Dr. Donna Oriowo: “Learn and stick to your niche”

Get a tribe! Having a tribe of friends and loved ones who you can speak to and who offer support that feels reciprocal is important. It can feel super draining to be a giver in a situation all the time and never receive much back. Or to feel like you are constantly giving to others […]

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Get a tribe! Having a tribe of friends and loved ones who you can speak to and who offer support that feels reciprocal is important. It can feel super draining to be a giver in a situation all the time and never receive much back. Or to feel like you are constantly giving to others with no end in sight. Building a trusted tribe of people who you can lean on, who can also lean on you can help to process and reduce some stress.

As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Donna Oriowo.

Dr. Oriowo is the owner of Annodright, a private practice in the Washington D.C. metro area, which has a focus on the intersectionality of how colorism and texturism impact mental and sexual health.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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 high school, I was very intent on working toward becoming a lawyer. However, I ended up being a student helper for the person who taught AP psychology and was instantly hooked! From there, I specialized in sex therapy, mostly because people kept telling me their business, I was super comfortable with it, but thought I should seek additional training. It wasn’t until watching Meet The Fockers that I realized sex therapy was a viable career choice and stuck to that path.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Some of the most interesting things that have happened since I started usually involve folk who come to therapy for someone else. I have had folk who wanted their parents, siblings, or friends to do better and they are in therapy on their behalf trying to “make them better.” I have also had folk call to make appointment for other grown individuals to be in therapy, without their knowledge!

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

There are not many occurrences that happen when you’re starting out that are funny to you. Humor comes later when you look back and realize the mistake you made is not, in fact, the end of the world as you know it. A lesson I learned was about how 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 have been so many people who have been an internal part of my journey to get here. One name I mention often is Dr. Ajita Robinson! I took a program of hers, Coin Collectors Academy. I just wanted to know how to build a sustainable private practice and with her help I was not only able to do that but also to scale it to a point where I could hire my first clinician. Another person who has also been part of this journey is Dr. Joy Harden Bradford. She has cultivated a community of Black women clinicians who have served as family and friends on this journey. Being a solo practitioner in a private practice can feel very lonely. But with what she has cultivated, there is a sense of community.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Learn and stick to your niche. Nothing says burnout faster than trying to serve by being everything to everyone. Make sure that you stick in a population you LIKE to serve, then serve them in a way where YOU are able to show up as who you are. There is nothing to be gained by constantly being what you feel you are supposed to be rather than who you are. All you will do is exhaust yourself and grow, in time, to be resentful.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Creating a fantastic work culture is about allowing folks to be themselves, while bringing out the best that they have to offer. Make sure you are selective about who you are choosing to work with, yes. But also make sure you are cultivating a culture through your example. I personally believe that you will not be remiss by asking the people associated with your business about it and the culture. My workplace culture is very laid back and is about being your authentic self. Building that requires me to be myself and allowing space for others to be themselves.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.

  1. Acknowledge that mental wellness is not just for folk who have “serious” mental health concerns. Everyone can and should do something for their own mental health. We cannot “fix” problems we refuse to acknowledge.
  2. Get a tribe! Having a tribe of friends and loved ones who you can speak to and who offer support that feels reciprocal is important. It can feel super draining to be a giver in a situation all the time and never receive much back. Or to feel like you are constantly giving to others with no end in sight. Building a trusted tribe of people who you can lean on, who can also lean on you can help to process and reduce some stress.
  3. Get a boundary or two, then enforce it. We all talk about boundaries. We may even acknowledge what we consider to be a crossed line, but do we actually communicate it? Having boundaries is more than telling people when they have crossed the line, it is also letting folk know what the boundaries are BEFORE they cross them. If, for example, you don’t want to be called after a certain time, give a timeframe for when someone can call you, but also make sure you don’t answer the phone when it’s beyond the boundaries you have set.
  4. Do some of that boring self care. Self care is more than buying yourself things and taking bubble baths. Boundaries and their enforcement definitely falls into self care but so do other boring things like brushing your teeth, taking showers, eating, using the restroom when you need to, and sleeping. Take care of your boring needs and then stretch yourself for some of the more fantastical needs.
  5. Get a therapist! There was next to no way at all I wasn’t going to make sure to add this one to the list. Your friends and family, no matter how skilled or knowledgeable are not YOUR therapist. Having a person you can speak to, listen to, and who is (mostly) unbiased can be of tremendous help. I always recommend getting a therapist from Therapy For Black Girls, Melanin Mental Health, Therapy for Black Men, Therapy for Latinx, Open Path and so many more places.

Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

For any life change, I always start with recognizing all the feelings you have about it. You may be completely elated on the one hand, or feel a sense of loss on the other. Give yourself time to grieve what was and then move into a space where you consider what is now available for you. Of course, this can be done in conjunction with a therapist 🙂

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

Other than my book, Cocoa Butter & Hair Grease, one book that had a significant impact on me was Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins. That book is the framework by which I have framed my therapy practice and the way I serve the Black women who I work with in therapy. It talks about intersectionality as more than a buzzword and gives concrete ways we can incorporate it into our work and why it’s so important to do so.

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. 🙂

If I could start a movement, I would do what I am doing now, bringing more conversation and awareness to colorism, texturism and how it impacts mental and sexual health. This impacts EVERYONE from all walks of life and is truly a plague on our society.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

My favorite quote is “If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it” by Zora Neale Hurston. It’s relevant to not only my life, but to the lives of the clients I serve because we NEED to make sure that in our families, at work, and in our relationships with others that we are able to know what works and doesn’t work for us, and make sure we communicate that with others so they can honor us. We cannot hope for people to read our minds or to “just know.” Let’s speak our truths and allow others to do the same.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

The best way to follow me on social media is to pop over to Instagram and follow me at @annodright. It’s my most active page where we talk about sexuality, relationships, and self esteem.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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