Appreciation for Life — If you are breathing, you still have a purpose in life. Take the time to discover your purpose. In my practice, one of the most rewarding experiences is facilitating clients’ examination and finding of their life purpose. An internal “joy light” comes on once they realize their “why” in life.
It sometimes feels like it is so hard to avoid feeling down or depressed these days. Between the sad news coming from world headlines, the impact of the ongoing raging pandemic, and the constant negative messages popping up on social and traditional media, it sometimes feels like the entire world is pulling you down. What do you do to feel happiness and joy during these troubled and turbulent times? In this interview series called “Finding Happiness and Joy During Turbulent Times” we are talking to experts, authors, and mental health professionals who share lessons from their research or experience about “How To Find Happiness and Joy During Troubled & Turbulent Times”.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Keischa Pruden.
Keischa Pruden is a therapist, autism advocate, and public speaker. Her passions include promoting whole wellness, empowering parents, mental health professionals and educators to become effective advocates for autistic children, and normalizing seeking mental health treatment. She is also a published author. Her works include a children’s book, Aaron and Me, Our Journey on the Spectrum, and a daily devotional, Walking With Moo and Other Adventures of Faith.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory? What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I come from a family of helpers. We are by nature social workers and therapists. However, it was my great aunt Clarece who was a substance abuse counselor. I used to listen to her talk and I would think, “I want to do that. I want to help people.” My mother is a natural social worker, even though she has never been formally educated as such. If I need community resources for my clients, I know I can call her, and she will more than likely have an answer for me.”
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My mother has been a staunch supporter of my professional career from the start. When I told her I wanted to attend graduate school but wasn’t sure if I should because of my son Aaron (whom at that time was exhibiting symptoms of what we later found out was Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism), she quickly responded, “Don’t worry about Aaron. Your father and I will take care of him.” She was true to her word. My husband worked swing shifts, so my parents would care for Aaron while we worked and I attended school.
On one occasion, I was dropping Aaron off with my mom and Aaron started crying. I exclaimed. “I can’t leave Aaron!” My mother said rather firmly, “Girl, you better go to class! Who wants to talk to a therapist that never went to class!” Needless to say, I went to class!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
A humorous incident happened recently. I was performing an assessment with a child and their caregiver. All of a sudden, he exclaimed, “Stop calling me sweetie!” I asked him what he liked to be called and I obliged the rest of the session. We all had a good laugh at that. I must be reminded at times to be mindful of what my clients prefer to be called.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
My passions are autism advocacy, writing, and whole wellness. I am in the process of creating an advocacy program for parents, educators and mental health professionals that will enable them to be effective advocates for their autistic children in public schools and the community. I am also in the process of creating an online course called “Creating Boundaries with KP”, designed to help those who have difficulty setting appropriate boundaries with others. Finally, I am writing my second children’s book about autism based on my family. My first children’s book, “Aaron and Me, Our Journey on the Spectrum”, shares my sons’ relationship. My oldest son Aaron has autism, but he is still an awesome big brother to his younger brother Bryant. I write about autism in hopes to normalize healthy family relationships in autism, to show African American families thriving with autism, and to help young children nurture relationships with their autistic peers.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The three-character traits instrumental in my success are integrity, authenticity, and a thirst for knowledge.
Integrity — People who seek my services are aware that I will do what I say I will do. And If I am not able to help, I will alert people right away and attempt to point them in the right direction. For example, if a potential client presents to me for treatment and the issues they have are not within my expertise to treat, I will work with them to find other providers.
Authenticity — Family, friends, colleagues, clients, etc., are well aware of my genuine nature. To be an effective therapist, you must be able to develop rapport with your clients. One cannot develop rapport without proving themselves to genuine and invested in the therapeutic process. The same goes with other relationships. True intimacy is only achieved with trust. And trust comes through authentic interactions. What I have heard from clients and family/friends is usually something along these lines, “If you want the truth, ask Keischa,”, “You hard Mrs. Pruden, but you’re real,” or “She might fuss, but it’s only because she cares.”
