In our nineteenth episode, Sofie is joined by licensed marriage & family therapist, Dr. Lauren D. Pitts, to discuss Mental Health. Dr. Pitts provides insightful guidance on how to combat mental health stigma and support those who may be hesitant to seek help. She emphasizes the importance of seeking support when needed and offers practical tips for recognizing when that help is needed. Drawing from her experience as a therapist, Dr. Pitts shares lessons she has learned about building strong client relationships and promoting mental wellness. The episode provides valuable advice for anyone looking to improve their mental health or support loved ones who may be struggling.
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About the Guest
Dr. Lauren D. Pitts
Dr. Lauren D. Pitts is a passionate and dedicated Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, Sports Family Therapist and Life Coach providing services to individuals, couples, families, and groups including scholar-athletes and professional athletes; Dr. Pitts strives to be an integral part of the healing and hope trajectory providing a Solution-Focused approach to individual and relationship wellness while demonstrating clinical excellence via a systemic, strength-based, and holistic lens. One size does not fit all; contributing to the holistic wellbeing of individuals in a relationship context promotes increased efficacies for all involved.
Dr. Pitts’ approach underpins her coordination of services related to mental and behavioral health, healthier relationships, improved performance, professional development, and consultation. Dr. Pitts’ work strategically positions her to be a benefactor to her clients and a greater asset in every facet of her work using an interdisciplinary, multi- specialist, biopsychosocial approach concerning trauma-informed care.
Dr. Pitts is highly enthusiastic and adept in helping clients to resolve conflicts, practice healthy behaviors, overcome personal and professional challenges to promote excellence across all of life’s domains. Dr. Pitts is particularly passionate about being an integral part of a healing and hope trajectory for ethnic minorities. One size does not fit all and contributing to the holistic wellbeing of individuals and their families requires an understanding of different experiences. A native of Salem, New Jersey – Dr. Pitts is a firsthand witness of the multi-generational, systemic loss and devastation caused to families because of domestic violence, mental illness, substance abuse, gun violence, poverty, and the overall breakdown of the nuclear family. Dr. Pitts’ tumultuous life serves as a compass guiding her to turn the adversities of her life into steppingstones for others.
Sofie: Hello everyone and welcome back to Claim Your Potential, the empowerment podcast. I’m your host Sofie and for this episode, we are joined by Dr. Lauren D. Pitts to discuss mental health.
Dr. Pitts is a licensed marriage and family therapist, sports family therapist and life coach who provides solution-focused services to individuals, couples, families and groups. She takes a systemic strength-based and holistic approach to promote individual and relationship wellness. Dr. Pitts coordinates mental and behavioral health services, improves performance and provides consultation using a biopsychosocial approach.
She is passionate about helping clients overcome challenges and promoting excellence in all aspects of life. Dr. Pitts is particularly dedicated to ethnic minorities and understands the importance of tailoring services to individual experiences.
A native of Salem, New Jersey, Dr. Pitts is a firsthand witness of the multigenerational systemic loss and devastation caused to families because of domestic violence, mental illness, substance abuse, gun violence, poverty and the overall breakdown of the nuclear family. Dr. Pitts turns the adversities of her life into the stepping stones for others.
Please welcome Dr. Lauren D. Pitts. Thank you so much for being with us today, Dr. Pitts.
Dr. Pitts: Sofie, thank you so much for having me. It’s truly an honor to be here. I’m excited.
Sofie: Thank you for coming on and I’m super excited to talk about mental health with you and I would love to start our conversation by asking you how do you define mental health.
Dr. Pitts: I define mental health as one’s awareness of their overall psychological well-being, their emotional well-being and understanding that just like we need to focus on our physical health, we need to focus on the mental health as well.
In fact I would argue that your mental health is more important than your physical health because if your mental health is not where it needs to be, it can erode your physical health and quite frankly vice versa. So it’s this heightened awareness of having a healthy thought life, if you will, that if you don’t, it can adversely impact every area of your life.
Sofie: Absolutely. Thank you so much for that definition and I really want to make sure that we’re being intentional about our conversation today. So I would love to get your thoughts on why do so many shy away from the topic of mental health.
Dr. Pitts: There’s such stigma around it and what’s so unfortunate Sofie is that people see discussions around mental health and mental wellness as well as mental illness as a weakness. We live in a society particularly nowadays where everything is on social media and people are presenting their best life ever to acknowledge that someone is having difficulty regulating their emotions and being of what we like to call sound mind.
It’s frowned upon, right? It’s this fear if you will that you’re going to be judged or criticized for being less than perfect. But what we say in this work is that perfection is problematic. There have actually been studies that show that setting expectations too high, i.e. striving for perfection, has been linked to various forms of mental illness and it’s debilitating and it doesn’t have to be that way.
