For our second installment of the RAYS Staff Spotlight, we are highlighting Heather Fisher. I sat down with the Lego-loving, mental/medical heath integration specialist to ask her a bit about herself and her work. Heather does a lot for us at the agency so she had a lot to say. It was wonderful to visit with her and hear her story.
First, we’d like to know a little bit about you. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Heather Fisher: Sure. Well, I went to SPU in my Masters in Family Therapy and they have the only medical family therapy certificate program on the west coast. So I was drawn to that program in the first place because I had an interest in trying to figure out how to do counseling with people who have medical issues. I, myself, have had a host of medical issues and have chronic illness. I was hoping to help families in a way that the physical and medical community was not able to do. My interest was in bridging those two worlds [medical/mental health] for each individual client in order to be able to help them understand better and benefit their entire self.
“I would encourage others to have conversations about the mind-body connection so that they can learn to advocate for themselves within the different programs.”
When I’m not working I enjoy doing lots of creative things – arts and crafts and painting and those types of things – and definitely getting together with friends, having good conversations is one of my favorite things to do. And it’s great living in the Pacific Northwest because I love to be outside and on the water, kayaking and that kind of stuff – just as a grounding activity to kind of re-center myself when I get the chance.
So are you from this area originally?
H: I was born in California and I was a Navy kid, so I lived in different places, but I’ve lived in Snohomish since I was about 10. Now, I live in Ballard.
What work do you do here at RAYS?
H: At RAYS I definitely do a couple of things. I’m at one of the middle schools for one of my sites and, currently, I’m also at one of our co-located medical sites which is UW Valley Medical Children’s Therapy. I’m helping with Medical Integration. We’re evaluating the needs and doing assessments now too as we are getting ready to open some new clinics in the future as well.
Can you tell us about Medical Integration piece? It’s a new avenue that most mental health agencies are headed towards now, correct?
H: It’s definitely new for agencies. So basically the goal is to integrate and learn how to collaborate with medical physicians to help the whole person with their medical and mental health needs. I think primary care offices and hospitals have been trying to figure out how to meet this new mandate of integrating mental health/behavioral health into their physical health.
At RAYS, there’s a couple things – we’re moving towards including more medical check-ins with our clients and incorporating those pieces into our treatment plans. We’re also beginning to evaluate our clients for those medical concerns – in order to assess for what we may need to work in collaboration with primary care doctors. And then there is the piece where we are arranging collaborations with other organizations such as Health Point and UW Valley Medical. Like I mentioned, we are co-located at UW Valley Medical Children’s Therapy – we just finished our pilot year there. We’re currently there two days a week. We also received some grant money through Best Starts for Kids to open a teen clinic with Health Point at Renton High and also a clinic at our Cynthia Green Family Center in Skyway.
“We’re moving towards including more medical check-ins with our clients and incorporating those pieces into our treatment plans.”
So there are several things going on here! [Laughs] We are looking at what matches philosophically with what we are already doing and what we’d like to add in.
It sounds like there is a lot going on in many different areas! So why were you drawn to the medical integration model and counseling? What about your work and your philosophy led you to this?
H: I worked in childcare either as an educator, a facilitator, or as a parent educator for about 13 years. I was fortunate to work in a childcare center for about 5 years that was a really progressive, social justice minded place. There were some really amazing families, some of whose children had medical illness and needed accommodations at the school and I was doing a lot of parent education.
I started realizing how much I enjoyed staying late with parents, talking with them about what was going on at home and the social emotional issues. And I realized the community that I was working in was a more privileged middle class community and started thinking about how I could use those skills I was learning with underserved populations to help them access those types of early education and parenting services.
It felt like a really good fit ever since I started doing the counseling work, and when I went to the grad program I suddenly felt like, “Oh these people get me – they’re like me and they see the world the way I see the world” for the most part. So I was just discovering throughout the program what felt like a good fit.
Why do you feel this type of integration is important?
