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Life & Work with Victoria Woodruff of Towson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Victoria Woodruff.

Hi Victoria, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I headed off to college with the intention of studying pre-med. The school was going well if all you considered was grades. In my personal life, I was struggling. I would wake up in the middle of the night ready to dart out of the dorm thinking that I had an exam.

My car kissed a few bumpers as I was thinking more about my physics class than the road. I started to have more back pain, trouble breathing and felt physical, not myself. It finally came to a point where I sought help from my doctor. At that point, I was diagnosed with anxiety. I started seeing a therapist and I became aware of just how much anxiety had been dictating my life. My anxiety didn’t start in college, college was just the last straw.

I spent years learning to better understand my own emotions, thinking patterns, and reactions. To be honest it’s still a work in progress. I had to slow down in school for the sake of my health. When I was in a place to refocus my energy on my studies I re-evaluated what I was doing and why. I always knew that I wanted to help people but if I am being honest medical school was also about proving something.

I thought it was about proving something to others but I came to learn that it was really about my own lack of self-esteem. This caused me to stop and reflect on what I wanted for myself. My experience with my own mental health had left me with a passion for the field but I had also developed a curiosity for the brain and how we think. It was at that point that I decided to set myself on a path to becoming a counselor.

The change in direction by no means squashed my drive or desire to push my own limits. Starting my own business was certainly a challenge. They don’t teach you in a social work program how to run a business. The experience of opening my own practice, building a website, marketing, accounting, and all of the other nuances is a steep learning curve. I wouldn’t do it differently. Running my own practice means that I can provide the kind of care that I would want for myself or a loved one.

When I consider changes, new ideas, I am always thinking about the impact they will have on the patients. There are a lot of providers. Some are arguably more skilled and experienced than I am especially when you consider the broad spectrum of training. What I believe I have that sets me apart is a personal interest in improving mental health care. I want to see positive changes at the individual, community, state, and national levels. I want this for myself, my patients, and others struggling with their mental health.

Mental health impacts so many in our community. We know it is prevalent and yet it remains highly stigmatized and rarely discussed. Even within the healthcare system, there is a lack of understanding that negatively impacts patients. Mental health is health and mental illness is a health condition.

I want to make it my mission to be a part of the movement to taking down the veil around mental health and push for a society that promotes wellness.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I think I need to find some new roads to drive on because all I seem to hit are potholes. In all seriousness, there were many struggles along the way. My own mental health always had to come first which at times made school a challenge. I still managed to graduate with a 4.0 but it wasn’t easy by any stretch. One of the biggest challenges though has been running a business. I learned how to be a therapist.

I have been trained in different techniques and I am always looking for new training to further my skill set. The one thing that I have never had any formal training or education in is business. I was petrified when I created my LLC. Making sure that all bills are paid, that the website is operational, accounting, are all things that I have been learning on the job. Fortunately, I have been able to find resources to help guide me and I have not been shy about asking for help from others.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I have spent a lot of time learning about mental health. Of course, that is true of all therapists. But, I am not referring to what you learn in books. I worked with the mental health association and was able to visit a lot of different types of care facilities. I was also able to listen to so many unique stories about the experiences of others with mental illness. Social workers always talk about meeting the patient where they are, but in order to do that, we have to listen, learn, and understand.

In the course of my work with mental health, I have seen some incredible people. Through it, I have learned that even in the face of adversity so much can be accomplished. Often, people come in with a sense of defeat and question whether they will ever have a chance at seeing their dreams become a reality. I believe that it is possible because I have seen it time and again. I have faith that so much can be accomplished when you want it, believe it, and are given the right tools.

I am a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist with a solution-focused orientation. My training is something that I always rely on and is the basis of my work. What sets me apart is my perspective and background.

We’re always looking for the lessons that can be learned in any situation, including tragic ones like the Covid-19 crisis. Are there any lessons you’ve learned that you can share?
Telehealth was new to many providers. The technology has been around but most providers would agree that face-to-face contact was the preferred standard of care. When the pandemic started we had no idea how long we were going to be in shut down. It wasn’t until a few months later that it became clear that this was for the long haul. Some patients and cases were easily managed through telehealth. I noticed that working with youth, in particular, was a struggle in an online world.

Most of the tools that I would rely on in a physical office to help set people at ease were no longer there. I had to learn new ways to support people and engage them in therapy. COVID also presented us with an increased demand for services.

As part of a helping profession, my first instinct was to take on more. I quickly learned that I was becoming less effective and burning out. Taking on more meant that I was neglecting my own needs. As much as I wanted to do more I had to learn my limits and stick to them.

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