Acacia Spotlight looks to highlight the clinicians, staff, and programs that make Acacia what it is today. August’s clinician is Camille Carlson, LMFT.
Camille Carlson, LMFT, is a therapist at Acacia Minneapolis, joining the team in 2018, just about 10 months ago. Originally from Apple Valley, Minnesota, Camille Carlson made her way closer to Minneapolis and looked to join a team working with college communities. Despite the cold weather (we just had to put at least one weather reference, it’s Minnesota!), Camille has warmed up the office, quickly becoming an essential member of the team!
I appreciate college students’ energy, gusto, and super awesome desire for change in themselves and in a global sense. I say to at least one client per week, “I just love this generation,” as they give me so much hope with their passion and relentless spirits.
What do you enjoy most about being a clinician?
Camille: I try to remind myself every morning before work what a privilege it is to get to do the work I do. I feel so grateful to have the opportunity to share my clients’ joys, despairs, and everything in between. I truly believe that the most important thing we have is our connection with others, and being a clinician offers me a chance every day to support and facilitate the idea of connection as an agent of both acceptance and change. Beyond our therapeutic goals, my foundational goal of every session is for my client to leave the office feeling more connected with another person than they did when they came in. I love being a therapist the most when this happens.
Why do you enjoy working with college communities?
Camille: College students are at such an awesome time in their lives to be making therapeutic changes. Many are on their own for the first time, and really learning who they are, what they value, and the kind of life they want to live. These are major discoveries and changes to be making in the midst of a highly stressful academic time. I focus on identity and values with many of my clients, and college poses the perfect opportunity to take a look at these aspects of the self as a step in managing any other presenting concerns. They also keep me young! I appreciate college students’ energy, gusto, and super awesome desire for change in themselves and in a global sense. I say to at least one client per week, “I just love this generation,” as they give me so much hope with their passion and relentless spirits.
What college clubs or activities were you (or would you like to be) a part of?
Camille: I was a member of the Psi Chi Psychology Honors Society and Psychology Club in college. I was also involved with the Green Team and helped focus campus efforts on sustainability. I was a gymnast for 16 years until I graduated high school, and would have LOVED to continue on a college club team but my school didn’t have one 🙁
If you could switch places with anybody for a week, who would it be and why?
Camille: Probably one of those people who travels the world taking amazing pictures for a living! I love adventure, traveling, hiking, and exploring, and to be able to capture those experiences in breathtaking photos would be such a joy. Especially if these adventures included waterfalls, I’m a sucker for a good waterfall.
Have you had a moment as a therapist (or even in therapy) that has made significant reflection or discovery in your life?
Camille: I don’t know that this qualifies as a specific moment, but a series of moments over time that has lead to reflection and change. I think one of the most important things my clients have taught me over time is that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have. This perspective has changed how I view people in general, from those I know closely and personally, to those I’m just passing on the street. What may look like questionable choices to the unknowing passerby may be a trauma response, a learned behavior, or the only way this person knows to cope. I see “the other side of the story” in my office every day, and have been granted the opportunity to empathize and understand people from a perspective I wouldn’t have outside the therapy room. This has reminded me to stay warm, kind, and as non-judgmental as possible because I know the battles people fight daily, even if I don’t know yours specifically.
Lastly, we asked another therapist, Andrea Deuring, MA, about what she admired most about Camille…
Camille has the best boundary setting skills of anyone I’ve ever met. Ever. When she talks in group consult about setting healthy and helpful limits with clients, I think to myself, “How does she do that so effortlessly?” And the most wonderful part about it is that she’s truly doing what’s best for her clients, while doing what’s best for herself. Damn, girl.
With Camille on the Minneapolis team, we only predict sunny (sorry, one more) days ahead!
Stay tuned for more Acacia Clinician Spotlights! And check out Camille’s bio on the Minneapolis page!
Authored (a lot) by Camille Carlson and (a little) by KorbyQuan Reed.
Acacia Spotlight looks to highlight the clinicians, staff, and programs that make Acacia what it is today. July’s clinician is Dr. Jayce Long.
Originally from a small western Kentucky town called Paducah, Jayce made his trek over to the west coast to continue working as a clinician in our Acacia Westwood office. Jayce has been with Acacia since January 2019, came with a stellar recommendation, and has been a welcome addition to the Westwood team ever since!
What do you enjoy most about being a clinician?
Jayce: To know people deeply is an honor and privilege. To be a part of helping others connect to our deepest desires, to be known, recognized, and witnessed, brings me joy. Getting to know and loving ourselves deeply is a prerequisite to loving others and sustaining intimacy.
What is your therapeutic approach?
Jayce: I primarily use psycho-dynamic approaches. This means I tend to focus on underlying emotional and relational patterns that come up in the therapy, then promote healthier ways of being and relating through a safe and connected therapeutic relationship. I also enjoy integrating acceptance and skills-based interventions (e.g., Mindfulness), and welcome discussion of daunting existential issues that are looming in the back of each of our minds. —- At the end of the day, theories and therapeutic modalities are meant to help individuals get what they need. My focus is to cultivate a meaningful therapeutic relationship in order to help them figure it out.
When did you know you wanted to be a therapist?
Jayce: It was a slow unfolding process that started as an introspective young adolescent and then culminated into a sense of confidence during graduate school. I declared my psychology major the summer before attending my first undergraduate semester. This led me to follow interests in research of adolescent identity and spiritual development. As a Masters student studying these areas, I was introduced to applied psychology while taking classes along MFT doctoral students. This sparked my curiosity in the practice of psychology. After finding a doctoral program that fit my emerging passions in research and practice, the sense of knowing was solidified. It is an honor to be doing something I enjoy and feel in which I have great passion.
If you could only recommend one life change to every client who walked in the door, what would it be?
Jayce: Getting to know and loving ourselves deeply is a prerequisite to loving others and sustaining intimacy. Fight shame, embrace humility and vulnerability and surrender to life together with other imperfect beautiful humans.
And this one is just for fun… if you could switch places with anybody for a week, who would it be and why?
Jayce: Nothing savvy or wise here, just a guilty and joyous pleasure. As a huge University of Kentucky basketball fan, I would have to say the starting point guard for our Wildcats during a Final Four run. I was an athlete before I was a psychologist, Kentucky basketball is part of the lifeblood of the state, and this would fulfill somewhat of a childhood dream, so there you go!
