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Meet Denisha Gingles of Signature Behavioral Health and Whole Self Liberation Counseling

Today we’d like to introduce you to Denisha Gingles.

Hi Denisha, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself
My journey has been very eventful yet purposeful. My first psychology job was as an Applied Behavior Analysis(ABA) therapist at a school in Towne and Country, Missouri working with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I drove about 45 minutes each day for work. I knew nothing about behavior analysis, but what I did know is that I was home for summer break and wanted to begin working in the field in which I was studying. So this was the perfect opportunity for me. I enjoyed my experience that summer, but I wasn’t sold on ABA as my career goal.

A few years later, I completed my bachelor’s degree and began Grad school shortly thereafter. At that time, I went to study Counseling Psychology and continued working as an ABA Therapist in a clinical setting in Baltimore, MD. Over the span of my educational and professional experience, I have remained inquisitive and multi-passionate. I gained experience conducting individual and group counseling for clients with various substance use disorders at a suboxone treatment program. I also worked within Career and vocational psychology, conducting research and providing assessments, workshops, and services to individuals undergoing career transitions. I was trained in trauma-focused cbt to work with children who experienced sexual abuse and assault; I worked with Couples, the Chronic Homeless population, Advanced and Dual Diagnoses such as bipolar disorder, schizoaffective, and schizophrenia. I also have worked with a wide variety of people with various Medical and Developmental Disabilities.

After Grad school and as a new master-level mental health clinician, I was ready for a change in scenery to begin my new career. I searched for the role that would jumpstart my journey in a new town. It came down to two choices. One was in a director position with a large mental health non-profit. The other was working with a non-profit to help teens prepare for college, both located in New York City. I ended up not being offered the position at the mental health organization, as they decided to promote from within. But to be fully honest, I was surprised I made it that far in the interview process. After ten interviews with the second company (yes, 10 is no exaggeration), I was offered the position.

So I packed my car and my bags and off to New York. I went ready for the world. That was my first after graduation “mama I made it” moment. Two days after arrival, and getting settled in my new beautiful highrise apartment in Harlem that overlooked the Hudson River with my college friend and one business day before the approved start date of my new career outside of psychology. I was told, “I’m sorry, we elected a new president and she decided to put all hiring on hold. Yes, including the new graduate who just moved over 200 miles to work for their lovely company.

I was supposed to be on my path. But I was quickly thrown off and naturally; I was devastated. After I sulked for the day, I woke up the next morning and began job hunting again. 1 week passed, 2, 3, and then a 4th. Countless applications later and no job leads. The rent check was due. I was still jobless and staring at my bank account, wondering how many months my savings would extend in the most expensive city in this country? It was time to do something and to do something quickly. I called my parents and let them know what my plan was. And that day, I got dressed marched up the streets of Harlem and to the Military Recruitment center. The answer was the Navy. Before I became an abolitionist and started to understand imperialism, I always wanted to follow after both of my parent’s footsteps and serve this country by joining the military, so clearly, this event and being thrown off my path was sending me in this direction.

When I arrived to the office, I was told that the recruiter was on leave for two weeks, so I couldn’t join the military that day. Confused about my path, I made a pact to keep job searching and if I didn’t find a job before the recruiter got back, the Navy was my final answer. One day before the recruiter returned, I got a call and was offered a mental health position. Crisis averted back on the mental health track and my first big girl job. I poured my all into that job, but it was till this day, the most challenging position I have ever held. So after about a year, I went searching for a new position. I came across an ad recruiting for a behavior specialist, interviewed for it, and was offered the job. This job was in the same field as my undergrad and graduate school job, ABA. However, it wasn’t until this third position that I actually connected with the work. It was my aha moment.

At every part of my adult life, I have remained interested in changing the human condition for marginalized groups. I take an anti-oppression lens and activate for change in the areas of educational justice, criminal justice reform/abolition, racial justice, and intentionally Black Liberation. I worked this new job in the middle of the social justice movement that reignited the urgency for change in this country and across the world. Micheal Brown Jr was killed in my hometown. About 8 minutes away from my family home. We watched Ferguson activists being teargassed and treated similarly to Palestinians undergoing violence. I was spending more of my time engaging in activism and exclaiming Black Lives Matter in New York as we fought in solidarity with Ferguson activists, Palestine, and for Eric Garner. I would spend the next few years as a behavior specialist and social justice organizer concurrently.

Working simultaneously in the movement and in my job, I begin to see behavior analysis as a tool to make an impact on my community. I saw a potential way of ensuring that Black and Brown children were not acknowledged as problems, as Micheal Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Jaiesha Scott were seen, but the environment and contingencies present were the real concern. I saw a way to build the solutions that really mattered. Growing up seeing punitive practices employed in the school system and the larger world, I saw Behavior Analysis as being restorative in a sense, at least more restorative than I had ever seen given to Black and Brown children. I saw a light that aligned with my desire to see social change and Black liberation. And while I was working with people with medical and developmental disabilities, I saw the potential in the science and it compelled me to say I finally found it. I found what would make my wheels turn and heart warm. I found a way to pay my rent to this world through service. And I didn’t look back. That is what kicked off my journey to where I am now. I own two behavioral health practices, one providing mental health counseling and ABA therapy to neurodivergent children and their families and the other working with individuals who have been impacted by racism and other systems of oppression. We are moving into our very own clinic this summer, located in the Catonsville/Windsor Mill area.

I said all that to say get comfortable with your story not being pretty (and long-winded!). Get comfortable with knowing that you will experience loss and failure on the way to actualizing your purpose. It may help the person who doesn’t believe their goal is attainable because of their own setbacks. It may also help the person who struggles with their own vision to know at any point it can crystallize. Had I emitted one different behavior, made one different decision, had one door been opened that was closed for me initially, I might not have the business or life that I have today. I was one opened door away from removing myself from my purpose. Just one.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
If you think my story had a lot of struggles, honestly that’s not even the iceberg. Being a business owner is one of the toughest roles that I’ve played in my life and it has come with many ups and downs. One of the biggest struggles for my business has been COVID-19. As a new business owner, a new employer, and undergoing a pandemic for the first time in my life while undergoing all of the mental, physical, financial stressors that came with existing in a pandemic it has been tough. At the beginning of Covid, I was forced to make a very hard decision. I had to furlough my staff, find funding, and cease providing therapy to clients who needed our help. Though we are back, I am still navigating the pandemic and its residual effects. My goals were to expand this past year, hire more clinicians and work with more clients in Baltimore. I’ve very much so have not been able to do that, but the simple fact we are making it through the pandemic is worthy enough, especially when in March 2020, it was not for certain if we would.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
My primary practice is Signature Behavioral Health we work with individuals who have social, emotional, learning, and behavioral concerns. And most times, they are neurodivergent(Autism, ADHD). We offer ABA therapy, mental health counseling, caregiver support groups, and caregiver training.

We affirm children, teens, and young adults using a strengths-based and trauma-informed approach. We not only uplift the children and teens we service through ABA but empower parents and siblings of our neurodivergent and disabled clients with the common goal of enhancing the quality of life for the entire household.

My second practice is Whole Self Liberation Counseling. I provide individual and group sessions, as well as meditation. I have always had a passion for helping others but I am acutely passionate about helping Black people navigate daily stressors as well as racial trauma which includes internalized racism and anti-Blackness.

Racial trauma and its impact are often underlooked and intentionally ignored. Black people experience trauma in the form of discrimination (including housing, career, education, medical, etc), police and community violence, and so much more. But the way in which we have been socialized is to be resilient and get through any of our challenges despite their difficulty. And while resiliency is key for survival, Black people deserve to live a life that exists beyond mere survival, we deserve to thrive and experience a whole, liberated life. So my clients are able to explore what that means for themselves. Additionally we, Black people, have learned things about ourselves and our community due to racism, that need to be worked through. Colorism, texturism, sexism, homophobia, religious oppression, transphobia can be uprooted and we can learn a new way of engaging that does not perpetuate harm or even violence towards self and others. Our clients can look at the ways in which they honor the community by navigating healthy communication and conflict resolution.

With Whole Self-Liberation Counseling, I take an individualized, behavioral approach to treatment by assessing the conditions in which specific behavior(s) occur. This allows us to get closer to the “why” or the function of our actions. By understanding the function, we can apply solutions directly correlated to the problem. I am additionally trained in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which means we aren’t trying to get rid of the hard internal stuff that people encounter, but change our relationship to it. And we are doing it in a very action-oriented way. I am here to help gently guide my clients, but also teach them how to hold themselves accountable to themselves and the community and the values they have or will set for their lives.

We’d love to hear about any fond memories you have from when you were growing up?
My favorite childhood memory is taking road trips with my family. Back in the day we would load up our van and we would drive to some destination and I really loved being in the back of the van looking out the window at night and seeing the stars in the sky.

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Image Credits
Marylyn Senato Arshiya Malik Bobbie Boat

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