Courage Award with Constellation Behavioral Health

45241101_10218104147260067_7445904112077504512_nIt was my honor to receive the Courage Tribute Award with Constellation Behavioral Health on November 2, 2018 during their Miracle Awards Celebration. It was a well done event with a packed room of professionals from the substance abuse and mental health fields. I enjoyed sitting next to friends and previous co-workers, and also along side my husband who attended with me.

According to the website, the Courage Tribute award “Honors a professional who has empowered the addiction recovery and mental health communities through advocacy, leadership and courage.” I was nominated by Georgette Cobbs, LMFT and Dr. Abby Medcalf, much to my surprise.

I have been very appreciative of the moments this year where I have received a reward acknowledging the work that I am so passionate about. I am linking below a video of my speech and the transcription.

I am very grateful for the ongoing encouragement, support, mentorship and acknowledgment from my co-workers, family and friends.

Good morning everyone. I have so much gratitude for the ability to be here with everyone; sharing in the collective work and goal of supporting people to thrive through the challenges of mental health disorders and addiction. It is an honor to be recognized in this work among the professionals and change agents in this room.

I want to take the opportunity to start this morning with a Zulu greeting that is used in different parts of Africa.  People greet one another by saying “Sawubona” which means “I see you”. The traditional response to this is a word (“Ngikhona”), which means “I am here”.

It is said that it is inherent in the Zulu greeting and response that there is a sense that until you saw me, I didn’t exist. By recognizing one another we are calling a sense of community and purpose into existence. So this morning I start with saying Sawubona to all the people here, doing the work of hope. I see you.

As I reflect on the importance of our collective work I think about the many opportunities we have to shift micro and macro experiences around the importance of mental health support. Whether working with one child, one family, one community or in the macro work of society; the ability to engage with individuals fighting to thrive is one of the most powerful things we can do in a JUST society.

My professional work as a mental health provider, advocate, and activist was paved by many of the lessons I learned from my mother at an early age.

My mother was a woman of service. She taught me to be present for the needs of others by showing me how to be present with those who needed it the most. She took care of children, fed people, and shared shelter with others when they needed it. I will never forget her memorial, sitting in a packed room, and listening to every person speak about living with my mom. My husband leaned over to me and asked if everyone had lived with her… and I told him, “pretty much”.

She taught me that service was an act of love, and that love was active.

Whether she was running her daycare, feeding the neighbors, becoming a foster mother or adopting everyone into her family…… her kind of love was the kind that came with service to others. Love as an action and not just a feeling. My mother taught me to see the inherent dignity and worth in every person. No wonder I grew up to be a social worker.

I was 23 years old when I started working in Drug Treatment services at New Bridge Foundation, and I truly I grew grew up in my career there. I spent 16 years at New Bridge learning, growing and being able  to witness the path to healing with so many young people. Today I work for Lincoln Families as a Program Manager of two programs that oversee mental health services for young people and families in various levels of the system.

It is truly a blessing to have the chance to do this work. I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most amazing children and young people on their journey to push beyond survival. To be witness to the humanity of those who are too often without a voice and silenced in their struggle. Young people assumed to be high risk, behavior challenges, unmanageable, or out of control…. And in reality they are just scared, traumatized, disempowered, and searching for a way to be seen.

In my most recent trip to Sacramento, standing in front of the state legislature along side Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, I gave my second testimony in support of Assembly bill 456. And I thought then as I do now…. That this work need us to show up, be present and be willing to move beyond our own comfort to support a picture of equity and opportunity for wellness for others.

This reflection of the work reminds me that there is not a more critical time than right now to engage hope and love in action in the world. We are living in a time when civil liberties are being stripped from marginalized populations, the prison industrial complex is thriving, access to healthcare is being ripped apart, trans and non-binary identified individuals are targeted, immigrants are dehumanized, families are being forcefully separated, police violence is rampant, national suicide rates are up, school shootings have become normalized and the reality of poverty continues to reach far and wide. California is still above national average for child poverty and we understand the impact that this can have on child and family functioning. And systematic disenfranchisement continues to sweep through the very fabric of our society and racism continues to stare us in the face.

There is not a more critical time than right now to continue to engage in advocacy to promote the wellness of children and families, to increase access to mental health and substance treatment, to support best practices and implementation of culturally significant supports.

There isn’t a more important time than now.

I would like to end with one of my favorite quotes from a leader in the liberation movement: Afeni Shakur.

“I guarantee that the seed you plant in love, no matter how small, will grow into a mighty tree of refuge. We all want a future for ourselves and we must now care enough to create, nurture and secure a future for our children.”

I thank you for inviting me here today and for continuing to honor and embrace the work of hope for our young people. I am truly grateful to share space with you all here today, and within the work. A special thanks to my long time coworkers and friends Georgette and Abby for this nomination. And to my husband Jonathan for everything.

And with love in action, I say Sawubona to everyone here today working to make a difference. I see you….”

