not the one you were conditioned to be.

Without revealing identifying information, can you share one of your success stories?
Countless examples flood my head because the most rewarding part of being a therapist is getting to see people be the success story of their own life. There are the “rags to riches” type of stories, but my favorite success stories are the faces of everyday clients when they realize there is hope towards living a life with less suffering.

Nature or nurture?
There is no denying the power of each, and there is no way to prevent or change either. So, I encourage people to realize, they may not be fully responsible for what happened in their past, but it is within their power to understand it, accept it, learn from it and then work on it. The work may not always be easy, but it is worth it, and you deserve it!


Sheila Tucker
Practice: Heart Mind & Soul Counseling
Years as a psychologist or psychiatrist: 3 years/Licensed Associate Marriage & Family Therapist

What inspired you to work in the mental health field?
Becoming a marriage and family therapist is my second career and my first love. I knew long ago that I wanted work in the mental health field, however I got a little sidetracked. After a few health setbacks, my own therapist’s nudging, and a doctor telling me I needed to make changes “or else,” I applied to graduate school in California. This may sound cliche, however it was a desire to help other people that brought me into the mental health field. I’ve also always been curious by nature and have a fascination with how people’s minds work. It’s been incredibly rewarding to witness clients make connections that empower healing and new relationships.

Do you see an uptick in mental health crises around the holidays? If so, why do you think that is?
I don’t see an uptick in mental health crises, per say, around the holidays. However, in my office, I do see an increase in stress-related complaints, which can exacerbate depression and anxiety symptoms. This year may prove to be even more stressful with the impact of Covid-19 on travel restrictions and gatherings. I typically see the stress of the holidays and its impact on anxiety or depression symptoms play out in family dynamics and expectations. Most people will think of family and traditions when they think of the holidays. However, for some, this may bring their family issues to the forefront. For someone who’s already managing anxiety and depression, managing the emotions related to family issues can heighten their symptoms.

There’s also the notion of managing expectations, along with the pressure to be social and happy. Not only do people end up managing the expectations of what they think the holiday “should” look like compared with the reality (or social media’s reality), but now you’re also in a position to pretend to be happy. For someone who’s experiencing depression or anxiety, this can be quite fatiguing.

How do you differentiate between situational sadness and clinical depression?
Everyone feels sad from time to time. Sadness is a natural human emotion. There are, however, differences between situational sadness and clinical depression. As its name implies, situational depression is brought on by a stressful situation. A person will typically experience emotional or behavioral symptoms within three months of the stressful event. These symptoms interfere with your interpersonal relationships and are not caused by another mental health disorder. In the case of situational depression, the person feels overwhelmed and is unable to rely on their coping strategies to feel better. Symptoms will often subside as the situation feels more manageable.

Some examples of situational depression are: loss of a loved one or pet, loss of a job, life transitions, break up, divorce, injury, car accident, sickness, etc. On the other hand, people who experience clinical depression often report no identifiable cause for their symptoms. There are times, however, where situational depression will develop into clinical depression. Similarly, an overwhelming situation may worsen a person’s clinical depressive symptoms.

What’s the number one societal change you would like to see in regard to mental health?
If I must only pick one, it’s ending the stigma of receiving support for mental health and wellness. There’s a belief that psychotherapy is only focused on people with mental illness or that only crazy people go to therapy. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. You don’t have to be diagnosed with a mental illness in order to benefit from therapy. Really.

What do you wish people knew about the work you do that is perhaps misunderstood?
Your therapist will not tell you exactly what to do, what decisions to make, or if you’ve made the “right” decision. As your therapist, I will not give you advice. I know, bummer, right? I will, however, help you to explore your thoughts, feelings, values, and personal beliefs so that you’re able to sort out what comprises your best decision. Therapists, myself included, want you to be able to learn to trust yourself. This involves making decisions for yourself. Also, therapy can be fun. It’s not always a stuffy experience of dredging up ALL of the parts of your past and looking at them under a microscope. Laughing with clients and witty comments is a common occurrence in my office.

