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Psychotherapist relates to clients with personal struggles
'Warrior woman' Laurie Hyatt has experienced deaths, divorce and disease
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Books that Laurie Hyatt finds inspirational line the shelves at her office in Oakwood. Hyatt uses quotes and ideas from books to guide group therapy sessions. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Just for Women

Location: 4205 Mundy Mill Place, Suite 6, Oakwood

Contact: hyatt0105@gmail.com or 678-951-4325

Laurie Hyatt firmly believes people are never too old to learn something new or embark on a new adventure.

Twelve years ago, Hyatt decided at the age of 56 to return to school and earn her doctorate degree in educational psychology at the University of Georgia. She finished her coursework in four years, claiming her post-graduate prize in 2007.

Fast forward to 2014 and Hyatt was eyeing another endeavour. She wanted to fulfill her lifelong dream of opening a private therapy practice focusing strictly on women. Less than five months ago, she reached that goal while battling breast cancer at the same time.

Hyatt has accomplished each of her goals in spite of the curve balls life has thrown her way. Now, she is using her trials and triumphs to counsel women through similar situations in Oakwood.

“I realized that I’ve been through so much — death, divorce and disease,” the psychotherapist said. “People ask me how I stay so happy, but it’s a choice. At this age, I have a responsibility to pass knowledge on to other women.”

A career path

As a young girl, Hyatt wanted to be a journalist. Her father, John Innes, was a newspaper man who covered the first helicopter flights of Igor Sikorsky, who created the first successfully mass-produced chopper.

“I flew with Sikorsky when I was 3, but I don’t remember it,” Hyatt said.

She also loved reading her father’s feature stories and dreamed of being like him.

“I was on the high school newspaper staff,” Hyatt said. “Being a journalist came naturally to me.”

Despite her desire to follow in her father’s footsteps, it was not in the cards, especially when Hyatt saw her father struggle with mental health issues. This up close and personal view of her father as a child and later a teenager impacted her life and ultimately changed Hyatt’s mind about her career path.

When she was preparing to go to college, she decided she no longer wanted to write like her dad. Instead, she longed to help him and decided to pursue a vocation in the medical field.

“I started to notice that dad had some emotional issues, and I thought I could help him,” the now 68-year-old said.

Therefore, Hyatt studied psychology at Pittsburg State University in Kansas and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1969 and 1971, respectively.

After graduation, she worked under the supervision of a doctor in Douglasville, consulting with patients and guiding them through the hardships in their lives to the best of her abilities.

“My boss then said I should go ahead and get my doctorate, but I got pregnant and then life got in the way,” the mother of three children said.

Life’s highs and lows

While earning her master’s degree, Hyatt married her first husband in 1970 and gave birth to her daughter, Heather, in 1972. A year later, the couple divorced.

Hyatt then met and married her second husband in 1975. The couple added daughter Laurie Grace and son Trey to their family.

Finally, life seemed to be going along as planned. Hyatt also discovered she enjoyed helping people in Douglasville.

However, the one person she had entered the medical field to help was the one person she never could. Her father “was in and out of mental hospitals through the end of his life,” she said.

Then on Friday, March 13, 1981, her father died.

“I never did get to help him,” Hyatt said with a solemn face.

However, the woman sojourned on with her family and profession. Then in 1987, she and her second husband divorced. Now, she was a mother to three children younger than 14 years old and working full time.

Hyatt focused on her children and her work, and her investment paid off. She saw her children and clients flourish. Therefore, Hyatt decided to strike out on her own, beginning a private practice in 1993.

“I was seeing clients with the supervision of a doctor, and I realized I could do this myself,” she said. “I began working with Fred Huff, who was my divorce lawyer’s brother, in Marietta.”

A year later, she opened her own private practice in Ellijay. There she met fellow therapist Debbie Osborn in 1994. Since then, the women have been best friends.

Their friendship was cemented when both women experienced unexpected losses. In 1999, Hyatt’s son, Trey, committed suicide at age 13. The mother was devastated and questioned the event repeatedly. Osborn supported her during this time.

