Create an authentic inner narrative. If you experienced negative, toxic, and demeaning relationships in the past you may be carrying around the words of your perpetrator. Identify if you are using the hurtful words of your past as a map to your future self.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sasha Jackson, MSW, LCSW
Sasha Jackson, LCSW, is a licensed therapist and author who specializes in helping individuals build empowerment. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a Master of Social Work degree. In her practice, she has helped individuals work through trauma, depression, anxiety, and relationship issues.
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?
It was 2014, and I was sitting in my living room. I had just bought my house, and I was seeking the next step in my life. I didn’t know exactly what that would be, but I did know that I needed to go back to my purpose. That purpose was to help people. During this time, I felt that I had learned so much. I needed to get into a field that I could share my knowledge with others. Also, I wanted to be in a profession that supported me as I continuously evolved in my own journey. I decided that I wanted to become a licensed therapist. How was the next question? My search led me to numerous Google results and Indeed job descriptions that took me to the career of Social Work. When I found my calling, I initially knew it was a good fit, while at the same time I was baffled it had not come to me sooner. However, I am a firm believer that things present themselves when it is time. I enrolled at USC in 2015 spring semester and started my journey to become a therapist. That day in 2014 has led me into a beautiful profession and purpose that has changed my life forever. I believe that we all know what we need to be happy. I encourage everyone to follow the voice that urges them to do something different. Most importantly, to trust your intuition when you are being guided to new phases.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Working in mental health and working with people in general you experience a lot of interesting things. I can say that this is one of the benefits of what I do, and there is never a dull moment. An interesting phenomenon that I have seen is how the mental health industry adapted to the needs during COVID-19. In the current environment of isolation, social restrictions, and new norms the need for mental wellness has grown more prevalent in the public eye. When I thought about my first practice, I was set on getting an office and trying to map out the perfect location. Now, my office is virtual, and I can reach out too many more people. In the career of mental health, you must be flexible. It is interesting to see how we continue to evolve and express that flexibility during this time.
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?
Humor is part of life that allows us to grow from mistakes. When you can find humor in your journey, then you can find spaces of growth and understanding. A mistake I made when I first started my career was during one of my interview processes. I was so excited and nervous that I forgot the foundational components of a mental status exam. The mental status exam is a set of characteristics mental health professionals look for to evaluate a client. It is basically like knowing what a wrench is to a mechanic. Embarrassment was an understatement. I was mortified that I could not remember a simple component of my profession. The next day I got a call back for my second interview. I was stunned because I thought I completely bombed my chance. I learned that mistakes are not as detrimental as we assume. More importantly, the experience taught me to not be so hard on myself. Everyone has experienced that one interview they wish they could rewind. Remember that every experience allows you a chance to learn, evolve, and grow. As I look back at my own experience, I laugh. I laugh because I don’t ever want to doubt myself that much again, even if I make a mistake.
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?
Many people have helped me on my journey to become a professional therapist. However, three individuals stick out. My previous internship supervisor and clinical director, Dani Marchman LCSW. My previous deputy director of San Joaquin county, Genevieve Valentine LMFT. Lastly, my current deputy director of San Joaquin County, Tiffany Dewitte LCSW. These three powerful women supported, guided, encouraged, and believed in me throughout my entire journey. I appreciate that I could grow and trust myself through each stage of my profession. They have truly taught me how to be a therapist also, what it means to be a leader in this industry. Overall, I can say that their help has been a tremendous influence on my development and drive.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Burnout can happen within any profession and, it is vital to find ways to protect yourself from the impact. You can tell if you are suffering from burnout if you have chronic stress at your job, increased exhaustion, find yourself less motivated, and experience feelings of helplessness in your ability to have a positive impact. To help prevent this from happening you must first, check-in with yourself. Be honest about how you are feeling about your job. If you think about your job and it emotionally triggers you ( frustration, sadness, resentment, anger, nervousness, or irritability) this is a sign that you may be experiencing burnout. If these feelings do surface take time to journal about it, find a creative outlet to express your feelings, talk to a support person, create better time management around your job, and implement self-care routines in your life. The second tip to buffering the effects of your job is to practice radical acceptance. Radical acceptance is the practice of understanding what you have control over and what you do not. It does not mean you are helpless instead; it provides a pathway to what you can fix versus what may be in someone else’s control. An example: is knowing that you can turn in your assignments and work on your project. However, it may be the manager’s duty to get everyone else to do their projects. Sometimes not taking responsibility for everything can make you feel less stressed and hopeful about what you can do personally.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
A powerful way a leader can transform their work culture is to cultivate intrinsic motivation within employees. Intrinsic motivation is defined as the act of doing something without an external motivator ( such as money, status, or rewards). An individual can genuinely enjoy performing an activity/job duty because it makes them feel good, gives them a sense of purpose, boosts their self-esteem, and adds to what they consider a valuable characteristic. The benefit of helping individuals create intrinsic motivation is that they can take pride and ownership in the outcome of their work. Which in turn, benefits the entire company, clients, and community. A way a leader can help promote intrinsic motivation is to 1) see how the company mission resonates with the employee on a personal level; 2) explore and identify the employee’s strengths; 3) find out what motivates the employee; 4) lastly, create a way that the employee can highlight the following identified areas within their work duties.
