Kathleen Joseph

Kathleen Joseph
Mental Health Counselor and Owner Kathleen Joseph & Associates, LLC

Describe your role as a mental health counselor.

I am a mental health counselor and owner of Kathleen Joseph & Associates, LLC which is a private mental health counseling and consultation firm that provides services to the 21 varsity teams at the University of Florida Athletic Association. I provide direct counseling services to the student athletes and consultation to the staff including the coaching staff.

Prior to my contract with UAA, I created the BrainPower Program at Girls Place, Inc. Prior to 2015, there were no intentional mental health services being provided to the girls at GP. Dr. Janna Magette and Christi Arrington approached me about the idea, and we were able to secure funding and build connections with community providers including the University of Florida College of Education’s Counselor Education department as well as the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding among others. Today, the program continues with its mission to provide individual, group and family therapy modalities to the young women of GP and their families. I am most proud of creating the BrainPower program because it ensures that we are providing a necessary mental health service to strengthen the girls of GP and their families. So often mental health services occur as a response to the various traumas that young women endure later in life. At GP, we are able to provide mental health services that can hopefully minimize the effects of complicated traumas and give young women a better opportunity at being well and successful women to their communities. 

My role as a mental health counselor is multifaceted. Primarily, I provide direct services to the clients I serve in the form of individual therapy. Much of the work with clients focuses on their transition into the next stage of human development. Because my principal client population are of college age, I assist clients “launch” into adulthood by facilitating their processing of relevant concerns, coaching them on possible next steps when they feel uncertain or lack confidence and referring them to additional resources in their community. I believe that so much of what makes what I do effective has to do with my relationships with others in my community. When my relationships with others are positive, I can leverage these relationships to assist the clients that I serve to create meaningful relationships. In this way, I am not only connecting the clients that I serve with resources in their community, but I also model the significance of creating meaningful relationships with others. 

How did you enter the field of mental health? Why is it important to you?

Since my previous professional experience had been in the field of social services, pursuing a career as a mental health counselor was the most natural and meaningful career progression for me. Working in social services not only provided me with insight on how trauma impacts our development, but it also showed me that we are resilient and able to overcome some of these experiences with appropriate intervention. Where my previous career path as a social services provider enabled me to assist in the provision of specific resources to a client population, my current work as a mental health counselor allows me to process some of the root causes of psychological pain and co-create possibilities on how to work through this pain. This co-creation also generates confidence for the clients that I serve because they get to learn that they are able to be the change that they so need. This is, without a doubt, the reason why this work is so valuable to me.

How have your setbacks and weaknesses made you stronger?

One of my most important failures came to me right as I was graduating with my undergraduate degree in psychology. I had fiercely pursued a position working in a research lab that a mentor had advocated for me to get. I was confident that I would get the position because I had made connections with the people in the research lab that had influence over the hiring decision. Well, I ended up not being selected for the position. I was crushed. While I am now sure that I did not get the position because I was not the best fit, at the time, I took this failure personally. While in college, I had to maintain employment which, at times, interfered with my academic endeavors. As a result, my GPA, which was not as high as I would have liked, became a major source of insecurity for me. I internalized the failure as proof that I was not enough in this particular situation, or not smart enough.

A few months later, I was able to secure a position with an agency which started my career in social services. In that position, a more senior co-worker and I were getting acquainted with one another and sharing about ourselves. She asked me about my college major, and I shared it with her. She then looked at me and said, “Wow, you must be so smart”. It was as if I was seeing myself through someone else’s eyes for the first time. Me? So smart? She went on to disclose that she had attempted to major in psychology during her undergraduate years and found it too difficult to maintain. She said that she ended up selecting another major so that she can remain enrolled at her institution. It took hearing a comment like that from someone else to begin to see myself as enough. I had been running headlong up to that point, attaching all these failures to myself as proof of my unworthiness. That comment completely shifted my perspective of myself and, the failure, I might add, changed the course of my career development for the better!

What advice would you give to your younger self?

You are valuable and worthy because you are you! I will confess, I am a workaholic, and while a solid work ethic has its perks, I have many times tricked myself into believing that my worth comes primarily from what I have to offer. This sentiment, I believe, is echoed with many women across our culture who struggle to achieve the impossible standards of beauty and achievement that is thrust upon us. I would tell my younger self that this standard is a myth and that who I am is enough and what I do is complementary to who I am.

In today’s society, people, women especially, are taught to be independent and resilient, but when we’re taught to be too resilient, we push ourselves too much and we neglect to ask for help. How do you balance your vulnerable side and your resilient side?

This is such a big and important question and it is one with which I struggle fantastically! So much of what I have learned about being vulnerable has been mirrored to me in the acts and presence of my loved ones. When I am marching at full speed completely in my head, it is the people whom I consider my closest friends that keep me in check and remind me to slow down. And it is in the slowing down that I remember to ask myself those important “me” questions: What do I need? How can I allow myself the opportunity to receive this need from others in my world? Who will I ask for help with this? It is here that all my needs to be perfect melt away and I remember that my tribe’s got my back. For me, this is such a great invitation to vulnerability because it is with my tribe that I learn that I do not have to be put together 100 percent of the time. I can just be me. My loved ones keep me balanced by offering space for my own vulnerability when I forget that vulnerability is an option.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Being with the people that I serve (I call them my kids). Being present for those “a-ha” moments with them as they move through their various stages of development and navigate their world. Every time that I sit with someone, I get to witness their own story unfolding a little bit more. Author, Mark Nepo, describes one of the great tasks of humanity as discovering one’s personhood. This then enables us to deepen our relationship between ourselves and our world. Mental health work permits us to do so by giving us a clearer sense of ourselves, our community and the relationship between each one. My kids – yes, I consider the student athletes kids too –  are phenomenal at this. I am always so impressed by their ability to ask the most profound questions of themselves and their innate curiosity. And I get to sit in while all this is happening. How did I get so lucky?

How do you define what it means to be a fierce woman?

A fierce woman is a woman that works hard to know herself. I have always believed that my role as a mental health professional is to work at seeing myself more clearly in order to facilitate self-discovery in the people whom I serve. This does not mean that I get it right all the time because I don’t. And it does not mean that I know all that there is to know about myself and others because I do not have that down either. It does mean that I work on this process daily. The Sufi mystic Rumi talks about being human as a “guest house” where we get to welcome and entertain all of our emotional experiences, even the negative ones. We women are under so much pressure to do it all with a smile that we run the risk of cutting off our own authentic emotional experience as a result. To me, being a fierce woman is being that woman who welcomes all of these emotions as part of the human experience, and doing so, as much as we are able, without judgment.