(Photo credit: Toni Williams)

By: Vy Le, Shafaa Abubakar, Kashish Dhawan, Courtney Wu, Haowen Geng, UW Bothell School of Business

On a gloomy Wednesday, the door to our classroom slowly creaked open, and our awaited guest poked her head inside. The sound of people chit chatting filled the air of our small composed classroom. The faint whoosh of the wind gently and lightly traveled through the glass windows, as her luminous green heels clicked through the classroom, she was carrying a USPS box in her right hand, radiating her vibrant energy. Her slicked back, dark brown bun gave a clean look to her, while her jewelry complimented her fun personality. Her smile glistened, calling all of our attention. Who could resist such an aura?

As Toni strolled past us, we smelled hints of daisy. She slowly set her emerald green purse on the table and made eye contact with the class. She proceeded by greeting us and started the conversation by asking how we were doing. She casually introduced herself with a voice that confidently projected across our classroom. As she gracefully pulled the chair out and sat down crossing her legs, she set her new book, “Recalibration and Intentionality” on the table. A shimmer of light bounced off the cover, which pictured beautiful Black women posing effortlessly on a chocolate-colored background. This alone was enough to leave the audience in awe. At last, the interview began.

Who are you? What led you to be a therapist?

TW: Being a black woman led me to become a therapist. I was born and raised in Seattle, WA. I spent most of my summers in Louisiana growing up, so I do have that perspective when it comes to being enmeshed in my black culture; being family oriented, making sure that I’m putting education at the forefront to dispel stereotypes within my cultural group. I attended Grambling State University in Grambling, Louisiana. I came back to Seattle and worked as a social worker for 3 years as I gained my Masters in counseling and psychology with an emphasis in childhood trauma. I then gained an interest in wanting to assist in bridging the gap between school districts and the department of children and family services. 

I worked in both elementary and middle schools, giving insight on how school staff and administration can work alongside the department of children’s services, to assist students who may be in the foster care system. […] I have been dibbling and dabbling in dual roles for about ten years now, not to mention a sting in community mental health, which led me to eventually starting my own therapeutic practice, in the evening. I guess you can say I am an administrator by day and therapist at night.

Could you please tell us about your practice and your therapy approach? What does your job as a therapist entail?

TW: The specific trauma that I try tackling into with all my clients who come to me especially wanting cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is childhood trauma. Oftentimes, we are working from spaces as adults, from that inner child that has not been heard, validated. 

When it comes to my practice, I do see clients both virtually and in person. A bulk of my clientele are families and individuals, mostly minorities. I also do speaking engagements.

You mentioned CBT, can you elaborate what that is?

TW: We have habits that we’ve developed over time. You have a cognitive imprint in your brain per say, so CBT identifies those habits that may be old that you feel though aren’t yielding results as you like. 

We’re taking those old habits, we’re identifying those, we’re communicating about them, we’re tackling into them and unpacking why you do what you do, how you do what you do, how that has been working for you has been my biggest question that I have been asking my clients. If it isn’t something that has been working, then let’s begin talking about alternative ways to do things that are outside of your norm, but if you’re willing to try it, we can do some cognitive reprogramming, which takes 21 days if you are trying to drop a bad habit. I always let clients know that with cognitive behavioral therapy it always takes time to be able to ditch your old habit.

What led to you writing Recalibration & Intentionality, what was the motivation behind it?

TW: This started as a journal for myself, but the Recalibration & Intentionality Journal is a component for you to see how consistency and being able to organize your thoughts yields results. A lot of time people are frustrated because they’re not getting the results they need because they feel like they’re doing so many different things.

Out of all of the methods of coping with mental health, why did you choose journaling?

TW: How I came up with journaling as a method was something that was in the norm in my environment growing up, and so with my mother being a teacher who went on to be assistant superintendent she wrote and published. I think for me that was definitely a pillar as to why I decided to, you know, stay in the journaling aspect. And even now that I’m packing up the storage, for example, and I find a journal that’s dated all the way back to August 2004 and I’m just like wow. I was journaling back then extensively, and the handwriting may have been the scribble scratch but it’s the fact that it was being done and different emotions were being expressed in everything that was there. And I was just like wow okay so I’ve been doing it, journalism. 

For our readers who are not familiar with your journal, can you provide examples of exercises in your book and what you hope each exercise is supposed to accomplish in the long term?

TW: There’s also a health wealth portion where you’re budgeting the gratitude formula with expressing gratitude in your daily lives, and going through that on a weekly basis. You’re writing a letter to yourself basically at the end of every week. You are listening or reading in affirmation of the week as well. So those are inserted in every 10 pages, which is huge. For example, one is reminding yourself that you’re an asset at every table you take a seat at. Those who feel like they may not have a purpose, or may not need to be where they are also talking about goals setting, what intentions you may have for that specific day and being specific to that.

Manifestation is something that I work diligently with clients about, as well as the power of the mind is a lot more truthful than what we give it credit for. What you think you will become so why not think great thoughts? So, taking that into consideration as well as how are you going to feel for today because sometimes when you wake up, you’re like just not feeling today at all and it’s okay to say that. But how are you going to flip it to make it worth something or worth your while for that day right?  It’s not a book to make you a believer, but it’s a book to have you try something different.

There’s also a lot of blank pages, because I wanted to give clients the opportunity, or just a person who purchased the journal, time to jot down miscellaneous thoughts.

What would you say to someone who has a loved one who needs mental help but they don’t think they have a problem? 

Suggestions are always great instead of actually telling someone what to do. I always emphasize with my clients that it’s important to one, come from a space that’s loving and empathetic and it’s not what you say, it’s how you say things. You can tell somebody off that it pissed you off right? But it’s not what you say, it’s how you deliver your message right? So make sure that: one, it’s coming from a space of observation using words ‘I notice’ ‘I feel’, that way it’s not coming from you as something that is hard cold facts. 

Also having your resources plan available too, ‘I do have contact information for this therapist, I think she is great to talk to or he is great to talk to.’ Also giving your personal experience too because you can’t suggest therapy to somebody unless you have participated it too, so modeling is also important as well but I think as long as the components of empathy as well as making sure it’s coming from a space to deliver in a way where it feels as though you care about that person, then it won’t be received in an ill way. 

This interview was edited and condensed for content and clarity.

Mental health is one aspect of our life that’s very crucial as it includes our emotional, psychological, and social-well being. Our mental health shapes how we relate to others, but also how we handle stress and the choices we make in our day to day life. Hence it’s very important that we do our diligence by taking care of it. Therapy is a great first step to taking care of one’s mental health. There are various resources one can use in order to improve their mental health. For example, practicing mindfulness such as yoga, understanding one’s triggers, reflecting on their childhood/childhood trauma or any life events that play a huge role in who they are today. Special thanks to ​​Toni Williams for giving us the chance to conduct the interview. Special thanks to Ashley Fontaine and Jennifer Sanchez-Tejada  for their time and work on giving feedback. 

After our interview with Toni and some of our own research, we learned that journaling is one of the best methods to cope with your mental health and emotions. Journaling helps with control over your emotions, by learning more about yourself and your triggers. One of them being journaling. Below are a variety of other methods that can help you fight for a healthier mindset: