Dr. Heather Gilliam
Dr. Heather Gilliam

Merriam-Webster defines identity as “the distinguishing character or personality of an individual” established by “psychological identification.”

Establishing a sense of one’s identity is one of many areas in which Dr. Heather Gilliam, a psychologist for Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital, ministers to adolescents with eating disorders.

Gilliam graduated from SAGU in December of 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in Church Ministry with an emphasis in Counseling and Psychology. From a young age, Gilliam had a passion for helping others. "I always sort of knew I wanted to go into a helping profession," Gilliam says. Her interest in psychology was piqued in high school and was fostered by the careful instruction of Dr. Calvin Carmen in SAGU's Psychology department. Through Dr. Carmen's mentorship, she decided to pursue a Doctor of Psychology degree (Psy.D.) at Regent University. In 2013, she completed her doctoral dissertation on "God Images In Children."

Dr. Gilliam first worked with Laureate treatment teams in 2009. Between 2009-2012 she also filled clinical roles at University of Tulsa and Brookhaven Hospital, garnering clinical experience and preparing her for licensure as a psychologist. In 2012, she transitioned back to Laureate, joining the treatment team in the Adolescent Eating Disorders program. She works with youth suffering from eating disorders. The patients she typically sees range from twelve to eighteen years old, a crucial stage of personal development.

She says that "helping girls develop their true identity and sense of purpose" is one her favorite roles. Many of the patients that Dr. Gilliam sees are influenced by unobtainable standards of beauty propagated by culture. "The God-given identity all women are born with—there's something powerful that can come out of that. We're dealing with the image of womanhood that has become so polluted. We help girls sort through that and provide some clarity so they can reconnect with their God-given identity, rather than have their identity so myopically limited by the expectations society places on their appearance and body."

Dr. Gilliam regularly councils youth with co-occurring illnesses like anxiety and depression. These illnesses compound the challenges patients and their families face.

Not every patient she sees is a Christian, and her job isn't technically a church ministry. Still, she says her job is about "being God's healing hand extended. The ability to understand God's intent and love for everybody, no matter where they are in need, to be all things to all people, to meet people where they are at their point of need—that in and of itself is a representation of Christ even if we never do anything in therapy that is directly related to the gospel," Dr. Gilliam says.

Dr. Heather Gilliam's office
Dr. Heather Gilliam's office

Dr. Heather Gilliam finds creative ways to be the hands and feet of Christ. Her work in psychology is an example of walking out the calling of God in a professional environment. It is a reminder that a ministry mindset can be applied in many ways. In her own work, she must decide "when it's appropriate for faith to be a part of the clinical process." Fortunately, the Laureate program she works with is an extension of Saint Francis Health System, a faith-based organization.

Gilliam says she learned the ability to balance both faith perspectives and clinical perspectives during her time at SAGU. The SAGU Counseling and Psychology programs are under the auspices of the College of Bible and Church Ministry. She received unique training allowing her to address the spiritual and physical aspects of the adolescents she works with.

“I feel the blending of purely professional, clinical training, along with the discernment that goes into ministry was a critical feature in my training," she says. "SAGU was a huge investment into my ability to step into this world where I see people of all kinds of spiritual backgrounds.”

The problems that counseling and psychology professionals face are as complex and varied as the patients they encounter. Advances like social media create new obstacles with significant influence on personal identity and self-image. On these battlefields, psychologists now run to mend unhealthy patterns. Dr. Gilliam engages the task on a daily basis. She works to restore the natural and spiritual health of the human mind.

To view Dr. Gilliam’s dissertation, click here .