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Veteran, cancer survivor and now business owner recognized for unique approach to therapy services

<i>WXMI</i><br/>A local veteran overcame cancer and opened up a therapy clinic helping first responders with their mental health. Now
A local veteran overcame cancer and opened up a therapy clinic helping first responders with their mental health. Now

By Ruta Ulcinaite

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    KALAMAZOO, Michigan (WXMI) — It’s a story about resilience all the way around— a local veteran overcoming cancer, defying all odds, opening up a therapy clinic, and being rewarded for her hard work. And the man she employs— a former felon, arrested over 30 times on drug-related charges— is now working with recovering addicts as a therapist at the clinic.

Liz Cary could’ve taken it slow after her stage 4 ovarian cancer diagnosis over a decade ago, but she was determined to keep going. Cary served in the Army for 10 years and has always been active. She joined the Reserves as a military police officer until her cancer diagnosis stopped her in her tracks.

“I’d intended to be a police officer my whole life,” Cary said.

The fact she couldn’t serve due to her diagnosis put her in a dark place and she started experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. She says going to see a therapist was a lifeline for her.

“If this lady can help me, maybe I can help other people,” Cary thought to herself.

In 2017 she opened up Freedom Counseling LLC, a small therapy clinic in Kalamazoo where all the employees are like family.

“I have a whole team of people whose livelihood depends on me doing my job effectively,” Cary said. “I take that really seriously.”

Cary’s clients include police officers, veterans, and other first responders looking for the opportunity to decompress with a professional.

“I really enjoy working with first responders who are working through the things that they’re dealing with because when they’re coping effectively, then they respond effectively to the situations that they face out in the community,” Cary said.

But her team works with just about everyone, from those on the side of the law to those going through the legal system themselves.

“I tend to see people working in recovery through substance abuse, incarceration, poverty,” Freedom Counseling therapist and social worker Dustin Corwin said.

Corwin is the perfect representative for those on a recovery journey because he’s been on the same journey himself for over a decade.

“I think it was around the age of 16. I started using crack cocaine,” Corwin said. “It really took me into a really dark place.”

His addiction led to him being arrested more than 30 times on drug-related charges – the label of “felon” made it tough for him to find work despite a college degree. But Cary saw past the label and saw an opportunity for Corwin to serve those going through similar journeys.

“She’s about hiring people as people, versus just having bodies and staff,” Freedom Counseling therapist Nicole Parker said.

Without that opportunity, Corwin says his life would be very different today.

“I don’t know what I would’ve done,” he said.

Corwin has been clean for years now and is helping others do the same at Freedom Counseling.

A staff of survivors, doing much more than just surviving – they’re excelling.

“Liz is an inspiring person,” Parker said. “She inspires us to reach our goals.”

Hard work is what led Freedom Counseling to be recognized and nominated for the 19th Annual Michigan Celebrates Small Business Awards for best small business. They are one of 11 businesses to receive the honor in their category and one of the only ones from West Michigan. They will receive their award May 2 at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

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