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Why We Dressember

Why We Dressember

This is a collaborative piece from MHT therapists Taz Morgan and Maria Elena Marquez. They attended the Dressember 2017 Kickoff Party on Thursday, November 30 at the Unique Space in Downtown LA. 

Last week we ventured to the Arts District to attend the Official Dressember Kickoff Party. We weren’t sure what to expect from the event but whatever fantasies we may have had were completely blown out of the water. It was such an impressive and inspiring night of style, generosity and community — all tenets of The Dressember Foundation

Maria Elena admiring some of the styles from the 2017 Dressember Collection. 

Maria Elena admiring some of the styles from the 2017 Dressember Collection. 

After making a beeline to the food truck, we took in all that the activity of the party - a photo booth, a gingerbread cookie decorating station, a craft table, and a display of The 2017 Dressember Dress Collection, designed by advocates and ethically made by Elegantees. Of note, Elegantees employs survivors of human trafficking in Nepal. 

An hour into the party, the emcees (two Dressember board members) took the stage and introduced Dressember founder Blythe Hill. Not only did Blythe speak about the issue of human trafficking and why she is committed to giving grants to non-profits that strive to put an end to violent oppression but she shared how her own experience of sexual trauma has impacted her life. The vulnerability with which she spoke about the burden of shame was palpable. Moreover, we resonated with Blythe's declaration that going to therapy had helped her regain a sense of resiliency and strength, which in turn, propelled her to make a more expansive mark on the world. Furthermore, she talked about a fire being ignited in her soul at the age of 19 to put an end to sex trafficking. Her passionate spirit has indeed fueled the Dressember movement - and in that moment, we both felt a resounding sense of urgency in our own bellies and turned to look at each other - silently acknowledging that we were experiencing something special with this kind of truth-telling. 

Blythe Hill, Founder and CEO of Dressember. 

Blythe Hill, Founder and CEO of Dressember. 

Next up on the stage were advocates from A21 and International Justice Mission (IJM), two major Dressember partner organizations. The A21 representative told a story about a trafficking survivor who had been a typical teenage girl in Bulgaria. One day this young woman went out on a mid-day coffee date with a young man. She got up to use the bathroom and while she was away from the table, he drugged her drink. The next thing she knew she was strapped to a bed in Greece. The advocate went on to highlight this woman's astounding recovery of hope and freedom. The very charismatic representative from IJM spoke about her work in rescuing children from exploitation in the Philippines. She, too, mentioned the importance of mental health services for survivors. Finally, she got everyone in the room to move to a dance that survivors from a rescue in Manila created. 

Towards the end of the night, the emcees presented guests with a challenge to raise enough money for two rescue missions. Witnessing people lining up to make a donations to the cause was heart-warming and just what we needed to ramp up even more enthusiasm about our team fundraising campaign this year.

The Dressember Foundation is an anti-trafficking nonprofit organization with an annual campaign in December where people take on the challenge of wearing either a dress or a tie every day of the month as a way to raise awareness and money for anti-trafficking work.

For more information, we recommend checking them on Instagram or Facebook in addition to visiting their official website


Give! Visit our Dressember page and make a donation. It's that simple and no sum is too small. Truly.

Follow! Be sure to follow us on Instagram and our blog throughout the month of December. 

Share!  Help us spread the word. You can do this by sharing our social media posts or links to our Dressember fundraising page.

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Taz MorganMA, is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #99714, working under the supervision of Vanessa Spooner, PsyD. She has trained in Depth-oriented psychotherapy and works with adolescents, adults, and couples. 

Maria Elena Marquez, MA, is a bilingual Spanish-English Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, 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.

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Laura MacRae-Serpa

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Laura MacRae-Serpa

Our Humans of MHT series continues this month by spotlighting Laura MacRae-Serpa as she shares her love of learning and play with fellow intern Allie. 

Allie: Okay, so hi Laura, I'm so excited that I get to interview you. It was all random, who interviewed who. And it feels very special to me to get to talk with you about humanness and about your work as a therapist, I think, because you're someone who –  as a therapist and a human – I admire a lot.

Laura: Thank you, Allie.

A: I feel like you do such a amazing job of making the heart connection with people, but also just being extremely skilled and knowledgeable. Sometimes people have one of those [capacities] more than the other and I feel like you have both in abundance so it's um -

L: Thank you, I feel the same way about you.

A: Thank you. So, I'm curious, I want to hear about your picture in our humans of MHT photo series. I'm especially curious about your goggles picture. What's going on with your goggles?

L: Soap making. So that's one thing I like to do as a hobby is make soap. And you have to use lye at one point, so you have to protect your eyes, wear gloves, and you get to look like a scientist for a moment (laughter).

