Counselor Spotlight: Sherry Parker

By Rebecca Smith

When Sherry Parker started at Next Step only a couple weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the schools in March 2020, she worried how she would see the students who needed her.

Next Step set her and the other counselors up with video counseling in three days. Sherry gave an example of the unique way she was able to help a student via video. The student was hesitant opening up about her depression, so Sherry decided to go through a worksheet with her on the screen about depression symptoms.

“The student started saying ‘Oh, I identify with that, I identify with that.’ Then she started telling me more about things she went through that caused her depression,” Sherry said.

Sherry is part of the Next Step counseling program that places licensed professional counselors at schools and juvenile probation offices. Sherry sees students at Athens Middle and High Schools.

Sherry has spent a large part of her career working with adults, but has a special place in her heart for adolescents.

“If I can reach that teen who is hurting now and help them change to be a healthy and happy adult, you give them a better opportunity for change and personal growth,” she said. “They need to learn healthy coping skills now to help alleviate worse issues when they are older.”

Sometimes Sherry shares her own story with her clients if they are having difficulty finding her relatable, she said.

“I used to be a depressed teen myself,” she said. “I remember walking through that darkness. I never attempted suicide, but I had thoughts of not wanting to be here. I get it. I know what it feels like to go to bed at night and cry myself to sleep, to feel like or have thoughts like: I don’t have anybody, nothing will work out, no one will ever love me, or I just feel so fat, ugly, and stupid. But those are the voices in your head that you don’t have to listen to. If you wouldn’t say that to your best friend, don’t say that to yourself because it’s not true. Those are irrational thoughts that can lead to unhealthy behaviors. I taught myself that to change my thoughts/beliefs. I realized I could be my own worst enemy and those thoughts were making me miserable. If we can find coping skills, we can survive a lot of situations.”

According to Health and Human Services, 31% of American teens in 2017 struggled with depression symptoms.

“Kids are hungry for anyone who will give them words of encouragement. If they have one person who will tell them ‘You can do this, you got this,’ and show them who the other people are in their life who they can really rely on, they can do it. Sometimes it’s just a matter of giving them that awareness and those coping skills.”

Sherry hopes parents who think their child may need counseling get their child help sooner rather than later.

“Don’t be afraid of mental health counseling,” she said. “I think some people are worried to admit that they have a problem in their family. Maybe it’s a pride issue or maybe it’s a stigma issue. I’m not sure. Parents may think ‘I’m supposed to have all this together, or I’m supposed to be the good parent. If I admit my child has a problem, maybe people will look at me like I have a problem, like ‘Why couldn’t you take care of your kid?’ Part of me gets it, but please, don’t wait until they are spiraling out of control. There is hope and there is healing with safe, trusted, professional individuals.”