By Melissa Parker
"Mental health is just as important as physical health. It's universal... it affects everyone."
“I love to write, and I actually still write some when I get the chance,” said Stonestreet, who has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. “I always thought I’d be a technical writer of some sort, or an English teacher.”
But his first job out of college, working in a residential facility for teens with substance use disorders and behavior problems, led to a change in the direction of his career path. After seeing the impact of his work there, he knew he wanted to spend his professional life in a behavioral health setting, helping others work through their struggles.
Today, Stonestreet believes he’s doing exactly what he was meant to do at Community Care of Bridgeport, where he works as a licensed independent clinical social work therapist (LICSW).
“My favorite part of being a therapist is building a space where my clients feel comfortable opening up,” said Stonestreet, who lives in Fairmont with his wife of 10 years, Maria. “With therapy, it’s the trusting, safe space that helps people. With many other medical professionals, they’re often focusing on a procedure or a medication. With therapy, though, the therapeutic relationship is primary. I firmly believe that I cannot help a patient unless I have a good connection and trust with them.”
Stonestreet has watched CCWV’s behavioral health program grow significantly over the four years he’s been on staff. He attributes it largely to the quality mental health care CCWV provides.
“When I first started with Community Care in 2019, I couldn’t have imagined where the program would be today — in multiple sites, with all these therapists, and the large number of patients we serve,” Stonestreet said. “I was one of only a couple therapists in the company back then. But with the quality care we provide, we keep growing. That’s why I’m here, because of the excellent care we provide. I expect us to keep offering high-level care and to keep growing because of it.”
Although CCWV’s behavioral health program has grown at rapid speed over the last few years, and more people are seeking treatment for mental health concerns, there is still a stigma that surrounds mental health.
“We’ve come a long way in recent years, but the stigma is still there, and it’s especially prevalent in our area,” said Stonestreet. “In the Appalachian rural culture we live in, you don’t really talk about things like mental health struggles.”
Stonestreet said the only way to overcome the stigma, though, is by taking small steps, like talking openly and honestly about it.
“What I’ve discovered in doing this is that the more my clients talk to their families and friends about their struggles, the more they realize how many of their loved ones also struggle,” said Stonestreet. “My clients often wish they would’ve had those conversations sooner… then they would’ve realized that mental health issues are more common than we may think.”
Stonestreet said he tells his patients that they can’t get over something by avoiding it.
“When we try not to think about our struggles or refrain from talking about it, it only makes it worse,” he said. “That’s how a lot of disorders develop. The only way to work through something is to talk about it in an honest way.”
Another step in overcoming the stigma of mental health is by training more qualified therapists who will, as a result, see more patients, making therapy more commonplace. Stonestreet plays a leading role in training interns through CCWV’s internship program.
“We want to teach, and we want to make good clinicians who go into the world and do good work,” said Stonestreet, who oversees the program. “We believe we’re doing things well and that we have valuable experience to offer these students.”
Stonestreet said that burnout in the mental health field is problematic because therapists are underprepared to enter the field; in addition, there is a general lack of other resources to help patients, such as intensive outpatient programs and inpatient facilities.
“At CCWV, we really give students the skills and hands-on training they need to begin working,” said Stonestreet. “And a high percentage of our interns end up working with us after graduation… we offer a very competitive entry position, and they enjoy their internships so much that they choose to work with us. It’s one of the greatest compliments you can give an internship program, when your interns want to work with you.”
One type of therapy Stonestreet hopes to train more therapists in is Parent-Child Interactive Therapy, or PCIT, a highly effective therapy treatment for children ages 2-7 that helps caregivers learn strategies to improve the parent-child relationship and promote positive behaviors in children.
“With PCIT, you see interaction between the parent and child in real time, and you’re able to correct it or coach desired outcomes in real time,” said Stonestreet, who is a certified PCIT therapist at CCWV. “You’re not just telling the parents to go home and try something — they do the activity or exercise in front of me, so I get to see in real time the effectiveness of this type of therapy. Research shows it is very effective… It’s certainly the most effective therapy I do.”
In the future, and with the continued growth of the behavioral health program, more CCWV therapists will be trained in PCIT. Another small step, Stonestreet hopes, in permanently removing the stigma surrounding mental health.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please reach out to a mental health provider. Help is available through Community Care’s behavioral health program. Please call 304-848-5770 or 304-269-9510, or visit www.communitycarewv.org/behavioral-health.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also provides a free, 24/7 Helpline for those struggling or in crisis. It can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).