So the biggest thing is people are afraid of being seen as flawed. But aren’t we all? Nobody is perfect but people like to present this public persona that they’re perfect and unfortunately it compromises their overall well-being, particularly their mental health.
Sofie: And I like that you mentioned stigma and so much of it is attached to the stigma that we have towards talking about mental health and I’m curious as to how can we combat stigma and encourage open conversations about mental health in our communities.
Dr. Pitts: Being willing to be less judgmental and critical. Being willing to acknowledge that we are all fallible beings, being willing to be vulnerable and transparent, being willing to be one’s authentic self. If people are striving to present themselves publicly as someone that they’re not, then what ends up happening is you’re living a lie. You are not being your authentic self.
Sofie, our authentic selves are flawed. Our authentic selves aren’t perfect and how better to create a safe space for these conversations to be had than to say, “You know what, hey, I’m Dr. Pitts. Yes, I am a therapist. But I’m a human flawed therapist. I have real life challenges and real life issues just like my clients do. What separates me from my clients is how I make my decisions.”
I have the formal education and training but more importantly Sofie, doing the self-work that is necessary to help me to work on my fallacies and my imperfections and I think that when the general public can see more people being willing to be vulnerable and transparent and raise their hand and say, “Oh, oh, me. I’m imperfect. I’m fallible and that’s OK,” I think that it will be so much easier for other people to be vulnerable and transparent with their challenges as well.
Sofie: Thank you for sharing that and thank you for saying your own experiences with being fallible and being open and I think that’s something that at least I often associate with people in the mental health field specifically and especially therapists is well, they must have everything together if they’re able to sit and listen to – but I know that’s so wrong and I love the way that you described it where it’s not that you don’t go through what some of your clients go through. It’s not that you don’t have imperfections. It’s not that you don’t have your own things that you’re dealing with. It’s just that you have that formal education of being able to do that work outside of professional life and to do that self-care, that self-work on, “How am I feeling? What do I need to do to make myself feel my best self? What type of people am I surrounding myself with? Am I feeling authentic?”
So I love that you shared that because I think that’s a very common misconception, one that I definitely have, and I think one that others have is that those who are working to help other people’s mental health don’t go through similar struggles with it.
Dr. Pitts: We absolutely do and I think that the slippery slope in this work Sofie is that one of the things that we’re taught as clinicians is to be mindful of disclosures because you don’t want to get into this countertransference where something goes on. Your client triggers you and then your issues become their issues and it becomes this vicious cycle of woundedness, right? Or you don’t suffer vicarious trauma where whatever traumatic experiences your clients are having, you end up being traumatized as a result of what they’ve been through.
But one of the things that I love about the formal education and training that I received is that we went through a program called “Person of the Therapist Training” and what that training does is it teaches clinicians how to leverage their personal journey in a way that helps them to be more effective in their ability to join with their clients and really be more effective in meeting their clients in a place of common humanity with an open mind and an open heart and being able to do that creates this beautifully humane space for me to say the more I do this work, the more I see myself walk through the door.
In other words, I’m just like you in a lot of ways. The only difference is I’ve been trained in how to deal with some of those challenges perhaps differently than you’ve experienced in learning how to deal with them and that creates opportunity for me to be more effective in my efforts to try to help you.
Sofie: Oh, absolutely. I think that’s such a fantastic way of what your education has been in and I think that that’s something that I always have in the back of my mind when I think about my own experiences with therapy is I always was curious. How is my therapist feeling? Are the things that I’m saying too much for them? So thank you for saying that because I think someone who has been through the therapy process, and I’m sure there are others that are listening to this, have probably had that same thought in the back of their mind of what if what I’m saying is too much for this person to handle.
So I think that puts a lot of minds at ease there and you mentioned treating your clients as – or approaching it with that human nature, that human approach. You’re a human being. I’m a human being. Let’s connect on that level.
Dr. Pitts: Absolutely.
Sofie: So I’m curious as to what is a key element of creating that emotional wellness not only with yourself but with your clients.
Dr. Pitts: It really starts with being able to put your finger on the pulse. It’s the way that I like to say it. Putting your finger on the pulse of your authentic emotions. So oftentimes we hear people default to, “Well, I was saying I was just so angry with you and I just don’t know what to do,” right?
And I said, “Well, what else?” because anger is a secondary emotion. Anger is the smoke and mirrors, if you will, or the camouflage that hides the authentic emotions that you’re experiencing. One of the techniques that we actually use in couple, marriage and family therapy is that if we’re in session for example and my client says something that triggers me, I address that, right?
I literally will say, you know, “Let’s pause for a moment because what you said or what you just explained was triggering for me and here is why,” right? It’s that humane piece. It’s like, “Oh, wait a minute. My therapist gets triggered?” Yeah, because your therapist is human.
