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Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Faculty Spotlight

Richmont Welcomes New Full-Time Faculty

Richmont is pleased to welcome 3 incoming faculty to begin this fall, in addition to a new Director of Atlanta Clinical Training:

Dr. Michael Jones Dr. Michael Jones comes to us from the clinical faculty at Southern New Hampshire University, where he taught a full load while also maintaining a robust private practice with special emphasis on church outreach.  Also a seminary graduate, Dr. Jones completed his Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision at Regent University, where his work focused on self-esteem among biracial adults.  “Richmont has a strong history of equipping therapists with a mission of changing the world,” he says. “I truly feel that is God’s calling that I join the faculty. I am excited about our future together and the Kingdom work we will accomplish.”  Dr. Jones is Richmont’s first faculty member exclusively dedicated to serving our online students.

Dr. Jack UnderwoodDr. Jack Underwood is an Atlanta local, the founder of Rise and Renew Counseling with offices in Buckhead and Norcross.  He completed his Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision at Mercer University, where his research focused on utilizing the Delphi method to measure self-love.  “One of the greatest experiences, for me personally, as a counselor educator is to integrate Faith and Spirituality into the learning process for counselors-in-training as they grow in their Christian and professional identities” he explains.  “Being in the business of healing and transformation and having the freedom to bring the ultimate Healer and Transformer into the classroom at Richmont Graduate University, is an experience I am very much looking forward to and grateful for.”  Dr. Underwood will be working from the Atlanta campus.

Dr. Preston HillDr. Preston Hill has been serving us tremendously in an adjunct capacity, most notably teaching Dr. Dan Sartor’s courses during his sabbatical.  Dr. Hill recently completed a PhD in Theology at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, having previously completed an MLitt degree in Analytic and Exegetical Theology from the Logos Institute at St Andrews.  This fall he is releasing his first coauthored book with Scott Harrower and Joshua Cockayne entitled Dawn of Sunday: The Trinity and Trauma-Safe Church (Cascade), and is releasing his first edited volume entitled Christ and Trauma: Theology East of Eden (Pickwick Publications).  He has worked closely with Dr. Sartor on key curricular revisions to ensure that Richmont’s hallmark of integration is sustained throughout our coursework.  Dr. Hill is also in the process of supervision for licensure as a pastoral therapist in Tennessee.

LaShay DowleyOur new Director of Clinical Training in Atlanta is LaShay Dowley, a Richmont alumnus and an entrepreneurial clinical leader who has experienced success over a remarkable 20 plus-year career.  She is the owner of Enduring Connections Counseling Group in Decatur, and has served our interns in several roles, including a Hope Center site coordinator. “Shay Dowley is excellence personified,” Dr. Myers comments. “She has been of our greatest assets, often serving six Richmont interns a year for several years. She brings a wealth of clinical knowledge and experience…I am fully confident that she will provide high clinical excellence and a high level of integrity to the Director of Clinical Training role.” She assumed her new role in July.

Richmont Faculty Spotlight – Dr. Sonja Sutherland

  1. What are your roles at Richmont Graduate University?

Dr. Sutherland is an Associate Professor of Counseling at Richmont Graduate University’s School of Counseling, and the inaugural Director of the Office of Diversity & Inclusion. She also serves as the Dean of Assessment, Planning & Accreditation, overseeing strategic planning, and program and institutional accreditation.

  1. What do you love about working at Richmont?

What I love most about being at Richmont is connecting with students, past and present. Contributing to and watching both the personal and professional growth of current students as they walk through the program is one of my most enjoyable professional endeavors. Just this week I experienced the pleasure of reconnecting with Richmont alum. I have enjoyed not only the faculty-student relationships while they were here, but also those ongoing relationships where we talk about their post-graduation achievements and challenges, and even collaboration on research and other professional projects.  It’s a joy to continue watching and contributing to their growth, even after they’ve left the doors of Richmont. Although though the pandemic has led to a great deal more interaction virtually than in person, these connections have not deteriorated in any way.

