Meet The Practitioners of Project Legacy Heals

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This past week, I spent time with two young men who struggle with schizophrenia. Both have been shunned by their families and both are homeless — no money, no home and no close friends. The despair comes from the crushing loneliness they feel. Both are mocked by their families, and one told me about the hallucinations he has been experiencing for years, accompanied by difficulty paying attention to his teachers in school because of the voices in his head. Rather than helping him, his mother added to his struggle by calling him crazy.

Another young man, a college student, struggled with similar hallucinations to the point where he was considering suicide. For eight months, he fought against the hallucinations until he dared to tell me and I took him to the hospital where he was admitted and treated.

And another young woman. Battling with the influences of her mother’s addiction, she’s been trying to build a support system within the community. Now, experiencing severe depression and anxiety, she had to drop out of college and is experiencing homelessness. Her support system is gone.

We often hear that mental health care is available to anyone who needs it, but rarely do we see this to be the truth. I often hear that small nonprofits like Project Legacy don’t need funding because our youth can go elsewhere for services. But often, we are the first place our youth in crisis feel comfortable to go with their most frightening truths.

Whether abuse, trauma, or suicidal ideation, the need for formal mental health services is apparent at Project Legacy. The young people we serve deserve the care they need, and we are committed to helping bridge the gap.

Earlier this month, we announced the launch of our in-house mental health program, Project Legacy Heals. The program is provided at no cost to our youth participants, and involves the committed support and guidance of licensed mental health practitioners who are aware of the unique challenges our young people are facing.

Today, we are pleased to announce and introduce the therapists of Project Legacy Heals.

Michael Benjamin, LICSW

Michael has been providing therapy to children, adolescents and their families for almost 15 years. Prior to working at PrairieCare, he worked as a therapist at Mayo Clinic in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology Department, as well as at a community health center in Southwest Idaho.

Throughout his career, Michael has worked to treat depression/mood, anxiety, grief/loss, and disruptive behaviors, in addition to working with children and adolescents experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or attachment issues.

He is trained in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Attachment-Focused Family Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Michael also uses CBT, Narrative Therapy, Psychoeducation, Bibliotherapy/Therapeutic Stories, Solution-Focused Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, and Strengths-based Therapy as a practitioner.

Michael has been described by patients and parents as a “gifted clinical therapist” with a “unique skillset” who is “warm, gentle and a breath of fresh air.”

Michael has presented at dozens of local and national workshops, seminars, teacher inservices and conferences on topics including trauma, attachment, parenting, children’s mental health, integrated behavioral health and cultural considerations in healthcare. He also provides training to psychiatry residents at Mayo Clinic.

Michael has lived and traveled extensively throughout the world and is fluent in Spanish. We are honored and deeply grateful to have Michael Benjamin joining our mental health initiative, and in addition to providing individual therapy, Michael also co-facilitates a weekly middle school boys' circle.

Thu-Ha Park, MS, LPCC

Thu-Ha Park specializes in adolescent and adult Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and is the lead DBT therapist and Nystrom & Associates, Ltd. Park offers individual mental health therapy to address a variety of mood disorders and trauma-related issues, working with the transgender population at different points in their transition. Additionally, Park is a skilled practitioner who also works with high-risk adolescents and adults who struggle with suicidality, as well as individuals who have been working in the commercial sex industry and youth who have been exploited.

In addition to her professional background, Park has traveled extensively in East Africa and Vietnam where she taught English and has worked with orphaned children. She is the mother of two children and her husband is a RN at Mayo Clinic.

Park believes in meeting clients where they’re at in life and helping them explore who they are in the present. She says, “If I can share a genuine care and kindness to others, maybe they will find the power within themselves. I work to instill hope to help people see beyond the muck and muddy waters; the true essence of the growth of a lotus flower.”

In her role with Project Legacy Heals, Park will be offering individual therapy to Project Legacy youth, while providing consultation and guidance to staff. In the future, she will begin co-facilitating Healing Circle groups.

Erica Runkle, DNP APRN, CNP

Erica is trained as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner with a doctorate degree in nursing practice. Her treatment interest is in treating individuals from a trauma perspective, meaning the focus of therapy is always client-centered with an approach that is considerate of one's background, one that works to build rapport and connection, and one that promotes empowerment and resilience.

Erica currently works at Olmsted Medical Center in the department of Outpatient Psychiatry, serving those 18 and older with mental health needs. Prior to Olmsted Medical Center, she spent 13 years working as a psychiatric nurse at Mayo Clinic, specializing in child & adolescent inpatient psychiatry.

In addition to her current role, Erica recently completed a two year work experience at the Mayo Health System in LaCrosse, Wisconsin as a nursing director, serving in healthcare management. During this time she learned and utilized program development and LEAN management skills.

Working with Project Legacy Heals, Erica plans to continue her work and passion in serving the youth in the community of Rochester with the perspective and expertise of trauma-informed psychiatric and mental health interventions.

Debbie Fuehrer, LPCC

Debbie Fuehrer works as a Mind-Body Medicine Counselor in Integrative Medicine and Health at Mayo Clinic. She has a master’s degree in counseling and psychological services and is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) with the academic rank of Instructor in Medicine, Mayo College of Medicine.

She is also the program manager for Dr. Amit Sood's Transform Program. She provides counseling services to patients, educational activities and presentations related to Integrative Medicine and Health Mind-Body practices, including the topics of stress management and resiliency training, anxiety reduction, narrative healing, theatre therapy, and hypnosis to other healthcare professionals, including the Mayo Clinic Addictions Unit and groups external to Mayo Clinic.

She provided crisis assessment and counseling for the Olmsted County Diversion Program as a mental health professional through Zumbro Valley Health Center for several years, in addition to teaching child protection programs: Touch and No Easy Answers in the schools throughout southeastern Minnesota for over 20 years. During her internship at the Federal Medical Center – Rochester, Fuehrer started the theatre program for inmates at the mental health unit. Previously she worked as a investigator/paralegal for criminal and civil cases for 12 years.

This post has been updated.

Karen Edmonds