A: That's so fun! So you enjoy the lye process in particular then? Is that why you picked the goggles?

L: (laughter) Yes I do. I like taking anything and mixing it. So, soap making, baking, you know, a lot of things that children play with – I just enjoy that process.

A: You like having different ingredients, that you're putting into the pot –

L: Anything I can mix together in a pot, and see what it comes out as, I like.

A: Yeah, I love that. Um, well, lye is a really fascinating one to think about too, because it's poisonous, right?

L: Yes (laughs).

A: So, but there you are, creating something very nice and healthful.

L: Yes I am.

A: Do you feel like there any, like how do you make sense of that maybe even metaphorically: The mixing of the lye into your pot to make soap, and you like mixing all different kinds of things together in play or in therapy?

L: Yeah, I think symbolically, when we think about pieces of ourselves, you know, we mix the good in with the not-so-great. Or what we perceive as not so great. But you know I think it's the sum of the parts that create the whole, which obviously, you know, the end result can be a beautiful thing.

A: Mmm.

L: A valuable, worthy thing.

A: Mmm, yeah, I like that. That's kind of an interesting comment, you slipped in there – just the parts that we maybe think are less valuable

L: Right.

A: What what do you mean by that?

L: I think sometimes our vulnerabilities, sometimes the pieces of ourselves that we hide, or feel we have to hide or protect from from other people are actually the parts of ourselves that are the most human. You know, our flawed self, or like I said, what we perceive as flawed

A: Hmm.

L: When we have a relational experience where we can actually share some of the parts maybe that we're less proud of, when those are received and accepted, it can be a very powerful experience.

A: Hmm.

L: There's risk in that, of course.

A: Yeah, kind of beauty from ashes sort of experience to have something like that turn into something beautiful in a relationship. Yeah, like that. I like thinking about lye as the – I'll think of that for myself next time I'm not sure. “Well maybe this'll turn into something like soap. (Laughter).

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...I really believe in change. That we can all change. I consider myself a lifelong learner, so I feel like if I’m always sitting in that space and place with my clients, that I mean, I am learning as well. I’m growing as well.

A: Well, tell me a little bit about your humanness as a therapist. How do you feel like your humanness shows up in your sessions and and who you are as a therapist?

L: I think most importantly I really believe in change. That we can all change. I consider myself a lifelong learner, so I feel like if I'm always sitting in that space and place with my clients, that I mean, I am learning as well. I'm growing as well. And I think since I have such a powerful belief in just humans ability to be resilient, I carry that hope and that kind of strength-based energy with me into the room.

And play as well. Creativity and just making a little bit of space for play.

A: Yeah I think those – maybe your learning posture, which shows up perhaps more consistently with you than anyone else I've met, which is amazing because you already know a lot – but also your love of play, feel like two pretty special things about you. So that makes sense. Those are things that kind of mark your humaness as a therapist.

I actually wanted to ask you a little bit about about play, because you are such a skilled play therapist, and I know that you really love play. I think you've said to me that you just, you like play.

L: I do. (laughter)

A: It's a good job for you! But I'm kind of curious, what you what sort of thoughts you have, if you can condense them down into a minute or two, of how how play can be leveraged for healing. I don't think we always are used to thinking about it that way. But my goodness, you do that so effectively so what are your thoughts about how that works?

L: I think play is children's work. It's how they process their world. It's how they you know try on their different parts, different selves. And often how they share. I think it creates safety. You know when I think about a play in a relationship, it creates safety. It's a mask almost. Not always, but sometimes it's a mask where the person feels a little safer to share or test or explore. So I think the potential for growth with play is unlike any other type of therapy, actually.

And I think that's why it's important to include play in our lives as adults. You know, however that's manifesting in your life. Whether it be team sports, or hobbies, or just giving yourself that freedom of creative process, it can be a powerful change agent and growth.

A: Yeah, the idea of a mask makes me think of play as providing a little bit of a buffer between the most like vulnerable parts of us and whatever it is that we're trying to learn to interact with.

L: Yeah.

A: And then that brings about safety that allows maybe for more growth than could happen if it was made maybe quite so explicit what we were doing. That would make it scarier, yeah.

L: Yeah, it feels a little safer, I think. I agree, just to kind of have it – it's almost like walking beside the experience and then processing it with someone else kind of beside to you, before you have to take that and integrate it.

A: Hmm, you're kind of trying things on, but it's not yet. Doesn't have to be you. Until you find out if it fits, maybe.

L: Yeah.

A: Interesting, I like that.

Um, well what about this huge question: What does humanness mean to you? How do you think about that?