Without revealing identifying information, can you share one of your success stories?
A client came to see me due to feeling overwhelmed and being told by their partner that they weren’t emotionally available. This client had a history of trauma and used numbing out or shutting down as a way to cope with their overwhelm. When I first met with this client, they were stoic—unable to tolerate most feelings and emotions. By the end of therapy, this client was able to shift from stoic to a place where they were able to tolerate their emotions and their partner’s emotions without numbing out or shutting down. The process to reach this outcome was intentionally paced very slowly, and nothing about our work was linear. This isn’t my success story but that of my former client, who was the one showing up to sessions, putting in the time, and doing the hard work.No two individual “success” stories will look the same, and no two therapeutic experiences will look the same. For some people, this is the first time they’ve ever asked for help, and that in and of itself is a success story to be celebrated.

Nature or nurture?
Both. There’s research supporting a genetic component to some mental disorders. I also believe we are shaped by our environment and the attachments to our primary caretakers as children. We also have the ability to learn how to relate to our experiences in a different capacity. Although you may be genetically prone towards anxiety, you can also take part in corrective emotional experiences and learn coping skills.


Jessica Joyce
**Practice:**J Psychological & Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC
Years as a psychologist or psychiatrist: 2.5

What inspired you to work in the mental health field?
I had a desire to help people and wanted to understand (and to help my patients understand) how thoughts and feelings shape their behaviors and actions.

Do you see an uptick in mental health crises around the holidays? If so, why do you think that is?
We often see an increase in the number of patients seeking mental health treatment around the holidays; however, there is not necessarily an increase in mental health crises. It is common that patients have depressive symptoms and anxiety surrounding thoughts about and/or interactions with different family members during the holidays.

This year, I have noticed an increase in patients who are experiencing distress related to the holidays due to the COVID-19 crisis. Many patients are feeling conflicted about whether or not to see family during the holidays, and many are grappling with the thought of missing out on holiday traditions and family time during the holidays due to the COVID-19 crisis.

How do you differentiate between situational sadness and clinical depression?
In cases of clinical depression, patients experience symptoms in addition to (but not limited to) lack of motivation, difficulty completing activities of daily living, apathy, irritability, changes in sleep patterns (excessive sleep or insomnia), significant changes in weight, etc. Many patients with clinical depression feel incapable of motivating themselves to make changes and/or participate in daily activities.

What’s the number one societal change you would like to see in regard to mental health?
I would like to see the stigma around mental health be reduced. Many people are fearful or apprehensive to admit they are struggling due to fears of being judged by others. When looking at specific professions and/or demographics of patients, seeking mental health treatment continues to be seen as “being weak” or not strong enough to manage one’s own feelings.

What do you wish people knew about the work you do that is perhaps misunderstood?
Therapy is an interactive process between the clinician and the patient in which the patient works towards understanding their thought and behavior patterns and works toward improving their coping skills and changing maladaptive behaviors to help them live a more fulfilling life and change the things in their life that are causing distress or negative perceptions. For many people, their only exposure to therapy is what they have seen in the movies, and there are misperceptions of what therapy consists of. There are also many people who believe that mental illness looks like what they see in movies or on television (i.e., the military veteran who returns from combat and is violent or abuses substances to deal with his/her trauma/PTSD). Individuals who struggle with mental illness vary in their level of functionality.

Without revealing identifying information, can you share one of your success stories?
Throughout my career I have worked with many individuals who have experienced trauma, including many first responders. I have worked with an officer who was shot and seriously injured in the line of duty. Throughout the course of treatment, the patient was able to overcome many of his anxiety symptoms related to his traumatic experience and successfully return to work in the field of law enforcement.

Nature or nurture?
Mental health is often a combination of nature and nurture. Some mental illnesses are heritable; however, the expression of these illnesses may vary in severity based on the patient’s upbringing and support systems.


Dr. Deb Hall Ed.D. LPC
Practice: Therapy Group of Moss Creek
Years as a psychologist or psychiatrist: I have been in private practice for three years; however, I have been involved in the education system as a school counselor for 20 plus years.

