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Acacia Spotlight looks to highlight the clinicians, staff, and programs that make Acacia what it is today. March’s clinician is Abby Hansen, LPCC.

Abby Hansen, LPCC. Photo by Sam Rust.

This down-to-earth Minneapolis native planted her roots at Acacia in May of 2019. Her mindful approach to life & therapy encourages clients to slow down & appreciate the beauty all around.

What do you enjoy most about being a clinician?

Abby: My specialty is sex and sexuality, and one of my favorite things is talking to folks about unlearning shame related to who they are and/or what they are into! In general, seeing transformation and being with someone on their journey of growth and self discovery fills my cup. Also, I enjoy making references to nature as a teacher. I warn all of my clients I’m a bit of a hippie who will likely talk about trees, rocks, or other earthly things and the ways we can take a lesson from them in slowing down.

What really happens in therapy? 

Abby: I think sometimes there’s a misconception that therapy is either similar to Freud’s time (client lying on a couch and the therapist smoking a pipe while telling them how their nail biting is related to an oral fixation), or that it’s really, really structured. 
I typically follow the client and allow them to steer the conversation while reflecting back things I hear or challenging negative/shame based cognitions. There’s room to laugh and joke, and lots of room for tears, anger, and getting into the deep stuff. I think people also have a perception that as a Sex Therapist I’m always talking about sex/sexuality in sessions. This isn’t true! I do talk about sex, but it isn’t always the main focus. We wander into many areas.

Seeing transformation and being with someone on their journey of growth and self discovery fills my cup.

Have there been moments in your life that remind you to check in with yourself or to check on your friends? 

Abby Hansen, LPCC. Photo by Sam Rust.

Abby: Of course!! Being a human is hard work!! I know I’m ready for a good night of self care or being around my friends when I consistently don’t want to do anything after work. My energy level is my barometer for how I’m doing physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Who was the most influential person in your life and why?

Abby: Like the seasons, this changes based on where I am in life. Throughout my life, I’ve been influenced by family, friends, therapists, nature, and so on. Someone who I’ve continued to come back in the past few years is the author/poet Mary Oliver. I love her poems about nature, shocker, and the lessons she shares about slowing down and enjoying the yummy, small moments. A few of my favorite poems by her are: Wild Geese, When I am Among the Trees, and White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field.

I’m a bit of a hippie who will likely talk about trees, rocks, or other earthly things and the ways we can take a lesson from them in slowing down.

What are your interests outside of therapy?

Abby’s dog, Peaches!

Abby: I love to sew, be creative, spend time with my family and friends, and play with my corgi Peaches (who makes an appearance at the office from time to time). I enjoy noticing the seasonal changes as well as the moon cycles and spending time hiking/getting into nature when I can (even when it’s super cold!).

Abby’s warmth & openness inspire clients (and all of us at Acacia!) to embrace the true self & love it radically. Her passion for the power of inner strength & its ability to transform are invigorating, and we’re so glad to have her on our team!

Stay tuned for more Acacia Clinician Spotlights! And check out Abby’s bio on the Minneapolis page!

Authored (a lot) by Abby Hansen and (a little) by Danielle Sharkey.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is February 24- March 1 2020. The theme “Come as You Are: Hindsight is 2020” invites eating disorder survivors to reflect on experiences and to celebrate positive steps taken. The NEDA community is diverse and each story is different, but our challenges unite us as a community rooted in perseverance. 

As an ED survivor, I’m thankful for this opportunity to pause, reflect, and share what I’ve learned along the way. I have the utmost respect for all those who have been affected by eating disorders and choose to be brave. Radical acceptance of the self and of others are cornerstones of NEDA’s mission, and I echo their invitation to “Come as You Are.” My journey is uniquely my own, and my dedication to recovery is a lifelong battle. Moreover, living in recovery is a conscious choice.

When I first stepped foot into Central Coast Treatment Center in February of 2014, it wasn’t by choice. I was 21 and living across the country from my family, who threatened to move me home if I didn’t get help. I reluctantly agreed to meet with a nutritionist, but truly didn’t believe I belonged in an eating disorder center. I wasn’t consciously struggling with body image issues; however, it was clear that my body had some issues with me. I’d lost ~40lbs in 4 months. I was cold all the time, my hair was falling out in clumps, and I wasn’t menstruating.

After one session with a nutritionist, It was clear that lack of nutrients was the cause of my physical symptoms. However, I still wasn’t convinced I had an eating disorder. In my mind I was fine, I just wasn’t getting the right nutrients. I believed I’d feel better physically and psychologically as soon as I made the necessary dietary changes.

Me: I’m fine. It’s just food.

My nutritionist:

She suggested I meet with a therapist, who (conveniently) was available to chat right after our meeting. I lasted about five minutes in session before completely losing it. I realized that my eating habits were manifestations of larger issues. I was shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. I remember thinking, “They KNEW this would happen. This was planned! They GOT me!”

I realized that my it’s just food mentality wasn’t necessarily wrong, but that I was missing the bigger picture: Controlling my food intake created the illusion that I was in control of my life. At that point I realized how OUT of control I was and that I needed professional help. If I wanted to truly bring order to my disordered life, I had to start where I was. I was suffering from Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa. As they say, acceptance is the first step. Come as You Are.

I spent the next four months in an intensive outpatient program. It was unbelievably uncomfortable in every way possible. Getting to the root of my issues meant bringing subconscious memories into consciousness, AKA openly discussing my most suppressed traumas. I found myself telling stories in a group setting that I’d never even said out loud to myself. I began remembering experiences in vivid detail that I’d completely forgotten about. Memories I’d deemed insignificant were reclassified as defining moments. It felt like everything was falling apart yet coming together at the same time.

