“We can start to recognize that although we may not have the power to change everything around us, we can change how we react to it. How cool is that?”
What was your path to becoming a therapist? What inspired you to choose this profession?
For me, it was kind of an accident. It wasn’t until I went through my own recovery from an eating disorder that I realized I was even interested in therapy. When I would open up to others about my story, I was shocked by how many people related but had never talked about it before. These conversations sparked my curiosity to understand the shame and stigma surrounding not just eating disorders, but mental health concerns in general. I interned with an eating disorder nonprofit dedicated to advocacy, education, and support, which exposed me to the clinical side of eating disorder treatment and ultimately motivated me to pursue a degree in mental health counseling. Now, it feels full circle to have the clinical training to self-disclose the fact that I am recovered with my clients in a way that benefits them. Sometimes, I find it helpful to challenge the client in a playful way that may not be as effective without their knowledge of my story. It can be really powerful for a client to know that the person they are being their most vulnerable with just gets it.
What would you want someone to know about working with you?
In the first session, my intention is to get a better understanding of what prompted the client to seek therapy and what they consider to be their current concerns. How the client responds may vary from what a friend or family member might say, so by learning the client’s experience and perspective I can meet the client where they are in this process while establishing goals for treatment. I want the client to know that it is their therapy, no one else’s, and that they have the ability to choose the next best thing for their wellbeing.
How does collaboration with other providers play into your work?
Collaborating with other providers is imperative to determining the best clinical practices for the client. Eating disorders in particular have multifaceted symptoms, often requiring knowledge and intervention on a medical, nutritional, and psychiatric level. To ensure the client is receiving the most comprehensive support, I not only consult other therapists, dietitians, psychiatrists, and physicians via supervision and training, but also recommend the client establish a team of specialized providers for themselves. This holistic approach to mental health can help the client better connect with why they may be experiencing certain symptoms, and how those connect with underlying beliefs, thoughts, and emotions.
What do you think is the biggest barrier today for people seeking care?
Stigma and misinformation. If people better understood that mental health concerns are also biological, social, emotional, physical, and familial concerns, people might be more willing to seek support. People often assume that they must look or present a certain way to experience struggle. Mental health affects people of all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, faiths, and social classes. Eating disorders are especially stigmatized to be a white, upper class, female disease of choice, because that’s how it’s often portrayed in society. It can be challenging to recover in a society that holds these stereotypes. Therapy however, can help us shift the way we internalize these interactions; we can start to recognize that although we may not have the power to change everything around us, we can change how we react to it. How cool is that?
Is there any research-based work you’ve done that you found particularly exciting and how has that informed your practice today?
I was a co-researcher in a qualitative study exploring the experiences and intersectionality of gender and ethnic identity among Arab American women. So many of the themes discovered through the stories told by interviewee’s reminded me of similar emotions and struggles of clients grappling with gender and identity, such as feeling like they don’t fit societal or familial expectations, and feelings of invisibility and invalidation. Through this research, I have shifted how I ask certain questions to ensure they are inclusive to all identities, while being mindful of the privilege I bring into the therapy room.
“I want the client to know that it is their therapy, no one else’s, and that they have the ability to choose the next best thing for their wellbeing.”