Mike Southers ’04, M.S. ’13
After finding McDaniel to be a safe place to pursue his education in spite of his anxiety, Mike Southers ’04, M.S. ’13 returned for a master’s degree and has been serving his community as a counselor ever since.
Mike Southers ’04, M.S. ’13 didn’t want to go to college. He didn’t enjoy high school, but he couldn’t put his finger on why. With his parents’ urging and financial support, he decided to give it a try for just one semester, and ended up at his dad’s alma mater, McDaniel College.
“I really enjoyed my first semester because it was very different than high school,” Southers says. “My professors actually heard my ideas, and people in my class really paid attention to what I said. I realized that in high school, I’d had a lot of anxiety and I wondered why they kept the heat on all year long. I started to ease and relax at McDaniel — and then realized that was just a scared, anxious response. The heat hadn’t been on at all.”
“My professors actually heard my ideas, and people in my class really paid attention to what I said."
During his undergraduate years as a Philosophy major, Southers discovered a community where he felt safe pursuing education. In the School Counseling graduate program, he also learned more about his own anxiety and the role of mental health and wellness in his life. “I worked in an after-school program during all four years of undergrad, and that’s when I realized I enjoy working with people,” he says. After graduating, he worked for Way Station (now a part of Sheppard Pratt) in Frederick, Maryland, in multiple roles in community and after-school programs.
“Between undergrad and grad school, I found myself getting frustrated that experienced therapists were making more money than me, but they were coming to me for feedback and advice,” Southers says. “I couldn’t actually do therapy without going to grad school and getting my license, so that’s why I came back to McDaniel.”
While he says much of the information he learned wasn’t totally new to him, the graduate educational experience helped him open his own counseling practice in 2014, even though that wasn’t in his professional plan initially. “I’ve had my own therapist since about 2007 or 2008, and she was the one who introduced me to the idea of opening my own practice,” Southers says. “At first, I totally balked at it. But after years of talking about it, I thought I could give it a shot and I could actually be really good at it.”
Southers says that his own struggles with mental health have helped him find common ground with his clients. “I can tell them, ‘Hey, I didn’t recognize my own stuff that was going on, so it’s good that you’re here,’” he says. “Therapy can be so beneficial, not only to treat symptoms but also help you reach goals you never thought you might be able to before.”
After spending so many years working at Way Station, it was important to Southers to be able to offer mental health services in an accessible way for people who may struggle financially. “When I created my practice, I pledged to myself that I would take medical assistance and/or a sliding scale for payment,” he says. “Once I hit 10 clients that I would see consistently, I offered a sliding scale. I needed to make sure that my business was sustainable, but I wanted to help people who needed some assistance.”
Southers didn’t need to worry so much about the sustainability of his business — he carries a full client load and often feels guilty turning new clients away, while also acting as a landlord and subletting to other therapists affordably so that it’s easier for them to offer sliding scales to clients as well.
But he’s made sure to continue to set boundaries in his professional life to ensure his own mental wellness stays on track. “That's the hardest part for me is balancing talking to people and then giving myself that time to just rest and recharge,” he says. “The important piece is to do that continually, right? Not just once a month, but to really make it at least a weekly priority to give yourself that space to do something enjoyable in your life.”
Class: 2004, M.S. 2013
Graduate Degree: M.S. in Counselor Education