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From the Heart

Mental health counselor Stefanie Pavloski knows the value of being real when helping people overcome life’s challenges.

Stefanie Pavloski remembers a particular client from her first clinical rotation during her master’s program in mental health counseling. He was a young man who had just left prison and was ordered to attend a substance abuse program during his transition to society.

“He didn’t like me. He saw me as this sparkly, happy person who couldn’t relate to his background. In fact, he told me ‘I was a white schoolgirl who didn’t know the streets,’” says Pavloski.

By the time the program ended, he had introduced her to his grandmother and had written her a poem. It was the moment he gave her the poem that she knew she was doing the work she was meant to do—helping others overcome life’s challenges.  

Harbinger of things to come 

Pavloski grew up in Michigan and during high school, she began working for a dermatologist as a medical assistant. She continued working there during college, as well as after graduating from Wayne State University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She explains that she learned a lot during those years, realizing that she wanted to pursue a career where she could help people. It was while she was working for the dermatologist that Pavloski began looking at graduate degree programs. She couldn’t seem to find a good fit, but eventually, she found herself in the right place.

“I was driving and saw a billboard for University of Phoenix and I wondered if it was a sign—figuratively, I mean,” she says, laughing. She drove to the Southfield Campus the next day. “When I walked into the campus office, it was so warm and friendly. It really was an awesome experience and I felt like I was home,” she says.

Pavloski began her program soon after and graduated in January 2012. She made special connections with her instructors—she still keeps in touch with them—and she especially liked the fact that she was in the first class to utilize the Counseling Skill Center on campus. She and her classmates had the opportunity to counsel people in the community with their instructors standing by, ready to encourage and critique in real time.

“I don’t think I’d be the counselor I am today without that experience,” she says. 

Wise counsel

After graduating, Pavloski worked for a behavioral health and substance abuse facility for a few years, and for the past year, she has worked for a family-medicine physician who specializes in addiction. He approached her about counseling his patients, and since she had already worked in that type of setting, she was ecstatic about the opportunity.

Pavloski is involved with outreach activities and volunteers in the community. She also works with a private practice to counsel their clients.

Along the way, Pavloski feels like every opportunity has been a blessing, not just in terms of her career but in her personal life, as well. Recently, one of her friend’s brothers passed away. Although she counsels for a living, she says it was difficult to help her friend.

“Nothing is appropriate at a time like that,” she says. But she did what she could to help with the memorial service, making hope pins with a yellow ribbon—a symbolic color. And she shared that heartbreaking experience with her individual group therapy.

“I’m only human. I think it’s important to be real to people rather than just say things. You always have to speak from the heart,” says Pavloski. 

"I'm only human. I think it's important to be real to people rather than just say things. You always have to speak from the heart."
– Stefanie Pavloski

Working on the system

However, she admits that not every day is rewarding and some clients make her wonder how she continues day in and day out.

“Sometimes you think you can’t help someone, that you can’t get through to them. But at the end of the day, you just have to listen and be there for them. Even a smile can be impactful in someone’s day,” she explains.

In the future, Pavloski hopes to move on to a clinical director position, where she can train clinicians and also improve the protocol in the mental health care system. She would like services to be more accessible to a larger percentage of the population. She would also like to see employers adapt health-wellness programs for their employees. Everything from a 30-minute stress reduction program to time management skills and nutrition counseling.

What advice would she give people interested in the mental-health field?

“It’s a field that has a lot of variety, counseling, mentoring, teaching, workshops. It allows you to help others. The reward is knowing that I make a difference in my clients’ lives. Everyone has obstacles and challenges, but if we can help them take small steps that lead to a better lifestyle, it’s so fulfilling.”  


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