Call Me Professor

Welcome 2021 and on to new pursuits! I have decided to add a new feather to my cap. Next month, I will be joining the adjunct faculty in the Human Services Department at Palm Beach State College. I have jokingly asked my family to call me “Professor” from now on and warned those who do not should beware of their final evaluation! I have a tendency to jump into several activities and commitments quickly and wholeheartedly, so I realize how easy it is to become overextended and overwhelmed. With that in mind, I have decided to practice mindfully and gradually enter into the world of online teaching next month. (Pinch me come February 1st!) There is something about this new pursuit that feels like a perfect stepping stone towards sharing my passion, knowledge, and experience with others interested in the field of psychology and social service.

When I was working in a residential treatment center several years ago, I recognized the heart and soul many staff members possessed for this important work. Some held experience from their own journeys through recovery, personally connected through family or friends, or were simply professional empaths by day. I recall the eagerness and excitement in their voices when they asked questions about my educational path to become a clinical therapist. While my journey was expedient and swift as I narrowed in on this exact career path, I recognized the multiple layers of professionals offering different contributions  to running a successful program. Just because I had a masters degree did not take away from the “street cred” or life experience of many of my colleagues. I gladly encouraged my co-workers pursuit for higher education or credential to capitalize on their innate gifts coupled with training and credibility. When the opportunity arose to train the rising workforce of the mental health arena, I felt the draw to take part in the mission to train quality, passionate, and balanced professionals who would eventually join me in the clinical sphere.

I welcome the intellectual challenge that may arise with teaching adults. I feel confident in the content I will share and know my passion that I have built through professional experience will support my pursuit to serve others and continue learning. I am eager to observe and guide the future helpers of the mental health community, to develop their own growth mindset and envision possibilities for themselves and those they will impact in their future careers.

Reframing 2020

Today marks 12 days to the end of the year 2020. There are multiple perspectives I have heard others hold on to as they anticipate this marker. “Wow, what a year!” “I cannot wait for this year to be over,” “2021 HAS to be better.” While we all have our own version of a hardship within the complications of 2020, I still find myself using a good old therapy technique of reframing my year-end reflections into GRATITUDE.

Fifty three weeks ago, my dad was unexpectedly diagnosed with a type of Head/Neck cancer in a sequence of overnight changes and events that shocked our family and challenged the deepest places in our hearts. “Our Guy” has always been the late night hospital visitor, the stand-in comic relief, or hand holder for when countless others were sick. He was never the one in the gown—he wasn’t supposed to be.

In February, he embarked on a journey of 35 rounds of consecutive radiation treatments coupled with chemotherapy. My strong, big boned, charismatic, and bold dad shrank, suffered and fearfully became the patient, one that I have never encountered in my personal or professional career. Seeing your parent ache and burn from the inside, painfully fake a smile, saying “I’m okay” to protect what his little girl sees demonstrated his desire to be strong, even in his weakest moments. I wanted to tell him it was okay to hurt, to be tired, to rest and get well. In those moments, I want to believe he felt that my presence changed the monotony of his days in those moments.

The unknowns of Covid-19 instilled fear in our family as we supported one another from a distance over the phone, Facetime, and texts. We were fearful of what would become in his immuno-compromised state. We didn’t know what to expect, we had to trust the science, we had to trust our hearts and be strong for Dad. As much as we clutched our souls in confusion, Covid-19 offered something different to him. My dad was granted the opportunity to quietly check-out, to go through this fight without missing a beat in his life. His beloved baseball season was on hold, hobbies like golf and concert-going were inaccessible, dining out was suspended all while friends protected themselves and their own vulnerabilities. We didn’t realize it, but time paused for him. I like to believe that is what springboarded his recovery period after the pain.

Never did I think I would be able to find appreciation for what his diagnosis coupled with a pandemic and ensuing global crisis created. For our family, especially for me, I can appreciate every moment where I was forced to slow down, read, take time outside to meditate, opportunities to sit with him and hold his hand, our hearts and eyes doing the talking when he could not.

In June, his biggest steps towards recovery strung together lighting the way for hope, a turn around and a positive grasp at what could be a rebuilding of his body, voice, and ambition. While my Dad may not have understood or listened to the news reports in the surge of Covid-19 around the world, he realized this will be but a drop in a sequence of time that essentially stood still, just for him. 

As I look at the past six months of his incredible recovery process, I am witnessing a reconstructed spirit and an increase in his physical strength and I can’t help but wonder if this is exactly how things were supposed to be for our family. No one would wish for the pain, heartache, or trauma that has occurred throughout this process. However, I am left to reflect and believe in the consistency of practicing gratitude, finding the ability to reframe and seek new perspectives on an otherwise undesirable situation or series of events, to survive one of the most challenging weights and periods of time in my life.