My Brain:

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It was messy. It was painful. It was never something I wanted to go through again, so I fully committed to recovering. Of all the lessons I learned in treatment and over the six years following, these have been (and continue to be) the most impactful.

Life didn’t stop when treatment began. When I started the program, I quickly realized I’d have to press pause on the defining features of my life: college, work, friendships, and hobbies. As someone who believed that multitasking to the point of exhaustion would one day bring success, making the choice to focus solely on treatment felt counter intuitive. However, this shift allowed (OK, forced) me to refocus the lens through which I viewed my life. Moving out of a doing-driven mindset and into a space of simply being allowed me to feel my way through life instead of force my way through. Life is going to happen regardless, why not be present for it? 

Food is just a variable. Controlling food intake was a maladaptive attempt to internally regulate emotions. Within the context of my eating disorder, this manifested as: 
Anorexia (restriction):
The less I ate, the less I felt. The less I felt, the less I freaked out.
Bulimia (Two fold):
– Binging: A temporary loss of control (in the moment felt like freedom), and
– Purging: A way to regain (the feeling of) control.

The more I engaged in maladaptive behaviors, the less control I actually had. This one seems pretty obvious, but it was SO SCARY to let go of the self-sabotaging behaviors I mistook for self-empowerment. Stepping out of these behavioral patterns allowed me to step into my truth and to live a life rooted in authenticity. 

Post-treatment, I replaced food with other variables. The eating part of the disorder was eliminated, but I realized I was still relying on external factors to influence my internal state. My variables of choice were sex, drugs, and alcohol. I used them to regulate how much or how little emotion I’d feel at any given time. I’d experience temporary relief, but never true homeostasis. Same same, but different.  

Control is an illusion. This is THE BIGGEST ONE. I still struggle with this on a daily basis. All of my maladaptive behaviors (ALL!!) are rooted in the doomed quest for control. That elusive b*tch. I’ve spent so much energy trying to either hold onto it for dear life or lose it completely. It’s been my primary motivation and my measure of success. The more I tried to manipulate the order of my life, the more dis-ordered I felt.

These lessons weren’t easy to digest, but I’m thankful that I chose to step up and fight for the life I want. In hindsight, I see my ED as one of the best worst things to happen to me. Accepting who I truly am in every moment isn’t easy, but it’s a choice I’ll continue to make. I invite you to join me in showing up for yourself, exactly as you are, wherever you are on your journey. I invite you to trust the timing of your life. It may not always make sense in the moment, but life has a way of working out the details. Come as You Are– you’ll be thrilled with where you’ll go.

For more information on NEDA Awareness Week 2020, visit their website.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorder Association helpline at (800) 931-2237.

Author, Danielle Sharkey
Danielle Sharkey

What’s your first thought when the sound of your alarm goes off in the morning? Mine is “not already!” During my college years, I’d drowsily hit the snooze button desperately hoping for a few more moments of blissful slumber, only to repeat this unpleasant process until I HAD to get up.

 I’d fumble through a semblance of a morning routine: throw on whatever clothes were tossed on “the chair” (the chair= home of the clothes that aren’t dirty enough for the hamper but aren’t clean enough for the closet), brush my teeth & hair, etc. I’d grab my bag, maybe a granola bar, and rush off to class or work. I’d arrive still half asleep, looking and feeling disheveled. 

If I had a superpower, it’d be the ability to pause time- I’d get enough sleep to wake up feeling refreshed and ready for a new day. Alas, no such power exists (thus far). A few months ago I became a “nine to fiver” and dreaded that AM alarm more each day. No matter how early I hit the sheets at night, I’d still arrive at the office every morning feeling like a zombified version of myself. 

After some soul-searching (and some chats with my wonderful therapist), I realized it was time to hold myself accountable for shifting my morning mindset. Superpowers may not be real, but willpower is. Corny, but true. I simply decided: I want to start my day; I don’t want to feel like my day started me. 

First I needed to think about how I’d manifest this mantra into behavior. While in college, I also studied yoga and meditation, so (re)building a morning ritual felt like an attainable goal. But remember- I’m lazy! The 20th century  version of “yoga” we’re familiar with (think heated studios with uber flexible yogis doing handstands) is an extremely new, Westernized version of an ancient, traditional practice dating back to 1900BCE. In my studies I learned that the first physical Asana (Sanskrit for ‘pose’), wasn’t introduced until 100BCE. The first documented Asana: a meditative seat. 

I decided I’d start there, and the “Lazy Yogini’s Guide to Morning Meditation” was born. I find that these steps help me wake up slowly and purposefully, and enable me to begin each day feeling rooted in mindfulness. 

I’m by no means thrilled when my alarm goes off every day, but I do believe this routine makes mornings more bearable. I encourage you to join me- to break free from the snooze spiral and take back your mornings. Start with one breath, one stretch, one smile. Your day is yours- choose to begin. 

General Guidelines

  • When your alarm goes off, don’t hit snooze!
  • After turning off your alarm ~right away~ (woo hoo, progress!) sit up in your bed. This small shift prevents you from falling back asleep, and sets you up for your practice- all while staying in bed (under the covers, even, if you’re always cold like I am)!
  • Light a candle to ~gently~ introduce your senses to light and smell.
  • Play some soft music. I use this instrumental playlist by Spotifty.

Please remember: The practices of yoga and meditation are subjective and are meant to be personal experiences- please don’t feel the need to rigidly follow these steps. Experiment a little and find your sweet spots- you’ll know what feels right. 

Ready? Press play below to listen via Acacia’s Podcast, “Sincerely Not Okay!”

