Employee Spotlight: Lisa Marshall, PhD, Executive Director for Children’s Community Based Services

Dr. Lisa Marshall is Executive Director of Grafton’s Children’s Community-Based Services. Lisa has been with the organization since 2004 and has played different roles throughout her tenure. Prior to her current role, Lisa was the Clinical Administrator in Richmond, Director, Clinical Services, Director, Research and Outcomes, and Vice President of Implementation and Client Engagement at ProEventa.

Why did you want to work in behavioral health care?

Both of my parents are psychologists. Before I was born, my mother worked in a classroom doing Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) work before it was actually called “ABA.” So you could say I was born into this type of work.

When I was young, I knew I wanted to be a child psychologist. My friends were reading romance novels, but I was reading books about kids who were deaf or had Autism or childhood schizophrenia. In 5th grade, one of my friends’ parents loaned me a book called Moose, about a family whose son had Down’s Syndrome. I absolutely loved the book and wrote the author asking for my own copy, which he sent me, with a personalized inscription. That positive response fueled my desire to serve children with special needs even further.

Would you describe your background and time with Grafton?

I went to college and got my Bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in Communications Sciences (Deaf Education) from the University of Texas at Austin. During college, I provided respite for a child who was deaf, blind and autistic, and I absolutely loved it. I also volunteered at Texas School for the Deaf, and later worked there as a direct care staff member. I then moved to Washington, D.C. where I got my PhD in Clinical Psychology from Gallaudet University. I completed an internship and post-doctoral fellowship at the Virginia Treatment center for Children (VTCC), a psychiatric hospital in Richmond, and then stayed there as faculty for several years. During that time, I became involved in program development and leadership and founded a program for children who were deaf and hard of hearing.

In 2004, I joined Grafton and have worn many different hats over the years. My different roles have helped me understand the program and management needs at a service line level while also appreciating the overarching mission, goals, and business practices of the organization as a whole.

I did take a little detour for a short time into the field of technology to help Grafton develop REBOOT, a software program that helps providers write objective goals, measure progress, and prompt decision-making to maximize positive outcomes. I ultimately realized the technology field was not for me. I missed working with people too much. I feel very fortunately to have my current position where I oversee the children’s community-based programs in Richmond and Winchester. I have always been a child-oriented person, but when I accepted this position, I was most looking forward to working with the staff. We have incredible staff at Grafton, and I really want to enhance their work experiences better so that they are in a better position to help make our clients and their families’ lives better. 

What makes Grafton’s clients unique?

All of our clients are unique, even when compared with one another. They all have their own personalities, likes and dislikes, strengths, and needs. Each of these dimensions is a piece that comes together with the others in a mosaic to represent the child. We work very hard to understand what the children’s lives are like and what they need to be most successful and independent. It’s so rewarding as we see that mosaic come to life and grow.

What makes Grafton a special place to work?

We work incredibly hard to do incredibly hard work. We take our jobs seriously, but we’re still pretty down to earth. We value building relationships with our coworkers and clients, and we like to laugh and have fun when we can.

As a leader, I really want my employees to feel valued for the work they do and for the strengths they provide as individuals and members of our teams. I want to help everyone find their “spark” and have the passion and energy needed to help our program grow and improve. I believe Grafton encourages us to be creative and find new solutions to solve our challenges and ensure positive outcomes.

What makes Grafton’s approach person-centered?

Many organizations say they are person-centered, but I believe we truly are. It’s one of Grafton’s greatest strengths in my opinion. We emphasize getting to know each child as an individual, and we develop strategies around their unique strengths and needs. We show a great amount of flexibility during this process. We don’t just create one program and expect our clients to work well within it; instead, we expect ourselves to work well within the type of program each client needs.

At Grafton, what type of training, guidance or support have you received to help you do your job?

I have been really fortunate at Grafton to work with many different individuals, each with their own knowledge base, personality, and leadership style. I have learned many things about myself as an employee and many things about the type of leader I want to be. I try to be open to new information and ideas. Depending on the situation, I often think “What would (insert one of my supervisors) have done in this situation?” That often helps steer me toward how I respond.

What’s your favorite Grafton story?

When I first started my career, I worked with a young child at another facility. He was actually my first client. At that time, he really gave me a run for my money! He left that facility and went to Grafton’s Berryville campus. Later, we met again at Grafton’s Richmond program, where he was being served and where I had joined the team. Eventually, I spoke at his school graduation ceremony. As I was speaking, I was overcome with emotion, which is very unlike me. He was worried and asked me what was wrong. I reminded him of our time together all those years ago. I told him he had been so young and I had been young as a therapist, as well. I told him he helped me learn how to do my job and that I was so proud of the young man he had become. Two years after this young man left Grafton, I was out in the community, happened to run into him. I don’t know who was more excited to see the other. I think about him so often, and I still get emotional when I do. I hope I will run into him again one day.

What would you say to a family considering Grafton for their child?

I would tell them Grafton is truly invested in their child and in them, as the family and the people who best know the child. I would explain that we will work very closely with them to help their child learn and grow and that staff really care about the children. I would also want them to understand that we recognize it is a difficult decision to seek services outside of the home and their community, and that we would jump in with both feet to help their child make the progress needed.

What traits do you like to see in your staff?

The traits I most like to see in my staff are openness, creativity, accountability, and compassion. I want my staff to be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. I want them to be open to feedback and to accepting different types of people and different perspectives. I also want them to be creative in looking at ways to solve problems and in how they engage clients and coworkers.

It is very important for all of us to be accountable for our actions and for the quality of the work we do. We have to own it and do the best jobs we can. Compassion is very important. We have difficult jobs, and we work with individuals who may be struggling and showing behaviors that challenge us. We need to show compassion to our clients, and we need to show the same toward each other.