Fluvanna Faces: Devin Byam

By Harvey J. Sorum

Devin, tell our readers a little about your background prior to starting Fluvanna Family Counseling.

I have been working in mental health/with youth for many years. I started working as a camp counselor, moved to working with Teens GIVE with Community Attention in Charlottesville, and then began the process of becoming an LPC (licensed professional counselor) by starting my M.Ed at the College of William and Mary. After getting my degree I worked at Elk Hill in Goochland to complete my residency. During my time at Elk Hill I worked at their residential program and in Goochland County Public Schools providing Therapeutic Day Treatment and School-Based Outpatient Therapy. 

Why did you want to become a professional counselor?

Most people decide to become a counselor due to some form of personal experience or exposure to the negative impact untreated mental health concerns can have on a community or person. I specifically became a counselor due to seeing the generational impact of untreated mental health on families, marriages, and individuals.  It’s rewarding to give people the tools and space to find their strengths and overcome their struggles. 

What educational training must a professional counselor complete?

To become a professional counselor you need to complete a 4 year bachelor degree and a masters level program. The profession is regulated on a state level primarily so the requirements will differ by state. After completing the education components, you will begin a residency period which typically takes 2-4 years to complete. This includes continuing education, direct client contact, intensive supervision, and a licensure test. After completing these, you will register with the state and become recognized as LPC. At this point you must complete continuing education to maintain your license. 

How long has Fluvanna Family Counseling been available to those who can benefit from your services?

I started Fluvanna Family Counseling as a part-time job in 2019. I was motivated in wanting to provide more local services for families. I typically worked only evenings and weekends after my full-time job. After COVID started, I transitioned from Elk Hill to working at Fluvanna Family Counseling full-time. In the last year we have started the process of expanding. We currently have a clinical intern, a licensed social worker, and a resident-in-counseling who started with the practice in early April. We hope to expand as the needs continue to grow in the community. 

It seems many people are hesitant meeting with a counselor because of negative implications.  Have you found this to be true?

Unfortunately, yes. There are many obstacles that impact a person’s willingness to participate in counseling or to pursue any help at all. Our values are rooted in creating more accessible local mental health.  We hope to overcome some of these barriers by raising awareness of available help and reducing stigma in seeking it out. My hope is that everyone reading this recognizes that it takes a great deal of strength and wisdom to pursue personal growth as a person. Many of us invest more time and money into maintaining our homes or cars than we do our relationships. At Fluvanna Family Counseling, we consider it a privilege to walk beside you, regardless of where you are in your journey. 

Since you started Fluvanna Family Counseling, have you seen the need of professional counseling increase over the years?  If so, what are the main reasons?

There are many factors that influence our growing need for mental health support. Primarily COVID-19 and the associated quarantines. COVID-19 certainly was a major stressor for many people, but it actually exacerbated problems that already existed. As a society we have become increasingly isolated, often spending large amounts of time connecting through screens, phones, and other avenues that lack more personal connection. Kids and teens are increasingly influenced by unhealthy or unrealistic standards and messages received through social media, television, and other places on the internet. There is an increasing awareness of disparities in our society as they relate to wealth, race, faith, gender/sexual identity, politics, and many more that is reinforcing the “us vs them” mentality that continues to divide us. All of these issues existed before COVID, but with increased isolation and inability to connect with others, the impacts of these factors were amplified astronomically for many. 

Like in many professions, there is a shortage of qualified people.  Is this true with trained personal counseling? 

We are currently in the midst of the highest need for mental health support that our country has ever seen, yet we are unable to train and equip mental health providers at the pace that we are needing them. The reality is that this field is neither easy to work in nor lucrative for most. The average counselor graduates with nearly 80k dollars in debt, with as much as 150k or more. They will then move to a low paying job in their residency that will often pay them 25k-35k dollars per year. After becoming licensed they will then spend the remainder of their careers typically navigating the ever changing and profit driven insurance companies to provide help to the individuals who need it. This often leads to burnout, resulting in many people leaving the field early or moving to positions where they can take less clients and charge more for services. All of this is happening while the need for counselors is set to increase by 20-30 percent by 2030. 

