Interview #3 Sitting Down With Our Therapist: Mental Health and Autism

This month we interviewed Monique Phillip, MA, LPC, NCC, CIC-Sp of Jars of Clay, A Sanctuary. She is our therapist and truly the first practitioner that has helped us on our mental health journey. This is a one-of-a-kind interview! Thank you to Monique for participating in our 2021 series!

Find out more here

A photo of Monique
Photo of Monique

What do you do? Credentials, professional journey.

My name is Monique Phillip and I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Colorado. I lived in Houston, Texas all of my life, and after doing administrative work for 14 years, decided to go back to school to get a degree in something I’ve been doing the whole time anyway . . . counseling. My first job in the professional field was working as a Mentor and Life Skills Coordinator at a ranch that was a residential care facility for young adult women in the middle of nowhere for $12 an hour. I was going to school at that time at the University of Houston to get my Bachelor’s degree. I also was volunteering online providing mentoring for foster and inner-city kids. I completed my practicum at Crisis Intervention of Houston mostly in order to face my fear of working with clients who were in crisis. It was an adventurous time, to say the least. Eventually, I got certified in Crisis Intervention.

Do you specialize in any particular demographic?

Shortly after I got my Master’s degree from Liberty University, I briefly got a job working as a Case Manager with clients who had intellectual disabilities. Once I got licensed, I started doing individual and group therapy with clients who were on probation, which I absolutely loved. I didn’t love the group part so much but really enjoyed working with that population. These were the forgotten people who were marginalized and couldn’t get access to services, and it felt really good giving them that access. At some point, while I was there, I began providing aftercare services to women who were coming out of residential treatment. I ended up getting my Trauma certification while working there because so many of them had so much unresolved trauma. When I moved to Colorado in 2016, I began working as a Program Manager supervising a multidisciplinary team of folks who were responsible for providing wrap-around case management and therapy for homeless individuals who were being given housing. I also was doing individual therapy outside of my day job, and decided to just start my own practice where I had more control over the services being provided, and also better overall life balance.

What is your therapy philosophy?

It absolutely feeds my soul to be able to work with women and help them see the power within themselves that they didn’t notice before or forgot was there. Society at large has just been so disempowering, and I get so much satisfaction from seeing women win. In terms of my philosophy for counseling, I would say that if I want to see women be empowered, I have to allow them to be so in session. So, I do that by giving them the opportunity to do as much leading as possible and removing any expectation that I can fix what is going on with them. If there is any “fixing” to be done, they can choose to do it themselves with some guidance, encouragement, and support from me. We know ourselves, our stories, our experiences, our ups, and our downs better than anyone else. Many times awareness and strategy are the keys to making the changes that lead to better functioning and how someone shows up in the world, and that is what I strive to provide.

What is your experience working with people on the spectrum?

  • Does it change your approach to therapy?

  • How does autism impact the success of therapy?

I have consistently worked with people who have autism and other intellectual challenges throughout my entire career. I don’t think it changes my approach to therapy all that much. I tend to be really compassionate but also direct, and my autistic clients have told me that they really appreciate that. Remember that my goal is to empower, and I let my clients do a lot of the directing. I encourage them to tell me when something is helpful and when it isn’t. Ironically enough, I think because I take this approach I have seen minimal issues with awkwardness, miscommunication or a deficit in understanding social cues in session. My clients usually tend to be very comfortable with me, and we understand each other pretty well; which helps them to just be themselves in session. Most of my clients who have autism also have a significant trauma history. I’ve noticed that many of them attribute most of their symptoms to autism, which makes them less motivated to address the trauma stuff more directly. So, we tend to work a great deal on learning and practicing healthy coping skills, and I provide some psychoeducation on how the symptoms overlap. When they are ready, we dip our toes into the processing of trauma.

What types of trauma therapy methods do you use?

I don’t necessarily think that there are “trauma” therapy methods per se. I know some practitioners would disagree with me and there is lots of marketing for training to this effect. I just think there are modalities and you have to adjust to the individual needs of your client. I start off using motivational interviewing with every client, because initially there is almost always some level of ambivalence with being in treatment. I use a great deal of psychoeducation to help them understand their thinking and behaviors, so that we both have a clear understanding of what we are targeting collaboratively. I heavily use cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT because honestly it makes the most sense to my brain and aligns with my personal values. Also, because most of my clients have attachment-based or relationship trauma, there is a tendency to retreat to the safety of intellect, rather than exist trying to deal with unbearable emotions. So, it makes sense to use this at the onset, because it is less threatening to the client; especially when rapport building. It also gives a jumping-off point in creating self-awareness and incorporating emotion regulation and social skills. Clients talk about trauma all throughout this process on their own once they feel safe. When the client is ready to do more of a deep dive, I’ve found that they have more of a capability to regulate themselves, and I begin using more experiential exercises (i.e. Gestalt techniques, brain spotting).

Do you have any advice for people searching for a therapist?

Before searching for a therapist, I would recommend being able to identify why you need one. What is it that you are seeking help for? What is it that you want to get out of it? Read up on the clinician you are thinking of contacting and consider whether you believe he/she can really address your concerns. Make sure that person is licensed! Ask for a consultation before scheduling an appointment so that you can ask questions if you think that will be helpful with making your decision. What modalities do they use, and do you think you will be comfortable with them? How long and with what populations do they have experience practicing? Therapeutic work is most impactful when there is good rapport, and you feel safe within the relationship. You should be able to tell whether you can vibe well with your therapist within the first three sessions, even if you’re talking about something uncomfortable. Be on the lookout for the therapist to do a clinical assessment with you, so that he or she can have a 360 degree clear understanding of what your issues are.

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