Trust us, we are honored to have Dr. Jayce Long working alongside our Westwood team and with the college community – and if we ever start an Acacia basketball team, we know who to call.
Stay tuned for more Acacia Clinician Spotlights! And check out Jayce’s bio on the Westwood page!
Authored (a lot) by Dr. Jayce Long and (a little) by KorbyQuan Reed.
Ever feel dissatisfied but struggle to understand why?
You have friends. You’re busy with school; with work. You’re active in a club, sorority, sports. You’re even dating someone right now and things are going pretty well with you two. By all accounts your life should be fulfilling, but it’s not. Something’s wrong but you can’t put your finger on it.
What if the problem is you’ve been lying to others, and to yourself? (Not any one major lie–mind you–just a few white lies. Or so you might tell yourself.)
What if you’re actually lonely?
And what if the solution to your loneliness is staring you right in the face?
What if I told you that those lies and this loneliness are somehow connected?
In March of 2018, I began working for Acacia Counseling & Wellness. For several years prior, I had been working at another clinic where I slowly began to feel similar to you. Mundane. Listless. Dissatisfied. Lonely.
On the surface, I loved that job. There were co-workers I loved like family. I had been through hell and back with multiple clients who made substantial progress — many of whom I’d been working with for multiple years. Laughter was heard daily among colleagues. On the surface, I loved it.
Yet I realized I had been lying to myself on some level. The work was no longer something I enjoyed and I had run my race well-before coming to this conclusion. There was a problem, however: I was operating on autopilot. I was lying to myself and I didn’t even realize it.
I had to make a decision and it wasn’t going to be easy.
The decision required me to speak an uncomfortable truth, to myself and to others.
It required courage.
It required vulnerability.
It required intimacy. You read that right — intimacy.
I mentioned I work at Acacia now. Acacia is a mental health clinic specializing in serving the college age population and those in academia. Shortly after meeting with my first few clients at Acacia (most of whom are students), I began to hear a refrain. Certain phrases would repeat among clients of various backgrounds stepping through the door and into my office: “I just feel so alone,” “It’s really hard to make friends,” “Dating is so difficult.” These phrases continued to remind me of Erik Erikson and his psychosocial stages of development.
In his psychosocial stages of development Erikson states that age 18-40 (i.e. early adulthood) is a stage of life defined by the struggle between Intimacy and Isolation. He posited that if a person does not succeed at the primary task of any life stage, that individual is doomed to the failure of their given stage and cannot progress to the primary task of the next stage of life. This is how you get Peter Pan syndrome.
Failure during the early adulthood stage would look like isolation, loneliness, depression, fatalism, and nihilism. This is Rick Sanchez from Rick & Morty, as evidenced by his nihilism and depression. Another example is the wicked witch of the west from The Wizard of Oz, as her fatalism and isolation would indicate.
According to Erikson, failure occurs in early adulthood when a person attempts to calculate, control, and subjugate intimacy to their own will rather than to encounter intimacy with truth/authenticity, courage, and vulnerability. In the real world, the person that fails at this stage wants a guaranteed connection with a potential romantic partner. They might, for example, play their cards right to ensure a sexual encounter, however, this does not work out so favorably in the real world. A more innocuous example might be this: you spend plenty of time with your friends, but somehow you don’t really know them. This approach distorts a person toward Isolation — the failed state of this stage.
The character Phil from the classic film Groundhog Day takes this calculated, dishonest approach toward Nancy, a lust interest. He uses information he gathered from Nancy over the previous days to ensure sex with her later. This superficial effort hindered Phil from cultivating true intimacy with Nancy. It did not foster a serious relationship. He wanted all the rewards without any of the risks.
And true intimacy is risky, isn’t it? Someone can reject you. They can say “no.”
Covering your emotions is also risky. After 9 years of doing this work I’ve observed that it actually carries more risk than intimacy. You risk becoming nihilistic like Rick Sanchez. You risk becoming fatalistic and sadistic like the wicked witch of the west. Like Peter Pan, you don’t grow up and remain stuck in a feedback loop. Like Phil, you risk multiple deaths and worse; you risk lacking meaning.
Successfully moving through early adulthood means developing a sense of commitment, love, care, safety, and intimacy. Success is developing a sense that relationships are complex, and learning to value tenderness and loving freely.
It takes courage to show vulnerability. To expose oneself to the world and the perspectives of someone who is unlike you – someone whom you might even despise: that breaks your heart.
Identify a feeling (hint: usually it’s one word – i.e. sad, happy, angry, disgusted, surprised, hurt, afraid, etc.). Walk with that feeling for a bit. Where is it taking you? What do you want to do with that feeling? Try staying with its movements. Journal about it. Often this enlightens more than it obscures.
Who needs to hear you, your feeling, your message? Seriously consider telling them. You’d be surprised what can come from that conversation. Light is better than darkness. If you’re having doubts, consult with a trusted friend, a therapist, a religious community leader, a mentor. Don’t have a mentor? Find one. Find two. Older people tend to love sharing their wisdom. You will one day be in their place wishing you could do the same.
Ask yourself: “Can I love? If it doesn’t hurt at times, am I really loving this other person?”
Put down your phone. Close your laptop. Some communications specialists speculate that roughly 70-90% of human interaction is non-verbal. We didn’t evolve to have our social needs met through a black sleek rectangle (2001: A Space Odyssey anyone?). Set it down.Take a walk. Say hi to a stranger. Give them a compliment (and mean it).
Schedule times to talk with friends. Really talk. Without alcohol, cannabis, or illicit substances. Really encounter one another soberly; with courage, vulnerability, and intimacy.
Say something that shines light onto the dark parts of yourself. Intimacy is exposing the lies in ourselves and speaking truth to them. You can’t grow and encounter true intimacy unless you choose the narrow, risk-ridden path.
For the sake of true intimacy, rejection is worth the risk of being vulnerable. Rejection in the face of your vulnerability is a bullet dodged. Acceptance in response to your vulnerability moves the world another step away from the abyss and toward truth.
And if this is all too daunting for you to do alone, consider coming in to see me (or any therapist).