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.
Here are five steps that anyone can use on their journey to create mental wellness. 1) Is to recognize when you are self-rejecting. Self-rejection comes from doubt about your ability to be successful or your right to happiness. When you self-reject you limit your ability to engage in activities or thoughts that make you feel good about yourself. 2) Start to reframe the process of change as an opportunity versus a threat. When you view change as a threat you tend to stagnate yourself and limit yourself from accessing different opportunities. Learn to see the unknown as a chance to grow and expand. 3) Begin to make choices in your life. You can begin to feel powerless when you allow others to make choices for you or you opt-out of making choices. It’s important to take accountability in your life and be an active participant in your life journey. 4) Start challenging the notion of learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is created from a history of invalidation, rejection, and limitations. It limits you from taking risks and makes you question if you are going to be successful. Learn how to trust yourself and have faith that you will reach your goals. Lastly, 5) Create an authentic inner narrative. If you experienced negative, toxic, and demeaning relationships in the past you may be carrying around the words of your perpetrator. Identify if you are using the hurtful words of your past as a map to your future self. These five steps will allow you to take control of your life and live confidently.
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.
Retirement is a life transition. The key to managing a new life transition is to be ready for the change of identity roles. An identity role can be a parent, a spouse, or a job position/title. They all have significant meaning to a person’s life. When a person transitions into a new identity role there is a grieving process that occurs while they learn to accept their new identity. Since most retirements are planned an individual can make this process easier by doing the following: 1) exploring the change the new identity role will have on the person’s current lifestyle, 2) finding ways to incorporate old identity roles into the retired life role, and 3) being flexible with the natural grieving process that comes along with changing roles. By doing the following a person can visualize their new life, feel more comfortable about the changes, and feel more in control of the outcome.
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?
The era of teenagers and pre-teens is all about peer validation and identity formation. A key to creating mental wellness is to have a healthy balance between these two important influences. To help you create balance during this time, you should first identify your values and beliefs. Write down what is important to you and what makes you unique. Find ways to celebrate these aspects of yourself and share them with people. The next step is to see how these values and beliefs resonate with your peer group. We tend to hang out with people who have similar interests to us. It is necessary to identify these aspects to help you search if your current peer group is helpful or harmful. If you find that your personal values collide with your current peer group. You can always find more ways that you can be authentic with them or how you can create another supportive peer group. Remember that communication and boundaries are important skills to use during this time as you find yourself and cultivate friendships.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
A particular book that has helped me is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, PH.D. I have learned about the dynamics of human nature, why we continue to repeat the same mistakes, and how to break the cycle. There are many important elements in this book. One that stands out to me is the impact of consistency. We are creatures of habit. This can be a good thing but a barrier in breaking out of toxic thinking and situations. Consistency ties us to behavior and people that we should leave. However, the notion of the time we put into a situation, and the hope that our consistency will change the outcome tethers us to our commitment. You can become aware of this silent bond, and then you can make a conscious choice to do something different. One of the biggest things we can do that makes us feel powerful is to make a choice.
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 would like to see a TV network/channel dedicated to mental health. Really! I see that there are talk shows that discuss mental health, youtube channels, tik-toks, and podcasts. But I would like all these great platforms to be in one dedicated place. It will make information accessible to all as well as continue to help normalize the need for mental health. I also believe that this will transform the need for mental health on a global level.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
One of my favorite life lesson quotes is by Steve Jobs. He states, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” Being authentic and true to your self is sometimes a difficult journey. This quote reminds of the importance of showing up as yourself and for yourself. As a therapist I see how many of my clients sacrifice their life, happiness, and chances at success because they are afraid to live for themselves. That is why my goal is to help people become empowered by taking ownership and responsibility of their life. Once you are able to do this then you can truly live free and at peace.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Please follow me on IG: @I_Am_SashaJackson, on FB: @SashaJacksonTherapy, and on Linkedin: Sasha-Jackson-MSW-LCSW. I appreciate everyone’s support and I look forward to continuing to build my community.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!