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GayTherapyLA Associate Clinicians: Interview with Mariah Dillard, MS, AMFT

GayTherapyLA had the pleasure in April (2018) to hire Mariah Dillard, MS, AMFT  who is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, working as a new Associate Clinician on weekday mornings and weekends at the GayTherapyLA offices on San Vicente near Sixth in LA/Beverly Hills.  I caught up with Mariah to ask her about herself, and the therapy she offers…

 

1. What would you like your clients to know about you?

What I would love for clients to know about me is that I bring a really special warmth and genuine humor to the therapy room, building a strong therapeutic alliance where my clients can trust me.  I want to work collaboratively, which is of utmost importance to me. I work really hard to create an environment of acceptance, empathy, and commitment with each client that I work with. Something else that I would love clients to know is that I have experience and a strong interest in the entertainment industry, so working with creative executives, production assistants, writers, actors, and agents/managers is a passion of mine!

2. Tell me about your educational background as a therapist.

I could probably go on for days talking about my experience at the University of Maryland! (Go Terps!) One of the most meaningful things that my education and training taught me about being a good therapist is my sensitivity towards my clients’ cultural backgrounds and values. Understanding that cultural practices, attitudes, and community play a significant role in our client’s therapeutic experience. One thing that I love about the process of therapy is gaining the knowledge about how my client’s cultural background impacts their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Not only is being culturally competent extremely important, when it comes to understanding a client’s culture, they are the expert and there is so much they can teach us.

3. What kinds of therapy techniques do you use?

Many people may immediately think of children when they hear “Play Therapy,” but I actually really enjoy engaging in explorative play with adolescents and adults. To me, it is really sad when adults lose their ability to explore and express themselves in a playful manner. Play Therapy can allow clients to creatively and nonverbally uncover various emotions. Storytelling, using sand trays to depict familial relationships, drawing, and even dramatic role playing can be profound and emotional. I have seen Play Therapy lead to greater insight on personal issues, decreases in stress, and even improved communication. I love encouraging clients to choose different figurines (i.e. animals, superheroes, cartoon characters, etc) to depict family members and act out their relationships with each other. This experience can be very informative and can help clients draw connections from their feelings to their family-of-origin.

4. What makes you especially valuable for therapy for the gay male community?

Something that I pride myself in is making sure that every client that I work with feels understood and safe. Studies show (and I have seen myself) that clients have their own specific reasons for wanting a therapist whom they may not identify with, in regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. These reasons stretch from a desire for a different perspective, all the way to a history sexual abuse and trauma. Being an African-American woman, I think that there is a unique empathy that I can bring to the therapeutic experience, especially knowing that my gay male client and I do not identify with the dominant culture. I think that this could create a really special therapeutic bond when I can deeply empathize with some of the hardships that my clients have experienced. My own experience with discrimination, harassment, and insensitivity has informed the work that I do and I believe makes me a more inclusive and affirming therapist.

5. What’s your favorite part about your work as a therapist?

It’s truly beautiful to reflect on the successes that I have been a part of with my clients. One particular client that I had at the very beginning of my career, was struggling with depression that was truly debilitating and impacting his functioning at school, home, and socially. His depression weighed on him so heavily that it was impossible to get out of bed in the morning, find the energy to complete tasks, or even maintain relationships. It took many months of consistently challenging negative thoughts and working on self-esteem, processing childhood trauma, and discovering his strengths.  I taught him how to integrate new coping skills and grounding exercises for when his sadness would feel unbearable; that was crucial. Slowly, we were able to see more involvement in activities that utilized his strengths, more compassion towards himself, and less shame in regard to his childhood trauma, and an increase in confidence and self-esteem, which led to wanting to leave his house to socialize and connect with others. It’s amazing to see my clients really turn around aspects of their lives where they truly felt stuck.

6. How have experiences in your own life influenced your work as a therapist?

Just like many people, I have struggled with anxiety, depression, phobias, and trauma in my own life. As a child and adolescent, I constantly felt like I was drowning in my own negative thoughts and insecurities, which carried into my adulthood. For many years, I knew the intensity of being inundated with pain, fear, and hopelessness. I believe going to therapy myself has really impacted the work that I do with others. Knowing what it’s like “sitting on the other side” as the client, has really opened up my eyes, and to this day, that pushes me to continue being the cheerful, compassionate, inclusive, and understanding person that I am.

7. What kind of clients do you work best with?

I believe I work best with clients who are ready and willing to try new things! I love when clients are open to engaging in new coping skills and excited to practice different ways of communicating and thinking. Clients who feel as though they are “stuck” and are open to being challenged in a nurturing manner are always great to work with! Working on a team is crucial and I love creating a collaborative environment where my client can feel supported and held accountable. Also, like I shared before, I love working providing therapy for people in the entertainment industry. I have worked in various settings in the film industry, so all of you writers, producers, directors, assistants, managers, and actors should be definitely be giving me a call!

Mariah is in the office with appointments available Monday through Friday mornings, or on Saturdays/Sundays.  For more information, for a consultation, or to make an appointment, call/text 717-496-7689, or email mariahgdillard@gmail.com

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