While many people spent this past Independence Day relaxing and celebrating with family and friends, Christy Bradshaw Schmidt spent much of it talking with and emailing a client in crisis. As a licensed professional counselor since 1997 and in private practice since 2003, she works with family law attorneys, their clients and the courts to help ensure the best solutions for children in high-conflict families. Her work includes acting as an expert witness in court, preparing child custody evaluations and performing reviews of evaluations done by other experts. She also works as an expert consultant, advising attorneys about forensic mental health issues related to client cases and coaching and supporting clients through divorce and custody litigation.
“People going through these things often have a lot of anxiety,” she says. “I am brought in as an additional source of support to help coach them through their litigation and help them get to the other side successfully.”
A Helping Profession As much as Bradshaw Schmidt loves her chosen career, it wasn’t her first choice. The Mississippi native originally planned to pursue medicine.
“I wanted to be a doctor, but organic chemistry had different plans for me,” she says, laughing. “I did not like it and I spent a lot of time in tutoring. At that point, I did some soul searching and knew I wanted to be on the mental health side of the helping profession.”
She earned master’s degrees in both marriage and family counseling and religious education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth after having completed her undergraduate work at Baylor University. Initially, Bradshaw Schmidt worked with teenage alcoholics and drug addicts and their families in a residential setting. After a couple of years, she moved to a psychiatric hospital, continuing her work in substance abuse and also working with depressed patients and others.
“Working there, I became very disenchanted with HMOs and the continued requests to do more with less,” she says. “I had a real ethical dilemma because I felt like I wasn’t giving my patients the kind of treatment that I was ethically required to provide.”
She decided to leave the hospital and after a few months of job searching, went to work as a counselor for Dallas County Family Court Services in 2000, before taking the plunge to private practice a few years later. Bradshaw Schmidt believes that her extensive past experiences have helped prepare her for the work she does today.
“Drug addicts and alcoholics who are not yet in recovery are generally not very honest; you learn not to believe everything you’re told,” she says. “I think this background has helped me as an evaluator and even in my expert work. It has helped me stay neutral and unbiased. I take what I hear from clients with a grain of salt and wait for the evidence and data before I make decisions. I don’t rush to judgment.”
Bradshaw Schmidt, who has been married to her husband, Paul Schmidt, for nine years, adds that a personal experience also helped her gain understanding and empathy for clients.
“I was married very briefly about 20 years ago and it ended in an annulment,” she recounts. “We didn’t have any children, so there is no way I can compare that circumstance to what my clients go through in a highly-contested divorce with children. However, it did teach me what being in the courtroom is like. Even in an agreed situation it was scary and intimidating. I try to keep that at the forefront while working with my clients.”
Finding Balance Bradshaw Schmidt is also a certified mediator, performs adoption evaluations and is the mental health liaison to the Texas Family Law Foundation where she has done extensive legislative work since 2005. She notes that she loves her work and it is a pleasure to get up and go to work each day. While she places top priority on her work, another priority is having balance in her life. A motto she lives by is “learn as if you were to live forever, live as if you were to die tomorrow.”
“I am learning every day and it is different and challenging,” she says. “But working as much as a lot of us in this field tend to work, you miss out on a lot. I try very hard to carve out time to spend with friends and family. This is a stressful job and if I spend too much time in my own little world and in my own little bubble, I really start to miss those connections.”
For the last several years, Bradshaw Schmidt has made time to take a weeklong cruise “to a beautiful place” with her husband and a large group of friends, usually 20 or 30. She calls herself a foodie and enjoys seeking out new restaurants to try. She also loves music and concerts and seeing musicals and plays. She speaks with her mother, who is still in Mississippi, every day, and has three nieces and a nephew who she would love to see more often. The couple have a 6-year-old rescued shih tzu named Cosmo and have shared their home with previous rescue dogs.
Back at the office, what does Bradshaw Schmidt most enjoy about her work? “It is a challenge every single day and it is never boring,” she says. “Every case and every family is different. I enjoy looking at family situations and trying to help these families get out of the fight, see that there needs to be a different way, and become solution-focused. They have to get to the point of healing so they can proceed and get through the divorce process and create two healthy homes for their children. Getting them through that painful process and helping children through the process as well is what makes it worthwhile.”