Joe Barnard

Joe Barnard

Executive Director


Josh Nordean

Clinical Director


Kristen Thompson

Admissions Consultant

Joe Barnard

Joe Barnard joined the Embark Behavioral Health family as Executive Director of Embark at The Forge in July 2020. Following a long and successful career of 33 years in the Department of Defense as an elite rescueman in the US Air Force, Joe wanted to find another way to serve his community. This is what brought him to Embark at The Forge. Joe believes in the school’s vision for teen boys of equal clinical, academics and adventure/experiential modalities. He brings decades of day-in day-out interaction with young Airmen and other SOF operators. He has seen that team, is so much better than self, and he looks forward to building and leading his team, collectively serving their parents and students.


Joe is also an avid skydiver, surfer, and novice yoga practitioner. Following his Air Force retirement, he and his wife of 29 years Meghan, a Yoga/Mindfulness Instructor, traveled Southeast Asia for 5 months (Thailand, Singapore and Bali) decompressing, exploring and learning. Joe brings an artful and intentional mix of the structure and grit of his military background, love and passion for adventure, and his grounded and centered energy to work with our young men to develop the skills to initiate positive behavioral change and become resilient leaders and visionaries.


Contact: joe.barnard@forgertc.com

Josh Nordean

Josh Nordean joined Embark at The Forge as the Clinical Director after serving at Calo since 2016 as a therapist, Program Director and Director of Clinical Services. Since 2001, Josh has worked with young men and their families in a variety of settings as a teacher, coach, youth pastor, case manager, crisis intervention specialist and therapist. Josh graduated summa cum laude from Oklahoma State University with an M.S. in Community Counseling. Josh has a heart for providing a CASA experience for young men and their families and serving as a mentor on the road towards healthy manhood. Through his years of experience working with boys from a variety of socioeconomic, racial and cultural backgrounds, Josh has come to believe that boys need specific mentors and role models to show them how to harness and focus their strength into productive rather than destructive ventures. He is excited to be a part of a team who aims to set a new standard in boy specific treatment. When not working, Josh enjoys anything related to sports and being outdoors and loves spending time with his wife, three sons and two boxers.


Contact: josh.nordean@forgertc.com

Kristen Thompson

Kristen Thompson joined Embark at The Forge in February of 2021.  She has a foundation in purpose-driven work.  Her background includes experienced work as a Marketing Coordinator with a demonstrated history of working in both print and digital media, and social media marketing.   In addition, Kristen has been working with children in and out of the school system for nearly a decade.  She has a longstanding education in Cultural Studies, and it is the combination of these varying backgrounds which led her to her current role at The Forge.


As the Admissions Consultant, she has the integral opportunity of supporting families through the emotional road of finding the right care for their child. Within this role comes marketing and meaningful content development.  Providing a consistent and clear message to educate families is organic to this process.  She believes the best way to approach life is to show up with an open mindset and she structures this into her engagement with the families that Embark at The Forge supports.


Contact: kristen.thompson@forgertc.com


Dr. Michael Gurian



Dr. Cassandra Simms



Abby Jones

Residential Director

Abby Jones

Residential Director, Abby Jones, manages all aspects of the milieu with a smile.

Abby has served in the clinical department since the Forge opened in 2020 and was promoted to Assistant Clinical Director in early 2021.  Abby has a long history of excellence in leading and developing teams as well as developing processes and structures. She brings these skills to the Residential Department alongside her steady and secure therapeutic relationships with the boys.


Contact: abby.jones@forgertc.com

Dr. Michael Gurian

Dr. Michael Gurian is a marriage and family counselor in private practice and the New York Times bestselling author of thirty two published books in twenty three languages. He has penned gender specific best sellers like, The Wonder of Boys, The Minds of Boys and Saving Our Sons. As a social philosopher, he has pioneered efforts to bring neuro-biology and brain research into homes, schools, corporations, and public policy. The Gurian Institute which he co-founded, conducts research internationally, launches pilot programs, and trains professionals. Dr. Gurian's speaking engagements include but are not limited to, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University, University of Colorado, University of Missouri-Kansas City, and UCLA.


Michael’s work has also been featured in nearly all the major media, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, Newsweek, Time, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine, Psychology Today, the Christian Science Monitor, Educational Leadership and the American School Board Journal.


Embark at The Forge is incredibly pleased to have Dr. Gurian on the team and as our consultant, and he brings a wealth of experience to us with his life's work.

Dr. Cassandra Simms

Dr. Cassandra Simms is board certified in Adult and Child/Adolescent Psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.


Dr. Simms received her medical degree from the University of Kentucky in 1999. She completed her Psychiatry Residency and Child/Adolescent Fellowship at the University of South Carolina. During her residency, she served on the Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee, Residency Selection Committee, and was chosen to be Chief Resident for the Child & Adolescent Fellowship Program.


In May 2004, Dr. Simms moved to Chattanooga Tennessee with her family where she started her professional career with Focus Psychiatric Services, Inc. and Parkridge Valley Hospital treating children and adolescents in an outpatient and inpatient setting until August 2012.


In August 2012, Dr. Simms took a position with Community Health Systems via Skyridge Medical Center now known as Tennova Healthcare in Cleveland Tennessee. She provided outpatient care to adults and children at Behavioral Health of Cleveland and inpatient care to adults at Pineridge Treatment Center (Tennova Behavioral Health) via acute hospitalization, inpatient consultation and intensive outpatient programs until August 2015.


It was in August 2015, Dr. Simms transitioned to her outpatient private practice as a co-owner of Comprehensive Psychiatric Care, PLLC in Chattanooga Tennessee. She has been joined by several therapists and a Nurse Practitioner to provide services to our beloved community. Dr. Simms collaborates with Healthconnect of America to provide supervision to nurse practitioners in the surrounding area and with Allied Behavioral Services, Inc. to provide consistent medication management services to their clients.


In November 2020 while continuing her outpatient services, Dr. Simms was thrilled to join the Embark Behavioral Health’s newest program, Embark at The Forge, a behavioral residential treatment center for boys in Benton, Tennessee. She will serve as the Psychiatric Service Director to oversee and provide the psychiatric care to the residents referred to the facility.


During her 17 years as a provider, Dr. Simms has also found a passion for teaching students through her clinical experiences. In 2009, Dr. Simms became a faculty member with the University of Tennessee School of Medicine where she briefly served as preceptor for medical students for a portion of their psychiatry rotation. In 2012, Dr. Simms contracted with Lincoln Memorial University’s Physician Assistant program providing their behavioral health clinical experience. Dr. Simms hopes through her current clinical experiences that she can continue to educate upcoming providers and provide them with a thorough clinical psychiatric experience. This is with the hope to make upcoming providers aware of the need for good psychiatric care in our communities and to reduce the stigma associated with mental health.