by Kristina Domitrovich // photos by Lindsay Pace
For Essence Walker, the first way to be a good therapist is to build a relationship with her clients.
“Once you can effectively build a therapeutic rapport with the client, everything else kind of falls in place,” she said. “You can have all these therapies readily available, but if you cannot connect with the person, it’s really in vain.”
Once she gets to know her client, she can then map out the best way to handle their sessions. For Walker, she implores a focus on supportive and personal therapy, along with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. CBT works on reworking the ways clients think about their reality.
“I believe that the majority of individuals’ problems originate from faulty thinking, having an irrational thought process. I think that’s where it starts,” she said. “But with CBT, I use it because I like to help individuals become aware of those irrational thoughts or negative thoughts they have. And help them then to develop a different perception so that they can see situations more clearly and then respond to them in a more effective way.”
The first step? Helping people realize their strengths. Walker said people easily identify their weaknesses, but have a much harder time with their strengths. She takes her clients’ strengths and the things they enjoy doing, and she uses that to cater therapy exercises.
“Then we come up with exercises that are tailor-made for that individual to engage and to help them kind of restructure their negative thinking when it comes up,” she said. “Finding something else to do, or finding something else that they can elaborate on, versus the wallowing on any negative thoughts.”
For some of her clients, it’s exercising or playing sports; for others, it may be listening to music, or creative outlets like crafting, baking or making videos. She said working with her clients in this way helps empower them and gets them to think outside the box. Her favorite thing to hear is when her clients say, “‘I didn’t think about that.’”
“Just to hear them say that, helps me feel like I’m introducing them to a new way of thinking, just a new way of perceiving their situation,” she said. “Because sometimes, we can be so stuck in a way of thinking because of an environment that’s not conducive for us.”
Through her work with adolescents and adults, she can see her clients shift their perspective, and can see them “becoming better adults, more productive citizens.” She said CBT is particularly helpful for people who have traumatic experiences, along with depression and anxiety.
A tip from the pros: Walker believes that self-care and proper coping skills are the best foundation for improving one’s mental health. As a part of that, find a way to relax and meditate, which she said can be as simple as journaling, yoga or even going for a walk or taking a hot bubble bath.