Counselor Spotlight: Taylor Parker

By Rebecca Smith

When asked if she can share an anonymous story of a student who had made significant progress in counseling, Taylor Parker’s face lights up.

“Oh my gosh, yes!” She said, clasping her hands in excitement. “I’ll give you two!”

One was a second grade student who came in disrespectful to his teachers and anxious about his pets at home while he was away. Taylor helped him work through how and why to be respectful, and helped him reframe his thinking so he didn’t worry about his animals so much. The other was a high school student who, through what he learned in Taylor’s sessions, was able to not only overcome his academic issues, but repair his relationships with his parents as well.

“At the end of our sessions he said ‘Mrs. Parker, thank you for not only caring about how I do in school, but the personal stuff too,’” she said.

Taylor is part of the Next Step Community Solutions counseling program that places licensed professional counselors at school campuses and juvenile probation offices. Taylor sees students at Rusk and Panola Counties juvenile probation, as well as Arp middle and high schools, Spring Hill primary and Kilgore Elementary.

“I like that Next Step gives you the freedom to go with the theoretical method you prefer,” she said. “If I have any questions, I have a list of people I can contact. Although we are not in the same building, I still feel connected. I get to go into schools and counsel. I love our mission. Our mission is exactly what I want to do.”

Taylor has been a counselor with Next Step since January 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US. She has been able to see students over video fairly regularly, she said.

“The little ones feel like they’re out for summer,” she said. “They say we get to wake up late, watch movies and play outside. But they miss seeing their friends, and are upset they didn’t get to say goodbye, so we do social stories to give them that closure and normalize it. I ask them ‘When we miss our friends, what are some coping skills we can use?’ We talk about coping skills they can use when they are lonely. A lot of the older kids are trying to make contact with friends; friends are more integral in their lives than the younger ones. It’s more frustrating for them to be home all the time.”

Taylor uses a mix of techniques, and uses sand trays often with older students. In sand tray therapy, a student will choose  miniatures in the sand tray that represents them and their situation, which can sometimes help them open up, Taylor said.

“It’s easier for them to say ‘This miniature feels really lonely right now,’ than for them to say ‘I feel really lonely right now,’” she said.

Even though she’s seen remarkable change in her clients, Taylor still feels society underestimates counseling at times.

“I wish people knew the power of opening up and talking about it,” she said, “A lot of people think ‘Everyone goes through problems, I will just handle my own.’ You go to the doctor for symptoms in your body, but when you have symptoms in your brain, your soul, and your spirit, there’s a way to help you there, too. Just because it’s not a physical ailment doesn’t mean it’s not important. Mental health is just as important as physical health.”