After earning a master’s degree in professional counseling from Liberty University in Virginia, Melissa Richards moved to Tampa, Florida, where she encountered a variety of populations and concerns in her many hours of training to become a licensed mental health counselor. Coincidentally, Tampa is also the birthplace of her first foray into private practice: otherwise known as Restoration Counseling Center. While she continues to practice today (though now based in Miami), Melissa enjoys any opportunity she’s offered that allows her to expand her counseling reach and notes the honor and joy she receives from “walking alongside so many hurting people.” That includes writing articles and speaking to larger audiences through various conferences or podcasts—and as of this summer, it also includes joining the Mental Health News Radio Network team.
You may have caught Melissa on one of MHNR’s weekly Empowered Empaths show, along with Kristin Sunanta Walker and counselor Melanie Vann. (She’s now become a regular guest.) Melissa also cohosted the recent NCAD conference with Kristin. Just exactly what roles lie ahead with Melissa at MHNR remains to be seen, but she maintains she’s excited for any and all opportunities here: “I’m up for the adventure!”
Keep reading for more into what led Melissa to counseling, the role faith plays in her personal and professional life, and her most unusual obsession with pearly whites.
Enjoy the podcasts where Melissa’s voice has become an integral part of our shows:
MHNR: Do you have a personal connection to mental health topics? From where (and when) does your passion for behavioral health topics stem?
Richards: A passion for people has long been a companion of mine, and caring for them in a professional capacity makes my heart sing. It is in my DNA to find fulfillment in encouraging, challenging, and nurturing others. God designed me to walk alongside those who are hurting, and it is my great delight to do so.
For me, counseling is one of those things in life that “just makes sense.” I have known since 11th grade in high school that I would be a therapist. While my professional training assists me immensely in counseling others, my own history of eating disorders, codependency, anxiety, grief, and narcissistic abuse have all offered a personal connection to those who suffer with the same.
MHNR: Are there any behavioral health “soft spots” that you most love talking about? If so, what are they and why are they so close to your heart?
Richards: I really enjoy helping people with whatever issue ails them, which is what private practice allows me to do and why I love it so much. But I’d say some of my soft spots in the past have been adult adoptees, identity/image issues, and codependency. Today I probably spend more time on eating disorders, narcissistic abuse, grief, and trauma. Though it’s hard to say which I like more.
MHNR: What was your anticipated role when you first joined the team?
Richards: I was invited as a one-time guest speaker, just sharing my own personal experiences with narcissists, along with some clinical insight. When Kristin and I hit it off so well, she invited me to come back anytime. We’ve been having a blast ever since!
MHNR: Most important or otherwise beloved topic you’ve helped spread awareness on—and why?
Richards: Narcissistic abuse—because it’s so devastating and so hidden. There just hasn’t been a lot of information out there on the topic until recently, so people have been largely suffering in silence and feeling hopeless. I hope to see the legal system, churches, schools, and more therapists adapt to the new information that has and continues to become available on this issue.
Also, there’s a lot that’s not understood about adoptees and their lifelong grief. Or about eating disorders and what exactly is the way out of them (as mere behavior modification is never a solution on its own). But more than spreading awareness on a particular topic is my passion for spreading a Christian perspective on how to view, think about, and address those issues.
MHNR: Favorite part of working with the folks at MHNR?
Richards: We laugh. A lot. It’s like family, the support we offer each other. It also feels great knowing that people are getting much-needed help from the work we’re doing—and for some people, it seems to come at a time when perhaps they most need it.
MHNR: Most surprising part of this gig?
Richards: How much fun it is! It’s easy in one sense because it’s a pleasure, but it’s also been eye-opening how much work goes into all of it behind the scenes. Also, I love that there’s always more to learn. Every time I do a show with the girls, I come away having a lot more insight into whatever issues have come up (either those we anticipated talking about, or those we didn’t).
MHNR: What’s your biggest aspiration for your role here at MHNR?
Richards: To walk through whatever door God opens for me. Perhaps to interview and host people on a number of counseling-related topics, but to do it from a primarily Christian perspective. To reach that target audience since the mental health world has often been under-addressed in the church setting. I feel they would be better equipped if information was put out in a way the Church would receive it.
MHNR: What’s something most readers (or listeners) might be surprised to learn about you?
Richards: I’m obsessed with teeth. It’s a real issue. I dream about getting veneers or dentures one day so they will be perfect. Ridiculous, really! Most people have fat days. On my bad days, I feel like my teeth aren’t right and bemoan them endlessly in the mirror—nevermind that I had braces and they’re probably pretty good teeth by most standards.
MHNR: What brings you joy, both inside and outside of your professional pursuits?
Richards: Jesus! Coffee, laughing with friends, long insightful conversations, adventure (as long as it’s planned), learning new things, as well as singing and dancing (although I am terrible at both!).
MHNR: And lastly, what would you most like readers (or listeners) to know about who you are and what you seek to accomplish in your role with MHNR and more broadly in your career?
Richards: I just want to help people. They are God’s entire heart. I love helping people see their own patterns, understand how God sees them, and learn new ways to truly heal and grow and see the progress they’re capable of. While I adore the one-on-one atmosphere of the counseling office, it has occurred to me that the masses can be helped simultaneously in an hour as opposed to just one person. Even still, nothing can quite replace the intimacy of a serene private office setting with undivided attention.
Passion for people has long been a companion of mine, and caring for them in a professional capacity makes my heart sing. It is in my DNA to find fulfillment in encouraging, challenging, and nurturing others. God designed me to walk alongside those who are hurting, and it is my great delight to do so. In life, some things “just make sense”. For me, counseling is one of those things.
After receiving a Psychology major and Church Ministries/Bible minors from Clearwater Christian College, I earned my M.A. in Professional Counseling from Liberty University in Virginia. My training as a student and state-registered intern was done in Tampa, Fl where I got experience treating a variety of populations and concerns. Tampa is also birthplace of my own venture into private practice.
Today, I continue to enjoy treating adolescents and adults for varied issues as a licensed mental health counselor in the state of Florida. Although my office is located in Miami, Fl, I also see clients across the states via teleconferencing and video sessions. In addition to one-on-one counseling, I also enjoy speaking at workshops and conferences.
My specializations within the field of mental health have been developed through a combination of formal education, clinical experience, personal life experiences, and the experiences of those I love. I enjoy working with a variety of issues, and have a great deal of patience with the slow and sometimes uncertain process of healing deep wounds. My approach to counseling acknowledges the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual factors that contribute to a person’s functioning. I find that a comprehensive approach addressing the multidimensional nature of people and relationships typically yields equally comprehensive results.
On a personal note, some of my favorite things include spending time with family, reading, being active, listening to soothing music, perusing social media, shopping (uh-oh!), girlfriend coffee shop dates, talking, talking, and more talking. I’ve always had a secondary interest in interior design also; however, instead of rearranging objects and places, I help transform people’s inner spaces. While both require creativity and a vision for possibilities, for me, there is untold satisfaction in the restoration of a place, but even more so a life!
It would be my great pleasure to meet and learn about YOU.
“He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.” (Ps. 147:3)