BABE #161: BRITTANY RICHARDSON, Mental Health Clinician, Dignity Health Foundation
Today’s babe spends her days working with at-risk children and families in the Los Angeles community as a mental health clinician. From entrepreneur, to coach, to researcher, Brittany’s role varies from hour to hour, but the end goal is the same: spread love while helping others. In today’s interview, she shares her insights on mental health, the current welfare system, self-care, and balancing her demanding schedule in the vital world of social work.
Hometown: Simsbury, Connecticut
Current city: Los Angeles, California
Alma mater: University of Southern California
Degree: Master’s in Social Work
Very first job: Sales Associate, CVS
Hustle(s): Mental Health Clinician, Dignity Health Foundation / Founder and Facilitator, V.E.N.T. Support Group
Babe you admire and why?
I’m honestly impressed by women in general, and it’s been an amazing year to see all the voices come out and advocate for each other, particularly with the #metoo and #timesup movements. One of my favorite stories this year was learning how Jessica Chastain helped Octavia Spencer secure a pay raise by 500 percent! Though, let’s be honest, Beyonce is the greatest babe of all time. I watch her performances when I’m on the treadmill for motivation.
How do you spend your free time?
Free time is a luxury, but I’m a huge proponent of self care, so I try to capitalize on any extra time I get with what I need in that moment. Sometimes it’s extra sleep, sometimes it's hiking Runyon Canyon with a friend or binge-watching Netflix, other times it’s connecting with family. It’s been raining a lot in Los Angeles recently, so I’ve been working on this really cool photo project collecting grey and rainy LA days. I’m making free time for that.
Favorite fictional female character?
Go-to adult beverage?
Eastside when it’s warm out. Red wine when I have work to do.
Go-to power anthem?
Anything on Midnight Marauders makes me feel fearless. I also had an amazing afternoon sampling songs for this question.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
The world's best sushi.
What is something you want to learn or master?
I think it’s be really cool if I was secretly a sommelier. I would also love to learn fancy calligraphy, speak French, get better at photography, learn to tango, play the saxophone—I just love to learn.
Go-to news source?
I usually go to Twitter when something is breaking or I want more information. But I put CNN on every morning while getting ready.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
What’s something not many people know about you?
I’ve been to over 20 countries and I’m a certified yoga instructor.
Tell us about your hustle.
My mantra over the years has become “spread love.” I try to really embody that in all my actions. I started a romance concierge business, B. Valkyrie, in 2014. It’s geared towards really busy couples who love each other but struggle to balance a successful career and successful relationship. As I started working with clients it became less about date planning and gift giving and more about work/home life-balance coaching, which helped me transition into executive coaching. Therapy came as a natural option as I was deciding postgraduate options. I’m currently working as a family counselor to obtain my hours to become a licensed clinical social worker, which will open doors and make it easier to execute a lot of my goals.
What does your typical workday look like?
I split my day into three parts. I’m not a morning person. For me to be highly functioning I need at least eight hours of sleep and I take my time starting the day. I put on the news while I’m getting ready to get a feel for what’s happening in the world and scan through emails for emergencies. Mornings always start with coffee. I live in Silver Lake, which is a mecca for hipster coffee addicts. So, I’ll pick a cafe and work on strategy, do work for B. Valkyrie and respond to emails. Then I go into the office and put on hat number two. I work for a department called Family Preservation, which works with families at risk of losing their children due to abuse, neglect or violence. I work with families in their home to strengthen family bonds, address and hopefully eliminate risk factors. As a clinician I spend a lot of time doing research. I’m always checking in with coworkers (and the internet) for what resources they’re using and what interventions have been successful considering age, culture, etc. I follow up with any necessary paperwork and documentation that may be required for a case, and then I go out to see two to three families a day in their home. In the evenings, depending on which day, it is I co-facilitate a parenting class and a generational trauma class called V.E.N.T. The nights I’m not actually facilitating, I’m usually researching or gathering materials or seeing personal clients. After group, I go home and make dinner with music on to decompress.
What led you to choose a career in social work? What area of social work do you focus on?
I always knew I wanted to seek a postgraduate degree, but I was undecided between law school and social work. I ultimately went with social work because I feel my talent is in working hands-on with people. My concentration was in families and children, but I think ultimately I enjoy more macro social work. Meaning, working with companies and business to help them become healthy places for employees and communities.
How do you build trust with your patients while maintaining the necessary boundaries?
The most important component of trust is honesty. So, I’m always honest with clients. We discuss why I’m there, how I can help (and how I can’t), then we process expectations. I’m also a really good listener, so that helps. Therapy is not about providing answers for people; it’s getting them to find the answers on their own, which requires a great deal of patience, but is ridiculously rewarding. Being honest about what I’m capable of professionally and setting appropriate boundaries allow me to manage emotions and also create a barometer to challenge patients expectations when they begin to ask, “Is this working?”
How does your community impact your work?
The community impacts my work because the community is my work, just in different arenas. Many of my families in South Los Angeles are impoverished and need certain resources to help meet their needs, so I’m constantly looking for low-cost or free services. Homelessness has become a state of emergency, so keeping families from homelessness and finding stable housing takes up a good portion of my time. It’s almost impossible to find housing—even when I have clients with steady income. Many of my coworkers have been in the field for decades, so they supply a rich resource of agencies and people to help meet the needs of my family.
What is your opinion on the current welfare system?
Pass. (Just kidding.) Many of my clients are recipients of welfare—they need it and benefit from it. There’s no question for me about its value. I think (I hope) the “welfare queen” has been sufficiently debunked as Reagan-era propaganda, but of course there are holes in the system. I think Clinton did a real disservice for a lot of families by handing it over to states and making it more difficult to access. It’s a complex system, but overall I believe the government has an obligation to provide relief and resources to its most vulnerable populations.
