Getting off the couch: Counselors that meet you where you are

Contact: Deanne Puca

A team of social workers and psychologists with roots at WMU is growing its practice to bring mental health and wellness services to where its clients are—literally and figuratively.

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Brooke Buys

Ph.D. candidate Brooke Buys conceived an idea to create a nontraditional practice with customized care offered at locations where patients feel the most comfortable—over coffee, at the yoga studio, in the conference room, walking in the woods as well as with text and virtual sessions.

Her practice, BLND (pronounced “blend”), is a tailored therapy experience featuring a blend of different offerings, theories and approaches to therapy, including for couples and families, addiction and recovery services, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), reunification, sport and performance, and intensive outpatient. Therapists also work with corporations and schools on wellness initiatives for their staff and students.

It’s patient care "that fits people instead of the people fitting the system," says Buys, who is completing her doctoral degree in social work and clinical psychology. Western's interdisciplinary program was a good fit for her passion to provide a holistic approach to patient care, she says.

"We customize a plan with each client from the start, whether this is in-person or virtual therapy. The environment speaks a lot to us about our clients, and it also can be a barrier to care if they are not comfortable," Buys says. "We focus on one’s assets, highlighting resilience and exploring challenges. Our goal for clients is gradual momentum and real-life improvement."

Also working at the innovative practice is alumna Cricket Alexander, M.S.W. '16, who took a less traditional path to become a social worker. An actor for more than 20 years in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, she returned to her hometown of Kalamazoo to find a new purpose. She found that at Western's School of Social Work where instructors encouraged her to use her past experiences when pursuing her new career.

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Cricket Alexander

"As an actor, I was always a student of the story and how to make that story come to life. Now, I am separate from those stories and yet get to help others who are actually living those lives," says Alexander. "I began to integrate my former acting tools such as listening, improvisation, empathy, roleplaying and connection with my therapy clients. I learned to identify their narratives as a 'script' and am able to compassionately be a part of their story. Although I learned at WMU all the great theorists and modalities, the one I rely on most is just being me.

"I am a better clinical worker and a different therapist than I would have been had I not had (my professors') guidance," she continues. "I hadn't been in a classroom in 20 years and was terrified. But my professors understood I was a nontraditional student and even helped me learn from the younger people in my classes."

Alexander and Buys met while Alexander worked as an intern at an office where Buys was a social worker. When Buys formed her own practice, she recruited Alexander to help her manage a growing caseload. Currently, the practice has 15 counselors in two offices in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Kalamazoo who have expertise in a broad variety of specialties and reach clients in person and virtually across the country.

"We work really well as a team, and we are intentional about working as a team," says Buys, adding their counselors have professional expertise in the fields of social work, psychology, mental performance, holistic health, as well as some who additionally are highly qualified instructors in yoga, creative arts and meditation. "We're a team of clinical professionals who emphasize accountability, value relationships and offer a strengths-based, off-the-couch approach to mental health."

Besides services for addiction and recovery, couples and family therapy, and conflict resolution, niche areas include performance psychology, identity development and healthy lifestyle management.

"I decided if I was going to help people, it was going to be in my own backyard. And Western was wonderful in helping me decide what I wanted and using my past strengths in my next career," Alexander says.

"I found exactly the program I wanted and needed at Western," Buys, who also teaches at Western and the University of Michigan, says. "The broad-based, interdisciplinary program allows me to have experiences from the School of Social Work and clinical psychology. It’s designed in a way to build the best program and experience for me." ■