Asa part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. LaQuista Erinna, DBH, LCSW. Dr. Erinna is a psychotherapist and founder of THRIVE Behavioral Health & Consulting, LLC located in Willingboro, New Jersey. She is an engaging speaker and Amazon best-selling author. Dr. Erinna is a highly sought-after therapist and primarily focuses her practice on helping professional women create balance in their lives by overcoming trauma. Dr. Erinna is passionate about eliminating mental health stigma in communities of color and military populations.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I am from Social Circle, a small town just east of Atlanta, Georgia. Before graduating high school, I decided to join the Army Reserves. I wanted to experience the world and be exposed to other cultures. I deployed to Iraq in 2003. That was probably one of the hardest things I had ever done in my life up to that point. I deployed to Iraq again in 2007, but this time I had a husband and young son at home. I really struggled to cope with leaving my family during the last deployment. I was diagnosed with PTSD after returning home. I worked with a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Atlanta. She helped connect me to different services, including therapy. I decided I wanted to pursue a Masters in Social Work to help others who had similar experiences. I lost several friends over the years and witnessed many other servicemembers struggle with adjusting back to their civilian lives. I knew I wanted to help eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health for my fellow veterans. I continued to work with veteran populations but knew that I ultimately wanted to start my own practice. I left the AGR (Active Guard Reserve) program in 2017 and took some time to figure out my next steps. While completing my Doctorate in Behavioral Health, I opened my private practice.
Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?
#1. Forgive yourself when you make a mistake. We can be our harshest critic. I’ve learned that there’s always a lesson to be learned in any mistake. It’s okay to forgive yourself, take your lesson from the situation, and move on. We often talk about forgiving others, but I think it starts with self.
#2. Be kind to others without sacrificing your own needs. It can be hard to set boundaries with people, especially family. Setting appropriate boundaries and actually sticking to them doesn’t mean you’re mean or heartless. It means that you have decided to put yourself first. On an airplane you’re told to put your mask on first before trying to assist anyone else. The same applies in everyday situations.
#3. Make time for yourself each day. No matter how busy my schedule gets. I try to set aside at least 15 minutes of “Me Time.” I use this time to relax, recharge, and reflect on my day.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
As I began identifying different ways in which I could extend my brand as a therapist, speaker, and author, I researched women in the field who were dominating. I remember seeing a clip of a relationship expert on The Doctors tv show and thought to myself, “I wonder how she was able to be a part of such an amazing show.” I reached out to Kiaundra Jackson when I learned that she offered coaching for new speakers. The insight and tips that she shared with me led to me being quoted in O, The Oprah Magazine twice in a two-week time period!
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started was trying to do everything myself. I bootstrapped my private practice so there wasn’t a tremendous amount of money. I tried the DIY model for most things business related so that I could save money. I quickly learned that almost anything related to finances and taxes needed to be outsourced to a professional. While there is value in learning how to do things on my own, there are certainly some things that can be delegated to a more qualified person. Doing so allowed me to be able to see more clients. Instead of paying a company to do my insurance credentialing, I invested a small amount for an online training and learned how to do it myself. I had some frustrating days of trying to figure out the process, but I learned how to do it, which was most important. Now, even when someone else does billing for me, I understand what is going on. Knowing and understanding your numbers in business is so important and essential to your growth.
When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
Today you have to not only think of yourself as a therapist or entrepreneur, but as a brand. By utilizing social media and speaking engagements, I have been able to share my passion for mental health wellness to audiences across the globe. The more we talk about mental health, the less it becomes a dirty word. Millennials as a generation are more open to the idea of seeking therapy, which is amazing! I will continue to do my part by sharing stories and research on relevant topics in hopes that one day there will be no stigma surrounding mental health.
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?
I am lucky that I have always had a supportive family who believed in my vision. From my parents, siblings, friends, and extended family, everyone has pitched in to help me in some type of way. When I left active duty, I was unemployed for five months. My husband encouraged me to open my practice. He made sure I didn’t have to worry about cooking, cleaning, or getting our toddler ready for bed.
Like other therapists, I found a full-time job and started my practice on a part time basis. I eventually ended up quitting my agency job and focused primarily on building my practice. At one point, I was finishing my dissertation, working full time, and trying to start a business. My support system was always there to provide encouragement and fill in the gaps where needed.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
As a veteran, I would like to see all military branches revamp their leave policies to include some type of non-chargeable mental health or wellness leave. This would not count against their accrued leave balance, would not require verification of a doctor’s visit, and not be subject to an advance notification requirement. Each year servicemembers would get a small bank of hours to take care of their mental health. Sometimes you just need a day to recharge or spend with your loved ones. The military has made great strides in their efforts to eliminate mental health stigma. Implementing policies and programs that support mental health awareness and wellness will help validate the idea that getting help is okay while improving overall morale.
What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
#1. Don’t wait; start now. I wasted so much time making sure that I had everything perfect before opening my practice. Fear and uncertainty made me doubt my ability to be able to sustain myself and my family as an entrepreneur. I literally had an empty office space for five months before I built up the courage to start seeing clients. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Doing small tasks each day and buying items for my office here and there eventually led to me being booked with a waiting list of potential clients.
#2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of those you look up to. I have met so many amazing therapists who have shared their lessons learned along the way. Without their support, I would not have known where to begin with starting a private practice.
#3. Define your niche. When I first started out, I wanted to save the world. I wanted to help any and everybody. I soon learned that defining my niche, identifying my ideal client, and speaking to their needs would lead to a successful business. In the beginning, I was desperate to get clients that I started to take on people who didn’t fit my expertise. By staying in my lane, and referring out to those outside of my niche, I not only developed great relationships with other therapists in my community but I was more fulfilled each day by seeing those who aligned with my vision.
Do you have a “girl-crush” in this industry? If you could take one person to brunch, who would it be? (Let another “woman in wellness” know that you respect her as a teacher and guide! )
My wellness girl-crush is Lisa Savage, LCSW, founder of the Center for Child Development in Newark, DE. She has been my guardian angel on this private practice journey. She has developed a network and learning environment for other clinicians of color by providing a blueprint for how to build a successful group practice. Her expertise and passion in the field is inspiring. She has provided invaluable advice, consultation, and wisdom to so many others. I would love to be able to have brunch with her and not necessarily just talk shop, but to see what motivates and inspires her.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Addressing mental health disparities in communities of color and military populations are both important topics to me. As a black woman veteran, I am keenly aware that stigma surrounding mental health treatment is an ongoing issue. I am happy to see more people being open to getting help. I think that comes with having access to care, people finding care that meets their specific needs, and the shift in popular culture. More celebrities are bringing awareness to mental health, but I find that when people are able to see themselves represented in mental health spaces they are more likely to stay engaged in treatment.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
I can be found on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter by following @laquistaerinna.
Thank you for these fantastic insights!