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Humans of MHT: An Interview with Maria Elena Marquez

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Maria Elena Marquez

Lauren Ziel: Hi Maria Elena! I am really excited to talk with you today about humanness. I think this is the second to last interview we’re doing with all of our clinicians. And the first question we lead off with in this series is: What does humanness mean to you?

Maria Elena Marquez: Great question. What does humanness mean to's where I feel most grounded, the most connected…to myself. And in this case it means with food and those around me. So, for me humanness is a sense of calmness in myself.

L: You mention food and your connection with food as this space of feeling grounded, feeling connected…it's so interesting because that’s such a primal thing. It's in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – it’s the baseline, you know. And on one hand it's survival but it can also be a way to connect socially and a lot of the activities we have are based around food. I am wondering for you how food is the mechanism to which you find your humanness. So, why is it FOOD for you?

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ME: Food for me is a place in which I can be in my five senses. I can look at this dish, I can smell it, I can see the smile of the person bringing it to me; and just talking about the ingredients, it takes me to a place; it either takes me to my childhood or to a place in my adulthood maybe where I am going to a new restaurant and trying a new dish and we’re both discovering this new dish together. So, it’s a sense of being connected to my past or just in this present moment and both of us are just enjoying this, and talking about it; talking about the ingredients and if anything feels familiar or totally not familiar to you. So, that’s the connection part for me  - the connection with the other person that’s sitting with me or a group of friends and we’re really just connecting and enjoying this present moment with this food and it's doing something, and just connecting to your emotions and your warmth in your body or the coolness when you're eating something like sushi… so that’s a little bit about my process with food.

L: I can see you light up when you talk about it. Like even as you describe it you are completely going into the memory of.  I mean, it radiates off of you! I was also thinking as you were talking it also sounds like a mindful meditation practice - using all of your five senses, being in the moment, if there is someone with you connecting with them in that moment. It just sounds like a really real-world practical way you can be mindful and present. I hadn’t thought about it in the context of food but there a little ‘light bulb’ moment.

So food being an extension of a place of grounding for you, I can totally see how that applies perhaps on a personal level, how does it show up for you in your work as a therapist?

ME: As my work as a therapist, I feel it really helps me be in the moment. When I am with clients I try to calm myself down in the process of looking at all these processes the client is going through. So it reminds me to calm down and go piece by piece, ingredient by ingredient with a client. And also I use it outside of therapy for me - it's my self-care - in actually making an intention to go out with someone or maybe by myself and try new food just to get me in the state of acknowledging what’s in front of me instead of always being in my head and trying to process client work. It’s really a place for me to calm myself down and just enjoy my surroundings, the person serving me, this dish. I feel it helps me to be more grounded and just more mindful of what’s in front of me, whether it’s a client or maybe an amazing dish. 

L: This is a little off the sheet perhaps but I’m really curious what’s a recent meal you had that just blew your mind because it reminded you of something or that it was completely new and exciting? I should have eaten before this…

ME: Well, a dish that took me back, or a restaurant that took me back to my roots, which is Salvadorian and Columbian, was actually a Mexican restaurant here in Highland Park. I was with a colleague and we had plantains and black beans, a nice queso fresco; we had some fresh avocado. And just the way it was plated was so beautiful. To me it was very simple, it was very humble because that’s the type of food I would have in El Salvador so it took me back. It was really nice.

I was eating with this coworker and I was able to go back with her and tell her a little bit about myself and a little bit about my culture. Though I was in a Mexican restaurant, all these ingredients and all the spices and how it was plated was so home-based that it was just a great way to start my day.

[It’s] a place in which I can be in my five senses. I can look at this dish, I can smell it, I can see the smile of the person bringing it to’s a sense of being connected to my past or just in this present moment.
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L: I mean, I was thinking about kind of an analogy - you're in a Mexican restaurant but then there are all these familiar flavors - its almost as if…I mean, sometimes I find myself in front of a client and I don’t share their cultural background, or I don’t have parallel experiences to them, but there is always this sort of ingredient or this flavor of “I see you. I understand”. Anyways, that was a little off the cuff but… its really lovely to hear how food is this one connecting thing; how you bring your culture in your work with clients, how it helps you stay grounded, how it keeps you full so that you are able to be that for the clients that you have. Its just really awesome. I would have never thought ‘food’ but I totally see it now.

