Finding My Voice

Tuesday, September 29, 2020 2:43 PM | Anonymous

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by Dariah Brown, AMFT

Dariah Brown, AMFT, graduated from Palo Alto University with her MA in Counseling Psychology in 2017.  She currently works at Gardner Family Health Network in their adult program for mental health. She has about 500 hours left before she can take the BBS exam to become a licensed therapist.  

It was summertime in August and I was a day behind orientation for the upcoming academic school year. After enduring 12 months of heavy didactic coursework in grad school, I had recently returned from a family vacation. I felt prepared to begin my career as a therapist providing mental health support services at a local middle school. Through textbook and self-reflective essays, I had been taught how to be a therapist. Now it was time to apply my newfound knowledge. I powered through the weeklong intensive training, getting to know my colleagues and building on my support system for what was going to be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life so far. At 21 years of age, I believed I was gifted with the ability to connect with adolescents in secondary education.

My first week at the school, I focused on gathering referrals, getting acclimated to my new office (closet), and preparing a brief introduction of myself and the services I would be providing during back-to-school night for the students’ parents. The speech was to be delivered in an auditorium in front of hundreds of parents and their children. Public speaking had always been a weakness of mine, but I was not going to allow that to impede my ability to stand confidently in front of strangers as an advocate for mental health. My heart was racing but I grabbed the microphone, stood up from my chair and said, “Hi, everyone! My name is Dariah Brown. I am currently in school training to become a mental health therapist. I have received an undergraduate degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and I am looking forward to working with you in this new school year!” Once I sat back down in my chair I realized that my career was just beginning.

The first few months were composed of series of situations related to adjustments, mistakes, compromising, and advocating for myself. Being a 21-year-old therapist, I recognized immediately how young I was in every staff meeting. I had to stand up straighter, smile more often, and stand my ground. Every week, I had a staff meeting with the principal and vice principal. I arrived at each meeting riddled with anxiety. I came prepared, having written out my concerns for each of my clients and their overall well-being. I also entered each meeting ready to stand tall and be a voice for the voiceless. However, I felt that my credibility, knowledge, and overall confidence were tested frequently. I was (again) the youngest in the room by at least 20 years. At every meeting my body was shaking and I was near tears. Much of what I stated felt as if it was not being taken seriously, and I could not help but attribute my experience to my age. I felt as if I were losing my confidence in this career that I had barely begun. 

From then on, every week became a challenge for me. Not just in engaging the practical skills I learned, but from receiving feedback and constructive criticism from professors, supervisors, classmates, and colleagues. Every week was focused on what I had done wrong rather than what I had triumphed over. Feeling insecure, unconfident, and incompetent was prevalent and became a daily battle. Not to mention the phase of life that I was navigating: I was in my early 20s and not even sure who I was as an individual. 

My first year as a mental health practitioner was over, and before I knew it, I had graduated with my Master’s. My life had changed drastically throughout the course of three years—both professionally and personally. My personal life had taken a turn after having made the difficult decision to end a six-month engagement to my partner shortly after graduating. Still conducting sessions and providing services, I found myself mourning, recovering, and heavily processing with my personal therapist where I saw my life to be heading. I could not focus, and in many occasions, I felt numb during sessions with clients. How could I tell them that it is okay to cry and that it is healthy to take a step away to process and check in with ourselves, while I was numb and suppressing every emotion I was feeling? It felt terrifying to find myself having begun grad school with a five to ten year plan and feeling like that had been lost. It felt as though once I graduated grad school, I allowed myself to stop and breathe. Before I knew it, I finally saw myself and realized that I was 24 years old. If I was not, “Dariah, the therapist” who was I? Was that what I wanted to do for the rest of my life? Was I mature enough or responsible enough to hold someone’s pain? To become accountable for their safety?

I was scared. I was plagued with low self-esteem. I thought that there was no way anyone would trust a 24-year-old therapist who could pass for a 13-year-old in high school. Would I? Could I? No, I could not. So, I quit. I got myself a studio apartment, cut and dyed my hair, updated my wardrobe, and was hired to be an admissions counselor. For one year, I reconnected with old friends, traveled for work, networked, and made lasting memories. My job was all about contact work and presenting in front of an audience. And in that role as an admissions counselor, my supervisor became my mentor. She was a therapist who had decided to course correct and work in academia. She taught me confidence, her words forever guiding me wherever I felt challenged. I found my voice. I found my strength. I realized that I genuinely love and care about the well-being of others. And as a result, I found myself applying for therapist positions to continue gaining hours towards licensure. Being a therapist and an advocate for interpersonal wellness is the path that makes me happy. I chose this role because I have always been taught to provide help, give love, and never expect anything in return. And despite my age and how young I look, I will forever make the conscious decision to help others in need. To walk with them through their suffering and hold their pain. This is my passion and always has been. I just needed to look within myself to find it. 

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