From City Kid to Country Doctor
Psychologist Steve Broer grew up in the suburbs of Long Island just outside of New York City – but he ended up living and working in rural Vermont, where he brings mental health programs to mostly low-income clients in a community mental health center.
Steve’s interest in psychology goes back to his childhood.
“I was pretty shy as a child and adolescent and I think that influenced me to be more of an observer,” he says. “I have always been curious about people and wonder why we do what we do. As I grew older, I witnessed the emotional suffering of others and found myself being drawn to wanting to understand.”
A Trek to Understand
In 1983, Steve earned his undergraduate degree in psychology and communications from Marist College in New York and in 1985 he earned his master’s in rehab counseling from St. John’s University in New York. He was already ensconced in his career when he decided to go for his PsyD degree; he was a lecturer and later a research assistant professor at the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion at the University of Vermont, where he worked on programs that would help kids with disabilities integrate into their schools and communities.
“I was familiar with different graduate programs in the area, but I was interested in Antioch’s program, their mission, and the fact that a lot of their students were nontraditional students,” he says. “I was a mid-career learner, and I knew I could make Antioch’s program work with my schedule.” This proved to be correct and he earned his Antioch University New England PsyD degree in 2000.
Steve became interested in rural mental health services when he moved to Vermont in 1985. “I particularly liked the sense of rural communities and the idea of working with some of the more disenfranchised in the community,” he says. “Eighty percent of the people we serve are low income.” While he works with both adults and children, he’s often touched by the vulnerability of kids and enjoys the way he can be playful with them. Kids’ resilience is also a factor: “If you can be proactive and support a child with an issue early in their life, you stand a chance of preventing the issue from having too much of an impact as they get older,” he explains.
Helping Where Help is Needed
Currently, Steve is the director of behavior health services at Northwestern Counseling and Support Services in St. Albans, Vermont. He sees patients, has administrative responsibilities, and manages the eighty staff members in his division. In addition, he develops mental health programs for the community and supports teams that are working on more challenging referrals. The PsyD program at Antioch, he says, helped prepare him for such multiple roles. He is intrigued with the idea of developing programs to bring mental health services to people who don’t have access to reliable transportation or who may be reluctant to visit a clinic.
“Some of the traditional service delivery models have limitations in rural settings and with the poor,” he explains. “I think you have to meet people where they are. Because of stigma associated with mental illness, some of the people who really need services may not come to a clinic like this.”
To address this issue, Steve is hoping to develop programs to integrate mental health services into general health practices. For example, his team is looking at developing a chronic pain group in the local hospital instead of at the clinic. In years past, you could find such bring-health-to-the-people programs only at medical-school hospitals or in veterans’ administration settings; now, the idea is gaining hold in all kinds of medical settings.
Though working in the public sector can be difficult, Steve says he gets a lot of satisfaction from his job and enjoys collaborating with professionals who have the same goals. “You feel like you’re making a difference,” he says. “While it’s challenging, on a good day you really feel like you’re having an impact.”