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The Village Family Service Center

Amber Morrighan
The Village Family Service Center

Class of 2014

Amber Morrighan was selected for her leadership in trauma screening and her community service through Stearns County Mental Health Task Force, March of Dimes and other organizations.

What are you doing now?

As the regional program supervisor, I continue to direct the operations of The Village Family Service Center in St. Cloud and provide direct clinical services to clients. The Village provides mental health services for children, adolescents and adults both in the home and in an outpatient clinic.

How did the 5 Under 40 award affect your life?

It was such an amazing experience to be an award winner this year. It has facilitated more connections with other winners and previous winners of the 5 Under 40 award. Additionally, it was truly amazing how many people saw the article and came up to me to offer congratulations. It was very humbling and wonderful.

Other big changes since you received the award?

Being a new recipient there haven't been too many big changes in the last six months. I've been asked to be on the board of directors for United Way. I believe deeply in community involvement and participation and am looking forward to this opportunity.

What will make the St. Cloud area greater in coming years?

It has been wonderful to watch the initiatives for growing downtown continue and thrive. I am also enjoying seeing vibrancy in the arts continue to enhance St. Cloud. The plan for opening Friedrich Park will certainly make St. Cloud greater by further expanding community involvement and tourism.

2014 Interview

Originally ran: January 18, 2015

Amber Morrighan has made a career helping people face down experiences they'd rather not remember. As clinical manager at the St. Cloud office of The Village Family Service Center, she's responsible for leading a group of therapists who specialize in a range of counseling. One of their focuses, and Morrighan's specialty, is working with children and adolescents.

Under her leadership, The Village earned an Innovation Award from the Center for Nonprofit Excellence and Social Innovation for its practice of screening all children for trauma.

She's seen plenty of it. Before coming to Central Minnesota, she worked at a residential treatment facility in Los Angeles with a group of 100 boys — mostly gang members.

"Nobody had ever taken care of these boys or been there for them in their neighborhoods except their fellow gang members," Morrighan said. "It became my passion to help kids through pain."

Her experiences have taken her from one end of the country to the other after growing up in Fulda and graduating from Windom High School.

How would you describe your work experiences before you came to St. Cloud?

Most of the work I did prior to coming to The Village was residential treatment. I would work with kids who, for whatever reason, were not safe to be in their homes. When they live at a facility with you, it's a neat way to be able to work with a kid. You get to see him or her, how they're living throughout the day in their crisis moments rather than in an office like this where a child or their parents might be describing what happened. You get to be there in the moment. It was exciting to see what works and doesn't work. In New Hampshire, I worked in a place that specialized in reactive attachment. Eighty percent of the population of kids we had were problem adoptions, had come from overseas and been in orphanages where they hadn't been held and hadn't been touched. It was pretty powerful work we got to do with those kids.

How do you define these traumatic disorders in which you specialize?

When you define reactive attachment disorders, there has to be care that was pathogenic. For that baby, from the time they were born or even sometimes before they were born, if there is a lot of domestic violence in their environment, there can be life-altering consequences for that child. Perhaps there are multiple care-givers or care-givers who are not meeting their needs. There could be abuse, violence or neglect. It leads to that child not trusting adults. I call it a trust disorder. They have a hard time, for whatever reason, and are either over-welcoming of all adults and put themselves in a risky situation, or they avoid adults and want to take care of themselves. Sometimes they're both and can't decide. I treat that and help that child learn to trust adult care-givers. PTSD is a little different but can be on that developmental spectrum. I don't think there's always much difference when we're looking at developmental trauma. Things happen and impact their attachment, but it also sets their brain on alert. A traumatic experience can have that child always ready for something else to hurt them. They're always ready to have to fight or run away. When the brain gets stuck in that sort of mode, looking at all people as a potential abuser, they can have all kinds of problems. They can look (like they have attention deficit/hyperactive disorder) because they're constantly looking around the room to make sure they're safe.

How has screening children for trauma been responsible for growth of The Village?

When I first started here, I was with one therapist that was three-quarter time and one that was half-time. Now we have six full-time and office therapists and our offices have grown from one to three suites with a new reception and waiting area. I think a big part of our growth is what was recognized with that award. When people come to us, our first question isn't ‘What's wrong with you?' It's ‘What happened to you?' It's a shift and different way of thinking. We like to help people think they can change this, learn to calm their brain down. It's not that there's something wrong with you and you're going to have to take meds and be this way forever. We want to explore with you what happened and how that impacted you and made you believe about yourself that you don't have to believe. We're not going to slap some diagnosis on you and help your family deal with that diagnosis. The other thing that makes us different is we're all systems thinkers. We look at the whole family. If we just work with one person and then plop them back into their family, it's going to go back to the way it was. Systems naturally want to stay the way they are. We want to have everyone involved because the symptoms are affecting everyone in the family anyway.

You brought telemedicine to the clinic. How has that been successful?

My supervisor is in Fargo and we connect in lots of different ways. On the web is one of those. We can see each other and I can see her reactions and she can see mine. Therapists were a little hesitant to try telemedicine at first, but we have increasing numbers of clients who want to take part in it. We have one woman with agoraphobia, where she's afraid to leave her house. She'd schedule an appointment and then cancel it, repeatedly. The therapist was able to say, let's start by trying to give you the skills in your home so you can then get into the office eventually. We've used it for couples where one of the partners is here and one is up logging. It allows people to work on their relationship when they otherwise wouldn't.

How can mental health services improve the economy of Central Minnesota?

I'm a big believer that, if we can address mental health symptoms for anyone, it makes them a much higher functioning employee. Trauma symptoms lead to lack of attention and difficulty concentrating. It keeps an employee from being focused and can take them out of the work force. We're going to be partnering with Place of Hope to provide some on-site services there to get those symptoms lowered for some of their homeless population so they can maintain employment and get out of the situation they're in.

How do you see Central Minnesota business changing in the next three years?

I definitely see the technology growth is not going to stop. The telemedicine piece and everything we do with electronic health records. We need to make sure that technology is healthy and not leading to increasing disconnectedness. I see business growing. This is an exciting place to be. We're one of 18 locations of The Village and we now are the second-largest site. We're behind only Fargo, where the organization is based, and we're ready to surpass Fargo in the next year. We can because of what's happening here with the economy. I'm going to be able to hire the people I want because we've got the infrastructure and it's building.

Age: 36

Family: Husband James Morrighan; daughter Scarlett, 5, and son, Jaxon, 3.

Education: Double-major in psychology and philosophy/religion from Buena Vista University in Iowa; master's degree in marriage and family therapy at Southern Illinois University.

FYI: Member of Stearns County Mental Health Task Force for two years; participates with the Benton County Local Advisory Council; serves on the regional board of directors for the March of Dimes; works on the director's council with the United Way of Central Minnesota and volunteers with the speaker's bureau to increase donations in the community.

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Central Minnesota Clinic

Initiative Foundation
of Little Falls