It's the dawn of a new era! Today, Dr. Jade Wu passes the torch to Dr. Monica Johnson as the new host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast. They chat about the meaning of a psychologist's work, the biggest challenges in mental health, and what you can look forward to on the show.
Charles Darwin once said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Adaptability is what allows us to renew and grow. And I’m excited for today's special episode, because it’s one that heralds renewal and growth for the Savvy Psychologist podcast.
As you may have heard from last week’s episode, this will be my last time hosting the show. I’ve treasured my two years at the Savvy Psychologist, sharing my passion (and hopefully some wisdom) with you. I’ve learned so much in the process, not the least from your thoughtful questions and feedback. And for this, I am very grateful!
I’m also grateful for my special guest today, who will be your next Savvy Psychologist, because her incredible personal and professional experiences will make this show go deeper than it’s ever gone before.
Dr. Monica Johnson is a clinical psychologist and owner of Kind Mind Psychology, a private practice in NYC that specializes in evidenced-based approaches to treating a wide range of mental health issues (e.g. depression, anxiety, trauma, and personality disorders). Additionally, she has a focus on working with marginalized groups of people including BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and alternative lifestyles. She has co-authored a book for professionals on addressing race-based stress in therapy, and regularly speaks and teaches on this subject. She currently lives in Manhattan where she indulges in horror movies, sarcasm, and intentional introversion.
Dr. Johnson and I sat down to an interview about her path as a psychologist (and human), her favorite psychological concepts, and her conception of the future of mental health. Below is an abbreviated transcript of our conversation:
Savvy Psychologist: How did you decide to become a psychologist? What drew you to this work?
Dr. Monica Johnson: I decided to become a psychologist when I was 12 years old. It’s well documented in my journals from that time period. I grew up in poverty in the South in a single parent household. I am the only person in my family to even think about going to college. I faced significant obstacles and adversity given my circumstances, but I was also aware that I was resilient. I wasn’t aware of that term at the time, but if you read my journal entry, I spoke about recognizing that I was strong and wanting to impart that strength onto others almost through osmosis. It was important to me that people had the knowledge that they weren't alone and they had the power to overcome their circumstances. I still feel that way today.
Savvy Psychologist: What does your day-to-day experience as a psychologist look like?
Dr. Johnson: I own a private practice in Manhattan called Kind Mind Psychology. Most of my days are spent seeing patients, supervising both doctoral and Master’s level trainees and therapists, and conducting workshops. I also provide some life coaching. My practice focuses on CBT and DBT interventions and I see a wide range of disorders including depression, anxiety, PTSD, complex trauma, borderline personality disorder. Most importantly, my practice does also focus on bringing therapy to underserved populations like BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and those engaging in alternative lifestyles like polyamory or sex work.
Savvy Psychologist: What is your favorite part of being a psychologist? And your least favorite?
Dr. Johnson: Easy question for me -- my favorite part is seeing my patients. I love direct patient care. It is such an honor to me that I get to be present with people as they engage in the work of connecting with themselves honestly and non-judgmentally and skillfully addressing the problems that arise for them. It warms my heart to no-end to see a person who may have initially presented as severely depressed, unhealthy relationship dynamics, engaging in self harm and to see their depression taking a back seat, them entering a long-term romantic relationship, and implementing healthy coping strategies. It’s the best! My least favorite part is dealing with insurance companies. It's extremely time consuming.
Savvy Psychologist: In your work (clinical or academic), has anything taken you by surprise, or challenged the way you see the world or see people? Any watershed moments or unforgettable turning points?
Dr. Johnson: It’s hard to surprise me, but I have definitely had turning points in my development as a psychologist. One of my mottos in life is to do the hard thing first and that was very true in my development as a psychologist. There is a general stigma attached to mental health care as a whole and within the mental health community there are populations that have an even larger stigma attached. I have worked with many of those populations.
When I was in grad school I worked with sex offenders, both adolescent and adult, to reduce likelihood of reoffense and develop healthy behaviors, I’ve focused on the treatment of borderline personality disorder which is unfortuntely highly stigmatized, and was even the lead psychologist at a homeless clinic for several years. I’ve helped gay patients come out to their devoutly Christian families, I’ve helped BIPOC people deal with the vicarious trauma of seeing a person murdered because of the color of their skin, I’ve seen women literally the day after they were raped or beaten by a partner.
I’ve even had patients call me the N-word or other racially disparaging remarks when I worked at a clinic, and have gotten them to engage respectfully with me and focus on reducing their mental health symptoms. All of those experiences have deepened my abilities as a professional and a person to be non-judgmental, compassionate, and to focus on my purpose which is to prevent harm, reduce suffering, and aid in building a worthwhile existence.
Savvy Psychologist: What do you think is an area of mental health that is neglected? Why is it important?
Dr. Johnson: Anything related to minority groups. We still have a lack of research that adequately supports the needs of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ populations. It’s important because we live in a wonderfully colorful world and all of those shades need to be accurately represented. We also need to reduce healthcare disparities that impact the accessibility and quality of care that these populations are able to attain.
Savvy Psychologist: If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about our society's perceptions about or ways of dealing with mental health issues, what would it be?
Dr. Johnson: Oh, I would totally remove all stigma and have people think of mental health care as mandatory. Can I also get rid of the term “talk therapy”? That’s a pet peeve of mine. I’ve often heard that term in the past spoken with a dismissive quality. I mean obviously what we do involves talking, but it’s much more complex than that. Talking is the instrument by which the intervention is delivered to the patient, like a needle delivering a life saving vaccine to someone. The magic isn’t in the poke of the needle, it's in the contents of the syringe, and what mechanisms of change are activated as a result.
Savvy Psychology: What is your favorite concept in psychology (or therapy)? Why? How can we apply it better?
Dr. Johnson: Radical acceptance. I love this concept because in my experience it works when nothing else does. When you use this skill it eliminates suffering because you are accepting life on life's terms. The general concept here is that when we fight against reality we generate suffering. When we accept reality then we are left with ordinary pain. Pain is mandatory and through using skills like radical acceptance we can reduce and at times eliminate suffering. To do the opposite -- choosing to engage in suffering -- is like having a wound that you dig into with your fingers and then get angry that it won’t heal.
Savvy Psychologist: What do you most look forward to sharing with the Savvy Psychologist audience as the new host of the show?
Dr. Johnson: I mean honestly I hope to live up to the standard set by yourself and the previous host. I look forward to sharing my passion and I love sharing my knowledge in whatever capacity I can. I’m excited to share my 3H’s: humor, hope, and healing. If I can inspire someone to start or keep walking down their path of healing, impart hope in them that things can improve, and have a few laughs along the way...I can be happy with what I’ve done.
And with that, we warmly welcome Dr. Monica Johnson to the helm of the Savvy Psychologist. I am very excited to hear the insights that she will share with us.
And now a word to my listeners: It’s been a pleasure, friends. Remember to prioritize your wellness -- capitalism and grind culture and social expectations can wait. Remember to cherish your relationships -- those are the things you will either love or regret the most at the end of your days. But also remember to respect yourself by keeping boundaries in relationships -- you can be gentle but firm, even if it takes practice. Take sleep seriously. Treat your body the way you’d treat a rare and beautiful flower. And know that you’re resilient even when it feels like you’re falling apart, when it feels like you can do nothing right, and even when it feels like there’s no space for you in the world. It’s not true, and you will see the light.
Stay in touch with me on Twitter @JadeWuPhD where you will find sleep-related news and tips, as well as updates on my book.
As always, thank you for listening, and I wish you a happier, healthier mind.