Taking the steps to face your mental health struggles can be difficult. Everyone has different experiences and thus needs different paths of treatment, so finding that path can feel like an unbearable feat. As licensed professional counselor Kaitlyn Kenealy says, “Healing Is Messy AF!” Her multidimensional approach to therapy is the epitome of what mental health treatment should look like, and she’s slowly changing the field with the goal of having mental health treated at the same level as physical health.
When it comes to facing our mental health struggles and traumas, it can seem impossible to take the first step in finding a path towards healing. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for things like anxiety, depression, and PTSD, different people require different paths, which is why taking a multifaceted approach to counseling and treatment is one of the best things someone can do to help themselves.
Kaitlyn Kenealy is a licensed professional counselor who has dedicated her career to establishing a multidimensional approach to treating mental health. She utilizes a wide range of methods to treat a wide variety of patients aged 4 and up.
Through her work, Kenealy is not only doing the work to continue to break the stigmas against mental health struggles and therapy, but creating an even larger conversation about how integral it is to take care of ourselves.
“My journey’s been very unique, but it’s truly always felt like I’ve been doing what I’m meant to be doing, especially now. Through every academic experience I had, the field of counseling is where I felt like I was always meant to go, and I’m so glad that I did.”
Kenealy explained that her journey into psychotherapy wasn’t exactly linear. She initially went to school to become an actress before eventually shifting her studies to become an educator. Through that process she took a class in Women’s and Gender studies, which she explained “completely changed the trajectory” of her college career.
Her undergraduate degree was in History with a minor in Women’s Studies and her first Master Degree is in Women’s and Gender studies. “Had I never taken that first class in undergrad, I honestly don’t know what I would be doing.”
“Gender and Women’s Studies embodies the teachings of social justice movements, history, socioeconomics, all of these things that I’m very passionate about tied together, and I think that makes me a really unique counselor in terms of my background. That particular Master’s Degree I feel myself utilizing on a daily basis, and it truly changed the trajectory of my life in the best way.”
After working as an academic and financial advisor after graduating, Kenealy found a real passion for helping students get to the root of their issues and helping them find a feasible solution for themselves. She found herself taking on a more counselor position every time she would advise her students, and realized that she was finding passion in being able to help others not just better their college experience, but better themselves in the process.
She decided to take the leap and go back to school to receive a second Master’s Degree in Community and Mental Health Counseling. The drive and dedication that Kenealy had towards making her passions a reality is already an indication of the energy she puts into her work.
When asked about her practice, Kenealy Counseling, she laughed and said: “Who opens a private practice during a pandemic right?” However, she soon realized that like her journey in academics, while it may not be typical, the opening of her practice happened when it did for a reason.
“Like a lot of people, after receiving my degrees my initial goals were to get married, get a house, and then work on opening my own practice. Unfortunately, like for everyone around the world, the pandemic completely changed those plans.
When the pandemic began and I was starting my practice, I made the conscious decision to maintain in-person appointments with my patients when a lot of clinicians and other practices were trying to modify and accommodate the new world we were all living in.
I think that really set me apart because people still wanted to be in person and at the time, we were forced to remain so far away from each other. Of course, the appointments were a little weird, having us sit far away from each other in the same room with masks on, but that honestly set the tone for the heart of my practice.”
Kenealy found her practice growing and growing. In the beginning of the pandemic, many of us didn’t realize the short and long term effects it would have on mental health around the world. The need for services like Kenealy Counseling is continuously increasing, so Kaitlyn continued to do whatever she could to help as many people as possible.
At Kenealy Counseling, they provide individual therapy, couples counseling, group therapy sessions, adolescent therapy, life/career counseling, and workshop options for patients aged 4 and up utilizing a variety of techniques to accommodate for each individual’s specific needs. Some of these methods include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Mental Health First Aid, Trauma Informed Care, Batterers Treatment, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Motivational Interviewing.
As a means of being able to reach an even wider population of people seeking some sort of solution for their specific issues, Kenealy also has her own podcast, and published her book “Healing Is Messy AF.” The practice also provides therapy in schools. Kenealy’s passion for helping others live their best lives goes beyond her practice doors, she wants to be able to provide a sense of help and relief to as many individuals as possible.
One of the methods that Kenealy is trained in is known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which is known as one of the most effective modalities to treat trauma, PTSD, anxiety, etc.
“In the 1980’s, Francine Shapiro was working with war veterans suffering from PTSD. She noticed that when these veterans would recount their traumatic experiences, their eyes would be moving. So she would prompt them to follow her finger while processing certain traumas, this was the beginning of EMDR therapy.
EMDR is one of the most researched and evidence-based practices that exists in the counseling/psychotherapy field. Essentially how it works is when working with a patient with trauma, for example, we pick a memory and we process that memory through eye movement. It’s also important to note that this isn’t a form of hypnosis, and the patient is fully aware of what’s going on throughout the entire process, which I think is a major misconception.
As we process that memory through eye movement, what we’re doing is activating the limbic part of the brain, which typically only gets activated during REM sleep.
The core memories that we focus on I describe as having branches, which impacts other parts of your brain and memories, so what EMDR does is take away the “sting” of the branches, and makes the memory more livable. I tell people it’s the closest thing to magic that we have, because in just a few sessions patients will feel a sense of clarity and relief.
