'I feel safe': The Healing Impact opens mental health facility in Shalimar for trauma survivors
SHALIMAR — A message board created by past clients was one of the first things to go up on the walls of The Healing Impact’s new facility.
The board contains several letters of thanks, with one featuring a child’s handprints and the message “I feel safe.” Another created by a teen survivor of sexual trauma reads, “I don’t feel scared anymore.”
The nonprofit organization provides trauma-informed therapy to a wide range of trauma survivors, including foster children, veterans, domestic violence survivors, first responders, and more.
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Kaitlyn Abadia, LCSW, and Heidi Anderson, PsyD, founded The Healing Impact in 2019 to help address widespread needs in the community and lengthy waitlists at other mental health facilities. Anderson and Abadia experienced many of those needs firsthand.
Anderson’s husband is an active duty service member, and she worked as a victim advocate for several local nonprofits before starting her own with Abadia, who is a veteran and a former caseworker with the FamiliesFirst Network.
“We just realized that this community has widespread needs that aren’t currently covered. We’re very passionate about that from people we care about and what we’ve seen,” Anderson said. “We’ve noticed that there’s not many services that are able to wrap around all of it. I don’t know that any one person can, but we’re definitely here to give it a different approach.”
The organization has quickly grown with locations in Destin, Crestview, Fort Walton Beach, Niceville, Pensacola, and now Shalimar. The new facility at 4 Ninth Ave. Suite F officially opened its doors with a ribbon-cutting Aug. 19.
The building contains several therapy offices as well as a group room for children and a group room for adults. The children’s group room features a sand tray and several toys used in play therapy. A giant stuffed giraffe is often one of the children’s favorite toys.
“The giraffe is a pretty big friend around here,” said Anderson, who added that hundreds of children who have experienced some form of trauma have been wait-listed at other organizations in the area.
The Healing Impact already has taken 108 clients at its Shalimar location. Anderson said most of their referrals come from the Shalimar area. The location also puts them closer to Eglin Air Force Base and is only a few blocks away from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies.
“We’re hoping to just be more convenient of a presence over here,” Anderson said. “It was also somewhat more strategic, just based on the needs. We’ve noticed that a lot of our referrals come from around here, so we were trying to kind of meet that need.”
Clients are often referred by the FamiliesFirst Network or other community resources. Adults either reach out to the organization themselves or are referred by substance abuse programs, churches, probation officers or other mental health centers.
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Children also are commonly referred by concerned parents, teachers or pediatricians. Anderson said many of their recent referrals have been for children who have experienced sexual or physical abuse.
“Everybody that comes in here has had a specific form of trauma,” Anderson said. “There’s a lot of it around here. We’ve got so many foster kiddos in this (judicial) circuit and then we’ve got so many military. With our local law enforcement and first responders, a lot of the care that they receive is either through an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) or they’re not receiving it.”
'Flourishing whereas they were just surviving': Treating trauma
Anderson said there is no “one size fits all” treatment for trauma. A person’s treatment needs to be catered to their own experience. Some people come in with acute trauma such as aftershock from a hurricane, while others have chronic long-term trauma that might have been carried over from childhood.
“We’ve had some chronic long-term trauma — people that had abuse as a child that then entered into a relationship with abuse or human trafficking,” Anderson said. “It has been going on for so long that it’s just a totally different environment of care that they need.”
The Healing Impact offers a variety of trauma-focused clinical therapies, which include things like play therapy, trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The organization also does a variety of developmental and cognitive assessments, and hosts support groups for families, first responders, and teens every month.
The Healing Impact accepts most insurance providers, but Anderson said grants also allow them to offer services at no cost to those who need them “because insurance doesn’t always pay for some of the trauma that these people have experienced.”
The nonprofit has seen more than 300 clients since it opened in 2019, and Anderson said the addition of several therapists and licensed providers has allowed it to continue to expand.
Having more locations and a larger staff helps the organization maintain relationships with foster children. Anderson said foster kids in the area will move an average of 13 times, and each placement creates another broken attachment.
“Neuroscience tells us that you only get so many broken experiences of attachment before you either end up with a personality disorder or some other maladaptive behavioral response like depression, anxiety, or anger,” Anderson said. “We’ve found that they need ongoing care throughout foster care, so we try to follow them.”
During the past few years, Anderson said they’ve seen fewer foster children removed from homes and several success stories. One of her favorite notes on the message board is a letter from a previous client’s husband who said “Thanks for giving me my wife back.”
“They kind of dissociate. They kind of shut it down. They kind of lose who they are along the way,” Anderson said of trauma survivors. “We’ve had a few really rewarding experiences where somebody has kind of come back and said ‘Thank you' for reconnecting them. They’re flourishing whereas they were just surviving.’"
That type of feedback is what she said helps them continue on with their mission. Anderson said The Healing Impact plans to continue to accept clients and is excited to start offering services to more people in Shalimar.
To find out more, visit https://thehealingimpact.org/. People can reach out or make a referral by clicking on the “Contact Us” tab and filling out a short response form.
“If you reach out to us, we pride ourselves on getting back to you within 24 hours with the information needed to continue services,” Anderson said.