Therapist Q&A: Get to know Hazel Health Therapist Teri Chalker

Therapist Q&A series! In this Q&A, we invite you to get to know Teri Chalker, LCSW, one of our excellent therapists!
5 Minutes
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Updated
Published
May 15, 2023

Based in Missouri, Teri Chalker, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), is among the many excellent Hazel Health therapists providing care to students! We had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Teri about her background, hobbies, and why she chose a career with Hazel Health.

As we talked, it became very clear that Teri is genuinely passionate about working with students. During our conversation, Teri talked about her path to becoming a social worker, some of her favorite teletherapy strategies, and what it's like being a Hazel Health therapist.

Q: What made you choose a career in Mental Health?

A: My journey into mental health was anything but straightforward. Initially, I had planned to become a dietician. After completing high school, my dad (a devoted fan and KU alumni) wanted me to stay in state and attend his alma mater, Kansas University. Since KU did not offer a dietetics program at the time, I negotiated with my dad. I agreed to attend KU for a year, where I would explore alternative career paths. If I were still determined to become a dietician after a year, I would transfer to a university that offered a dietician program. 

I attended an orientation during my freshman year and was placed into a social work interest group. The group facilitator suggested that my passion for talking to people would make me an excellent fit for a career in mental health.

My dad ultimately got his way, and I ended up loving all four years at KU. I graduated with a Bachelors degree in Social Work. I later received my Master's degree in Social Work from Southern Illinois University (SIU) Carbondale.

Q: What did you do before you joined Hazel Health?

A: I started my career as a school counselor, where I thoroughly enjoyed working in a school environment and helping students. As a school counselor, I had other responsibilities that took my time away from focusing on the students. I wondered if there was a way to work with children more exclusively while still making a significant impact.

One night, while scrolling through job postings, I stumbled upon Hazel Health, a teletherapy platform that offers mental health services in K-12 schools. I remember telling my husband, “this seems too good to be true!”  Hazel was everything I had been searching for, and I knew it was too good not to try. Staying at the school would have been comfortable, but I knew I need to give Hazel a shot!

Q: You’ve been with Hazel Health for over a year now! How has your experience been so far?

A: Since joining the Hazel team over a year ago, I have been absolutely thrilled with my decision! Working at Hazel has allowed me to do what I enjoy most: connecting with children and making a real difference in their lives. 

When I started at Hazel, I was surprised at how much of a connection I could make with students over an iPad. I was willing to give it a shot, but I had no idea the impact it would make. 

I do miss being physically present with my students, but I have found that the distance doesn’t seem to bother them. Sometimes I tell the kids that if I were there with them, I would give them a big hug! This generation of children is no stranger to screen time, so connecting virtually feels familiar to them.

Q: Hazel recognizes that each provider brings a unique skill set. Do you have any specializations? If so, how have you incorporated that into your practice at Hazel?

A: Having previously worked as a school counselor, I bring a unique perspective to the Hazel team. I can relate to the school counselors who initiate contact with us because I understand the school environment and priorities. I want to be on an equal footing with the school staff.

In addition to my work as a school counselor, I also have experience in grief therapy from working in hospice. We see a lot of grief in schools. Many students have had a grandparent pass away or a sibling who committed suicide. We see a lot of anxiety, but we also see a lot of grief.

Q: What is your team like at Hazel Health?

A: I have really enjoyed the team aspect of working at Hazel. My team is always available for support and encouragement. I really feel like Slack is my office! When I need clarity or I just want to chat about my day, my team is there on Slack with encouraging responses like “We can do this! and “You’ve got this.” I never feel alone.

Q: What are some of your favorite therapy strategies?

A: Depending on the child's age, I use various therapy techniques during my sessions. Sessions might be geared more toward play or more towards education.

I use my whiteboard a lot! For younger students, from kindergarten to maybe second grade, I love to draw a suitcase, and together we fill the suitcase with items they can pull out and use when emotions get high. For example, if a child struggles with anxiety, I might help them fill their suitcase with calm-down strategies. This gives them tools they can use anytime, anywhere! 

For older students, I draw out a feelings volcano. I explain to them that the volcano's top is where emotions explode! On one side, we write out calm-down strategies to use; on the other, we write triggers. I remind them that we really need to discuss how to keep their emotions from getting to the top of the volcano by identifying triggers. This helps the student have conversations with their parents and loved ones about the way they are feeling.

Example of an empty suitcase worksheet

On whether it's difficult to connect with students via teletherapy

"This generation of children is no stranger to screen time, so connecting virtually feels familiar to them."

Q: Do you give your students “homework” to work on after a session?

A: I ask younger students to come up with three things they can do at home to calm down, and then I give them examples according to what they like to do. Examples have been:ᅠ Set a timer for 20 minutes and go to your quiet space:ᅠ figure 8 breathing, reading, crafting, drawing, listening to music, or playing with a favorite toy, to name a few. Then after 20 minutes, I encourage them to talk to a parent/guardian about why they had that strong emotion. It takes the body 20 minutes to calm down. Having a conversation before the body can calm down is not be beneficial.