I think it’s integral to know and understand not only EMDR, but the multitude of therapy methods made available to us because every individual is different. While we all could benefit from general talk-therapy in one way or another, when we’re talking about truly healing from something that is impacting our everyday lives, we need to explore every option, and EMDR especially is a great tool to help people.”
Kenealy’s multifaceted approach to therapy and counseling is not just something that makes her standout as a counselor, but is also setting a standard for mental health treatment and the complexities of what every human needs in terms of their own healing.
“I serve a unique population of diverse individuals with a variety of issues they’re healing from. Each person has a baseline of trauma, but each experience is totally different. When I approach therapy, I’m solution-focused, which isn’t going to work for everybody, but it’s going to work for a lot of people.
“Within being solution-focused, I need to be multifaceted in my approach. Some clinicians focus on one method and type of therapy which is great for individuals needing their specific expertise, but in all of the things I do, I’m multidimensional, so I have to bring that into my practice. It’s something that I think sets me apart and makes my practice unique. It’s also why we offer free 15 – 20 minute consultation sessions, so our patients can get a feel for what we do and work out the best course of healing for themselves.”
With covering such a wide range of ages in her practice, this approach is also necessary, as all of her patients are not only dealing with different things, but they’re at much different stages in their lives, so her multitude of methodologies and modalities are an integral part of Kenealy Counseling.
Kenealy had to acquire around 4,000 clinical hours throughout both of her Master’s programs, and throughout that process she was very intentional in the patients she saw and methods she adopted. It was during this time that she knew, almost right away, that she wanted to be able to help as many people as possible, while utilizing as many methods as possible. Her goals were always clear, and she worked hard to build her expertise to open Kenealy Counseling for everyone who needed it.
With her podcast, Tea Time With The Psychos, Kenealy and her business partner Liz sit down together and open every episode with “We’re here to talk about mental health issues and f*ck sh*t up!”
Liz herself is also a therapist, and one of Kenealy’s good friends, so through their podcast, they’re able to discuss mental health in an approachable way, while engaging in funny conversations that further work to normalize these discussions in the mainstream.
“A lot of the feedback we receive from the podcast is that listeners really love our dynamic, and I’ve even gotten patient referrals from people who just happened upon Tea Time With The Psychos. I truthfully started it to be able to hang out with a good friend and go through topics that we talked about already, but it’s grown into something so much greater, and in turn has allowed us both to help even more people.”
The same sentiment goes for Kenealy’s book, “Healing Is Messy AF,” which gives the readers a clear disclaimer: “WARNING! The side effects of reading this book may include laughter, healing, growth, critical thinking, self-awareness, and an improvement in quality of life.
If you went to your primary-care physician and they prescribed this book instead of a pill, would you take it? Healing is messy AF, but this book can serve as a stepping-stone to finding your path. Within these chapters you will find mental health topics woven together with personal experiences to create a fabric of humanness and connectedness. Inspired by a clinician’s ambition to assist people outside the four walls of an office, this book presents practical therapeutic techniques, statistics, and patient testimonials. This modern approach to therapy asks the reader to explore themselves and discover their autonomy over their body, their mind, and their future.”
“The book was a trial and error process I started when I was getting my Master’s degree. I ended up starting and stopping about eight books before I got to a place where I really knew what I wanted to accomplish.
This was right before the pandemic, so the thought process was, if we can’t get people to come into the office, we’ll meet them where they’re at; in their homes, at work, at a coffee shop. I wanted to take therapeutic topics and make them bite size and manageable for people who weren’t necessarily ready to jump into a therapy/counseling session. It’s also an interactive workbook, so part of the goal is to have it be something that you can talk about with your friends and family, and overall make therapy less scary.
It’s almost like a soft selling of therapy, offering explanations on various experiences and struggles while offering solutions you can do at home, which if you did decide to take the next step and get into counseling/therapy, will aid you in the steps you can take.” Kenealy is also currently working on a second book which will act as a continuation of the content in her first one!
It’s clear from not only both of these projects, but speaking with Kenealy that her approach to her practice and the goals of it are to provide a major sense of approachability to mental health and healing. She’s able to talk about these serious topics in a way that’s lighthearted, to reach those who are maybe skeptical or nervous about the actual process of therapy and what it means to face your problems.
Kenealy is so enthusiastic about the work she does because she sees the difference it makes in real time. As she’s grown in her career, she’s only wanted to help more people, and by doing that, she’s also changed how we treat and talk about mental health issues.
It’s clear that continuing the conversation surrounding mental health and ending the stigmas that exist regarding therapy and treatment is very important to Kenealy. She discussed how before the pandemic, therapy was different in terms of the mainstream viewing of it. It wasn’t as crisis centered or orientated, and you weren’t treating patients through a collective trauma.
In today’s world, it’s been so different. In terms of populations I’ve seen a lot more men taking the steps to go to therapy, as well as the types of therapies diversify and increase. Things like anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc. have all become elevated throughout the pandemic, so people are finding that they need to seek out therapies that will really work for them, which is also why I’m so passionate about my multifaceted approach to counseling.
“All of us have some level of mental health issues and could benefit from therapy and treatment. It’s amazing to see the way the conversation surrounding it and its stigmas has changed for the better. I see us moving in such a positive direction, and my goal now more than ever has become treating mental health at the same level, with the same intensity, as we do physical health, which I believe would move the dial of proactive treatment, rather than reactive, by at least 50%. Imagine being able to go in for your annual physical exam and receive a mental health screening at the same time. That’s the progression I want to get to, and that I see us moving towards.”
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.