Sharon Richards first became interested in counseling when she was only 15 years old. She joined a peer counseling program as a freshman, and “absolutely loved it.”
“To put it simply, it feels really good to be super present for people,” said Richards.
After finishing her bachelor’s degree at the University of New England, Richards worked in medical records, but “absolutely hated it.”
After spending a year pushing papers and sitting at a desk, Richards quit her job, and traveled the country from national park to national park.
Out of the blue, she received a call from a friend who knew of a job opening. Shortly thereafter, she was hired by a psychiatrist as a research aide. These two years were “very eye opening” for Richards and she knew that she then had to go back to school.
In 1999, after receiving her master’s degree in Social Work, Richards received a job in King Cove, Alaska for substance abuse counseling. The outpost where she would be working was remote, and winds often reached 100 mph. She and her husband, Erick Richards, loaded up their belongings in their Volkswagen Vanagon and began the long road trip to the rough Alaskan outpost that they would soon call home.
Along the way, they stopped in Bend, Oregon to visit some family. They never left. Sharon and Erick fell in love with Bend, which at the time had a population of 40,000 people. They fell in love with the skiing, the hiking, the mountains and everything else that Bend had to offer.
Richards was hired by Deschutes County Mental Health (DCMH), working primarily as a counselor for children and teenagers in Central Oregon Schools. Her time at DCMH was personally challenging. One of the major obstacles, Sharon shared, was making a permanent difference. If the parents weren’t on board, and the family dynamic stayed the same. It was very difficult to make positive progress. Although the job was challenging at times, Richards “loved working with the kids.”
In 2007, she began working at COCC in the CAP center as a personal counselor.
“This is my dream job,” said Richards.
The biggest challenge to working at the collegiate level are the students own limiting beliefs, according to Richards. These negative cognitions are a major obstacle, as many of the beliefs were formed early in life. Another big challenge is the scarcity of community resources, although Richards works diligently to match students to what resources are available.
Richards wants students to know that they can have access to counseling and the ought not to be intimidated by it. Richards, as well as the staff at the CAP center take many precautions to ensure student confidentiality.
The job of a counselor can be very challenging and Richards copes with the stressors of her job by going on hikes and being outside. Although her job presents many difficulties, Richards will work at COCC as a personal counselor “as long as they will have me (her).”
“I love my work,” Richards said.
Tim Cachelin | The Broadside