For older kids, I usually ask them for three things they would like to stop doing and three things they would like to start doing. I keep note of these and follow up with them about how they are doing with these things in future sessions. 

Q: Have you faced any challenges since starting with Hazel Health?

A: When I started with Hazel, I felt challenged by technology. It was not my strong suit! But I quickly learned and adapted. Now, my own kids will often come in and see me working on my computer and say, “Wow, mom is all tech!” I’ve learned that technology can be an excellent tool for connecting with students in their own environment. 

One session, I hit the start video button and was surprised to see a giant black snake hanging there! A second-grader popped into the screen and said, “This is my snake. I wanted you to meet him!” Virtual therapy allows me to meet a child where they are most comfortable, and sometimes that’s at home with their pet snake!

Q: Studies estimate that somewhere between 21 and 61 percent of mental health practitioners experience burnout. What do you do to avoid burnout?

A: I have always been a planner! My family actually makes fun of me because I always have a plan written out. I make sure to keep my schedule manageable, and if I start to feel overwhelmed, I’ve learned to speak up and ask for help. My supervisor is great, and if I am feeling overwhelmed, I can let her know, and she will put breaks in my schedule. I try to have 5-10 minutes between sessions to process the last session and prepare for the next. I’ve had to practice self-discipline and remind myself that asking for help is okay!

I also take all my vacation time and plan my trips at the beginning of the year. This ensures I commit to taking time off, and nothing will interfere. It also gives me something to look forward to!

Q: Who are you outside of your career?

Teri with her husband on the beach at sunset

A: I live in Missouri. I split my time between Kansas City and my family’s lake house in the Ozarks. I am married with two adult children. One is married, and one is about to get married in December! We really enjoy time together at the lake. Sometimes my kids bring their friends up and we have a great time. I love anything water related and I love being in the sunshine! I will admit that I am not as happy when I am stuck inside while the weather is nice. 

Teri enjoying the lake with her husband and dog, Ellie

Thanks, Teri, for a wonderful conversation!

Teri is an incredibly valuable member of the Hazel Health team. We are extremely lucky to have her on board, bringing her expertise, passion, and unwavering commitment to promoting the mental health of students. Alongside a team of dedicated therapists, Teri is helping make sure that each and every child is listened to, understood, and provided with the best possible care. 

Interested in a career with Hazel Health? Check out our current Mental Health openings.

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About Hazel

Hazel Health, the leader in school-based telehealth, partners with school districts to provide mental and physical health services to K-12 students where they are–at school or home. Hazel’s diverse, culturally competent providers specialize in the health challenges of children and teens and partner with parents and school staff to make the best care decisions for students. Hazel is committed to improving health care equity and is available regardless of family income, geography, insurance status, or ability to pay. Hazel’s mission is to transform children’s access to health care, because when students feel better, they learn better.

Learn more at hazel.co.

About Hazel

Hazel Health, the leader in school-based telehealth, partners with school districts to provide mental and physical health services to K-12 students where they are–at school or home. Hazel's diverse, culturally competent providers work with parents and school staff to transform children's access to health care, because when students feel better, they learn better.

Learn more at hazel.co.

About Hazel

Hazel Health, the leader in school-based telehealth, partners with school districts to provide mental and physical health services to K-12 students where they are–at school or home. Hazel serves nearly 2 million students across 100 school districts, helping to reduce chronic absenteeism and unfinished learning by addressing gaps in health care access. As an extension of the school health team, Hazel helps schools immediately address student physical and mental health care needs. Hazel’s mission is to transform children’s access to health care because when students feel better, they learn better.

Learn more at Hazel.co/hazel-in-schools.

About Hazel

Hazel Health, the leader in school-based telehealth, partners with school districts to provide mental and physical health services to K-12 students where they are–at school or home. Hazel helps school districts address chronic absenteeism, unfinished learning, and school enrollment, by addressing gaps in health care access.

Learn more at Hazel.co/hazel-in-schools.

About Hazel

Hazel Health, the leader in school-based telehealth, partners with school districts and families to provide mental and physical health services to K-12 students where they are–at school or home. Instead of waiting for an appointment with a doctor or therapist, children can see a Hazel provider for a telehealth visit, at no cost to families. With guardian permission, Hazel’s telehealth platform allows children to connect with a health care provider within minutes, or a therapist within days of referral. Hazel’s providers can help with everything from allergies and stomach aches to anxiety and depression. With Hazel, children can get the care they need when they need it.

Learn more at Hazel.co/how-hazel-works.

About Hazel

Hazel Health, the leader in school-based telehealth, partners with school districts and families to provide mental and physical health services to K-12 students where they are–at school or home. At no cost, and regardless of insurance status, Hazel’s providers can help with everything from allergies and stomach aches to anxiety and depression. With Hazel, children can get the care they need when they need it.

Learn more at Hazel.co/how-hazel-works.

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