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My Grandmother: An Inspired Role Model

My Grandmother: An Inspired Role Model

In remembrance of my Grandmother who died earlier this year, I wanted to reflect during this Women's History Month on just how much impact a seemingly ordinary woman can have. 

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She could be easy to overlook given her humble lifestyle, and although she never earned fame or notoriety, she was certainly well-known and deeply respected within her communities.  She had an impressive capacity for care, kindness, compassion, and endurance.  She was one of 12 siblings, 8 of whom fought in WWII, and she grew up in rural Pennsylvania fighting her own way out of a sometimes stifling small town. She imagined more for herself - a life with a far greater reach.  

She had many wonderful years as a student and a missionary, starting her own family on international missions. She had an amazing faith and ability to go with the swing of things. I think she was truly shocked and devastated when she found herself abandoned as a single mother of 6 children, at a time when her youngest was just barely starting school and they had all moved to a new city. Despite the many challenges that came with raising children alone, she managed to find a way to put herself through nursing school while working three jobs, and somehow maintained closeness and connection to her kids. 

It has always struck me that despite how hard she worked, she always seemed so emotionally available and generous with her time. She prioritized her family, and showed up in times of need.  I'm sure I also learned some questionable things from her including how to evade student loan debt (it doesn't really work), but it never seemed to keep her down and she was able to keep her relational priorities straight. I think she was truly happier for that, and for the risks she took. 

This is not an uncommon story, many women and mothers rise to their maternal duties. She lived her life as a member of the working poor and ultimately devoted herself to work with the church of the Salvation Army. This is not exactly a 'pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps' success story, but celebration for her comes from the fact that she carried on working diligently while never surrendering her values or losing her sense of humor, humility, or self. She managed to continually lift-up others and was an inspiration for the many women in our family to own their sense of independence, hold on to their opinions, and speak-up against those trying to keep them down. 

My Grandma certainly faced hardships that I will never know, and I can only hope that some fraction of her enormous strength has been passed down to me.  To some she may seem like just another lady who slipped through life unnoticed, but to me and to my family we know just how many lives she touched. She was an inspired role model of determination, sturdiness, and above all - love.  


Erika Mitchell, MA, is a Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist #109385, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT 50732. Erika specializes in helping her clients bring mindful, attuned awareness to their sensations and emotions.

Failure is a Guidepost

Failure is a Guidepost

When faced with failure, I try to remember that growth is not linear, and success is not always so clearly measured.

I’ve experienced a sense of failure when the difference between where I am and where I would like to be feels much greater than I had hoped. The journey suddenly feels longer, and I become exhausted, ashamed, upset with myself, and I start to contemplate giving up or changing course. These feelings don’t help me reach my goals or accept myself for who I am when it gets to the point that I avoid the challenges or begin to let my inner sense of failure infiltrate the rest of my psychic being.  

When faced with failure, I try to remember that growth is not linear, and success is not always so clearly measured. I try to practice self-compassion without letting myself off the hook or continuing to avoid the painful feelings I must wrestle with to keep moving toward my goals. Maybe this time they are more realistic or appropriate and are not as concerned about what others think. Maybe more self-compassion and kindness will make me more open to feedback and help along the way.  

In the past, accepting failure and telling myself that I am just not “good enough” or “smart enough” has been a slippery slope when it comes to having the confidence to move forward in areas where I am indeed better suited. I still feed this struggle sometimes, feeling like I have failed if I am still suffering from some of my same old defenses that no longer serve me. Rather than feeling consumed by guilt, shame, and inadequacy when I recognize my growing edges, I must have more compassion for my own healing journey and know that I am committed to the process with all its inevitable failures and follies. Failure is never easy, and some failures hurt more than others, but failure can also serve as guideposts to where real growth can begin as long as we keep our heads up high enough not to miss the trails. 


Erika Mitchell, MA, is a Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist #109385, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT 50732. Erika specializes in helping her clients bring mindful, attuned awareness to their sensations and emotions.

Women are Powerful

Women are Powerful

Owning our voices safely is not always easy to do. We cannot do that alone by sheer will. We are social beings through and through. We are deeply influenced and affected by one another, and therefore, deeply vulnerable in one another’s company...When we feel we lose our power, it is as if we are boxed in.

WOMEN ARE POWERFUL. This phrase was inspired by a young client who is not yet an adult woman. It has special meaning for her because she has experienced bullying and yet is a strong, bright, and compassionate girl. She is finding healing in the midst of the messiness and owning her voice – her vulnerability, her fierceness, her unflinching sense of justice, her laughter, her grace, and her ability to say what is true for the sheer simple reason that it IS true. What she knew of women and girls was that we have a voice AND that each voice is strong - this IS powerful.