Author, Danielle Sharkey

This article was originally written for and published by Redfin.

Self-care – it’s something we often overlook during the hustle and bustle of our busy lives. However, in order to nurture the health of our mind, body, and soul, we need ways to promote well-being and
reduce stress.

The thing about practicing self-care is that you intentionally need to make time and space for it. Luckily, there are many things you can do right from the comfort of your home. Keep reading to hear from experts in the field on their favorite at-home self-care practices for a healthier, happier you.

1. Create a sacred space. Whether it’s a room, chair, or bed, find a place to spend a few moments or longer to relax your mind and connect with your inner self any time in the day or night. Allow this time to be free from having to do or be anything whatsoever, give yourself permission to just ‘be’ by taking a few breaths, closing your eyes, and letting yourself relax.
– Rest & Be

2. Plan next week’s meals over the weekend. Have good quality tools in your kitchen so home-cooked meals are easy to prepare. Stock your pantry with whole grains, broths, and beans for healthy eating.
– Wellness and You

 3. Start and end the day with a healthy habit. Home self-care is where we kick start the routines that move us towards feeling and functioning great. We’re ruled by our habits, and consistency is what will ultimately get us to our goals. The home is where we begin and finish our day, so starting and ending the day with a simple healthy habit can be the game-changer that keeps our health moving forward.
– Moore Life Health

This can be simple like drinking lemon water in the morning and at night spraying your pillow with lavender.
– Wellness with Molly

4. Fill one of your spaces at home with color. Whether it be small decor items, plants, or a throw blanket featuring your favorite color. Think less about clashing and more about vibrancy, positivity, and intention to create a space worth living in.
– Acacia Counseling & Wellness

5. Get enough sleep. 7-9 hours of quality sleep is fundamental to good self-care, and sleep is arguably the easiest thing on this list. Plus, sleep has a multitude of other benefits for your brain and body.
– PickTheBrain

6. Start a skincare ritual. A soul-nurturing skincare routine can help you feel like you’re having a spa treatment every day, even if it’s just a few splendid minutes to yourself while chaos ebbs and flows on the other side of the door. Choose self-care products that are made with essential oils, and infused with crystals and good energy because they smell wonderful, feel nice on your skin, and offer a holistic, deeply replenishing healing effect on your mind, body, and spirit. Creating this ritual will make you never want to miss your “me time” sanctuary of self-care.
– SpaGoddess Apothecary

7. Get outside. There’s no easier way to push “restart” than getting outdoors and going for a walk. Use the rhythmic crunching of dirt under your feet as a cadence for breathing and before you know it, you’ve sauntered into a serene, meditative state.
– Magnolia Wellness

8. Use Aromatherapy. This is a powerful way to provide comfort and healing at home. Studies show that rosemary, for example, can improve cognitive performance. Peppermint and jasmine can enhance brain function and focus too. Lavender and lemon balm have been found to soothe pain and stress. These essential oils interact with body chemistry and can also improve sleep patterns, increase daytime alertness, and stimulate sociability.
– Lifetime Wellness

 9. Recognize simple rituals as acts of self-care. Self-care rituals at home serve to remind us that we are worthy of the good that comes from giving our emotional, mental, and physical needs their due—from a slowly sipped cup of hot tea to a hot shower that steams up the mirror while listening to your favorite podcast. Recognizing these simple rituals as acts of self-care is where it begins. From there it becomes easier to recognize and be grateful for all of the ways we can build ourselves up in the face of the daily grind.
– Elle Studio + Wellness

10. Create a morning routine. For many, creating a morning routine is the best way to consciously devote attention to our own needs, so we feel energized for the rest of the day. Examples could be mindfully preparing a pot of tea, savoring a slow breakfast with a favorite book, and/or incorporating exercise and movement.
– Skyterra Wellness

11. Keep your home tidy and smelling good. Before getting into relax mode after a long day, burn a candle or incense and make sure to straighten up the house. Decluttering from the day is essential!
– Studio KT

 12. Remember the benefits of physical exercise for your brain. Do some burpees. Jump rope. Go out and walk briskly around the block. Do some push-ups and planks. Anything that elevates your heart rate and breathing rate (within reason) for at least 10 minutes is super beneficial for mental focus and state of mind. Get up and move around, and you will feel and think better!
– Miller Chandler, Owner/Certified Exercise Physiologist, Foundation Wellness

 13. Address stress or anxiety when you feel it. If you notice yourself feeling stressed, anxious or tense, find a calm quiet space to sit down and breathe. Take a long, slow, gentle inhale; exhale out through your mouth with a sigh. Exhale completely, making it slightly longer than the inhale. This sends signals to your nervous system that you are in a safe space, and it is ok to rest and relax. Your breath is the one organ in your body you control; it’s free and always available.
– Anchor Meditation

 14. Make it work for the season you are in. One of my favorite acts of self-care is making sure I am moving my body, but as a business owner and mom of four little ones, I don’t always have time for long runs or hours at the gym. Therefore, I keep it simple: a brisk walk with my twins in a stroller or a short at-home Pilates workout on the floor of the bathroom while my kiddos are in the bath. Sometimes keeping it simple is the secret to success.
– Robin Long, The Balanced Life

15. Try dry brushing. Not only does this exfoliate your skin keeping it looking smooth and feeling soft but also it is one of the few ways in which you can improve the flow of your Lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is the main waste line for all toxins in your body. The health of your lymphatic system will determine the health of your body. Dry skin brushing is an inexpensive way to truly help your body inside and out.
– Cleansing Concepts

