EPISODE 29 – Making Life Changes through Counseling with Terri Allen Wood – May 1, 2023

Counseling is often an unknown or misunderstood option for self-care and mental health. Listen as Bart, the host of the Vista Points podcast named Choose Your Path, interviews Terri Allen Wood as she explains counseling terms and provides stories for us to understand counseling benefits. She addresses who a licensed professional counselor and mental health service provider are and what they do, as well as explains relationship counseling and Christian counseling. Vista Points guides and assists with special needs trusts which can pay for counseling and create a better quality of life for loved ones living with a disability.


Greetings from our Middle Tennessee studio…and welcome to today’s Vista Points podcast, “Choose Your Path”, where the Vista Points’ staff are committed to improving the quality of life for people of any age, who are living with a physical, mental or intellectual disability. 

I’m Bart, your podcast host. My role is to walk with you on this journey of discovering and using special needs trusts. We continue our podcast, this session, with an interview of a very interesting professional.  We also will give you stories about how people use their special needs trust, how it’s impacted their lives. In case you’re new to our podcast, I invite you to refer to past episodes which are found on the Vista Points website and on YouTube. 

Recently, we have brought attention to the importance of health – specifically through self-care and mental health.  Not only will we be talking about mental health, but also emotional health and spiritual health. Hopefully, each of us recognizes the value in paying attention to our overall health – for ourselves and others – no matter who it is, what age someone is or what phase in life they are in.   

Today, we are fortunate to interview Terri Allen Atwood, a licensed professional counselor. Terri provides guidance and support to clients, and many particularly interested in her “relationship” counseling. I didn’t realize it, until I did some digging, but relationship counseling covers the gamut of issues. Let me tell you a list of relationship scenarios. There is counseling for: communication, conflict resolution, intimacy and sexual issues, fighting and anger problems, identity and role conflict, independence versus interdependence, religion, ethics, values, wow, jealousy, parenting, infidelity, money, finances, addiction, family in-law struggles, stepfamily issues, gender roles, infertility, adoption and more! My gosh! People do have baggage. Someone who can help people with these relationship issues is Terry Allen Atwood. 

Bart: Hello, Terri. Thank you for joining us today.  

Terri: Thank you for having me.   

Bart: I know you are a licensed professional counselor, but what does that exactly mean? Would you explain your title and what you do to our audience and to me?  

Terri: Yes, I am licensed by the State of Tennessee as a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Mental Health Service Provider, which means, for 21 years I have provided individual and couples counseling. I specialize in relationships, marriage and step family struggles. As a Mental Health Service Provider, I also diagnose and treat mental and personality disorders. 

Bart:  It sounds like you see a variety of people who have several different types of issue. I know that you do Christian counseling. How does this set you apart from other counselors?  

Terri: Well, it simply broadens my scope of practice to include those who would like their counseling to come from a spiritual foundation, which is where their checks and balances in life come from. 

Bart: That’s interesting, Terri. Tell me about your practice. Would you say something about how these differences allow you to work with different types of clients?  

Terri: Well, as a licensed counselor, counseling is the clients’ journey. Therefore, they get to choose how they want to be helped. 

Bart: It’s like there’s a whole new dimension I’m learning about! This is great! Terri, who are your clients? Or, in general, what ages or types of people talk to counselors? And, why or when?  

Terri: My client base comes from all ages, races and genders. There’s a variety of needs in life, therefore everyone’s journey may vary. I have worked with children as young as five years old, and adults well into their 80’s and some even in their 90’s. The needs vary from anxiety and depression, to relationship or marital issues, step family issues, grief and adjustment issues. Some need help with more serious mental disorders, as well.

Bart: Wow, now that we’re through the COVID crisis, do you suggest counseling be held online, in person or both?  

Terri: Since Covid, I have actually been doing mostly virtual counseling because of having elderly, feeble parents that my husband and I help take care of. And on occasion, I will go into the office. I suggest whatever makes the client feel comfortable. What I have discovered however, is many times clients will be more open and honest with me when I am not 5 feet away from them, looking them in the eye, which is the proximity when I am counseling in the office.

Bart: Alright. I understand that. What types or ages of people do you generally work with?   

Terri: I have been practicing for 21 years. And, after many years of working with clients of all ages with many different disorders, I currently work only with adults.  

Bart: Can you share some types of things addressed in relationship counseling?    