ME: Yeah! And that’s why we should make a date and have a group dinner, and we can really enjoy and dive in and be mindful and just engage with a different place within ourselves.

L: Love it. I love it. Well it was lovely to interview you here and I am definitely going to go have food now . But thank you Maria Elena. I appreciate it.

ME: You're welcome. Thank you.

Maria Elena Marquez, MA, is a bilingual Spanish-English Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #103470, working under the supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT.  As an art therapist, Maria is passionate about helping clients unravel complex cultural beliefs and family pressures through the use of expressive art.

Lauren Ziel, MSW is a Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker, ASW #76483, working under the supervision of Gabrielle Taylor, PhD. Through the use of movement and mindfulness, Lauren develops specialized treatment for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, challenges in life-stage transitions, relational difficulties, and identity/intrapersonal development.

You Are Here

You Are Here

I became a lot happier when I stopped caring so much if I was happy.

There's something about emotions that makes them very easy to sort into two piles: good and bad. We have emotions which we prefer, and as adults with influence over our circumstances, we can become quite consumed with the pursuit of those “good” emotions. But there is something deceiving about such a pursuit, and if we only ever feel happy, we're bound to miss out.

Wouldn't it be alarming if we were so happy we couldn't feel sad – not even in the face of something truly heartbreaking? And wouldn't it be stifling to live a life so happy that we could never feel angry in the face of injustice or affront? Such a happiness is not happiness at all. In fact, happiness in the absence of the other emotions soon disappears, no matter how closely we guard it. Happiness means more when contrasted with an experience of anger or sadness or one of those other “bad” feelings.

Interestingly, happiness and other seemingly “bad” emotions are not mutually exclusive. I think we often try to root out those emotions we think are getting in the way of our happy. Sometimes, it's that effort that is getting in the way – not the feelings themselves!

It takes practice, and sometimes a little help, but noticing and accepting the mixed set of emotions that exist inside of us frees us up. It allows us to experience the world complexly. Happy and anxious and many other emotions can coexist.

Diagram by author.

Diagram by author.

It also creates space inside of us to recognize what is important. Emotions give us information. They are beckoning us to say “no” to something, or to stand up for someone, or to ask for help, or to grieve. And however unpleasant these “bad” emotional signals may be, if they help me to do such important tasks, then I'd say, they are good.

Allison (Allie) Ramsey is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #94391, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, MFT 50732. Allie works with individuals on a broad range of issues, including anxiety, depression, relational challenges, faith integration, divorce, and aging. 

Hometown Poet: Brandon Jordan Brown

Hometown Poet: Brandon Jordan Brown

As a therapist, I am used to connecting with the experience of the other through words. Listening, empathizing, exploring, connecting. It is a humbling and honoring experience to be let into the psyche of another through their story. The beauty of words is that they do not have to be spoken to land with another person.  Brandon Jordan Brown utilizes the artistic expression of words to not only connect with the other but to help them connect to themselves. Here he reminds us of the beauty of poetry and how it can be used to draw us closer to the human experience. -Janie McGlasson, MFT Intern

JM: Why is art/creativity important?

BJB: There is something about when you interact with forces you to slow down….It pulls you in inward and it pulls you outward...And I think that if you are open to it- and you have to be really open to it- it forces you to confront things that you don't want to or to celebrate things that we forget are worth celebrating. That’s the weird thing about it. Every element or every response that art evokes almost has an equal and opposite response.  It is capable of either/or, both/and, almost simultaneously…I can tell you as someone who practices it, it is terrifying. It makes you feel very vulnerable and brings up all your fears. But I’m sure we will get into that more with upcoming questions.

JM: You’re right, we definitely will. Let’s get vulnerable.

...Poetry is a way for me to really wrestle and grapple with my experience and to feel validated as a human being.
— Brandon Jordan Brown

JM: Why did you choose poetry as your art form?

