How I got started...
I have always loved listening to my friends and family tell their stories. I have been fascinated to notice the patterns, themes, and meaning found in these stories, because that is what made them worth repeating. Most included painful experiences, but whether a person felt stifled or empowered depended on their belief in their ability to grow and heal. I noticed that it wasn't the amount of challenge a person faced that informed their view of themselves. Rather, it was the view of themselves that determined how they faced those challenges. Two people would tell the same story in a completely different way with a completely different meaning. If I listened long enough, I could understand how a person connects the dots in their own life.
I first thought that I wanted to explore a career in counseling around the age of 12 and nothing ever interested me nearly as much after that. I majored in psychology in college, and I decided to next seek a Master's degree in counseling. The question that gave me the greatest difficulty of my career was "do I take the 'community counseling' (focus on the individual) track or the 'marital, couples, and family counseling' (focus on the system) path?" This was a difficult question, especially for someone who has yet to take a single counseling class. In the end, my gut said to take marital, couples, and family track. For me, it was the right choice.
Choosing to do individual work or couples and family work comes down to an understanding of how you view the world. Are you helping to heal a person or a system? I think about my own family system, and I know that I didn't create many of the problems I faced, and I had the least amount of power in my system to affect change. While we all have instances where we have to heal ourselves without the participation of the system, we sometimes DO have the cooperation of the system. If you think your partner is willing and able to work to improve the relationship as well, it is easier to both do that work, right? If you have a parent who is genuinely saying, "how can I help my child right now?" that child has a far better chance of healing. In my mind, these systems all connect. Couples who are secure in their relationship create safer and more supportive environments for their children, increasing the likelihood that as adults they will have fewer mental health concerns and better relationships.
That was the work I wanted to do. Of course the person with trauma needs healing; however, doesn't someone also need to heal the family system that creates, maintains, neglects, and relies on the trauma going unhealed?
I have found in my practice over the past ten years that this systemic approach is the most effective in treating both the individual and the system. I use this approach whether I am seeing an individual or a couple.
Changes in the system are incredibly impactful. When I can have both partners in a couple in my office, I get a full view of the dynamics at play and see that which the individual may not be aware. Individuals in couples therapy begin to shift their view of a situation from being highly internal and a replication of past trauma, to focusing on this problem in the present as a new experience. They get to co-create a narrative with their partner, and they begin to feel more influential in their relationship. This healing has a ripple effect on everyone in the couple's larger system, therefore increasing the power of the positive effect. Both individuals begin seeing the power of using their newly acquired skills in communication with friends and family members. The effect is exponential. The payoff is immeasurable.
My Approach to Therapy
My approach to therapy is ever evolving. However, there are some values that are essential to my practice that inform my decision-making process always:
- I respect your autonomy and the right you have to make your own decisions. I do not judge you for making those decisions, even if the behaviors are harmful to yourself or someone else or counter to our goals.
- I will keep your best interest in mind for all of my decisions, and I will honor the trust you've given me by being as honest as possible with you. This does not mean that you will always like my decisions or suggestions or that every decision or suggestion will make you happy. However, my goal is to keep your safety and health as the top priority.
- I do not seek to endorse any one way of living life. If your most embodied, authentic self feels empowered by a practice or behavior, and it does not harm another person, I will not ask you to change it. If it is a problem for you, we can work on it. If it's not, we will leave it alone. I neither condemn nor condone monogamous or non-monogamous relationships, sexual practices, sexual orientations, gender expressions, religious and spiritual practices, career choices, diet and exercise choices, body modifications, or use of substances.
- I condemn only those behaviors that are unethical or nonconsensual. These are usually harmful in some clear way. "Harm to self or others" does not include the experience of discomfort, disappointment, anger, or fear. These are normal emotions that we need to be equipped to handle or else work towards doing so.
- I will do my best to do what I say I will do. I will act with intention in our relationship.
