EPISODE 30 – Ask the Expert with Darlene Kemp: Counseling – May 2, 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 Darlene Kemp, an authority on special needs trusts in Tennessee. She is the Executive Director of Vista Points, the Special Needs Trusts and Resource Center. In this Ask the Expert episode, the two discuss counseling – how much is paid for by special needs trusts, if or when Medicaid is involved, benefits of counseling and a personal question asked about living a full life. 


Hello to everyone listening to this podcast. Today, instead of posting a question and answer on Vista Points website, we have recorded Ask the Expert. Ms. Darlene Kemp is an authority on special needs trusts in Tennessee. Darlene is the Executive Director of Vista Points, the Special Needs Trusts and Resource Center. She’s here to answer questions asked by our podcast listeners. We have a great question that relates to the May 1st podcast on counseling.

Bart: Hi, Darlene. It’s good to talk with you today.  

Darlene: Hello Bart. I’m happy to be here. I enjoy talking about the benefits of special needs trusts. 

Bart:  Okay, Darlene. Tell me. What did you think of Terri Allen Atwood’s May 1st interview?

Darlene: Well, I did hear the podcast interview, and it was great. I appreciate Terri sharing her personal story. I believe in counseling. And, Christian counseling can work with each person’s spiritual belief system, to provide inner growth and development which then can make the person a better person.   

Bart: Well, given your role as an Executive Director of a trust company, what do you think of counseling for special needs trust beneficiaries? Is it a practical thing for them to consider?  

Darlene: Personally and professionally, I believe counseling can make a great difference in a person’s life. Now, I’m not talking about just about people living with a disability, but everyone.  Counseling can help a person to heal from trauma, overcome personal obstacles, and deal with life in general.  So, with that being said, counseling definitely is a practical request to be paid from a beneficiary’s special needs trust.  

Bart: Oh, are the trust beneficiaries able to use their trust funds to pay for counseling that their insurance or government benefits don’t cover?  

Darlene: Many people do have government benefits, such as Medicaid. If a beneficiary wants to have counseling and all of the service is not covered through their insurance or government benefits, then the trust can pay for the balance or all of the counseling service. In fact, some of our beneficiaries do not have any government benefits or other types of coverage. Their special needs trust can pay for the counseling service. The money, from the beneficiary’s trust, is sent directly to the counselor or the counseling firm. 

Bart: I’m glad to hear that. It makes sense. I can see when someone is living a chaotic life, every single day, it can be a real challenge to look into counseling, much less follow through on it.  

Darlene: Some of our beneficiaries or a family member will contact our office at times and ask for assistance in finding a counselor. We can help with that through our national referral database.   

Bart: Well, Darlene, this is a great transition into today’s question. What is your response to the following question? A person wrote to Vista Points stating: “I like to live life, full as I can. Even though, sometimes I struggle. I can’t really pinpoint what my problem is, so I don’t really know the answer to what I’m looking for. But, I think counseling might be part of what I need. I do live with a mental health disability called bipolar disorder. Do you think counseling would be helpful?  

Darlene: Bart, we receive calls in our office every week that are much like this call. Our staff will talk with the beneficiary to see exactly what he or she is wanting, then we jump into action. Sometimes we may need to hire a case manager to step in or help out for a short time period. The beneficiary will receive the counseling needed to help them live a good quality of life. 

Bart: Well, thanks for that comment, Darlene. The response you provide to these questions our listeners submit always offer an answer or a way to get an answer. I understand that if someone is living with a physical, mental or intellectual disability, and the person has a special needs trust, this trust can be used to make a positive difference in their life.  

Do you have what I’d call a success story you could share with us where counseling benefited a special needs trust beneficiary? 

Darlene:  I do have one story in mind I’d like to share. We had a new special needs trust. The girl was 18 years old. She had intellectual disabilities. Her mother had kept her home and had mentally abused her. The girl was quite backward. The mother suddenly died just a few months after her daughter’s trust was established. The girl had no living relatives to care for her. She was taken into child protective services, who then placed the girl in a psychiatric ward, because there was no room in any group home or facility, at that time. Her trust paid the monthly bill for the girl’s time in this facility.

A nurse in the ward became friends with the girl. She took her under her wing and got her to attend individual and group counseling. The girl began to flourish. It was like a flower opening up. The nurse also taught the girl personal hygiene habits and how to dress. You see, the girl lived in her nightgown most of the time because she had hardly any clothes that fit her.

Over the course of about six months, the girl learned so much. She was able to control her anger outbursts, take care of her own personal hygiene, dress herself and eat at the table with others.

The girl was moved to a group home which has another resident. She was able to have her own room. She followed the rules of the house and was not punished or abused. Through her trust, her counseling continued. To this day, the girl is doing very well. She even now takes day trips with her house mother and the other resident. And recently, they let me know that they went to the zoo and had a wonderful time. 

Bart: Darlene, this story really hits home on how important it is to have positive reinforcement and encouragement. For someone living with a disability such as this girl, you actually changed her life in a positive way.

Darlene: Honestly, it was a group effort, Bart. That’s what makes being a trustee for special needs trusts so rewarding. We are the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. Our goal is to have each person who is living with a physical, mental or intellectual disability live a good quality of life.

Bart: Thank you, Darlene. Stay tuned for more Ask the Expert messages on the Vista Points website. They’re posted on Tuesdays. If you have a question you’d like answered on Ask the Expert, please post your question on the Vista Points Facebook page, VistaPointsInc, that’s Vista-Points-I-N-C, where you can send a direct message, otherwise known as a D-M.