BJB: ...What is so compelling about poetry that I am learning...that it is almost like experiential theology or human-centered in a way that religion can be afraid to be….I think that poetry is a way for me to really wrestle and grapple with my experience and to feel validated as a human being.

JM: We have been talking a lot about vulnerability at MHT...the impact that it has on our relationships, work, day to day life, etc.  Do you see vulnerability playing a part in your poetry?

BJB: 100%. In a scary way. Almost to where I have written poems and sent them out and had...doesn’t Brene Brown call them vulnerability hangovers?... I haven’t figured out how to balance that. Poetry is a craft. It is different than a diary in that it takes revision and editing to create this piece of art.  So when it does connect it has the biggest chance for success.

JM: When it does connect with you?

BJB: When it connects with other people. You want to figure out a way to break open language and find a fresh way to describe something so that a person will feel like they are seeing or feeling it in a new way.  And so, it is hard to figure out the balance of being raw and vulnerable in making art and still to be healthy. I haven’t quite figured it out yet.  

There will be things I write and think “Oh that is too honest”...a moment of pure openness.  And I think there are moments when I feel really ready for that. Brave and able and courageous. Confident enough in myself that even if someone says “Wow, that is really intense” I could reply with just “Yeah, life is intense man. Deal with it.”  And in other times I think that if someone were to say that to me I would crawl behind the couch and not be able to write for a while...Maybe the biggest fear is showing people your wounds. That is really when it opens something up is when you say “this is where it hurts.”

JM: You know, that’s actually something that came up in the last interview. Debbie Edgar talked about this level where you have to find safe people to open up with. Sometimes we choose poorly where a person shows you that “oh, okay I should not have shared so much.” But this is a different form of that because it is not so simple as you just having a raw conversation with a person that you have deemed safe-you are opening yourself up to a lot of people, not knowing who will be a safe recipient and who will not.

BJB:  Yeah exactly. And not that you have to be published or be out there to be serious- but, for me, that is a goal that I have- to put my work into the world…The whole goal is for it to be ingested by others and for them to interact with it.  So when I am feeling healthy, I feel like I am in the role of challenging people to think things through and wrestle with them. To shake and wake them up and open up the space for those kinds of conversations. But when I am not feeling safe, for whatever reason, I can feel that moment that Debbie was talking about of that “oh no.”

My Father's Father's Bones by Brandon Jordan Brown

JM: How do you find that poetry connects you to yourself?

BJB: What I have found in being from the South- growing up where and how I did- there is a strong literary tradition that has a certain flavor to it...that I resonate with.  

... It is almost like that person is leading you to a doorway and opening it up and maybe even standing there with you. Helping to open up a space inside of yourself. I think that we all have blindspots. That is one of the things about writing poetry- you sit down and you write to figure out what you actually think. You don’t necessarily sit down with an idea and a plan of “here is point A and here is point B and this is how I am going to write it.”  But it could be a story or a phrase or a character or a scene and you just sit down and as you start writing it feels mysterious how you even get to the end. It is like walking down a trail and just figuring out where it leads. You may have a scrap of paper or a fragment of a map but you just kind of guess and go somewhere. It brings about a lot of trust in yourself.

JM: How do you find that it connects you to others?

BJB: Writing and being an artist can be really lonely...It is not like I am in a band and can show up to practice and just be one part, it is all on me. So for it to be put out into the world and published it gives you faith that it matters.  

The trick is that people have to be willing to slow down. It is almost as if you have to develop a discipline to sit with things. You have to make yourself slow down to be able to appreciate beautiful things....It’s must easier to watch 6 episodes of a show on Netflix than it is to sit with a book and slowly savor a poem and engage your mind and imagination. It is like prayer or meditation that you have to practice. Both of those things I am also not good at. I really admire people who aren’t even artist but have that “thing” in them to be able to quickly go there because they so easily remember that art is so life-giving and can be what they need. Whatever you’re feeling there is a poem for that or a song for that. It connects us back with our experience and with the experience of the person who made it.

JM: What ways, if any, does psychology or therapy play a part in your poetry?

