FR: So Valerie, when did you first know you wanted to be a therapist? How did you know?
VL: I have always had a big desire to help people and to make a difference in the world. In college, I volunteered at the Parent Child Center of Tulsa. That volunteer position led me to a job at the women’s shelter with Domestic Violence Intervention Services (DVIS). One of my duties was to do initial interviews with the women coming into the shelter. I loved hearing their stories and then watching them settle into the shelter while they formulated a plan for moving forward. That job sealed my commitment to finding a career where I could work closely with people while they sorted out life’s messiness.
FR: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
VL: As a therapist, I have the honor of working with my clients in a very intimate way. When people enter my office, they instinctively remove the outside version of themselves, almost like taking off a jacket. My office becomes a safe place where they can be vulnerable. Through that vulnerability, my clients journey through their struggles in order to heal and grow. Being a part of that journey is the most rewarding part of my job.
FR: How can girls who are interested in being therapists or psychologists get started?
VL: Therapists need a graduate degree in a mental health field and psychologists need a doctorate degree. If teens are interested in pursuing a career as a therapist, they can take psychology classes in high school. They can also look for volunteer opportunities at local non-profit or mental health agencies. Getting a variety of experiences with different types of mental health services would introduce them to people in the field and would help them begin to think about the type of work they eventually want to do.
FR: You’re also a writer! From your perspective, what is it about writing that is so therapeutic?
VL: I could talk for days about why I think writing is therapeutic. Actually, all forms of creative expression are therapeutic. I just happen to like writing. The benefits of writing can be summed up with the famous Flannery O’Connor quote: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Writing is a way to sort through our thoughts and feelings about whatever is happening in our lives.
FR: What are some of your favorite books?
VL: I have been a huge reader since I was really young. I read all sorts of books and it is impossible to even list a few favorites. There are just so many good books and I love them for all different reasons. I recently enjoyed reading Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid. I am currently reading The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer. I am slowly reading it because I love the characters so much that I don’t want it to end.
For teens, there are a tons of amazing books that are perfect to help girls navigate our crazy world. Here are a couple that I often loan to my clients: Turtles All The Way Down by John Green, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail (That’s a good one for middle school girls).
FR: Could you give us one writing exercise that you would recommend for teens?
VL: I want to challenge everyone to write a haiku poem. Haiku is a form of simple poetry that was developed in Japan. These poems are perfect for our current uncertain time because they are in the present tense and often contain images of nature which can be grounding when our worries become overwhelming. Since they are short, they can also be used a mantra to recite when things get tough.
The traditional structure for haiku is three lines with the first and third containing five syllables and the second line containing seven. However, modern haiku sometimes bends these rules. For inspiration, go to Instagram and search #haiku. There are over a million posts about haiku.
I’m not going issue a challenge without doing it myself, so here is my haiku:
Fear surrounds me but
I’m a tree rooted in Earth
Sturdy, steady, safe.
FR: How can we connect with you further?