The Stigma is Real: Alumna Seeks to Break Down Barriers in the Mental Health Field
February 9, 2023
For Bethany Lackey, there is nothing more important than breaking down stigmas and barriers within the mental health field with her ultimate goal to increase accessibility for all.
She is well on her way, as co-founder of A Tree Planted Collective (ATP), a non-profit, mental health practice in Roanoke that strives to maintain a people and community first model, she has created a space where families and individuals from diverse backgrounds can access a variety of services based on their needs.
Lackey is also co-founder and current director of the Roanoke Refugee Partnership (RRP), a non-profit and volunteer-based organization that helps refugees within the community access certain services, from citizenship help to education and health care.
Some of the services offered by the RRP include financial assistance, tutoring, language services, cultural orientation, rental assistance, summer learning programs, health fairs and medical services, and citizenship programs which assist those studying for citizenship tests.
Lackey said she firmly believes that by continuing to move in a collaborative direction, both of these organizations have the “potential to grow and make real change.”
Lackey grew up in Patrick County, Virginia, where “the mental health stigma was real,” she said. She shared that people in her hometown were either not aware of mental health services or simply did not consider them.
At a young age, Lackey didn’t know working in the mental health field was even a possibility until the day she met with her school counselor and realized just how much a person can heal through these services. “Things really started to change for me and I started to understand myself better,” she said, with a smile.
After high school, Lackey attended her local community college and soon after, set her goal on becoming a Hokie. As a first generation student, she was very excited and had no idea what it was like to join such a large educational community. Unfortunately, her dream of becoming a Hokie was halted; “I applied and didn’t get in, I was crushed,” Lackey said.
Although this was a minor setback in her plans, Lackey persevered. She received a bachelor’s degree at Ferrum College, studying psychology. During this time she discovered how passionate she was about psychology and the mental health field, so much so that she often wondered, “Is this enough for me?”
After some consideration, Lackey’s dreams of becoming a Hokie finally came true, she was accepted into Virginia Tech. She first earned a master’s degree (2013), followed by a Ph.D. (2020) while attending the Counselor Education Program.
The program “does an astounding job at helping students understand the counseling field based on their level of growth and counselor development,” she said. “It does a great job of instilling a concrete counselor identity within the students.”
Not only did Lackey’s time at Virginia Tech as a student play an instrumental role in determining her future as a counselor, director, and leader, among her many other titles, it also brought her back to join the Hokie community once again.
Lackey now serves as an adjunct professor in Virginia Tech’s Counselor Education program, housed in the School of Education. The most fulfilling part of this role, she said, is when “students grasp a concept and have their light bulb moment, where they find something in what you’re saying and they want to incorporate that into their counselor identity.”
Lackey has many insights into what it means to build a successful counselor identity while working together as a community to provide mental health services in a creative and collaborative way.
Recently, she offered some insight into her work:
What do you want people to know about your work?
“I really want people to understand that ATP is set up to be more than just a mental health practice. It is about mission and our holistic community centered approach. Our field moves in that collaborative direction in order to break down stigma and barriers to services that people experience. We connect people to these different services based on their needs and try to join the families instead of making assumptions about what their needs are.”
What surprised you most about pursuing this career path and what excites you about your work overall?
“I’m in constant awe of human resilience and the growth that people go through as they experience the counseling process.”
Would you say that the most rewarding part of all this is seeing people reach that final phase of working through their troubles and trauma to reveal that human resilience?
“It has to be; it takes incredible courage to heal, to go on with the rest of your life and choose to change as a person.”
Where do you see your work going in the next five years?
“Ideally, in five years, I want to be able to provide a diverse array of therapeutic services to diverse communities all over the city and be an organization that brings people together. I want us to have the reputation of having high quality therapy services and be at the forefront of evidence based practice.”
Is it true you have to counsel yourself before you can counsel others?
“Absolutely, we always look at our blind spots to be consistently good counselors.”
Would you ever write a book and, if so, what would it be about?
“Yes, it would be about human resilience and instilling hope in people who come from backgrounds where they might not see much of that. I want so desperately for people who come from diverse backgrounds and poverty to be able to know and see the potential in themselves.”
What else inspires you?
“I would love to see more young people find their voice in leadership because we need to hear from them and their voices are important, especially empowering young women in decisions being made for them. Young people are not given enough empowerment to raise their voices; people are oftentimes cut off before they are able to. I want to see more young people at the table, and people making room for them.”
Written by Emily Meade