16. Make a deliberate transition ritual. Our lives are full of over-stimulation and sometimes high-tension. If we aren’t careful, we can carry tension and stress from one situation to another. Instead of being strung along, bringing our day’s baggage into our safe home space, create a simple ritual to transition out of work or into your home space. It can be as simple as three, mindful breaths, a dance sesh to a favorite song in the car, or a stroll around the block.
– Pivot Wellness

17. Make self-care a priority. Hopefully, you have already discovered ways to show yourself, love. Whether it’s meditation, a warm bath, sitting in the sun, music that warms your heart or other ways to nourish your soul, the most important thing is to make sure you take time for it every day.
– Meditation Oasis

18. Get physical. Moving your body for at least 20 minutes a day will greatly enhance your physical and mental well-being. You can move your body in a variety of ways, such as a brisk walk around the block, a slow jog, some jumping jacks, sit-ups or even an online yoga class from the comfort of your own living room.
– The Yoga Collective

19. Meditate in the morning. To foster self-love at home, get in the habit of meditating in the morning for 10-minutes before jumping into the fast pace of the world. Just like exercise, meditation requires consistency to see any meaningful results. By practicing first thing in the morning, you guarantee that you won’t forget to do it.
– Brightmind

20. Breathe. Close the eyes, feel the breath (make it long and slow if it is not already), and find yourself in the body. Don’t focus on the body itself, but instead find the You inside the body. Connect completely with that spark of eternity, which is within you for a few breaths, and feel good!
– Meditation by Kara

21. Make small changes to your environment and routine. Diffuse essential oils or burn a non-toxic candle, play ambient spa or meditation music, turn off digital devices, and put your feet up. Little luxuries like at-home masks will hydrate and pamper your skin along with a silk pillowcase for the ultimate beauty rest. Epsom salt baths are soothing and help aching muscles and tension in the body.
– Elizabeth M. Donat, NY and internationally licensed esthetician and founder, EMD Skin Solutions

This article was originally written for and published by Redfin.

Composed by Acacia’s Danielle Sharkey

Acacia Spotlight looks to highlight the clinicians, staff, and programs that make Acacia what it is today. February’s clinician is Dean Khambatta, AMFT.

Dean Khambatta, AMFT. Photo by Giovanni Emblen.

Dean joined Acacia’s Santa Cruz team in October 2019. The Oakland native studied at UC Berkely & helped pioneer their LGBTQ community. Read more to learn how he’s grown & has inspired growth at Acacia!

What do you enjoy most about being a clinician?

Dean: What I most enjoy about being a clinician is building a relationship with clients where they don’t feel the need to justify or over-explain who they are or where they are at, they simply feel seen and understood.  

I have always found joy in advocacy and supporting others and becoming a therapist felt like a natural progression.

How did you know you wanted to be a therapist?

Dean: I knew I wanted to be a therapist after having negative experiences with therapists at the beginning of my transition. I knew I wanted to be an affirming and supportive therapist. I have always found joy in advocacy and supporting others and becoming a therapist felt like a natural progression. 

What is your definition of “wellness”?

Dean Khambatta, AMFT. Photo by Giovanni Emblen.

Dean: I take a harm-reduction approach to wellness and encourage my clients to discover their own unique definitions.  Generally speaking, I view wellness as an active process of self-discovery and finding community as a means to develop a better quality of life. 

What college clubs or activities were you (or would you like to be) a part of?

Dean: When I was an undergrad at UC Berkeley, I founded and facilitated a trans and non-binary peer support group. I was very involved in LGBTQ groups and the community on campus.  I co-facilitated a queer womyn peer support group, but once I came out as trans it wasn’t the right fit for me anymore. At the time, there wasn’t a trans group on campus so I decided to found my own. I wanted to create a space for trans and non-binary students, faculty, and staff on campus. Through the Gender Equity Resource Center and Queer Resource Center, I reached out to the larger campus community to begin to build the group. The group began quite small but grew to include about 20 members, including several UC staff members. Having a peer support group for the entire campus community helped to increase visibility, encouraged inclusivity, and created a more diverse group.

You know more about who you are and what you want than you realize.

If you could share one piece of wisdom with your college-aged self, what would it be?

Dean: The one piece of advice I would give my college-aged self is to trust yourself, you know more about who you are and what you want than you realize. 

Dean’s warmth & openness are two of the many qualities that make him a wonderful therapist. His open & honest approach allows clients to fully embrace their true selves & learn to live authentically. We’re so grateful to have Dean on Acacia’s team!

Stay tuned for more Acacia Clinician Spotlights! And check out Dean’s bio on the Santa Cruz page!

Authored (a lot) by Dean Khambatta and (a little) by Danielle Sharkey.

A new year is an opportunity to reassess & work towards new goals, but it’s also an opportunity to put your wellness first! Check out our Acacia team’s wellness resolutions for 2020!

Acacia Davis

Allison: In 2020, I hope to engage a bit more in my creative exploits, by making cards, doing a cross-stitch project, and woodworking. Hopefully, with the purchase of a home, I will also be able to create a miniature version of my dream garden and tend to it. 

Skye Innerarity, therapist at Acacia Davis.

Skye Innerarity: I’m looking forward to continuing to set and reinforce healthy boundaries around how I choose to spend time outside of work. I plan to intentionally ground myself in place and space by spending more time basketweaving, learning more of my Miwok language, and spending quality time with friends and family- complete, of course, with a healthy dose of laughter, humor, and playfulness!

Heather Brown: In the upcoming year, I plan to be more mindful about the ways in which I spend my time, especially by opting to engage in more self-care and opportunities for learning and growth. Additionally, I would like to work on incorporating moments of gratitude into my daily routine as a way to reflect upon and express my thankfulness for the people, things, and events that bring me happiness.

