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In the first few minutes of speaking with Ryan Freeman-Burchfield and Kati Wells at their therapy practice, I knew it would be a challenge to adequately communicate in one article their enthusiasm for helping others. Both women love their work. As a result of intensive training and extensive travel, they have received and continue to pursue highly respected certifications in their field. And both are absolutely committed to helping eliminate the stigma that often comes with the idea of seeking therapy.
Before opening the Freeman-Burchfield & Wells Institute for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Rogers, Arkansas, these practitioners worked together in some form for eight years.
Wells wanted to be a therapist since high school and has worked in the field since she was 19, starting out with people who had serious mental illnesses. Wanting to craft the best possible approach to treatment, she spent her time searching for solutions.
Ryan knew at a young age that she wanted to help people and double majored in Art and Psychology before going on to graduate school. She has trained many therapists in the area.
When these two founded this specialty clinic in Jan. 2019 with an emphasis on cognitive behavioral therapy, they knew it was a risk. The approach is a well-known and accepted practice in certain parts of the county. In the South, not so much.
Freeman-Burchfield and Wells hope to change that.
Wells says commitment to this type of therapy comes from experience and education and a desire to pursue what best helps people dealing with issues involving anxiety, mental illness, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. She is sold on the method as a practical, tangible approach to treating people who also need assistance with relationships, stress and chronic illness.
“We have found the best way to help people, to effect change.”
Freeman-Burchfield emphasizes that the process is not designed to be long-term. The problem-solving approach requires deliberate cooperation and collaboration between client and therapist.
“We don’t see people forever. After a certain amount of time, there should be improvement. We are constantly evaluating and using regular client inventories to inform diagnosis and treatment.”
While this clinical approach might not be prevalent in the region, it is not new. Dr. Aaron T. Beck developed cognitive behavioral therapy in the 1960s while he was a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania. He and his daughter, Dr. Judith Beck founded The Beck Institute in 1994. The institute houses expert therapists in the field and offers continuing education and certification.
Ryan Freeman-Burchfield is on track to become one of the first Beck-certified therapists in the world. Kati Wells is the only therapist in Arkansas to be certified by the Academy for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies. Their therapy practice is the first specialized Cognitive Behavioral Therapy practice in the state.
The women acknowledge the formidable task of trying to remove stereotypes and assumptions about therapy. Part of that work means presenting clients with a warm and welcoming environment, free of backdoor entrances and unfriendly atmospheres.
The Razorback Greenway trail is a neighbor to their location. Taking a tour inside their building was rather like walking down the peaceful halls of a spa. During our conversation, I sat on a comfortable couch in a room with broad windows allowing sunlight to splash across the room, as well as a view overlooking the pond and walking path at the Village on the Creeks community business campus and shopping area.
For Freeman-Burchfield, this look and feel is all part of the design. She decorated the rooms with walls painted in muted shades of blue and added vintage items from local shops. Comfortable furniture and small touches like lights and plenty of gadgets for nervous hands complete the affable environment she tries to project.
She and Wells want clients to feel comfortable with getting help, regardless of where that happens.
We discussed how this is an area where social media has actually been an advantage in the effort. People have become more open about revealing online that they seek assistance in therapy and counseling, which helps doing so become more of a rule and less of an exception. Wells says that the celebrities mentioning their visits to therapists helps normalize the behavior.
Whether it’s opening up about treatment for mental illness or depression, the more people talk, the less reserved and ashamed others feel. Freeman-Burchfield readily agrees that the more society makes it acceptable to get help, the easier it will be for everyone who needs it.
“We want people to be proud of seeking treatment. This therapy changes your life.”
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