Mother-daughter therapists focus on BIPOC, LGBTQ communities
For the owners of Magnolia Wellness, LLC, mental health is more than just a brain issue.
Rather, say Gizelle Tircuit and her daughter Janelle Posey-Green, emotional wellness goes far beyond what’s inside someone’s head, encompassing their body, their community, their culture and more.
That’s why the two women opened their New London-based mental health office in 2016 with a focus on providing a holistic, whole-body-and-beyond approach.
Magnolia Wellness works with all people but specializes in clinical services and interventions for people they say are underrepresented or not very well-understood in the mental health field: people of color and the LGBTQ population.
The treatments the two employ are a little different, but the goal is the same: to change the landscape of mental health for those populations, the mother and daughter said.
“Mom and I have different focuses because our degrees are all so different,” said Posey-Green, a licensed clinical social worker specializing in working with women and young women who have experienced trauma.
“The difference in the framework means I look at my clients not just as individuals, but I look at the person in the environment,” she said. “With that said, it would look like not just clinical therapy, but how can we help support you, and do you need other things that can help you function in your environment before we can get to the clinical aspect of your mental health?”
Posey-Green combines African and Native Indigenous healing practices, such as sound therapy — using rain sticks and healing bowls — with other psychotherapy techniques used to treat anxiety, PTSD and trauma, such as meditation, frequencies and EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.
“I very much like to utilize a lot of different types of therapy so when clients are finished working with me they have a toolkit to go home and practice, even two or three years from now, they can utilize the tools they learned,” said Posey-Green.
Tircuit’s work is similar but relies more on the educational aspects of therapy; Tircuit is a teacher, her daughter said, who teaches people through a humanistic and goal-oriented approach.
“Just as Janelle talked about that level of looking at a person in their environment, my approach is … to look at a person in their environment and explore how they function in society and how society interfaces with them to create the person that they are,” said Tircuit, who specializes in working with people who have a dual diagnosis, battling addiction and mental health at the same time.
Tircuit’s approach is based on the teaching of Alfred Adler, an Austrian psychiatrist who stressed the need to understand individuals within their own social context.
She explains: Adler broke away from the psychoanalysis method of Sigmund Freud — which delved into a patient’s past dreams and childhood — and looked in a more socially beneficial direction: to a goal-oriented future.
“It uses much more research and cognitive behavioral approaches to addiction, whether it be substances, porn or whatever the addiction might be, as well as supporting families dealing with folks having addiction issues,” Tircuit said.
She also utilizes dialectical behavior therapy — or DBT — a method that was initially developed to treat personality disorders but is now used to treat other mental health issues, Tircuit said. “It’s been found to be useful for folks who have problems dealing with their emotions, folks who go from zero to 100 on the ‘emotionmeter’ whose emotions easily turn into behaviors based on episodes in their life that previously occurred.”
The pair also do frequent work in the community, offering several virtual workshops and group meetings, including a monthly Consultation Group for White Allies, open to anyone who wants to participate or learn more about developing anti-bias, anti-racism mindsets or programs.
“For me it’s another way of trying to create a space that’s more solution-focused than us just complaining all the time about people being racist or biased,” said Posey-Green, who added that clinicians, teachers, lawyers, and others have participated in the group. “We work through learning and moving towards becoming more culturally competent … it’s not just about race, it’s about all cultures and subcultures, because even within a culture there are biases.”
Posey-Green also leads an eight-week therapy group, “Woman Within,” created for women of color to process race-based stress and ‘colorism.’ In one session, she said, participants — a group that meets both online and in person — had a tea party, sampling different types of tea to assess how they made their bodies feel. “We taught them that different teas can relax them or energize them,” Posey-Green said. “What better way to receive therapy than to have a tea party?”
The holistic approach, said Posey-Green, “allows you to color outside the lines and it’s still correct. Too many times we’re told that ‘health looks like this’ and ‘wellness looks like this.’ With a holistic approach, it allows you to be exposed to a lot of different ways to help balance yourself out and take with you what works and leave what doesn’t.”
Outside of their practice and in response to the pandemic and the nationwide protests following the murder of a black man, George Floyd, by a white Minneapolis police officer in 2020, the pair created a series of online forums called the Connecticut BIPOC Mental Health and Wellness Initiative.
Through the initiative, dozens of clinicians from all over the state offered free online group forums to people wishing to discuss their emotional traumas and feelings of anxiety, anger and resentment during the pandemic and the violent protests.
They also developed a comprehensive list of therapists of color who are accepting patients so that people seeking help could quickly and easily find clinicians “who look like them,” understand their culture, and provide more focused therapy, they said.
“While 56 percent of therapists identify as white, only 5 percent identify as black or African American,” said Tircuit.
The lack of representation, Posey-Green said, “creates this deficit for people to get access to someone who is of the same culture as them to get support. … The best way to do that is by creating opportunities so they have access to the same care as anyone else.”
The deficit Posey-Green refers to was stark when she moved with her family as a young girl from New Orleans, where about 60 percent of the population is black, to New London, where about 60 percent is white.
“I came here as a pre-teen so a lot of my worldview was already set,” Posey-Green said of her upbringing in Louisiana. “I went from having teachers who looked like me, classmates and neighbors who looked like me, to being in the same socio-economic standing up here but no one looked like me. It was a very big culture shock.”
The people she met who did look like her, she said, “didn’t have the same opportunities to see that there are places where we thrive. Down where I was from, there’s HBCUs — historically black colleges and universities, there are festivals just for our culture. It was very different up here.”
The two aim to change that, at least in the therapy world.
“In the past, if you’re from a black or Hispanic community you did not go to a therapist,” said Tircuit. “That old saying, ‘What goes on in my house stays in my house,’ is true, especially for black men.”
But, the pair said, they do see people of color seeking out therapy more and more and hope their work will help bring new providers into the field while offering opportunities for healing minds, bodies, and communities.
“I love the fact that I get to work with my mom,” said Posey-Green. “We live in a community we love but realize there’s things here that are missing. So instead of complaining about it, we created what we felt were the missing parts. So, I’m proud to work with Mom and help create more opportunities to make the New London community better and more diverse.”
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