Stella Lessert (M.S.W. ’05)
Stella Lessert (M.S.W. ’05) earned her Master’s in Social Work after spending thirty years in the corporate environment. She has a wide variety of experiences with leading social skills groups, groups of adults with dementia and early stage Alzheimer’s disease. She is a partner at Stone Creek Therapy in Katy, Texas — a Cougar 100 company — and her future plans include earning her Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) certification.
LUNAR COUGAR: What are some specific reasons that you wanted to be a therapist and study psychology?
STELLA LESSERT: I was always the person asking, why? It was always in my mind with any kind of situation, any kind of behavior I didn’t understand; I wanted to understand why. Why did that person act like that, why did that happen? A big part of being a therapist is helping people ask those questions for themselves, and then they discover their own answers to the question.
Why did you decide to pursue a specialization in gerontology while studying at the Graduate College of Social Work (GCSW)?
The gerentological interest was always important to me because I was very close to my grandparents, uncles and aunts growing up. I’ve always been interested in and loved older people, especially because older adults are always not able to speak for themselves, or ask for what they need, or get their needs met — and very often, they are misunderstood and mistreated. It was important for me to give them a voice when I could.
On a more personal note, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease about a year after my last relocation; I was living in a different state at the time. I asked my company to transfer me back home to help my parents and have some quality time with my mom. I received the transfer and later moved next door to my parents to provide whatever assistance I could. It was then that I decided to get my Masters in Social Work at the University of Houston. I chose that degree rather than a counseling degree because it offered so much more flexibility in my pursuit. I finished in 3 years as a part-time student. My mom died the year I was to walk for my diploma, but I was still able to finish.
My work is with families, couples, women, and adolescents. Many are in a life transition and all are looking for ways to understand, adjust to, cope with and/or change their situation. Many just need direction on resources that might be available to them, and guidance in their personal journey.
Where did you receive your undergraduate degree?
I attended night school at UH for two years until moving to San Antonio to take a position with a Pastoral Counseling Center. I restarted my education at the University of Texas-San Antonio, pursuing my B.S. in psychology. Then, the Center closed abruptly — I had 6 months left to finish my Psychology degree and no income. I prayed a lot, learned the value of being a good waitress to customers, and finished my degree.
Ultimately, I found that a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology did not allow me to do the kind of work as a therapist that I wanted — super disappointing! Meanwhile, a former contact of mine from the Marketing days of my old job, called and offered me a telecommunications Coordinator position with his oil company in Oklahoma. I took the position and did problem solving, recommendations and coordination of new telecommunications system for all the company locations across the US – a lot of travel, but so great!
All this time while enjoying most of what I did, I had wanted to do counseling/therapy professionally since I can remember, thus the pursuit of a psychology degree, but it never quite worked out.
Do you see a connection between customer service and therapy?
My skills transferred over so well. People are looking for help with a problem, or they’re needing to find the resources that might be available. So, in social work, you’re just dealing with different resources. Interest in helping people solve a problem has always been a strong skill of mine and serves me well in the social work field.
Trying to illustrate that my skills could transfer over to a different discipline was not an easy task. But, I got a lot of help from the GCSW — they knew how to translate those skills.
Did you have a favorite professor or class at UH, or any other favorite UH memories?
My professors and classmates were so supportive. And I didn’t run into many who were not. I found my classes very interesting and enjoyed the time spent there.
For classes, I particularly remember Travis Courville’s group therapy courses. We actually had to experience therapy and share in the class, which was a scary thing. But he was funny, and so skilled; I didn’t know there was such a science behind group therapy.
It was a long, hard road to victory to graduate from the GCSW. I couldn’t believe I got there, but I did. Leaving the corporate world, my mom’s diagnosis, and going back to school: it all fell together like a plan. At first I thought, it’s too late in life, who goes back to school at this point? But it wasn’t too late. It all worked!
What do you like best about living in the greater Houston area?
I am a Houston native and have always missed Houston when I was living elsewhere. I remember flying home often and seeing it all from the plane — I was home again. What I love best is the multicultural experiences Houston provides, the myriad kinds of people and activities. However, I was raised and now live in Rosenberg next door to my dad, and assist in his care — he is 97, soon to be 98!
What are your hobbies?
I present as an extrovert but, I am actually an introvert and really enjoy my “down” time. I love reading about a variety of subjects, and movies are a great stress reliever for me. My dog and three cats are also my stress relievers and companions. I like walking, keeping fit and having new experiences and adventures.
What advice would you share with current or prospective UH students, or those aspiring to be social workers?
If you’re looking to have a career where you get rich, this isn’t it. It’s not about the money, but helping to change lives. The flexibility of a social work degree offers so many options, and I don’t think people realize that. Social workers are in administration, business, private practice, government positions — different places you may not picture. The flexibility is marvelous. The common thread is that they have a mission to make things better.