Dr. La Keita Carter of Institute for HEALing: “The Protector”

…I promote my own emotional wellness through self-care. I workout every day. I vary my workouts so that I don’t get bored with them, and I typically include a rotation of lifting weights and cycling. I enjoy date nights with my spouse, and we particularly like fine dining restaurants. I also love cooking and baking myself. […]

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…I promote my own emotional wellness through self-care. I workout every day. I vary my workouts so that I don’t get bored with them, and I typically include a rotation of lifting weights and cycling. I enjoy date nights with my spouse, and we particularly like fine dining restaurants. I also love cooking and baking myself.

As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Dr. La Keita Carter.

Dr. La Keita Carter is a mental health expert with specializations in rape trauma, women’s issues and relationships, addictions, telehealth treatment, and cultural competence in mental health providers. Based in Maryland, Dr. Carter holds three licenses as a psychologist, professional-counselor supervisor (LCPC-S), and alcohol and drug counselor (LCADC) with certifications in rape trauma, telehealth, and clinical supervision. She is the owner and CEO of the Institute for HEALing, LLC, an mental health wellness agency, psychology professor (at the undergraduate and graduate levels), and author who was recently named as Maryland’s Top 100 Women by The Daily Record.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I grew up in Baltimore, MD, the only child of a principal and a teacher. I attended Baltimore City and County Schools before attending Temple University to complete my undergraduate work in psychology. After Temple, I completed my Master of Science and Doctor of Psychology degrees at Loyola University Maryland.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?

I am the owner and CEO of the Institute for HEALing, LLC (iHEAL), which is a wellness agency based in Owings Mills, MD. We have four divisions at iHEAL, which help guide our work in the community. Those divisions come from the HEAL in “healing.”

Under our Health division, iHEAL houses several accredited and state-licensed health programs including an outpatient mental health clinic where we offer individual, group, couples, and family therapy to individuals starting at 4 years old. We also provide psychiatric services and psychological evaluations for weight loss surgery and return to work/school requirements. Lastly, we have a mobile treatment service, which provides in-home treatment for patients who have been diagnosed with a serious and persistent mental illness.

Under our Education Division, we offer clinical training to students who are working on graduate degrees in counseling and psychology. We have been affiliated with a number of universities including the University of Baltimore, Towson University, Walden University, and the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

We are committed to activism and community service, which is why we have an Advocacy Division. This work involves supporting local and national non-profit and community groups to build mental health awareness. Recently, we have partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Baltimore Metro, the Black Mental Health Alliance, Inc., and the Probono Counseling Project.

Lastly, through a partnership with the Maryland Psychological Association, we offer professional development workshops for mental health providers under our Leadership Divison.

Our mission is simple. We aim to offer culturally-sensitive and comprehensive wellness services for individuals and communities. In other words, we welcome a diverse patient population and we have a diverse team that reflects the patients that we serve. We believe that health is vital to our success, and we strive to create optimal levels of health in our patients. With a social justice bend, iHEAL believes that it is the duty of the socially privileged to advocate for those who are underserved, underrepresented, and powerless.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I have always been fascinated by the brain and how it works. As a child, I was consistently placed in the role of meditator so, in a lot of ways, it felt like a natural thing to help people. I think it helps that one of my strengths is listening to people, and I enjoy helping people get out of their own way.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”

My life is a true testament to this quote. My husband had been telling me for years that I should start my own practice. That dream was too scary to tackle and, statistically, the odds were against me. Four percent of psychologists in the United States are Black, according to the American Psychological Association (2018). Additionally, women account for 36% of small business owners in the U.S. Therefore, there weren’t a lot of Black women business owners in my field with which to consult. If I was going to be successful, I was going to have to create a path, not follow one that was created for me.

Not only was the dream too big to conceive emotionally, but it was logistically not possible. After all, I had no training in business administration. Most people don’t realize that doctors don’t get training on running medical practices. We get training on how to practice. I had no training in marketing, hiring, terminating, billing, creating a benefits package, accounting, doing payroll, etc. What I did have was my experiences as a healthcare provider and a patient.

