About the Journey, the Destination, & Integrated Health
No journey is linear. Not even a cisgender person travels straight; we only move forward with a vague idea about our final destination and a belief that we someday will arrive.
If you would have asked six year old Max what their life would look like as an adult, they would have told you that they were going to be a novelist and live in the country with a lot of animals and a farm and probably adopt some kids.
Ten year old Max believed they were going to be a lawyer and an Olympic softball player.
Eighteen year old Max dreamt of traveling the country on a second-hand Harley Davidson, writing social commentary for Rolling Stone.
Twenty-one year old Max had no idea.
Twenty-three year old social worker graduate student Max was going to be a community organizer and social justice warrior – though they didn’t really understand what those concepts meant.
Here’s what I vowed never to be: a therapist…in private practice…running a group practice…owning a small business.
Life is weird and unexpected.
The transition to Prism Integrated Health has me feeling reflective about my personal and professional journeys and the things I’ve learned and experienced that brought me to this point. Namely, how in the world did I become a private practitioner doing the thing I swore never to do in the manner in which I vowed never to do it? I repeat: life is weird and unexpected.
Prior to graduate school, my only real exposure to mental health was a therapist I had when I was maybe six. Her name was Pat. We played with shaving cream. Everything beyond that single memory is blurry and vague. But I remember liking Pat and feeling like she was a good listener and like she saw me as a person even though I was only a kid. I knew that when I got older, I wanted to treat people the way Pat treated me.
In high school, I had an English teacher who gave me a shot and a softball coach who was willing to give me his time. (Also, I’m JUST NOW realizing just how many queer tropes have played out in my life.)
Mrs. Z was my sophomore English teacher. When I approached her about reestablishing our school newspaper, she told me to make a plan. So I did – and I took it to her and my school counselor. Mrs. Z. signed on to develop the newspaper into a class. I was both the managing editor and the editor-in-chief, and I went to college for journalism. The lesson here? Generally, people want to see and help others succeed – and are willing to help when we communicate what we want and show some initiative to make it happen. The key here is communication. When we communicate, we’re forced to articulate our wants and needs to ourselves and others, and we remove the power from overwhelming thoughts and feelings. Whims and fantasies become real and tangible, achievable. When we communicate, we are more likely to create a plan, have our needs met, be more fulfilled, and have better relationships because we’ve spoken our truth and created a pathway for reaching our destination. I don’t believe in manifestation: I believe in communication.
My high school softball coach, Mr. M saw my potential and dedication to playing the sport I loved. I was never the best natural athlete, but I was the one who was willing to put in the hours and the work to be strong and consistent. This is not propaganda for late stage capitalism – the time and effort wasn’t for anyone but me – and Mr. M certainly wasn’t getting paid extra to feed the pitching machine at 5:30 am on a school day. The closest my team came to a winning record was 12-13, and I was well aware that statistically – and also realistically – no player, no matter how good, has the ability to consistently change the outcome of a game played by a team of nine. But what I could do was spend time doing the thing I loved, honing my skills, and working toward meeting my ultimate goal of playing at the collegiate level. (I also learned how to fail and lose, but that’s a lesson for a different day.)
The gift Mr. M gave me was his time. It wasn’t until adulthood and raising a family and generally being a busy adult with many important things to do that I learned that time is our most limited resource. I have been privileged in many ways, and one of the most significant is that people were willing to gift me their time. Even as a kid, I inherently understood that time meant visibility and opportunity, personhood – and reflecting back on each of the things I wanted to be, all of them involved providing others with my time on an individual level because those who gave me theirs made me feel valued.
My college softball coach, who I’ll just refer to as Coach because she’s still a friend and mentor and I’ll only ever be able to refer to her as Coach, taught me the next lesson: everyone needs space to exist without judgment or expectation. Coach became my coach junior year, and the thing I always appreciated was her open-door policy. I had a work study job in the athletics building and half the time I wasn’t doing anything, so I’d go to her office and without a word, plunk down in the chair to the right of her door and start doing work. Or I would start talking and she would look up from her 64 point to-do list and listen intently and make me laugh to lighten whatever was weighing on my mind. I had a lot going on back then – family stuff, figuring out my sexuality, over-functioning literally all the time. I was what the youth would call ‘extra.’ But in Coach’s office, none of that mattered. I could just walk in, sit down, and not owe an explanation for my presence or the space I embodied. She taught me about seeing and valuing a whole person by simply giving them the space to exist genuinely.
Thinking about it now, it’s no surprise that I became a therapist. All the things I value most as a person – and try to practice most as a professional – were taught or provided in my personal life during formative times or impactful experiences. I think that’s why I ended up in social work. It’s about meeting people where they are, giving them your time, and walking with them on the journey to their own destination – wherever that may be, and however the path may look.
One of my primary roles as a therapist witnessing and sometimes guiding one’s journey is to be a ‘yes, and’ person. As in ‘yes, that’s true, AND also more than one truth or feeling can exist at a time.’ Or ‘yes, you are feeling uncertain, AND the best way to handle uncertainty is to create a plan.’ I challenge my clients to hold discomfort and multiple truths all the time. But up until recently, I struggled with the dissonance of holding my own multiple truths. Yes, I can be a clinical social worker who holds true to their values AND I can incorporate those values into my own practice and business.
Taking it a step further: yes, I can be a mental health therapist, AND I can recognize that for many people, traditional psychotherapy isn’t enough.
It’s this most recent realization that has led to the expansion of my practice into an integrative health model. There are decades of research about the impacts of stress and trauma on our bodies – for instance, the Adverse Childhood Experiences study and all of Bessel van der Kolk’s work on PTSD. Yet, the traditional medical model treats minds and bodies separately. News flash: the brain lives IN the body, and in fact is PART of the body – and in order to treat one, we must treat both. This is why the best natural mitigator for depression is exercise, why meditative breathing helps slow the onset of a panic attack, why rhythmic movements like walking, running, or singing help quell anxiety. Conversely, it’s why professional athletes use visualization to help prepare for competition and why psychological evaluations are often given in high stress, highly physical jobs. We know that the brain and the body are connected, but for some reason, medicine doesn’t treat them as such. Also, let’s be real. We know why: it’s profitable and an excellent method of racial and social gatekeeping.
But I digress.
So here we are at integrative health: a new and exciting intersection for medicine, holistic health, and mental health. A space to address the whole person. Some folks will have a focus on holistic medicine, others will focus on integrating the medical model with more homeopathic interventions. Others will use it as a reason to walk into the woods and find some magic mushrooms. To each their own.
At Prism, we will focus on bolstering an already thriving evidence-based mental health practice with additional psychiatric care while eventually adding holistic and medical care. We also are providing gender affirming care for our transgender and non-binary clients, including hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for adults. So what does all this look like in practice? Good question. I’ve got some ideas, but aside from building a solid and robust behavioral health practice with gender-affirming care, no others are concrete. It may truly be a surprise for all.
See, this path – like all my others – sure isn’t straight. And like my running speed, it’s not going to be fast. But instead of attempting to have a finish line, I’m seeing where I end up. I’m finding the most beautiful thing about this growth and transition is that Prism Integrated Health is both the journey and the destination, that I can go at my own pace, that I may never fully arrive, and that that’s totally okay.