Terri: After I do an initial consultation with both parties, I separate them for at least one visit and get a good history on both. This gives me the information about who they actually are as a person. Many clients have mental illness, trauma bonds or wounds that follow them throughout life. Our decisions and behaviors are based upon our temperament that we are born with and our upbringing. You may have heard this referred to as “Nature vs. Nurture”. The sessions are tailor fit for each individual relationship. And, however in general, many of the topics addressed are the likes and concerns each have. And, what changes each individual thinks they need to make for the relationship itself to be better. I teach them how to communicate effectively. I do a temperament analysis to show them how they are alike and how they are different, and how to work out of their strengths and not their weaknesses. And, many times we love others in a way that we would like to be loved ourselves. So, I teach them how to recognize what their own language of love is. Then we compare that to how they, their significant other needs to be loved.  

Bart: This is so helpful, Terri. I know you must keep everyone’s business confidential, but now that we know the facts about the types of counseling you provide, will you share a story involving relationship counseling? 

Terri: Ah, yes. I actually have an unusual story that is one of my favorites. It is not about marriage, and the relationship did not start in my office. It’s about a little boy about twelve years old that I picked up on the side of the road. Yes, you heard me right! I’m on my way into the office and right as I am close to turning onto the road where my office is located, there was a little boy walking in the rain with his little backpack, and his head down. He was on the shoulder of the road, and there was no shoulder. Cars were whizzing past him, and I was in shock that nobody stopped and helped the little boy. It’s 8:30 in the morning when children should be in school. So, I turned onto my road, parked and ran down the road to him. As I’m praying “Lord, please don’t let me get arrested for kidnapping!”, I placed both of my hands on his shoulders and asked “what are you doing out here???” He replied with tears rolling down his face, “I missed the bus and my Daddy’s going to be soooo mad at me.” I said, “come with me.” As I placed him in the back seat of my car, while simultaneously lecturing him about “stranger danger,” I worked out of the church, out of a church, so I called them and told them to let my clients know I would be a few minutes late. He said his parents went to the church where I worked, or his grandparents, rather, and I asked what their names were, and he said Grandma and Grandpa. And, I thought oh great, we’re off to a wonderful start! So, I drove him to school, checked him in. Hugged him, and told him he was gonna have a great day! As I was about to leave, I turned back around and went back to the desk and informed the staff that I wasn’t his mother. They had a horrified look on their face. And, I told them to always be aware of who is checking the kids in. Then I had a talk with them about stranger danger! They said they would have him see the school counselor sometime later that day. I said, “oh, no need for that, that’s who I am, and what I do. I said, he’s good. I’ve already had the talk with him about “stranger danger”. As I am leaving the school parking lot, I’m thanking the Lord that I am not in handcuffs, going to jail for kidnapping! Whew! I go back into my office and complete my morning session. And, I noticed I had a voicemail. The church figured out who the little boy was, and the call was from his father.

And, he said, “Terri, I know you!” He explained that we worked on a project helping a woman dying of breast cancer. I immediately knew who he was and was grateful to the Lord for putting this child in my path. We talked and I explained why he should not be mad at him. Children many times make decisions the best way they know how, according to how well the frontal lobe of the brain is developed. They do not have the reasoning ability that we do. So, I was able to help him understand his child’s developmental behavior patterns. The Lord many times will put you in situations in life and counseling that you are, what I call “God winks”. He knows what our purpose in life is and lays things in our laps accordingly. I praise Him that he put that child in my care, and that I don’t know what it feels like to wear handcuffs! That was the best counseling session of the day!

Bart: Thanks for sharing that story, Terri. That’s wonderful! Can relationship counseling be modified when you are working with clients who are living with a disability? 

Terri: We have to meet the client wherever they are, just like the little boy missing the school bus. Sometimes we run across clients with disabilities, whether it be a mental disorder or physical issue. I have diagnosed many with bi-polar, schizophrenia, multiple personality disorders, OCD, Parkinson’s, dementia. There are many facets to each disorder. So, it’s our responsibility to understand the differences and work with each client accordingly, and according to their cognitive ability to learn and make changes that will help with their quality of life. Sometimes, we consult and work with other healthcare providers such as their medical doctor or psychiatrists to coordinate treatment with testing and medication management when needed. 

Bart: Do you have a story you can share with us about a client living with a disability? 

Terri: I have worked with several who have had OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It can be extremely debilitating. Ummm… They do not have the ability to over-ride their thought processes that create obsessions and compulsions. These are the people who feel they need to wash their hands 3 times, or check the locked door or oven to make sure it is off, again, 3 times. They feel that something bad may happen if they do not do what the obsessions and compulsions are telling them to do. I do exposure therapy with them to help them see first of all, what their brain is telling them is irrational and illogical. Then I safely expose them to gradually doing it less and show them that nothing bad happens when they act against what their brain is telling them. Neurology plays an important role in this disorder and the brain has to be retrained to do things differently. With OCD, usually they do things in odd numbers, like three, five, seven, etc. I had a gentleman once pay me my fee and then give me an extra three cents. I had to laugh a little bit! I knew we had a little more work to do.

