Shepherd Center Counselor Cheryl Linden Talks about the Value of Adding Humor to her Job
Cheryl Linden, LPC, OT, is a longtime staff counselor on Shepherd Center's Spinal Cord Injury Adolescent Team.
Cheryl Linden has been part of the Shepherd Center family since 1988. She spent 13 years as an occupational therapist before becoming a staff counselor in 2001. Linden works as counselor on the Adolescent Team in Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Program and in the SCI Day Program. She also still picks up weekend shifts as an occupational therapist.
Q: Have you developed a particular approach over the years that helps you connect with younger patients?
A: Working with adolescent patients fits my personality. I’m not a very traditional sit-in-an-office-and-talk kind of person. You have to meet kids where they are. And part of that is building in social and play time. That’s why I love our “sleepover” nights. When we have kids who are getting along really well, we go out to eat, just do silly stuff in the building at night, pulling pranks, watching movies in the gym until everyone falls asleep. It’s fun, but it also builds camaraderie – not to mention confidence.
Q: How important is injecting that kind of levity into the recovery process?
A: I think that’s probably what I’m best known for here. I used to do more stand-up comedy when I was younger. I absolutely use humor every day at Shepherd Center. It’s hugely important in my role. Timing is everything, but humor can make a seemingly difficult situation feel just a little bit lighter.
Q: What’s a good day for you at Shepherd Center?
A: The improvements are the big thing. And not just physically. It could be where someone is mentally. Maybe they’re starting to make plans for the future. Or maybe someone’s crying while we’re talking, but it’s because they’ve finally made a breakthrough in terms of dealing with their injury. One thing I get asked often by people on the outside is, “How could you work at a place like that so long? Isn’t it depressing?” I tell them, “Quite the opposite!” Sure, there’s anxiety, sadness, frustration, anger and fear of the unknown. But there is so much hope here, too. And joy!
Q: After 27 years, what keeps you coming back?
A: When I walked through the door the first time, I knew I wanted to work here. But it was my first job out of my master’s program, so I was thinking two or three years! I’ve stayed because I still love what I’m doing. When I get those good-news text messages or phone calls from former patients, it’s the most rewarding thing you can imagine. So I may not have planned on 27 years and counting, but I’m so glad it happened!
Western Michigan University (M.S. in Occupational Therapy)
Georgia Professional School of Psychology (M.A. in Psychology)
Manchester College (B.S. in Social Work)
- Linden is well known for her office filled with patients’ photos, framed T-shirts from Shepherd Center events and ceiling tiles painted in every shade of pink.
- Less time doing stand-up comedy means more time on the links. “Golf is my mental health break now.”
- Linden spends one day a week working with the Lifeline Animal Project, an Atlanta no-kill animal shelter.
- She has three cats of her own, including a rescue kitten who spent the first two weeks of his life in Linden’s Shepherd Center office.
Interviewed by Phillip Jordan
Photos by Gary Meek
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.