Thirst for knowledge — I am a believer in KNOWING what you are talking about when conversing with others and remaining quiet to gain knowledge if you don’t. I was participating in a cohort with other therapists a few years back. I entered the room in which we were gathered and one of the cohort leaders yelled out, “Let’s ask smarty pants, I bet she knows.” Now, the look on my face let her know her comment wasn’t exactly appropriate for the environment; she came to me and apologized a short time later.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of finding joy?
As a therapist of over 20 years, I have witnessed clients struggle with sadness, depression, and lack of joy in their lives. It has been a joy to help them find happiness and joy in their lives again. I have also personally struggled with depression and losing joy. The same tools I use with my clients are the same tools I have used to find happiness and joy.
Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about finding joy. Even before the pandemic hit, the United States was ranked at #19 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low, despite all of the privileges and opportunities that we have in the US?
I believe the ranking is so low because our society encourages us to look outside of ourselves for joy, happiness, and fulfillment. We are bombarded with messages that basically tell us we “need” more, we need to “achieve” more, and we need to “be” more than the next person to be happy. The truth is this: while we do experience things in our lives that bring us joy, joy is a choice an “inside” job. Joy comes from within.
What are the main myths or misconceptions you’d like to dispel about finding joy and happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?
One of the main misconceptions about finding joy and happiness is that they can only be found externally, through worldly means or experiences. Clients will often lose weight, buy a new wardrobe, even change their hair color, but remain unhappy. When clients come to me, we often have this discussion where I ask them, “What makes you happy and why?” That is often the beginning of reflection and the path to finding inner peace and joy. Any joy a person finds outside of themselves is fleeting. Many times, this “temporary joy” causes the emotional distress my clients experience.
In a related, but slightly different question, what are the main mistakes you have seen people make when they try to find happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?
One main mistake people often make is deciding another person is responsible for their joy, happiness, and peace. In making that decision, they have enslaved themselves to the whims of another person. People will often say to me, “If only “so and so” would act right, I would be happy,” or “I will feel better when she commits to me.” Putting your emotional health in the hands of another person will guarantee emotional distress and heartache at some point.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share with our readers your “5 things you need to live with more Joie De Vivre, more joy and happiness in life, particularly during turbulent times?” (Please share a story or an example for each.)
- Movement — Get out and exercise! Exercise activates the “feel good” chemicals in your brains. Research has shown that even after walking for a brief period (20–30 minutes), people report feeling more joyful.
- Appreciation for Life — If you are breathing, you still have a purpose in life. Take the time to discover your purpose.
- In my practice, one of the most rewarding experiences is facilitating clients’ examination and finding of their life purpose. An internal “joy light” comes on once they realize their “why” in life.
- Awareness of Thoughts — being aware of your thoughts and dispelling any negativity you sometimes feed yourself can help you remain joyful.
- Thought Records/Journaling help people become more aware of their thought patterns. They can help people recognize triggers to negative thoughts and help create more positive thoughts by which people can improve self-esteem.
- Fellowship — whether it’s in person, virtual, text, etc., staying connected with others helps you stay grounded and feeling connected. Fellowship can look different to different people. For example, a group of friends could agree to form a text thread and check in several times a day. Or a group of friends could agree to meet via video for a virtual dinner party.
- Spiritual Connection — If one is so inclined, reconnecting with your spiritual foundation can help you feel more confident during troubling times. Reconnection could include meditation, prayer, church attendance, scripture study, etc.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to effectively help support someone they care about who is feeling down or depressed?
Ask your loved one/friend/colleague what you can do to support them. Support them as consistently as you can. Do not make promises you cannot keep. Instead, when they tell you what they need, offer what you can realistically follow through with. Always let them know they are loved and cared for. Check in on them consistently and ask sincerely, “How are you doing?” Wait for a response and then offer a thoughtful response in return.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to see a movement of accountability, authenticity, and action. I firmly believe we can achieve so much more in this world if people would agree to be held accountable and be authentic in their interactions with others. This would most definitely lead to positive actions, no matter the goal.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I would love to have a conversation with Temple Grandin. As an older adult with autism, I would love to hear her perspective on the world.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My private practice link: www.prudencounselingconcepts.com
My published works: www.kpsworld.org/kp-the-author/
My blog: www.kpsworld.org
Mag articles/contributions: www.linktr.ee/kpruden
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!