Wilmington therapist wins national mental health counselors award

Updated: Jul. 31, 2019 at 2:41 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Attitudes toward mental health treatment have changed dramatically since Joseph Kertesz got his start in the field but Kertesz's enthusiasm for helping people hasn't.

With 42 years of experience as a therapist, Kertesz has seen psychotherapy evolve from a niche practice available almost exclusively to the wealthy into a widespread, socially accepted way of improving millions of lives.

Kertesz, who maintains a clinical practice in addition to his role as director of behavioral medicine at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, was recently named the mental health counselor of the year by the American Mental Health Counselors Association.

The award humbled Kertesz, who said all therapists who help people deserve similar recognition.

“Every person who does what I do, whether they be a licensed counselor or a mental health worker of some kind, (licensed clinical social workers) or psychologists, they really are the mental health counselors of the year,” Kertesz said while sitting in his office at the Carolina Counseling Center in Wilmington. "They’re dedicated. They’re passionate. They want to help people.

"Yes, it's very special to get the award. I can't deny that. ... But I think every one of us deserves an award because we're doing tough work. We're working to help people every day."

While admitting that therapy isn't for everybody, Kertesz did say the stigma around people struggling with their mental health has been lifted significantly in recent years. It's a trend he supports fully and hopes will continue.

Kertesz said another positive change has been more people recognizing the mind-body connection.

"The mind and the body are inseparably intertwined," said Kertesz, who has practiced integrated care for years. "When we get emotional about something, it affects our body. When something happens to our body, it affects us emotionally and it really is helpful to do both together and to allow people to look at both aspects of their life.

"If they have diabetes, they're going to be more likely to take care of themselves if they're not depressed on top of it."

Before moving to Wilmington in 1997, Kertesz was a faculty member at Duke University Medical Center from 1977-97. He did his graduate work at Michigan State.

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