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Interview: Mental Health in the "New Normal"

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Hello, my name is Mike Samar and I am host of the "Mind Wellness Guru" podcast. Today I am very excited to continue our interview series with psychotherapist Nina Keeler.

1. ABOUT NINA KEELER

MIKE: I believe, by trade, you are a licensed marriage and family therapist and you have a specialization in trauma, and you work out of West Bloomfield. Is that correct?

NINA: Yeah, I currently work out of West Bloomfield, but I'm actually going fully telemental health. I was planning on going that way before COVID, but COVID kind of kicked it into full gear because my husband's military.

MIKE: What brought you into the field of psychotherapy and wanting to help people?

NINA: I started out wanting to be an art teacher, and went to school to be an art teacher, left home. After I graduated from high school thinking, "Okay, I'm going to be a, art teacher." Kind of got into that and was like, "This is not really working for me." But I had had an experience in my own childhood with a therapist that was really impactful to me, and so that was kind of what I was, "Well, maybe I want to do that. Maybe I want to help families." So, I kind of led in that direction and it just, kind of, kept unfolding and till today, where I am today, and it'll probably continue to unfold.

MIKE: How did you end up going down the path to, kind of, specialize more in trauma? What led you down that path?

NINA: Definitely my own experience, which most trauma therapists have had their own experience in trauma. So my mom passed away when I was seven, and so just growing up and having that life trajectory change, and seeing the impact of that, and experiencing the impact of that, not only for myself but also for my family really allowed me to understand that things can happen in people's lives, really hard things can happen in people's lives that will change the course of their life. And if they don't have the support, you know, it can go lopsided.

MIKE: And how do you think, your own, personal experience has made you a better therapist?

NINA: I don't necessarily know that my trauma, per se, has made me a better therapist, but my desire to heal from trauma has definitely made me a better therapist. And so I think it's more about my healing and my willingness to do the work to heal, which has allowed me to be able to hold space for my own clients. Because what I don't deal within myself will be blind spots for me and my client. And so I think it's been just my willingness to continue to do the work as it unfolds in my own life, has really allowed me to be a better therapist.

MIKE: I like how you are very open and transparent with that. I have had my own, personal struggles with early childhood trauma as well as addiction later on, and it was therapy, frankly, that helped transform my life and so I know how, really, having a good connection with a strong therapist can really be transforming. And so I commend you for just being transparent about that. I think it really can help a lot of people. Now, what types of concerns are you seeing in your practice now?

2. TODAY’S THERAPY

NINA: Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were a lot of clients who were wrapping up their sessions with me and wrapping up their work, and then this kind of unfolded and it set off a whole shockwave of new kinds of things that we had to deal with. So, the clients that I'm working with, that were kind of ending their work and moving forward are now at a standstill and still processing this new experience. It had maybe triggered some old stuff in a different way, so we're processing it at this level, or it has brought up stuff that we didn't know was there, that was maybe lying dormant. So, we're just at a place where I am finding that I'm not finishing up with clients as fast as I normally would, or clients are not moving through their process of healing as fast as they normally would. Because I think this pandemic thing continues to be unsettled, it's up and down. And so that creates a little bit of a response in people. There’s this disorientation that happens for people. And the first thing that we do as creatures is, we orient to the threat. And because COVID is not something we can see, or feel, or touch, it's hard to orient to it. So, you have to continually work to feel safe. And so that's what I've been working with clients on, is like, "What's going to help you feel safe within the bounds of what's normal or "normal" to help you feel safe." But orienting to safety and finding ways to feel safe in this new normal is, kind of, the number one thing, because our systems, our nervous systems, need to orient to safety.

MIKE: Yeah, absolutely. I couldn't agree with you more. One of the things I tell people is to try to maintain some semblance of a routine, and some structure. "Get up in the morning. Get dressed like normally would if you were going to work, even if you're working from home, and try to put together a routine to the best of your ability.” What are the things that you have told people that might make them feel safer?

3. FEELING SAFE IN A PANDEMIC

NINA: I think it depends on how their system is set up. There are the people who live in the fight and flight, that high sympathetic nervous system charge, and then there're people who live more in their high parasympathetic nervous system charge, which is more the depression presentation. And then in the middle, is where we want to be, it's where we have a little bit of sympathetic and a little bit of parasympathetic. We know how to get up and do what we've got to do, but we also know how to rest. So, for my sympathetic nervous system people, we're working on things that are going to bring them down, so it's things that are going to help them to relax and come back into their body. And for my parasympathetic people we're going to work on things that are going to bring them up and give them energy and give them connection to their life energy. So, movement and things like that.

