Shepherd Center Family Therapist Highlights the Importance of Caring for Caregivers
Shatavia (Shay) A. Thomas, DMFT, LMFT, ABI family therapist at Shepherd Center, reveals how she works with families to cope with a loved one’s injury.
How long have you worked at Shepherd Center?
I recently celebrated my one-year anniversary as an acquired brain injury (ABI) family therapist here at Shepherd Center! I have been in the mental health field for nearly 20 years and have been a licensed marriage and family therapist for 12 years.
What is your role at Shepherd?
I offer individual, marital, family and group therapy to family members of patients in the ABI unit. I also consult with my colleagues in other departments like nursing, chaplaincy or neuropsychology, collaborating with them on how to best support families in their unique roles.
Why is it important for families of patients to consider therapy?
Therapy helps to process experiences, emotions and decisions with an unbiased professional. At Shepherd Center, I help families of ABI patients cope with and adjust to their loved one’s injury. While the event or incident happened to their loved one, it impacts the entire family system. Therapy is one way for family members and caregivers to take care of themselves so they can, in turn, offer support to loved ones.
What do you love about your job?
I love being a nonjudgmental presence for family members. It is important to cultivate a safe space to support caregivers during this time. I am blessed to serve with such talented, dedicated and supportive colleagues. It’s clear that many consider this work a calling.
How have you adapted your work to continue to help families during COVID-19?
The pandemic adds another layer of stress to families dealing with trauma that I address during our sessions. If family members cannot travel to the hospital due to COVID-19, I’ve been able to offer telehealth sessions. Since last March, I have offered virtual sessions to more than 30 families across 10 states.
What is something that may surprise people about working in your field?
Often, what makes the difference in family therapy is the therapeutic relationship. Through the lens of my training and experience, therapy or counseling has more to do with building rapport and empowering clients than telling them how to feel or what to do. Some of my most impactful sessions involve simply sitting in silence with someone as they cry and just letting them be, as well as posing reflection questions instead of feeling obligated to offer answers.
- Georgia State University: Bachelor of Science (BS), Psychology & Master of Professional Counseling (MS)
- Nova Southeastern University: Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy (DMFT)
- Shay enjoys poetry and songwriting. She recently published two poems in the American Psychological Association’s latest edition of Families, Systems, & Health. You can check them out here and here.
- Shay is an Atlanta native. She is married and has a 10-year-old son.
- Shay has a mean sweet tooth and regularly indulges in chai tea lattes and gelato.
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 935 inpatients, 541 day program patients and more than 7,300 outpatients each year.