H: I feel like this type of work is important because as a culture I think we often underestimate the mind-body connection. We underestimate the effect and impact that trauma has on our physical health. I think we tend to see physical health and mental health as two separate things and they very rarely are – every couple months there is new research out showing that people with higher Adverse Childhood Experience scores tend to develop “X, Y, Z” illnesses – higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, chronic illnesses, fibromyalgia, things like that.
Those connections can’t be denied – that research is strong. It’s been done by outside sources. You know, the more that I have spent time here at RAYS and really dealt with children and families who have had generational trauma, the more I have seen those connections. So there is that piece but there is also these underprivileged families tend to not know what those resources are or understand the importance of preventative medicine because it hasn’t been modeled for them before. So this is really our opportunity to combine those two things and help people understand how they’re feeling physically and how they are feeling emotionally have a direct correlation to one another, and working towards changing either one of those things can have a great impact.
You do some other work here as well, correct? The work you do individually with clients is interesting too.
H: The work I do with individual clients is sometimes at a local middle school and sometimes here at the agency. I work with ages 3-14 at the moment. I tend towards narrative therapy – which is, in the simplest form, that our lives are a series of stories linked to one another. Some of those stories are authored by us and some are authored by other people for us. Narrative therapy takes a look at the stories and finds out what fits and what was maybe a bad fit for the person and what their preferred story going forward would be. The main thing I really like about narrative therapy is that it is all co-created.
It assumes the client is the expert on their life and they are deconstructing and re-authoring stories in a way that I am working as an assistant, kind of reframing and asking questions to help them get an understanding of what’s going on.
And with young kids, what I have found works really well is to do this with Legos. So I come from a long-line of Lego people in my family [laughs]. I definitely grew up with Legos. I find that therapy with Legos combined with narrative for kids has worked really, really well to help them visually construct what an emotion or feeling might feel like or what family dynamics might feel like using Lego people. So it really is as boundary-less as possible for their imaginations in order to help them understand what’s going on with them.
And so they are actually creating whatever they need to talk about?
H: Very much so. In narrative therapy one of the things that we work with is externalization, which is taking a feeling or something that you’ve internalized as a truth and taking it so it’s outside of your body so we can look at it a little more clearly and examine it. So it doesn’t feel like we are picking apart a person, it feels like we are taking apart an issue. Legos are a good way for kids to say “this is what this looks like” versus a blank piece of paper. For a four year old kid, if I say “draw that thing” they might feel overwhelmed by just a blank piece of paper. Legos, though, are like a box full of ideas so it tends to be a better place to start.
So last question, as a wrap up, if there was one thing that you would tell others – about you or about the work, Legos, medical model – what would that be?
H: I would encourage others to have conversations about the mind-body connection so that they can learn to advocate for themselves within the different programs. And if they don’t know how to do that, which most people don’t, I would say checking in with your doctor, your nurse, or your mental health counselor is a really good place to start learning how to advocate for yourself.
It’s been exciting working with other agencies and seeing how they all work. Yeah, I’m happy to be here and to use my expertise. Working with people who find medical integration valuable, that’s pretty tremendous. We definitely have that here at RAYS.
Well, thank you for giving us some of your time today.
Calling all artists, painters, crayon drawers, and stick figure experts! In addition to RAYS’ summer activities this year, we are also holding a Youth Summer Art Contest.
From now until August 15th, RAYS’ clients and family members submit original artwork and enter for a chance to win a Target gift card. The top three winners will have their art featured on our RAYS Thank You notes!
Here’s what you need to know to enter:
Design and create your own personal artwork that shows the theme: “What I learned at RAYS”
Include our name “RAYS” in the design
Turn it into the front desk and artwork will be displayed in the lobby until the end of the contest
The top three winners will receive a Target gift card and have their art will be featured on RAYS Thank You notes.
Applicants must be age 18 or younger
No need to worry about supplies,
we have provided markers, crayons, and colored pencils in our lobbies. Do a quick sketch or drawing while you wait for your session or group to begin. Want more time to complete your work? Feel free to take home our pre-printed submission sheet and return in by August 15th.
Check out the contest rules below for more information about the contest and how to participate!