Bart: Thanks, Terri. You know what intrigues me about this? I see where your stories can apply to a variety of families who are living with different types of disabilities.  

I think we’re on a roll, Terri. If you don’t mind, do you have a final story you could share? I’m interested in hearing about Christian counseling and how that’s different from the other types of counseling. 

Terri: Well, the last story I am going to tell you is mine. My mother abandoned 4 of us when I was 3 years old. She had all 4 of us before she was 21. From what I was told, it was too big of a responsibility for her. And, she left. I would stand at the door of our home and look out waiting for her to come back. So, I was “The Little Girl At the Screen Door.” It’s always someone else that came to the door to take care of us while my Daddy worked. We have our first memories around 18 months or two years of age. And, I only have one vivid memory of her. I must have been between two and three years old. She was at a trailer with a man. And, she wanted him to hold me. And, I wanted no part of that because he had a hairy chest!!! I really remember that hairy chest! We went inside and sat down on the couch, and I must have fallen asleep at that point. Now, there was another woman in the kitchen part of the trailer. And, that’s all I remember from that time with her. When I was six, she passed away when her house caught on fire. She was married, had a three-year-old little girl and was pregnant with twins ready to deliver. I never had closure! Due to this, I developed OCD. It was a horrible life to live! I felt I had to bounce a basketball so many times before I could quit. If I turned around one way, I had to turn back around the way. In school, I excelled in sports to compensate for the feelings of not having any control in my life. That’s where I got my attention, affection, acceptance and approval. When I noticed a little later in life, what I noticed a little later in life, was that any time a relationship failed, “The Little Girl At the Screen Door” would return. I was in that prison into my 30’s when a friend took me to my Mama’s grave, and I was able to talk, scream and cry my way into forgiving her. My Dad remarried when I was four. We all thought she was the wicked witch of the north, east, south and west – all because she wasn’t our Mama, that we so badly needed in our life. Those special people are called soul bonds. They are the connections that are of great value. I decided that I needed to lean on the one who would never leave or forsake me, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Once I made that decision, The Little Girl At the Screen Door, now opens the door and says, “I know you’re hurting. Come on in, let’s talk.” I knew what pain felt like, and I knew what delivery looked and felt like. That’s why I do what I do as a counselor. I help people heal their hurts so we all can have peace, joy, hope and contentment in life. Many times I give my clients a list of scriptures and books to read to help them to understand who they are according to who they belong to. They are daughters and sons of the King, who have been created for a reason, with a great purpose. Psalms 139:14 states that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. And, in Romans 8:28, it says, “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.” Bad things happen to all of us. And, that’s just part of life. So, as you can see, we all have a story, and counseling can help us navigate to a positive, more stable place in life.

Bart: Wow, thanks so much, Terri. You are providing our listeners with a range of examples and counseling benefits, no matter what it is we need! I am sure our listeners appreciate this information. If our listeners would like to reach you to schedule counseling, what’s the best way to contact you? 

Terri: I can be reached by phone at (615) 477-3073, or by email at TAtwoodlpc@comcast.net. You can also find me on the Focus on the Family website, Psychology Today website or my website which is www.terriallenatwoodcounseling.com.

Bart: Thank you, Terri. Would you tell us your own email and phone number again?  

Terri: Sure. It’s (615) 477-3073 and TAtwoodlpc@comcast.net. 

Bart: Thank you, Terri. I’m confident your information has spurred one of our listeners to make that decision to seek help.

Thanks so much to our podcast listeners for tuning in to today’s episode of Choose Your Path, a Vista Points podcast. Don’t forget to ask your questions! If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to do so.   

You can ask your questions by calling the Vista Points office at 888-422-4076. That number again is 888-422-4076. Each of the Vista Points team is happy to answer your questions and assist you in whatever way they can. 

You can also ask your questions through the Facebook page, VistaPointsInc, that’s Vista-Points-I-N-C, or you can send a direct message, otherwise known as a D-M.  

I’m happy to say our podcasts have become a beneficial resource for many people. You can subscribe to the Vista Points YouTube channel and be notified as the latest episodes go live, which is on the 1st and 15th of every month. The YouTube channel is named Vista Points SNT, that’s S-N-T as in special needs trusts.  

You can also find past episodes and their transcriptions on the Vista Points website at vistapoints.org. That’s vistapoints-dot-O-R-G. You can also listen to the past episodes on the YouTube site or on our website.

Enjoy your day with your loved one. Come back for more or look into past episodes of Choose Your Path. Regardless of where or when you find us, we walk beside you on your path. I look forward to sharing more information with you on how special needs trusts can be of benefit to anyone living with a disability.