Laura McLaughlin – 20 Under 40

HeadFirst Counseling, HeadFirst Mental Health Initiative 
Education: University of Texas, University of North Texas

In 2016, Laura McLaughlin founded Headfirst Counseling, a child, teen, and family therapeutic service provider.

McLaughlin started her counseling career working for nonprofits focused on children and adult survivors of domestic violence and other abuse. In her practice now, McLaughlin specializes in working with children displaying social or emotional difficulties, behavioral concerns, sensory sensitivities, attachment concerns, and high-functioning autism spectrum disorders.

“At our practice, our goal is to help families increase their mental wellness through enabling families to strengthen coping skills, engage in problem-solving, and find solutions to increase peace and positive collaboration within the family system,” she said. 

In 2022, McLaughlin started the practice’s nonprofit arm, the HeadFirst Mental Health Initiative, aimed at providing free mental health treatment to families who would otherwise not have access to services due to financial burdens or inability to pay.

“The ‘lightbulb moment’ really came after the Uvalde school shooting. I couldn’t get it out of my mind all of the similarities potential perpetrators of these unthinkable acts typically have in common — the fact that they started as victims of a system that perpetually let them slip through, and had they received the mental health interventions they so desperately needed, we may not be in the situation we are now in which children cannot be guaranteed safety to attend school,” she said. “The idea also came after years of turning away clients at our private practice due to inability to pay and thinking there must be a better and sustainable way to help therapists make a decent living while also giving back to the community and helping more families.”

Outside of her practice and nonprofit, McLaughlin works as a volunteer advocate with Dallas CASA. She previously worked with Community Partners of Dallas as part of its HEART program to provide group therapy services to child victims of sexual abuse in Dallas County before the HEART program lost funding.

What are you most excited about for the future?

The continued destigmatization of mental illness. It’s a reckoning that’s been a long time coming.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why? 

Generation Z – their openness, inclusivity, and intensity in the way they fight for what they believe is right is fascinating to witness. 

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Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at [email protected]

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