We internalize the characteristics, beliefs, and patterns of institutions and systems around us. We are influenced psychologically, emotionally, physically, and socially by the structures we exist within, shaping how we think, feel, and behave.
Explicit and implicit messages of acceptable ways to feel, think, and act are part of the filtering down of social, political, economic policies into our psychological, emotional, and relational realities.
As we absorb structural and systemic influences, we also emanate outward.
The ripples extend in both directions.
Increasing internal awareness can in turn amplify awareness of external surroundings and situations. Engaging in self-reflection, we can be more conscious within our lives, notice nuance, learn from discomfort, and grow acceptance for intricacy. Slowing down to pay attention to our bodies and minds can foster connection with our desires and values, urging integrity of word and deed with our ethics and own moral compass.
There is a cumulative psychological toll of injustice. It impacts people differently and disproportionately based on social locations, categories, and access to resources, and ultimately iniquities harm everyone. The internalization of systemic injustices and their rationales, iniquity and its disguises, can distort and trick us into believing it stems from within individuals. Too often psychotherapy has perpetuated this internalization, while also upholding sexism and misogyny, racism and white supremacy, colonialism, heterosexism and heteronormativity, classism, cisnormativity and transphobia, and ableism. I strive towards therapy that counteracts, challenges, and undermines those beliefs, to as part of creating a world of something different.
Deepening conscious awareness of how we show up, the roles we play in our lives, how we impact ourselves and others, how we participate in the world can enable us to be deliberate in word and action, rather than performing habits of internalized norms and beliefs.
Recognizing underlying beliefs opens space to determine whether they fit with the person we want to be, becoming more honest with ourselves and others, moving into greater alignment with who we’re called to be.
From radical consciousness and practice comes liberation.
Inner liberation cycles towards outer liberation.
*all session currently being held by video or telephone*
please note, i do not currently have availability for new clients
some areas of focus in my work:
eating difficulties & body concerns
Artificial divisions between our bodies and minds are entrenched, and distrust towards our bodies underlies foundational aspects of systems of domination. The internalization of oppression can show up on and in our bodies and relationship to food and eating in myriad ways.
The regimenting, commodifying, objectifying, problematizing of bodies is inextricably woven into how we experience our physical selves. Dominant culture around food and eating is imbued with morality, dogma, profit, disconnection and disorder. Diet culture insidiously slithers into public and intimate spaces. How we relate to appetite and hunger, food and eating, taste, nourishment are bound up with socio-political and cultural conditions and realities.
Bodies are at once visceral and symbolic, tangible and subjective, sites of expression subject to (mis)interpretation. Bodies mediate the juxtaposition of our interior and exterior realities, occupying the nexus of intergenerational histories, traumas, and present moment sensations.
Experiences within bodies and relationships to food and eating are tangled with experiences of race, ability, class, gender, sexuality, illness, nationality, and age. Foods and practices around eating carry tradition, legacies, beliefs, and meaning.
Living in the chronic stress of injustice has physiological and physical effects, particularly as violence is sanctioned upon certain bodies. Yet bodies can be defiantly indomitable, insistently equilibriating, expansively irregular, and sources of preservational ingenuity. I am firm in beliefs of philosophies of body liberation, weight neutrality, and fat justice.
Gender and sexuality are historically located, infinitely complex, personally specific, socially crafted, and deeply embodied. They are distinct from one another, yet interlaced. As a queer therapist, I’m personally and professionally invested in the lives, survival, and flourishing of folks along the spectrum of sexual and gender diversity. Aspects of gender and sexual identity may be peripheral, central, or fluctuating in the focus of our therapeutic work, but it can be vitally healing to be able to trust in my grasp of the role these realities play. In my work with clients who are LGBQ, intersex, trans, and non-binary, I draw from my own lived experiences, seeking to be cognizant of the parameters of my understandings, continually self educating, and centralizing the distinct ways each person inhabits gender and sexuality.
Growing awareness of the reality of climate devastation and disruption leaves many anxious, despondent, hopeless, and resigned. Oscillating between absorbing information and attempting to ignore it to cope with the enormity and sense of powerlessness propel a cycle of fear and despair. Fossil fuel companies have funded denialism pervasive in neoliberal policies. The climate crisis, and the effects of weather, impact our bodies, psyches and relationships, along with large scale societal, economic, and existential ramifications. Processing the immense emotional and psychological consequences of climate catastrophe can be a vital part of determining a course forward that is courageous and sustainable. Expanding the capacity to tolerate and cope with fear and uncertainty, developing clarity and locating ways to contribute to change, can transform fear into courage and collective action. Allowing grief can relieve the desperation of trying to escape it. Clinging to hope to evade fear is fragile. We can turn towards the reality that our lives are inevitably entwined with the water, air, land, and other species to inspire creative and collective reckoning. In ecosystems, evolution fosters resistance and we can learn from the necessity of ecological adaptation as we adjust to new realities and futures together.
Growing up in environments where substance mis-use or addiction is present can bring heightened unpredictability, inconsistency, emotional dysregulation, and extremes of behaviors. It can create dynamics of secrecy, silence, avoidance, and confusion. Being raised amidst substance mis-use can prompt children to take on roles within the family system that sometimes replicate in their adult relationships. As an adult there may be questions of inheritance and inevitability of repeating behaviors, residual effects of trauma, and lingering pain.
When needs for connection and belonging are unfulfilled, substances can be an avenue of coping with and adapting to this pain. How we use the methods at our disposal to mitigate discomfort, amplify joy, intensify certain experiences, or turn down the volume of others, can both aid and impede. Over time distancing from emotions, or reliance on substances to access emotions, can crystallize into patterns that include harmful consequences and inhibit engaging fully.
The shift from a moral to a medicalized understanding of substance use has reshaped stigma, rather than eliminating it. The politicization of substance use is evident in drug policy, laws, and social norms. Presenting the abstinence-only model as the sole response to substance use contributes to shame people may feel when they can’t or don’t want to maintain exclusive abstinence.
Approaching substance use, I incorporate hard reduction philosophy, examine systemic influences, structural forces, personal contexts, and historical lineages.
anxiety and depression
Mandates of relentless optimism and reductive happiness can contribute to alienation, fear and avoidance of sadness, shame, incongruence, and disconnection. Layers of neurobiological, environmental, and societal stimuli affect how our minds and bodies respond to stress, uncertainty, pain, sadness, and fear.
Contrary to tales of simplistic causality, there are numerous intricacies and contributions to the experiences of dis-ease we call anxiety and depression. Loneliness and isolation are increasingly rampant, pacing is intensifying, distraction is becoming default, and neoliberal ideology promotes extreme self-sufficiency, individualism, and consumption.
Often anxiety and depression contain resourceful responses to otherwise unbearable experiences, the means available to endure intolerable situations. Attending to the messages coming from distress can illuminate where healing can enter and begin.
I bring practical components to address the physical, physiological, and behavioral patterns, while asking deeper questions as to how we bear the despair and hopelessness that can arise in the course of living, and how to attend to the accumulating physiological and psychological activation that comes from being conscientious and aware. We can discover effective self-soothing, strengthen discernment, find sources of solace and fortitude, learn to maintain connection in and through the suffering, and develop meaningful and poignant joy.
For many white people, speaking about race gives rise to fear and anxiety, in part based on the silence and denial that have been integral to the survival of racial inequity and domination. Acknowledging the violence, cruelty, and disgrace of racial hierarchies and supremacy is a part of the reckoning, and can bring guilt and shame. Allowing the magnitude of these feelings to sink in, and then motivate change, channels emotional responses into useful action.
Categories and concepts of race are socially constructed, and in asking who made these definitions and who benefits from them, we can dislodge their naturalization. Applying critical investigation to systems perceived as essential and inevitable can introduce a way to dislodge beliefs that undermine and erode.
Holding the tension that race is social constructed while also being a material reality, racial consciousness is integral to understanding our lives, relationships, and experiences. The practice of tolerating discomfort to have difficult conversations in a relationship of trust, compassionate challenges, and acceptance, can build capacity to forge brave conversations in other spaces. Therapy can be a place to process how whiteness molds ways of thinking, feeling, knowing, and relating. A place to explore how whiteness shapes sense of self, relationships to others, perceptions and values. Examining both conscious and subconscious beliefs, finding willingness to make mistakes and remain engaged, can support moving away from complicity.
Grief is larger, and infinitely more complicated and nuanced, than words can envelope. It can be shape-shifting, unpredictable, enduring, undefinable, intermittent, and dynamic. Loss comes in many forms, including death, suicide, relationships ending or changing, abortion, relocations, illness, injury, miscarriage, and transitions. Ambiguous loss and disenfranchised grief can be de-legitimized. While grief is an inevitable task of living and experiencing love, there is often insufficient support, time, and space for the process.
Grief does not fit within prescribed timelines, stages, or predictable emotional categories. It is a physical, as well as psychological experience. Grief and loss can bring unprecedented changes that require time to digest and integrate, continuing long after events occur. Respect for the process and inescapability of grief is too often absent, and therapy can be a place to hold, honor, wrestle, rage, weep, laugh, and bring grief.
Normative representations teach us little about creating and sustaining honest, deep, mutual, and resilient relationships. Illusions of relationships without difficulty or disagreement promote false ideals. They neglect to ask who holds the difficulty, the inherent challenges of relational experiences,when it is displaced.
Experiences of stigma, marginalization, or trauma for individuals within a relationship and/or the relationship itself, compound the importance of addressing how systemic factors influence our intimate spaces.
Relationships of all descriptions, definitions, and configurations encounter challenges. Therapy is a place for romantic and/or sexual partnerships, spouses, parents or caregivers and children, siblings, and other people in relationship to one another to cope with transitions, adapt to changes, do conflict differently, create sturdier connections, and practice forgiveness.
Relationships can replicate larger systems and magnify aspects of ourselves that are misaligned with our values., and also opportunities to forge bonds through sharing messy, muddled, flawed realities. Together we can be stronger in carrying each others' pains and joys.
I weave attention to how power is present in the dynamics of relationships, affecting beliefs, perceptions, and experiences around communication, intimacy, expectations, boundaries, life histories, money, bodies, sex, commitment, family, and self.
jessamyn wesley, lpc