Counselor Spotlight: Lori Dunaway

By Rebecca Smith

Lori Dunaway smiled when she received a text from a former client who had just graduated.

“She wanted to know if I was still at the school and if she could meet and talk to me,” she said. “She wanted to let me know what a difference counseling had made for her and was thinking of majoring in it herself. That kind of stuff will keep you going for a long time.”

Lori is part of a Next Step Community Solutions’ counseling program. The program provides licensed professional counselors at school campuses and juvenile probation offices at a fraction of what it would cost to hire their own staff. The student doesn’t pay for services, and can often get seen much faster than if they were given a referral to an outside counseling service.

Lori sees students at Kilgore High School, Spring Hill High School, and Spring Hill Junior High.

Lori sees clients with trauma issues, and has noticed more anxiety and this year, compared to depression being the majority of cases last year. She also sees a lot of family dysfunction and issues with parents, she said.

“Elementary up through junior high have been really honest about how they felt ignored by parents were always on their phones,” she said. “I have several who say ‘My parent doesn’t love me because they’re always on their phone and don’t pay attention to me.’ It was a huge wakeup call for me too, personally. I realized I would be in my own living room on my phone and it would hit me: ‘Oh, that’s not what I want to do!”

Lori feels “called to work with adolescents,” she said. She went back to school to get her counseling credentials after spending 10 years in youth ministry.

“I like teenagers; I like the way they’re honest,” she said/ “Adults have so many years of layers of stuff. Teenagers are in that sweet spot of kids who can’t understand what’s going on with them, and adults who are so ingrained in the way they do things.”

Lori is in her third year of counseling for Next Step.

“I love that we’re reaching kids who don’t have access to other resources,” she said. “I love the way that I have support, but not micromanagement. I feel like the leadership is also doing what they’re called to do. They have a passion. And I love that I’m a part of something exciting and new.”

Lori wishes people weren’t intimidated to come to counseling, she said.

“I wish people knew that it’s not scary, it’s just talking,” she said. “It’s not necessarily diving into your deepest darkest secrets. It could be, if we need to, but it doesn’t have to be. On the flip side, because it’s just talking, it’s not magic. They have to do the work. I tell kids all the time ‘I am an expert question asker. My job is to get you to think about things in a new way, but I don’t know what you should do. It’s your life. I don’t know what it’s like to live in your house, you’re the one who does that.’ I don’t have the answers, they do. They already have them.”