MIKE: It seems like your approach is very somatic-focused. Tell us more about that?

4. SOMATIC EXPERIENCING

NINA: So, I am trained in somatic experiencing, I am what they call a SEP or Somatic Experiencing practitioner. And so that is an approach that's based in the nervous system and helping people to kind of get unstuck. Kind of that animalistic viewpoint, we all have a fight flight and freeze. And trauma that's caused us to get stuck in one of those states and moving us more to an unstuck state or more regulated state. And so that's kind of the premise that I work from in all my work.

MIKE: I want to talk about some larger societal and systemic issues as it relates to COVID and to mental health in general, and access to good mental health care. Can you talk about some of the disparities within the African American community, just in terms of how they have been affected by COVID, or by this trauma?

5. MENTAL HEALTH DISPARITY

NINA: Yeah, I think COVID has really shined a light on the health disparities in the African American population. I think it is something that has been going on forever, but this is just one way of raising it to the surface. Not only do we have health disparities, but we also have this trans generational, historical trauma that we're dealing with based on slavery. I think we're just seeing the effects of historical trauma on the African American population, and how we're not able to weather these things that are coming through; these viruses and things like that. And then we don't have the healthcare. Because we have been limited to our access to things, and because we have a system that is built to keep us at a certain space, we don't have access to everything that everyone else has access to. So that creates a little bit of a problem for us as far as being able to take care of ourselves.

MIKE: Do you think there will be real change that will take place, because of this?

NINA: I don't know if there'll be real change, I cannot predict that. But what I can say is that in order for there to be real change we have to look at the system. This is systemic racism, it's not a system that was built for us to thrive from the beginning. We have to be willing to look at it all the way at the root of the problem. The system is working, very well. This is how it was designed to work. And so, we must be willing to accept that and then say, "Okay, we're willing to change it." And, so I think that's going to be where the real change comes, is if people are willing to change a very corruptly designed system to make change happen.

6. NINA’S SERVICES

MIKE: You had mentioned you were starting a new webinar series. Can you talk about that?

NINA: I was starting go get a lot of people calling looking for services and I cannot offer any more individual slots. So, I decided, "What is a way that I can meet a mass number of people and provide them with some support?" I decided to create a webinar of five sessions; I'm working with a group of therapists, and each of us are working on a different session. We're creating this kind of template, if you will, to be able to provide it in whatever way we choose, and I've decided to do it in two ways. One is more of a process group, so people who are willing to connect with one another and see one another via Zoom. And then the other one is more of a webinar, where people still want a little bit of anonymity but still get the information. And the five weeks are just the first five sessions I provide clients. So, it's just a lot of psychoeducation, and teaching them how to track their nervous system and what to do.

MIKE: Very cool. Now you also do consultation with other professionals, is that correct?

NINA: Yeah, so the membership group is for trauma treatment therapists or professionals. It doesn't have to necessarily be a therapist, because I believe that trauma can be treated multiple ways. And so, it's a weekly group, we meet once a week. First week we do a mini training. The second week we do a group consultation. The third week we do some type of self-care activity. And then the fourth week is more a mastermind. It's designed to help you grow in your skillset in whatever way you want to, away from the client and more focused on the professional. We’re going to open up the doors, actually, at the end of this month on the 27th.

MIKE: Are there any parting thoughts that you want to leave people with?

NINA: I think it's just the importance of taking good care of yourself, making sure that you are doing all that you can to prioritize your mental health and take good care of yourself. And if there is a concern, or if there is something that is worrying you or bothering you, or something is not quite right, then don't hesitate to seek services. It's important that we take care of ourselves so that we can show up in the world in the best way possible. So, yeah, reach out and get the support that you need.

MIKE: Absolutely. That self-care is so important. And if people wanted to get hold of you and reach out, how would they do that?

NINA: Yeah, the best place to go is ninakeeler.com. That's my website, which houses my services for individuals who are looking for therapeutic services as well as for professionals who are looking for support and growing their trauma treatment skills.

MIKE: Excellent. Gosh, it's been an absolute delight to speak with you today. As I mentioned Nina, is a highly sought-after trauma therapist in the Detroit Metro area, and also a consultant to other trauma professionals. So, if you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to her, she is a wonderful resource.

Stay tuned for the next interview with Dr. Sarah Kirsch, a chiropractor and functional medicine specialist doing some very innovative work in Berkeley. And as always, I look forward to continuing with you on this wellness journey.