Clinical Psychologist; Assistant Professor of Graduate Psychology, Bay Path University
She Impacts Lives — and the Next Generation of Mental-health Professionals — for the Better
It’s not easy to cover everything Kristina Hallett has done in her wide-ranging career in one story. At least, not cover it in a way that fully conveys her impact.
Her past titles convey some of it. Director of Brightside Counseling Associates and then director of Children’s Services at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital, both in Holyoke. Supervising psychologist at Osborn Correctional Institute in Somers, Conn. Director of Psychology Internship Training at River Valley Services in Middletown, Conn. And currently, associate professor in Graduate Psycholology and director of Clinical Training at Bay Path University.
Oh, and she’s maintained a private psychotherapy practice in Suffield, Conn. for the past quarter-century.
There are some common threads.
“Dr. Hallett’s career spans over 25 years, during which she provided invaluable psychotherapy, consultation, and supervision to medical and mental-health professionals, addressing myriad relationship and major life issues. Her expertise in complex trauma and dissociative disorders is instrumental in supporting and empowering those facing significant psychological challenges,” wrote Crystal Neuhauser, vice president of Institutional Advancement at Bay Path, one of three people who nominated Hallett as a Healthcare Hero.
Just as importantly, “she is a guiding influence in shaping the next generation of mental-health practitioners. Her commitment to education and mentorship showcases her passion for instilling excellence, compassion, and cultural competence in students. She is especially passionate about guiding under-represented caregivers into the profession to help underserved communities see themselves in their mental-health professionals.”
That’s a mouthful, but it’s important to understand the generational impact of Hallett’s work — not only helping people move through often-severe challenges and trauma toward a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life (which she accomplishes as a teacher, therapist, executive coach, author, speaker, podcaster, and more), but she’s helping to raise up the next wave of mental-health professionals to do the same, at a time when the needs are great.
“When we’re talking about mental health, it’s about connection, and there are different ways to make a connection. And having a role model who look like you and who understands you is really important.”
“I’m just ecstatic about our program,” she said of her role at Bay Path, where she started teaching in 2015. “When I came, we had maybe 50 students. Right now, in our program, we have 280-plus students. This summer, they did a 100-hour practicum with us before their 600-hour internship out in the community. We had 62 students in practicum this summer, which is a logistical challenge, but we’re really able to help shape them, educate them, and give tools and resources to the next generation.”
Meanwhile, Hallett’s bestselling books, Own Best Friend: Eight Steps to a Life of Purpose, Passion, and Ease and Be Awesome! Banish Burnout: Create Motivation from the Inside Out, inspire personal growth and empowerment, while a co-authored workbook titled Trauma Treatment Toolbox for Teens is a resource for young people facing trauma-related challenges, and her contribution as a co-author to Millennials’ Guide to Relationships: Happy and Healthy Relationships are Not a Myth! reflects her commitment to enhancing the lives of diverse populations.
As an executive coach, she helps participants find lasting change in the areas of burnout, stress, motivation, and self-confidence. And her podcast, “Be Awesome: Celebrating Mental Health and Wellness,” provides hope and guidance to listeners, fostering an environment where seeking help and prioritizing mental health is normalized.
As noted, it’s a lot to take in, but Hallett is energized by the opportunity to impact so many lives in so many different ways. The opportunity, in fact, to be a Healthcare Hero.
Connected to Kids
Hallett’s private practice offers individual and family treatment, with some intriguing specialty areas, including psychotherapy for medical and mental-health professionals, military personnel, and first responders; substance abuse; mood disorders; LGBTQ clients; trauma recovery; and treatment of complex trauma and dissociative disorders.
It’s a far cry from her earliest goal in life, which was to be a pediatrician.
At Wellesley College, where she was a biology major in a pre-med program, she took a psychology course “for fun” — and found the topic interesting, so she added a double major in psychology. “My professors were like, ‘oh, you should go into psychology.’ And I said, ‘no, no, no, I’m going to be a pediatrician … right?’”
During her senior year, as she took her medical college admissions tests, Hallett found herself in an interview, being asked, ‘why do you want to go to medical school?’ And something clicked.
“I had this experience where my mouth kept talking, but a part of my brain said, ‘yeah, why do you want to go to medical school?’”
Her answer was to enroll at UMass Amherst — in a graduate psychology program.
That’s not to say she wouldn’t work with children, adolescents, and families, though. At her earliest career stops, she had plenty of opportunities for that, from her stint as regional program supervisor for the Key Program in Springfield from 1991 to 1995 to her roles with Brightside Counseling Associates from 1996 to 1998 and Providence Behavioral Health Hospital from 1998 to 2003.
“I loved the idea of working with adolescents because, while I was young, still in my 20s, I felt like they’re ripe for change; you can be honest with them … it’s a very real interaction, while adults are just stuck in their ways,” she said, adding quickly, “I don’t think that way anymore.”
