As chair of the Board of Licensed Professional Counselors and Examiners in the U.S. Virgin Islands and founder and executive director of Beautiful Dreamers Behavioral and Educational Center, Vincentia Paul-Constantin, PhD, NCC, LPC, and her colleagues face many challenges in a territory that has endured multiple crises for years, she says. They are working to streamline requirements for mental health professionals, establish their professional identities, and increase access to care.
Approximately 22% of the population among the islands lives below the poverty line, as compared to about 14.4% in the continental United States. Additional barriers to care—stigma, lack of funding, the somewhat convoluted path to becoming a practitioner, and undefined professional roles—remain prevalent. Citizens were rebuilding after three hurricanes between 2017 and 2019 before the pandemic hit, all striking disastrous blows to an economy dependent on tourism. Through these challenges, the community has adjusted to accommodate their new normal.
“We are economically challenged,” Dr. Paul-Constantin says, “and we’re always in a place of trying to stay above water, but I am beginning to see more access on all three islands since the hurricanes, because people recognize that what they were doing in the past is just not enough for their own survival, and we tend to be a bit more vocal about our needs as a community now.”
Dr. Paul-Constantin left the Virgin Islands after graduating from high school in 1994 to move to Georgia, where she worked as a special education teacher and advocate. In 2017, she returned home and founded Beautiful Dreamers Behavioral and Educational Center, later opening a second location in Georgia. Her professional observations stateside have been remarkably different, she says.
“We've had a lot of work in creating a definition or professional identity of who we are as professional counselors in the U.S., and the challenges we're facing in the Virgin Islands now are how things were on the mainland 20 or 30 years ago.”
Beautiful Dreamers is a multi-specialized center with a holistic approach to supporting children K–12 with learning needs who experience at-risk behaviors, in addition to individuals, families, and the community. Each team member, whether a counselor, psychologist, social worker, nurse practitioner, or psychiatrist, helps to achieve its mission to help clients live their best lives. Though this is a valuable resource for the community, there are some challenges to getting people through the door.
“Many people don’t seek services because they don't believe that the person sitting across from them understands them,” she says. “They fear being isolated, ostracized, and criticized, so by the time they reach out for help, it’s often already chronic. They don’t always have the language to describe their feelings, and we help to provide that. I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all approach to counseling, and it’s important and empowering for their care to be choice-driven.”
On a larger scale, through her work with the Virgin Island’s first counseling board, she hopes to facilitate regulatory changes and pave the way to a better future for mental health professionals and the citizens who need care.
“We are a unique community; while we identify as Americans, we're also Caribbean. We have individuals throughout the Caribbean who settle in the Virgin Islands, bringing their cultures, customs, beliefs, and value systems. My fight is to allow a clear pathway for locals to be given the opportunity to be educated here, to be trained and supervised here, and to work here. The conversations we’re having are a wonderful place for us to start, but I don’t think we’re at a place yet where we have the resources to meet our needs.”
The Center for Credentialing & Education is proud to support the goals of the counselors in the Virgin Islands through our partnership with the counseling board, conducting educational equivalency reviews.
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