Owning our voices safely is not always easy to do. We cannot do that alone by sheer will. We are social beings through and through. We are deeply influenced and affected by one another, and therefore, deeply vulnerable in one another’s company. We have a whole field of social psychology that has shown us this. When we feel we lose our power, it is as if we are boxed in.

What I found fascinating, and also frustrating, while searching for a word to describe what women are to me, is that words have often have the unintentional effect of boxing us in. Each word has a cultural connotation and means something different to the person hearing it. Now, THIS is powerful, too. For example, women are POWERFUL. Maybe I mean that women are strong and able to connect deeply to themselves and others; are able to unarm someone’s defenses with a smile and a few words spoken in the right tone at the right time. That is powerful, that is beautiful, and that is love in a sense.

Now, but what does POWERFUL mean in a cultural context? Perhaps a powerful person is seen as domineering, controlling, and ruthless. And we have heard, at times, that strong and/or powerful woman can be intimidating or worse…

So, I ask myself, what kind of power has most value to me, in my world? How do I want to show up or stand up?

I want my power to come through in my listening, in my attuning to myself, to others, to my family, to my friends, to the tree outside my window, and to the sand beneath my feet when the ocean water flows gently around my legs from it’s source. The power of love I feel when I look at the night sky with the moon and the stars reflecting in my eyes. And the power to say no, to stand up, to not back down, the power to fight – all when necessary. Power to discriminate or to discern.

“They” say we are at a crossroads in our humanity on this planet. And maybe that is true. I ask you, what is real power? What does it mean to be powerful in the most beautiful interpretation of the word?

For me, what is powerful is both my vulnerability and my fierceness. BOTH are necessary.

I bow to you, to us, to our humanity, to what makes us the same, so we may support each other in our differences and in our sameness. To not give up on ourselves, to remember to use the power that is our birthright. The power of our hands, of our voice, of our heart, of our minds, and of our feelings of connection.


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Michelle Levy, PhD, is a Registered Psychological Assistant #PSB94024010 working under the supervision of Gabrielle Taylor, PhD. Dr. Levy’s clinical interests focus on parenting practices, attachment, child mental health and developmental concerns as well as the effects of trauma on youth, families and communities. 

Women are Bold

Women are Bold

All humans are capable of bold acts, but being a woman requires it daily.  

Being a woman means many different things to the wide-world of self-identifying women. For me, being a woman takes a certain amount of boldness to be oneself and to honor the unique value of our more feminine traits, even in the face of misogyny and patriarchal structures. Bold may not be a word that readily comes to mind for some people when they think about women, especially considering that historically women have been considered more submissive, polite, and accommodating. However, inherent in being bold is a courage to take risks and be seen.

Without getting too political, I must say that bold was a word that came to mind after listening to the Kavanaugh hearing as I considered the enormous risk that Christine Blasey Ford was taking to have her voice heard. As a therapist and someone who has made a career of listening to people’s stories, I was particularly struck by the bold conviction she had to be heard and to voice injustices against women that can be all too cavalier. To speak of justice at the hearing of a supreme court justice nominee was a bold decision. Despite facing public ridicule and overwhelming threats on the safety of her and her family, she boldly went forward in a room full of predominantly high-powered men and spoke her truth.    

This act of boldness reminded me of the everyday struggle for women to be heard, to be accepted as ‘credible,’ and to be themselves in a societal structure designed to make them fight for their rights time and time again. The risks we take every day even in deciding what to wear in a world that has been known to blame survivors of sexual assault based on their personal expression of style, takes an inborn boldness to carry on and demand that we be treated fairly.  All humans are capable of bold acts, but being a woman requires it daily.  


HERE'S HOW YOU CAN PARTICIPATE IN DRESSEMBER WITH US:

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. We will be documenting our fierce fashion choices but our deepest intention is to empower and educate.

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


Erika Mitchell, MA, is a Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist #109385, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT 50732. Erika specializes in helping her clients bring mindful, attuned awareness to their sensations and emotions.

Women Are Healers

Women Are Healers

...What has most shaped me as a woman is the way my relationships with other women have healed me.

As I scroll through the catalogue of my experiences both as a woman and as a recipient of love and friendship from other women, I am reminded of how many descriptors women embody. We are creative, resourceful, wise, wild, deep. And we wear so many hats. We have thriving careers, bear children, foster friendships, build businesses, care for the home — yes, sometimes overextending ourselves to show up for and love others. But what has most shaped me as a woman is the way my relationships with other women have healed me. The turning toward me in times of distress and offering care and compassion. The deep listening. The calming “coos” and soft body language. The gentle patience while I find the answers for myself.

