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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

'I Just Can't See Suffering' — Texas Therapists Share Why They Chose Mental Health Work

Photo illustration KERA News

Whether it's a passion for health care or a desire to help others, many therapists get into the profession for deeply personal reasons. KERA's Syeda Hasan has been talking with therapists around the state. Here are their stories about what drew them to this line of work.

George Ball, Psy.D., LP

Credit Heritage Counseling & Consulting
George Ball

Ball practices at Heritage Counseling and Consulting in Dallas. He'd always loved hearing people's stories, and when he was 17 years old, Ball thought he might want to pursue a career in psychology.

"I had the benefit of going to school with a girl who's father was a psychologist. I called him up at his office, and I said, 'I'd love to kind of pick your brain a little bit about what you do,'" Ball says, "and he said, 'ok, well you're buying lunch.'"

They got together for a gyro and fries, and over the course of several lunches, Ball decided psychology was the path for him.

Today, he specializes in working with men, helping them navigate things like relationships, parenting, anxiety and life changes. In graduate school, Ball was one of the few men in his program, and he found himself fielding more and more requests from male patients.

"I started studying more about men's psychology and what makes men tick and why they suffer, and why they oftentimes... suffer in silence," Ball says. "Men experience depression and anxiety and stress... as much as women do, but due to cultural dictates, they don't seek help. They don't talk to people."

LaKeshia Grant, LPC

Credit LaKeshia Grant
LaKeshia Grant

Grant is the owner of Mindfully Restored Counselingin Dallas. After graduate school, Grant got her first full-time job working at a local psychiatric hospital.

"It's heartbreaking but amazing at the same time, working on the crisis intervention side... but you quickly get burnt out on that end," Grant says. "I was like, 'there has to be a way to help people before they get to crisis. What does that look like?'"

Grant began doing more individual counseling. In 2014, she began working with a group of women recovering from the trauma of sexual abuse.

"Helping women navigate through life, hold space in their own life, take ownership of the space that they're in and feel comfortable with it... I love it," Grant says. "I've always wanted to do it, and I feel really called to do this, so it's just been a great ride."

Luis Zayas, Ph.D.

Credit NPR
Luis Zayas

Zayas is Dean of the Steve Hicks School of Social Workat the University of Texas at Austinan and an expert on the psychological impacts of detention and family separation on children. He's conducted interviews with migrant mothers and their children being held in detention, as well as mixed-status families who have been separated by deportation. Zayas has also published a book on suicide rates among young Latinas.

"Having four sisters, growing up in a very traditional Puerto Rican family, I saw struggle," Zayas says. "There was a sensitivity I guess, that I also grew up with, because as a male, I had certain privileges that they as girls didn't have."

Like many therapists, Zayas says his family instilled in him a desire to help those in need. Zayas was drawn to a career in social work and psychology, working with some of the most vulnerable populations.

"I just can't see suffering," Zayas says. "You know, if a tsunami hits a village of families, that's one thing, but when something [abusive] is done by someone with authority or power or money, that bothers me." 

Syeda Hasan is the Elections Editor and Reporter at KERA. Before moving into that role, she covered mental health at the station. A Houston native, her journalism career has taken her to public radio newsrooms around Texas.