The winding path to CareNet for Resident Robert Willis

Robert WillisSome would say that Robert Willis, CareNet resident, stumbled into work as a clinician, but he would say it was all God’s doing. His path began in youth ministry with dual degrees Christian Missions and Youth Ministry from Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, NC. But he quickly felt overwhelmed as a young adult without any background in counseling as he interacted with high-risk adolescents who were suffering from a myriad of mental health and spiritual issues. As he finished up his undergraduate degrees, Pfeiffer began a new Masters of Marriage and Family Therapy program, and he was chosen to be a part of the first cohort. Through this degree program he found a passion in working with struggling adolescents and their families from a therapeutic perspective. Upon graduation, Robert learned of the residency program after the deadline for application and ultimately there were no positions available.  However, Robert reflects, “After a series of divine interventions, it was a God-thing that I ended up at CareNet – it wasn’t a coincidence.” He began the residency program in April of 2010, received his full license in September 2012 and is currently at work on his paneling process to be able to bill insurance. He is also helping CareNet, Inc. to establish a new CareNet center in Elkin, NC.

Robert finds tremendous value in spiritual-theological integrated therapy.

“As a marriage and family therapist, I try to view the entire context of the client – not only as they are in my room, but also as they exist outside my office. I take into account the positive resources, and also the negative resources, that affect the client in every day life. Many will report that their personal faith (with varying faith traditions) is beneficial to them. But some feel beat down when they go to church; they don’t feel connected to God. As a counselor, integrating that huge part of their life (faith) that already exists is extremely beneficial. I am able to merge those two worlds [faith and psychology], which is really just one world inside the client.

Of my clients, 70% of the females I work with report being physically or sexually abused as a child. They’ll use phrases like “I feel desecrated” – well, that is a faith word describing how they view themselves and thus how they think God might see them. I have the great privilege of helping them understand how God sees them- beautiful and loved.”

Reflecting on his experience with CareNet, he adds, “The process of being involved in the residency has not only allowed me to be more comfortable working with persons around topics of faith, but really has encouraged me to seek out that conversation.  Furthermore, the inherent permission CareNet gives to clinicians as pertains to broaching topics of faith – is significant. It is a freeing experience for me.”

In addition to his work with the North Wilkesboro center and the residency program, Robert has continued to work in youth ministry for over ten years. He currently serves as the part-time youth minister at First United Methodist Church in Elkin and plans to continue in youth ministry even as he grows as a clinician. He also serves on a CareNet team to develop and research co-location integrative behavioral  healthcare. And, no small thing, he and his wife are expecting their first child this summer.

Like the other residents, during the three-year program, he will see the CareNet clients who do not have insurance or who are underinsured. The residents meet every month for two days in Winston-Salem with their director, Dr. Russell Jones, as well as other CareNet, Inc. employees. They attend seminars and discuss counseling theory, theological and spiritual integration, and practical intervention.

The CareNet residents are a tremendous group of counselors. We hope you will get to know Robert and the others a bit better as we continue to introduce them through our newsletter.

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