Acacia Irvine

Portialyn Buzzanga. Director at Acacia Irvine.

Portialyn Buzzanga: My wellness resolution is to practice gratitude. I have always been interested in those happiness and thankfulness challenges that I see on social media but have never actually tried. 2020 will be the year that I actually do it! I did a little research and came across a study at UC Davis that found that people who routinely count their blessings report better moods, healthier coping behaviors, fewer physical symptoms, and overall more life happiness than those who don’t. 

Angie Carman: My wellness resolutions for the New Year is to work on my spiritual health. I wants to work on building my faith and integrating more bible study into my everyday life.

Acacia Isla Vista/Goleta

Dr. Kristen Strong, Director at Acacia Isla Vista & Goleta.

Dr. Kristen Strong: My wellness resolutions are to spend less screen time & read more instead. I plan to cook more & say no to things when I’m tired so I can focus on training for & running a half marathon this year!

Danielle Sharkey: My resolution feels more like a theme: mindfulness. Whether that means sitting in meditation or noticing the sweetness of a strawberry, the regular practice of paying attention helps me re-center & remain present. Maintaining awareness enables me to move through life as my most authentic self rooted in groundedness.

Dr. Amber: I am training for my first 1/2 marathon – the Mountains to Beach (from Ojai area to Ventura) which will be on May 24th, 2020!

Luis Hernandez: My wellness resolution is to find harmony in all aspects of life. Sounds ambitious, but it’s the effort & commitment that counts!

Acacia Minneapolis

Dr. Haran Kingstan:  My goal for the (rest of my life) new year (at my therapist’s recommendation) is to be better at listening to what my heart and my body actually need, instead of what I just think I want.  Since I’ve started working on this, that has already included a massage, a bath, a huge salad, and more exercise. Instead of feeling like I “should” be doing these things, listening to my gut gently suggesting them to me has made it easier to actually follow through! 

Dr. Amy Moran & Bear, therapist, and companion at Acacia Minneapolis.

Sam Rust: It’s my goal every year to travel to one place I’ve never been (state and/or country wise).

Regina Mhiripiri: It’s my goal to invest in people that I care about, my time & energy, to give and be given support.

Dr. Kelli Howard: One 2020 resolution I have is to add some plants to my living space (and learn how to take care of them)!

Dr. Amy Moran: Be kind. Over and over and over again. Especially when it’s not easy.

Keenan Cashen-Smart: Exercise in any form, even just once a week. It turns out that counseling is a pretty sedentary job and my body is feeling it in a big way.

Acacia Santa Cruz

Alex Pappas. therapist at Acacia Santa Cruz.

Alex Pappas: My wellness resolution is to continue the healthy habits I implemented in 2019, such as drinking water, going to the gym, etc.

Juliet Tran: My wellness resolution is to get back into the habit of meal prepping on the weekends.

Acacia Westwood

Jasmine Jackson, front desk staff at Acacia Westwood.

Mariya Charnaya: This upcoming year my wellness resolution is to carve out more “me” time to take care of myself & recharge. I plan to read more for pleasure, take up a new workout class, & try new things without the influence of others.

Jasmine Jackson: My wellness resolution is to make more time for sleep and home-cooked meals. 2019 taught me that food and sleep are just as important as productivity!

Although the New Year feels like a perfect blank slate, any time is a great time to reflect on what you can do to facilitate personal growth! Whether your resolutions are physically, emotionally, socially, or environmentally centered, we encourage you to choose goals that feel attainable & exciting!


Need more wellness inspo? Check out this site for a breakdown of the different wellness types!

Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter to see more wellness goals and the work of our marvelous Acacia Team!

Authored (a lot) by the Acacia Team and (a little) by Danielle Sharkey.

Acacia Spotlight looks to highlight the clinicians, staff, and programs that make Acacia what it is today. January’s clinician is Angie Carman, LMFT.

Angie Carman, LMFT. Photo by Priya Patel.

This Oahu, Hawaii native joined Acacia’s team when our Irvine location opened September of 2019. Her passion for mental health glows bright, and we are so glad she shares her light with us!

What do you enjoy most about being a clinician?

Angie: I enjoy [possibly] being the one person in my clients’ lives who can be non-judgmental, affirming, and allow for them to really choose to be their own authentic self. I also enjoy seeing my clients have an “aha” moment in session. When they are able to implement positive coping strategies on their own throughout the week and tell me about it during our session, I feel so proud of them. I love being my clients’ cheerleader.

Knowing what we feel about, during, or after something allows to make informed decisions on how we want to respond.

Could you tell us why therapy and discussing feelings is helpful?

Angie Carman, LMFT. Photo by Priya Patel.

Angie: Growing up, I never understood why therapy was so important until I realized I wasn’t able to acknowledge my own feelings, especially when I was stressed or overwhelmed. Feelings are like little post-it notes you write yourself when you need to address something; it’s so important to recognize that there may be negative feelings, neutral feelings, and positive feelings. Regardless though, they tell you ‘something’s happening! I need to be present and notice’. Knowing what we feel about, during, or after something allows to make informed decisions on how we want to respond. When we are not as aware, we tend to be more reactive, which can have long term consequences. I once heard someone say, “Feelings remind us we’re alive!”

What are your interests outside of therapy?

Angie: I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. Community is everything to me and I love being a part of such amazing people. I also enjoy dining at new spots; I’m a foodie so yelp is my best friend.

When they (clients) are able to implement positive coping strategies on their own throughout the week and tell me about it during our session, I feel so proud of them.