  1. Tell us about your counseling expertise.

In the field of counseling since 1998, and licensed since 2001, Dr. Sutherland has provided therapeutic services in the private practice, psychiatric residential, in-home, and outpatient mental health settings, for adolescents and adults, through individual, group, couples, and family therapy. She has specialized in working with adolescents, couples and families for the last 22 years. One of Dr. Sutherland’s historical research interests has been evidence-based treatment within residential settings for commercially sexually exploited youth, which was a primary focus of her clinical expertise during her years as a clinician in the psychiatric residential setting. Her ongoing research interests include counselor cultural competence development and counselor supervision.  Within the last 5 years, Dr. Sutherland has provided training, researched, and published in the areas of racial trauma, counselor cultural competence development and training, provision of culturally-informed clinical intervention and supervision, and social justice advocacy. Dr. Sutherland’s primary clinical practice currently centers on providing clinical supervision services to post-master’s clinicians pursuing licensure. 

During her years in the field, Dr. Sutherland has also served as a Director of Mental Health and Clinical Services for mid – large sized outpatient mental health organizations providing therapeutic intervention in the Cobb, Atlanta, and Stone Mountain areas. In this capacity, Dr. Sutherland provided strategic and financial direction, administrative oversight and accountability for clinical service provision, as well as clinical supervision for mental health professionals providing services to the community at large.

Dr. Sutherland is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in the state of Georgia, a Board Certified Telemental Health Counselor (BC-TMH), and an Approved Clinical Supervisor (ACS). Dr. Sutherland earned her PhD (Counselor Education and Supervision) from Regent University, Masters of Science (Professional Counseling) from Georgia State University, and Bachelor of Science (Psychology) from New York University.

During the last 30 years, Dr. Sutherland has served as a guest lecturer, trainer and presenter for various state, regional and national counselor professional organizations including the ACES, SACES, ASERVIC, CAPS, GCCA, AMHCA, and LPCAGA. Additionally, she has provided training for social, civic, educational and clinical organizations such as Esyr, Kaiser, the University of Georgia, Boys & Girls Club of Metro Atlanta, Skyland Trail, the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Certification Board of Georgia, the Foster Families Treatment Association, the Woman’s Missionary Union of New York, the Women’s Missionary Union of the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Office for School Counselor Advocacy, Elite Women of Excellence, local churches, and various mental health agencies.

My Personal Endeavors

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Dr. Sutherland is the founder and CEO of Legacy Changers Worldwide, LLC, an organization dedicated to providing family education and mental and emotional wellness resources. The Legacy Changers Worldwide umbrella has provided support through the Legacy Changers Counseling Center, The Family Healing RoomVASAYO, and previously as host of a local Atlanta talk-radio show focusing on family relationships and mental wellness. In addition, Dr. Sutherland is an NBCC approved provider of continuing education for mental health professionals, and provides postgraduate training and supervision through Legacy Professional Development & Training, LLC. 

  1. Historically, the BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) community has struggled with the stigma related to mental health counseling. This struggle seems to be lifting within the BIPOC community such that mental health counseling seems to be accepted. Do you agree or disagree?

Certainly, there are pockets within the BIPOC community where the stigma of mental health is not as prevalent. Some of that may be linked to socio-economic status, age, gender and the like. Overall though, I don’t believe there has been significant dissipation of stigma surrounding mental health support within the BIPOC community. I think the entrenchment of that stigma can be attributed to the strength of some of the primary associations counseling has had with social service institutions. Unfortunately, the introduction of mental health services within the BIPOC community decades ago was often linked to a family’s involvement with social service systems that mandated counseling as part of the overall intervention. As a result, the distrust of structurally racist public and institutional policy within social service agencies was extended to counseling by association. This distrust was compounded by the significant lack of BIPOC counselors to work with these families. Being forced to engage with white mental health professionals who historically were quick to diagnose and medicate severe mental illness, while also denying the experience and impact of structural and interpersonal racism, often served to justify this lack of trust. In the last 30 – 40 years, there hasn’t been a significant shift in the realities of this dynamic. The health and racial pandemics of 2020 highlighted the pervasiveness and often life-threatening impact of systemic and interpersonal racism across multiple human experience domains. For instance, the disproportionately negative impact of the health pandemic for BIPOC was linked directly to poverty, poor healthcare options, and inequitable access to safe housing and educational technology). Additionally, there was stark clarity surrounding the significantly higher vulnerability to police brutality that is experienced by BIPOC. All of this contributes to ongoing mistrust, and extends itself to the mental health field. As has been the case for decades, there is still a significant underrepresentation of BIPOC service providers, and there is still a significant lack of understanding on the part of dominant culture clinicians when it comes to cultural differences and the impact of racial trauma and structural racism. These are some reasons the challenges presented by mental health stigma is still a significant concern.

