Counselor Spotlight: Dinah Nix

By Rebecca Smith

Next Step counselor Dinah Nix believes growing up with substance abuse in her own family makes her a more empathetic counselor.

“A family member would take me to AA, and I was supposed to stay outside, but I would sneak back in and hide under the tables and listen to everyone talk,” she said. “I thought that was more interesting than playing, because I got to listen to their stories. It makes you less judgmental, when you know what went wrong, and why they did what they did.”

Dinah joined Next Step in January 2020 as part of the program that puts licensed professional counselors on school campuses and juvenile probation offices at a fraction of the cost. She currently sees students at Winona High School, Winona Elementary School, and Van Zandt Juvenile Probation and Detention Center.

Even though she’s only been with the nonprofit a few months, she has already seen students make significant progress. She recalled one student who was considering dropping out of school to be homeschooled, even though he had tried once before and didn’t do well. She uncovered that the student had high anxiety about his ill grandfather and he thought he should be home to take care of him.

“He was holding himself to a standard that was a lot higher than he was holding anyone else to,” she said. “We went through all the scenarios and he realized there were other people who would take care of his grandfather, and if he let his anxiety get in his way and quit school, he couldn’t accomplish his goal of becoming a mechanic.”

Before joining Next Step, Dinah worked as a case manager for 10 years at a substance abuse rehab facility for teens.

“I love Next Step’s mission, they are trying to help kids reach their full potential, because that’s my goal too,” she said. “I haven’t seen any other company do it the way they do. Usually a kid isn’t able to get help until there’s so many problems that the kid is overwhelmed. I like that we get in there early. I like that it’s done at the school because that way, you don’t have to interrupt their life. They don’t have to have someone bring them there. Parents sometimes can’t make it work to take them somewhere so it’s better that we come to them.”

Dinah starts sessions with a new student by being as up-front as possible with them.

“I tell them right off the bat, ‘I’m not here to judge you, I am here to understand what it is you want, and try to help you reach that. For me to do that, I’ve got to be nosey.’ And when they ask me why I ask something, I tell them. In the first session, I let them help me write the first note. So that way they know when I’m typing on the computer or doing assessments, I’m not making them look bad. I’m trying to represent them the way they want to be represented. After that, it’s pretty simple, because they trust you.”

Dinah also said thinking of counseling as “fixing someone,” can sometimes deter people from getting help they need.

“I wish people knew counselors aren’t fixing them,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with someone who gets counseling. We all as humans have strengths and weaknesses. We all have a certain amount of tools in our toolbox that we’ve accumulated. Some of them are good, some of them are not-so-good. We’re all in that boat, whether you’re going to counseling or not. We’re not here to fix someone, we’re here to help them gain more tools, use the tools they have, reach their full potential, and get them what they want out of life. If people knew that, they wouldn’t feel so judged about coming to counseling.”