If you could share one piece of wisdom with your college-aged self, what would it be?

Angie: I would probably remind myself that I am loved and known by others and by my higher power. I felt like I was getting tied up in the logistics of my life, and knowing what I know now, I would have told myself to be more present. Also, to learn Spanish.

Angie Carman, LMFT. Photo by Priya Patel.

If you could switch places with anybody for a week, who would it be and why?

Angie: This is a hard one! I love my life and I feel like I wouldn’t want to switch places with anyone. However, for the purpose of this question, I guess if I had to, I would switch places with Kendall Jenner just to see how the Kardashian/Jenner clan lives and to possibly use a platform to make a statement about the value of addressing one’s mental health!

Rooted in authenticity, Angie encourages others to embrace & celebrate individuality. Her mindful approach invites clients to experience feelings while staying present in each moment. Thank you, Angie, for sharing strategies that help cultivate growth!

Stay tuned for more Acacia Clinician Spotlights! And check out Angie’s bio on the Irvine page!

Authored (a lot) by Angie Carmen and (a little) by Danielle Sharkey.

Acacia Spotlight looks to highlight the clinicians, staff, and programs that make Acacia what it is today. January’s clinician is Micah Caldwell, LPCC.

Caldwell, LPCC

This Milwaukee, Wisconsin native joined Acacia when our La Jolla office opened in January 2019. We love his innovative approaches to therapy, and you will too!

What do you enjoy most about being a clinician?

Micah: Probably my favorite part of being a clinician is having the opportunity to introduce someone to therapy for the first time. Therapy can be an uneasy experience for a lot of folks. It takes a lot of courage to walk into a strange place to talk to a strange person to spill your guts about everything going on in your life. So I really enjoy the challenge of making each person feel comfortable and safe. I also love being an “agent of change”. You know those intense, late-night conversations you have with your friends? I don’t know what it is about that environment, but it becomes this breeding ground for deeply revealing, life changing moments. Therapy sometimes feels like that and there are few experiences that compare to sitting in session with someone and seeing the light bulb go off.

Caldwell, LPCC

How would someone know if they could use therapy?

Micah: Well personally, I think everyone could use a little therapy. I’m a big believer in preventative mental health care. In the same way that you go to your doctor for an annual checkup, I think folks should visit a therapist for their mental checkup. To stretch this analogy a bit further, I think mental health care can reflect physical health care in other areas as well. If you have an acute mental health situation, we can equate that to an infection. Maybe you just need a few appointments to stop the spread, get it under control, and fully heal. And likewise, if there are chronic mental health issues that require ongoing care, such as recurrent depression or anxiety, then a longer-term therapeutic relationship might be the right fit. But at a minimum, I’d say someone could use therapy if they are experiencing an emotional or psychological issue that is impacting their ability to adequately function daily.

You know those intense, late-night conversations you have with your friends? I don’t know what it is about that environment, but it becomes this breeding ground for deeply revealing, life changing moments. Therapy sometimes feels like that.

How do you balance being a full time clinician with your personal life?

Micah: I often extol the virtues of having a good life-work balance to clients, so I try to practice what I preach. Historically, I’ve struggled with this because I prioritized the job over my own well-being. But now, I work like a “professional athlete”. Whether it’s an Olympic marathon runner or a football star, athletes need to train and work hard in order to grow and hone their skills. But just as importantly, those athletes require rest and relaxation. If they push themselves too hard and don’t give themselves the time to recover, they’re going to injure themselves and then they’re totally useless! How can they perform that way? They can’t. Same thing for me. I take my work very seriously and dedicate myself when I’m there. And once my work is done, I genuinely relax and leave my clinical work at work. That way, I can actually enjoy both aspects of my life.

You’re a pretty creative person, do you utilize creativity with the therapy space?

Caldwell, LPCC

Micah: I do! I like to give clients a lot of creative homework because I think it inspires people to explore new dimensions of life that perhaps they’ve forgotten about or have never considered. So, for example, that might involve encouraging a client to play an instrument they haven’t touched in years or to pick up painting because they’ve always wanted to try it. I will also be starting my first therapeutic Dungeons & Dragons RPG group in the next month, which I’m really thrilled about. It is pretty much impossible to play the game without being creative, so I’m excited to weave play therapy, communication skills, and adventure all into one cohesive experience. I find that I can never have enough creativity and I want to incorporate it even more into therapy, particularly in-session, but it often requires time for development, so it’s an ongoing endeavor.

I like to give clients a lot of creative homework because I think it inspires people to explore new dimensions of life that perhaps they’ve forgotten about or have never considered.

If you could only recommend one life change to every client who walked in the door, what would it be?

Micah: Eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly. It’s amazing how much taking care of your physical health can impact your mental health. If you take care of those basics, you are laying a good foundation for yourself. 

Micah’s dedication to living a balanced life inspires all those around him. His playful approach to traditional therapy encourages clients to tap into their creativity both in and out of session. We can’t wait to see what he does next!

Stay tuned for more Acacia Clinician Spotlights! And check out Micah’s bio on the La Jolla page!

Authored (a lot) by Micah Caldwell and (a little) by Danielle Sharkey.

Acacia Spotlight looks to highlight the clinicians, staff, and programs that make Acacia what it is today. November’s clinician is Sheena Edmonds, LMFT.

Sheena Edmonds, LMFT. Photo by Leah Vergel de Dios.

Sheena is a La Verne, CA native who also claims Miami after spending time there during graduate school. She made her way back to California and joined Acacia’s Westwood team this past April. We’re happy to have her!

What do you enjoy most about being a clinician?