BJB: I am actively engaged in therapy. My poetry comes up a lot even in talking in therapy. Art comes from our lived experience. So just like therapy helps us process our unique lived experience, art does the same thing. It is a way to explore how we make meaning of what is happening all around us- inside of us, outside of us...To sum it up, I think that they both teach us how to be human. And that maybe that's not a bad place to start….Us as real people with bodies that fail us. I’m interested in art that approaches our shortcomings and in therapy we have to do the same. You have to walk towards failure and learn how to smile at it. I think you could write a whole book on that subject. You should write that.

Art comes from our lived experience. So just like therapy helps us process our unique lived experience, art does the same thing.
— Brandon Jordan Brown

JM: You’re the writer, man.

BJB: Okay, we should write it then.

JM: Alright deal. Let’s do it. Okay, who are some of your favorites and why?

BJB: Easy. The best living poet is a guy named Maurice Manning...He writes a lot about his rural upbringing, his childhood. For me, I have such a love and fondness for where I came from but also have to look back at how it made me and kind of sort through it. It’s like sorting through an entire world- and he does a good job at that. At holding up his memories and the pieces of his life in this fantastic Kentucky place and having such compassion for it.

Brandon Jordan Brown, LA based Poet

Another guy is Phillip Levine who just recently died last year.  He was a US Poet Laureate and was from Detroit. He is from working class, hard living, blue collar Detroit. And again, he had a love for a place and a people and was able to reckon with hardships and face pain head on.

JM: Do you have a mantra to get you into your creative space or to move you out of a block?

BJB: I just put a note on my computer that just says “Be Brave.”...I think when you take the risk and you are in a good state of mind it feels worth it.  When you have that person that memorizes a poem of yours or a piece of yours lands with someone and you think, “oh man i'm glad i said it because it helped someone.”

JM: What is your favorite word?

BJB: “Maybe.” I think as a writer and as an artist it opens up a lot of space.

Brandon Jordan Brown is a former PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow in poetry, was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and his work has been published or is forthcoming in Forklift, Ohio; Day One; decomP; Rufous City Review; Cultural Weekly and more. Brandon reviews poetry for Invisible City and lives in Los Angeles, where he is working on his first book. You can find him at

Janie McGlasson, MFT Intern, has worked in both a community mental health setting as well as private practice and specializes in the areas of attachment, grief and loss, and trauma. 

The Power of Play

The Power of Play

      I was fortunate to have parents who saw value in unstructured play. I was encouraged to spend my free time as, a worm surgeon, astronaut or potion maker. I had my father’s entrepreneurial spirit so, my unstructured playtime brewed many business ventures. For example, I was determined to invent weed killer when I was seven years old. I transformed into a scientist mixing concoctions of aftershave, perfume, toothpaste and other random bathroom supplies in old ice cream buckets. I fermented the mixtures under my bed and waited patiently for my weed poison to develop. I poured buckets of mixtures over unsuspecting weeds in the garden only to discover them growing stronger week after week. Failure? Heck no, I had invented plant food! When bathroom supplies ran low, I painted rocks from that same garden to look like ladybugs and sold them to my neighbors as paperweights. I eventually decided to expand from sole proprietorship to partnership with my friend across the street. Due to limited customers, we needed to switch up products and services often. Paperweights turned to lemonade and car washes in the summer months. During down times, we stayed busy negotiating business roles and rules. If I was bossy, then I was met with a kick in the shins or another swift reminder that playing successfully with others required relationship not dictatorship. I learned quickly that planning and creating was powerful when it was a shared process.

I imagined, created and shared. I learned that failure ultimately leads to success and that success is sweeter when it’s shared with others.

     Reflecting back on that year, I recognize my unstructured playtime facilitated resiliency through skill building, relationships and a sense of community. I hypothesized, tested and persevered. I imagined, created and shared. I learned that failure ultimately leads to success and that success is sweeter when it’s shared with others. As a parent and clinician, I am not aware of a single structured activity for children providing lessons so powerful. Although many structured activities do indeed hold value, unstructured play facilitates endless opportunities for children to exercise relationships, ideas and choices. For many children, homework and multiple structured activities leave little time for unstructured play. As parents, we are bombarded with “optimal choices” for our children's time. In a society where structured activities are marketed with promises of providing children with an edge, I think it is important to pause and consider what we might be edging out. 