Do you feel a sense of purpose in your day-to-day work?
For sure. Some days more than others. I work with a lot of children of all ages, from birth to teenagers, and I really enjoy being able to watch them grow and develop, especially the younger ones. I’ve seen first steps and first words, and that’s really powerful. But, I feel a lot of purpose working with parents and helping them reframe what parenting means to them. Sometimes it’s breaking theoretical ideals they learned from their parents, like “playing with dolls makes you gay.” Other times it’s providing a new way of looking at a certain issue. When a parent says, “I never thought of it like that,” it makes me feel like I'm doing a good job. Even if a parent doesn’t agree with a suggestion I may provide, the fact that they’re listening and thinking out of the box means progress has been made.
How do you feel about the way mental illness is portrayed in media?
It's confusing and impedes the necessary conversations about mental health. A mental illness is an illness that has an effect on our mental health. Mental “health” is how we’re doing mentally, or our mental well-being. Everyone has mental health, just like everyone has physical health. Just as you can have poor physical health but not a physical illness, you can have poor mental health but not a mental illness. Media often shows the most severe aspects of mental illness either for comedic relief or to scare you. For a long time, because of media, people’s best understanding of bipolar disorder was Britney Spears shaving her head and attacking the paparazzi. When you think of mental illness, you think of school shootings or deranged psychopaths, but that’s a really unfair characterization—and not even backed up with substantive data. It’s really hard to break stigmas and have people seek help when they don’t want to be thought of (or think of themselves) in the way media portrays.
What can we all do to help transform the conversation around mental illness?
1. When someone tells you they are depressed, don’t respond, “No you aren’t.” 2. Change the narrative from “mental illness” to “mental health.” Just because someone may be in a period of poor mental health doesn’t mean they are suffering from a mental illness. 3. If you know someone who has been formally diagnosed with a mental illness, talk to them. Ask questions. Be assertive about correct information. Of course, always come from a place of empathy and compassion. There’s an anonymous quote that says, “Sometimes the most comforting words in the world are ‘me too’”—and I agree with that.
What would you say is your biggest career milestone and why?
Aside from finishing grad school, I think the first Know Your Rights LA panel was a milestone. I had an idea, and with no funding or resources I created something. I was terrified every step of the way, from finding the venue to inviting panelist and praying people would even show up. But people came and an incredible conversation was had. Over 20,000 people watched in on Facebook live, which was awesome. It was really validating (and humbling) for me. Most importantly, it showed me I’m capable.
What are some common misconceptions about your role?
As a social worker, people think I’m there to take away children. I actually work to keep families together. My department in the hospital is called “family preservation.” We believe no one will love a child more than their parents. I work to create safe and healthy homes with families intact and children out of foster care or institutions.
What would you say is your biggest strength in your role?
There’s a huge responsibility as a therapist to successfully guide your client to meet their goals and not your own goals. It can be frustrating and infuriating, but ultimately rewarding when done correctly. I truly believe in allowing someone to grow into whoever they want to be. My only boundaries for goals are safety. My strength is in not judging, because people need to learn to love themselves and yourself is nearly impossible when you’re trying to impress someone else.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
I’m really inspired by women who get things done. Bree Newsome climbing up the flagpole to cut down the Confederate flag still gives me goosebumps. Joy DeGruy’s research on the generational trauma in the African American community compiled in her book, “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome,” was a brick in the foundation of V.E.N.T. Valencia Clay teaching students in Baltimore about empathy and compassion inspires me.
What’s your ultimate dream job?
An in-house therapist for a dope brand.
Are you involved with any other community organizations or side projects?
V.E.N.T. is a support group I created that focuses on the long-lasting effects of generational trauma by instilling how to move forward and change the narrative of the whole community—from victims to survivors to trailblazers. We know from Holocaust survivors that trauma can be passed on to children in their DNA through epigenetics and learned behavior. Slaves were never given a therapist, so how they coped with their abuse affected their parenting, which was was just the tip of the iceberg of a trickle-down effect. V.E.N.T. creates a space to talk about what that means and how to move forward. Know Your Rights LA is a panel series I created in the wake of the shootings of Philando Castille, Alton Sterling, and the five police officers shot in Dallas. After speaking with a lot of peers it became clear many don’t know the correct way to handle police, are unclear about what’s lawful and ultimately are scared. I invited law professors, activists, attorneys and deputies to provide clarity and insight involving civilian interactions with police. The series is continuing with more more election-based information in time for the upcoming elections.
What advice would you give to a babe trying to break into your industry?
Be vocal. Speak up often. Most people are thinking the same thing you are. The only one who gets the credit is the one who says it.
What is your philosophy on work/life balance?
Happiness is a choice and requires practice. There’s a million tips and tricks for time management and “working smarter,” but ultimately you have to hold yourself accountable for what your life looks like. If you aren’t happy with something, change it. (Annoying I know, but true.)
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’ve never been a huge fan of the five-year plan. It just feels like a lot of pressure and limits plans the universe might have in store for me. I have a general direction of where I want to go, but life is so unpredictable. If you have a five-year plan you take very seriously, you limit yourself to potential opportunities and run the risk of disappointment if you fail to meet goals. If you’re not taking your plan that seriously, why are you making it? I tend to put all my energy into what I’m currently focused on and let that propel me to what’s next.
What’s next for you?
I should obtain my license by my birthday next year, which will allow me to begin a private practice. I hope to continue consulting with executives and hopefully move into a brand full-time within the next few years.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
The best life advice I have is this: Listen to your gut.
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