Not dwelling there but just in that very brief moment, just that short little snippet, acknowledging, hey, I’m a human being and that impacted me. You don’t go into all the gory details Sofie as to why it impacted you but you just pause for a moment. The same way if I have a client who is really argumentative and combative and I’m doing a family session and the members in the family are saying, “Dr. Pitts, they’re really argumentative and combative all the time and they’re being argumentative and combative with me as the therapist.”
I will pause the session and say, “Hey, I’m noticing there’s a bit of argumentativeness here, a little bit of combativeness here. Does anybody else feel that besides me?” Very human acknowledgment but saying, “Hey, I’m feeling that. I’m feeling that projection and that transference of hostility and I’m feeling it in my body,” right? And just pausing to acknowledge that is really instrumental in helping you to connect with your clients but also in helping them to see themselves in a much more transparent way.
Sofie: And you mentioned having combative people in sessions and that brings me into my next question. How do you approach working with someone who is hesitant to seek mental health support?
Dr. Pitts: So I say some very key things during my consultations, right? So before I agree to work with a client, I have to meet with them to do a 15-minute consultation where I just ask them some very basic questions. I give them an overview of how I approach the therapeutic process in relationship and I give them a chance to ask me questions.
During that, one of the things that I tell them is hey, there’s no judgment or criticism here. This is a very safe space. My job is to make this space as safe for you as I possibly can so that you have a level of comfort in being open and honest and vulnerable and transparent because I really need you to have that level of comfort in order for me to be more effective in my efforts to try to help you. I’m not here to judge you. I’m not here to criticize you. I am here to support you as much as you are willing to allow me to do so and I’m here to hold you accountable for as much as you’re willing to allow me to do that.
But in that, I’m going to take you from what I call the dance floor of life to the balcony of life because it’s at that elevated perspective that you’re able to see yourself much more clearly because your relationship with yourself is paramount to you having a healthy relationship with other people and it influences how you think, feel, function and navigate life.
So when we can reach that balcony level together, I feel pretty confident that I’m going to be able to help you to get from point A to point Z. How does that sound? And I put it back on them and give them an opportunity to communicate with me any apprehension or ambivalence that they might have and if it’s still there, then we talk it through and out and I go to great lengths to try and create as comfortable and as safe a space for them as I possibly can. I tell them it’s OK to laugh. I totally them. Like it’s OK to laugh.
I’m a clinician, so I have to be serious but we’re going to laugh. We’re going to unwind and we’re going to relax our shoulders a little bit and we’re going to breathe because your ability to relax is going to be instrumental in improving my ability to be able to help you. I’ve had success with that approach and being able to help my clients to just sort of settle themselves down and to trust the process of therapy and how beneficial it can be for them in the long run.
Sofie: Oh, I think that’s such a fantastic approach that you take. I think it’s so – at least if you’ve never been through the process before, I think it’s easy to see therapy as a very clinical approach where it feels cold and it’s like, “Well, why would I want to talk about what I’m feeling with someone else? It’s kind of like talking to my doctor. It’s just a very uncomfortable feeling,” and I think that that’s not true at all and I love that you’ve explained it in that way of really it’s about a healing process. It’s about getting to know the other person and creating that relaxed environment where you really can share and yeah, absolutely laughing.
I used to laugh with mine all the time. It felt great even when we were talking about some heavy stuff. Somehow we found humor in some of it and I think that’s such a fantastic approach that you take and thank you for sharing that with our listeners, especially those who might be a little bit apprehensive about what that process looks like, that it’s really not as scary as it seems.
Dr. Pitts: Absolutely, absolutely. Just trusting the process. To speak to that just for an additional moment, if I may. I tell folks that trusting the process doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be periods of discomfort, right? But similarly to physical therapy, if you’re not willing to allow me to help you to navigate the discomfort and we push through it together, then it’s going to be really difficult to help you to move beyond your place of pain. We have to be willing to sort of sit in the discomfort and feel it in order to be able to have the necessary tools put in our toolbox to move through it in the healthiest possible way.
People as a rule are open and receptive to that. People that aren’t ready for it, there are always those that you’re going to encounter and some people, they’re more comfortable sitting in the discomfort of their comfort zone.
Sofie: Yeah, that resonated with me and I love the way that you said that where there are going to be those people that are OK with being in that discomfort which I think is it’s not personally where I am. I would rather address how I’m feeling, what’s going on. But I think that absolutely in this world, I see those people all the time where whatever it may be, whether it’s mental health or it might even be something else in life where they’re OK with the status quo. They’re OK with just sitting in what is current even if it doesn’t make them happy, even if it doesn’t make them feel healed, feel whole and I think that that’s a very common occurrence that we just don’t want to make ourselves more uncomfortable because we think it’s such a bad thing to be uncomfortable.
