A two-time Florida Gulf Coast University graduate working in the behavioral health field is now nurturing future mental-health professionals by helping FGCU students secure internships and clinical experience at the Naples-based treatment and rehabilitation center where he works.
Alex Conrad, who received his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2010 and his master’s in clinical mental health counseling in 2014, was a team leader supervisor at David Lawrence Centers for Behavioral Health before accepting a promotion in October. He’s now associate clinical director for acute care and the partial hospitalization program for children.
The nonprofit organization provides mental health, substance use and integrated healthcare solutions for clients of all ages at multiple locations in Collier County. Conrad joined the team in 2019 as a supervisor of the access center helping link clients with the agency’s services. For the last 2 1/2 years, he has overseen the centers’ Forensic Assertive Community Treatment (FACT) Team.
FACT provides intensive, community-based treatment, rehabilitation and support services for adults with severe and persistent mental illness. Many of those served have histories of repeated hospitalizations, admissions to state hospitals, multiple emergency room visits, homelessness or incarceration. Some individuals the team works with are in jails, hospitals or community settings. They may receive psychiatric care, medical referral and follow-up, individual supportive therapy, crisis assessment and intervention, substance use aid, work-related vocational assistance, support in activities of daily living and case management.
Student interns from FGCU are important members of the team, getting real-world professional experiences while providing individual and group therapy, crisis intervention, treatment planning and assessments for clients.
Naples resident Tiffany Ketis, who completed her social work master’s degree at FGCU in 2022, is among the many students who have benefited from an internship under Conrad’s supervision.
“FACT was extremely hands-on learning, which allowed me to grow as an individual to better help and understand the client population,” said Ketis, now working toward becoming a licensed clinical social worker.
“From my experience at FACT, I will take with me the knowledge that I gained, the confidence that appeared within me with the support of Alex Conrad and his team, and the dedication Alex puts toward each employee and client to better them as an individual and a team,” she said. “Alex has played an important role in my social work education path. He is a supervisor who I hope every student has an opportunity to learn under. He will motivate, provide support and help each individual grow.”
Conrad said he knows firsthand the value of internships and clinical learning opportunities from his own time as an FGCU graduate student.
“I learned it is important to experience a variety of internships throughout your time as a master’s student in order to discover more about the populations with which you enjoy working and also the theoretical approaches you feel most comfortable practicing,” he said.
“For example, I had reservations about working with the substance use disorder population while in school. However, my first job out of school was working with that population, and I absolutely loved it. If I had not had the exposure during my internships, I don’t know that I would have gone that path.”
Prior to joining David Lawrence Centers, Conrad spent five years working in the area of substance use disorders at the Gabel Center, which became Isle of Palms Recovery Center.
Conrad points to his childhood experiences as the genesis for his educational and professional path.
“I have always had an interest in the field. As with many other eventual therapists, I had struggled with mental health issues as a youth and wanted to learn more about the field,” he said. “Even once we are licensed and have been practicing for some time, there are still periods where we need that extra support. I am glad that the stigma associated with mental health has begun to slowly fade. I know that mental health professionals sometimes have a hesitation in seeking out services. They may feel they are supposed to be ‘experts’ helping others work to more successfully cope with their problems and should be able to do so themselves. I think it is important for people to know that we all struggle with challenges in our lives, and there is no shame in reaching out for help when you are having difficulty managing it by yourself.”
Conrad remains connected with his alma mater in ways beyond mentoring current students. A member of the FGCU Alumni Association’s Forever an Eagle group, he is a season-ticket holder for the men’s basketball team and serves on the advisory boards of the Department of Counseling and the Alumni Association.
And, his days as an FGCU student are not done yet. Conrad started classes last fall working toward a certificate in relationship and family counseling.