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Stories from Backstage

Denisa Washington

Provider Spotlight: Denisa Washington


Q. Can you share a bit about your background and what inspired you to become a counselor?

A. I was born and raised in Greenville, MS. From a young age, I developed a keen interest in observing human behavior, influenced by the complexities of family dynamics in my upbringing. This curiosity led me to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Southern Mississippi and later a Master’s in Marriage and Family Counseling from Mississippi College.


Q. Were there any specific cultural influences or role models that guided you in your career path?

A. My mother. As the eldest child of a teenage mother, she exemplified resilience through firsthand experiences of overcoming oppression, neglect, and heartache. Her strength, forged in navigating a challenging world, became a powerful inspiration for me. While I didn’t always grasp her cautions, they sparked my curiosity in understanding human nature and the triumphs over trauma.


Q. How do you incorporate cultural competence into your counseling practice, especially when working with diverse clients?

A. I utilize the resources of continuous research, peer consultations, and continuing education courses to enhance my understanding of various cultural aspects. I’ve observed that clients are more receptive when I am well-informed about their cultural context, including terminology, nuances, and potential limitations in their experiences. My goal is to create a universally comfortable space, ensuring clients feel understood irrespective of their background, thus minimizing the impact of cultural differences.


Q. Have you faced any unique challenges as a Black counselor, and how have you navigated them?

A. My journey as a Black counselor in private practice has been unique. Initially, I was overwhelmed by the financial and business aspects. Seeing statistics that 80% of black businesses fail in 12-18 months was frightening. Networking felt isolating in seeking guidance tailored to my experiences. Encouragement often focused on leveraging my ‘Blackness’ as a niche, which didn’t resonate. Despite discouraging statistics about Black-owned businesses, I drew strength from my upbringing, shifting my focus inward. This clarity transformed my vision and redefined the sources of guidance.


Q. How do you encourage resilience and self-care, both for yourself and for your clients?

A. I believe in the importance of ongoing personal therapy, even as a professional therapist. While therapists possess valuable skills to guide clients through life’s challenges, it’s crucial to acknowledge our shared humanity. Resilience is rooted in self-care. To deliver the importance of self-care practices, I embrace the philosophy of ‘leading with your life,’ as spoken by Dr. Myles Munroe. I actively practice and prioritize self-care, not only to be the best therapist I can be but to model its benefits. By demonstrating my commitment to resilience and self-care, I create a tangible example for my clients.


Q. How do you address intersectionality in your counseling practice, considering factors such as race, gender, and socio-economic background?

A. Navigating intersectionality in counseling involves approaching every client as a distinct individual. While symptoms such as depression and anxiety may be similar, I maintain a person-centered therapeutic approach. I acknowledge that the effects of these symptoms are influenced by the client’s race, gender, and socio-economic background. Researching and understanding these nuances is a priority to foster a safe and empathetic space for clients to explore their experiences.


Q. Can you share insights into how these intersecting identities may impact mental health experiences?

A. The intersection of identities, such as race, gender, and socio-economic background, profoundly impacts mental health experiences. These factors can contribute to unique challenges and perspectives. For example, individuals with marginalized identities may face additional stressors, discrimination, or systemic barriers that influence their mental health. Understanding these intersections is crucial for tailoring effective and culturally sensitive therapeutic interventions.


Q. Are there specific cultural or community healing practices that you incorporate into your counseling approach?

A. I tailor my therapeutic approach to meet the unique needs of each client. This involves creating space to incorporate specific cultural and community healing practices aligned with the client’s needs. These may include community-specific coping strategies, ensuring a holistic and culturally sensitive therapeutic experience.


Q. What advice do you have for aspiring Black counselors who are navigating their way through the field?

A. My advice to aspiring counselors, regardless of color, is to prioritize healing their wounds as strongly as they aim to help others. For Black counselors seeking ownership of their private practice, my advice would be to research and have a clear vision.


Q. How do you think representation matters in the field of counseling, especially for individuals from underrepresented communities?

A. Representation is valuable in counseling, especially for underrepresented communities. The nuances of each community are better understood by someone who shares those experiences. Having a counselor who relates to your day-to-day life creates a unique comfort. It also encourages more individuals from that community to embrace therapy.


Q. Have you seen a positive impact on your clients due to any shared cultural background?

A. Yes. Hearing the relief of a client saying, “See, you get it!” Makes me smile. Whether we share the same cultural background or if the client has a loved one with a similar background, the shared understanding of cultural nuances fosters a deeper connection and a sense of comfort.


Q. Why are you a SIMS provider and why is serving the music industry so important?

A. I am a SIMS provider because I genuinely love what SIMS stands for. Serving the music industry is a profound gift to me. Witnessing the courage it takes for musicians to pursue their dreams, all while navigating the challenges of fame, reminds me that behind the talent, they are humans with a healing gift. SIMS, born after the passing of Sims Ellison, underscores an understanding of the silent struggles musicians face. Despite their public visibility, many musicians feel incredibly lonely. This is why supporting this community is not just important; it’s essential to provide the solace and healing they deserve.

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