This month, IN sits down with Alesia and Melissa Willis of the Santa Rosa Counseling Center in Milton. Alesia opened the center in 2007 with a “focus on helping individuals, couples, and families who are in crisis or who find themselves needing guidance or clarification in decision making.”
IN: What is your background in therapy?
Alesia: I was at Lakeview and did a lot of clinical work in marriage therapy as well as groups. I’ve been a clinician for about eight years.
IN: Why did you both get into this field?
Alesia: I was a minister and prior to that was a stay at home wife…military wife. I’ve always had involvement in support groups and self-help groups everywhere we traveled—from Europe to Alaska. It had always been a focus of mine to help people in crisis, so it was a natural transition to go back for another degree in clinical practice.
Melissa: My brother and I are in the process of doing our internship (with the practice). Then we will be going through the process of getting licenses and joining the practice. Helping people, I think, is part of my personality. My mom was really my inspiration behind it. I did get my undergrad in criminal justice and I really liked that work, but I was missing the area of helping people.
IN: What types of problems do you generally treat?
Alesia: For the most part, because I’m licensed in marital therapy and I have a mental health license, couples that are having a lot of issues. I also treat children who have issues—whether it’s ADHD, children who have family separation issues or children who are involved in domestic violence. Families First Network makes referrals to us for the abuse issues.
IN: I understand you treat PTSD?
Alesia: We do trauma work…eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and we’re one of the top two centers in the area the VA recognizes for trauma-related disorders.
IN: What methods do you use to get through to children?
Melissa: As far as the kids go, we have board games that focus on emotional control. We might do role playing…that’s something unique (for our clinic).
IN: What types of problems do you generally see with teenagers?
Melissa: A lot of teens come through looking for help with vocational counseling, depression, self-injury or ADHD. We typically see people that have had the problems for their whole lives.
IN: You mention Internet addiction on your site as a problem. Are you seeing more and more technology-related problems such as this?
Alesia: Yes. Pornography has become a big problem—that or chat rooms, online dating and gaming.
IN: Tell us about your group sessions and how they work.
Alesia: The one that is really successful for me is Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It was a treatment that was kind of pioneered in the late 70s. The sessions are held every Tuesday…it’s a women’s group that helps with co-dependency issues and improves self-esteem. We also use it for anger management because it covers the skills involved in emotional relations and impersonal relationships. Melissa leads one group on Tuesdays for kids ages 6-12. The name of the group is KidsROK and it focuses on self-awareness. On Wednesdays, we hold a positive parenting class that focuses on understanding your role as a parent.
IN: How often are problems treatable by regular counseling sessions?
Alesia: Typically, I think for depression, it’s fairly treatable in eight to 10 sessions. With trauma work, it’s generally two to three sessions and I send them back over for individual treatment. Schizophrenia patients I recommend to a psychiatrist. Typically, we do solution-focused therapy so we get right to the problems and find options and solutions. There are some that I do psychotherapy with. Melissa does the same. It’s always done to find out about the past and to see where we would go from there.
IN: As far as couples’ counseling goes, what is generally the major problem that sticks out?
Alesia: Communication. Also, we probably see 40 percent of all couples involved with an affair.
Melissa: You also have parenting issues, particularly with mixed families coming in with issues of co-parenting.
IN: Any interesting stories over the years?
Alesia: I have about eight, nine, or 10 a day. It’s one story after another, and they are all pretty amazing. I think my marriage sticks out the most, though. I’ve been married 30 years and we are still passionately in love. We’ve done family really well and marriage really well and the bumps we have had along the way have just been blips that we’ve overcame.
Santa Rosa Counseling Center
5962 Berryhill Road, Milton
626-7779 (For appointments)