I am stronger from it, Dad is stronger from it, and we can all continue to build strength using gratitude. We have the CHOICE to flourish among the fear and hardship.

*My wish for all my family, friends, colleagues and connections is that you can build your 2021 from an intentional place of gratitude and experience the shift alike.*

A Selfless Girl’s Journey to Becoming a Therapist…

A consistent, crisp fall breeze casts aside the usual humidity of a South Florida suburb, beckoning an air of growth and change along with it. It’s Thanksgiving morning 1995 and a six-year-old girl with straight bangs of blonde meets two sisters, the new next door neighbors,  in her cul de sac. She didn’t know at the time, but their next eight years of friendship would be shaped by the lessons of inclusion, acceptance, understanding and also unconditional love for one of the sisters, who happened to use a wheelchair.

I was introduced to Spinal Muscular Atrophy when these “girls next door” moved from New Jersey to my slice of innocence one morning. Our families bonded, and my friendship with the two sisters took flight through screen-free outdoor exploration and adventure. Our lives would be changed forever as we attempted to understand the love, challenge, hurt and, sadly, the inevitable loss that accompanies raising a child with different physical abilities.

. . . . .

I always knew I wanted to be in a profession that helped others. I was shaped by the values of openness, kindness, inclusion and love that my family and community reinforced during my childhood. A listener, observer and creative allowed me to pivot with my interests in serving others. When I began college at Emory University, my coursework led me to pursue psychology and I was captivated by the mysteriousness of the brain, human behavior and the possibility of recovery. Inspired by a pivotal mentorship in 2010, I leapt into pursuing clinical psychology from the front lines at the McLean-Franciscan Child & Adolescent Inpatient Program and never looked back.

When your work doesn’t feel like a “job,” you know it clicks. When you’re thirsty to learn more and extend your heart and soul to all those who need tools to understand the inner workings of their minds, I knew it aligned in my universe.

. . . . .

We rode the school bus together to our neighborhood elementary school, I chose to sit in the back of the bus, despite my dreaded motion-sickness, craning my neck to talk to my pal who was secured safely to the bus wheelchair lift. I often commandeered her security once aboard. As we bumped along, I ensured her head and neck were stable for the duration of the ride. What people often misunderstand is the physical appearance and speech delivery of individuals with SMA do not reflect their intelligence. My friend often outwitted fellow students, peers and staff. Her courage and spunk broke through the shadows of adversity, never stopping her from living life to the fullest or trying something new. I learned to jump in and ride the rough roads after her sometimes, no matter the risk.

My girl next door passed away in 2003.  While she is no longer physically present to witness this work in action, I strongly believe her spirit guides the mission of the empowering work I have cultivated here. I honor her, my dear friend, for lighting the path for me all these years.

I am thrilled to initiate my private practice in South Florida, Empowering Strategies,LLC, the site and scene of my upbringing, my impetus to welcome young people with unconditional positive love and respect, regardless of their abilities to this space to explore the meaning of individuality, potential, and to put in the work of unpacking the challenges of life and emotion.

Make “You Time” Why Therapy?

We are encouraged to seek out a yearly physical exam to ensure our bodies and organs are functioning optimally, and set healthy, attainable goals the upcoming year. Why is the mind left out from this routine time and time again? The brain serves as the hub and command center for our functioning. We are told to “make time for ourselves” but when will we incorporate the psyche into our personal Rx pad?

So much progress has been made towards breaking the stigma around seeking therapeutic support. Something tells me that you are reading this entry and have some interest in taking care of your mind as well. Welcome, I’m glad you’re here! No matter age, situation or time of transition, an issue is never “too small” nor “too big” to seek support through individual therapy. There’s no better time to make “You Time” fit into your life.

It is often said to “practice what you preach,” and I have experienced first-hand that saying “no” and making time for my personal care is priority. As a container for many of my clients’ pain, I know my duty to present myself as balanced and open to all of them. I have found that writing a list of small moments of gratitude AND incorporating physical movement into my every day routine are my moments of “Me Time.” I was first introduced to therapy as a high school student and found the experience relieving, special and private, which is what I wanted and needed (I didn’t know that then). This clinician left such a lasting impression on what it felt like to truly unload and feel refreshed going back into the busy world of high pressure academics, extracurriculars and, what felt like, my entire future riding on my shoulders.

I know I am practicing what I preach now when I make the call for peer support or more formal therapy, depending on the matter. All therapists benefit from having a therapist at some point. I am not ashamed to admit when I need a “check up above the neck,” I like to think that is what contributes to me being real with my clients in our space and time together. 

Showing up open and willing is the only requirement for working on myself and that’s what I tell my clients as well. No matter what type of change you look for in life, whether it be fitness, spiritual, social or mental, the dedication, consistency, and active participation will reflect what it is worth to you.