“She managed to stay positive through all of that adversity,” Osborn said. “I was there when she buried her son, and she was there when I buried my daughter who died from leukemia. She is a woman warrior.”

Change in direction

After enduring such a loss and treating patients for years, Hyatt chose to pursue her doctorate degree and become a full-fledged doctor. Except this time, she wanted to find a program that would help her understand what happened to her gifted, young child.

“I wanted to figure out why my son took his life,” Hyatt said. “So I looked for programs that had research opportunities on adolescent suicide and found the perfect program at the University of Georgia.”

The then-56-year-old told Osborn her intentions. Her best friend fully supported her.

 “I said, ‘You go, girl,’” Osborn said. “If anybody could do it, she could. You’re never too old to learn.”

Hyatt packed up and moved to Athens to start her college career all over again. She was amazed at being accepted by the college-aged community.

“I thought it might be weird, but the younger ones would invite me out to social gatherings and include me,” Hyatt said.

During her time at UGA, she wrote a research paper on suicide and the gifted adolescent. After she graduated, she published her first book, “Silent Decision: Awareness out of Tragedy” in 2011.

“I wrote the book after I graduated and after Trey died,” she said.

Her son’s school decided to mark his death as well.

“The school gave us an annual that all of the kids had signed to him,” she said. “Some of the messages said they wished they had stood up for him or helped him more. I never realized how much he was bullied, so I had to write about it for others.”

Another medical hurdle

Finally with her doctor status intact, Hyatt was moving toward her new career.

She became a professor at Gainesville State College and the University of Phoenix. And as Dr. Laurie Hyatt, she taught hybrid classes for the University of Phoenix on a campus in Atlanta.

Then, in September 2013, she endured another crisis. She was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“People always asked me how I stay so happy, and I say if you depend on outside sources to make you happy, you won’t be,” Hyatt said. “That’s how I looked at the cancer.”

She began chemotherapy with Osborn playing the supportive friend once again.

Osborn, who now lives in Arizona, knew Hyatt was strong enough to defeat the disease.

“She has this mentality that ‘I have today, and today is a blessing,’” Osborn said. “She takes life head-on.”

During her chemotherapy treatments, Hyatt had time on her hands to think about her life and its direction. She made a decision. Her hourlong commute to a job she enjoyed but did not love was no longer worth it. So, she left the University of Phoenix to embark on setting up a private practice once again.

“Chemo slows you down, but it slowed me down enough to think about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Hyatt said.

A new endeavor

Her ultimate goal with a new practice would focus on women.

“I had this insight that I wanted a place for women,” Hyatt said. “I have a very holistic approach to therapy where I won’t diagnose a person with something that is wrong with them. I don’t think women need to be told there is something wrong with them.”

Now the 60-plus-year-old needed a place to set up shop.

During a visit to a doctor in Oakwood, Hyatt learned of an available space in the building. She took a look and decided it was ideal to treat six to eight clients per week and host weekly group sessions. Now, it just needed a name.

“A place just for women is what her vision has always been,” Osborn said. “I told her to keep it simple. It’s ‘Just for Women.’”

With a little work, financing and vision, Hyatt started to set up her shop this year in the middle of chemo treatments and its side effects. She began seeing clients in April and has started weekly meetings with specific agendas geared toward helping women power through struggles of everyday life.

“Group meetings can help women (who) are just confused about life or having some of the issues that we all go through,” Hyatt said. “It’s a safe place where they can share.”

As for her breast cancer, it is no longer an issue. Hyatt is in remission and had her chemotherapy port removed two weeks ago.

She currently volunteers with Diane Rothberg, hosting a group that gives tips and advice to women beginning or undergoing breast cancer treatments.

“The first Saturday of every month we have a support group for women who are going through breast cancer,” Hyatt said. “I wanted to do something else to give back.”

And although Hyatt has been through many hardships herself, she feels it helps her connect to and assist others.

“Everyone experiences the same situation differently,” Hyatt said. “I’ve been through it all, and even though it’s not the same for me as it is for others, it helps me relate to them.”

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