As individuals, we can check in regularly with our loved ones, particularly those we know are going through a hard time. People sometimes shy away from asking friends and family about things like stress, depression and anxiety because they do not know how to help. Usually, all someone needs from you is to listen and validate their feelings. You do not have to fix it for them.
As a part of my series about the “5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Jutras, LCSW.
Stephanie Jutras, LCSW is a Mental Health Counselor at Taylor Counseling Group’s Galleria office in Farmers Branch, TX. She serves as the company’s Wellness Champion, a role that was created in order to promote health and wellness in the workplace. In addition to working with clients to improve their mental health outcomes, Stephanie organizes activities and promotes conversations among her coworkers in order to promote happy, healthy lifestyles and prevent burnout.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
When I was in college, I did not know what I wanted to do, but I realized that every type of job that interested me could be done with a Master of Social Work degree. I got my MSW from the University of Texas at Arlington and moved to Houston to work for a community health agency. I started out doing case management work and began spending one day per week doing therapy under the supervision of one of the agency’s therapists. I fell in love with therapy and transitioned to it full time as soon as I earned my clinical license. After five years in Houston, I decided to move back to the Dallas area to be closer to family, and that is how I ended up at Taylor Counseling Group.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
In March 2020, this weird virus called COVID-19 started spreading everywhere, and my company ended up going completely virtual for six weeks to keep employees and clients safe. I had never liked the idea of doing teletherapy, but I quickly got used to it when it was my only option. It was actually kind of fun getting to see my clients in their own spaces, particularly when there were pets around. We eventually returned to the office, but a lot of my clients have stayed virtual as the pandemic continues, and I am glad we are able to offer that option to people.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Do all the things you teach your clients about: relaxation exercises, journaling, setting healthy boundaries, etc. If you need some accountability or help processing, go see your own therapist. You cannot help anyone else if you do not take care of yourself first. Communicating regularly with coworkers is also great. It keeps you feeling connected and gives you a support network for when you are stressed or need help thinking something through.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Ask your colleagues or employees what “a fantastic work culture” means to them. I know I am more engaged with something when I get to give some input and feel that it is taken into account. People respond well to leaders that respect them and care about them. To me, “a fantastic work culture” is one where everyone is comfortable sharing ideas and supporting each other.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Without stirring abroad, one can know the whole world.” –Lao Tzu
Part of what got me interested in social work and counseling to begin with was my fascination with hearing people’s stories. I love my job because I get to meet all different kinds of people, and each one teaches me something about the world.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. In recent years many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about five steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employees mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?
A lot of companies have an employee assistance program (EAP) that includes a certain number of free counseling sessions. We see quite a few clients at Taylor Counseling Group who start out using their EAP and then often end up continuing sessions using their insurance or private pay. During the time we were 100% telehealth, Taylor Counseling Group employees had access to free virtual counseling through another practice we partnered with.
Some companies offer programs like yoga or meditation classes to increase relaxation and mindfulness. Some will even pay for subscriptions to meditation apps. I know some of my clients have taken advantage of opportunities like these to help them recharge during a busy week.
One thing I love about Taylor Counseling Group is the flexibility. I get to choose my own hours, and if I have a lot of virtual sessions, I can even work from home. I know some companies are resistant to changing the traditional nine-to-five, Monday-through-Friday workweek or allowing people to work from home, but I suspect it will be harder to justify being as strict in a lot of industries after seeing how people adapted during the pandemic. More flexibility allows people to balance their work and personal lives in a way that suits their individual circumstances.
One possible downside of people working from home is the loss of a transition between the workday and home life. A lot of my clients have been struggling with this during the pandemic. I have read that some companies are encouraging their employees to schedule a time at the end of the day to shut off all of their work devices and fully check out rather than leaving the option open to keep checking messages long after work hours.
One of my favorite strategies for everything is making it fun. As my company’s Wellness Champion, I create a bingo card for each month with various tasks to encourage different kinds of wellness (physical, mental, emotional, social, community, etc.) and have my coworkers send me their card at the end of the month with the squares they completed checked off. Whoever gets the most points wins a gift card.
These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
A study published in the journal Population Health Management in 2011 found that poor mental health costs the US economy $260 billion annually. Educating business owners on the costs of not supporting mental wellness would be a good way to get their attention. The next step would be sharing strategies on how they can help promote the mental health of their employees.
From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues ? Can you explain?
As individuals, we can check in regularly with our loved ones, particularly those we know are going through a hard time. People sometimes shy away from asking friends and family about things like stress, depression and anxiety because they do not know how to help. Usually, all someone needs from you is to listen and validate their feelings. You do not have to fix it for them. As a community, we can work to identify groups of people who are struggling the most with their mental health and find ways to encourage entities that interact with them frequently to promote mental wellness, whether that is through local government, workplaces, religious communities or schools. As a society, we need to get used to openly talking about mental health and decrease the stigma so people know it is okay to speak up when they need help. We also need government policies that increase access to treatment so people who need it are not so tempted to wait until they reach crisis level.
Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?
That often looks different for different people. Just like with diet and exercise, mental health hygiene only works when you figure out what habits are sustainable for you over time. If you know meditating for 30 minutes every day just is not going to happen for you, do not make that your goal. Think about why you have continued your “poor habits” for as long as you have. What need are you trying to meet? Then figure out a realistic, but healthier way to meet that same need. It may take some trial and error.
Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?
My favorite relaxation exercise is the simplest one: deep breathing. Like many people, when I get stressed or anxious, my breaths get shorter and shallower, so I have to remind myself to stop and focus on taking deep, slow breaths in and out. I also sometimes listen to guided meditations on apps like Headspace and Calm, particularly around bedtime. The calmer I can keep my own mind, the better I am able to help my clients and other people in my life through their struggles.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Sue Johnson. A coworker recommended it to me when I was nervous about seeing my first couple for therapy. It is written as a book for couples to go through together to promote healthy conversations and emotional closeness, but the author does a really good job of explaining and illustrating attachment theory in general, which is basically the idea that people have a natural need for love and connection and belonging. It has helped shape the way I work with individuals and families as well as couples, and it reminds me to think about my own needs and those of my coworkers, friends and family as part of a larger social community. Mental health does not happen in a vacuum. We have to reach out to each other and take care of each other.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like to see more community and business leaders speaking openly about mental health and encouraging others to do so too. No one seems afraid to share their COVID-19 survival story or ask for some understanding as they recover from a bone fracture, but even in the mental health field, there is a lot of hesitancy to let others know when we are struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns. I think people in positions of influence can set a good example and normalize common experiences by being authentic and vulnerable.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
You can visit our website at https://taylorcounselinggroup.com/.
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!