My late grandfather, who was self-employed laborer, used to say, “If you treat other people’s houses like your own, you’ll always have work.” I applied that same philosophy to healthcare. I didn’t know how to run a business, but I knew that if I treated patients the way I wanted to be treated as a patient, I would always have a knock at the door.

My first day at my practice was Monday, February 29, 2016 and, it’s not lost on me that I took a huge leap of faith on a leap year. Within a few days I had my first patient. Unlike many people, my AHA moment didn’t propel me to start on my dream. My AHA moment propelled me to grow my dream. I was going to have to expand or turn patients away. I’ve had several AHA moments, but the biggest one was “AHA, you were wrong. You can do this. Crap, now that means that I have to tell my husband he was right!”

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I have had the pleasure of walking the red carpet with Taraji P. Henson, Jennifer Lewis, and Charlamagne the God to promote mental health. In June 2019, Taraji P. Henson held the Can We Talk? Conference. This mental health conference was sponsored by the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that seeks to raise awareness for mental health. In addition to meeting them, I offered a workshop on self-care for mental health providers.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I have been very blessed to have cheerleaders and mentors in many parts of my life. Personally, my parents and my husband have been my biggest fans. My parents always stressed the importance of working hard through their words and actions, and my husband, Jarrett Carter, Sr., believed in me before I did. In fact, when I told him that I didn’t think I had the skills to do this, he said, “there’s no way you could fail.”

My professional mentor, Dr. Heather Lyons, has inspired me to push myself beyond the limits of my mind. When I think I have stretched myself enough, she lets me enjoy my success for a moment and then she says something that gets my wheels turning more. She’s the epitome of professionalism and grace and has continued to push me to “level up.”

I have a group of god sisters who are just phenomenal. I am the youngest of our group, so in many ways they are like my older sisters. I remember how panicked I was the first time I had to terminate an employee. One of my god sisters walked me through the process and offered such empathy for the situation. They are literally the friends that scream from the front row of the bleachers.

Lastly, I have several secondary “moms” in my community and church who encourage me to take on new leadership roles and always lend an encouraging word. The support that I have received throughout my career and personal life has been the catalyst for the passion that I have for this work.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

I think mental health still has a stigma for several reasons. First, being sick in general carries a stigma. Sickness is equated to weakness in our society. Specifically, when it comes to mental health, sickness that can’t be seen is even harder to understand. You can see a broken foot or elevated blood pressure levels. However, for many people it’s difficult to understand an illness that can’t be seen. This is why mental health disorders are often called silent diseases.

Stigma is maintained and reinforced by myths, so it can be really hard to fight stigma when others have misinformation about mental health. For example, I’ve heard people say that the most selfish thing you can do is commit suicide. What a troubling thing to hear! Having treated many people with suicidal thoughts and plans, selfishness is far from the mind of someone who is contemplating self-imposed death. Many times, people who plan to commit suicide feel burdensome to their family and friends and believe that life would be easier if they weren’t around. They also have trouble seeing an end to their pain and suffering. It’s not that they are fine with leaving behind an aftermath of turmoil; it’s that they believe that the turmoil and stress that they cause in death will be significantly less than the turmoil that they cause in life. That doesn’t sound very selfish at all. It sounds agonizing and painful, but not selfish.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

Individuals can help those suffering with mental illness by shining a light on mental wellness. Talk about it in your small groups. Explain the benefits of it to your peers. Ask your kids if they would feel comfortable talking about some of their feelings. Come out about your experiences going to a therapist.

Community groups and society as a whole can promote more education around mental health and wellness. We know that education can have a powerful impact on people. When sex education was promoted in the 90’s, teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases decreased exponentially. The same could happen if every group made mental health education a priority. That means that this work isn’t just left to mental health non-profit groups and organizations. It means that the local bowling league can bring in an expert to talk about mental health before the next game and the synagogues in the area can pool their resources and plan a mental wellness fair for the community.