Acacia Spotlight looks to highlight the clinicians, staff, and programs that make Acacia what it is today. July’s clinician is Michelle LeBeau, LCSW.
Michelle LeBeau, originally from Manhattan Beach, California, is a clinician in the Acacia Isla Vista office and has been on the team since October 2018. Michelle is one of the many super-therapists at Acacia and has such a thoughtful presence in both the office and with her clients – one that has impacted many for the good. When the spotlight turned to Acacia Isla Vista, our original office, Michelle was a no-brainer to speak with!
What do you enjoy most about being a clinician?
Michelle: I love witnessing and supporting a person through their personal growth and healing journey.
What really happens in therapy?
Michelle: The person comes in and talks about what is on their mind or what they are currently working on; and together therapist and client work to problem solve or create change where desired. It is a time for someone to take up all the space for themselves. A time to learn about who they are and why, and what it is they want to become. Through talking, art, or other modalities, the therapist works with the client to help aide them through their own innate ability to heal and grow. Sometimes it’s being called out on something the person is not seeing, and sometimes it’s being held with unconditional acceptance and support. I also want to say it is a place where you get to say anything and everything you want or need to, and can expect to be treated without judgment, criticism, or being ignored. Confidentiality will be kept as mandated by law, and trust and boundaries are established so that the person can feel safe in their own feelings, body, and experiences during sessions.
[College] is very nostalgic as being some of the highest highs and lowest lows. While it was a time of rigorous academic learning, it was also a time of radical self-exploration. It was a learning process of discovering who I am and how I wanted to be in this world.
How would someone know if they could use therapy?
Michelle: Everyone can use therapy! Honestly, therapy is so helpful for anyone at some point or throughout their lifetime. Therapy can help you with something you feel stuck in, something you want to heal from, some area you want to grow in, for learning how to navigate being with yourself and being yourself around others. Therapy is whatever you make it to be. It really works best when the person is ready to be authentic and open and honest with themselves and the therapist. It is a safe space to explore your world and give yourself “me time” for an hour a week. I know I can use that!
Since a majority of our clients are college students, do you have an interesting or memorable story from when you were in college?
Michelle: HAHA! I don’t have one particular story to share, however that time frame is very nostalgic as being some of the highest highs and lowest lows. While it was a time of rigorous academic learning, it was also a time of radical self-exploration. It was a learning process of discovering who I am and how I wanted to be in this world. Learning to become a responsible adult took me a lot of trial and error and I look back with gratitude for the events and people that helped shaped who I am today.
If you could share one piece of advice for students looking to start therapy, what would it be?
Michelle: To ask questions and do a little research. Most therapists have websites or info online somewhere, or a number to call or text your questions to. I think it’s important to find the right fit between therapist and client. Find out what interventions they use, ask questions about cultural competence and experience, and see if their style aligns with what you want to work on. If you have a specific issue, there may be a therapist that specializes in that area. You are in charge of your own journey and outcome, the therapist is there to help you. Therefore, try to be comfortable to speak up about what your needs are and what you hope to get out of this. If you don’t feel like it is a good fit for you then say so, and that therapist may be able to help you find someone that could be right for you with referrals and community resource suggestions. If you are considering therapy, then please push yourself to try it!
We wanted to check in with another key player in the Isla vista office to get their impression of our super therapist Michelle and if there is one person in the office that sees all the interactions, it’s the Office Manager Trieasha Dillard who says…
I would describe Michelle as a very warm and welcoming person. She is down to earth and very easy to talk to and work with. One thing I admire about Michelle is how passionate she is about her job and her clients. You can tell that she genuinely cares about her client’s well-being and that this not just a job to her.
Stay tuned for more Acacia Clinician Spotlights! And check out Michelle’s bio on the Isla Vista page!
Authored (a lot) by Michelle LeBeau and (a little) by KorbyQuan Reed.
Most of the advice my parents gave me growing up has faded into the sepia background of my memory. Long-winded lectures that had me red-hot with contempt at the powerlessness of pre-adulthood have completely disappeared from my consciousness. Occasionally, however, sound bites of advice force themselves back into my awareness like shards of glass in my foot, annoying and nagging at first and then it becomes inescapably obvious that I need to pay attention to it or else the pain that I am forcing myself to endure will never cease.
One such morsel is something my dad said to me over and over in the dawn of my young adulthood years:
Keep your strength up.
He said this to me first as we were leaving my final tennis match of my senior year of high school. I turned my shoulder away from him as he said it to hide my rolling eyes from his line of sight. I was an elite athlete in prime physical condition, more muscular than most other females in my school. Body dysphoria was not in my vocabulary. I was already strong.
What I did not understand at the time was that while my dad had meant that I should stay physically healthy, emotional strength was just as important and the two are not mutually exclusive.
The following fall I started my first year of college in a new city. As my parents dropped me off at my dorm again my dad told me to keep my strength up and I said I would. During those first few months, that phrase was more of a motivational poster in a middle school classroom than a sworn oath of service for me. I glanced at it every once and a while after I have finished counting the ceiling tiles for the 17th time, but in general I let it sink back into the hazy periphery without being a student to its teachings.
I struggled to adjust to the work my heavy course load demanded, and my mental health began to slip. Depression told me I was not smart enough. Anxiety told me I was not working hard enough, no one liked me, that I needed to push harder. To fight off these thoughts the library became my lair, slinking out of its depths to eat or sleep only when I deemed myself worthy enough to do so. A spoonful of jasmine rice and a sparse helping of sliced cucumbers for each meal and a 2-hour nap were my rewards. I lost 20 lbs. in two months. Clothes billowed around my wire frame. My hair was falling out more and more each day and any spark my eyes had before was now dull. I was spiraling towards self-destruction. I did not ask for help because I was strong. Right?
Another month passed, and I saw my parents again. Instead of grilling me about grades or how many networking events I had been to recently, my dad asked me how I’d been eating and sleeping. I mumbled some half-hearted affirmations that I was perfectly fine.
My dad nodded, gave me a hug, and said:
Keep your strength up.
This simple, non-judgmental reminder was a rope pulling me back to wellness. I realized that I had become so dedicated to my scholastic career that I had become disinterested in maintaining the only body I was every going to get.
