SNOQUALMIE – Sheila Hunter has been studying the way people work since she was a first grader, sitting on the slide, watching the whole spectrum of human emotions play out on the playground.
“I’d watch other kids play and do little experiments,” Hunter said. “I’d just watch these kids and say, he’s going to react this way, she’s going to get mad and not verbalize it…”
Now a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC), Hunter is still studying peoples’ emotions, albeit in a slightly more professional location.
As of June 1, Hunter has been seeing clients out a little office in downtown Snoqualmie, which she shares with fellow counselor Jean Brautigam-Mills. Prior to that, she took referrals only and worked for Washington State Child Protective Services for eight years.
Hunter’s career as a LMHC spans 25 years total, though she’s only been seeing local clients for the last three years. Hunter has worked for large mental health agencies in Seattle, counseling individuals, couples, adults, youth and children in the areas of anxiety, panic, depression, mild traumatic brain injury and sexual assault. Hunter, a Valley resident of 20 years, is also qualified to do minority counseling for African Americans and Native Americans.
As of Sept. 1, Hunter will be seeing clients five days a week from noon to 9 p.m.
Hunter studied business as an undergraduate and later went to law school before she got into the therapy field. “It clicked. I knew I was there. It just took me a while. It was a round-about way to get from that playground to where I am today.”
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Hunter later moved to Chicago, and then to Idaho at the age of 32 to work in hospice care in Sun Valley, Idaho, where she had a part-time practice. Graduate school brought Hunter to Seattle, where she studied psychology.
Hunter said while she has much to offer from her experience as a long-time counselor, she also has a lot of life experience to draw from.
“I’ve lived in a lot of other places. I can pretty much identify with anybody. I meet people where they are. There’s no ideal client. I meet them where they are and we work from there.”
All sorts of people can benefit from counseling, said Hunter. She mentioned a few life scenarios that might point to a need for counseling.
“If something is interfering with your life; if you’re on spouse No. 5 and don’t know why; if you stay in bed for three days without even getting up to go to the bathroom; general apathy; feeling all alone or like you missed the parade; or just wanting to look at something that happened years ago, like being in a war or domestic violence or molestation,” Hunter said. “You get to a point where you want to look at something because it’s safe now.”
Also, if enough people are telling you to, that’s also a good sign that you need counseling, said Hunter, who noted counseling doesn’t have to be forever.
“Often the first session is the most effective,” Hunter said. “A lot of people who are just mildly disjointed get what they need in one to three sessions.”
Hunter also said those who take antidepressants usually benefit more if they supplement talk therapy with their medications.
“Many studies have shown that talk therapy with medicine is the best plan. A lot of what we call mental health problems are just chemical imbalances. It’s physical. So that takes some of the heat off.”
Hunter has been married 15 years to Rusty Rae and has a son, Joe, who graduated from Mount Si High School. When Hunter isn’t helping Valley clients she is often researching her Scottish heritage (she’s a big buff of Bristish). She’s also taken up the fiddle, enjoys gardening and looking after her backyard chickens at her home in unincorporated North Bend.
Hunter recently gathered other counselors together in the Valley to begin an informal organization in which Valley counselors can congregate to talk about mental health topics, listen to special speakers and get additional training to broaden their scope. Since the group refers patients internally amongst themselves, it helps for the colleagues to get to know each other.
* The next meeting for counselors only is July 22 at 11 a.m. at the Fall City Grill. Hunter said anyone who provides mental health care or counseling (i.e. school counselors) is invited to attend. Call Hunter for information on the group or counseling services at (425) 888-9804.