Sunday, January 20th, 2019

S Shopper Stories


Life’s unexpected turns led Dr. Sarah Williams-Tolliver to find her calling

by Candance Moore

Dr. Sarah Williams-Tolliver

Dr. Sarah Williams-Tolliver

It can happen to anyone, regardless of social or financial status. One unstoppable emotional downward spiral, and a lifetime of achievement can come undone. Fortunately, timely mental health intervention is a powerful way to prevent this.

At the intersection of mental health and physical wellness, clinical counseling has proven to be a literal lifesaver. Dr. Sarah Williams-Tolliver of Covenant Way Clinical Counseling and Psychotherapy has watched first-hand as freedom from mental or emotional bondage transformed patients’ lives.

“I see people get better,” Dr. Sarah states simply, “not just getting by on medication, but getting their lives back. That’s an incredible thing to witness. It’s why I love my job.”

A quest for freedom lead Dr. Sarah through unexpected ways into clinical counseling. She began her career in education, ultimately earning a PhD and becoming a health sciences professor at Norfolk State and TCC. With a Navy officer husband and an adorable set of twins, she seemed to have the perfect life.

Her first truly heartbreaking moment came when her son was diagnosed with high-functioning autism. After wrestling with every emotion a mother could feel in that situation, Dr. Sarah focused her energy in a positive direction. With much effort and loving support, her son is now advancing toward independence.

My PhD didn’t insulate me
from the human experience.
No professional credential,
no amount of money,
nothing changed the reality
of what was happening...
This set my career
in a new direction.

—Dr. Sarah Williams-Tolliver

When students approached her for advice, this motherly professor took such an interest in their life stories, that soon they trusted her with their personal issues. She found herself more and more adept in the role of counselor. An accomplished woman who eagerly takes on every aspect of life with faith, good humor and courage, she offered practical advice from her own personal experiences.

At the height of this success, her mother’s diagnosis of terminal cancer unexpectedly pulled her back home to Florida for several months. As she processed the emotional burden, she was surprised by how much she struggled in spite of her highly analytical education. She returned to Hampton Roads with a deeper understanding of how a strong person can falter beneath life’s inherent burdens.

Then cancer struck again. This time it was her husband. Serving as caregiver for a terminally ill loved one twice within five years, she reached a breaking point when she knew her calling in life was about to change.

“My PhD didn’t insulate me from the human experience,” she recalls. “No professional credential, no amount of money, nothing changed the reality of what was happening. I was forced to rely on the same mental health techniques as everyone else.  It made me question how many of my peers privately struggled as well. This set my career in a new direction.”

She left the world of academia to earn a counseling degree from Liberty University. Wanting to help others in as many ways as possible, she sought credentialing in a broad range of areas. She has specialized training in Grief, Stress, and Trauma. Leveraging her background in health science, she’s also qualified to counsel on nutrition and weight loss.

After navigating the rigorous credentialing process, overseen by Eden Counseling’s Jill Nardin LPC, NCC, Dr. Sarah was well positioned to start seeing patients. She completed her residency at Wyndhurst Counseling.

She instantly connected with patients, and results were soon evident in their lives. Here was a clinical counselor who had lived the full spectrum of experiences, whose sympathy was more than theoretical and whose advice was more than textbook, guiding patients through techniques clinically known to work.

“Modern counseling can often give a patient improvement with brief, highly practical interventions. I’ve seen many faces light up after just a few weeks,” she describes.

Patients with chronic conditions found drug-free ways to minimize pain. Parents with a special-needs child learned skills to stop the meltdown cycle. Sometimes, physical symptoms disappeared entirely. Dr. Sarah watched in amazement as clinical counseling supplemented medicine to keep at-risk patients in the best possible condition.

She soon had a vision for a practice with broad capabilities. Clinical methods would merge with lifestyle coaching, support groups, and safe environments to release family tension. Dr. Sarah took on nearly every kind of patient, from the working mother who felt like she was drowning to the child who survived a traumatic event.

At her new practice, Covenant Way, she continues to see a diverse group of patients. Visits are effectively clinical yet approached in a casual manner. Jittery children are allowed to play outside while Dr. Sarah gets to know them. A closed-off patient chats over coffee until feeling safe enough to explore complicated emotions.

Dr. Sarah also works around schedules to remove as many barriers as possible. Caregivers and new mothers can schedule virtual meetings on a private, HIPAA-compliant video platform.

She is even credentialed as an Employee Assistance Professional, meaning employers invite her to their workplace when a valuable employee needs help getting through a rough patch.

“Healthcare professionals in particular are vulnerable to burnout and emotional overload,” she notes. “Some quick, affordable intervention can often prevent very costly future breakdowns.”

Although many patients benefit from brief, results-oriented treatment, those with long-term therapy needs are also welcome. Patients fighting substance addiction are guided to the best resources thanks to Dr. Sarah’s network of trusted professionals. She explains that her goal is to help every patient find freedom.

“I make myself available in every way I can,” she assures with a smile. “My practice offers quality clinical intervention in a truly compassionate and easygoing atmosphere. Whatever a patient is going through, there’s a good chance I can personally relate.”

“My favorite part is when a patient comes for their final visit, beaming with joy, and says they don’t need me anymore,” Dr. Sarah concludes. “I live for that moment. It’s such an honor to be invited on the journey.”

Covenant Way Clinical Counseling

638 Indendendence Parkway
Chesapeake, VA 23320