What inspired you to work in the mental health field?
I have been involved with mental health issues since the ’80s and passionate about preventing domestic/sexual abuse along with suicide prevention. For many years, I have worked as a volunteer on hotlines for both of these issues. I have been involved with Hopeful Horizons (Hope Haven) for over 10 years as a volunteer coordinator and advocate for families and children.

Do you see an uptick in mental health crises around the holidays? If so, why do you think that is?
Holidays are often triggering to emotional memories that cause mental health crisis. Many family experiences are traumatic, and holidays bring back those memories that may have been unresolved conflict, so the stress can inflame mental health crises. The holidays may bring poor self-care with over-indulgence in food, alcohol and too many activities that cause the body to be sleep deprived. Schedules are interrupted, so normal activity levels are disrupted, e.g. not exercising, relaxing, or engaging in positive interactions with family members. Holiday stress can stimulate a mental health crisis.

How do you differentiate between situational sadness and clinical depression?
Situational sadness and clinical depression are often intertwined, but I differentiate by determining the source or origin of the depression. Depression is highly genetically correlated, so often it falls into the clinical category, whereas situational sadness or depression may occur from life experience that can be interpreted as trauma in life events.

What’s the number one societal change you would like to see in regard to mental health?
As I work with American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and at Rape Crisis Centers, the number one barrier to help individuals with mental health issues is societal stigma. I often hear in my support group for families who have lost a loved one to suicide that the individual hid their depression and pain because they feared the stigma of mental health, thus they never got help for fear of social judgement, which kept them from resolving mental health issues. Then the individual felt that the only way out of their pain was suicide. So, stigma of mental health keeps individuals from getting help for themselves or their loved ones.

What do you wish people knew about the work you do that is perhaps misunderstood?
I wish that people realized how much better their life would be if they got help for their mental health issues. Often therapy can be fun, along with exhilarating, and individuals find their best self by learning coping skill to deal with daily stress.

Without revealing identifying information, can you share one of your success stories?
I do not have any magic, but cognitive behavior therapy requires work to build different behaviors to enable the client to change their thinking, thus changing behavior then changing the results. Many people respond from their primitive part of their brain and rarely learn to use their cerebral cortex. I worked with a teenager who had been in many institutions in the state and was not progressing. She and her mom came weekly as they acknowledged their feelings and built a relationship of trust and respect. With acceptance of themselves and past trauma, the teen still had moments, but with her coping skills, she was able to function in school and is now a well-adjusted young adult.

Nature or nurture?
This is an age-old question which I do not have a good answer for, although the research helps the mental health providers to improve our skills as practitioners in order to help individuals find their best self. I realize that my clients come with both a predisposition to mental health issues from genetics and have experienced that impact on their mental stability. I accept clients where they are and validate their feeling to support them to utilize positive thinking to change their behavior. So rarely do I analyze nature or nurture since I encourage each individual to develop good mental health habits of self-care and work from a cognitive basis to improve life. It actually can be very freeing to realize that grandpa’s spirited moments and times of sadness were passed on genetically, but with science, medication and therapy can improve quality of life.


Lynn E. Geiger Ph.D.
Practice: Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Years as a psychologist or psychiatrist: 38

What inspired you to work in the mental health field?
I love helping people, and this field fits with my interest in getting to know people and learning about and understanding their story. Sharing my curiosity with someone gets them to see how and where they want to make changes in their lives.

Do you see an uptick in mental health crises around the holidays? If so, why do you think that is?
There is such stress between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and all the festivities at this time of year! There is stress to have the perfect holiday, the perfect dinner or party, the best presents, the coolest vacation, and to live up to some ideal. There is also sadness and loss when one’s life and the holidays aren’t perfect, missing family members, adjusting to change and to new traditions. So, there are quite a few crises to cope with.

How do you differentiate between situational sadness and clinical depression?
Situational sadness occurs in sad circumstances: loss of a loved one, your house and all of your belongings destroyed in a fire and so on. Often this type of sadness diminishes as time goes on and our situation changes. Clinical depression relates more to the degree of sadness one experiences: mild, moderate and severe. So, a situational sadness can be to any degree. Some people have a more chronic depression that doesn’t just go away as a situation changes.