Laura MacRae-Serpa, MFTI, CCLS has special interests in supporting children and families navigating adoption and the challenges of chronic illness.


Skiing Between the Trees

Skiing Between the Trees

     Approximately 25 days ago I had the unfortunate experience of skiing knee first into a tree. Did I say approximately? I meant exactly. How do I know the number of days, you ask? Because not a single one has gone by that I have not physically felt the ramifications of this accident nor has the voice in my head whispering her cruel messages of self-doubt and humiliation given me a respite.

To admit that I need to slow down, however, in some way conveys that I am not, in fact, invincible. And I would really like for you to go on thinking that I am.

     That’s life though, isn’t it? Right when we feel as though we have found our groove and know how to masterfully navigate the path we find ourselves on, we hit a tree; or a rock, patch of ice, branch, mogul, etc. Roadblocks come in all forms, really. It is in these moments that I am especially terrible at taking the advice I so frequently share with my clients, “Slow down, take care of yourself, listen to the messages your body is sending to you.” It sounds so nice, right?

     To admit that I need to slow down, however, in some way conveys that I am not, in fact, invincible. And I would really like for you to go on thinking that I am. 

     For so long I believed that my self-worth and productivity had a symbiotic relationship. The advancement of one was inevitably linked to the progress of the other. But then I hit my first patch of figurative ice, fell flat on my butt, and learned that I was incapable of over-producing my way back onto the slopes alone. You better believe I put up a hell of a fight trying to ram those skis back on though. Eventually I got there, but only after accepting the hand of another skier that happened to cross my path.

     Inviting someone into the journey of getting back on your feet after a significant wipe out can be altogether terrifying. It requires vulnerability and a willingness to let yourself be seen from a fairly unattractive angle. But from that vantage point also comes the grace of a new perspective. One that may remind you that we are beautiful because, not in spite of, our scars, and that we just might be able to avoid a few of those trees if we pause for long enough to look up and marvel at what is right in front of us. 

Cresson Haugland MS, MFT Intern has worked in both the community mental health and private practice settings and has extensive experience working with families in transition, couples, adolescents, and individuals. 

Courage in the Face of Failure

Courage in the Face of Failure

All of us at MHT are meditating on the intertwining themes of failure, vulnerability, and courage. These topics are important in how we interact with our clients, each other, and most specifically our loved ones.

Deborah Edgar MFT was a natural fit to help us shed more light on these topics as she has spent time researching the topic of courage. She was my first supervisor back when I was a student in graduate school. She helped me learn how to, in the midst of being a beginner, having a consistent fear of failure, to maintain the courage to be vulnerable and sit in the depths of pain with my clients. - Janie McGlasson, MFT Intern at Michelle Harwell Therapy

Why courage?

First I will start with my definition of courage:

Courage is heart strength to actively venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, difficulty, and the unknown for the sake of something hoped for and/or believed in with no guarantee of that something coming to pass.

Can I unpack this? It might help…

“Courage is heart strength”: Courage comes from the word “coeur” in French, meaning heart. So it’s more a question of heart than of mind. It denotes passion, coming from our whole being, not just our mind.

  1. “To actively venture, etc…”: It is not enough to imagine yourself acting courageously, or to experience courage vicariously through a film, or video game. Courage is an active embodied on the ground virtue.

  2. “For the sake of something hoped for and/or believed in”: What helps us be courageous is hope and belief: for example, the hope that if I jump into the water I will save a drowning child; and belief that saving a life is a good thing

  3. I hope I will save a child and I believe that saving a life is good, but there is “no guarantee” that these will actually happen. Courage is courage because of the unknown outcome

So, why courage?

I was so enamored by my patients’ willingness to face such deep darkness. In trauma there is a lot of dissociation (which means disconnecting from one’s own experience) and I wondered, what is it that gives someone the courage to come to therapy, then to- even after dissociating or fragmenting in the process- come again to work yet again towards wholeness. What is that and where does it come from? There are so many reasons to stop coming­ to therapy- because it is too much, too devastating-  so what gives someone the courage to stay on the path towards healing or to growth­? Especially someone who has experienced severe trauma and who has not experienced a lot of healthy relationship.

