Get Creative: Creativity allows for self-expression and self-discovery. It helps us regain a sense of control in our lives and is a healthy way to channel our emotions. It helps us be more present in our lives and it actually improves our job performance. You might what to try a new recipe, look up a DIY project on Pinterest, or write a poem.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Genesis Games, Licensed Mental Health Counselor. Genesis is a bilingual Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the state of Florida and provides therapy at South Miami Psychology Group. Genesis is passionate about helping people create and sustain healthy relationships. She believes that we thrive when we are in healthy and fulfilling relationships. Genesis works with college students and young adults to help them improve their relationships with themselves, friends, family members, and significant others through individual, couples, and family sessions. She also strives to be an influencer with the purpose of breaking down the stigma associated with therapy and spreading the science behind healthy relationships. Genesis can be found on Instagram as @themiamitherapist where she focuses on providing information and initiating discussions about breakups, dating, long-term relationships, addictions, and mental health. She has also written articles for Medium and had been featured in PsychCentral. Genesis has been a guest speaker for several podcasts including The Beyond Resilience Life, The Barbershop Group, and Latinx Therapy discussing relationships and addictions.
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?
Therapy transformed my life, as a child, I had a terrible phobia of dogs. It didn’t matter the size or breed, if I saw a dog I ran as fast as my long skinny legs would allow me towards the opposite direction. I wouldn’t take walks around the neighborhood or visit friends that owned dogs. It was embarrassing and limiting. I knew my fear was irrational, yet when I heard the dog bark, all the logic when out the window. The summer before 10th grade, I asked my mom to take me to see a therapist because this was something I needed to overcome and I couldn’t do it alone. That therapist changed my life! She was patient and compassionate. She helped me do the unimaginable and overcome my fear of dogs. This was more than just being able to walk around my neighborhood and pet my friend’s dogs. It was a huge boost of self-confidence and empowerment and it also sparked an interest in psychology.
Fast forward a few years, I was at the University of Central Florida beginning my Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling and I landed a position at the Marriage and Family Research Institute. At the moment they had a federal grant to research the impact of relationship education on low-income couples, this is when I fell in love with couples work and relationships in general. I was able to run relationship education workshops and retreats, it was just a unique experience as I was still a student. With the goal of specializing in relationships, I completed a graduate certificate in couples, marriage, and family therapy and completed all three levels of the Gottman Method through the Gottman Institute.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Earlier in my career, I worked for Drug Court, I saw clients individually and ran about 5 groups a week. Most of my clients were male and had been charged with possession or intent to sell. The majority had been life long drug users, members of gangs, and drug dealers. They had a tough and intimidating exterior. I was a young, petite, and newbie therapist.
I am a big proponent of mindfulness and of the healing benefits of going back to simple things. One day, I walked into the group with mandalas in one hand and color pencils in the other. The look on their faces was priceless. I told them they would color for 45 min. without any talking or disruptions. It was magical to see how their demeanor and affect changed to serene and focused. They were amazed that doing something so simple and “childish” could have such an impact on their mood. Some even asked me for additional blank copies to take home.
So I share this anecdote with current clients when they think they are “too cool” for mindfulness.
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?
Thinking that I could treat couples the same way I treat individuals. I quickly learned that I needed additional sets of skills and a completely different approach. I needed to be much more direct and hands-on to ensure that they didn’t hurt each other more during sessions.
Couples therapy is a whole other animal and so is family therapy, but both are crucial and so needed. We need more clinicians with the desire and training to work from a systemic and attachment perspective. I truly believe that we are only as healthy as our relationships.
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?
I consider myself blessed to have had a handful of people help me along the way and I will forever be grateful to them. However, I can’t imagine chasing my dreams without my mother’s unwavering support and love. My mother is a Cuban Immigrant and I am a first-generation Cuban-American. I grew up seeing my mom working tirelessly to put food on the table, while also doing her very best to be engaged in my life. She always made it open houses, recitals, and anything that was important to me. My mother saw in me great potential and spoke it into my life over and over. When I thought I was not capable of something, she assured me I was and that if I wasn’t I could count on her to get back on my feet. Knowing that she would always be there, gave me a sense of safety to take leaps of faith both personally and professionally.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
As mental health professionals, we use ourselves, our personhood, as the main tool. If we are not well, we cannot help others be well. It’s hard to fake the funk when you need to use YOU in sessions. We love to preach about self-care and boundaries from the mountain tops and we often struggle with this the most. A lot of it has to do with society’s view on our profession, we are sent the message that we should help everyone and accept that we will be underpaid. Being overworked and underpaid is the recipe for burnout no matter how passionate you feel about the field. A burnout therapist is a liability and ethical dilemma. Burnout therapists don’t do good work and hurt their clients and the profession. Taking care of yourself is your duty to you, your colleagues, and your clients.
You can’t help everyone and that is just a fact. You don’t have the skillset, time, or ability to help everyone. You do have bills to pay, deserve to have a decent retirement, and should take vacations like anyone else. To be able to do these things you need to have a livable wage and there’s nothing immoral with that.
The mental health field is wide and expanding by the second. You have options and can think outside of the box to choose a path that fits your needs and ideal lifestyle. If this is your life’s calling, you need to make a plan to prevent burnout.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Burnout is common in almost every field and it’s associated with the work culture. I believe in putting your employees/ team first. If they are happy and feel valued they will go the extra mile to deliver amazing services. Encouraging healthy work/life boundaries and providing flexibility when employees are undergoing life transitions is really important. We are not really able to compartmentalize ourselves. When an area of our life is not doing well it bleeds into the others, and vice-versa. All this to say, make your team a priority and they will surpass your expectations.