Mindfulness in Motion

Who are you in your body? Who do you see when you look at yourself beyond the reflection in the mirror?

The_Green_Magic_Road.jpgOne of the most powerful things we can do for ourselves is give ourselves the opportunity to look beyond the reflection in the mirror and look into the amazing, powerful and capable person within.

Sometimes it is scary to look inside of ourselves for fear of what we might find, or for concern that we have to face some of the things we would rather avoid. This is understandable, and each of us individually have to make decisions about what we are able to do at any given time. No one else can dictate when it is appropriate for us to take the next step in our own healing or development.

It is also important to acknowledge that separating ourselves from ourselves can be a tool that ultimately takes an individual away from being able to move forward. Sometimes walking through is the option to get the answers we need at the time. Exploring this element of your work with a therapist or other people in your support network can be an amazing step in this part of your own journey.

We hear about the use of mindfulness as a tool of healing, self care and maintenance. It has almost become a buzz word within the overculture of our society to describe a variety of activities associated with meditation, or even yoga. But the art of mindfulness is so much more than a few breathing exercises and meditations. Mindfulness can be the key to a new approach of developing relationship with the self.

An important element of rooting yourself back into your body is the ability to be present, which makes mindfulness an important aspect of many people’s healing path. Any opportunity to come out of our heads, back into our bodies and into the present moment can make us more aware of the things happening right in front of us. Too often we are stuck in the past, or projecting into the future, when we haven’t the ability to be right here, right now.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy models incorporates mindfulness as a fundamental element of treatment. The understanding that we cannot regulate our own bodies and needs if we are not observant of our present is essential. On Psychology Today’s website, mindfulness is defined as “A state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future”.

Focusing on your environment, observing the moment, standing in a non-judgmental space, paying attention to our senses and slowing down our mind are some of the key elements of being in a mindful state. In the book Depressed & Anxious: The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Workbook for Overcoming Depression and Anxiety, Thomas Marra Ph. D presents the mnemonic for mindfulness as “ONE MIND”.


One thing
Environment. What is happening out there?
Moment. Immediate
Increase Senses Touch, taste, vision hearing.
Nonjudgmental. Not good or bad, right or wrong.
Describe: Words. Descriptive not prescriptive or proscriptive.”


In really considering who we are, inside of our skin, and into our amazing selves, how can you connect to these prompts about yourself? How can you be nonjudgemental about yourself? How can you describe who you are, right now. Who are you in your environment, who are you in this very moment?

Connecting to those very elements of your brilliant self can support people in the journey of learning, and re-learning who we are today. As Mindful practices are active processes, it involves getting involved in yourself and in your immediate environment. It takes being present with yourself.
Ideas for mindfulness activities to support relationship with ourselves:
    • Breathing exercises that are 2-3 minutes to slow your breathing, focus on your senses (what do you hear, smell, feel), pay attention to your thoughts and patterns of thought.
    • From where ever you are, take a moment to identify what is in your environment. How many trees do you see? What colors are present? What sounds do you hear? How many people are walking around? What types of cars are present?
    • Spend some time gardening. How does the soil feel in your hands? Take a moment to connect with the earth. The earth element can be grounding and support us with getting in touch with the moment we are in.
    • Listen to a favorite album or genre of music. Close your eyes and pay attention to what you hear. Spend time thinking about all the sounds and how they interplay with one another. Pay attention to the emotions that arise when you are listening to the music, think about how your body is responding to the movement of the sound.
The ability to increase our awareness of the here and now gives us more opportunity to connect with what is happening on the inside, and what goes beyond a simple reflection.


Coping With the Times

stress pixabayThings can be stressful. Managing the regular ups and downs of life mean adjusting to the ebb and flow of things we cannot always prepare for or predict. Sometimes flexibility is one of the most useful tools we can cultivate. No matter what, we all have to learn to live within a world that has its distinct challenges.

Not only does this mean that we are holding our life circumstances in the balance, but we also have to balance out the greater challenges within the society and environment in which we live. No one exists in isolation and therefore we are often learning how to engage with the world despite the ongoing issues of a society that is in turmoil and disarray.

In today’s times this is very prevalent in the way we are experiencing the world and how our mental health needs adjust to what it means to be present. The increasing sociopolitical pressure pertaining to laws, politics, and our economic crisis has had a profound impact on many people. It is normal to surf social media and see our friends and family speaking about the feelings of devastation and confusion they feel as a result of the newest news segment about our nation. People are struggling with the political climate that feels disempowering and oppressive, in addition to the ongoing challenges around financial stability and lack of resources for survival. Today’s times have an increasing impact on what it means to strive in our modern society.

We can all anticipate that today’s culture and political climate will impact us all for years to come. Identifying supports and coping strategies to manage the ongoing pressure can be one of the most useful things we can do to support our ability to sustain the challenges.