  1. In 2020, racial injustice of African Americans at the hands of Police Officers and others peaked at unforeseen highs this year.  These injustices caused wide-spread tension across the nation and negative attention across the globe. What advice would you offer people who suffer anxiety, depression, and burnout from the cumulative exposure to racial discrimination via the media?

I think it’s more accurate to say that racial injustice has become more obvious to many within the dominant culture, such that there is no way to deny its reality or continue to pretend to be unaware.  What became more visible because of the media is not new – it’s always been the case. And in reality, what people saw on television was only a fraction of all such cases that occurred this year. Only a few of the more sensationalized incidents were highlighted – George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Ahmad Arbury. As time has passed, we’ve seen a decrease in media coverage about what is an ongoing and pervasive reality for BIPOC.  Nonetheless, I agree that the increased visibility of the realities of police brutality through the media that we saw in 2020 was indeed traumatic, and influenced unprecedented and wide-spread tension for many in our country and across the globe.  And I think that tension is more than warranted. At the same time, the experience of anxiety, depression, and burnout from the cumulative exposure to racial discrimination via the media has more to do than with just police brutality. And how one manages the emotional and psychological toll of these cumulative exposures can be complicated and thus will take time, and will look different depending on where you sit at the table of injustice.

For some, their expressions of anxiety, depression and/or other traumatic stress response are related to being repeatedly faced with realities they would prefer not be true. For many of these people it is a jarring of their concept of the world, a dismantling of what they have been taught was true but now seems to be otherwise. And rather than avoiding the impact of this, they are instead being pressed in differing ways to confront the answers to questions ranging from “How can this really be true?” and “Why didn’t I know this?” to “What does this mean about me?”. For people who choose to pursue truth, they will need to be ready to also consider all the distressing and potentially unmooring answers to all the questions in between.

For others who have known these truths as evidenced in their own lives, their realities go beyond anxiety and depression to a much more chronically experienced lifelong complex trauma, often referred to in the black community as racial battle fatigue.   More than the witnessing of the racial injustices of 2020 that have been sensationalized by the media, racial battle fatigue represents the accumulation of repeated lifelong exposure to interpersonal and structural microaggressions. It describes the psychological, physiological and behavioral strain that is experienced because of the significant amount of energy that individuals within the BIPOC community expend fighting against daily interaction with racism. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had in the last many months as our nation has experienced the political war playing out within our country. For everyone that connected with me who were members of the BIPOC community, the emotional and psychological strain was tremendous.  The polarization that was driven by our elected leaders was severe, and a great deal of that polarization was characterized within racially and culturally demoralizing messages, and/or had significantly negative impact on the BIPOC community as a whole more than on any other cultural demographic. The large majority (if any) of those messages were never publicly, collectively and demonstratively rebuked by elected officials who held the most power. Because of this what was at truly at stake was the answer to the question – “Do we REALLY matter?”

So, you can see how the ways people suffer are so different, and the reasons and complexity of their anxiety, depression, and traumatic stress are so different.

Richmont Faculty Spotlight – Dr. Keith Myers

A Moment with Dr. Keith Myers


Dr. Keith Myers, Dean of Clinical Affairs and Associate Professor of Richmont Graduate University

1. What are your roles at Richmont Graduate University?

Yes, I work in two roles at Richmont. My first role is Associate Professor. This includes primarily teaching and advising students. I see both teaching and advising as equally vital to mentoring and developing students.