- I will never require anything from you outside of the agreed upon payment for my services. I may decide to discontinue our therapeutic relationship if I feel it is not serving you. Showing disrespect for the therapist by violating agreed upon boundaries or frequently cancelling sessions are indicators that the therapeutic relationship may not be serving you.
- I utilize best practices in therapy. These are practices that have been shown to be effective in treatment and have been subject to scientific and professional scrutiny.
- I have infinite patience with clients. I will work with you to meet your goals for as long as it takes to do so. I will call attention to behaviors and patterns of thought that you have identified as harmful to you, but I will never insist upon action to continue our therapeutic relationship.
- Sometimes it may be appropriate to refer you to another counselor if I or the client believes that our work isn't progressing and another counselor's approach may be useful.
- I will not agree to a continuation of our relationship in lieu of you creating a supportive system in your own life. I do not feel it is a responsible practice for me to be your only source of support. I believe this sort of therapeutic relationship is not therapeutic at all. I do not have a need to be needed. I enjoy the connection I have with my clients, and we often laugh and joke together. I am often moved to tears by a client. This is an important relationship, and it's temporality does not diminish that.
- My approach to therapy is systemic. Systemic means that I believe we are heavily influenced by the systems we are in, so problems are not just residing in the individual, rather they are a symptom of a more systemic issue. This does not in any way imply that we are shifting the responsibility for change to someone else. That removes power from the individual completely and the client is often coming to counseling because they have tried to get others to change already without avail. The responsibility we take in the system is to decide what we can and cannot agree to engage in or compromise around and to do our best to communicate our feelings, thoughts, and needs to others.
- My work is also constructivist. Constructivist means that I help the client use what personal power they have to make choices based on what feels healthy to them. I help them shed the rigid views of who they are that have been imposed upon them by others and society. Once my clients are able to let go of the "should", I help them think critically about situations and assess it from their perspective and what they know to be true. We acknowledge the things that are contradictory, confusing, or uncertain in their feelings and thoughts as a part of their individual human experience. The goal is to define what healthy roles in their relationships would look like. Through this, clients recognize that they do have some influence on the system, or that it is something they need to have with the systems they choose, and change can begin.
- Couples Therapy Approach
In couples therapy, I use Gottman Method Couples Therapy to guide my work. I love this method because it allows the integration of any counseling theory and can treat a variety of issues the couple may present. It is based on the work and research of John and Julie Gottman over the last 40 years, as well as the work of many other researchers in the field of relationships. I also appreciate how the model structures work with couples enough to provide an understanding of where they are going and what they are doing, while also leaving the space for deep reflection and emotional connection. I want my couples to stop talking about how they are oppressed by each other and recognize the power they have in the relationship to make it what they want. You can learn more about Gottman Method Couples Therapy here.
Certifications, & Training
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist - Supervisor (#201935)
Kate Walker Supervisor Training
Gottman Method Couples Therapy Level 3 Trained
Gottman Institute Training, "Treating Affairs and Trauma"
Gottman Institute Training, "Couples and Addiction Recovery"
Gottman Institute Training, "Emotion-Coaching: The Heart of Parenting"
Central Texas Transgender Health Conference, Mental Health Track, September 2017
Master of Arts, Texas State University in Professional Counseling with a concentration in Marital, Couples, and Family Counseling
Bachelor of Science, McNeese State University in Psychology
Private practitioner since 2012, specializing in marriage and couples counseling and counseling LGBTQIA community.
Bereavement group facilitator for the Children's Grief Program at Hope Hospice in New Braunfels since 2011.
Counselor Intern at Connections, Individual and Family Services, Mountain Valley Middle School, and River Bend Counseling, all in the New Braunfels area.
Group facilitator for Texas State Counselors for Social Justice for conversations about race in America - Spring 2012
Counselor intern practicing with couples at Texas State University - San Marcos and Round Rock campuses - 2011-2012
Speaker at PFLAG meeting in San Marcos, TX - January 2017
Guest speaker at workshop "If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother" in San Marcos, TX - August 2019