Idaho has a severe shortage of behavioral health providers, especially in rural areas. The Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health created a $1.5 million scholarship program with Idaho State University that provides financial support to students seeking behavioral health degrees and incentivizes clinical placement in rural areas to improve healthcare access in Idaho.
Alyssa Smollack was born and raised in the Treasure Valley, but her family moved to Anaconda, Montana, when she was 9 years old. It was a stressful time for her.
“I struggled with anxiety when I was younger and it started with that first move,” she said. “It was really hard to be in school, and I just wanted to be at home with my mom. I was struggling.”
Things changed when Smollack met with a counselor.
“I don’t remember what she said to me, but I remember feeling almost instantly better,” she said. “I like what she did for me, and I just want to do that for other people.”
Smollack is in her third year of graduate school at Idaho State University and is expecting to graduate in May with the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) credential. She is a recipient of a scholarship funded by the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health.
It was that initial appointment with the counselor that started her on this career path.
“I feel blessed in a way because since I was in fourth grade that this is what I wanted to do,” she said.
Smollack, who earned her undergraduate degree in Psychology online from Arizona State University, needs to complete 1,040 clinical hours to earn her LPC credential and graduate degree. She is interning at Life Counseling Center in Nampa, where she has made a great impression.
“I’ve been supervising interns for 25 years, and she’s in the top five percent in terms of what I look in terms of the basic characteristics you need to be a good counselor,” said Jeff Wright, the Clinical Director and CEO of Life Counseling Center. “She’s been great, and I think she’ll do great as a therapist.”
Those characteristics Wright mentioned include demeanor, approachability, critical thinking, and curiosity. He also talked about how non-verbal cues such as smiling make a difference in making patients more comfortable.
“I have to coach that up with some interns, but I don’t have to do that with her,” he said. “She is honing all these skills and has added more. She’s been great, and I wish I had more students like her.”
Smollack is enjoying the internship because it has allowed her to work with a variety of ages and populations. She said she has clients from ages 7 to 55.
“I see everyone, and I like that,” she said. “Everyone is so unique and special, and it’s nice to get to know all these different kinds of people and connect in different ways. It’s fulfilling and rewarding.”
Smollack had been living in Tracy, California, before she moved back to Idaho in 2019. Her parents also returned to the Treasure Valley. Her fiancé and his family have moved to the area, too. The couple is planning an August wedding.
“Idaho has always been home to me,” she said. “I just like it up here – I like the weather, we’re outdoors people so hiking, riding bikes and paddleboarding. I see a future here.”