For a counselor to be successful, Teresa Barnes says, they need two things: painful experiences and proper education.
“Nobody wants a page 51 therapist — meaning that clinical skill [needs to] come from more than just educational training …,” said Barnes, a longtime clinician and therapist. “You’ve got to be able to pull from something in your life and one of the most powerful reservoirs you can pull from is extreme emotional pain. You’ve got to do something with it because otherwise what’s the point? If you can’t do something with this to help someone — if the pain doesn’t become purpose and misery doesn’t become ministry then, to me, it’s all in vain.”
Barnes moved to the Springs in August 2016 and opened her private practice, Restorative Place, in March 2019. She believes her success as a therapist has grown from a God-given gift.
“I do believe this was a gift — I believe God has given me a gift. There have been so many times when I’m like, ‘OK, I’m done,’” she said. “It is hard to contain it all. …Whenever I feel like I want to quit, I will get clients that will call, or I will set aside time to pray. That is my grounding source. I really feel this is my spiritual calling. It doesn’t mean I Bible-thump people when they come in the room, but I use a spiritual lens.”
Barnes spoke with the Business Journal about her path from social work in schools to opening the doors of her private practice, and the impact of COVID-19 on her work.
Talk about your path to this point in your career.
I graduated in 1990 and thought I wanted to be an artist. I even met with some graphic artists. ... I went to a community college before I transferred to a four-year university and [one of the advisers there] was amazing. She sat down and did a career interest inventory. She told me the two that stick out the most are in the art field or in counseling. … I had no desire to counsel anyone before that. But she said, ‘You seem like you’re stronger in these skills, have you thought about it?’ I said ‘No, not really.’ I ultimately decided to go into social work. I was told nobody could get a school social work job at a high school right out of graduate school, because most high school social workers don’t ever leave their position. I was so happy at my first job out of graduate school. It was a high school and I was there for almost 20 years. Prior to that I worked grunt work. I worked in foster care and I saw a lot. … I knew one year in, I am definitely not going to do this. After graduate school, I beelined out of there and started at the high school. … My 15th year there, I started to take a sabbatical because my work was beginning to get too toxic and started to affect my health. … I started getting into private practice in 2006. I quit [the] school social work in 2015 … and then my practice really started to grow in Illinois. My clientele started to grow and I felt more comfortable in my clinical skin. … My husband got a job here, so that is why I moved here. I couldn’t find a job right away here. It was not the easiest place to place professional roots. Ultimately I decided, ‘Well, Teresa, you should just do your own thing,’ which was scary. I left a local group practice in the Springs in 2019 and as of March 2019, I got my own practice called Restorative Place. I hired two therapists and am in the process of hiring two more because I am crazy busy.
What is your educational background?
I started off as an art major, so when I transferred to the four-year university, I was taking art classes. I felt totally intimidated by my classes. … I didn’t feel like I could compete with the other art students. A lot of that was a low self-esteem, but I actually dropped out as an art major and said, ‘Well, I remember that [my counselor] had told me that counseling was another thing that I could get into.’ So that was when I began taking Psychology 101, like everyone else. It just seemed to be one of those things I didn’t think a lot about and … by the time I graduated with my bachelor’s I was pretty much feeling good about the choice of being in counseling, but I didn’t want to be a social worker; I wanted to be a marriage and family therapist. [Eventually, I decided I did want to go into social work] and I knew I had to attend graduate school. Then I decided to enroll in a graduate program for social work. That was three years. By that time, I was sure that I wanted to do school social work. I started my doctoral program in 2007 and it was in clinical social work, so it was a cohort program and I only needed to go in on the weekends. It was in downtown Chicago.
Tell us about your professional history.
With social work, I always got the impression that you worked in foster care or residential and I was like, ‘That’s not for me.’ It was my last semester senior year in undergrad and they were having guest speakers from different fields come in and talk to us about what it was like to be in the field and there was a social worker there. ... He started talking about all of these things that you can do. You can do private practice. You can work with the police. You can work in schools. I thought, ‘Well, if I’m going to be doing this, I want it to be worth my while.’ I also wanted to be home with my kids, and with school social work, you’re home in the summers. I decided to go into school social work and never regretted that. I found myself very much connected to adolescents. I had a niche for them. I worked at a youth center my last semester senior year. … I liked that a lot and realized teenagers were my thing. That was kind of my career after graduate school.
What’s your advice for young therapists?
I tell a lot of young therapists this: life experience and training. Really, it’s the life experience. I always tell them, you just keep living. You’re nervous; you’re not comfortable in your clinical skin. … One thing that has been a superb trainer is extreme emotional pain. It is the best trainer, because if you can survive it, then it becomes this catalyst. You become a seasoned clinician because you are able to pull from something.
How has the coronavirus impacted your ability to see clients?
What’s been a challenge is having that sacred, contained space in my office [taken away] and having to navigate my personal life, while maintaining my professional space. I had my earbuds on and I thought I had a pretty insulated space and my client said, ‘Oh, is that your kid?’ It just takes you out of that momentum. Having all of my life around me, while trying to be in that clinical space with a client has been very distracting.
How do you see the future of your organization?
I consider myself a holistic psychotherapist. I believe we are more than just our minds and our bodies, so I do a lot of work with nutrition and getting the brain healthy, so you can do the emotional work. ... I am a certified mental health integrative medicine provider, so my goal is to have a holistic practice. I want my practice to be a one-stop shop. I want to have a chiropractor, nutritionist, dietitian, exercise, naturopath, herbalist — the whole thing. Why not? That way people won’t have to go across town to see different providers.
What do you do in your free time?
I work out because it is important to me and because of the mental and physical benefits. Once I’m done with my doctoral [studies] … it takes so much of your mental and emotional space, but I do like reading and going out to eat and vacationing. I wish there was a beach — I’m a water gal.