WHY EUSTRESSIN'?: MAYA PITTMAN
It is amazing to meet an individual when you are fresh out of high school and they are full of life, excitement and has a poetic way with words. That’s what I thought about Maya when met almost 12 years ago in college. We never knew the direction would take us, but we ended up in the same field and have a passion for helping others, especially the youth.
Recently, I had the pleasure of catching up with homie, Maya M. Pittman. Be on the lookout for a dope project that we are cooking up as well.
HEY MAYA, WHY EUSTRESSIN’?
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING/ HOW LONG?
I am a licensed professional counselor or psychotherapist. This year, I will have been in the mental health field for 7 years, and fully licensed for 5 years at the end of 2017.
DO YOU EVER THINK ABOUT YOUR MENTAL HEALTH IN YOUR PROFESSION?
Absolutely. Thinking about my own mental health is as much a part of my profession as thinking about the mental health of others. I’m in constant awareness of, and intentionally thinking about my own mental health in my profession, recognizing how much that indeed impacts those I serve.
WHAT UNIQUE CHALLENGES DO YOU ENCOUNTER SPECIFICALLY FOR YOUR JOB THAT HAS AN IMPACT ON YOUR MENTAL HEALTH THAT OTHERS MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT?
There are many unique challenges that I encounter specifically, but I am most often faced with having demanding case load, maintaining the skill of being perpetually present, and sustaining the boundaries that come with being in dual roles. The sheer number of clients/students I encounter while working in college counseling can seem astronomical, and I am continually facing presenting issues and concerns that I have not worked with directly. Continuing my education is critical, and recognizing how to incorporate small pieces of self-care within my daily schedule can be challenging, but goes a long way. Given that I am working with some serious presenting concerns, I am always refining my skill of being present. Despite how busy I become, or how many thoughts I attempt to keep up with, the moment a client/student arrives, I must immediately shift my energy to the present moment in order to be an effective clinician. This has taken years of daily practice, and definitely comes in handy on days that prove to be particularly stressful. Lastly, being aware of my boundaries required when operating in dual roles can be challenging. As the only black female therapist in the counseling center, I often have students of color who seek me out directly, not just for therapy but for life guidance and mentorship. I have some students who are my therapeutic clients, some that are not, and a number who are both. Being able to make a clear distinction from therapist, mentor, and sometimes friend is something I have to keep in mind at all times, especially if I work with students who are also clients. Furthermore, once therapy ends, so does the relationship, and making the transition out of often being someone’s main source of support, to allowing them to utilize their own skills in the outside world takes a level of faith in the tools I have passed along, and the person they are developing into.
WHEN DID YOU REALIZE THAT YOU SHOULD ALSO CONSIDER YOUR MENTAL HEALTH WHEN TAKING ON DAY-TO-DAY ACTIVITIES?
Throughout my graduate training, “self-care”, or engaging in activities geared towards helping one maintain the optimal functioning of their physical, mental, and emotional health was a steadily highlighted as an essential part of being a mental health counselor. However, the true importance of self-care was illuminated when I began working in college counseling. The culture of college counseling involves steadily working towards meeting an ever-increasing demand for student mental health needs, which far outweigh a number of providers available. As an emerging professional, going from seeing about 8 clients a week in private practice, to up to 6 clients/students a day in a University setting, my commitment to self-care quickly fell down my personal priority list. I, unfortunately, felt that simply “leaving work at work” would suffice. Eventually, my experience of stress and anxiety began to increase after clarifying my internal experiences, I realized I had gotten too far away from the necessity of engaging in self-care. Although I had always been aware of the importance of considering my mental health when taking on a day to day activities, I was faced with seeing what was at stake if I did not, absolutely and intentionally do so every day. Everything and everyone in my world could potentially be negatively affected if my mental health was not considered at all times.
HOW DO YOU MANAGE THOSE STRESSORS ON A DAY-TO-DAY BASIS?
Much like I tell my clients, the “change happens before and after the session”. In other words, the management of my stressors depends on how I live my life outside of work. I intentionally engage in activities that enrich my spirit, deepen my knowledge, and allow for decompression. I aim to live a life full of fun, friends, family, freedom, and faith. Perhaps the other way to truly manage my stressors is through the organization. I am a planner by nature and organize nearly every facet of my life, including my schedule. Being able to prepare, as much as I can, for the stressors I know I will meet in each given day drastically decreases the stress. Making lists, keeping an up to date calendar, prioritizing, and keeping my space neat and tidy decreases outside distraction.
HOW DOES BEING MENTALLY HEALTHY HELP IN YOUR FIELD OF WORK OR ON THE JOB?
My field of work centers on my ability to provide “ space” for others. That space needs to be free of harm, balancing and insightful, calming and rational, compassionate, caring and encouraging. As the holder of that space, being mentally healthy allows me to not only keep in mind the importance of the I’m providing but helps me to effectively compartmentalize the various aspects of my own life. The personal challenges that I face must be put aside while I am working with my clients.
WHAT DOES EUSTRESS LOOK LIKE FOR YOU AT WORK? AT HOME/AWAY FROM WORK?
Eustress at work looks like creating a to-do list, with my own personal deadlines, and challenging myself to complete it by the end of the day. This invigorates me and gives me that good, motivating level of stress! It’s continuing to give myself challenges in the new and unchartered territory to learn about, tackle, and manage projects and initiatives. Sure those produce stress, but they also help me continue to develop personally and professionally while helping me stay productive. When I am away from work, unless I am on call, I commit to being away from work. This is eustress because I often find myself thinking about work outside of work. I’m working on that. It’s getting to the gym at 5:30 am 4 days a week even though I am not a morning person, and attending my spin/cycle class after my work day despite wanting to relax at home. Eustress has absolutely helped me stay disciplined and mentally balanced.
WHAT IS SOMETHING THAT YOU WOULD TELL SOMEONE JUST STARTING IN YOUR PROFESSION OR A YOUNG PERSON WHO ASPIRES TO BE THE PROFESSIONAL THAT YOU ARE?
Be open to everything. It is so much you learn in graduate school and many things you will not. For those just starting, I would encourage you to be open to all opportunities in order to discover your true niche. My background while in graduate school was grief and loss, however, after graduate school, I worked with adults, seniors, married couples, veterans, children and adolescents, and other populations that mostly presented with everything but grief and loss. This allowed me to gain a depth of experience that I feel has prepared me to go in any direction I’d want to. Being a college counselor has also intensely strengthened my ability to treat a multitude of presenting concerns and mental health issues. I’ve become not just a grief and loss, or adolescent clinician, but a generalist who can help more people than ever! Allow room for your creativity, talents, and development to foster into a career that you can make your own and fall in love with. Stick with it and know that you can create the life you want to live!
ANY OTHER INFORMATION YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOU AND WHAT YOU'RE UP TO?
I have recognized how vital Mindfulness is to the soul, and have implemented it into my work and personal life. To me, mindfulness is one of those activities we should begin seeing as necessary as brushing our teeth every day because the best place to be truly in the present. I’m looking forward to sharing more on mindfulness, and my personal mindfulness journey with as many people as possible
HOW CAN PEOPLE CONTACT YOU FOR MORE INFORMATION?
Maya M. Pittman
The Mindful Maya