Later that day, I talked with a friend for the first time about my anxiety. He urged me that he too struggled with this and that I was not alone. I began to eat healthy, non-restrictive meals, and exercise regularly again. I gained energy and momentum. The depression, anxiety, and disordered eating never went away, but I learned that I needed to ask for help when my symptoms come back. I was strong again.
The day after the last day of my sophomore year of college, my dad passed away unexpectedly.
Darkness shrouded every thought I had. Walls seemed to close around me as anxious panic consumed me. Consuming food was a chore. Small handfuls of cereal were enough to send my stomach turning. I was spiraling again. Feeling isolated and lost, disappearing into the ground itself would have been the greatest relief.
Amidst the terror of grief, I heard my dad’s familiar refrain surface from the back of my mind.
After weeks of seclusion, I found my strength.
Except this time, it was my best friend taking me to dinner for the first meal I had finished in a week. It was the nightly walks with members of my mental health student group. It was the exercise routine I made for myself and the elaborate meals I eventually began cooking for my friends. It was organizing a suicide prevention initiative on campus and it was doing life-saving research in a mental health clinic.
Strength was leaning on my community. Strength was providing for others. Strength was painful to find.
I have come to terms with my journey towards strength. I am still anxious often and must be mindful to nourish myself fully.
It has helped me understand that obtaining mental and physical wellness is not a linear path. Much like muscles expanding and contracting with each new motion, mental health is not static. Strength is not something you arrive at, it is something you must keep practicing. It is not pushing through excruciating emotional pain alone. It is not punishing yourself for not being some idyllic version of yourself. It is love. It is peace. It is forgiveness.
When I start to slip back into the malaise that has consumed much of the last few years, it pops into my head again:
Keep your strength up.
I know now that this advice was a father’s quiet plea to his daughter to work a little harder to stay on this Earth. I am glad I finally listened.
Acacia Spotlight looks to highlight the clinicians, staff, and programs that make Acacia what it is today.
Acacia does good work when the work includes those wanting to engage with our mission in new ways – to engage with our clients, our staff, and our community in new ways. Acacia Isla Vista (IV), under the guidance and dedication of Dr. Robbyn Jackson, IV’s Director, found just the right ingredient to introduce new engagement into their population, by bringing together twelve University of Santa Barbara (UCSB) students to become Mental Health Advocates (MHA) for their winter and spring quarters.
Dr. Robbyn began marketing Fall of 2018, with Kiana Parker, administrative assistant at Acacia, and Codee Hoecker, MHA intern from the previous year, to find students passionate about mental health and looking to integrate further into the community with Acacia.
Kiana: A goal that the three of us had was to make the internship a mutual relationship, having both parties benefit in some way from it. We wanted the internship to provide more a clinical experience for interns wanting to go into the helping profession. This type of experience is very difficult to find without a license so we wanted them to be able to utilize their experience in the internship to give them a leg up in applying for grad school.
Kiana and Codee, both Lead MHA Internship Coordinators, took on the challenge to engage as much as they could, providing guidance and support. Each intern was involved in tabling for Acacia at events, fundraising for Acacia ROOTS (Acacia’s Student Therapy Fund), promoting suicide and depression prevention and awareness during lectures and organization meetings via the BLUES presentation, putting together individual or group passion projects, and working towards de-stigmatizing mental health in the community.
We reached out to three of this year’s MHA interns to speak on their experience: Katie Sabini, Codee Hoecker, and Yvette Ramirez.
What does it mean to be called a ‘Mental Health Advocate’?
Katie: To me, being a mental health advocate is about being a liaison between the clinical spaces and my fellow students. In my time at UCSB, I have known far too many students who do not know where to begin in terms of seeking and obtaining mental health services and being an advocate helps me connect them with resources. It also means being there physically, emotionally, and in any capacity I can for other students, whether it is something as simple as listening to someone or sitting in the waiting room with them.
Codee: To me, being a Mental Health Advocate is having an open mind, strong sense to help others of any cultural background, and a drive to change the stigma around mental health.
Yvette: To be a mental health advocate means to be willing and dedicated to talking about mental health to others who may not have access or be aware of the same resources as you. An advocate is continuously committed to learning more about mental health. In addition, it entails supporting those who show interest or choose to seek assistance in the mental health world in whatever form one may; whether it be through fundraisers, art, marketing, presentations, or any other project one may think of. Our Mental Health Advocate team at Acacia Counseling and Wellness is an encouraging team in a welcoming environment where we learn from each other and raise funds for other students to receive the mental health aid they need.
[Passion] is the activity that propels you out of bed in the morning and keeps you up late at night, something that fits into your daily life and really makes you feel like you have a greater purpose.
Say a student is interested in following up with being an advocate, what tips/advice would you give?
Katie: For anyone interested in becoming an advocate, my advice would be to reach out to anyone and everyone who’s profession interests you. In my experience, people in the helping professions are always elated to answer any questions you have about clinical work or resources. If there are programs at your school or in centers around your area I recommend reaching out to them too! It is never too early or too late to start and we always need more advocates!
Codee: Study the literature and have open, candid conversations with people who may be from a different background than yourself. We all experience our own struggles and I think it is most valuable to make personal connections with others in order to fully empathize with their situation and learn new perspectives.
Yvette: Apply for our Mental Health Advocate Internship! Be self-driven, respectful, and determined. It is important to be open to new or different ideas and perspectives at all times. Let us know what interests you in mental health! If you have a specific cause or event you’d like to see in the mental health field bring them with you to our team. Do not let this opportunity pass!
Part of your MHA internship included each intern working on a passion project, which included anything from a Sincerely, Not Okay* podcast on healthy relationships to helping organize an art therapy night. What does the word passion mean to you?
Katie: Passion is about finding something that you want to pursue continually. It is the activity that propels you out of bed in the morning and keeps you up late at night, something that fits into your daily life and really makes you feel like you have a greater purpose.
Codee: Passion means giving your whole heart, mind, and soul to something, not necessarily because you choose to, but because you feel an undeniable pull towards that thing.
Yvette: For me, the word passion refers to a desire so emotionally charged that even when you feel at your most defeated states, it gives you the motivation to continue. This desire includes continuously wanting to improve or learn more about your passion, which grows with time.
*The Sincerely, Not Okay podcast on healthy relationships led by Katie and another MHA intern, Molly Delzio, is available here.
