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Health hero Q&A: This counselor teaches the healing power of compassion

Emily Leland By Emily Leland

“Nothing is more important than supporting each other to be our best.” This is the motto Summer Sage-Sorley lives by, and she’s able to practice her credo every day as a counselor for Aetna’s Resources for Living program. Summer joined Aetna in 2005 after earning her master's in social work from University of Texas at Austin. She works with individuals and couples on a variety of issues, from stress management to substance abuse, offering guidance by phone and video chat from her base in Vancouver.

Among her many success stories is Nikki Flowers, whose chronic knee pain prevented her from being the active mom and wife she wanted to be. A former massage-school student, Summer knows that good health involves both mind and body. “Nikki faced a common challenge of stress and pain intensifying each other,” she says.

“Summer made me feel comfortable in my own skin,” Nikki says. After working with Summer for several months, Nikki is back to riding bikes with her kids and enjoying her life. (Watch a video on Nikki Flowers’ health journey.) Read on for more about Summer.

Q: What motivated you to become a counselor?
When I was a student of massage therapy, I got interested in a class on “somatic psychology.” We learned how our body processes emotions and thoughts. I learned that I was more interested in helping clients manage stress than in massage.

Q: What do you like most about your current job?
People can call and connect with me instantly without having to leave home, so they can get support when they need it most. This opens doors to people who might otherwise not seek help. It is awesome to hear success stories. I always learn something new, and I feel like my life is making a difference in the world.

Q: It also sounds emotionally demanding. Do you have any advice for counselors who are just starting out?
Find a mentor that will be there for you. Take time to check in with yourself and talk to someone if you need to. It is easy to acclimate to higher and higher levels of stress. Sometimes being on the other side of a therapeutic relationship can teach you a lot and help you become even better at your job.

Q: What’s your health ambition, and how are you achieving it? 
My ambition is to grow my capacity for compassion while strengthening my physical wellbeing. To do that, I have a daily yoga and meditation practice. I dance a few times a week. I receive massages regularly. I laugh a lot.

Q: What’s the best piece of health advice you ever received?
Make sleep a priority.

Q: What is your go-to healthy snack?
Ginger. I love fresh ginger root steeped in hot water. It’s good cold or hot.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
Zumba, yoga and spending time with friends and family. I also enjoy hiking near my home in Vancouver.

Q: What was your most fulfilling professional moment to date?
Working with Nikki is at the top of the list. I’ve also worked with Aetna’s critical incident team, which provides onsite support at a company or in a community. For example, after a colleague’s death, a manager can request a counselor to support employees onsite. The counselor discusses normal reactions to a traumatic event and explains how people can support each other.

Q: Who do you admire most in the world?
I admire people who openly tell their journey of healing and courage. Sharing your story really does provide a service — we need to hear that we are not alone.

Q: What do you want people to learn from stories like Nikki’s?
Living with a chronic health condition can cause physical and emotional challenges. If you’re dealing with both, you aren’t alone. Find a place where you can share your situation freely without worrying about what others think.

About the author

Emily Leland is a writer and marketing professional living in Charleston, SC. Her goal is more exercise, less caffeine and finding balance as a working mom.

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