The government can support people struggling with mental illness by making sure that healthcare is a right, and not a privilege held for the rich or middle class. They can work with drug companies to make medications affordable and offer incentives for people who complete a mental health check every year (similar to companies that offer benefits for doing a physical exam every year). The government can work with insurance companies to promote preventative care. So much of treatment is reactive care because insurance plans won’t cover some aspects of disease prevention. This needs to change.

What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

I promote my own emotional wellness through self-care. I workout every day. I vary my workouts so that I don’t get bored with them, and I typically include a rotation of lifting weights and cycling. I enjoy date nights with my spouse, and we particularly like fine dining restaurants. I also love cooking and baking myself. I have been known to make an entire cake just to try a new cake decorating technique only to give the entire cake away. Making homemade cinnamon rolls with my kids is among our favorites. I also spend time in meditation and prayer. It’s important that I center myself throughout the day using a combination of scriptures, breathing techniques, stretches, and positive self talk. Lastly, I enjoy connecting with my girlfriends. There’s something unique about how girlfriends communicate.

That’s also why it’s been so cool to partner with EvolveMKD, a New York City-based digital marketing and communications firm, to develop tools to help women further understand their own, and others’, communication preferences to help with a recent decline in women’s mental health. Understanding these communications styles has helped me personally communicate better and I think it can help others who are on a mental wellness journey.

EvolveMKD worked with renowned global market research firm Ipsos to field an eye-opening two-part “Evolution of Communication” survey exploring how women and men communicate with themselves and others, and better understand the link between communication and mental health. As it turns out, the research unveiled that 7 in 10 Americans believe that the ways in which they communicate is directly linked to their mental health and 69% of women reported that other people’s mental health affects their own. Despite the vast new modes of communication over the last decade, women also reported greater declines than men in their mental health recently and over the past decade.

To help women learn more about their communication needs and why understanding those needs are important. We developed ‘The Five Communication Languages of Women”:

  1. The Meet & Greeter
    Wants face-to-face time. Feels really connected when they share physical space with loved ones.
  2. The Over Sharer
    Will tell you everything you need to know about them, without you asking. Feels connected to others by being vulnerable.
  3. The Initiator 
    Loves to talk, even if it’s about superficial topics like the weather. Feeds off of others’ verbal energy.
  4. The Observer 
    More of a “listener” and tends not to initiate or dominate the conversation. Instead, they search for deeper connections with people (even strangers) before they initiate conversation.
  5. The Protector 
    Can find communication exhausting and draining and this may be because their job requires them to communicate.

When you identify what type of communicator you are, you can better understand your needs and boundaries. Discovering those needs and working towards incorporating them into your life can really improve your mental health.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

I really enjoy mental health apps that send positive affirmations and books that make you think about yourself differently. I am in several social media groups for mental health and that really helps me understand the world of mental health from different perspectives.

If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

First, volunteer in your community. Find a group that is doing great work and join the team. There are non-profit organizations that need more minds and hands in our immediate communities. You just have to have the desire to help and start asking around. This is actually how I came to be a board member of the Black Mental Health Alliance. Each year, my husband and I complete an assessment of the various parts of our lives in December. How did we meet our spiritual goals, mental health goals, professional goals…? Despite holding leadership positions in our church and being active members of our fraternity and sorority, we decided that we could do more community work. We left that conversation with the plan that both of us would find another community group with which to partner.

One month later, I’m sitting at a prayer breakfast next a woman that I know through friends. We struck up a conversation, and I asked her, “What do you do?” She said that she was the executive director of the Black Mental Health Alliance, Inc. I said, “Tell me more.” After she told me about the work of the group, I told her about my professional work as a psychologist. The next thing I know, I’m meeting with the board chair and interviewing for board membership.

Here’s the thing…you don’t need to be a board vice-president, psychologist, mother, or professor to impact your community positively. You just need to be able to see a need and work to solve it.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on Facebook or Instagram @DrLDCarter. You can also visit my website at www.DrLDCarter.com.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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