Sheena: I enjoy the variety that comes with being a clinician; each day is different and I really enjoy the challenge of having to be flexible in order to meet each person’s needs in the moment. I enjoy getting to know people and being able to help them work through various life stressors.

Sheena Edmonds, LMFT. Photo by Leah Vergel de Dios.

What is your therapeutic approach?
Sheena: I believe in having the client be in charge of his/her/their treatment. Therefore, my therapeutic approach is mostly Client-Centered. I take on a holistic/integrative approach to treatment and will use different treatment modalities (Solution-Focused Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, or Cognitive-Behavioral therapy) depending on the needs of each client.

What really happens in therapy?

Sheena: Everything! Therapy is where people come face to face with the parts of themselves that are difficult to face. It is where people come to learn how to deal with their relationships in a different manner. It is where people come to vent about frustrations occurring in their lives. Therapy is where change happens; it is where growth happens.

So now I try to be as open and as collaborative as possible in my therapeutic relationships with my clients; I want them to have the experience that I didn’t.

Will you tell us an interesting or most memorable story from college?

Sheena: I don’t really remember a lot about college as it was the most difficult time in my life. College is the first time I sought therapy for myself after my younger sister passed away. It was at this time that I decided that I wanted to pursue a career as a therapist as I did not have a positive experience. So now I try to be as open and as collaborative as possible in my therapeutic relationships with my clients; I want them to have the experience that I didn’t.

What’s your favorite thing about Acacia?

Sheena: I like that Acacia is accessible to the population we serve, whether that is via video sessions or being within walking distance of the college campus.

Sheena Edmonds, LMFT. Photo by Leah Vergel de Dios.

Sheena’s empathy for others and her individualized treatment approach help make her the approachable and trusted therapist she is. Her drive to help clients have positive therapeutic experiences is admirable, and we are so thankful to have her on our team!

Stay tuned for more Acacia Clinician Spotlights! And check out Sheena’s bio on the Westwood page!

Authored (a lot) by Sheena Edmonds and (a little) by Danielle Sharkey.

Acacia Spotlight looks to highlight the clinicians, staff, and programs that make Acacia what it is today. October’s clinician is Solomon Ndungu, LMFT.

Solomon Ndungu, LMFT. Photo by Katie Sabini.

Although once a Bostonian, and apparently a New England Patriots fan, Solomon was born and raised in Kenya. He made his way to Santa Barbara and joined the Acacia Isla Vista team just about a year ago and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

What do you enjoy most about being a clinician?

Solomon: Being a witness to another human being’s life as they explore their strengths and overcome their challenges. 

Why do you enjoy working with college communities?

Solomon: I am young and have always been young at heart which feels like I connect easily with folks in college.

I have always valued being influenced and inspired by others through their living authentic lives. It has given me the courage to do the same.

What other type of work do you do?

Solomon: I also work in software. Along the lines of data analysis.

What are the biggest similarities to therapy?

Solomon: The software program is in healthcare with a goal of improving outcomes which feels very similar to what we do in therapy: using the information shared to improve outlooks in people.

What are the biggest differences?

Solomon: I am often working on my computer while with the software company, while in therapy it is one on one with clients all the time.

Who was the most influential person in your life and why?

Solomon Ndungu, LMFT. Photo by Katie Sabini.

Solomon: I have always had many. No one person carried it all. Some of my friends because they were daring. My parents because they resourceful. My brothers and cousins because they did not suffer fools. My teachers because they saw more of whom I could be than I did. Some celebrities because they were unapologetically themselves. I have always valued being influenced and inspired by others through their living authentic lives. It has given me the courage to do the same.

Just for fun: If your therapy had a theme song, which would it be?

Solomon: I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack. The song encourages everyone to enjoy this very short gift of life we have. To be daring, to take chances, to step out there and dance.      

Although Solomon is a Patriots fan (this author is an Eagles fan), we’ll put our differences aside to unite as the Acacia team. His unique background and diverse sources of inspiration shape his methodological yet authentic approach to therapy. We’re so glad Solomon “dances” with Acacia!

Stay tuned for more Acacia Clinician Spotlights! And check out Solomon’s bio on the Isla Vista page!

Authored (a lot) by Solomon Ndungu and (a little) by Danielle Sharkey.

I’ve always wanted to be a nurse, even if the rest of my family didn’t think it was a good idea. I moved away from home as soon as I could and even found a part-time job to pay for my own education. It was rough back then. I remember going to class bright and early before attending shifts in the afternoon. I would always bring books with me so I could study during my breaks. When I got home at night, I would burn extra hours to study for any upcoming tests, or go over any material I wasn’t confident with.

So I studied, worked, cried a little, but eventually graduated. Mission accomplished, Itold myself. Nothing could go wrong.

How wrong was I!

Nursing school was hard, and I soon found that nursing itself is even more difficult. Our bodies can only expend so much energy before they collapse. The countless hours I poured into work is a constant reminder of the looming nurse shortage that plagues the United States (1), and how understaffed we were. And the patients – no matter how genuine I tried to be – sometimes resorted to verbal abuse. Everyone was so busy there was no one to talk to, and I often found myself too tired to feel any source of fulfillment or joy. I was depressed, though I was too scared to admit it to myself after everything I had gone through to get there.

One night, I came across this article (2) on Thrive Global that explored the high percentage of hospital-employed nurses who are suffering from depression. The report also revealed how half of us are even considering quitting the profession.

And for the first time ever, I realized I wasn’t alone in this fight.

Since that day, I began looking at my colleagues differently. I wondered if their hearts, too, are bothered by the same dark feeling mine was shrouded in, or if they truly enjoy going to work surrounded by this depressive atmosphere.