What’s the number one societal change you would like to see in regard to mental health?
Decrease the stigma of mental health disorders, increase everyone’s knowledge about these conditions, and promote compassion towards others with a mental health disorder.

What do you wish people knew about the work you do that is perhaps misunderstood?
There are different, specific protocols for various problems. We don’t have to use the same treatment approach for each problem. My approach is to tailor the treatment to THIS person with THIS problem at THIS time and to match their strengths to the treatment plan. It’s not a one-size-fits-all type of work.

Without revealing identifying information, can you share one of your success stories?
Working with people struggling with trauma is the most dramatic. To see the positive changes with first responders, combat veterans, car and plane accident victims, survivors of physical and sexual abuse, and assault survivors is so uplifting. And it’s equally special to see a child that can sleep at night without nightmares; or someone with ADHD tell me about their career growth because they learned about their condition and strategies to improve their coping with it; or a family that can heal past wounds and enjoy the holidays together. Our field has grown a lot, and there is a lot of success!

Nature or nurture?
YES! This is like asking if hurricanes develop because of barometric pressure or water temperature. It’s a complicated combination of both!


Helene Stoller Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist
Practice: Psychological & Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC
Years as a psychologist or psychiatrist: 25

What inspired you to work in the mental health field?
Wanting to help people, wanting to understand why an individual behaves as s/he does.

Do you see an uptick in mental health crises around the holidays?
If so, why do you think that is? We do see an increase in calls for help, not necessarily mental health crises, around the holidays. In the past, prior to COVID-19, I believed that the increase was related to wanting to understand and resolve family dynamics prior to the holidays. With the disruption caused by COVID-19, I’m not sure what to expect this year—perhaps more grief and loneliness at not being able to celebrate the holidays with family and friends.

How do you differentiate between situational sadness and clinical depression?
In addition to a difference in severity of symptoms (e.g., sleeping too much or poor sleep, weight loss or gain, poor self-care, etc.), there is also a palpable heavy feeling that accompanies a person with major depression. That heavy feeling of sorrow contributes to strained interpersonal relationships because others find it difficult to be with a clinically depressed person without being affected themselves.

What’s the number one societal change you would like to see in regard to mental health?
Compassion for rather than fear of people with mental health problems. These individuals have burdens to bear just like people with physical health problems and need respectful and compassionate treatment.

What do you wish people knew about the work you do that is perhaps misunderstood?
I suspect that some people fear psychological assessment, counseling, and psychotherapy as intrusive, invasive, and potentially hurtful. Many may mistakenly believe that clients lie on a couch to get their heads “shrunk.” I and all of the clinicians I know aim to improve people’s lives through seated conversations and questions aimed at helping individuals understand themselves and change things about themselves/their lives that they don’t like or that are getting in the way of achieving their goals.

Without revealing identifying information, can you share one of your success stories?
Although I and other clinicians in my practice are generalists, I have several specialties that have contributed to successes I particularly remember. I have performed many assessments for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and I often get feedback from clients I’ve assessed and referred for medication that now they can read, focus, stay on task, and have improved relationships. “It’s like a light switch turned on in my head,” one client said. I also work with trauma survivors using Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. I have worked with a number of middle-aged men who were sexually abused as minors. Males often don’t want to acknowledge their vulnerable feelings, even to themselves, so resist coming to therapy. Men whom I have treated with EMDR therapy were able to release the pent-up feelings they have held surrounding the abuse, including fear, anger, rage, shame, guilt, and self-loathing, to feel whole again—safe, self-confident, and in control of their lives.

Nature or nurture?
Mental health, like physical health, is a combination of nature and nurture. We may be born with a propensity for long life or a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia (both of which are heritable illnesses). What happens to us during our lives determines whether we actually live out that long life expectancy our parent(s) had or experience a psychotic break that precipitates a major mental illness.

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