Women are healers. I know that to be true deep in my bones. And I believe women are the antidote to the overly masculinized culture that has forced a broken, patriarchal system on us all.

I think of the places I work - MHT and Alive and Well Women – both with powerful women at the helm who use their strengths to lift others. These women are willing to collaborate and dialogue with their employees rather than prescribe solutions. They do not manage with absolute control or over-emphasize productivity, but instead empower employees to find balance in work life and soul life. They have cultivated cultures that nourish development and health.

It is not to say that men can’t also lead in this way, but I believe it is a mode of leadership that is perhaps archetypally connected to the feminine. Our history of men in the seats of power and the attendant systemic oppression of women seems to bear testament to this. However, the impact of women in my life and this powerful changing of the tide that I have been fortunate to witness in my young adult years has taught me to embrace the strength of my femininity and has given me hope for a different way.

Women are HEALERS.


HERE'S HOW YOU CAN PARTICIPATE IN DRESSEMBER WITH US:

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. We will be documenting our fierce fashion choices but our deepest intention is to empower and educate.

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


Lauren Joy Furutani, MA, LMFT, helps individuals and families of all ethnic and faith backgrounds maneuver through the unexpected turns in life.

Nature is a Gift

Nature is a Gift

It can be hard to get through a television show without seeing an ad from a pharmacology company showcasing the latest drug. American culture likes a quick fix and our default mentality can make up run for the medication cabinet for all of our ailments, no matter how small. Bombarded with these messages, we forget that nature is also good medicine. Ecotherapy is the idea of connecting to nature to aid our human well being. Research tells us and we intuitively know of the healing properties of nature and these concepts are catching on….for example, “forest bathing” is now a thing.

Personally, I have recently been reminded of nature’s promise in promoting peace of mind. Facing a move and other major life changes, making a habit to ride my bike along Venice and Santa Monica beach fronts, walking at sunset along Ocean’s shore, and soaking in the sun on the sand has brought me out of my head and into a felt sense that the present turbulence is a moment in time. Nature reminds us, the world is larger than our present troubles.

Nature is a gift, like therapy, it can help process the upheaval that comes with change and give us renewed vitality.

At times I have groaned at the extra efforts of separating the recycling materials and disposing them in the two separate trash cans. But I do it out of love, how can I not? I was struck with the idea that I should let nature love me back, especially in this time of life transitions and stressful changes. Life transitions can make nature more important and if we can carve out a space in nature, it can have a grounding effect and be a source of stability. Living in California, there are opportunities abound to do this.

With destruction also comes creation, finding a few quiet, introspective moments in nature can invite spontaneous insight into how creation of new will manifest in your life. I found myself naturally connecting to my will to live my best life and envision the possibilities that lay ahead. This also came with mining the gold in learning from past mistakes, giving me an energy to help bear life's storms with grace and gratitude. What story do I want to tell? Who am I now and what are my values? I found myself having more self compassion and more of a capacity to tolerate staring at the sun of my fears. Injecting some calm only nature can bring help us filter the distractions and minutiae of life. Nature is a gift, like therapy, it can help process the upheaval that comes with change and give us renewed vitality.


Mary Starks, MA, is an Associate Professional Clinical Counselor #5828, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT #50732. Mary specializes in child and family counseling and has extensive training in the field of infant mental health.

The Delights of Nature

The Delights of Nature

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How delightful are these ornamental corn cobs? If you could pick one up and hold it in your hands, you’d get to feel the texture of the bumpy kernels, smooth and knobbly, you’d notice how glossy and bright each kernel appears, and if you looked closer, you’d see the amazing depth of color trapped beneath the surface of each membrane, the hues of red, purple, and blue. Each kernel is like a rare gem - a cob like a chest of rubies and sapphires!

As an adult I don’t take the time to soak in the details of nature like this very often. My delight in these corn cobs (and the imaginative lens to see them as gems) is a remnant from my childhood. When I was about 9 to 12, I used to become completely absorbed in studying the five or so ornamental corn cobs my mom would set out as part of the fall decor every year. I remember feeling a sense of wonder studying these corn cobs, amazed at how beautiful a vegetable could be! (Ha!)

Maria Montessori, whose philosophy of education is popular today, was a careful observer of children and how they learn, especially in nature. She noticed that when children are given time to freely explore the natural world, they often become instinctive students, natural scientists, absorbed in the details of grass, bugs, rocks and so on. And beyond showing impressive attention and observational skills, she noticed the emotional effect that this kind of time out in nature tended to have on them as well - the way they seemed to grow more fulfilled, happy, and serene.  

