What is Cornerstone Counseling of Ashland?

Chante Rutherford, Reporter

Located on Claremont Ave., sits a building where people can work their way towards a better life. Cornerstone Counseling of Ashland has made an impact on the Ashland community for not only its natives but for the students at AU.

Their goal is to “help you recognize the problems that are holding you back, draining you of your emotional strength and keeping you from building a full and rewarding life,” as stated on their website.

This has been a passion for the counselors, especially Debbie Portner, the owner and clinical director of Cornerstone’s Ashland location since 2007.

While Portner owns the practice itself, she has been a counselor as part of the Ashland University Seminary School.

“Cornerstone was established 30 years ago in Ashland but I bought Cornerstone Counseling Affiliates in 2007 when I was a counselor there,” Portner said.

The prior owner of Cornerstone Counseling Affiliates was John Schulz, former president of the Ashland Theological Seminary.

In 2012, the counseling service moved to its current location.

Portner has been involved with Ashland for a number of years now, with both of her children having attended AU.

Chante Rutherford
One of the counseling rooms.

In the office, 13 counselors work with many patients ranging from young children to the elderly. These counselors are trained and licensed with various credentials, while specializing in different areas.

“We deal with any mental, emotional or relationship issue you can possibly imagine,” Portner said.

Some specialize in counseling children while others are skilled in marital counseling. Some, like Portner, deal with a wide variety of patients.

For many people who are not immersed in the world of counseling and mental health, they may get confused on who to go to when in need of assistance for their well being.

Cornerstone has clinical counselors who have worked independently for years and have been licensed in their specific area to the point that they can own their own practice. Testing and diagnosing can be involved, but there is more of a focus on rebuilding the person.

Psychologists are capable of running tests and diagnosing patients, such as tests for learning and mental disabilities. Psychiatrists have the ability to prescribe medication to people.

Knowing the difference allows the general public to understand who needs to be sought out.

“We have our own bubbles that we are in but we always reach and tag-team with others,” Portner said. If there is little to no sign of progress, counselors will refer patients to psychologists or psychiatrists if necessary.

“We do a lot of referrals. If we see symptoms, do a certain amount of work and are not at the level we want to see, we will ask if medical management would help this person get to the next level,” she said.Once this action has taken place, they can be prescribed the recommended medicine.

When working with specific age groups, there are many methods for giving them the help they need. One form of therapy is “play therapy” which allows children to talk and move around with different items in their hands.

“Having them move around and be comfortable is better for them than sitting down and talking about it,” Portner said.

For college students, the ability to come to Cornerstone allows you to step away from campus and talk to someone.

“We’re a block away. It’s easy for people to come and walk here and get the help they need,” she said.

By car, the ride takes less than two minutes. If students decide to walk there, it is roughly under 10 minutes.

Students have the ability to talk about the struggles of college in a private manner without anyone speculating.

“I’ve dealt with a lot of student-athletes. That is a very stressful thing to balance in your life and especially if someone gets hurt or the whole trajectory of their life changes when they’re not an athlete anymore,” she said.

Portner enjoys working with different age groups, but prefers helping college students.

“I love helping athletes and students get to this level of functioning and integrating back into their sport or school and not feel completely isolated because they no longer feel like this person they identified with,” she said.

Going to counseling is not just for those with depression or anxiety. Life can knock you down and gaining that guidance can make a great impact.

Chante Rutherford
Clients are greeted with business cards and comfortable seating.

“The cool thing about college students that I love working with is that there is so much hope. I’m dealing with very intelligent people who simply got stuck,” Portner said. “It’s really cool that we can help them get unstuck and get back on track and not say, ‘I’m done.’”

As people call in and explain their problems, the search for the best fitting counselor within the practice begins.

“Some of us are more like, ‘that’s our thing,’” she said. “I have a couple of people here who are so good at marriage counseling.”

As the conversation between the caller and the counselor progresses, the 13 goes down to one or two counselors. The schedules of the patient and counselor also come into consideration.

The counselors meet together a few times a month to ask questions and gain guidance on situations that they may have with patients. Sometimes, it takes the whole group to get an answer.

Chante Rutherford
A conference room for the counselors.

“At Cornerstone, we work together,” Portner said.

If there is a point in time where a counselor is at a roadblock, others can step in and give the struggling counselor ideas to use.

“If I’m dealing with someone with generalized anxiety disorder and I’ve tried different things and we’re still stuck, another counselor can come in and say it worked for them,” she said.

Over 200 years of combined training, education and experience collectively sit and share ideas with one another so everyone that enters Cornerstone knows they are in the right hands.

There are times when the pairing of patient and counselor does not match and there must be a switch which is necessary for the progression of each person or group for the better, Portner said.

Outside of their office, Cornerstone works with different groups to gain a look at where they can recommend others if they need more intense treatment.

“We do not work with a specific group but when a person comes to us and says ‘this place was awesome’ or ‘this place was horrible,’ that’s important to know,” she said.

In the near future, Cornerstone plans to expand its office to a building they have purchased right behind their office.

“We have bought the building behind us that has more space for our counselors but also has space for more people especially to have group therapy,” Portner said. “This is a great thing to have.”

Cornerstone Counseling at Ashland helps people take the necessary steps to gain counseling and create a better life. If you or someone you know feels they could benefit from this opportunity, contact Cornerstone at (419) 289-1876 or visit their office located at 502 Claremont Ave.