Counselor Spotlight: Lauri Abernathy

By Rebecca Smith

Next Step counselor Lauri Abernathy likes to put what she does in simple terms.

“Every kid is a person, and every person needs to be cared for, validated, and supported throughout whatever they are facing in their life,” she said. “I am able to do that every single day with this job.”

Lauri received her master’s in counseling from Texas A&M Commerce, and has been with Next Step for four years as part of their counseling program in schools and juvenile probation offices. She is one of 17 Next Step counselors and currently sees students at every school in Gilmer ISD, Mt. Pleasant Intermediate and Junior High, Hopkins Juvenile Probation. The program provides schools and juvenile probation offices with licensed professional counselors at a much lower rate than the school or probation office could hire one individually.

According to the Next Step website, “as many as 20% of students have behavioral, emotional and mental health issues that require counseling or treatment. Of these youth, more than 80% never receive any mental health care for their issues and 10% go on to drop out of school.

Many schools have a student to guidance counselor ratio of 500:1. Most school guidance counselors simply don’t have the time to spend with the 30, 60, 100, or more students who require many hours of individualized counseling sessions over the course of the school year.”

As a single mom, Lauri needed an employer who could work with her schedule, and she said Next Step has done that “every step of the way.”

“When I got to Next Step, I found my home,” she said. “I told our executive director, ‘You can’t beat me off with a stick, I’m not going anywhere.’ Not only does it fit my needs and my schedule as a single mom, but they help me as much as I help them. I feel more fulfilled in this job than any other counseling job I’ve had.”

When asked where she has seen the biggest difference in students, she said it has been students who are part of the LGBTQ demographic, who can be especially vulnerable to mental health issues in adolescence.

According to, “Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 15 to 24, and LGBT youth are more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. This does not mean, however, that LGBT identity itself is the cause of these challenges. Rather, these higher rates may be due to bias, discrimination, family rejection, and other stressors associated with how they are treated because of their sexual identity or gender identity/expression.”

However, according to research from The Trevor Project, “LGBTQ youth who report having at least one accepting adult were 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year.”

Lauri is able to be that accepting adult for teens.

“Being someone who listens without judgments and meets them where they’re at for what they need, I see their face light up,” she said. “I see them build themselves up in the session, I see the light come on. No matter what their priest, or parent, or grandparent says, I get to help them see that they are still a person. Someone is validating them as a human being. That has been the biggest thing. It’s hard enough to go through adolescence without being different.”

Lauri has heard from school administrators that what she is doing is working as well. For example, she said that Gilmer ISD had noticed that students who had been seeing Lauri were communicating better and controlling their behaviors better.

“When students first come see me, they’re usually defiant or angry, they have impulse control issues,” she said. “Their emotions are so big that they struggle with controlling and reacting, they react to everything. So the biggest thing I like to make them realize is ‘Yeah you can feel this way, you can think this way, but you don’t have to act this way. It’s a choice.’ I like to validate the fact that they have chosen to get out of bed to get to class. They’ve made all these positive choices. I like to put the control of their life back in their hands.”