Kristen Dunn Cooper always knew she wanted to work in a helping profession — a career that involves direct outreach to individuals to improve their quality of life.
“… my parents’ divorce when I was in 7th grade really helped me to realize that I wanted to be a therapist and help others in need during their most difficult times,” she said. “This is important to me because we all serve a purpose in life, we all are placed in our roles, careers, jobs as a parent, sister, spouse, etc., to impact others and I want to make sure that my place in my life is not only fulfilled for myself but that I am also fulfilling the lives of others.”
The 2001 Buford High School graduate is a licensed professional counselor with a mental health service provider designation in the state of Tennessee. She works as a behavioral health care advocate for United Health Group, conducting clinical reviews for inpatient psychiatric hospitalizations, as well as substance use detox hospitalizations.
“My job entails receiving calls from Mental Health providers in which I process and review clinical criteria for requests for inpatient psychiatric or inpatient substance use detox stays,” Kristen said. “I work with the provider to make sure that the member they are calling about meets medical necessity to receive the level of care that they are requesting.”
Kristen also occasionally receives calls from members in active crisis and uses her training and experience to de- escalate situations as needed.
“I work from home and love being able to be at home with my kids when I need to be,” said Kristen, who resides in Morristown, Tennessee, with her husband of 18 years, Sean Cooper, and their two daughters, Caleigh, 14, and Baylee, 9.
Kristen graduated from Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee, in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology. She completed a master’s degree at Carson-Newman in clinical and behavioral health counseling in 2011 and then pursued clinical licensure.
Kristen attended Buford City Schools beginning in second grade. At Buford High School, she was a varsity cheerleader her sophomore grade year and a manager for the wrestling team her junior year. She was a member of Beta Club and was named to Who’s Who Among American High School Students. She maintained an A average and graduated in the top 10% of her class.
Kristen was also a member of the Bel Canto Chorale and participated in the choral program all four years of high school. She said the annual Variety Show was one of her favorite high school activities.
“It gave us an opportunity to get out of the classroom and onto the stage,” she said. “We learned what a production looked like and always had so much fun watching others grow in their abilities of performance. We worked with a professional choreographer and learned group dances as a class as well as given opportunities for solo numbers or small groups. This taught us not only how to follow instructions but also to work as a group to accomplish a common goal.”
Kristen’s favorite teacher at Buford was Gerald Arnold.
“He taught social studies and truly took an interest in you as a student in all aspects of your life,” she said. “I remember him talking to me outside of class just asking me how I was doing, about my family relationships, asking plans about my future, and really seeming to care about me as a person. He made learning fun and I remember always laughing in his class.”
Kristen said her fondest memory from high school is being named to the Homecoming court her senior year.
“ … being able to represent my class was a huge honor,” she said. “I enjoyed the homecoming parade and all the festivities that went along with the event.”
Kristen also participated in the annual Miss Buford pageants. The pageants, as well as several activities she was involved in at Buford, helped prepare her for professional pursuits.
“Gaining confidence through pageants as well as cheerleading and being on stage with the choral program, gave me the confidence I needed to pursue this career and be able to talk to others,” she said, “even when it’s not the most comfortable thing to do.
“Part of being a therapist is being able to lead others to ideas, thoughts, solutions, plans to address whatever their presenting issues are and to provide them with the coping skills to meet those goals and make change in their lives,” she continued. “ Those characteristics to be able to do so are ingrained, in some way, even at the high school level, before we ever start on our career path.”
Kristen said her classes in the areas of family and consumer sciences helped prepare her for many roles in her life.
“Classes about children and child development are what truly sparked my interest in wanting to work with children at first, and just people in general,” she said. “Not only did those classes prepare me for my work as a therapist with children but they taught me about budgeting, cooking, taking care of a baby (yes, Baby Think It Over was a thing then) and prepared me for an even bigger role in my life than my profession, being a mom.”
Kristen is the daughter of Kathy Scott of Braselton and Scott Dunn of Lula. Her sister, Kassie Dunn Gunter, is a 2005 graduate of Buford High School.