L: Resiliency is the big one that comes to mind. I tend to think of the positive definition of humanness. I think of empathy, relationship building, our ability to be connected and to really feel each other's experiences. But within the resiliency, you know, it includes those darker experiences. Or the, the lye, shall we go back to that. (laughs) The parts of ourselves that maybe are harder to share. I think humanness is also very much about those parts and really allowing our relationship with those parts to ourself, so that we can kind of share relationally with other people in a very authentic way.

A: Mm-hmm. Yeah, do you feel like that those two things interact? Resiliency and being able to share the lye, the less desirable, or what we perceive as less desirable, inside of us?

L: I do. I think when we walk through or move through an experience that's difficult, yeah it's it's being a little more gritty. It's being able to maybe risk, because we're sitting comfortable in our sense of self, and we've had that relationship with all of our parts, so to speak. You know, and whether that includes acceptance, forgiveness, understanding; I think it then allows us to grow, be a little bit braver. I think it allows us to accept those parts in others too.

A: Mm-hmm.

L: You know, instead of just stepping into something with maybe an ideal that isn't attainable. I think sometimes it's the real pieces of people that we connect the most to.

A: Mmm, yeah, something that is maybe less ideal but actually ends up being better, or more special to us.

L: Yeah, I think it's relatable. And I always feel, with all of my clients, just a sense of respect for the courage it takes to step into therapy and look at those experiences. And you know the willingness to kind of explore just who they are, and maybe where they want to be, it's a very courageous process.

A: Well those are profound thoughts Laura, thank you for sharing.

L: Thank you, Allie.

A: Yeah, it's been so fun to interview you in our mini interview series. So, we'll sign off now. But thank you, and I'll get to talk to you soon (laughter).

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

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. 

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Lauren Ziel, Registered Associate CSW

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Lauren Ziel, Registered Associate CSW

This is the second interview in our series "The Humans of MHT." I was delighted to spend time with Lauren Ziel, Associate Social Worker Intern. Lauren's curiosity about her own internal process lead us through an invigorating journey at the intersections of vulnerability, mindfulness, and the wisdom of the body. She is equal parts scientist, fitness guru, and empath - and she's unafraid to be silly and to speak truthfully about not-knowing.

To view (or read) the first interview in this series, go here

- Taz Morgan, MFT Intern

Taz: I’m here with with Lauren Ziel. I’m excited about getting to know you better, Lauren. I guess to start with…what does humanness mean to you?

Lauren: You know, when I think of humanness, I think of this idea of this eternal hope mixed with a lot of fallibility. A lot of pain, a lot of suffering, a lot of this capacity to self-preserve. And there’s a lot of ways that we self-preserve. Sometimes they benefit us at one point in our lives and then they no longer benefit us later on. The human condition is the depths and dark and deeply troubling things we can experience combined with this ability to overcome...maybe with a little help sometimes to overcome. 

There’s this joke, and I don’t know if you’ve heard it. But when you’re in school, maybe undergraduate or in your master’s level work or so on, where the joke is that therapists are all crazy, and they’re taking these classes to figure out themselves and to figure out their experiences. And I think there is some truth to that. I think that our inherent curiosity about ourselves and how our brain ticks, how our heart beats, all of that definitely plays into…at least, I’ve used it as a way to connect to other people. 

T: Your point about…this…well, I think of it as this Wounded Healer. Because of my background that I have…we talk about archetypes. This archetype of the Wounded Healer. And how we use our deepest wounds to be compassionate; to feel into what maybe the people we’re working with are feeling. 

L: Absolutely. What I think is so great about this project is, you know, we are not this all-knowing entity sitting across the room from you. There’s a lot that I don’t about you - the person sitting across from me - and there’s a lot I’m still learning about myself, this world and my place in it, your place in it, and how we’re coming together in this room in this weird situation where it seems kinda contrived, but it’s really, potentially a vehicle and a space for tremendous vulnerability, but also safeness in that vulnerability. 

There’s a strange way in working with my clients that make me feel accountable; that make me remember how much work it takes to figure out yourself. And it’s a motivation for me, honestly. Yeah, I think that’s the really cool part about doing what we do, or being in profession where you’re helping people on such a visceral level, on an emotional level…is it changes you. You learn so much. 

T: Yeah, you’re speaking to how it can be transformative for you as the therapist…that you’re being impacted in some way by sitting with this person or working with them. Yeah, that it feeds something in you, not in a way that is impeding the work…but it’s…I’m forgetting the quote…something that Carl Jung says that it’s alchemical. That the two people are in are this space and they’re both gonna be transformed somehow. It’s not just about the client changing. I really like that, and that seems to be what you’re speaking about.

