Find beauty in everything. There are far too many ugly aspects to our world, but we have the power to challenge ourselves to see the beauty around us, even in the little things. When we do this, we are more likely to experience joy which combats the experience of mental health challenges. When we can find beauty, we are more likely to be holistically well.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Caitlin Garstkiewicz, LCSW.
Caitlin Garstkiewicz, LCSW, of Clarity Clinic Chicago, received her undergraduate degree in psychology from Eastern Illinois University and her Master of Social Work from the University of Southern California. She has worked in mental health since 2014, and has experience working in community mental health, inpatient psychiatric hospitals, residential mental health programs, and psychosocial rehabilitation centers. She has vast experience working with individuals living with a plethora of disorders, including, but not limited to, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and substance use.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Caitlin! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Well, I have always known I wanted to work in the helping fields, I bounced from wanting to become an oncologist, to an elementary school teacher, and then finally felt at home in psychology. My backstory really started with lived experience. Many people around me, including myself, faced mental health battles that greatly impacted the trajectory of my career and passions. It can be an extremely sobering experience to have personal connections to mental health needs, which is much different from hearing and empathizing with client’s experiences. For most of my life, I have had loved ones and close friends that have battled with various mental health challenges, including addiction, severe depression, mood disorders, and suicidality. I think in this I learned that mental health impacts everyone, no matter what they look like on the outside, and truly began to foster my compassion and concern for those experiencing severe and persistent mental health issues.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
Wow, I have had quite the interesting experiences during my time working in mental health, but I think one trend is my witnessing the shocking proof of human resilience. I have worked with sex-workers, individuals awaiting trial for felony charges, those facing addiction, and those experiencing thoughts of suicide, I have seen and heard many things, but the commonality of all of these, is that humans are insanely resilient. We survive, even the most daunting and horrendous experiences.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I want to be mindful of confidentiality, but I think one of the biggest things I have learned is that human experience is much vaster than we can ever identify in any book or diagnostic criteria. We push so hard to place people in boxes and labels, but this can impact our ability to see people for who they truly are. Let’s start seeing people for more than their diagnosis.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people that have supported me in working towards being the best mental health provider that I can be. The people that have taken a chance on me are those who I am most grateful for. In graduate school I had interviewed for an internship placement that I would have died for, but in my opinion, it was completely out of my league due to the type of work (a state forensic hospital.) But the individual who interviewed me (my unknowing future supervisor,) believed in me, took a chance on me, and helped me grow into the provider I am today. Lesson here — take a chance on someone, you could change their life!
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
As a therapist we have the honor to work with people that are hurting, wanting more from life, or are challenged by life happenings. Our work is helping people tap into their truest, best selves, which allows them to show up for their lives and for themselves. When we can show up for ourselves, it ensures that we are prepared and able to show up for others. Collectively, this creates the opportunity to make major waves of change in our world.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Slow down! The American culture is way too reliant on busyness, big moves, and accomplishments. The problem with this is that it takes us away from things that matter the most. So, do yourself a favor, and slow down for a bit.
- Listen to your intuition & needs. Do not second guess yourself, even when society and others around you make you feel as if you should question yourself. Comparison is a nasty habit that we have and can truly get in the way of a happy life.
- Seek help. There is an enormous stigma around mental health care, and in asking for any type of help. But sometimes we cannot get through certain things without help. Contrary to the normative belief, asking for help is empowering and strong.
- Find beauty in everything. There are far too many ugly aspects to our world, but we have the power to challenge ourselves to see the beauty around us, even in the little things. When we do this, we are more likely to experience joy which combats the experience of mental health challenges. When we can find beauty, we are more likely to be holistically well.
- Growth is powerful. Do not fight growth, even when comfort seems more appealing, and even when self-doubt creeps in. When working with clients, self-limiting beliefs are a common culprit of lack of growth.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Hmmm, this is a great question! The first thing that came to mind was the idea of universal reflection days. These would be days we would get a few times a year, with the goal of allowing space for each person to reflect on their life, facilitated by trained professionals. I believe we value speed, movement, accomplishments so much in our society, which then often leads to periods in our lives that leave us feeling defeated and lost. Whether it be a nutritional shift, an experience of loneliness, unhappiness in a relationship, or the loss of a loved one, we often do not slow down enough and prioritize our emotional selves. If we did this, it would help all of us lean into wellness consistently, ultimately leading to a high quality of life.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- People will understand, just be open. As therapists, or providers in any sense, it can be really challenging to believe that we are in fact human too. If a deadline is tight, or a requested session does not fit quite right, we tend to lose sight that our humanness may happen. So, remember people will understand if you just open up and express yourself.
- This stuff is hard. I do not think anyone really told me, but being a therapist is tough stuff! Yes, in my graduate program they often communicated about self-care, but I do not think it ever set in that it would be needed because of the fact this work is hard. Seems silly, right? Sometimes early in our careers we can feel invincible, but we must remember — this stuff is hard.
- People are more than their mental capacities, and let’s be sure to truly see everyone for who they are. We need to see the person, not the client.
- Being a therapist can dramatically change your life. It is often communicated that we have the power to dramatically change the lives of others, however our lives change dramatically too. We learn about our personalities, we awaken unseen truths about our pasts, our caring and open nature can make relationship management challenging. We must acknowledge this as we work with others, because the lack of awareness can truly have negative impacts on our lives. Fortunately, our lives also change for the better because of this work, in ways we could never imagine.
- It’s okay to take breaks, and say no. We are pushed to network, say yes, take opportunities, but sometimes we cannot bring our full selves to our lives and our clients unless we learn to say yes to ourselves.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
I am quite biased as an LCSW and therapist, but mental health is absolutely dearest to me. I have worked in mental health for the past 6 years (I am early in my career,) and there are some things that I have learned that daily, shake me to my core. The human experience is vast, and there is a tremendous amount of people that are hurting and facing life battles, yet as a society we lack the ability to see the true human experience. Social media and societal expectations hinder our ability to see those that are truly facing some darkness. This is why mental wellness is dear to my heart; there is far too much suffering in this world, and many believe they have to do it in silence. I am dedicated to challenging that belief, so that we can all wake up a little and begin to live through compassion and kindness.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can find Clarity Clinic here. Or on social media below:
Thank you for these fantastic insights!