The perennial question is “to be or not to be”­ which is of course a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet­.  That question comes up again and again.­ Do I want to be or not to be? It leads one up to an edge where a person may think “I don’t know if I want to be anymore.­ This is too painful.” I wanted to know what gives them the courage to be. So *laughs* I became curious about that­ that small question­ of the universe.  

What is something that gets in the way of courage?

Hopelessness and a feeling of ineffectiveness: the feeling that whatever I am doing doesn't work. I may start with the courage to try something out but then it doesn't work and I feel ineffective.

Dissociative processes that attack without the patient wanting them to- attacking the links or meaning that are being made in therapy.

Lack of healthy community, relationships that offer true witness  

What comes to mind is what I said earlier about courage: Courage comes from the word heart- so it's having heart. So that which breaks your heart, that which deflates you, that which stops your process- that is what brings you hopelessness.  It is what ultimately will discourage you. I think what those things are, are going to be different for each person.  You know, that same old issue that comes up for each individual. The “I thought I had done so much work in this area and then here it is again- great” that can feel so deflating- feeling like “I have been working this hard and it is doing nothing! Agh”  

Can you tell us about a time you failed?

Me? Personally? Never………...just kidding

My vulnerability in my own clinical work is being what some people call the "omnipotent caregiver." So “I’m always there for you.” Which has a positive side but it can also nurture a false promise. That is, I actually can’t be there all the time.

And I think it is a failure on a bunch of levels. It is a failure towards myself and taking care of myself. It is a failure in terms of grandiosity- as if I can fix everything. A kind of “never fear, I am here!” It’s quite narcissistic.

It is a failure most importantly towards patients because they actually need a human being and don't need someone who nurtures an illusion that there is someone out there that can fulfill all their needs. We need community, all different kinds of people to fulfill different kinds of needs. And sometimes our needs don’t get met, and that’s perfectly okay. So, they actually need my vulnerability, not my grandiosity, because it’s real.

I feel vulnerable in admitting this, but there you have it...

How do you call upon courage in the midst of failure?

Courage in the sense of what I was talking about just now would be to, in the midst of the “oh no,” to not play into the role of being the omnipotent caregiver. To instead play into the vulnerability and not play into being "the goddess of love."

How I understand that failure now is that it comes from a place of childhood narcissism and omnipotence... and I am sure that I am not alone in that...but my courage is actually giving up on that and allowing myself to be vulnerable finally. That the world is big enough to hold me and that I don't have to hold myself and all others- that is the direction that I continue to move towards. That is the courage to be vulnerable. And to trust that vulnerability is actually better for me, others, and my patients overall. It’s really a move towards freedom.

How do courage and vulnerability intersect for you? Or do they?

This is where my definition of courage comes into play. What gives me courage is the belief that when I am vulnerable I experience more love- not less, more hope- not less, more life- not less. So that even if in vulnerability I feel angry or I feel desperate or I have more of my feelings, that these actually bring me more into relationship with others.

Now, I believe that and I still need to risk that, because there is no guarantee that all of that would still come to pass. That is not a given. We all know people that we have taken that risk with and it has blown up in our face. And so there is something very real at play. It is not just “oh I just need to have courage and then everything is going to work out for me.”  No, the very point of courage is that we are fragile, we are vulnerable, we don’t know, and yet I believe that, overall, that is what fulfills our humanity. So I might have to develop wisdom when to risk in that way, but to even have a chance at that kind of experience I need to risk. Not being that omnipotent caregiver, for example, but being my vulnerable good bad self. It’s much safer actually to hide behind being the omnipotent caregiver.

Tell us about a joyful moment in your life that came from you being courageous.

You know, after many failed relationships the courage that it took to enter into my own therapy. That is where I probably first experienced the joy of being me- in a vulnerable way and not in that omnipotent and grandiose way. It was a joy to discover that at the way bottom of me was a sort of beautiful human being...beautiful in the sense of having wounds, having gifts, having flaws- the whole package.  Really being aware of my failings and my gifts. But it took week in and week out of opening myself up to someone.