That’s because she’s had plenty of experience working with clients of all ages. In fact, her next stops — at Osborn Correctional Institution from 2003 to 2005 and River Valley Services from 2005 to 2015 — broadened her experience dramatically.
“So the first half of my career was children and adolescents, but really centered on adolescents,” she said. “And it’s unusual for someone to be running an outpatient mental-health clinic and running inpatient children’s services, and then working in a prison.” At the time, she added, Osborn housed 2,000 male inmates and also arranged schedules for mental-health workers for some other local prisons.
Years later, while working at River Valley, Hallett had a yen to get into teaching, so she joined Bay Path as an adjunct professor in 2015, which quickly led to part-time work and then a full-time opportunity. It sure beat the commute from Suffield to Middletown, but there were other, more important reasons to make the jump.
“Bay Path had just started its clinical mental-health counseling program, and they were going to expand. And I thought, ‘yeah, I’m ready to do this full-time.’”
Her first title was coordinator of clinical training, which became director of clinical training. And this past spring, when the program director left, she took over that role.
“I’ve been responsible for bringing in a lot of faculty over the last few years, and this summer alone, I brought in four faculty who are former graduates of our program, all coming from different perspectives,” she told BusinessWest. “I like to bring back our graduates because they know the program, and we want to support them in their career. I’m trying to create a pathway for our students, post-graduation, to continue their own growth and learning.”
A couple years ago, Hallett’s department procured a behavioral-health workforce and education training grant through the Health Resources and Services Administration, to support and build up the young mental-health workforce, but also to better integrate these professionals into medical settings.
“So, you have a medical office with physicians, and then you have an embedded clinician,” she explained. “You come in for your annual physical, maybe you’ve been feeling a little down, and your physician says, ‘oh, you know what, I’ve got Stacy here who can maybe talk to you about that.’ And Stacy talks to you and sees if there are resources available to help you — therapy or whatever. So that’s a newer model that’s beginning to happen, which is great.
“It’s always about increasing access, because there’s a huge mental-health crisis, a huge need, a huge waiting list,” Hallett went on. “So anything to increase the workforce is great.”
In 2023, the third year of the four-year grant, Bay Path was able to fund 36 students to the tune of $10,000 each. “So 36 students are working full-time, many have families, and they’re still trying to get a master’s degree and go into the field. As you can imagine, it’s really hard to do all that and then work 600 hours as a clinician. So the $10,000 is phenomenal.”
She recently applied for another grant, with a bigger stipend, for students going through their internships and want to work in community-based clinics, either with services from the Department of Mental Health or a majority MassHealth clientele. “So the people who need the services are going to get good services,” she said, while, again, cultivating the next generation of professionals. “I am so excited about it.”
Heart of a Teacher
It was Hallett’s love for educating people, in fact, that led her to finding other ways to communicate.
“I love what I do one-to-one, and I love teaching. So what other ways do I have to make an impact with things that people really need to know?” she said. “The podcast and the books and the speaking are just ways to share messages and really say, ‘there are things that we can do to help ourselves, to feel a sense of agency, even when the world is sort of going crazy around us, and when there are really difficult challenges that we don’t necessarily have any control over.”
So much of her work, she said, has been with community-based organizations because she cares about access to mental health, especially for the underprivileged and underserviced. “I want to support and encourage an increase in a truly diverse workforce because that’s who we are. People need to see people like themselves. It’s not that they can never talk to people with differences; of course they can. But when we’re talking about mental health, it’s about connection, and there are different ways to make a connection. And having a role model who look like you and who understands you is really important.”
As for her decades of work with stress and trauma, in particular her work with clients from the military and first-responder communities, it started early on, working with adolescents in difficult situations.
“There are horrific things that humans do to each other that are certainly hard to live through,” she said. “They’re hard to hear about, and they’re hard to know. So I try to counteract that darkness with some kind of support. People who have gone through really horrible things deserve someone to stand in the witness of that.”
For a while, in the pre-COVID years, Hallett said, she was primarily working with medical and mental-health professionals in her practice. “These are small communities; it’s hard to find providers who work with providers. So that just sort of evolved. I had already started working with veterans and first responders, and then COVID hit, and that was a time when there was so much need.”
She no longer works with teens, and the goal for her adult clients is to get them back out living their lives and doing the work that’s meaningful to them. “But if something comes up at another point in time where something new has happened, you can come back. We create a relationship that allows you to come and go. I’m always working to create these longer-term relationships.”
And, not surprisingly, she has applied that passion to her other career at Bay Path, helping to create an advanced trauma certificate in her department.
“As practitioners in the field, we’re always asking, ‘what’s the latest? What’s backed by science? What do people need to know? What do we wish we knew when we were in school? And how do we continuously support the growth of the next generation?’” she said. “Because we need them.” n