Mental health services program promotes caring for others, self

Dec 18, 2019Courtney Morris

Many people experience turning points.

For Larry Wyntjes, that moment came not around New Year's but when an oil and gas buy-out left him unemployed after 20 years in sales and marketing.

"I took a series of sales gigs and realized that sales at any level had ceased to be fulfilling for me," he said.

Because addiction had affected his family, Wyntjes chose a 180. He enrolled full time in San Jacinto College's mental health services program at the North Campus to become a licensed chemical dependency counselor.

Today, Wyntjes serves as the executive director of Clear Lake's Into Action Recovery Center, a personalized addiction treatment center for drug and alcohol abuse.

After changing careers, he now changes lives.

"It's my job to create a culture . . . that attracts and motivates clients to recovery and the staff to compassionate, diligent care for both themselves and our clients," Wyntjes said. "There are some heartbreaks, to be sure, but the wins are incredible. Frequently, they are referred to as miracles by clients and their families."

Giving, fulfilling career

Mental health services program students come from all walks.

Like Wyntjes, some have walked alongside family or friends who struggle with mental health and substance abuse disorders. Some have overcome challenges themselves. Others are veterans wanting to help other vets. But most share maturity, emotional intelligence, and compassion.

"It's not a career that individuals get into for the money, but it is one that brings immense satisfaction," Cayman Tirado, mental health services program director, said.

The program offers a clinical and counseling psychology associate degree with mental health technician, substance abuse counseling, and prevention specialist certifications. Or students may pursue the individual certifications outside the associate degree.

Students can expect a rigorous, interactive program with licensed faculty who hold graduate degrees and practice in the field. Depending on the track they pursue, graduates work everywhere from K-12 substance abuse prevention programs to treatment/recovery facilities.

"This is one of the only fields where you can become a counselor without a graduate degree," Tirado said.

Self-care for the caregiver

After training and a final practicum/internship, program graduates are ready to enter the mental health services field and help others. But what they may not realize up front is the need to care for themselves.

"This is not an easy population to work with. There are highs and lows, and it requires a commitment to self-care to prevent burnout," Tirado said.

No matter what your career or personal situation, overextending yourself for others can lead to ignoring your own needs.

Wyntjes echoes this. Although he learned about the need for self-care in his classes, now he has experienced it. To be his best for clients, he must prioritize his health.

"Self-care may look like exercise, diet, getting plenty of sleep, setting boundaries with clients," he said. "It's revitalizing yourself spiritually in whatever form that may take with you."

Have a desire for a compassionate career that will challenge and fulfill? Check out mental health services, Tirado said.

"We have open enrollment. If you have a giant heart and desire to help others in need, talk to us," she said. "We would love to support you on your path to success."

Or need some tips for improving your own mental health in the new year? Tirado offers five questions to reset your priorities (see below).

"Many of us rush from one thing to another, not taking time to be present with ourselves or others," she said. "Pause to explore these questions as they relate to your life and mental wellness in 2020."

Self-care Tips

‘Tis the season for resolving to change. Thinking about diet and exercise? San Jacinto College’s Cayman Tirado encourages self-reflection first. Ask yourself these questions:
  1. Am I doing too much?

  2. Am I taking time daily to do something that brings me joy?

  3. When did I last spend time outdoors? (Bonus: It reduces stress and lowers blood pressure.)

  4. How much time do I spend expressing love to others?

  5. Do I treat myself kindly?