Joan Andres

Counselor on a Mission


Joan Andres is in her 15th year as a therapist in Northwestern’s Wellness Center. This sand painting of a Navajo greeting hangs in Joan’s office. The greeting, which translates into “Shalom to you,” is meant to welcome students and bless them with a feeling of wholeness and well-being.

You have a passion for the Navajo people. Where did that come from?
I was born and raised on a Navajo reservation in Rehoboth, N.M., which is a mission of the Christian Reformed Church. My father helped establish indigenous leadership in the planted churches. Deep ties were formed, and as a result, I developed a love for the Navajo people and an appreciation for living cross-culturally.

You also lived in London for a few years. What was that like?
While Mike [Joan’s husband and a member of NWC’s religion faculty] worked on his doctorate, I worked in grassroots organizations that served the mentally ill, homeless and poor, both in the East End of London and the well-resourced community in Surrey. Those were years filled with wonder, challenge and meaningful relationships. We were blessed to know and love the English people and culture from the inside.

How important is it for Northwestern to provide counseling services for its students?
Every year the demand for counseling exceeds what can be provided. The college years are a critical stage in a person’s development: Students’ identity is being established and their future is being shaped by the decisions they make regarding relationships, career path, lifestyle and faith. For some people, these decisions have been complicated by economic loss, broken families, unexpected illness, depression, anxiety and addiction. Succeeding academically is hard enough in the best of circumstances, but with the additional pressures, counseling becomes an essential ingredient for retaining students and enabling their success. 

What is your favorite part of being a therapist?
I absolutely love working with students because, despite the pressures they face, they are open and willing to change—to see and engage the world differently. That creates a space where hope and shalom can flourish.

Your international travels have included Uganda. What did you do there?
In 2008 I was part of a team that helped establish Bethesda Counseling Service in that country. I helped lead training sessions for lay counselors. It was a privilege to partner with people who were wholeheartedly committed to bringing the hope of the gospel to the broken and hurting, with much sacrifice of their own time and resources. We were humbled and blessed to witness the power of God at work.

There’s a sailboat parked near your garage. Do you sail?
My brother graciously gave us one of his boats. Since then Mike has learned to sail and has taken the kids out occasionally. I can enjoy it when I am in competent company, but I make no claims to be a sailor! (I actually prefer to bike, walk or hike on solid ground.)

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