“WHAT I LEARNED AT RAYS” ARTWORK CONTEST – OFFICIAL RULES
Contest Period: Renton Area Youth and Family Services “What I Learn at RAYS” Artwork.
Contest begins: 12:00 a.m. PST on July 11, 2017 and ends at 11:59 p.m. PST on August 15, 2017.
Sponsor: Renton Area Youth & Family Services
Eligibility: “What I Learned at RAYS” Artwork Contest is open to current RAYS clients 18 years and under.
How to Enter the Contest: To enter, draw a picture on the front of this sheet that shows what you learned at RAYS and includes our name “RAYS” in the design. When you’re done, turn it in to our contest folder at the front desk. Only one submission per person. All entries must be original, and must not be a copy of any existing work. The back of the submissions must include: your first name and last initial, the name of the RAYS clinician or staff member with whom you work, and a parent/guardian signature. Submitted artwork will be displayed in the main lobby of the RAYS building – see additional release information below.
Prize: Three winners will be chosen based on their artwork submission. Awarded prizes Target gift card: 1st prize – $20, 2nd prize – $15, 3rd prize – $10.
Release: By entering the contest, hereby voluntarily and without compensation authorize and consent that Renton Area Youth and Family Services, its legal representatives, successors, or assigns, shall have the absolute right to copyright, publish, use, sell or assign any and all contest artwork or any part thereof, submitted on this date whether apart from or in connection with illustrative or written printed matter, story or news item, motion pictures, websites, social media channels or for any other lawful purpose whatsoever, in conjunction with my own or fictitious name, or in reproduction thereof in color or otherwise. I hereby waive all claims for any compensation for such use or for damages. I hereby waive any right I may have to inspect and/or approve the finished product or the advertising copy that may be used in connection therewith or the use to which it may be applied. I hereby warrant that I am of lawful age and have the legal capacity to contract in my own name in the above regard. I state further I have read the above authorization and release, prior to its execution, and that I am fully familiar with the contents thereof.
As the weather heats up, our minds begin to drift towards summer fun – long sun-filled days spent outside, swimming in Lake Washington, visiting with friends, BBQs, and summer camps. Our kids notice it most acutely as they start to wiggle in their classroom seats waiting for the final bell on the final day of school. Here at the agency, we tend to see less of our clients over the summer as families take vacations and the stress from the year melts away in the sun. Our staff doesn’t mind when things slow down – it gives us time to run a program that we look forward to each year:
We know that despite all the excitement that summer can bring, it can often be a boring time for many kids. Every year RAYS staff get together to create a selection of summer group activities for our clients and their families. It’s a chance for our families to get out of the house and take a break from boredom (and sometimes the heat). Through our Summer Activities, we strive to engage our clients in exercising their bodies and their brains with other kids their age that share their passions and interests.
We develop a new program each year and many groups are so popular that they come back again and again. Each group is run by a RAYS team member and is scheduled throughout the week to make it easier for families to attend multiple groups.
Here’s what we’re offering this year:
Henry Moses Aquatic Center
“Dig it Up” Gardening Group
“Giggles & Wiggles” Group (4-6 yrs)
Sports Group (6-12 yrs)
“My Superhero Story” (6-10 yrs)
Creative Arts Group (8-12 yrs)
Teen Stress Reduction (12+ yrs)
Body Respect Group (12+ yrs)
“Write Your Guts Out” Creative Journaling Group (14+ yrs)
“Who’s Turn is it?” Board Game Group (14+ yrs)
Alphabet Soup – LGBTIQA (13-17 yrs)
Explore Seattle (14+ yrs)
If you, your child, or your family are clients at RAYS and want to learn more about our Summer Activities Program, speak with your clinician at your next appointment. They can help you sign up!
In addition to our Summer Activities, we are so excited to again be a part of the Free Renton Summer Lunch Program! Monday through Friday from July 10th to August 18th, children ages 1-18 can stop by our downtown office between 12-1pm for a free lunch. You do not have to be a client or even register – just show up. We know it can be hard for some families when school lunches are no longer available. Let us help ease that burden so you can focus on other things this summer like fun in the sun!