Mellisa Gooden of ‘A Good Place For Help’: “Strengthen your current connections”

Strengthen your current connections-Improve the quality of the relationships you do have by asking deeper open questions, planning quality time together even if it’s while maintaining social distance. You can schedule a virtual movie night, a game night, a cooking session, or explore your inner artist with a paint party. The purpose is to deepen […]

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Strengthen your current connections-Improve the quality of the relationships you do have by asking deeper open questions, planning quality time together even if it’s while maintaining social distance. You can schedule a virtual movie night, a game night, a cooking session, or explore your inner artist with a paint party. The purpose is to deepen your connections by showing up authentically and requesting the same from those we’re in a relationship with.

As a part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’ I had the pleasure to interview Mellisa Gooden, M.A., LMFT, LMHC & DRK Beauty Healing Resident Therapist.

DRK Beauty Healing is a digital content and community platform, founded by Wilma Mae Basta and Danielle Jackson, that provides a space to celebrate women of color in all their diversity.

It aims to empower and support women of color by producing curated content that resonates with often-neglected communities as well as provide mental health resources through their initiative, DRK Beauty Healing. This nationwide initiative provides 10,000 free hours of therapy to those who identify as women of color and have been affected by COVID-19.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?

My name is Mellisa Gooden, founder of A Good Place For Help. From as long as I can remember I have always been a problem solver and curious about people’s behavior (why do people do what they do). I like to say I was a therapist before I knew it. I can remember being the go-to person for my family and friends alike to confide in. Initially, I thought I’d become a lawyer. I watched shows like Law & Order as a kid while role-playing my cross-examination for fun. I was a part of debate teams and pre-law clubs up until 8th grade. Somewhere between 8th and 9th grade, I traded my career aspiration of being a lawyer after taking my first intro psychology course. After that course, it began clearer to me that I wanted to help people cope with their worlds a little better.

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

It’s tough to narrow it down to just one story or the most interesting. I can say looking back now over my career I am most grateful for the position I held in a community mental health clinic. It was there working as an outpatient child and adolescent therapist that I was most challenged (as everything was new to me) but the opportunity gave me a wide range of experience which grew my professional skills tremendously. One story that comes to mind is the day I had a whole therapy session in an elevator. Despite having a preferred population (children and adolescents), the clinic had a policy that you pretty much served whoever came through the doors. So one day a client who suffered from anxiety expressed that they wanted to work on social anxiety and fear of elevators. I assisted the client with various trauma techniques, mindfulness, deep breathing, and progressive relaxation. The client was given full control as to what they felt comfortable doing and when to progress. We began by using the stairs until they were ready for the elevator. We must have gone up and down the elevator about 10 times. We did this for the full session which was about 50 minutes. Needless to say, I got a workout that day and the client made great strides in overcoming their anxiety.

Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

One of the most humorous mistakes I made was at the same job as mentioned previously. When I first started, I worked long days with little to no break in between sessions. The work culture was such that self-care wasn’t prioritized. Lunch breaks were hardly that as I used that time to complete notes and prepare for the following sessions. Skipping lunch caused me embarrassment one day. During a session, my stomach began to growl from hunger, something serious. I am talking deep (DMX deep) growling. For as long as I could I ignored it and even tried raising my voice to mask the sound. The client (a teen) was like do you hear that?? In full transparency, I told my client I skipped lunch. The client offered me a snack. I used the impromptu snack break in the session to discuss self-care. I learned that you can’t fully show up and be present for others until you do so for yourself.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Currently, I’m working on completing my certifications for anxiety (CCATP) and trauma (CCTP). I currently serve and have served a lot of clients that suffer from these two conditions. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition affecting numerous people globally. It was important to become certified as it is my responsibility to be informed on new research and practices within my field as to best serve my clients. In the post-pandemic future, understanding the psychological effects (like anxiety, trauma) caused will be of great importance as we heal. Also, I’m now providing supervision for counseling interns. There is a shortage of mental health professionals (especially POC clinicians) and given the current social climate, this deficit is likely to increase. I’d like to be a part of giving back to my profession by helping to increase the number of helping professionals.

Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?

I’m a Dually Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). My training and clinical experience include treating children, teens, adults, couples, and families. I have served clients in various settings such as schools, substance abuse treatment centers, outpatient clinics, non-for-profit agencies, private practice, and in-home. It is my clinical experience that has given me a professional understanding to be able to offer insight on the Loneliness Epidemic.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US, but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?

