“Everyone deserves to get the help that they need, especially those who are supporting and protecting our nation.”
Meet Jennifer “Jenny” Hughes
A STRONG STAR Training Initiative Champion
Dr. Jenny Hughes is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Houston, Texas and is affiliated with the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston as an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at McGovern Medical School. Dr. Hughes is a longtime member of the STRONG STAR Training Initiative (SSTI) network; engaging in Prolonged Exposure (PE) Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Crisis Response Planning (CRP), and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia and Nightmares (CBT-I&N) Learning Communities since 2019. Dr. Hughes completed the requirements of each therapy’s Learning Community cohort and achieved STRONG STAR Provider Status.
“I have always done trauma work,” Dr. Hughes says first and foremost. From day one at the University of Colorado Boulder, she declared psychology as her major with a focus on research. While pursuing her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from UC Santa Barbara, Dr. Hughes became trained as a child psychologist and worked with children and families affected by child abuse and neglect, hoping to later work with teenagers and substance abuse. “That kind of pursuit early on in my career led to trauma because substance abuse and trauma are so related, then I found that I really had a lot of passion and enjoyed doing the trauma work more than the substance abuse, so I followed that path,” she explained. After receiving her Ph.D., she accepted a position at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans where she worked more with adult survivors of traumatic injury in the Level I Trauma Center.
After nearly 5 years in New Orleans, she moved to Houston with her husband and began working at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Trauma and Resilience Center (TRC). “TRC has a big focus on working with and serving veterans and their families, and also we do a lot of work with first responders” Dr. Hughes explained. SSTI had an established partnership with TRC which is how she learned about SSTI competency-based training opportunities in evidence-based treatments (EBTs) for PTSD. The trainings offered by SSTI come in the form of Learning Communities which not only includes a 2-day workshop, but weekly phone consultation (a highly sought out – and often very expensive – training component for providers), access to an online provider portal, and ongoing support from our team of expert clinicians long after their training is complete. Dr. Hughes’ first Learning Community was in CRP, followed by CPT, CBT-I&N, and then PE. A lifelong learner, Dr. Hughes also attends our monthly webinar series covering a variety of advanced topics related to trauma and PTSD treatments. Funding from our sponsors makes our Learning Communities possible and accessible. She states, “it removes all the barriers to getting trained in EBTs,” going on to further explain how there are many providers who want to improve their skills, however, they’re unable to due to the high costs of other training programs. “When you’re looking at a training that is thousands of dollars… if all the budgets are tight then those trainings aren’t going to happen…patients and clients aren’t going to get the services that are really going to help them.”
Many of Dr. Hughes’ clients are veterans and first responders. When asked why it was important to her to provide treatment to veterans and the military community as a whole, she answered that “they often do not have the sort of culture behind them that says it’s okay to ask for help…it’s okay to get help, especially for mental health stuff because they are helpers,” further explaining, “they are the people that save other people and protect us, and so I want to be able to give back.” Asking for and receiving help in any capacity can be incredibly vulnerable to a veteran or military personnel. Dr. Hughes shared how it’s “really rewarding” when her clients, who she sees are often in “pain,” make huge improvements and progress, and especially to see the process of her clients realizing “that they are allowed to ask for help and that they’re allowed to receive help.”
When discussing why it’s important for veterans and military personnel to have more community-based access to providers specifically trained to treat PTSD, Dr. Hughes candidly stated, “there’s a lot of providers out there that say they treat trauma, but they have no training it and actually don’t know how to treat trauma,” going on to explain that especially “when it comes to our veterans who are already hesitant to ask for help, if they get paired up with someone who doesn’t actually know how to treat them in an effective way, it’s just going to further reinforce that belief that, ‘even if I am allowed to ask for help, no one out there can actually help me.’” In addition to training, she explained providers need to “feel confident in it, because when you’re working with veterans, [and] you don’t know what you’re doing, they are immediately going to pick up on your own nerves…[it’s] this ‘one shot, one opportunity…,’ so having trained, competent providers for trauma is important.”
Dr. Hughes shared a story of a client who she treated with CPT. This client was an Army veteran and first responder. The invisible wounds she developed from her time in Iraq became compounded with the difficult and stressful work she faced in her new position. During their first meeting, she describes how the client presented to her as “overwhelmed by the impact of trauma in her life…she was physically tense and jittery, she was sharing how she was nauseous talking to me about different traumas…she had even started to engage in some self-harm.” After a few weeks of CPT treatment with her client, Dr. Hughes saw her make a huge improvement in their overall wellbeing which was echoed by the client herself. “She told me, ‘this treatment literally changed my life,’ actually ‘saved my life,’” shared Dr. Hughes, adding “and she’s not kidding, she could have killed herself.” Now she is applying CBT-I&N, another therapy training offered by SSTI, to her client as she was having residual issues with sleep, which will conclude her client’s treatment, and help her client live a healthy, and happy life.
As a mental health professional dedicated to helping others, especially veterans and military personnel, with their trauma, Dr. Hughes reflects on why trauma therapies are so important. She explains, “everyone deserves to get the help that they need, especially those who are supporting and protecting our nation. Their families often are not able to get services through the VA and they also have or are carrying lot of trauma with them and stress through their work in supporting their veteran partner and family member.”
Because of our funders’ generous support, we can train providers like Dr. Jenny Hughes and provide supplemental training opportunities, so they have access to the most up-to-date and proven evidence-based treatments to treat PTSD. Our team is committed to ensuring our providers always have the tools, resources, and support they need to make a positive impact on the lives of their clients. As Dr. Hughes shared, “the two things that I always tell people is it is incredibly high-quality training at an incredibly affordable price point.”