Alumni in the Field
Gretchen Morgan, MSW’97 and Mary Pat McGeehin, MSW’93

Gretchen Morgan, MSW'97 (R) and
Mary Pat McGeehin, MSW'94 (L)

While Mary Pat McGeehin pursued her MSW at Penn, her daughter, Gretchen Morgan, was completing her undergraduate degree at Loyola College in Baltimore, MD. Gretchen was studying psychology; Mary Pat had taught theater to inner city children, operated two early-childhood centers, and worked as a case manager at Catholic Social Services before enrolling in Penn’s social work program. When Mary Pat received her MSW in 1993, she and Gretchen were at very different points in their lives. So how was it that the two of them came to be in private practice together six years later?

As a psychology major at Loyola, Gretchen felt “there were some pieces missing” from her studies. She took her first social work class during her senior year, and began to fill in some of those missing pieces. After graduation, she applied to one social work graduate program: Penn’s. She matriculated in 1995 – two years after her mother graduated from the same program. Through her field placements and in her employment after graduation, Gretchen gained experience dealing with mental health issues, and she credits Penn with teaching her to engage an individual while offering treatment. While working in New York doing developmental evaluations, Gretchen learned to focus on the whole person; at the same time she discovered how difficult this was to do within a disorganized work environment and in the face of supervisors who were reluctant to explore different treatment options.

Concurrently, Mary Pat was working at St. Francis Community Center (Long Beach Island, NJ). She managed grants totaling over $750,000 and oversaw the Center’s family programs. Additionally, she began doing private practice on a part-time basis, and dealt with a lot of trauma issues.

By 2000, both Mary Pat and Gretchen were ready to start something new. Renting space in a friend’s office building, they opened a small psychotherapy practice – Lighthouse Counseling – and specialized in children and trauma. As they began to focus more on the mind-body connection in their treatment of mental health issues, the practice evolved. Sandplay and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) became cornerstones of their therapy. Additionally, they included a practitioner of massage therapy, welcomed two new partners, moved to Monmouth County (NJ), and became Lighthouse Counseling and Wellness Center.

Described as “a creative form of expressive therapy,” Sandplay allows the patient to express internal conflict in a non-verbal way. It begins when the patient selects a combination of miniature figures from a vast collection of objects (some individuals choose only two or three miniatures, while others have used more than one hundred at a time). Then, the client arranges the miniatures in a sand tray to form a scene. The therapist watches as the scene begins to reveal images, metaphors, and inner conflicts. While this form of therapy is effective for patients of all ages, Gretchen and Mary Pat note that it is particularly beneficial to children – especially those with Asperger Syndrome. As a leader in Sandplay therapy (they are one of only three Association for Play Therapy approved Sandplay Therapy training facilities in the state), Mary Pat and Gretchen believe in the importance of sharing their knowledge with other practitioners: just last month they offered a three day, CEU-approved Sandplay training program. For more information on Sandplay Therapy, click here.

EMDR, which is also central to their practice, is a form of psychotherapy that blends many different treatment approaches. Primarily, it is considered a “physiologically based therapy” because the therapist “facilitates the directional movement of the eyes or other dual attention stimulation of the brain” (from “What is EMDR,” published by EMDR International Association). This allows the patient to reprocess the disturbing issue so that it becomes less traumatic. For more information on EMDR, click here.

Why the focus on Sandplay and EMDR? Simply stated, it is because their clinical experiences have proven how successful the two can be. For example, Gretchen points out that nearly three quarters of the children referred to her have diagnoses like ADHD or Bipolar disorder and/or are on medication. However, in her professional experience she has found that these diagnoses are given too quickly, and that in actuality these diagnoses – and the need for medicine – are inaccurate in a large percentage of her patients. Respectful of the fact that medication should not be stopped or changed without a doctor’s consultation, Gretchen works closely with pediatricians before beginning therapy with her patients. Because of the success that she has had in treating children without medication, she finds that her number of referrals from pediatricians is increasing, and that these doctors ask her to work with their patients before they prescribe medication to treat symptoms.

Even with more than 90-100 clients already coming through the office in any given week, this mother/daughter team knows that someday soon they will be expanding again. Given that their mission is “to treat the whole person with therapies that release and heal,” it comes as no surprise that they plan to incorporate yoga, tai-chi, acupuncture, and more massage therapy rooms into their expansion. For more information on Lighthouse Counseling and Wellness Center, click here.