Although my journey is not over, I find it further motivates my passion for the mental health field. Though there has been a shift in thought, our society has typically believed only physical aliments are included in our health; however, I believe to be “healthy” is to have an overall, well-rounded well-being, which I believe should be considered the norm.
A motivator behind the work you do is to break down the stigmatization that exist in and out of the mental health community which can include talking candidly about yourself. Working towards this and helping readers with similar goals – are you on a mental health journey?
Katie: I think that as humans we are on a mental health journey that never really ends. We are constantly evolving and becoming better versions of ourselves and that takes work. I personally struggled greatly with anxiety which flared up in my first years of college and that is something I am still working to better cope with and manage today. Mental health to me is about my mind body connection and overall well-being. Mental health is a unifying concept that every one can relate to in their own way, and that is why I find it so important to reduce the stigma and for everyone to recognize and help their own mental well-being.
Codee: I encountered a traumatic situation just over two years ago and have been recovering from Post-Traumatic Stress [Disorder] ever since. Through the use of many therapists, I have slowly been able to gain back emotional stability and even grow from the experience. Although my journey is not over, I find it further motivates my passion for the mental health field. Though there has been a shift in thought, our society has typically believed only physical aliments are included in our health; however, I believe to be “healthy” is to have an overall, well-rounded well-being, which I believe should be considered the norm.
Yvette: Yes, I am on a mental health journey myself and it is important to me because I want to constantly work on being the best version of myself. I cannot be all that I want to be without acknowledging the needs of my mental health. More importantly, mental health is important to me because I observed a lack of education, awareness, and de-stigmatization in regards to mental health in underserved communities. I encourage people to recognize their mental health for liberation and empowerment. There is something about the process of self-discovery that allows one to find a bit of peace even during unpeaceful times.
You’ve done a lot in these last few months at Acacia and in the community. What’s next for you in the mental health world?
Katie: I am very happy to announce that I will be continuing my path with Acacia in the fall as a Lead Internship Coordinator as well as administrative assistant! I am excited to work further on projects that have been started and learn more about the business side of Acacia. Additionally, I am going into my final year of undergrad at UCSB and then plan to pursue a doctoral degree in clinical psychology.
Codee: After graduating from UCSB this June, I plan on pursuing EMT training and work before continuing on to graduate school to become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner.
Yvette: I will be at Acacia Counseling and Wellness in Isla Vista as a Lead Internship Coordinatior and administrative assistant. Meanwhile, I will be a continuing as a research assistant at UCSB under the Department of Education’s Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology (CNCSP) program; and am looking forward to attending the National Latinx Psychological Association (NLPA) Conference in October. In the fall, I will be applying to UCSB’s Chicanx Studies Honors program where I hope to conduct research tied to family systems and learned behaviors of adolescents in Latinx households. I have also started researching doctorate programs in clinical psychology as I hope to one day be of assistance to underserved populations, such as Latinx communities, as a licensed psychologist in the state of California.
Good work at Acacia continues with new Mental Health Advocacy internship opportunities arising this Fall, available for the first time in more than one Acacia location!
Special Thank Yous
Katie: A quick shout out to the internship program that is so amazing and I am so thankful for! I have learned so much about fundraising and the clinical field of psychology. […] My best advice or ‘words to the wise’ would be to never be scared to reach out for help. I know it took me much longer than I wish it would have, and had I reached out sooner it would have just propelled my pathway to positive mental health sooner. Don’t minimize your thoughts and feelings and always feel free to reach out to professionals, it cannot hurt to get another perspective!
Yvette: [Thank you to] Dr. Robbyn Jackson for providing endless support, understanding, and encouragement to the Mental Health Advocates (MHA) Internship team, Kiana Parker and Codee Hoecker who led and organized our internship team this past year, and all of the interns who volunteered their time and effort to raise awareness about mental health and the [Acacia] ROOTS: Student Therapy Fund. A special thank you for the opportunities Dr. Robbyn and the MHA team has provided and continues to provide me.
Stay tuned for more insights with Acacia Spotlight and comment below with any other topics or people you want us to cover.
Thank you to contributors Kiana Parker, Katie Sabini, Codee Hoecker, Yvette Ramirez, and all the MHA interns: Sejal Anuraji, Joanna Guan, Maggie Yao, Molly Delzio, Yackeline Casillas, Mia Ramos, Vi Schap, and Christine Hoang!
Acacia Spotlight looks to highlight the clinicians, staff, and programs that make Acacia what it is today. June’s clinician is Skye Innerarity, LMFT.
Skye Innerarity is a clinician in the Acacia Davis location, originally from Elk Grove, California, and at this time is going on five months at Acacia. Skye joins the growing Davis team just in time for a new office expansion this summer and has made quite the impact so far, connecting with both the team and clients – offering a relatable and charming approach to others and the work.
Coming from a long line of strong and courageous Indigenous women, I have grown up with their stories of resilience and survivance, drawing on their collective strength in times of need throughout my life.
What do you enjoy most about your work at Acacia?
Skye: I thoroughly enjoy getting to know folks, hearing their stories of laughter, growth, pain, and resilience- gently holding and taking in all of the sweet moments and difficult moments, alike. Sharing such an intentional space with clients, to bear witness to and stand with them to support them in leading meaningful and fulfilling lives is at the core of our ability to connect and be of service to something greater than ourselves.
When did you know you wanted to be a therapist?
Skye:While I was in high school I witnessed my father successfully pursue his graduate degree, obtain licensure, and tackle the arduous (yet incredibly rewarding) task of starting up his own private practice. I watched him incorporate his strengths and aspects of his personality into his private practice, strategically building it piece by piece. As I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to work in the mental health field, seeing it as an opportunity to pursue a career where I could show up in a genuine and authentic way while utilizing my strengths and values to approach the work at hand. Over the years, I have carefully cultivated and grown my practice, utilizing humor/playfulness and compassion to communicate with others in a transparent and respectfully direct manner. I can say, with all honestly, that I cannot imagine myself in any other line of work.
Who was the most influential person in your life so far and why?
Skye:Coming from a long line of strong and courageous Indigenous women, I have grown up with their stories of resilience and survivance, drawing on their collective strength in times of need throughout my life. That being said, perhaps the most influential person in my life recently has been my grandfather, who truly embodied unconditional positive regard for those around him with his unofficial words of advice and support: “Always stay humble and kind”.
What are your interests outside of working with clients?
Skye: Outside of working with clients, I strive to stay culturally connected – whether it is continuing a long and rich matrilineal line of traditional basket-weaving, learning and practicing more of my traditional language (Northern Sierra Miwok), or spending time outdoors enjoying the land.
What’s your favorite thing about Acacia?
Skye: My favorite thing about Acacia is how warmly I have been welcomed and embraced by colleagues and clients. I really look forward to continuing to grow in my practice and as an individual in this supportive environment!
Skye’s perspective offers the Davis team and her clients connection and community, something we all strive to build at Acacia. Her authenticity shines and cannot be missed. We asked Daren Casagrande, Director of the Davis office, the question: What about Skye says “Acacia”?
Daren: I feel like Skye is an excellent reflection of Acacia values and company culture […] she is gifted at connecting with people, understanding them, making them feel comfortable, and liberally sharing the joy and wisdom that she has. She pushes the status quo, yet is capable of doing it in a way that is more disarming than confrontational (which I think is a very difficult skill). She is also very richly involved in and proudly shares her family’s Native American heritage and culture. This comes out organically in conversation and in her personality, but also includes specific efforts she makes to raise awareness about the Native American experience (e.g. her dissertation and other forms of activism). I think these experiences (among others) have heavily shaped her authenticity, maturity, and particular ability to care well for clients that are from marginalized communities as well as clients in general. I’m really happy to have her as part of the Acacia team. I think she does incredible work with clients, but also really represents what Acacia is really about: giving a voice to the voiceless, to be a safe place for the oppressed, to destigmatize the effects that has on their mental health, and to empower people to determine and confidently proclaim who they are and want to be in relationship to the world.
Stay tuned for more Acacia Clinician Spotlights! And check out Skye’s bio on the Davis page!
Authored (a lot) by Skye Innerarity and (a little) by KorbyQuan Reed.
I feel like sh*t today. It’s the I feel like hopping on a bus and riding it far far away from anyone I know and love so that I can lie in a deep dark hole in the middle of nowhere to avoid facing or talking to or existing around anyone I know or love kind of sh*t today.
I feel like sh*t today, but not only that, I feel so debilitatingly guilty about feeling so bad. I don’t have any reason to feel the way that I do. I just came out of a fantastic weekend filled with my college graduation ceremony, an awesome afternoon spent at the Art-A-Whirl, and a night of crazy jamming and headbanging to JID’s greatest hits. Nothing bad has happened to me recently, and, in fact, quite the opposite of bad has happened to me, and yet I find myself silently wishing for something awful to occur. Maybe a side-swiping by a car or a run-in with a computer thief. I’d even take a minor inconvenience, anything to “justify” my all-consuming sh*t feeling.
One of my friends recently had a horrible fight with her boyfriend and another is dealing with a loved one’s persistent illness, and here I am feeling like sh*t and struggling to be a support to them. I don’t feel like I deserve to feel bad, especially when nothing like that has happened to me recently, and I constantly find myself discounting my experiences because others are objectively worse. I have so many loved ones that share this similar experience. Roommates, coworkers, friends, family members all feel guilty for feeling bad because they compare their misgivings to each others’.
But you know what? You don’t need to justify feeling like sh*t. We all feel this way at one time or another. We all have bad days, we all feel “off” sometimes, and we all have times where we feel like crawling into a deep dark hole and that is enough to justify those feelings.
The reality of it is that someone might always have it worse off than you, but that does NOT mean that you don’t deserve to feel bad!
Pain is subjective, relative, and experienced by everyone.
I’m not saying I want you to feel bad, I just want you to give yourself some compassion and understanding for when you do feel bad. Similarly, I hope this allows you to find some compassion for others experiencing a hard time that seems trivial in comparison to your own. Psychology reveals that these comparisons only serve to destroy our human connections, which we need to help us feel less like sh*t. Similarly, these comparisons can leave us feeling resentful, dismissive, and withdrawn, driving us away from our relationships and deeper into guilt-ridden sh*t.
Suprihmbé said it best when she wrote, “…the only way to find solidarity is to recognize and acknowledge our inherent differences.”
So with that in mind, all I have to say is this: I feel like sh*t today.
These mantras and well-wishes are all things EVERYONE deserves to hear and feel, but many don’t. And if mental illness is at play, you probably don’t feel any of these things very often, if at all. So how can we change that?
We live in an extremely goal-oriented society, where the act of over-achieving is expected. Where anticipating others’ needs is the norm. We live in a society ram-shackled by all-consuming social media influencers and celebrities — those who meet the highest echelon of achievement, win awards, make millions and millions of dollars for doing and having it all. We also live in a society that loves people who achieve the most. We obsess over the Tony’s, the Grammy’s, the Emmy’s — all events that award the best-of-the-best for their achievements in the best movie, best play, best sport, best song, best anything.
But where are the awards for showing up? For waking up? For just being? There are days when I wake up so exhausted, so enveloped in my anxiety and depression, so overwhelmed by what I have to do for that given day, that getting out of bed is too much, let alone achieving ‘greatness.’ When I’m having a particularly challenging mental health day, my mind constantly tries to convince me I’m too tired to do anything while simultaneously letting me know I’m not doing enough to be worthy anyway. Then, when I manage to do something, it relentlessly lets me know that thing wasn’t done well enough.
And I know I’m not alone in this experience. Shit is hard, dude. Dealing with mental illness is hard, dude. Doing that shit while dealing with mental illness is So. Hard. DUDE.
We as humans make a million decisions in each given day just to survive, and that, in of itself, is pretty amazing. This expectation to be constantly great and constantly achieving the next big thing is impossible and constantly leaves us feeling less than, ashamed, guilty, and worthless. But, you are none of those things. You ARE amazing for just being you because that is achievement, that is accomplishment, that is truly amazing.
We need more environments that facilitate this feeling of accomplishment regardless of achievement level. I am extremely lucky to be working where I do now. The hours are flexible, the required tasks are varied and interesting, and most importantly, I have bosses and coworkers that consistently check in on each other’s health and well-being and congratulate each other on any and all achievements, even if it’s just a nicely written email. I feel excited to come to work and I know I’ll have support when I’m feeling less than excited to do much of anything. I recognize how lucky I am to be a part of this environment, and I am so sorry to those feeling stuck in an unsupportive environment because you too deserve to feel supported, secure, and worthy.
You deserve an award just for being here!
Surviving, existing, being is enough. Dealing with mental illness or not is enough. Failing, learning, passing, losing, is enough. Showing up, staying home, resting in bed, is enough. Working a job, working on school, working on your personal well-being is enough. Spending time with people, a pet, by yourself, is enough. Sharing about your mental, emotional, physical, spiritual struggles and triumphs is all good and is all enough.
Acacia Spotlight looks to highlight the clinicians, staff, and programs that make Acacia what it is today. The Month of May is Jess Rodriguez, Director of Business Services.
Heading into the fifth year, Acacia seems to be growing stronger and more coordinated and this is no accident – not a fluke in the system – but rather a result from the dedicated staff, clinicians, volunteers, and members behind the scenes, ones that are working towards the mission of the company. If Acacia was the human body there would only be one person that could embody the heart (and to be honest: lungs, brain, hands, etc.) and that’s Jess Rodriguez. As Director of the Central Business Office, Jess, along with her team, takes on the tasks of keeping Acacia moving behind the scenes.
A native to Southern California, having moved to the Inland Empire at 10 from Santa Ana, Jess found her way to the University of California, Santa Barbara for college and eventually found Acacia
How did you get started at Acacia?
Jess: I joined Acacia during my third year at UCSB as part of the first team of administrative assistants, with an additional marketing role. At the time I was working a pretty demanding restaurant setting, but I needed a change of pace for my own sanity and academic success. I found the Acacia job posting on its expiring date after a really tough day, and immediately biked over to drop off my resume in hopes the position hadn’t been filled yet. As soon as I walked in, I knew this was the place for me, and I made sure the owners knew that too. I think I even said, “I’m your new admin” or something in that brazen fashion. No regrets.
Dr. Brett Donnelly, Co-founder of Acacia, thinks only fondly of his first interaction with Jess.
Although she was nervous, she wasn’t going to let it stop her from becoming what she wanted and making sure that we knew how much she supported our mission.
First impressions of Jess?
Dr. Brett: In typical Jess fashion, she came over-prepared and eager when we first met her. She was so dedicated, passionate, and brave. I can still remember her interview. Although she was nervous, she wasn’t going to let it stop her from becoming what she wanted and making sure that we knew how much she supported our mission. These early interactions were indicative of the type of person that Jess is and why we have absolutely loved having her grow with Acacia!
What does Jess have that makes her a standout among the Acacia crew?
Dr. Brett: I think Jess not only works extremely hard but also extremely smart. She knows where Acacia is in our growth stage and therefore knows how to be clever in terms of how we can grow on limited resources. We also always like to say about Jess: “She gets s**t done.” This is incredibly important for her position and it is much appreciated. Finally, I think Jess also has a creative mind. She is always thinking outside the box and looking for new solutions, not just the same old ones that have been used.
Jess has been in support of Acacia’s mission since day one and has made exceptional effort to further the company and those around her. According to Jibe’s 7 Qualities of A Good Employee , Jess seems to embody them all, from dependability to self-motivation but this goes beyond an employee` – she’s a leader, a strong peer, and overall engaging person to be around – in and out of the work place. Dare we say it, she may be the most important person in the company! Jess’ initial reaction to this title sparked an “oh no” response but she seems to be coming around to the idea.
What if I called you the most important person in the company?
Jess: You know when Mia Thermopolis [from the movie Princess Diaries] finds out the fate of Genovia is in her hands? It’s just like that – a little nerve-wracking to think so many people would depend on you, but inspiring and motivating to see how much of an impact you can have. But seriously, what a compliment!
If you could write a movie about Jess’ time at Acacia, what would it be called?
Dr. Brett: Getting S**t Done: How Jessica Rodriguez Transformed Acacia.
Continuing onto even greater things at Acacia, Jess, along with the other members of the Central Team, are looking forward to cultivating even more growth.
What has been a challenge for you in this company?
Jess: I think my biggest challenge has been accepting that I can’t be involved with or do everything. Acacia was so small when I first started and I was naturally involved in all that we were doing, so it’s been tough re-training my brain to step out of certain things. I’m really thankful for all the support I get from our team, because they’ve helped ease my anxiety in that regard.
What motivates you to continue your work?
Jess: As corny as it may sound, our mission and clients have always been my primary motivation. I consider myself lucky to have started at our entry level. Because of my front desk experience, I’ve seen the direct impact that Acacia has on clients, and it gives me great fulfillment to be an agent in someone’s journey toward growth.
What have you found to be an important aspect for Acacia (and you) moving forward?
Jess: Over time, we’ve formed and identified an “Acacia spirit” that we look for in potential new team members. There is no perfect formula, but it is empathic, supportive, and driven, among other things. Meeting others that emulate that spirit is one of the most exciting parts of growing the team, and keeping them is one of the keys to our success. We want every individual to feel this spirit whenever they’re at Acacia, so it’s important to us that everyone who joins shares the passion for what we do and embodies the Acacia spirit in some way.
She has shown me what a great leader looks like and encourages our whole team to work hard but also have fun and celebrate all of the little victories.
Amy Shirley, Human Resources Lead in the Central Business Office, reflects on her time time with Jess.
What about Jess impresses you most?
Amy: I feel so lucky to work with Jess because she is always so supportive, both professionally and personally. I sincerely feel like she cares about me as a person and genuinely wants me to succeed. She knows so much about everything and she never makes me feel silly for asking questions. She has a million things on her plate but she walks in the door each morning with a smile on her face. She has shown me what a great leader looks like and encourages our whole team to work hard but also have fun and celebrate all of the little victories. I truly believe the Central Business Office would not be what it is without Jess.
Summing up Jess’ work and ambition into one phrase is quite the feat but we’ll take a stab at it: Jess Rodriguez – strong leader, supporter, and self-proclaimed Princess of Acacia – will continue to direct and nourish the Central Business Team into year five of Acacia’s legacy.
Anything you’d like to say to Jess but just haven’t yet or maybe you can’t stop saying?
Dr. Brett: Thank you, thank you, thank you! I look forward to continuing to work on large scale projects with Jess as we grow and seeing how she leads her teams!
Stay tuned for more insights with Acacia Spotlight and comment below with any other topics or people you want us to cover.
It’s me, can you believe it? I survived the onslaught of your carefully crafted words and your whispers behind my back. I bet you didn’t think I’d survive, and why would you with the way you hunted me down and pelted me with cruel comparisons, one-dimensional adjectives, and a flare only the simple-minded would think was special. You know, I spent occasional nights crying into my pillow because I felt I was too ugly to cry in the open air.
I pretended to be someone I wasn’t all through high school because I was afraid I was too inept to make meaningful conversations. I pushed people away from me time after time because I was worried that the real me was only as good as the words you used to describe me. Years… YEARS… after reading one comment on social media made my head spiral in sadness. And for so long I thought I was too invisible for social media comments but middle school bullies have x-ray vision directly into your insecurities, and an adeptness for observation that is usually reserved for serial killers and helicopter parents — one might say the line between these three is very thin.
I have had some time to reflect on the words you spewed my way all those years ago and I just have to say, nice try. You tried to break me and… well you did, multiple times, but that isn’t where this story ends. See, I learned from this experience — I learned that you attacked me because you didn’t feel right. I learned that I am more than a cruel social media comment, a highlight of your day can be a blip on my radar. And I learned that I have so much more to give this world than you or I could have ever imagined all those years ago. It’s a shame! All that time I spent pretending not to overhear you speak with your fellow middle school bullies about me, in a very mafia-like manner I will say, I could have been plotting my future or simply enjoying the intricacies of my budding personality! No I wasn’t cool then and I’m not cool now but I’m more willing to be myself now than I was then and that says something, right?
A middle schooler, the most mindless of all humans, shouldn’t be afraid to be whatever heap of hormone and buffoonery concocted because someone else decided to define him first. I didn’t know who I was then, so why did you feel the need to? That wasn’t your right.
I’m so gullible that I thought for years I have to be the exact opposite of what you said because society deems it so and with that I reiterate, nice try. I’m still here and I have become a person better than you could imagine. I could have done without the insults but now I can say I’ve heard it all! Who knew middle school would give me the same interactive experience that working in customer service would all these years later? Now I’m just more equip. More mindful. And more reassured. Don’t worry, you didn’t do this to me — my friends and family did. They got me through the bad. They reminded me that if I wept too hard into the pillow I might smother myself. And if that isn’t a perfect metaphor for loathing, I don’t know what is. My friends and family, they are the heroes! My heroes.
I’m not writing this to shame you. I’m writing this to say I forgive you. I understand you were not at your best then, I wasn’t either with those big cheeks and weird way of holding my books (?), and with that I hope you’ve found a positive way forward. Hey, maybe you’re writing this exact letter to me but it reads “Dear Middle School Bullied” or “Bully’d” for some flare, that you lacked all those years ago! Maybe you have a kid now and taught them to not make fun, that would be the best case scenario, one that I would surely write home about. Or maybe you created a podcast about women you find unattractive and you often boast about the size of your Ford Fiesta’s trunk… I hope that isn’t it.
Wherever you are, I hope you find a hero or live long enough to become someone’s hero because I plan to do both. Go ahead, give it a try.
Acacia Spotlight looks to highlight the clinicians, staff, and programs that make Acacia what it is today. May’s clinician is Dr. Leah Tappero.
Dr. Leah is a psychologist in the first 2019 Acacia office, La Jolla. After Soraiya Khamisa, La Jolla Director, Dr. Leah was the first clinician to join the growing group of all-stars in their office – located near the University of California, San Diego campus. Although new to Acacia, Dr. Leah is not new to La Jolla/San Diego, having moved here from Cambodia when she was just five years old. Dr. Leah is a well-established clinician in the college-student community and is often recognized and praised in her ongoing support for this population, even outside the Acacia team.
If we can identify what we are feeling, give ourselves permission to feel it, and express it with others it helps move us forward in life.
Why do you think therapy and discussing feelings is helpful?
Dr. Leah: Discussing feelings is helpful because our feelings are trying to give us information about how things in life are affecting us. If we can identify what we are feeling, give ourselves permission to feel it, and express it with others it helps move us forward in life. For some people their family and culture may not emphasize emotional expression so it can be hard to talk about feelings. Therapy can help people learn how to discuss their feelings to gain more insights about their life.
How do you self-care?
Dr. Leah: Having time for relaxation and restoration is so important. When I was younger it was hard to make time for self-care and to not feel guilty about taking the time for myself. Nowadays I make time for it and it’s such an important part of my life because it helps me manage stress. I like to spend time at home with my husband and three dogs. I love watching TV shows and movies. I bought a kindle last year and enjoy reading before bedtime. I also like to pamper myself by getting my nails done and getting massages.
Why do you enjoy working with college communities?
Dr. Leah: During my doctoral program when I began working with college students I found the work to be refreshing and challenging. College is a time of exploration and growth. Being able to provide support, advocacy, and guidance while clients navigate their time in college is something I’m really passionate about doing. I’ve worked at community colleges and four year universities and every client I’ve had has taught me a lot about my work as a psychologist.
What’s your favorite thing about Acacia?
Dr. Leah: I really love working with the team at Acacia and with the clients that utilize our services. The team comes from diverse backgrounds and clinical training and I learn a lot from my colleagues. I look forward to coming to work everyday because each day is a new opportunity to help someone.
Lastly, we asked Delara Taie, Office Manager of La Jolla, how she would describe Dr. Leah.
Words that best describe Leah would be compassionate, inspiring, and warm-hearted.
What about Dr. Leah inspires you, your work, or the office culture?
Delara: Dr. Leah has a way of connecting with everyone through her compassion. While it’s so imminent in the work with her clients, she displays it throughout the office as well with the team. She offers hours outside her usual time if a client has to reschedule to make it more convenient for them — and that’s just one example. She walks into work every morning with a smile and spreads it throughout the day till she walks out. It’s her ability of showing her kind heart that she carries that inspires me most.
Stay tuned for more Acacia Clinician Spotlights! And check out Dr. Leah’s bio on the La Jolla page!