CP photo: Jared Wickerham
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which is fitting because we are all acutely aware of the effect the pandemic is having on our mental health. It's hard to stay indoors without seeing other people for two months straight, living in fear of a terrifying virus. While many businesses and services have had to quickly adapt to doing their work virtually, Ta'lor Pinkston was already well prepared.
Pinkston runs The Heart Advocate, a non-traditional therapy practice rooted in the concept of self-love. Between her full-time job as a therapist at Healthy Start, specializing in depression for prenatal and postpartum mothers, and raising a young daughter as a single mom, Pinkston doesn't have time to meet in-person with her Heart Advocate clients. She's always done her sessions virtually. Now that her day job is online too, Pinkston offers virtual therapy roughly 12 hours of the day, often from 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
"The program focus I have for self-love therapy is around [asking], 'Do you trust yourself? Do you accept yourself? Are you being nice to yourself?'" says Pinkston. "It's very rooted in our self-worth, as opposed to the traditional therapies of [cognitive behavioral therapy] and things like that."
Even those who have never been to therapy are familiar with the dynamic between a patient and a therapist. The client discusses their personal problems and mental health struggles while the therapist asks questions and gives advice, rarely offering up anything personal themselves. Pinkston is not that kind of therapist. She is open with her clients, disclosing her own personal journey in order to make them feel less alone.
"I just feel like it's this hierarchy of like, I'm up here as this therapist with all this knowledge and education, and I'm here to help you, so if I self-disclose, then it's gonna make me look like we're on the same level," says Pinkston. "But we are, aren't we?"
Unsurprisingly, Pinkston has seen an increase in clients and patients amid the pandemic. People are struggling mentally, as the situation wears on.
"We've seen depression being triggered, we've seen anxiety being triggered, and it's because we don't really have the control we once had," says Pinkston. She says that there's an added layer of difficulty since people can't find comfort in interactions with friends and family like they normally would.
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
In addition to her two therapy jobs, Pinkston also runs a Facebook group called Healing Over Everything (H.O.E.), which provides a safe space for people to openly discuss issues in their lives. Each week, the group, which has over 1,200 members, discusses a different theme, from beauty standards to PTSD. It's not therapy, but it's still a place where people can share with each other and offer advice, especially if they can't afford a therapist.
It's a space that Pinkston created because, at one point in her life, it was the kind of space she wished she'd had. Pinkston got pregnant in 2015, right before graduating with a master's degree in social work and went through a difficult depression while carrying her daughter. Once her daughter was born, Pinkston decided that she wanted to be better for her daughter. After doing a quick Google search on the term "self-love," she found and got a scholarship to a program at The Path of Self-Love School, which teaches therapists, life coaches, and others how to "create a more loving world by choosing to love ourselves first."
Now, Pinkston helps both herself and her clients get through the pandemic by reminding them that they are not alone, that she feels it too.
"I'm gonna share my truth," she says, "because I know if I do it, just like I know someone did it for me, it's going to empower me to keep pushing forward."