Flowing against the current might seem difficult when those surrounding us fall into the same statistics. James Garcia, a clinical social worker, proves us otherwise. He is an Ex-Marine who did not want to fall into the stigmas that surround retiring from the Navy and instead prevented them by getting help for himself. He chose the path of mental health. He started off as a curious individual seeking for information but is now a therapist making an impact in his community. He plans on opening the first treatment community center called “Starts Here Consulting”, here in LAB Miami on July 1st and he hopes to provide a safe environment for those seeking help. For today’s member spotlight, James Garcia will talk about his journey to mental health and will help us enrich ourselves with the topic.
How do you define yourself?
I’m a clinical social worker that practices Trauma Informed Care. The premise is providing a safe environment in which the client feels part of treatment. I strive to provide a space where my client is comfortable to open up and feels connected. I believe in taking the person’s experience to consideration before myself.
How did you come to occupy this role as a therapist?
My journey to mental health started as I finished my service in the Navy. I Served in the Marines as an Entry Team Leader, going three times to Irak and two times to Afghanistan. As I finished my service, I was scared of becoming a statistic. After recruits finish their service or leave the military, they may experience several consequences, such as, PTSD, homelessness, drug addiction, suicide, etc, but I wanted to be different. Having this in mind, I decided to learn about why people act in such a way after experiencing traumas in order to prevent myself from falling into those stigmas. Therefore, I enrolled myself in mental health courses. One class led to another and I found myself finishing undergrad. During this time, a professor told me that if I really wanted to make an impact in the field of mental health that I should go to grad school. This was a life-changing moment for me. Her words encouraged me to “do more”. So, I applied to several colleges and got accepted to Barry University, where professors truly opened my eyes to mental health.
What do you define as mental health?
We live in an age of information, but not all information is real information. We have too many people in social media that promote mental health but they are really promoting self-care. These are two completely different things. Eating healthy, working out, looking good, are the things that make a person feel good, but this is not what mental health truly is. Mental Health for me is to be able to assess whether I’m effective or not. I measure effectiveness in terms of behaviors and emotions; am I making effective decisions? Am I maintaining effective relationships? Am I maintaining healthy work habits? Am I maintaining healthy self-care habits? Most of the time we hear one side of mental health in social media from health coaches, life coaches and those who may not have the science behind it. But what really is the science behind it? The science behind it is that sometimes we go through experiences that cause us to have emotional behavior changes, and unless we process those experiences with an evidence based approach we are going to continue to make the same mistakes. All the acai bowls, the cucumber water, and the yoga are going to make your body feel good but your mind is still going to be caught up on those negative experiences that remain unprocessed. My goal is to be able to give the right information out to people. The self-care is important, promoting healthy habits is important, but the ability to process our emotions effectively is important as well. Ultimately, mental health is about promoting personal balance.
Do you believe in balance?
All of the others who promise otherwise are lying. We all experience bad and good days but within those days we have to maintain effectiveness. And that’s where I want to come in and help people. Balance is based in effectiveness. Dealing with my experiences coming out of the service helped me get where I am today and be more effective.
Coming out of the service, A lot of veterans experience PTSD, so do you think that shutting off your emotions contributes to the spread of this disorder?
PTSD is complex itself. One of the symptoms of PTSD is withdrawal and isolation; and any time we withdraw or isolate it usually leads to a small ball of all of negative habits. So, yes, It does contributes to your mental health. So that’s why is so important to:
1- Talk to somebody you feel safe. Someone that provides you with an environment in which you feel comfortable. Most people associate the word “safety” with activity safety, for example, a state where there is not a bear or a tiger here to attack you, but being emotionally safe is just as important. When you don’t have a person to talk to, that’s when you turn to isolation.
What does a typical day look for you?
I’m a therapist. I started working in substance abuse, residential treatment centers, with families, children… Gaining experience in different areas has helped me acquire a lot of knowledge. I plan on starting my private practice here, in LAB Miami, It’s going to open July 1st, and It’s going to be the first community treatment center in Wynwood. I’m really excited to make an impact in a local community.
What is your favorite area in mental health?
When the client recognizes personal change, that’s Amazing! It’s really cool to notice changes and helping people is the reason why I’m still in the field. I want to be the person that I needed when I was getting out of service. Someone who provides support and resources, because I think that anybody given the right support and sufficient resources can accomplish anything. That’s my goal for the Wynwood area.
What is the most challenging thing of his job?
Maintaining self-care. It is really easy to get emotionally invested in your clients. You want to make sure that everyone gets the results you know that they can have, but sometimes learning to give the person some time and letting them go at their own pace was challenging at the beginning. As a helper, you want to help and you want to cause a positive response right away but it is important to remember that every person goes at their own pace. People go at their own pace.
What do you to avoid getting “too mentally attached”?
As a mental health care therapist, you need a supervisor. Everyone has a mentor you can turn to when something is hard to handle or when you need to take a step back. It’s important to know that being in the mental health field does not prevent you from suffering. One of the biggest misconceptions of being a therapist is that you don’t need support; you always need aid.
How could you break the “taboo” of going to a therapist?
You could break the taboo by establishing open conversation with a person and letting them know how to speak their concerns and worries. Most of the time we do a very good job at scaring ourselves into taking the first step. If you think that you are not making the best decisions, you might want to talk to a professional who will give you the resources and skills and that’s what I offer.
A lot of people want to “man-up” and avoid requesting help, so what advice do you offer in this case?
Both genders are really hesitant to come into treatment because of their own self-judgement and assumptions. Just go in there and ask all of the questions that you want and a good therapists will give you the answers that you are looking for and will make you feel comfortable; and if you don’t get that then keep looking until you find another person you feel safe with because the most important thing is to feel emotionally safe with the person you are opening up.
How do you get people to open up and what’s your favorite thing about working with people?
Getting to know a client depends on their personality and experience. My goal is to help the client break down their walls and help them deal with their own personal experiences. So, the best part is to see a person develop and see the change where they open up and talk about their emotions. It is really cool to see their change and I feel very humble that they chose me to help. If people come to me, they need real help and sometimes what you want is support and that’s what I want to bring to Wynwood.
If you’re interested in learning more, James is also featured on our podcast on Episode 11- Destigmatizing Mental Health.
By Alesia Lopez