It’s true what my fellow Acacia writer Hanna Boleman (3) expresses in her piece: “Pain is subjective, relative, and experienced by everyone.”

I’m not sure when it happened exactly — when I started initiating some mindful conversation in the staff room to quell the silence. I remember telling them about my initial fears of getting into the profession, how my parents were pressuring me to get another degree, and how I firmly told them that this is what I wanted. I guess, sharing my thoughts must have triggered something in them, too, because suddenly I know more about their struggles and personal triumphs, big and small. These have helped me comprehend my own thoughts and process the events around me.

And this all made sense, in hindsight, given the challenges those in our profession are facing. In their industry outlook for nurses, Maryville University (4) notes that not only is there a shortage among nurses in hospitals and schools, but we’re also facing an increasingly complicated healthcare system and an impending lack of doctors. On top of that, the job is only getting harder, while the required standards in our work are only getting higher. Faced with all these circumstances, it’s easy to give up. But we nurses are some of the most stubborn people on the planet. After all, how else do we get the most uncooperative patients to eat their meals? How do you think we even passed nursing school in the first place?

With no one to reach out to, we started reaching out for each other. Sharing my pain, and seeing them persevere despite theirs, has helped all of us rise above the dark clouds that haunt our professional and even personal lives.

It’s okay to be embarrassed about being depressed some times — I mean, I was, too. But the only way you’re going to be able to combat this isolating disease is by realizing that not only are there people who are willing to listen and help, but you also deserve to receive that support. It doesn’t have to be your colleagues; it could be your family, friends, or even online acquaintances. Accept all the support that’s given to you, and when you have it, share it with everyone else. And if you happen to wear the symbol of medicine on your scrubs like I do, Asclepius knows how much we all need it.

Author, Arabella Walsh


(1) Tyczkowski, B. L., & Reilly, J. (2017). DNP-Prepared Nurse Leaders: Part of the Solution to the Growing Faculty Shortage. JONA: The Journal of Nursing Administration, 47(7/8), 359–360. doi: 10.1097/nna.0000000000000494

(2) Harris, C. (2018, October 10). Why Depression Is Causing Nurses To Leave The Profession. Retrieved from https://thriveglobal.com/stories/nursing-depression-burnout/.

(3) Theory of (Pain) Relativity, Hanna Boleman

(4) https://online.maryville.edu/online-doctorate-degrees/doctor-nursing-practice/

Acacia Spotlight looks to highlight the clinicians, staff, and programs that make Acacia what it is today. October’s clinician is Erica Castro, PMHNP-BC.

Erica Castro, PMHNP-BC. Photo by Brenda Baresi.

Erica Castro joined the Acacia Davis office just this summer and has been a wonderful addition to the Acacia team and the Davis community. Along with our individual therapy model, we’ve been searching for clinicians that can offer medication management services, a service our communities have been looking for! Erica, along with other Psychiatrists and Nurse Practitioners are adding to our wellness practices and bringing some additional sunshine to the offices – I mean, look at this pure sunshine:

Erica Castro, PMHNP-BC and Bishop, therapy pup in training. Photo by Brenda Baresi.

What do you enjoy most about being a Nurse Practitioner?

Erica: I love being in a profession where I practice both art and science using both heart and mind. I am constantly challenged by the complexity of applying the constantly evolving field of pharmacology to real life and empowering patients to utilize medication as a tool in their healing process. I feel privileged that my profession allows me to hear people’s stories, witness their resilience and growth and be entrusted with the care of my clients’ minds, bodies and hearts.

What got you into this particular field? 

Erica: I had several family members growing up who struggled with mental illness and I witnessed how a combination of effective treatment and a supportive community can be transformative and I always knew that I wanted to be in a helping profession. I studied psychology in college and thought that I would become a psychologist but after several years of working in a residential facility, I realized that the nurse practitioner role would give me the most flexibility in that it would allow me to both prescribe medication and provide psychotherapy.

Seeking mental health treatment for the first time can be scary when you don’t know what to expect, but there is nothing to lose by having a conversation with a clinician how therapy and/or medication may be helpful in your particular situation.

There is still a stigma around therapy and there is definitely still a stigma around taking medication, can you speak to how you may approach this if it were to come up (in and out of sessions)?

Erica: I usually try to educate clients about how our Mental health concerns are so complex because they can be affected by our thoughts, environment and life experiences but they are ultimately brain disorders. I usually find that when clients understand that some people are more genetically prone to experiencing things like depression, anxiety and addiction and how research shows that medications can be a very helpful support in a comprehensive treatment plan involving therapy, social support, and self-care they are more open to considering medication.

If you could share one piece of advice for students looking to start therapy or medication management, what would it be?

Erica: Seeking mental health treatment for the first time can be scary when you don’t know what to expect, but there is nothing to lose by having a conversation with a clinician how therapy and/or medication may be helpful in your particular situation.

Erica Castro, PMHNP-BC and Bishop, therapy pup in training. Photo by Brenda Baresi.

And just for fun, if you could switch places with anybody for a week, who would it be and why?

Erica Castro, PMHNP-BC. Photo by Brenda Baresi.

Erica: I would totally trade places with any National Geographic photographer. Especially one who travels to the remote and untouched corners of the globe that most people never get to see!
Erica Castro has a lot of wonderful wisdom to pass down and has been such a wonderful impact on our Davis community. Erica and Bishop, the therapy pup in training, have a couple things in common: they are both amazing additions to Acacia and both want to explore the world!

Stay tuned for more Acacia Clinician Spotlights! And check out Erica’s bio on the Davis page!

Authored (a lot) by Erica Castro and (a little) by KorbyQuan Reed.