The Robin Theory of mental health
While growing up on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dr. E. Susanne “Susy” Francis Best was acutely conscious of that very thin line that separates those who rise above difficult circumstances, and those who fall victim to them.
What decisions, she wondered, allowed some of her peers to thrive while others struggled? That early interest in psychology ultimately led Dr. Best to a place that would change her life—and would in turn allow The Chicago School of Professional Psychology alumna to change the lives of others by providing counseling services to underserved communities.
“One of the great things about The Chicago School is that everyone is open to new ideas and to giving you a platform for putting your ideas into action,” says Dr. Best, who received a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology in 2003. “So many of my professors and peers believed in me—and in what I was doing—and helped me make it happen.”
Dr. Best says she had that demographic in mind at CCCOC when she executed what she refers to a “Robin Hood” business strategy, charging those in affluent areas for training and seminars so that she could offer free and discounted counseling services in lower-income areas.
It was her training at The Chicago School that allowed her to step into a President and Chief Executive Officer role at the Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago (CCCOC), a faith-based nonprofit that Dr. Best developed into one of the fastest growing and most influential mental health organizations in the city. That experience and ongoing support from The Chicago School community led her to found Thrive Group International in 2014, which she now leads as president.
Fulfilling a vision
“That’s why I’m so passionate about the school,” says Dr. Best, who left Cornerstone to lead Thrive full-time in December 2015. “It was exactly what I needed to fulfill my vision, and that is to remove the stigma associated with counseling that so often plagues urban neighborhoods. In many areas, you have to help people overcome the misconception that if you go to counseling you must be crazy.”
Dr. Best says she had that demographic in mind at CCCOC when she executed what she refers to a “Robin Hood” business strategy, charging those in affluent areas for training and seminars so that she could offer free and discounted counseling services in lower-income areas. She started her outreach to children by offering after-school programs in public schools, which helped children work through their social and emotional issues in small groups, while providing teachers training on how to properly deal with troubled students.
Intent on creating a truly holistic treatment model—and drawing on her girlhood observations about the power of faith communities—Dr. Best then created counseling opportunities for parents and families through an ever-growing network of churches, where the CCCOC offers seminars followed by free counseling sessions to all members of each congregation.
“We tried to give people practical tools that could help them build better relationships,” says Dr. Best, who continues that empowering work today with Thrive Group International. “What I’m doing now is on a more global level, giving individuals and companies the tools to flourish and grow.”
Her good work has not gone unnoticed.
Thrive Group initiatives also build on a project she spearheaded five years ago with a colleague from The Chicago School. Together with Dr. Perry Myers and 12 TCSPP students, Dr. Best launched a service learning project in St. Croix to provide professional development programs for clinicians as well as therapy services to the residents of the island.
“This is my passion,” she explains. “I want to use the opportunities The Chicago School has given me to create access to quality emotional, mental health, and life enrichment resources to those motivated to live life to the fullest.”
Her good work has not gone unnoticed.
Dr. Best has been a featured guest on Moody Radio, ABC’s Windy City Live, First Business News Network, and several other media outlets. In January 2014, she was honored as CBS’s “Woman to Know.” She is also a fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago and currently serves on the Leadership Fellows Association Board.
“In all my work since graduating from The Chicago School, I have seen huge doors open for mental health services through faith and educational communities,” she adds. “Thrive will continue to build on that momentum.”