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Youth And Families

Reflections by Misty Major

Interviewed: Nov, 2017

From book: Echoes: Hearts Open with Light

Misty Major is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of Illinois. She is a Clinical Supervisor and Psychotherapist at Live Oak, Inc. in Chicago. She currently serves as an Individual Supervisor for students in the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. In this role, she is working toward becoming a AAMFT Approved Supervisor for the state of Illinois. Misty’s areas of clinical expertise include adolescent development, intersectional identity work, mood and anxiety disorders, LGBTQ+ affirmative practice, couples and family therapy, and trauma-informed care.

What brought you to the healing field, in working with youth, were there any informative experiences?

What brought me to the field was a combination of experiences. I think the most significant is my personal experience with mental health and how it presented in my life and my family. For a long time,I ignored the desire to learn more about what it means to be human and why we do the things we do. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I gave in and began to pursue Psychology.

With youth, I think it also goes back to my personal experiences with mental health. My experience with mental health issues began in adolescence and I did not have access to resources to get support. I believe adolescence is such an important part of human development because this is the time where they are coming into their own and questioning themselves and the world around them. I believe it is in this time of development that it is crucial to mold and shape their emotional functioning and development. I find adolescents fun and intriguing and it is always amazing to experience how they are learning to understand the world. I think I connect with them so well because as an adolescent, I experienced similar issues at that age so my approach to working with them is, “I get it.”

Do the youth today have any particular challenges they are facing?

I think this comes up often when talking about adolescents, but social media seems to be a significant phenomenon and I have seen it bring specific issues to the therapy room. As mentioned above, they are in at a stage where they are learning how to interact with themselves and the world. Social media can be a platform that is validating and affirming, but it also has the ability to evoke feelings of shame, worthlessness, guilt, and anger. I have seen a friend not responding to their SnapChat or blocking them on Facebook and it leaves the client in significant distress. It brings focus to their insecurities, which mostly is, “No one loves or cares for me.” Because they are learning how to receive love and care in healthy ways, being validated on social media is a big deal.

I would also say anxiety and depression seems to be on the rise in adolescents and some of that is connected to genetics. I am finding that their parents or other family members also have either minor or significant mental health issues, but due to experience gaps, lack of resources, and education, are unable to name it as such. As a result, adolescents are finding it difficult to talk with their parents about their issues and parents are having difficulty understanding them. A common phrase I hear from parents is, “We just didn’t deal with this stuff back in the day. You just dealt with it and moved on” and I’m seeing that this generation is communicating that they do not want to “just deal with it,” but confront and understand their experiences in a deep and meaningful way. As a result, I have found parents who are willing to explore issues with their children also come to a different understanding about emotional health in ways that are healing.

Is there any general advice you could offer to family members with children who are struggling?

Listen. It can be difficult as a parent to listen to your child struggle emotionally and the urge is to try and fix the issue and I hear a lot of kids say they do not feel heard or seen because their parents go straight to problem solving and not acknowledging the negative thoughts and feelings they are experiencing. You have to be willing to understand and honor your child’s needs so that you can support them effectively. If your child expresses they are sad or feel anxious, ask how you can help or support them in the moment. I think parents tend to get frustrated because the feelings do not change or the child doesn’t share their perspective, which often leads to conflict. It can be hard and painful to understand your child’s negative emotional experience, but it is not about if you agree with their feelings. What is important is that you acknowledge them and know that they are valid, even if you don’t like it and it makes you uncomfortable. Love them for the complex and nuanced human being that they are, not what you want them to be.

In the midst of your busy schedules/life events, how do you find and maintain balance?

I have improved with being comfortable saying, “no.” It has been helpful for me to be honest about where my capacity is in any given moment and being truthful about what I am able to give. I do things and spend time with people I enjoy and that are life giving. I am attentive to my physical, emotional, and spiritual health and seek support when needed. It isn’t always perfect, but it is a constant process to know what your life needs because it is always changing. And that’s ok. You learn so much about yourself and your needs and it is a challenging, yet rewarding process.

For healing and recovery, are there any places you like to travel or things you like to do?