First, teaching in the classroom imparts theoretical and empirical knowledge while applying that knowledge to a real world clinical context. It’s teaching students how to sit with people in the midst of their darkness, and how to celebrate their joys and victories, and everything in between.  Teaching is the primary reason I went back to school for my Ph.D. in my late 30s, and I’m so thankful I can teach at such a vibrant and strong community.

Second, I work from a developmental and interpersonal approach in my advising. I have a great passion for mentoring students in their professional careers, while providing support during their management of life. In my mind, advising is where the personal and professional most collide during their Richmont experience. Advising also provides important touch points for the student while navigating what can be a difficult program both academically and intrapersonally.

2. What do you love about working at Richmont Graduate University?

Well, that’s a good question. As I’ve recently begun my 5th year at Richmont, I’ve reflected on this several times. My love is mostly about the people.  We have a wonderful faculty and we all like each other and get along well…you might be surprised how much this is not the case across academia.

So yes, I enjoy collaborating about teaching, writing, and mentoring students with our top-notch faculty.  Our staff is also at the top of the game and should not be forgotten. They are usually juggling at least two hats and help us do the day-to-day operations. It’s nice to have a President who supports the faculty and serves as a visionary in making our university a national treasure and helping us develop a plan to achieve that goal.  And then, for me chiefly, it’s the care for the students. Due to COVID-19, when we had to transition to fully online in most of the Spring and all of Summer, I missed the professional and personal interactions with the students and their presence in the classrooms. We have some of the finest, brightest, most resilient, and loving students bar none! And you know when these traits show the most? They show most when they begin sitting with clients in the sacred ground of darkness, and that is something I’m proudest of as I get to have a hand in that process of their becoming mental health first responders.

So essentially, this all comes down to what a lot of others have already noted that is distinctive at Richmont – we are RICH in community. And for that, it feels like this will be my academic home for a long time.

3. Many people are experiencing stress, anxiety, and depression due to the current global pandemic. Do you have any tips to help?

Absolutely, it’s such a stressful time for many people during this season of uncertainty on so many levels.  For me, I’m noticing that it is easy to get out of rhythm or balance with everything going on now. So it has been helpful to remind myself to partake in an established Sabbath, a 24-hour period where I don’t do any work. I reflect about what God has done, and I spend time with family. This has a re-centering effect of sorts. Of course, I encourage those of us to continue with or reengage with therapy as these times have a way of evoking our shadow and personal issues. These two have been helpful for me. But, I think the most important piece in all of this collective traumatic experience is to give ourselves grace.

4. You have served on the Executive Board of Directors for the Military & Government Counseling Association (MGCA), a division of the American Counseling Association (ACA). Why are you passionate about counseling or mental health therapy for military veterans?

Well, it’s been an interesting journey. I tell students that I didn’t find my professional identity/niche until I had practiced 10 years in the field (So if that’s you reading this as a clinician, don’t give up!). After a few months of being unemployed, I secured a job at the Shepherd Center, a top-notch catastrophic care hospital in Atlanta for traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury. At Shepherd Center, they have an excellent residential program for military members who acquired a brain injury during their service. It was shortly after I started there, that I realized that this population and acquiring additional training in trauma treatment deeply resonated with me.  Personally, I realized why this was the case.  My dad served in the Navy during WWII and both of my brothers served in various branches, and I realized that this was a good professional and personal fit for me due to the unique things about military culture and values that fit with who I was as a person.  So serving on the Board of Directors with the Military & Government Counseling Association for two years made sense to me while empowering more counselors to get into military work.

Counseling Veterans5. I understand you are recently published, tell us more about the book?

I am so excited to talk about my first published book, Counseling veterans: A practical guide.  This project was a labor of love with my co-author, Dr. David Lane. This book is primarily for graduate students who are training to serve in the mental health professions or for clinicians who want to obtain an introduction to the population and common clinical issues that arise.  Each chapter includes a feature called Veteran Voices. This feature is taken from interviews with veterans about the chapter’s topic and really makes the material come alive. Other features include counseling sessions at a glance which provide a case vignette and a glimpse into what an actual session might look like exploring the topic at-hand. It is published by Cognella Academic Press, and readers can obtain a copy here: https://titles.cognella.com/counseling-veterans-9781793516268