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Spotlight On...Licensed Addiction Counselor Heather Peterson

Heather Peterson is from a small town in Northeastern Iowa famous for its diversity called Postville. You may have heard of it; the town was featured in a book published in 2000, Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America about the Hasidic Lubavitcher Jews who settled there. Heather lived in Postville until moving to Cedar Falls to attend the University of Northern Iowa as a social work major. There she took a course, Psychology and Law, that sparked her interest in how psychology feeds into the legal system and child trauma. This course changed her career trajectory. Following her graduation from UNI, she went out to get her Masters Degree in Forensic Psychology from the University of Denver.


“In Denver, I earned my clinical masters degree and that’s where I honed in on how I can work in the criminal justice system, helping people and uniting those together,” she says.


One of Heather’s first internships was with Urban Peak in Denver, a juvenile homeless shelter, doing street outreach. Hitting the streets of Denver, Heather’s job was to provide resources and create a safe space for youth to take advantage of. Next, she decided to try her hand as a juvenile probation officer with Denver Juvenile Probation, where she dealt with substance abuse and related charges. 


Just as Heather finished graduate school, her old mentor at UNI tapped her to come and teach the course that started it all, Psychology and Law. “I circled back to Cedar Falls and taught the class in the same classroom I took it in. It was wild,” she laughs.


After teaching in Cedar Falls for awhile, Heather decided to go back to Denver and was able to convert her classes online and work for the continuing education department. Thus began her career in online teaching, circa 2010. Eventually Heather found a job as a mental health clinician in Gunnison, Colorado and pursued her credentials as a licensed addiction counselor. Opening her own treatment center, Teocalli Treatment Options, Heather specializes in Impaired Driving treatment. Fast forward to 2022 and living in Colorado, Heather heard of the I Matter Colorado program through a newsletter she subscribed to from the Office of Behavioral Health. Intrigued, Heather jumped on the opportunity to be an I Matter counselor. 


“I am so impressed, not only with the I Matter program but also with what TeleTeachers is doing within the program. The collaboration across all the boards is smooth and stellar, and there’s always a willingness to get provider input in order to grow.”

Heather says her favorite part of the I Matter program is the the flexibility it allows; the idea of “meet them where they’re at” online. She believes that allowing youth the freedom to book a session whenever they want, from wherever they are makes all the difference. 


“Youth are really teaching us what they need. So thank goodness for I Matter and TeleTeachers for providing a space to share confidentially. I feel blessed to be part of this program that’s making me a better counselor, and even a better parent.”


What is something the kids in the I Matter program taught you? What are you learning about yourself?

They are brilliant. They are so much smarter than anyone has given them credit for. They have the emotional intelligence; such wisdom about what they need. We have to fortify their hearts because they are dealing with so much. 


Is there one specific thing you’ve accomplished that fills you with pride?

I’m proud that at one point I had over 100 youth on my caseload in I Matter! To have hit that number and see that many youth reaching out, and to have sat with their stories that blew my mind and broke my heart apart…it is just so necessary. I’m proud to have been available to these kids when they needed it most.


What are you learning about yourself as a counselor?

The kids are teaching me that although I need to learn some things, I already have a plethora of resources to help them. Sometimes the answer is just to sit with them and allow them to be seen and heard.


Anything you’d still like to tackle in your career?

I’d like to have a mobile mental health office; maybe cruise to Denver on the weekends and be posted up somewhere in my CyberLandr meeting them where they are at! Hop on in and talk! It will be streamed with Starlink internet and TeleTeachers will be right there with me. We’re doing it together. I just feel like that’s where the world is going so let’s get ahead of it.