I am originally from South Los Angeles so I like to go home every once in awhile to be around the people and places that have helped shape me into who I am. It reminds me where I came from and where my heart will always be. I also have family in Austin, TX and enjoy visiting there as well. There are days where I like to treat myself to a lunch or dinner and bring a book that I like. When the weather is nice, I like to journal in the park or the beach. Water is very calming for me, so when I’m in LA, I always make sure I go to the beach. Spending time with people who are life-giving is honestly part of my recovery and healing. Being around people who experience the world differently and are able to give me the love and care I need is one of my favorite ways to recover.

In terms of inspiration are there any people that particularly inspired you? And what about them made them inspirational?

There have been very few people in my life that I find inspiring, but my mother and older sister are one of the most resilient and strongest women I know. They taught me what it means to be myself and fighting for what I deserve. Corina Mattson has been a mentor and friend to me for the last 6 years and the ways in which she has helped me develop my skills as a therapist has helped me be a better person. I think the ways in which these women love and care for those around them reminds me of of all the ways I am able to give love because of the way they love and care for me.

Do you have any thoughts or advice for people on how they can step outside their comfort zone and experience inner growth in their lives?

Taking from my own experience around this, I have found that change will not occur without an ounce of willingness to do so. When we form a habit, it is very difficult to shift it, even if we know if it is ineffective or unhealthy behavior. It’s comfortable and familiar. The fear around change is the unknown. As a result, we get willful and stubborn and want to do things our way, even if those ways are not effective. The thought of being “wrong” or having to try something different often makes us feel bad because we thought our way would work. What if it doesn’t work out right away? What if I fail? And the thing is….that will happen. Either in big or small ways. It is the way we conceptualize failure that often times keep us stuck. Change requires building mastery around what you are trying to get better at and that will naturally come with challenges and that’s ok! It’s helpful to have a balanced perspective in those moments or it is easy to connect challenges with who you are as a person, which also keeps us stuck. So being able to say, “I am improving AND I still have more work to do.” Often times, we use the word “but,” and that tends to negate the things in which we’re doing well and the focus then becomes about what you’re not doing. Using “and” helps us accept and honor multiple truths in the same space. The desire to improve and the mistakes being made are all true and valid. None is more important than the other. Language is important. The way we talk to ourselves is crucial. You’d be surprised how much progress I’ve seen in people just from making such a small change. It’s incredible!

From your work supporting clients, have you felt like you have also learned from them? If so is anything particular or any examples?

Absolutely! Although I play the role of expert, I am building relationships with people who either have similar stories or vastly different stories than mine. People are able to draw their own conclusions and insights about their life experiences and there are times I hadn’t thought it about it in the way they are thinking about it. But I also learn things about myself through my clients and that is probably one of the most rewarding parts of this work. When I was working in an intensive outpatient/partial hospitalization program for adolescents, they taught me the resiliency of the human spirit. They showed me what willingness looked like in the face of the worst situations and that despite them, you can have a life worth living. My clients remind me what my strengths are, but teach me where I need to grow and it is in this dynamic that make these relationships so enriching because it’s not about me telling them what to do with their life. It’s about human beings sitting down and navigating the rewards and challenges life brings us. I am not above reproach or feedback just because I am the “expert” in the room and I learned that just by being a human being with another human being.

To future healers in this field, do you have any guidance for them to think about as they begin their journey?

I would say in the ways you have desires to help others heal, it is equally, if not more important, that you also heal, whatever that may look like for you. I am a strong believer that the hurt places in our heart can have an impact on the work we do. We are not above healing just because we may have a specific level of knowledge or skill set. It is important that the people you work with know you’re a human being and that you don’t have it all together. Now that’s not to say that’s something you announce in sessions, but that is felt by the ways in which we show up to sessions and the ways in which we interact with the people. It’s being able to acknowledge and be accountable to the mistakes we make and modeling what it looks like to to work through that because that communicates, “This relationship is important to me and I want to show you that by navigating all of the hard, icky, and uncomfortable things that show up in our relationship.” Many people do not have models of that and it is important that they know it is possible and worth it. You’re not only going to be a healer, but there are times where there will be tears and there needs to healing in your relationship . Be open to this. The power it brings to the relationship is astounding.

Thank you for coming…

This interview is from our book Echoes: Hearts Open with Light.

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