Marriage and family therapist Naiylah Warren on therapy as soulcare.
– KEYS SOULCARE
Ever had a therapist who just “gets” you? That’s Naiylah Warren, or Nai for short. As a licensed marriage and family therapist at Real, she leads workshops on racial trauma, radical self-care, and addiction; however, it’s her spiritual, humorous, “you got this approach” that makes people believe that everyone has the ability to heal. (Yes, even you.)
From using therapy as a form of soulcare to avoiding burnout, no stone is left unturned with Nai in today’s chat. Our collective session has officially begun.
What inspired you to pursue a career in mental health?
It was really the act of service. I didn’t grow up with language around mental health and noticed early on how much I enjoyed holding space for others. Talking to people is my favorite thing.
How do you responsibly hold space for those who need it?
For a space to feel safe, people have to be encouraged to show up however they feel with their own unique opinions and perspectives. Whoever’s holding the space has to lead with compassion to nurture humanness in the raw — and that’s something you can feel from the moment you walk in.
What drew you to marriage and family counseling specifically?
Initially, I wanted to study sex therapy, but I thought the best place to begin — in my Virgo mind — was with families and relationships. As I got deeper into family work and adopted a systematic way of thinking [about everyone] from couples to entire organizations, I was really drawn to the various moving parts and kept peeling back layers that led me to addiction counseling.
What has humbled you in your work as an LMFT?
Working in the field of addiction. When we think of someone struggling with their mental health — whether it’s anxiety or bipolar disorder, or anything that isn’t immediately recognized as a chronic illness — we feel separate from them. Separateness is one of the ways mental health has been stigmatized. (For example, thinking that’s their problem and I can’t relate) But addiction was something that I saw throughout my own family and when I was working with folks suffering from addiction, it felt so relatable. It didn’t feel far, but instead, like something I too could face in this lifetime. So hearing people’s stories and sitting with them in empathy was one of the most humbling and joining moments for me.
How do you stay hopeful?
There are so many things. What draws me to this work is the hope that people will feel better. When I’m able to hear people’s stories and be with them in their pain, I get to witness a shift and that gives me hope. And it’s not about me, it’s about stepping up to support one another, which always lightens the load and allows people to have a little more light in their lives. I’m so grateful that we’re talking about mental health more and that it’s trickling into our day-to-day [lives and] the way we show up for one another with more compassion.
What would you say to someone who hasn’t gone to therapy because they’re weary to revisit the past?
I think it’s important to sit with yourself and ask yourself some questions. When was the last time you had a space in your life that was just for you? When was the last time that you had a conversation with someone who was solely there for you? When was the last time you felt truly supported in your feelings, process, and perspective? That’s really what therapy is like and there’s so much that you can learn about yourself in a space that’s designed just for you. That’s how I like to reframe it for people so that it’s less about having a problem that needs solving and more about being held.
How do you avoid compassion fatigue and burnout?
Compassion fatigue oftens comes from an over-exposure to pain and suffering. When I first entered the field, I had a supervisor at the time who warned us that this work was going to change everything from the conversations we have to what we can and can’t watch on TV — and she was right. I watched two episodes of Euphoria, and Rue was stressing me out; my nervous system could not handle that show! I started setting boundaries to human pain and suffering by balancing what I face in my job with a lot of levity and joy. I take a lot of “hood nature walks,” where I walk around BedStuy and look for red Cardinals. I watch a lot of comedies and seek out opportunities to explore and center my curiosity.
How does soulcare show up in your personal rituals and routines?
I practice self-affirmations. I sit in silence and repeat phrases that uplift and empower me. I pray, burn herbs, and make my bed in preparation for that ritual. During the pandemic, the ways in which we can experience joy have decreased, but small things like making my bed every morning have started to mean a lot to me. My skincare routine and the intention that you have to have to go through the steps on a given day invites me to slow down — and it has really changed the game. I try to give myself a moment to be in touch and in tune with my body and explore more of a sensual connection with myself. Having a grounding moment every morning and night is such a gift.
How do you show up for yourself and hold space for your needs? Sound off below.