Jennifer Johnson Higginbotham '84 is one of the fortunate few with a true passion for her chosen career. The 1984 Millikin graduate is an assistant director at Independence Center, a facility in St. Louis that offers a psychiatric rehabilitation program to adults with serious, persistent mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, manic-depression and depression.
“Independence Center offers a non-traditional approach to rehab,” she says. “People who take part in our program are members of a clubhouse rather than a client or patient. We believe in membership — being needed, wanted and expected somewhere — and that’s what we provide.”
The model for the clubhouse program used by Independence Center began in the late 1940s when those with mental illness were being moved from the institution to the community, and it was discovered that many people had nowhere to go after being released. The focus at Independence Center is on abilities, strengths and talents rather than on the illness and its symptoms.
Higginbotham, a native of Pinckneyville, Ill., decided on a career in social work while she was studying psychology at Millikin. “I was flipping through graduate catalogs in Dr. Gromoll’s office [the late Dr. Henry Gromoll, professor of psychology] when I realized I didn’t want to be a psychologist or psychiatrist. With social work, there was a wider variety of opportunity,” she remembers. After graduation from MU, she enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis to earn a master’s degree in social work. She did a practicum at Independence Center and has been there ever since.
“I am very passionate about what I do,” she says. “I believe I am one of those fortunate people who landed in the right place. I can’t see myself doing anything else. It’s a part of who I am.”
See the complete profile of Higginbotham in the Winter 2002-03 issue of the Millikin Quarterly magazine.