L: Yeah. Absolutely. I feel like I need to find the quote now, but yeah (laughs), absolutely. I think that the more I can bring myself to the table - my humanness, my fallibility, in a mindful and constructive manner - but the more that I can show up being a human...being…like I don’t know sometimes. I’ll tell you when I don’t know. I might feel a little silly and wish I that actually did know the answer. I want, in way to model, to model the vulnerability, and model it so that it’s okay.

T: You’ve talked a lot, I think, about how humanness shows up in your work as a therapist. I want to talk more about what you chose as your passion that represents your humanness. Even the phrase that you chose “movement is medicine” — I thought that it would be “fitness.” Say more about this idea of movement is medicine, and how it’s meaningful to you. 

L: I think I have to start that with my own that, when I physically move, when I exert myself, when my heart rate is up, my respiration is up. Again this is how I do it. Some people would hate doing that, and I get it. When I’m sweating and exerting, and I’m fully engaged in what my body is doing in that moment….and I can feel the strike of my foot against the concrete… when I can feel how I roll my fingers over a dumbbell or a barbell as I move it - it’s really, honestly, a practice of mindfulness for me. It’s a practice of being in the present moment. There’s a degree of like a flow state where it almost just happening and there’s not a lot of thinking about. It parallels with this incredible attunement with your physical being. And it’s very grounding for me. It allows me to take my energy…because I can tend to be very heady and all up in my head and very light — pretty anxious. And using my body to ground me is very effective for me. It calms me down. It provides my brain with a little bit of clarity and being in that moment. 

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L: I have just found in particular, running, weight-lighting, yoga - those are the things that tend to do it for me. I have discovered dancing, which I don’t know that I’m very good at, but I actually really like it. Not yet, at least, I’m not putting it off the table (laughs). You know when you’re a kid and you go climb a tree because there’s a tree there and that’s what you do? Or when your favorite song comes on and you scream at the top of your lungs in your room or in the shower?  I feel like your body, moving your body in a way that expresses feeling, and you not having to understand exactly why that is…is so freeing. 

T: Yeah, honoring the wisdom of your body.

L: Yeah, exactly, yes, beautiful way of putting. That’s perfect. It’s my me time. It really is. It’s my me time. If I can help someone find a little bit of that - it’s great. When I start to see someone really come into their body, really come into what their body is capable of, and listening to that intuition…your physical being holds so much and it can also let go of so much. 

And at the same time, I think that the body can also….just like what we talked about at the beginning…there are ways that we have learned to protect ourselves, right? The body does that, too. The body holds onto to certain things. 

T: My shoulders will just be up here sometimes (shrugging and laughing).

L: Me too. I’m a constant shoulder-shrugging. It’s like someone just scared me all the time. I totally get that (laughing). There’s a lot of really awesome research about where tension is held in the body and where certain physical maladies are coming up or somatic presentations of psychological issues. There’s so much research out there now.

T:  To incorporate the somatic piece or the body — it’s widening the scope of how we look at what it means to be human.

L:  What works for me one day won’t necessarily work for me the next. And that’s okay. It comes back to learning more about one’s self and the motivations we have, the needs and the drives that are bringing us to these behaviors is what is so interesting. And the work is never really finished at the end of the day. 

This is something that went over in my yoga teaching training - the more that we try to keep things from changing, the less satisfied we are with the situations or ourselves because change is natural. And learning to be okay with the ambiguity, the scariness, and the discomfort is probably the biggest skill that one can develop for themselves. And it’s hard. It’s work that keeps going.

T: It’s such a challenge, I think, to accept one’s own rhythm, right? The opposite of being human, in my view, is being a robot where you would have the same sensations everyday. You’re talking about having a lot of acceptance or compassion for each day being different or one day something works…there’s this nuance and complexity. And being in the not-knowing.

L: And then taking that…and having a frame of mind where…one could look at that and find it terrifying. I get that, yeah it’s terrifying but it’s also…if you put your science cap on and have this curiosity about yourself about how you function in the world and why you function in the world, then it’s almost like this cool on-going experiment you have with yourself. Figuring out all the variables.

Thank you, Taz. This was great.

T: Thank you, Lauren. It was so nice to get to know you, and hear your thoughts a little bit.

L: Samesies.

Lauren Ziel, MSW is a Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker, ASW #76483, working under the supervision of Vanessa Spooner, PsyD. 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.

Taz Morgan, MA, is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #99714, working under the supervision of Vanessa Spooner, PsyD. She has trained in Depth-oriented psychotherapy and works with adolescents, adults, and couples.