A Listening Ear

Former CITC employee launches successful counseling practice, offers counseling for CITC staff

Alyssa Cotten

When Alyssa Cotten landed a job at CITC, she was fresh out of college, having just earned her master’s degree in community counseling. At the time, the new lead clinician joined a Recovery Services (RS) department that was staffed by just twenty people.

Today, RS boasts more than 80 employees — but Alyssa is no longer one of them. Instead, she is a professional counselor specializing in therapy individuals and couples struggling with anxiety, PTSD, co-dependency, dual diagnosis, and addiction.

Alyssa is still part of the CITC family, though. Through a contract with Alaska’s People, she now offers group and individual sessions to CITC employees.

“It’s about offering a listening ear from someone who knows the dynamics and the mission of the organization,” Alyssa explained.

Alyssa knows CITC well. Not only was she an RS employee, but she worked closely with Child & Family Services, the Alaska Native Justice Center, and CITC’s Tribal Liaison on projects like facilitating CITC’s annual all-staff meeting and creating the “recovery wheel,” a self-care tool adapted from the traditional medicine wheel.

She has also weathered many of the upheavals CITC employees have experienced over the last few years. Starting with a major building remodel in 2017, CITC staff has had to relocate services and office locations a number of times, including after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake in November 2018 damaged portions of the Nat’uh Service Center.

“I know the timeline of struggles staff has been through, from the earthquake to the remodel to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Alyssa pointed out. “That unique lens allows me to understand the changes staff has had to work through, the resiliency they’ve shown, and the grief they’ve worked through.”

Alyssa facilitates Learning Circles, which are based on the traditional Talking Circles and provide an opportunity for CITC staff to meet in person and talk about a variety of topics, from spiritual wellness, to goal-setting, to cultural values. Currently, Learning Circles are being held virtually.

Alyssa initially offered two virtual Learning Circles to CITC staff in December. The informal counseling sessions were participant-directed and covered subjects ranging from holiday stress to isolation issues to self-care. Alyssa is also available for confidential individual counseling for CITC employees.

As someone who previously worked at CITC in a high-stress field, Alyssa recognizes the need mental health and wellness services for staff.

“Our field is very high-turnover, and we give so much of ourselves — it can lead to burnout,” she explained. Three years into her career at CITC, Alyssa moved into a training position in the RS department. “I was the go-to person for what to do if you were struggling, burnt out, or needed to find that work-life balance.”

When Alyssa began work on launching her own counseling practice, RS was there to support her. She was able to transition to a part-time position with CITC while she got her practice established. When she was finally able to focus on her practice full time, CITC offered her a contract to provide training and individual professional development.

You can access Alyssa’s services, too, through her mental health Youtube channel. This month, she’s offering a 30-day wellness challenge for followers.

“I know our community has such a need for extra services right now,” she said, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason people are seeking out mental health support. “I’ve only taken on three new clients in 2020. Current clients are staying in therapy longer. I want to branch out and normalize asking for help.

“In Alaska Native culture, we know it takes a village to raise somebody,” she added. “So why do we stop offering and asking for help when we’re adults? We still need community; we still need to know we don’t have to do everything on our own.”

For more information about Alyssa’s services, visit arctichorizoncounseling.com or check out her Youtube channel.

To explore careers at CITC, visit our Careers portal.