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Mental Health Counselor, Trusted Student Ally Receives DBT’s MVP Award for November

MC President Blake Thompson presents his DBT's MVP Award to Stephanie Word, second from left, mental health counselor, while Joy Gore Averitt, left, the September honoree, and Jenny Crutchfield, director of mental health services, observe.
MC President Blake Thompson presents his DBT's MVP Award to Stephanie Word, second from left, mental health counselor, while Joy Gore Averitt, left, the September honoree, and Jenny Crutchfield, director of mental health services, observe.

College students face a host of challenges that could threaten their mental well-being.

Leaving home for the first time, balancing their classes, study time, and social lives effectively, and navigating new interpersonal relationships can be overwhelming, especially when the students are miles away from their families and hometown friends.

Having someone they can depend on to lend a friendly ear and offer meaningful advice when they’re feeling vulnerable can make a lasting impact on the students’ lives.

Mississippi College offers such a beneficial resource. The Office of Mental Health Services staff counselors provide free and confidential counseling to all MC students. One full-time counselor has gone “above and beyond” to help students obtain the resources they need, regardless of the other demands of her job.

“When they come to see me, I want the students always to know that I am completely objective,” said Stephanie Word, mental health counselor. “I want them to feel safe in sharing anything about their life. This is a Christian campus, but I have students of all faiths and some who are trying to figure things out.

“There’s no way to have a successful relationship with your counselor unless you know that person will not judge you. The time students spend with me is all about them.”

For her exemplary work ethic and tremendous dedication to MC students, Stephanie Word has earned MC President Blake Thompson’s Most Valuable Person (DBT’s MVP) Award for November.

Thompson presented his honorary bobblehead trophy, passed from one DBT’s MVP Award recipient to the next each month, a T-shirt, a $50 gift card, and an exclusive parking space of the award recipient’s choice to Word in Alumni Hall.

Jenny Crutchfield, director of mental health services at MC, said Word is constantly seeking ways to improve her therapy techniques to help students become even more successful.

“Stephanie always has a smile on her face and is always open and welcoming to everyone who comes through her door,” said Crutchfield, who nominated Word for the award. “She absolutely loves the students here. Everyone working with her can feel a connection to her from the moment they meet her. And everything she does, she does with the students in mind.

“She sees students in individual counseling sessions and works with them on a variety of needs, from anxiety to trauma to relationship issues. Over the past month, she has worked with students who had some really difficult issues and needed extra help. She has researched, called people, and done everything she could to get those students the assistance they need so they can be successful and help improve their mental health.”

Word said she appreciates being named DBT’s MVP – especially since she considers counseling to be her “second career.” Initially drawn to the profession, Word served as an educator for more than two decades before enrolling in the graduate program at Mississippi College to earn her advanced degree and credentials.

It was a decision that inspires others who may have encountered a roadblock or two on the way to their dream career.

“Being a psychologist and counselor was something I wanted to do as an undergraduate at Mississippi State,” Word said. “Because of my circumstances at the time, I didn’t feel like I could achieve it. It was like a dream for me that was left unfulfilled.

“I believe in having a space where people can talk through the transitions and developments they go through. When my children became teenagers, they knew this was something I wanted to do. They and my husband encouraged and supported me. They told me, ‘This is your chance. Do it.’”

She chose Mississippi College for its scholarly environment and in-person class schedule. “I wanted to be in front of my professors,” she said. When she received her degree in May 2021, it brought a sense of closure on the one hand and a fresh start on the other.

“Once I graduated, it was the fulfillment of something that 20-year-old kid wanted to achieve – it just took her 30 years to do it,” Word said.

After completing an internship at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Word chose to return to her graduate school alma mater. On her first day on the job, Dr. James Strickland, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Counseling, asked her to sit in while a candidate for director of mental health services interviewed for the position. That’s when she met Crutchfield.

“It was the neatest thing to be a part of,” Word said. “It was Dr. Strickland’s task to make sure he found someone who could lead us and change the stigma that mental health has. They found that in Jenny. She’s amazing. She’s done a lot of work within the academic environment and is a tremendous gift to this school.”

Crutchfield said Word is a big reason for her office’s achievements.

“We’re trying to become more visible on campus,” Crutchfield said. “Stephanie is helping lead some groups in relaxation therapy – teaching yourself how to calm down, get more centered within yourself, and relax – to help students deal with the trauma that they’ve experienced.

“She’s very resourceful and very good at what she does, and I’m thankful for her every day.”

Word said her environment contributes to her success. From the moment she came to the Clinton campus, she fell in love with Mississippi College.

“It’s such a warm, friendly place,” she said. “It’s a magnetic place where people really do say hello to one another, whether or not they know each other. People are friendly and kind. It is exuded in so many of the personalities on this campus.

“Most of the professors go way above and beyond for their students. They give so much to these kids. Organizations like Student Success and Career Services ensure that every student is cared for in every area of their lives, whether physical or mental. They care about the whole person, which says much about this place.”

Word and her husband, Jim, a local insurance agent, have two children: Cooper, a sophomore at MSU, and Mia Morgan, a junior at Germantown High School in Gluckstadt. Recently, Mia Morgan asked her mother what she would tell the 20-year-old version of herself, who was contemplating deferring her dream career.

“The first thing I’d tell her is that everything is going to be OK,” Word said. “What she was going through was only temporary, and there was a huge life ahead of her. She just had to make it through some really tough times, but she could do it.

“I would tell her she was smart, she was capable, and that she didn’t have to doubt herself.”

It’s a wise point of view sharpened by experience that can prove valuable to college students today.

“I find so much joy in being able to listen to these students, validate more than anything, and pass on to them that as long as they do the work and choose to do the best they can that day, everything else is going to work out,” Word said. “They try so hard, and they want so much to have peace. I love giving them the space where they can experience peace for at least 45 minutes every couple of weeks.

“There are transitions happening all around us – not just here at MC, but also at their homes. They don’t have to figure it out by themselves. We provide a safe, confidential place where they can make sense of what they may be struggling with. Their emotional and mental health are just as important as their academic success. Our counselors work very hard to meet the students where they are and do everything they can to help give them balance in their lives.”