Loneliness is harmful to one’s health as it affects your immune system. Prolonged loneliness causes emotional stress which weakens your immune system over time. The mind and body are connected in a way that mental health can greatly affect physical health and vice versa. Loneliness is harmful as it has been associated with mental health disorders like depression. It has been linked to physical conditions like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and may even decrease your life expectancy.

On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?

Loneliness affects us from a societal standpoint because loneliness can be contagious. It’s a cycle where the more you feel lonely the more you misread social cues and self isolate prematurely. That social connection is cut which in turn leads the other person involved to self-doubt and isolate from their connections. On a bigger level, loneliness affects us as a whole in that loneliness is part of a negative cycle that can create other more severe health conditions thus creating an ill society. The more people perceive the quality of their relationships as meaningless; the less they engage in socially (leading to more and more communities and future generations that are socially inefficient).

The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.

Despite technological advances, we are facing a loneliness epidemic for the following reasons:

  1. The natural consequence of social distancing and quarantine mandates from the Coronavirus pandemic. The recent requirements of social distancing during this pandemic has caused an increase in reports of loneliness as many individuals are forced to distance themselves physically from their loved ones/support systems. This forced isolation causes increased loneliness and depressed mood.
  2. Increase in single-member homes. Even before the pandemic, the number of individuals who were living alone has increased greatly over the last 10 years. This was due to several factors like divorce rates, delaying marriage and family planning (amongst millennials), and changes in the job market resulting in more automated/single role jobs.
  3. The overcompensation of online social engagement that creates a void of real-life connectedness. Much of loneliness is the perception of one’s relationship lacking real connectedness or feelings like not fitting in (being accepted/understood).

Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic? Please give a story or an example for each.

  1. Invest in a pet, a plant, or both– Research supports the positive impact of having a pet as a companion can offer individuals. Many individuals have such fondness for their pets and consider them to be extensions of their families. Pets can offer companionship that is non judgmental and unconditional. Plants offer a variety of wellness benefits (like cleaner air, positive mood, increased attention, aligning with nature) for home environments. Learning how to care for plants can reinforce a positive mood to combat loneliness.
  2. Volunteer-When we do good we feel good. When we give to others whether it is donating our time or resources, it increases our positive mood. Volunteering can help you build deeper social connections that can combat feelings of loneliness.
  3. Practice self-care– A regimen helps you to listen and attend to all the parts of you. Some areas to address are emotional (how you feel presently.), spiritual (use of prayer, meditation), physical (eating a nutritious meal, or engaging in exercise). Incorporating mindfulness techniques in your self-care regimen increases wellness and helps focus oneself. Self-care isn’t about spa trips it is the daily practices you perform to combat stress and improve overall wellness.
  4. Therapy– Seek therapy as it can help you identify and address your sources of loneliness. Everyone can benefit from therapy at some point. Therapy can improve interpersonal skills and give new perspectives.
  5. Strengthen your current connections-Improve the quality of the relationships you do have by asking deeper open questions, planning quality time together even if it’s while maintaining social distance. You can schedule a virtual movie night, a game night, a cooking session, or explore your inner artist with a paint party. The purpose is to deepen your connections by showing up authentically and requesting the same from those we’re in a relationship with.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂

It would have to be normalizing compassion and respect. One of the things that I have learned from my work as a therapist is that the human experience is truly universal. While we each have our unique stories, we all can identify with feelings of loneliness, grief, anger, hurt, love, joy, and more. There is far more that connects us than divides us. I hope that the Golden Rule (treat others as you would like to be treated) would be applied to and by everyone. When I think about recent racial and social injustices, it’s troubling, to say the least. POC who for years (as a result of systemic oppression) have been denied access and told they don’t belong; they don’t fit in. Although this principle of treating others with the same respect you desire isn’t new and can’t undo the generations of mistreatment caused; I believe it to be a movement that can change our course here in this world for the better.

We are 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 with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

This question was the most difficult to answer. There are so many individuals that I revere and would love to share a meal with. One person would be Ava DuVernay. Her body of work is amazing and speaks for itself. Her films move me emotionally and spark socially conscious dialogue. I appreciate her commitment to telling the stories of unheard marginalized groups.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

For wellness tips, follow me on Instagram @agoodplaceforhelp and @thisisdrkbeauty.

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