BUSINESS OF THE WEEK
It is often said that no man is an island. Everybody, no matter how accomplished, occasionally needs the help of a counselor or coach to overcome obstacles and perform at their very best. Chantal Johnson, owner of Sunshine Counseling, is one person who has dedicated her life to helping people in need.
Johnson is a native of Sumter. She is a 2007 graduate of Sumter High School. After high school, she enrolled in South Carolina State University to study education.
Enrolling in SC State was a way to uphold a family tradition.
“My grandmother actually was an alumnus, and I wanted to do the same thing,” Johnson said. “It was kind of a family tradition. So I went there and I enjoyed it. I have my bachelor's degree, not in social work, but in education. I wanted to be a teacher. I had some really supportive professors that really helped me kind of see the world from a different place. I went there for education, but I knew I was probably more interested in behavioral sciences and working with adults rather than just specifically with children in education.”
Johnson graduated from SC State in 2012. After graduation, she got a job teaching science in Holly Hill, SC, then at Lakewood High School in Santee.
“When I was teaching, the students could be very difficult,” Johnson recalled. “I really wanted to understand just not the student and what they were going through for education, but also kind of what was in their mind, what was their motivation. And I didn't feel that a traditional education program really gave me that background. So I went back to school to get a good solid background in psychology and the Behavioral Sciences -- how people think and why people do what they do.”
During this time, she also worked part-time as a GED teacher.
“That's when I kind of fell in love with working with adults,” she said. “So I decided to go to graduate school, and applied to USC for their master of social work degree.”
Johnson enrolled at the University of South Carolina in 2014, and earned her Masters Degree in Social Work in 2016. She wanted to use her education to help families in need, especially parents.
“I think education is all about giving people a chance,” Johnson says. “I've always been attracted to the underdog and giving people second chances. Working with adults, I saw the benefits when a parent finished high school or earned their GED, how it helped their children. So it's not just about helping kids, it's also about helping the family. I always thought that helping adults is also helping the child. Children can really change their situation. But you can help an adult change their situation a lot quicker.”
After receiving her Masters, Johnson earned her Licensed Master of Social Work certification and got a job working in the Department of Corrections. In January 2019, she earned her Licensed Independent Social Worker for clinical practice certification, which allowed her to work with her own clients.
“I decided to open up my own practice, and see clients individually,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that by opening her own practice, she could address a critical need in the community.
“I think there's such a gap in services, especially for African Americans,” she says. “I didn't just want to be a therapist that was an office, I really want to be active in the community. I really want to help people in their environment -- really helping people through hard times and finding support systems. You know, we have high suicide rates. People don't talk about it, but African-American men are susceptible to suicide. So those are the things that we need to talk about as a community. And I think that having a social worker or clinician on the ground, and really being integral in people's lives, will help.”
Johnson opened Sunshine Counseling to provide services to people in need, initially in Columbia and Sumter.
“We offer individual counseling for children and adolescences,” Johnson said. “Family and couples counseling. Couples counseling doesn't have to be a wife or husband. I'm currently seeing a mother and daughter and helping them work through their issues. It can also be a father, a daughter, whatever the dynamic may be between that those two individuals. I also see veterans, and I specialize in trauma.”
In addition, Johnson launched a community outreach program to educate the community about mental health issues.
“I’m talking about mental health and giving people the opportunity to have conversations with a professional about what is depression? What does that look like? What does that look like in men versus women? What does that look like in children?”
Another area that Sunshine Counseling deals with is end of life issues.
“One of the areas I've worked in is in hospice -- end of life care and end of life planning,” Johnson said. “That's not something that is talked about. We help families navigate hospice services, hospitals, and even the Veterans Administration. People don't think about, when you're on your deathbed, questions like: “Who do you want around? Do you want people around? Do you want to be offered food? Do you want someone to bathe you every day? So we help families have those very, very difficult conversations. Some people are just not able to do it, so that comes with family counseling as well.”
Johnson says that everyone should have access to counseling services.
“I accept all health insurance,” Johnson says. “I also am a Medicaid provider, and I'm currently working on becoming a Medicare provider.”
Johnson also said that she can help people regardless of their income.
“Having health insurance helps,” she says, “but if you don't have health insurance, we accept the sliding scale. So let's say you don't have any income, or you don't have health insurance, we look at how much money you have. My mother has worked in healthcare for the past 40 years, so she understands how to bill and she understands a sliding scale. So if you don't make anything, we don't charge you anything. Which is wonderful, because not everyone has the financial means to have counseling. So if you don't have any financial means, if you can show proof of that, then there's no charge.”
Long term, Johnson says that she wants to work closely with churches and religious leaders.
“I want to focus on the black church,” she said. “That's probably one of the areas that I think there's a lot of need. How do we integrate mental health and religion? And how do those two work together? I don't think people in the church have all the answers. So I want to be a good resource for churches for pastors, to help them assist with their members.”
Johnson says that it is just a part of her mission to serve people who are underrepresented in health care. Her goal is to help clients all over the state, especially in underserved rural communities.
“If someone wants to meet in Greenville or any other place, we can always do Skype or FaceTime,” Johnson said. “It doesn't necessarily always have to be in person. I have a client in Charlotte, and I see her in person and on FaceTime. So it doesn't always have to be face to face. I also do sessions on weekends and at night. So if you have a busy work schedule, we can definitely work around it.”
“I definitely understand meeting people where they're at,’ Johnson continued. “Not everyone has the money to go to therapy sessions that are hour away. So keeping that in mind, I know that my mission is to serve people who are underrepresented in healthcare settings, specifically mental health. That means people who are in areas who do not have access, people who are not physically able to leave their homes. With the help with technology, and being a mobile business, that gives me the ability to move about and be a little bit more accessible.”
When asked what motivates her, Johnson says, “What drives me is helping people be the best version of themselves.”
Chantel Johnson can be reached at Sunshine Counseling at (803) 651-8834.