Do you have a mantra to boost your courage?

I have so many jokes running through my head. *laughs* Like, “Go get ‘em tiger!”

I have to say that this is a hard question for me because I feel like my mantras are more fluid. There isn't one thing, but I can tell you a few things that do give me courage

Different people in history who reflect something of who I would want to be. Sometimes having those visuals when I need courage help to remind me of who I want to be.

Words from a song, book, or movie that come out at me. I will write them down and put it on a post it note on my computer to remind me to be courageous.

One example that comes to mind is a time when a quote from the Lord of the Rings kept coming back to me when I needed it.  It was a scene where Gandalf tells one of the hobbits that he is with, “Hope. There's always hope.” And when I heard that at that point in my life, it somehow galvanized me.  Also, for me, reading the overall story of the Gospel that embodies a flesh and blood love that goes into the mess and though may be afraid at times, gets hurts, stays in, that suffers and, somehow mysteriously, resurrection comes from that. That is the ultimate narrative that gives me courage.

What are you most interested in right now/ what are you reading right now?

Well, as I am writing my dissertation, these are the kinds of interests that galvanize my thoughts. But a specific work would be The Inner Experience by Thomas Merton.  And when I’m not entrenched in this I’m reading Tennis Magazine or The New Yorker.

Deborah Edgar, MFT, The UnSelfish Journey

Deborah Edgar, MFT, The UnSelfish Journey

What is your favorite word?

Sesquipedalian… which is someone who uses big words. *laughs*

What are you grateful for today?  

Janie. *Our Michelle Harwell Therapy MFT, Intern/Interviewer blushes*

And other than Janie, my brother is in town for 24 hours and we get to have dinner. I'm grateful that he reached out and we can share a meal together.


Deborah Edgar LMFT, is a psychotherapist based in Pasadena. She works with adults and families who have experienced extreme trauma. She is currently completing her PhD at Pacifica Graduate Institute. You can find her at

Janie McGlasson, MFT Intern has worked in both a community mental health setting as well as private practice and specializes in the areas of attachment, grief and loss, and trauma.


Pay No Attention to the (Wo)Man Behind the Curtain

Pay No Attention to the (Wo)Man Behind the Curtain

They say a blog is born every seven seconds. Actually, I just made that up…but it sounds about right. I have hesitated for years in creating a blog for that very reason.  The thought goes something like, "with all the voices out there, do we really need yet another blog cluttering the interwebs?" Honestly though, that just sounds like fear talking. I think underlying my question is a deeper, more personal one which is, will my voice matter? Will the thoughts and viewpoints expressed here be heard, considered, respected? And maybe therein lies the value of this blog.

As therapists we often sit behind the proverbial green curtain, like the all powerful Oz, we listen, take in, then interpret and advise but rarely do our clients get to peek behind the curtain and gain a glimpse of our own humanity.

As therapists we often sit behind the proverbial green curtain, like the all powerful Oz, we listen, take in, then interpret and advise but rarely do our clients get to peek behind the curtain and gain a glimpse of our own humanity.

The truth is any therapist worth their weight is deeply aware that they are engaged in the same human struggle you are. In fact, the good ones know that this is what gives them the depth to understand you and sit with you in your struggle for as long as it takes.

Now I’m not saying you’re going to get the juicy details of the inner workings of me or my team's lives, you wish! Trust me it’s not that juicy…What I think we can offer is entry into the human experience; what we see, what moves us, impacts us and causes us to wrestle.

So I would like to introduce to the world the birth of a blog, our little blog. A place where this small group of women therapists can share our minds and engage with you in a dialogue about the human experience.

-Michelle Harwell, LMFT

Michelle Harwell, MS, LMFT is an expert trainer, respected speaker, and licensed therapist in trauma and attachment. She is noted for her specialization in areas of development, attachment, trauma, and neuroscience, and her ability to communicate complex topics with clarity and humor. Michelle is currently completing her PhD in Psychoanalysis from The Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis. She received her BA in English Literature from University of Oklahoma, MA in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, and MS in Marriage and Family Therapy from the Fuller Graduate School of Psychology.