Celebrating Women’s History Month
I was 11 years old, it was Christmas eve, and we still had no presents under the tree. The year before I would have been angry, but this year I understood. It wasn’t lost on me that we were living in a maid’s basement or that there was a lack of food in the pantry. Mom tucked us into sleeping bags placed on the couches that were our makeshift bed, and we went to sleep. I will never forget waking up to a noise in the middle of the night and realizing my mother had walked the 3 miles between the shopping district and us in the snow. There were only five presents total for my brother and me, but I realized that morning that my mom was my superhero.
March is Women’s History Month and a time when we celebrate International Women’s Day. As a black man, I revere the women who became civil rights icons and role models for my community. Traditionally, I celebrate my lineage, the matriarchs and mothers who raised a community through their hard work, blood, sweat, and tears for Women’s History Month. This year, I asked two questions to honor the field that I work in: recovery. I wanted to learn who were the women that influenced clinicians and individuals in recovery alike and what does it mean to be a woman in psychotherapy or recovery from an eating disorder or other mental health condition.
Two Questions for Clinicians
1. What does it mean to you to be a woman in the field of psychotherapy?
It is empowering. As a woman, I am consistently reminded that I am not always enough, that I need a man to complete some tasks, and that being in this industry is a personal success that I do not deserve. In fact, I overcame all my life’s hurdles and mental barriers to be part of the support system for someone else in the very same manner that so many people were part of my support system.Tatum Carter, MA - National Community Outreach Manager
Historically, the field of psychotherapy has posed many challenges and inequalities for women, including a belief that women are intellectually inferior to men. Fast forward, the field continues to evolve, and I’ve had the honor of working as a psychotherapist for a little over two decades. Working in the field of psychotherapy has awarded me many opportunities to help individuals realize that seeking help is not shameful or something to feel guilty about; it’s about making meaning out of painful experiences and not camouflaging our feelings. Being vulnerable is hard, especially when everyone’s lived experience is unique and holds meaning for them. Humans are complex emotionally, and we live in a complex society that floods our brains while allowing us to view things through our varying lens of perception. Tiptoeing on the societal tightrope is exhausting when one’s emotional or mental health is being judged. Understanding our thoughts, even when they are uncomfortable, allows us to build empathy for others, take a step back, let go of our judgments, and extend a helping hand. Being able to help people find a method to navigate life is rewarding.Tia Henry, MBA - Clinical Chief of Staff
2. Who is someone you believe paved the way for you in the field, and why?
To be honest, I do not have a psychotherapy clinical mentor that I look up to. Instead, I value most those individuals who either counted me out or actually supported me. I chose this field because of the benefits I gained from focusing on my own mental wellness after experiencing postpartum depression and not feeling supported in my community of color. For this reason, I give credit to my child, for without his birth I would not have the experiences I had. I also credit my OB-GYN who prepared me for the awareness of postpartum depression and made it okay. Unfortunately, I also credit my mother who told me my feelings were not real and that I needed to just suck it up and move on.Tatum Carter, MA - National Community Outreach Manager
Some may assume that women were not at the forefront of the psychotherapy field because their work was seldom included in the early literature. Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark and her husband Dr. Kenneth Bancroft Clark were the first African Americans to obtain their doctoral degrees in psychology from Columbia University. Together they conducted research on self-identification in black children which then led to the work of the doll study experiments. This study looked at the psychological effects of segregation on African American children, using four dolls, identical except for color, to test children's racial perceptions. The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” created a feeling of inferiority among African American children and damaged their self-esteem. Even after recreating the test over a half century later, the anti-Black bias was still there. What does this tell us? Influence and how others perceive the world at a young age are critical. Representation matters, and as a Black woman I take pride in helping others feel empowered to understand their own place in systems of power, privilege, and oppression, in addition to learning how to live a values-based life that it is meaningful. Life can be challenging at times, and we all endure hardships. Knowing when and how to seek support is not a weakness; it’s when we try to do it all alone that we find ourselves crying out in despair. Remember that everyone’s lived experience is uniquely different, hold empathy for others, and intentionally look for ways to spread kindness!Tia Henry, MBA - Clinical Chief of Staff
Two Questions for Recovery Advocates
1. What does it mean to be a woman in recovery for an eating disorder (ED) or another mental health issue?
For me, being a woman in recovery from mental health issues is both a privilege and a burden. My identity as a woman gives me easier access to diagnoses like ED because I fit that stereotype. I also experience privilege as a cisgender woman in accessing healthcare services. Being a woman allows me to more easily find a clinician who shares my identity as the counseling field is made up primarily of women. At the same time, being a woman, especially a woman of color, contributes to the perceptions that my mental state is more fragile, that I am less capable of making decisions about my care, and that my lived experiences are "all in my head." Another important consideration of being a woman in therapy is that many studies historically focused on European men, which contributed to the diagnostic criteria we have today. For example, we know that ADHD symptoms can manifest differently in women, and yet these differences are not always reflected in conversations about what ADHD looks like. This means that numerous individuals might not see their experiences named and therefore might not seek or receive treatment as readily as men. Being a woman of color talking about EDs and OCD is quite rare; I haven't come across this intersection of identities and passions often, and I love being a part of these important conversations about mental health.Mimi Cole - Founder of The Lovely Becoming and ERC Recovery Advocate
Being a woman in recovery for an ED means holding space for those who are still in the thick of it. It means showing each other with open hearts and arms that we are not alone.Kara Richardson Whitely - Author and Binge Eating Disorder Recovery Advocate
2. Is there a woman who influenced your recovery for the better (personal or professional), and why was their influence important?
I would have to say Megan Jayne Crabbe was a major influence. While I did not know much about her during the height of my recovery, she has been such an inspiration for me. Her body was one of the first I saw that looked closer to mine than the typical thin ED recovery influencers we often see. Megan talks about being in a larger body than her partner, which is something that I don't often see. She shows up in her body as it is, is vulnerable, and makes me feel more comfortable being my authentic self in front of others. I love that Megan talks not only about body positivity but also about relationships, boundaries, and her experiences of joy when we often hear stories of oppression. I am so grateful for the way Megan shows up and teaches me so much.Mimi Cole - Founder of The Lovely Becoming and ERC Recovery Advocate
For me, Cheryl Strayed was a great inspiration. Her writing in “Wild” showed me just how vulnerable I could be and survive. It paved the path for me to write “Gorge: My Journey Up Kilimanjaro at 300 Pounds,” which recounts my journey with binge eating disorder in a blazingly authentic way.Kara Richardson Whitely - Author and Binge Eating Disorder Recovery Advocate
Every day, women all around the world are making history. It is experienced and shared by those from all walks of life − from Malala to Kamala, from Hillary to my mother, now the Chief of Records Management for Joint Staff and all 11 Combatant Commands at the Pentagon. I look back on my childhood and my mother’s journey as provider, role model, and superhero with pride. I ask you, how are you celebrating Women’s History Month?