Skip to main content

After Tragedy, Three-Time UH Grad Helps Other Parents & Teens Heal

Posted Nov. 26, 2017 – Anette Edens was a young mom juggling a career as a financial analyst when she decided to apply to graduate school at the University of Houston College of Education to pursue her interest in counseling psychology.

She already had a Master of Business Administration from the C.T. Bauer College of Business at UH.

“After I had children, I just started looking at life differently,” Edens said recently from her counseling practice in north Houston.

aedens-feature.jpg
Anette Edens shares her experiences as a parent and psychologist in her 2016 book, "From Monsters to Miracles: Parent-Driven Recovery Tools that Work."

At first, Edens said, she feared she would be rejected from the M.Ed. program because of her admissions essay, a response to the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign of the 1980s. The approach, she thought, was too oversimplified so she wrote a tongue-in-cheek response.

“I turned it in and thought, ‘What if they think I’m serious?’” Edens recalled. “Anyway, I got in. It was by God’s grace.”

Edens, who would do her homework as her three elementary-aged children did theirs, found that she loved academia. After earning her M.Ed. in 1989, she applied for the College’s Ph.D. program in counseling psychology.

She admits her ego got the better of her. She didn’t prep for the admissions interview, relying on her high grades and test scores to carry her. But with hundreds of applications for only six slots, Edens recalled, she wasn’t accepted in the initial round. It took another try.

“It was a good opportunity for me to get humble,” Edens said. “It also made me work hard in grad school. I felt l like I had to justify my acceptance the whole time.”

UH College of Education Dean Bob McPherson, who also has a Ph.D. from the program, was one of Edens’ professors.

“Dr. Edens is one of the brightest and most compassionate students I have had the pleasure to work with,” McPherson said. “We’re thrilled to have Dr. Edens remain so involved with UH and the College of Education.”

Edens, who earned her Ph.D. in 1992, now serves on the UH Board of Visitors and is a member of the College of Education’s Capital Campaign Committee.

“I think it’s important for our community to grasp the significance of the College of Education to our entire Houston workforce,” Edens said. “The teachers and other professionals that come from the College are the ones that educate our children.”

Creating innovative treatment options

After earning her doctoral degree and working briefly at a pain clinic, Edens returned to academia as a faculty member teaching psychology and statistics courses at the University of St. Thomas in Houston.

Her interests veered toward the adolescent drug culture as her youngest daughter was struggling with substance abuse. In her research, Edens found that on average adolescents were using drugs for three years before they sought the right treatment.

“The place the kids mostly got and used their drugs was school,” she said. “The place they felt the worst about themselves was school.”

With the personal and professional colliding, Edens teamed with another treatment professional to start a sober high school. They founded Archway Academy, on the campus of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, in 2003. The school serves teens in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse or dependency.

“One of the things about a Ph.D., especially in counseling, is that it opens so many possibilities,” Edens said. “You can work in industrial settings, private settings, nonprofits. I decided I would use what I learned and create innovative treatment options. That’s pretty much what I have done most of my career, working with teenagers and their families.”

Providing hope to parents

In 2016, with financial support from the Fondren Foundation of Houston, Edens published “From Monsters to Miracles: Parent-Driven Recovery Tools that Work.” The book weaves lessons from her personal tragedy, losing her daughter at age 15, with her two decades of experience as a clinician and researcher.

“In the recovery process, especially working with parents, it’s so important for them to not feel alone, to not feel they’ve made a mistake,” Edens said.

In the book, she writes: “I never met a parent of a troubled teen who wasn’t trying to figure out what went wrong. We thought we were in control—that we knew what we were doing. … But when our child begins to veer off course our ‘instincts’ can undermine our effectiveness….

“We try so hard, love our kids so much, and they withdraw further and further into their world of dark secrets while we watch with agonizing powerlessness. We feel lost. I wish we could skip that piece of the process, but it is part of the journey for many of us.”

Edens recalled when she and her other two children were able to feel a moment of joy, four years and three months after her youngest daughter’s death.

“It was Thanksgiving, and my son looked at me and said, ‘We’re smiling,’” Edens said. “I learned at some point that what matters is the 15 years I did have with her. When I could shift my focus not to how much I missed her but to how much I loved her and still love her, it gave me a sense of freedom. I really want people to be able to feel that.

“Sometimes life looks like it’s going to be impossible to tolerate, and then right around the corner there may be some kind of glimmer of hope that turns everything around.”

‘A place you want to hang out’

In the entryway of Edens’ office, a converted home, she placed a sign that reads: “Imperfection is beauty. Madness is genius. And it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”

Edens enjoys mountain biking in her free time and sees her 11-year-old grandson almost daily. She also serves on the board of the Menninger Foundation and as a trustee of the John M. O’Quinn Foundation.

Her daughter, a mother and a partner at an accounting firm, has a master’s in accounting from UH. Her son, with a master’s in social work from UH, works as a therapist with her.

In November, a few weeks before Thanksgiving, Edens attended her 50th year high school reunion. A graduate of Lamar High School in Houston, she reflected on how much UH has changed, particularly in the last decade under the leadership of President Renu Khator.

“The feel of campus is different,” Edens said. “It feels like a place you want to hang out.”

–By Ericka Mellon

–Photo courtesy of Anette Edens