Are public/private schools helping children with indications of depression? 

Yes. There is a growing awareness for how mental health is impacting youth, especially now. There are many resources in schools for children experiencing signs of mental health distress and depression. School counselors are trained mental health professionals who can work with students in need of support in school. Schools also are staffed with Social Workers who connect with families, the Department of Social Services, and other resources in the area to meet the needs of students. In Fluvanna the school system has been very involved with my practice in finding places for students to be seen who need support, looking into developing effective programming, and addressing concerns that impact students at home. Unfortunately, schools are facing many of the same issues that the whole mental health field is facing. This includes low funding, high need, and lack of personnel to meet these needs.

It seems our youth have been heavily impacted because of the changes caused by coronavirus.  Are these challenges with young people temporary or are they permanent?  If permanent, are there cures?

COVID has been and continues to be a complicated issue regarding the impact on mental health. As addressed above, COVID was a major stressor that exacerbated many already present issues. The ripple effect of COVID will certainly be felt in families, schools, and communities for many years to come. That being said, people are often amazingly resilient and strong. With the support of parents, friends, trusted adults, and mental health professionals when necessary, I am optimistic that youth will be able to manage and grow through this time. Like any trauma, people typically don’t just move on, but instead we grow around and learn to cope. Like with many mental health issues, connection, support, and genuine love and concern will be one of the most important factors in supporting youth. 

Many lay persons want to help our young if they are experiencing problems.  How can untrained people best support youth/children who are struggling?

The best thing we can do for any person who is struggling is listen without judgment. Often, anxiety and depression exist in a place of isolation. Adults need to learn the signs of someone who is struggling, engage the individual, and then sit and listen. Young people often do not need advice, discipline, or a long story of what it was like when you were younger. Young people need to know that they are seen and heard. If they need advice they will ask. If they want to hear a story they will ask. They are begging to be seen and heard, we just need to listen. 

Is “group therapy” an answer in any way?  If so, what are the guidelines?

It can be. Finding practices or individuals who offer group therapy is challenging at times. Schools will sometimes offer groups that can foster connections between students. The typical guidelines for groups are the same as individual counseling. If you are in a group, you keep what is discussed in the group private. It is a place to open, share, and be heard. There is something very healing about being in a place with people who are experiencing similar issues. Groups offer a level of connection and support that can be invaluable. 

How do we detect children who are in depression?  If we know what the indications are, what do we do to start the healing process?

Warning signs of depression:

Sad or depressed affect (facial expressions and body language);

Irritability or anger (especially in kids-teens);


Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities;

Changes in eating (over eating and/or under eating);

Difficulty sleeping (over sleeping and/or under sleeping);

Feeling sluggish. Moving and speaking slower than usual;

Fatigue or tiredness present through large portions of the day;

Difficulty thinking and concentrating;

Thinking about death or thinking about and/or engaging in self-harm;

Unusual difficulty in home, school, with friends, work, etc. 

Warning Signs of Anxiety:

Experiencing worry frequently and being unable to manage worry;

Feeling restless or on edge;

Being easily fatigued;

Difficulty concentrating and mind often going blank;


Muscle tension (neck and back are common);

Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep. Unsatisfying sleep);

Unusual difficulty in home, school, with friends, work, etc.

The most important thing when noticing signs of depression is to not panic. Children and teens will recognize this and it can lead to feelings of shame and guilt and cause them to shut off. As addressed above, make sure that you are listening. Offer support and not advice. If you are noticing that after talking about things with your child or someone who is struggling and they continue to need support, reach out to a mental health professional. Early intervention with depression and anxiety is always more effective than if the person has been struggling for longer periods of time. If you are not sure if you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety, please feel free to call our office and ask. We would be happy to help you figure out the next steps. 

Is there anything you’d like to add?

If you are someone you know has been struggling, you are not alone. Students can reach out to their school counselors. Parents, please reach out to your children’s school counselors as well. You can also utilize these resources below:

Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255

Region 10 Crisis Support: 434-972-1800

Fluvanna Family Counseling: 434-207-2554 or devin@fluvannafamilycounseling.com

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us (to find a therapist).

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