When University of Houston-Victoria graduate student Sarah Holland got an internship working at the Crossroads Area Veterans Center in Victoria, she didn’t expect it to lead to a full-time position.
“I’m a Navy veteran, so I can relate to other veterans and their families,” said Holland, who lives in Victoria. “This job is a good fit for me because I have personal experience with many of the common elements of returning to civilian life after serving in the military.”
Holland will earn her Master of Education in clinical mental health counseling in August from the UHV School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development. She is a peer specialist for the veterans center, where she primarily works with female veterans and veterans’ families.
She received the internship when a representative from the center came to UHV looking for an intern. Soon after, she was asked to apply for the full-time position. As part of her job, Holland puts together monthly events for veterans and their families. These include equine therapy sessions, children’s events and family support groups.
“Reaching out to female veterans can be very different than male veterans,” Holland said. “A lot of women aren’t as vocal about identifying themselves as veterans as men are. They tend to see it as an important experience, but they often just settle back to their previous roles in civilian life.”
Holland’s own experience as a veteran is part of why she is successful, said Linda Autry, a UHV assistant professor of counseling education. Autry wrote a letter of reference for Holland’s job application.
“It’s exciting to see a student like Sarah, who has so much potential, find a position where she can use her skills,” Autry said. “Many veterans are more willing to trust a fellow veteran because of that common experience. I know she will be a competent counselor using the skills she developed at UHV.”
The main focus of Holland’s work is promoting mental health for veterans and their families, she said. The center received a mental health grant from the state, and that money goes toward clinical and nonclinical mental health services for area veterans.
Holland helps people develop coping skills to handle issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and bereavement. In addition, she helps people who have reservations about pursuing mental health assistance.
“There’s still such a stigma about trying to get help for mental health issues because people are worried that others will say they’re crazy,” Holland said. “I tell people, ‘If you break your leg, you go to the doctor. If your mind isn’t working properly, it’s time to get that fixed.’ Sometimes just letting people talk about their problems helps them find their own answers.”
The Master of Education in clinical mental health counseling was accredited in 2016 by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs. The program was initially accredited in 2010 as a master’s in community counseling program. That accreditation is a strong endorsement of the quality and high standards UHV has for its graduates, Autry said.
Those high standards and the excellent instruction from faculty members are instrumental to her work, Holland said.
“Everything I have learned at UHV has completely prepared me for this position,” she said. “I’m so grateful for the faculty who have guided me on a personal level and taken the time to help me prepare to be the best counselor I can be.”
Once she receives her degree, Holland plans to become a Licensed Professional Counselor and continue her work at the veterans center.
“Sarah is one of the many success stories from UHV’s counseling programs,” said Fred Litton, dean of the UHV School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development. “Our goal is to train excellent, caring professionals who will make a difference in their communities. Sarah exemplifies that in her work with the Victoria area veterans’ community.”