“Why it’s important to try new things and get out of your comfort zone.” with Rachel Kazez and Fotis Georgidis

Try new things and get out of your comfort zone. Trying new things stretches our brains and bodies and can make us feel great accomplishment as well as silliness and relief. This can be as tough as climbing a mountain for the first time or as simple as taking a different route to a familiar […]

Thrive Global invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive Global or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

Try new things and get out of your comfort zone. Trying new things stretches our brains and bodies and can make us feel great accomplishment as well as silliness and relief. This can be as tough as climbing a mountain for the first time or as simple as taking a different route to a familiar destination.

I had the pleasure to interview Rachel Kazez, LCSW, the therapist who founded All Along in 2016 to help people understand mental health and find the right therapy. She has practiced therapy in Chicago since 2012 and is an adjunct professor of social work.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

I became a therapist because I’m excited to help people them explore why they act and feel the way they do, and understand how to make a change when they want to.

As I joined and participated in this field, I became more and more curious about how the people around me and society in general relate to mental health and therapy. I found people asking questions and talking in ways that indicated good intentions but misunderstandings about mental health symptoms and therapy.

I listened and asked questions, and came to understand that people often wanted information and help related to mental health and therapy. I wish that we were talking instead of me typing these answers so I could ask you about your perceptions of mental health and therapy over the years as well — it’s an important and interesting conversation. I had interest and energy to work on knowledge and perceptions of mental health and therapy, and with that energy came All Along.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

1. Perhaps most of all, I think there’s a lack of understanding about what mental illness and therapy are actually like. Many conversations and media representations are based on untrue stereotypes. If the stereotypes were all true — for example if movie therapists were what therapy is really like (ew), or everyone with a mental illness were solely seeking attention — then maybe I’d stigmatize it, too!

2. Shame, guilt, and low self esteem are a big part of many presentations of mental illness. Mental illnesses increase vulnerability. So we may associate shame and vulnerability with MI, leading to stigma on societal, interpersonal, and internal levels. “Having strong emotions makes me feel weak and expressing them makes me feel guilty. That person is weak for being upset and they should feel bad.”

3. Stigma toward mental illness is based in fear, similar to how “homophobia” contains the root “phobia” meaning “fear.” “That looks scary and bad. I don’t want it. That person must be bad, otherwise this would be unfair. That makes it fair that they have that. I’m not bad, so I won’t get it.”

4. Mental illness is invisible. Like many invisible illnesses, it’s easy to misunderstand. We see someone with a broken leg in a cast and know they need crutches and time to heal, but sometimes people think that mental health disorders are a choice or something that someone can “just snap out of.” And because it pervasively affects someone’s approach to the world, that can seem like a character flaw rather than an illness. “That person reacts to emotions differently from how I think is normal. There’s something wrong with them. It’s their fault.”

Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?

I work on two ways of decreasing stigma:

1. Make accurate information about mental health more available and widespread in media sources with a variety of consumers.

If productive discourse on mental health happens in the spaces people already inhabit, it will be be easier to digest. And its presence can help people understand that mental illness isn’t as scary or foreign as it might seem.

2. Facilitate access to mental health services by providing personalized searches and teaching people how to navigate the mental health system.

Let’s face it, for a lot of people starting therapy is daunting, and at the time someone needs it most, they may have the most trouble finding and going to it. All Along provides a middle-ground between zero and fully engaging in therapy. Since the services are provided by phone and email, people can use All Along comfortably from wherever they currently are.

Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?

I founded All Along after realizing that people from all walks of life need help finding a therapist and navigating the mental health system. As a therapist and adjunct professor of social work, I am eager to provide accurate, approachable information about therapy and mental health to people with a variety of backgrounds and experiences. I’d successfully helped friends and family find therapists and regularly talked with people about mental health concepts, noticing this as a gap in mental health services. I founded All Along to fill this gap in 2016 and have been working with writers and individuals seeking services ever since.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

Individuals: Listen. Ask questions. Believe what people say. Be decent to everybody. Question your assumptions. Say what you need. Normalize personal growth. Take a walk and realize the that simultaneously your perspective in relation to the world is very small, and your power and influence is massive. Parents, teachers, and leaders, teach by example.

Society: Does this just mean the media? Society is made up of Individuals, and we are what creates change, so see above! For the media, which heavily influences our understanding of the world and our actions: Understand that everyone changes over time and everyone has the capacity for change. Don’t ostracize people or instantly judge them. Stop talking so much about people’s personal messes and instead talk more about how to build people up. Include accurate, balanced information about mental health in news coverage of mental health issues, from professionals as well as individuals who are experiencing mental health issues themselves — they are experts. Have a sense of humor about mental health and associated disorders.

Government: Better, more consistent Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance coverage of mental health services. Consistent funding of mental health, socio-emotional learning, neighborhood development, and equality initiatives. Leaders who teach by example, talking about mental health in respectful, normalizing ways.

What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

Exercise. It feels good to move my body, like a reset button. I also enjoy working toward something concrete, like a new distance, speed, or amount to lift.

Reading. I’m into creative non-fiction and memoirs, especially about topics like athletics, tiny houses, and farming. I love hearing about other people’s pursuits and motivation.

Healthy personal relationships. Having fun with great people needs no explanation!

Having multiple part-time jobs instead of one full-time job with both in-person and remote work. I like the variety, relatively flexible schedule, and time for non-professional pursuits. Isn’t for everyone, but it feels good to me.

Get enough sleep. It’s healthiest for our brains and bodies, particularly mine. Working out in the morning, not having a smartphone or internet at home, having positive social connections, and not having any caffeine help me sleep well.

Try new things and get out of your comfort zone. Trying new things stretches our brains and bodies and can make us feel great accomplishment as well as silliness and relief. This can be as tough as climbing a mountain for the first time or as simple as taking a different route to a familiar destination.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

I’m not sure if I’d call myself a “mental health champion,” but thanks! First, while I value research articles and books, the individuals I have the opportunity to work with as a therapist are my foremost source of information about doing effective work in mental health and they inspire me to fight stigma and increase access. Conversations with interdisciplinary colleagues and students contribute much of the knowledge I have on mental health.

I don’t actually consume that much mental-health-specific media. I’m a fan of when any non-mental-health podcast or book brings up mental health and therapy alongside their usual topics. That truly normalizes a focus on mental wellness. That’s much of what I aspire to contribute to!

That being said, I’m a fan of a theory of human motivation called Self-Determination Theory, which is explained in the book Why We Do What We Do by Edward Deci and Richard Flaste. It influences a lot of what I do. I talk about some of the theories in it in this 20×20 presentation I did in 2018: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zglbXexOUZ4 (presentation starts 45 seconds after the introduction.)

I love when friends and family send me an article related to mental health to start a conversation about it. More than the article itself, I’m excited about the conversations we have. This, by the way, is a great way to bring up mental health to someone in your life if you’re not sure how to get it into conversation.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI (www.nami.org), is a great resource for mental health support and information for people from all walks of life. It’s a good place to start if you’d like to learn more about mental health and possible services.

Of course, I’d recommend contacting me through www.allalong.org to learn about mental health and therapy, and to read articles I’ve contributed to on a variety of interesting subjects!

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...


How Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone Can Boost Your Success

by Thrive Global Staff

Tracy Nathanson of ‘Pace of Mind’: “Create routines”

by Candice Georgiadis
Evellean / Shutterstock

The Importance of Therapy, Even If You’re Not Ready

by Tamara Stevens
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.