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.
- Get Creative: Creativity allows for self-expression and self-discovery. It helps us regain a sense of control in our lives and is a healthy way to channel our emotions. It helps us be more present in our lives and it actually improves our job performance. You might what to try a new recipe, look up a DIY project on Pinterest, or write a poem.
- Go Outside: Recent research has found that being outside for just two hours per week improves your mental health. You don’t have to take a hike to the middle of nowhere, you can obtain the same benefits by being out by a community park, a small lake, or at the beach.
- Get Moving: A sedentary lifestyle is associated with a wide array of physical and mental health issues. Movement helps relieve stress and tension from our bodies, it can promote relaxation and good sleep. When we engage in movement of any type our brain releases “happy hormones” which positively impact our mood.
- Get Social: Connect with others; find a group and join them! We are social beings that are wired for connection. We thrive based on the quality of our relationships and the support they bring into our lives. It’s important that we dedicate time and energy to fostering healthy meaningful relationships with those around us.
- Get Off Social Media: This might be the most challenging one of all 5! Yet, mindful use of social media is crucial for mental wellness. Studies have shown that the time spent on social media is linked to depression. Spending hours mindlessly scrolling through Instagram seeing the highlights of everyone’s lives, just leave us feeling bad about our own lives. Comparison is indeed the thief of joy. We don’t want to live for the gram!
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.
Mental health concerns rise after retirement because work plays such a huge role in our lives. It provides us with a sense of purpose and, in some cases, it becomes our identity. Transitioning from being a full-time employee to retirement is a huge lifestyle change. I think it is very important to acknowledge this and prepare for it adequately.
- Invest your time in a meaningful activity: This will be different for everyone but it can range from taking care of your grandchildren to volunteering at a food bank. The important thing is that we channel our time, energy, and skills into something outside of ourselves that provides us with fulfillment.
- Leave a Legacy: Just because you retire does not mean that you cannot continue to be involved and contribute to the field that you love. You can become a mentor or an instructor, Maybe, you can write a book or create a blog. You can share your knowledge and experience with a newer generation thereby leaving a legacy.
- Be Adventurous: I don’t necessarily mean that you should jump off a plane, but you can take your leisure time to try new things. There might be activities or places you have always wanted to try or visit but had not had the time to do so. Think outside of the box and engage in novelty that refreshes your soul. For example, if all your life you worked with numbers and spreadsheets, challenge yourself to do something crafty with your hands.
How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?
I only have two suggestions and they are very straightforward and crucial.
- Parent-Teen Relationship: The quality of your relationship with your pre-teen/teen is the best predictor for your teen’s mental wellness. A lot happens during the pre-teen and teen years, inside and outside of our bodies. It’s important that your pre-teen/teen feels comfortable having vulnerable conversations with you. Your relationship should feel like a safe space they can come to when they are overwhelmed by academics, disappointed at friends, experience heartbreak, feel uncomfortable in their bodies, or being peer pressured into something they don’t want to do. Your relationship can be a protective factor pre-teen/teen decreasing the likelihood of teenage pregnancy, STDs, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-esteem issues.
- Mindful Social Media: Social media has become an integral part of our lives, whether we like it or not. More so, for younger generations who cannot recall life before social media. I am not proposing to do away with it at all. Social medial can be very valuable, yet we need to teach our pre-teens/teens how to engage mindfully. It’s important for them to understand what is appropriate for them to share with their followers. Some posts might be giving out too much information and potentially make them unsafe. They also need guidance comprehending that not every post they see is based on reality because people only post what they want the world to see. We need to teach them that comparing themselves to others is only going to lead to perpetual dissatisfaction with their lives. Pre-teens/teens are not born knowing these things that might seem like common sense, as adults we need to help them navigate this whole new world.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning has had a significant impact on my life. This was required reading in my graduate program and it really inspired me during that season of my life. Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as holocaust survivor. In his book, he captures the experience of being in a concentration camp and shares the lessons he learned, which led to the creation of Logotherapy. Frankl believed that if our suffering has a meaning we can get through it. Conversely, without meaning or purpose, we cannot overcome adversity. He goes on to discuss the role of spirituality and love in helping us endure pain. The concept of meaning-making is something I apply to my personal life and that I bring into my sessions all the time.
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’d love to see relationship therapy (couples and family therapy) and education (workshops and courses ) be more acceptable and accessible to people. Insurance companies often don’t reimburse for these and there’s still so much stigma surrounding therapy. Our template for relationships comes from our family of origin and then translates to our romantic partners and closest friends. If we want a society that is less lonely, we need to address it from the cradle.
I’d love to create an online program that gives users lifetime access to various courses. The videos and materials would be created by licensed professionals and updated regularly. The online program would be reasonably priced and free for low-income individuals/ schools. I’d love for high schoolers to take a Relationship 101 course, parents to be to have access to a class on Attachment Styles, young adults to have a workshop where they can learn how to navigate the dating world and make adult friendships, and long-term couples can learn to manage the challenges of parenting, physical illness, aging, and infidelity. I believe that typically when we know better, we are more likely to do better. Although this is not a substitute for therapy, it can provide valuable information, debunk stigma around therapy and mental health, and encourage others to seek appropriate services.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation-just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer-we are challenged to change ourselves.” Viktor Frankl
There have been situations in my life that I had absolutely no control over, I felt hopeless and powerless. Yet, I realized that those situations could be the catalyst for a positive transformation. Because something wonderful could come out of suffering, but for that, I had to change my attitude and response to the situation. This is a concept I share with my clients and help them grasp. Whatever it is that is causing you heartache can be life-changing in a positive way for you and others, but the choice is yours.
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Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!