GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — Being human means we often share in more qualities than we might think, be that experiencing joy, loss, hope or tragedy. Unfortunately, it also means that everyone on this planet will suffer some form of trauma throughout their lifetime, whether that is the loss of a loved one or worse.
Thankfully, there are people like Amy Sisson who seek to bring hope to others when life takes a turn for the worst.
Sisson is a trauma counseling specialist who works with Gallia County’s victims of felony crime through the Gallia County Survivor Services office. She has served in that role for the last three years and prior to that was a counselor with the Vinton-based nonprofit organization Wing Haven for nine years. She shares two sons and a daughter with her husband Jamie Sisson, a local pastor.
“Really, I will work with anyone who will listen about the importance of understanding the impacts of trauma,” said Sisson. “That could be victims of crime, first responders or volunteers who want to help and learn more.”
Sisson further explained, “I will ask a child a question like what kind of a helper they think a policeman is or teacher and we’ll go through the list. I’m a helper that helps people with their feelings and with their behaviors so I frame it that way as a helping field.
Even for adults, often times they think they’re going to lay on a couch and talk about their childhood. That can be part of it, but generally anyone who’s having any kind of issue with their thoughts and behaviors, we’ll help them walk through those processes to maybe think differently.”
Sisson said she takes an “organic approach” to her clients by letting them lead her through their thoughts. She has worked with a variety of individuals from all walks of life.
“I don’t choose what the client’s problem is,” she said. “They tell me what they want to work on and that’s where we go… Crimes, particularly domestic violence and sexual abuse, they don’t discriminate. It happens to all groups of people and classes.”
Sisson said she enjoys being in nature and hiking and growing flowers to help her manage her own feelings in regard to the challenges of her job.
“I have my husband and a group of therapist friends and friends in similar high stress jobs,” she said. “We support each other.”
Sisson graduated with a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology from Marshall University in the late 1990s and following that obtained a master’s degree in professional counseling through Liberty University in Virginia. She is currently working on a Ph.D. in international psychology.
“I’ve been on the journey about 20 years,” said Sisson. “Continuing education is, of course, part of our licensing requirements, but I found myself drawn to (continuing her education in studying trauma). I didn’t feel adequately prepared and so pursued more education and that was how I became a trauma specialist.”
Sisson said it’s important that all people become informed about trauma and learn how to recognize it and its effects on individual lives. She has continued pursuing education in hopes of better serving Appalachian residents because no one therapeutic approach fits all, she said.
“I can’t really pinpoint a particular moment that I was inspired to say this was what I wanted to do with my life,” said Sisson. “It was the field and study of human behavior that I became passionate about but I think probably a huge part of it is my faith background.
“It’s one of hope, and if you don’t have hope, it’s difficult to navigate through anything. There’s actually a verse in the Bible that says hope deferred makes the heart sick.”
Sisson referenced Proverbs 13:12 of the Bible, which according to the King James Version states, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.”
“I think personally, in my own life, I’ve known that without hope it’s hard to move forward and I’ve seen it in the lives of my clients. Once they have hope, things can improve,” she said. “It sets them on the path to recovery, rather than feeling stuck or trapped.”
While moving towards her unique destination, she explained: “Through that journey of learning about how our thoughts and behaviors are all intertwined, I realized that was what I wanted, to help people. To help them find a better life.”
Sisson said she’d witnessed people in her own life who she felt were resilient and often wondered how they managed to endure the challenges of their lives.
“The common factor was always hope,” said Sisson.
Sisson emphasized the importance of overcoming the stigma of mental illness and supporting behavioral health work and research as many struggle with overcoming tragedy and there “…simply aren’t enough of us to go around,” she said of behavioral health workers.
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Dean Wright is a freelance writer and former reporter for Ohio Valley Publishing.