But I think it’s really one of the most powerful moments is being OK with those uncomfortable moments and knowing that there’s going to be those rainy days where it just doesn’t feel good to talk about what’s going on, talk about what’s happening, to sit in those emotions. But then as a result of that, there’s going to be those great days where you feel like oh my gosh, it’s like a weight has lifted off of my chest. I feel so much more like myself again.
Dr. Pitts: Right. It’s transformational to sit in the discomfort and to really get a better understanding of why you’re so uncomfortable in that moment and then being able to push through it with the appropriate tools in your toolbox of life.
Sofie: Absolutely and going into people that are struggling with mental health who might be listening to this podcast, what is some advice that you would give to someone who is struggling but doesn’t know where to turn for help?
Dr. Pitts: There are endless resources on the internet today. I would direct folks to go to Psychology Today. That is a really, really, really big network that will connect you to clinicians in various disciplines, whether it’s a couple, marriage and family therapist or a licensed professional counselor or an addiction counselor or whatever you identify your need is being.
They’re a great platform. They do an outstanding job of vetting their clinicians to make sure that that network is – obviously they can’t guarantee everything. But they do an outstanding job of vetting their clinicians to make sure that they have some of the best and brightest clinicians doing this work on their platform. So that would be the number one and then if you specifically want a couple, marriage and family therapist, you have the option of going to AAMFT.org which is the directory specifically for a couple, marriage and family therapist and there are a number of others. But I would say those two are the primary ones that I tend to direct people to.
Sofie: Thank you for sharing that and just because this is your area of expertise, I would love to know for those that might be considering starting therapy, what are some benefits of individual, couple or family therapy?
Dr. Pitts: You don’t have to go through whatever it is you’re going through alone, Sofie. I tell my clients and I say it in jest but I’m serious is that, you know, if you had all the answers, you wouldn’t be here but here’s the caveat that I want to add to that is when I’m doing my consultations, I tell people, “You’re the expert of your life. You know yourself far better than I ever will. But what I’ve learned in doing this work all these years is that people either don’t know that or they’ve lost sight of it because of all of the curveballs that life is throwing at them. So coming into therapy can be instrumental in helping you to realize that you are the expert of your own life.”
It can be instrumental in helping you to understand that the things that happen to you, they may have been tragic. They may have caused you an exorbitant amount of pain but they don’t define you. Coming into therapy can be instrumental in helping you to have that mutual support. A lot of times family and friends can be really judgmental, can be really critical, can be really condemning and at times make matters worse.
So having that mutual support, having that safe space to be authentically who you are without judgment, without criticism, having that objectivity of a clinician that doesn’t know you from a can of paint and then really positioning yourself to have your perspective about yourself, about others and about life holistically elevated to a level that allows you to see everything through a much clearer lens I believe are some of the primary benefits of therapy whether you’re an individual, couple, a family, roommates. It doesn’t matter. Those things are definitely key benefits to anyone seeking therapy.
Sofie: Thank you so much for sharing that and someone that has been through the process, I could not recommend it more to anybody especially with that objective approach because it can be very scary, as you said, to talk to family or friends because I mean they might even be why you might need to go see someone, to be very honest.
Dr. Pitts: Your read my book, didn’t you?
Sofie: Yeah, absolutely and then just also that objective approach I think is so key when there isn’t someone that’s listening that has an emotional attachment to you and to what you’re saying and that might take what you’re saying the wrong way or might be a little bit like, “Oh, that doesn’t make any sense why you feel like that. You have a good life. I’m so confused. You’re always so happy with me.”
Dr. Pitts: Right.
Sofie: And that’s something that I’ve heard before and something that I think would happen to a lot of people if they tried to go directly to friends and family. Not to say that you shouldn’t but I truly do believe in the power of therapy and so I just want to say thank you for sharing that and also thank you for the work you do in the field and to tie everything together, I would love to know what is something that our listeners should take away from this conversation.
Dr. Pitts: You know, I want to connect for your listeners Sofie this beautiful relationship between mental health and empowerment and this is what I want them to know. Taking charge of your mental health, getting the help that you need, doing the self-work to be the best version of yourself that you can be in and of itself is empowering. It’s taking the power back that the situation, circumstances, experiences of life have robbed you of being the best version of yourself that you can be. Therapy takes it back. Mental wellness takes it back and it positions you to not be a victim of circumstance but to recognize that these things happen but they don’t have to define you. They don’t have to inform your present and your future and your authentic self unless you decide that they should.
Sofie: Absolutely. That is such a fantastic piece of advice to give all of our listeners and I was sitting in that moment listening to what you were saying and just it resonated and I felt that. So thank you so much for saying that and thank you so much for this conversation and as I said earlier, for the work you do and for taking the time to speak with our listeners today about mental health.
Dr. Pitts: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me. I totally appreciate it. Thank you. The work that you’re doing is equally powerful.
Sofie: Thank you so much and thank you again for coming on to the podcast, Dr. Pitts.
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