I struggled for many years with low self-esteem, impulsive behavior, difficulty sleeping through the night, and housing instability. I felt like my challenges no longer mattered once I became an adult. I was expected to “put it behind me and move on”. I feigned confidence and happiness for a long time in an attempt to please others. I did this for so long that I am just now getting to know who I really am as a woman and as a person.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford.
Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford began her career in the field of mental and behavioral health out of a desire and passion to work with individuals and families struggling with both immediate as well as latent challenges endured by survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Dr. Bates-Duford has engaged in extensive work and research on familial relationships, family trauma, chronic homelessness, and dysfunctions. She is known for her work with traumatic experience and symptom re-emergence. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) she understands the long-term implications of abuse as it relates to depression, substance & Alcohol abuse, self-esteem issues, trust, and housing instability. With nearly 20 years in the field of behavioral sciences, she has been instrumental in her work with stabilizing families, working with agencies to create stable housing opportunities, and helping individuals and families navigate the challenges of mental illness. Her research and work targets individuals and families that continue to struggle with latent effects of abuse/ trauma reprocess the memory of the trauma in a manner that no longer paralyzes nor interferes with daily functioning.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
Myname is Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford, a Forensic Psychologist and Marriage & Family Therapist. I grew up in Brooklyn, NY. I was raised in a single-parent household by my mother and an identical twin sister who is a nurse.
You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
I along with Family Matters Counseling Group are trying to change the way in which services are identified and rendered to individuals and families struggling with sexual abuse and trauma. Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse are often forgotten once they become adults, however, what I am seeing in my practice is a surge of individuals and families still struggling with sexual trauma from the past. Individuals with unresolved sexual trauma are at a higher rate than others that have not been sexually abused to be victimized again. They also struggle with maladaptive coping skills leading to attempts to self-medicate, suicidal ideations, risky sexual behavior, housing instability, etc.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I was drawn to this cause because of my own history of sexual abuse. I struggled for many years with low self-esteem, impulsive behavior, difficulty sleeping through the night, and housing instability. I felt like my challenges no longer mattered once I became an adult. I was expected to “put it behind me and move on”. I feigned confidence and happiness for a long time in an attempt to please others. I did this for so long that I am just now getting to know who I really am as a woman and as a person.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
My “aha moment” came when I began to get more and more patients struggling with unresolved feelings related to childhood sexual abuse. Some were able to live a fairly decent life, but, when there were significant changes in their life such as a death, birth of a child, employment stress, etc. they began to re-experience the trauma that occurred in their past. This symptom re-emergence happened to me; I reached a point in my life when everything appeared to fall apart. I realized I didn’t need to “put it behind me”, it wasn’t working. I needed to confront what happened to me and forgive myself for the shame and guilt that I still carried.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
I didn’t immediately know how to begin the process of starting an organization, but, I made a conscious choice to find out how I could be a benefit and not a hindrance. I began to take small business classes, conducting research on childhood sexual abuse survivors, I started researching the services available in my community for people that have experienced trauma. I basically tried to identify the things I didn’t know that I didn’t know.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I would have to say the most interesting thing that happened to me would be the word of mouth that occurred when people realized I not only worked with others that experienced trauma but that I experienced it myself. I worked with a patient that always exhausted, no matter when she came to my office she was tired. I asked her about her sleeping habits, discussed medications that she was taking, but realized she was both physically and emotionally exhausted because of her “mask”. She feigned happiness wherever she went, pretended to enjoy intimate relationships, and pretended to be someone else to others. She was never one consistent person because she had yet to get to know herself, her wants, needs, what made her happy.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
I think the funniest thing that ever happened to me occurred when I was working with a married couple that consisted of a wife that had experienced childhood sexual trauma. The couple was having issues connecting intimately, sexually. I had forgotten that a lot of survivors of childhood sexual abuse have dichotomous thinking, black and white thinking with no shade of grey. I made a comment like “what does that look like” when they were discussing their sexual issues. The wife asked me was I asking them for a demonstration.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
I would have to say my mother was my biggest cheerleader. Whenever, I failed she would say something like “ok, so you hit the bottom, there is nowhere else to go, try again”. She taught me that failure is a necessary process for success. If I didn’t work hard for something, didn’t put my all into it, I would appreciate it once I got it.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I was working with this man in New York that had been referred to me by EAP. He was being considered for a promotion. Prior to the consideration for the promotion, he was in a happy marriage, had two kids, and had recently purchased a home. The stress of trying to secure the promotion led to flashbacks of his past sexual abuse by his father, memories that he tried to both deny and ignore. After receiving treatment to address the abuse, he was able to disclose it to his wife, talk about his feeling for his deceased father, and learn how change his perception from victim to survivor.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
I think to create additional services for individuals and families struggling with trauma. Allocating money for additional youth and family recreational programs, put more money into research that would allow the identification of protective factors that could lead to long-term stabilization and improvement in overall health.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) How hard it would be to start a practice — When you hear about doctors and clinicians in practice you rarely hear about the struggle endured to get the word out about what you are offering.
2) Services offered aren’t necessarily offered — I learned that many clinicians will list a lot of things they claim to specialize in but when you need to refer a client they will say they studied the topic in school but had no formal training or prior experience.
3) You will be spending a lot of money before you make money- I didn’t realize going into practice for myself would require so much money before I saw a dime.
4) Registering a business- I didn’t realize all the work it took to register a business, most differing by state.
5) Accepting Insurance — When you first start the process of building a practice you think that all you have to do is reach out to insurance companies, provide your credentials and be approved to accept insurance. However, it is much harder than it sounds. There are times when you are told by an insurance company “they have enough doctors or clinicians” in a particular field and will not be accepting new clinicians at this time.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I would tell them it is their responsibility to pay it forward, to make a positive social impact. Whatever positive impact or change they make creates a ripple, extending and impacting others in a way that can improve the quality of their life.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have a private breakfast with Michelle Obama. I love how she inspires others to improve their physical health, her ability to “connect with others” and her compassion for children and teens.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!