Bringing critical services to schools
As a teen growing up near Des Moines, Iowa, Suzanne Peterson witnessed the impact that drug and alcohol addiction have on people’s lives. Now, she’s dedicated her life to understanding what drives addictive behaviors — and helping young people build better lives for themselves.
Peterson is one of many YES therapists who work on-site at local schools. Her current sites include International Community School and Lake Washington High School. She also works across the Lake Washington School District, assessing youth for suicide risk, and speaks to groups about anxiety, drugs and alcohol, suicide and other youth issues.
In an average week, Peterson sees 10 to 15 students for one-to-one counseling, many of whom are referred to her by their peers. They face issues ranging from drug and alcohol use in their families, to casual marijuana use and relationship issues.
“One of the toughest things about my role is seeing how much pain and suffering this generation is going through,” she says. “They’re facing a whole new set of issues that they don’t always have the skills to cope with.”
Meeting with students not only removes barriers in scheduling and transportation, she says, it also gives schools the capacity to respond to crises more effectively. And responding to crises is a particular area of expertise for Peterson, who previously worked for Downtown Emergency Service Center’s Mobile Crisis Team and at an inpatient psychiatric care center.
She credits her supportive family, self-care tactics like reading and cooking, and a great supervisor — YES Director of Substance Abuse Programs Kristie Neklason — to her continued ability to take on emotionally taxing work.
Her biggest joy is hearing that a student tried something new or had a good week. These small successes show Peterson what she already knows to be true: the most effective intervention is early intervention. And that this is a fragile, hopeful time when teens can learn new skills and develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime.