Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Kizzy Pittrell.
Hi Dr. Pittrell, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
The journey for me began when I was about 11 or 12 years old. I saw firsthand what mental illness looked like after witnessing one of my cousins on my mother’s side of the family experience this. As in many black families, mental illness is ignored, denied, not discussed and eventually forgotten about. Many times this also happens to the person living with the illness. Fast forward to 1996 or 1997, another cousin (this time on my father’s side of the family) is diagnosed with a mental illness-again no discussion, denial, and ignored. Fortunately for this cousin, he was placed in residential treatment and provided some treatment to manage his illness. During this time, I was also in my sophomore year of college trying to determine a college major. I knew that I wanted to go into the “helping field”, but I was solely focused on nursing. My first college roommate was a nursing major, but she also came from a family of nurses. She encouraged me to move forward with the nursing, even selecting courses together so that we could study and support each other. After one semester of taking biology, chemistry and anatomy and physiology and failing horribly I knew nursing wasn’t for me. That semester I passed one class, which was African American studies.
After that experience, I had a decision to make; 1) stay in the nursing field and “tough” it out or 2) select another major. The next semester I decided to become an education major. One of the elective courses I needed to take was psychology. My first psychology course that I took was abnormal psychology and it was love at first sight. I can not remember if it was how the professor taught the class or the information that I was learning about human behavior and disorders; all I remember was that I knew this was where I belonged. Then everything that I recall my cousins experiencing began to make sense. I declared psychology as my major.
I graduated with a bachelor of science in psychology and enrolled into the counseling program at Towson University. Between that time, I worked at a few residential programs with adolescents which was great experience to learn about childhood disorders and trauma. I also learned a lot about what social workers and therapists do since I had so much interaction with them.
After graduation from Towson University in 2002, I took my first job as a mental health therapist at a community clinic while I studied to become certified as a licensed therapist. That job was so rewarding because I continued to learn about disorders and treatment for people who looked like my cousins. It was there that I began to really hone my clinical skills that would prepare me to go into other areas.
Since leaving my first therapist position in 2002, I have worked in numerous outpatient mental health clinics & addiction programs working with at risk youth and adults from all backgrounds, ethnicities and experiences. In 2012, I became certified to supervise others seeking licensure and in 2017, I became certified in addictions.
My journey has led me to currently owning my own private practice and along with my husband, a psychiatric rehabilitation program that serves children and adults. I also do clinical consulting for a case management agency and I teach at two community colleges.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
The road has not been smooth or easy. I will say that I have always had great support from my family and close friends. They have always supported career changes, returning to college to obtain my doctorate and opening a business. They are my biggest cheerleaders. My biggest challenge has been me. At times in my life, I doubted myself, my clinical skills and even my work as a therapist. When clients would abruptly stop treatment, I would see it as a reflection of something I did or didn’t do or say. I always felt like I had to challenge myself by attending workshops/conferences, buying materials to read to stay abreast of mental health treatment and interventions and to know what I was talking about when meeting with clients. Although no one said that they didn’t think I was competent, I needed to feel competent. I carried the imposter syndrome with me for years. While studying for my doctorate degree, the imposter syndrome really showed its ugly head. A poor grade meant that I was a failure and I should just drop out of the program. Many times I considered dropping out of my doctorate program or changing my career.
I’m thankful that today those messages no longer control my thinking or my life and I am in a place where I do what is best for me. I also understand that my clients’ behaviors are not a reflection of me but that some people end treatment because they are not ready.
Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
My therapy practice is my baby. This practice started as part-time because at the time I was still employed with an agency. I was becoming tired of working in the community health sector and wanted to see what private practice would mean for me. I started this business with 0% business education. Creating and structuring a business is not something that is taught in counseling programs. We are taught clinical skills to prepare us to work for employers; never taught how to work for ourselves. I read, I studied, and I connected with a few people who had private practices as a way to began connecting the dots. There is so much that I didn’t know about branding, marketing, hiring business lawyers, creating legal documents, etc. I started by sub-leasing an office space from a psychologist one day a week. Simultaneously, I began applying to insurance companies to become listed on their panel. The psychologist that I leased office space from would also refer clients to me. Eventually, my business began to grow and I went from leasing space once a week to two, then three and so on. At the same time, a colleague and sister friend of mine was also beginning to start seeing clients in private practice. She and I agreed that it would make more sense for us to obtain one office building and share it. In 2017, she and I leased our office space in Rosedale, where we are currently located. I have learned so much in these past eight years about the business of counseling. Some things I learned were through trial and error and other things was by mistakes, but mistakes are good because it helps us to grow. I specialize in women’s issues, although I can work with any population. I prefer working with young women 18+. Some of the areas I work with women on are self-esteem/self/concept, anxiety, depression, anger, relationships, resolving childhood trauma, parenting and removing the Superwoman syndrome. I am also trained in the Prepare/Enrich program to provide couples counseling.
In 2019, my husband and I also opened a psychiatric rehabilitation program called Strengthening Families Building Communities. This program provides community support, goal setting, resources and individualized service to children and adults with severe emotional health issues.
Do you have any advice for those just starting out?
I have two pieces of advice. For students and those aspiring to go into the mental health field, seek a mentor. Preferably a mental heath professional with substantial time in the field. You need a mentor in this field because there are so many avenues to take with your degree. There is a misconception that therapists only do therapy. That is false. There are some therapists that prefer the one-on-one therapy model; then there are therapists who provide therapy, train, teach, develop curriculum, write books, consult and can run a business. Having a mentor will allow you to see all of the things you can do in this field. For those seeking to open a practice, but like me, wasn’t taught this in school; seek a business coach. A business coach is an investment. A business coach can help guide you through all of the painful parts of running a business to ensure that your business is ethical and in compliance.
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