Humor. You have to laugh at yourself and situation. Perfect example is what I mentioned above: I had to present a work/life balance seminar and I ended up being late to it due to traffic. I was late to my work/life balance presentation! That was the perfect opening to the start of the seminar.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelli Miller, LCSW, MSW, Relationship Expert and Author. Kelli is a psychotherapist, award-winning author, and TV/radio host. Currently in private practice for individuals and couples, Kelli won a 2019 finalist award for her book “Thriving with ADHD” (Callisto Media) and was the co-host on LA Talk Radio: “The Dr. Debra and Therapist Kelli Show”. She is also the author of the relationship book: “Professor Kelli’s Guide to Finding a Husband” (Lulu, 2010). Aside from her private practice, Kelli also facilitates groups at The Villa Treatment Center for those struggling with alcohol and drug addiction.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Kelli! 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?
I’m not the type that goes from point A to point B. I may go from point A to point C, then back to D, then circle around a few times, then eventually get point B. And I’m horrible with directions so you can only imagine navigating my route! I’ve learned I need to explore, discover, and learn by trial and error. So my therapy practice took me a bit to arrive but by no accident. I know I needed to do a lot of careers before I settled into this one. I always had this pull/push between the creative and the altruistic. I did a lot of work in acting/hosting and writing to fulfill my creative side and then did teaching and other helping professions to fulfill my compassionate and nurturing side. I believe as I felt more connected to who I and accepted the challenges in my life, I felt more called to focus on helping others and thus started my career as a psychotherapist.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I had a very intense birth with my first son. After 33 hours of natural labor, it was determined my baby was posterior and I needed an emergency c-section. An artery was nicked during surgery and I lost 9 pints of blood. The doctors weren’t sure I was going to make it. I did survive of course, but because of the intense scarring in my uterus, I wasn’t able to carry any more children. My eggs were still viable so my husband and I decided to use a surrogate to carry our second child. The surrogate developed Fifth’s Disease during her pregnancy and our baby got extremely anemic. If a baby is anemic in utero there is a very high risk of miscarriage. Every day I lived in fear she’d miscarry. I felt completely powerless, especially because I wasn’t carrying the child and she lived over 5 hours away from me. This experience enabled me to slow down and stay really present. If I focused on the future, I’d get anxious. If I focused on the now and used my mantra “everything is OK at this moment” I was able to surrender. I realized not long after that, I wanted to help others during their times of crisis and start my own psychotherapy practice.
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?
I had to present a work/life balance seminar for the employees of Westfield Mall Corporation. There was a lot of traffic that morning (typical Los Angeles!) and I ended up being late. Look at the irony: I was late to my work/life balance presentation! That was the perfect opening to the start of the seminar and I learned that the “human” aspect of that happening made me more relatable to the people I was speaking to.
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?
For me, I believe it’s outside influences that helped me the most. Recognizing those who struggled but still pursued. For example, Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr. I also looked to modern hereos like Michella Obama or Mary Robinson, first female President of Ireland.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
- Go to your own therapist. Often as psychotherapists we are so busy taking care of others we forget to take care of own emotional health
- Talk to other colleagues about cases. Being in private practice can be isolating and we often forget we can utilize other therapists as resources.
- Join professional organizations. It helps us stay conencted, excites us for new opportunities in the field, and helps us grow our practice.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
I believe in being authentic. That means saying what you mean but not saying it mean. I’m also a huge believer in having fun at the office. We can often get so serious and we miss the joys of seeing our colleagues in a carefree envirnoment. I’m all about planning off-site activities or team buidling exercises. It can strengthen your work bond and make for better relationships.
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.
- Humor. You have to laugh at yourself and situation. Perfect example is what I mentioned above: I had to present a work/life balance seminar and I ended up being late to it due to traffic. I was late to my work/life balance presentation! That was the perfect opening to the start of the seminar.
- Doing service. I have a very loud Itty Bitty Sh*tty Committee in my head. It’s those negative voices that sometimes overtake us. I find that if I do service for someone else, that voice quiets down. If that is offering to help someone, being kind, or just going out of my way to smile for someone. It’s a win-win for everyone.
- Meditation. I learned to meditate in 2007 by a suggestion of a friend. I do it twice a day imperfectly. I’m calmer, more focused, and overall a better human being. “Half hour’s meditation is essential except when you are very busy. Then a full hour is needed.” — Francis de Sales
- Music. People can forget music can be extremely therapeutic. I’ll play dance music while I’m getting ready in the morning, instrumental music while I’m taking a bath, or 80s if I want to feel nostalgic. It makes me happy!
- Being Social. I’m a true extrovert. To me, that means I get fueled when I’m around people. So it’s a necessity for me to be around others. Don’t get me wrong, I like my alone time, but I am the most lit up when I’m around others. So I make sure to include being social throughout the week.
- Exercise. I’m one of the lucky ones who likes to exercise. I feel good during and after physical challenges. I hike, do yoga, weight training, and recently started boxing lessons! It gives me a great start to the day and endorphins to boot!
- Do the Action, Don’t Wait for the Feeling. A lot of times my depressed patients will tell me they will exercise when they feel better. Or they will say they will do a hobby when they feel happier. I advise, do the opposite. Do the action and then the feeling will come. Walk and then you will feel better. Nourish your hobby and then you will feel happier.
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?
I believe the most important piece here is recognizing that retirement is a gain and a loss. It’s a gain of freedom but a loss of identity for a lot of retirees. Preparing for the loss is crucial. I would set up a grief program around retiring before, during, and afterwards. This can help prepare many who are getting ready for the transition.
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?
We often forget how much we can help pre-teens and teens. My first piece of advice is helping teens limit social media. Teens are so influencial. We want them to feel creative, joyous, and free without it pending validation from others. I like to steer the teens I work with in the direction of “old school” activities like writing, art, sports, and theatre that maximize their own strenghts and boost their self-esteem. Secondly, I highly recommend that teens volunteer. To gain self-esteem, you need to perform esteemable acts. Volunteering can offer purpose to teens and at that same time, help our world become a better place.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
Some of my favorite books are:
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Dr. Wendy Model. This book reminds me of the importance of resilience for both adults and children.
How to Be Happy, Dammit: A Cynic’s Guide to Spiritual Happiness by Karen Salmansohn. This is a quick but powerful read about life.
Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr. Brian Weiss. This was one of the first books that made me realize there is more to this life than the one we are living currently.
The Life You Were Born to Live: A Guide to Finding Your Life Purpose by Dan Millman. This is a beautiful book on why each one of us is put on this earth.
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 love random acts of kindness. I used to pay for the person’s toll behind me when toll booths were around! So now I’ll try and pay for someone’s coffee or even compliment someone on something I feel makes them special. It changes the person’s day and then maybe even subconsciously enables them to pay it forward to someone else. We forget that the little things can make a huge impact in our world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear.” by Lao Tzu.
We are very conditioned to want to fix discomfort immediately. We want to rush through the hurt, the pain, the uncomfortable feelings because it’s painful. Sometimes because of wanting to move through the pain quickly we force a solution. But the only way out is through. Through the pain, through the feelings, through the discomfort in order and to let things settle on their own. Once we can let go, things eventually settle on their own.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for all of these great insights!