Student: Kaitlyn Isherwood | Eastern North Carolina Now

Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Crystal Baity.

Photos: Cliff Hollis

    Being bullied in middle school — and getting help from a mental health professional — has fueled Kaitlyn Isherwood's determination to be a counselor. She wants other children who are dealing with similar issues to know they aren't alone.

    "Honestly, counseling saved my life. It was a place of refuge, nonjudgment and support during a time when I felt alone," she said. "Although I had a loving and supportive family, I needed professional help. My experience in counseling at a young age motivated me to pursue this career path. I have always been a helper and being a counselor would allow me to be in a professional helping role. My goal is to provide someone else with the same support, guidance and empathy that was given to me."

Kaitlyn Isherwood plans to work with middle or high school children as a school counselor or clinical mental health counselor in North Carolina.
    Isherwood plans to graduate with a master's degree in counselor education at East Carolina University in 2021. Already an ECU alumna, she earned a bachelor's in psychology with a minor in sociology in 2019.

    She's specializing in school and clinical mental health counseling and, as part of her required coursework in the College of Education, Isherwood has been an intern at Wellcome Middle School in Greenville since August.

    The pandemic's impact on education has been acute, with teachers, support staff and administration feeling the pressure of trying to meet the needs of hybrid and virtual learners, Isherwood said.

    She has talked with students on topics from stress management and leadership to the impact of the pandemic, civic unrest, voting and other current events. "I wanted to hear their opinions, thoughts and experiences so I could cater lessons to their lives and experiences," Isherwood said.

    "On top of the stress of school and everyday life, many of our students are experiencing mental health issues. Some of our students are grieving loved ones, experiencing abuse or neglect, or feeling isolated and lonely," she said. "I strive to be a source of positivity and light in their lives while providing psycho-educational opportunities."

    She said she feels privileged to have been working during the pandemic, which has provided structure and social interaction. It also has been good to slow down. "As someone who is constantly doing something, it was nice to have a restart or a forced break. I have had the opportunity to read non-school-related books, try new recipes and get outside, things I typically wouldn't have time for."

    On campus, Isherwood has been a graduate assistant in the ECU Women and Gender Office, which successfully pivoted during the pandemic to provide online support and virtual programs.

    In her first year of graduate school, Isherwood worked in the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement, where she helped organize and execute programs, supervised student workers and collaborated with campus and community partners.

    Isherwood was a student leader for an alternative spring break trip to Columbia, South Carolina, in March before the coronavirus closed campus. Serving at the Department of Juvenile Justice's Camp Aspen was life-changing, she said.

    The camp is an alternative placement program that provides schooling, mental health services, and vocational and job training to young men whose personal belongings are restricted to a single metal bin. Behavior is monitored and ranked on a point system, mail is censored and schoolwork is mandatory.

    ECU students played basketball, cards and table tennis, and helped with homework. In getting to know the teens, Isherwood learned many were trapped in family cycles of incarceration, substance use, gang activity or other trauma.

    "Interacting with these young men demonstrated to me the importance of accessibility to education, mental health services and other community resources," she said. "Social justice will not be attained until we reform our criminal justice system, and that begins with how we treat and support our juvenile offenders. After this experience, I felt more motivated to pursue my degree in counselor education."

    Isherwood decided to continue her graduate studies at ECU because the counselor education program is one of the best in the state. She also wasn't ready to leave after having transferred to ECU as an undergraduate student. "Transitioning during undergrad was hard and I didn't want to have to start over while trying to complete a higher degree," she said.

    After obtaining licensure, Isherwood plans to work with middle or high school children as a school counselor or clinical mental health counselor in North Carolina.

    What advice do you have for other students? Get involved on campus. I know that sounds cliché or cheesy but growing a strong campus community is essential. Whether it is diving into research in your academic department, working on campus, engaging in programming within student affairs, joining a Greek organization, playing a sport or living in a Living Learning Community, getting involved on campus provides students with the opportunity to engage with other students, faculty, and/or staff, establish a professional and personal network, and explore their values and interests.
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