What are you doing to support your mental health and what tools are you utilizing to cope with the ongoing pressures you are facing? These are important questions that each of us should be evaluating on an ongoing basis to support positive mental health. Utilizing strategies to “let air out of the ballon” could be some of the most useful and necessary things we have at our disposal.


black woman stress pxhere

So let’s look at some ideas for positive coping strategies that anyone can try and utilize for these purposes.
    • Meditation: Whether 5 minutes or 30 minutes in meditation, it is clear that the benefits of spending time in meditation has amazing emotional, physical and spiritual enhancing qualities. Short moments of meditation can be just as effective as any other strategy of self care.
    • Mindfulness: Mindfulness activities can range from mindful walks, coloring, guided art activities, focused dance or spending time in nature. There are so many ways to incorporate mindfulness based activities into your daily routines.
    • Tapping: A technique used for a variety of healing or coping related purposes. Check out this link for information.
    • Gardening: The activity of being in nature, cultivating life, and nurturing something that shows tangible signs of growth can be relaxing and rewarding. Connection with nature has an amazing calming and centering impact on the physical and emotional mind.
    • Exercise and movement: Physical exercise and movement can support the body with balance in a myriad of ways. Exercise supports the body with reaching homeostasis, including a positive release of adrenaline and other neurotransmitters. Movement and exercise can also have an amazing grounding effect on a person and support us with pulling our energy back to one’s self.
    • Audio-Based self soothing: Music has an amazing impact on the emotional and physical body. Utilizing music as a way to change mood and shape current experiences can be very impactful. Whether listening to Metallica when feeling angry, or using meditative music when feeling anxious. Music can be a useful tool to support emotional balance.
    • Adequate sleep and healthy eating: Nothing replaces good, quality sleep and a healthy meal. The body craves nutrients to support necessary chemical balance, and the brain needs sleep. The brains capacity to provide the very things that your body needs to manage the stress of life is dependent on getting enough rejuvenation during the process of achieving quality sleep. Just because we are awake does not mean our brains are actually functioning at capacity.
    • Art and creative projects: Get those creative juices flowing whenever you are able to. Throwing yourself into a project and tapping into the creative mind can be such a great distraction. It can also provide a very tangible and rewarding outcome when we are able to see our hard work manifested into an amazing final project.
    • Spiritual activities and connectivity: Reconnecting to routines and activities that support our sense of spiritual connectivity can be another useful way to cope during challenging times. Spirituality often provides a sense of purpose, understanding and inner knowingness that can be good for dealing with the things that often make little sense.
Allowing yourself an opportunity to expand your tools to cope with the current challenges you are facing, or engaging in personal activities for self-care, could make the difference between surviving and thriving.

What would you add to this list?

You Deserve to Thrive

 Ofmind fullten times therapy is considered a luxury that people cannot afford financially or make time for in their schedules. Despite the need for support, therapy can seem like an extra thing to manage, troubleshoot or figure out. In addition people are often pushed away from seeing a mental health professional due to fear of the stigma of getting help. People often suffer in silence to avoid these very things….. fear and lack of resources keep people from seeking support.

It is important for us all to remember that the impact of life’s stressors can take it’s toll on our emotional, physical and spiritual being; Stress can push us into directions that connect to anxiety, depression, isolation and excessive worry. Without gaining support when we need it the most, it can provide additional challenges in our relationships, families, careers and daily living.

More importantly than any of those things is the fact that everyone deserves support; everyone deserves an opportunity to thrive. Therapy is not a selfish act, and instead should be seen as taking care of the vital things that keep your mind and spirit running. It is a tune-up for our mental well being and supports our full functioning.

If you are considering therapy and looking for ways to make it work, here are a couple of things you might want to consider:

heart shape gesture made with hands at sunset

  • Therapy or counseling charges are considered medical expenses for your HSA (Heath Savings Account), FSA (Flexible Spending Account) or HRA (Health Reimbursement Account).
  • There are options for therapy that include in person sessions and tele-sessions. Tele-sessions are video chat sessions that are done using HIPAA compliant software with a therapist or counselor. The expense for sessions like this are comparable to any other session and can be done from the convenience of your home.
  • Many health insurance companies have coverage for mental health services. You can call your insurance’s member service line and ask about the benefits for your particular plan. Some insurance plans will also allow you to pay out of pocket and will reimburse you the costs. Call your insurance provider for specifics about your benefits.
  • Mental health disorders are common among adults and adolescents, it is not an indicator of something wrong with a person. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 Adults have experienced a mental health disorder. In addition, 21.5% of youth ages 13-18 and 13% of children ages 8-15 have experiences a severe mental illness. No matter what you are experiencing, from a response to life’s challenges or a mental health challenge), you are not alone.
  • There are multiple search engines that allow one to look for a therapist that specializes in specific areas or with specific cultures. Whether you are looking for someone who works specifically with LGTBQI, African American, Spanish Speaking, or another other specific intersection of culture, you can search to identify a therapist. Psychology TodayGood Therapy, and Therapists of Color are some of the sites that are available to do this.