I think it’s fair to say it can have a similar effect on us as adults, too! This fall, whether its with your kids or your own inner kid - I hope you’ll make it outside to enjoy the sights, smells, and textures of nature.


Allison (Allie) Ramsey is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Therapist. Allie works with individuals on a broad range of issues, including anxiety, depression, relational challenges, faith integration, divorce, and aging. 

Inherited Joy

Inherited Joy

For as long as I can remember, I have heard how special it is that I share a middle name with my mother. While I have always felt it to be true, it was only recently that I have embraced the particular significance of sharing our name “Joy." I have realized that in the passing along of the name, my mother also imparted the tools in which to access joy, and that is through play. One of my earliest joys was playing with my mom - running, jumping, laughing, dancing, exploring nature - she never held back with me when it came to having fun and playing hard.

Joy is the feeling of freedom I experience when I reconnect with my more child-like self.

Now, in the juggling of adult responsibilities and everyday stressors, along with overwhelming media stories of the pain and suffering of others in this world, it has become increasingly important to feel connected to that deep, inner child-like joy.  While it’s tempting to chase the most exhilarating, joyous heights, I recognize that finding joy in the mundane is what brings me buoyancy; shielding me against all the things that can mar my fullest perspective on life.

Joy is the feeling of freedom I experience when I reconnect with my more child-like self, often times through play, but sometimes even just in the reminder of things that I loved as a child. These moments are available to me as long as I create the space in my day for them. A great example, and a peek into my silly world, is how I stop to say hello to the squirrels on my daily, on-foot commute around town. I’m well aware this may sound a bit kooky, but I find great joy in connecting with one of my favorite animals and reminding myself of the fun I had chasing and playing with the squirrels in the trees that surrounded my childhood home.  

What’s in a name? So much more than I had recognized before.


Lauren Joy Furutani, MA, LMFT, helps individuals and families of all ethnic and faith backgrounds maneuver through the unexpected turns in life.

Yummm....Tasty Musings

Yummm....Tasty Musings

It wasn’t until I arrived at Yale my freshman year that I really realized that Subway was not a “nice” restaurant.

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This memory always makes me smile these days, but really, I think there was something about that surprising “Aha” I had as an 18-year-old that has stayed with me. It captures something of the widely varying perspectives we bring to food, and how those perspectives influence us.

Food is a display of our cultural backgrounds, our socioeconomic status, our values. If you and I share a meal that I love together, and my food signals something different than yours, I think we undergo something sacred, but perhaps quite fragile as well. There is a “getting to know you” going on in those moments. The capacity for both recognition and rejection is high. 

For being the center around which hospitality often orbits, food can be a rather centrifugal force that flings us quite far away from one another. I think the problem is, we can forget to pay attention to just how much is at play when we eat together (or even talk about eating!). The foods we presume to have in common, and our response to that which we don’t have in common, sets the stage for how well we will recognize one another. 

At the same time, what a bond comes from being able to learn we share a favorite dish or restaurant! And how vulnerable and affirming to share a favorite meal of mine with someone who has never tasted it before, knowing they are interested in it because of me. 

What do your favorite food memories say about you?


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. 

Women of Style: My Aunt Mia

Women of Style: My Aunt Mia

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Who: Maternal Aunt - Mia Evans

Wear: Style - Eclectic 70's; mix of the androgyny of Annie Hall, the glamour of Bianca Jagger, and the all-american classic of Lauren Hutton.

Why: My aunt Mia: a woman both of and before her time. A forward thinking feminist, classically trained harpist, ambitious lawyer, loving aunt and mother of Pugs. She is the kind of person that has always sparked my curiosity - so transparent and direct, yet full of quirks, stories, and talents that she alone could be the muse to spawn dozens of literary characters. To me, she is this shining example of how a modern woman can be so many things (and wear so many hats), while still maintaining her individuality and stand in it without pretense or explanation. 

Her clothes reflect this to a "T." She's always polished and put together, but in the kind of way you know it didn't take her more than 10 minutes to get ready because while she cares how she looks, vanity comes second to comfort and necessity. Pairing classic elements of style (like a beige trench coat or clean cotton blouse) with more distinctive and/or whimsical flare (à la red woven platform clogs and kitschy handmade jewelry she bought in some bizarre half way around the world), she always curates a balanced ensemble that at first glance feels chic, serious and sophisticated but upon a second inspection you realized it belies the humble levity of a woman that knows she has her shit together so she doesn't take herself too seriously. 

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HERE'S HOW YOU CAN PARTICIPATE IN DRESSEMBER WITH US:

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.


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.