mymindmymagic

Mental Health Awareness Week: A Discussion with Camille Djokoto (Registered Psychotherapist)

Camille Djokoto is a Registered Psychotherapist specializing in somatic movement. Her practice provides healing centered, trauma-informed and socially conscious therapy. It is informed by her anti-oppressive, anti-racist, queer, and feminist values. Her practice is inspired by somatic training and 30+ yrs. of dance and movement experience. She integrate various body-centered modalities with psychodynamics and neuroscience.

In support of Mental Health Awareness Week, we asked her to break down her experience surrounding mental health, psychotherapy and self care.

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1. Can you explain your title/role as a Registered Psychotherapist? In your own words, how does it differ from (or is it similar to) other forms of therapy?

My title is my certified designation given to me by the CRPO, College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario. That means I’m a regulated practitioner of psychotherapy in good standing with the college. 

My role as a psychotherapist is to help individuals with mental health issues that cause emotional and mental suffering, which can lead to a variety of physical symptoms.

I practice psychodynamic therapy. This means that I guide clients in their journey to uncover insights and increase awareness in order to help them make connections between their behaviours, thoughts, and emotions. The process helps to deepen an understanding about how they are relating to themselves, others, and their environments. This includes the institutions, social structures, and political systems that affect their lives.

2. How did you get into Psychotherapy?

My journey in psychotherapy felt pretty organic. I’m a survivor in many senses of the word. My personal history of trauma, racialization, oppression, illness and chronic pain lead me on a journey to discover a variety of healing practices, including the practice of psychotherapy. Because of these experiences I have an interest in understanding what allows me to feel deeply connected with myself—a sense of belonging and resilience.

As soon as I began to understand that this healing happens in contact, relationally and collectively, I felt a sense of purpose to share this with others. I truly believe that when we are able to access our resiliency, a deep sense of belonging and connection, we can make transformative changes happen. The practice of psychotherapy just became a means to do that.

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3. In your experience and opinion, what are the benefits to seeking psychotherapy?

I like how you worded this question, because there are no promises that psychotherapy will yield results for everyone, at all times, since the practice is so dependent on a variety of determinants. 

My experience is based on engaging various forms of healing, including psychotherapy for over 20 years and having had the honour to walk beside many courageous individuals in the eight years that I’ve been working with clients. In my opinion, the benefits can include gaining a greater insight and increased awareness about yourself. Awareness creates the ability to make connections between emotions, thoughts, and behaviours. This knowledge can help normalize and validate our experiences, helping us feel less alienated and shamed. It can also help us gain new resources, tools, and skills that support us in taking risks and making changes.

Resources and tools also help us regulate our nervous system, which helps to restore our connection to ourselves and others. This regulation can have a profound effect on the sensations we want to experience, as well as our overall connection to our bodies, our emotions, thoughts, and feelings.

The change or transformation can look like new options and possibilities suddenly becoming available to us. This can be empowering, especially if one feels vulnerable, disconnected, or hopeless. It also teaches us about healthy relationships—how to identify, form and sustain them.

I’d say an individual may want to consider therapy when they feel disconnected from themselves, their environment, or others.

4. Anyone could, theoretically given the resources, seek counsel at any time. But is there such a thing as the right time? How do you know when it’s the appropriate time? What are some tangible signs to be aware of?

You’re right. Anyone can start therapy at any time. Many people seek therapy because they simply want to gain a deeper understanding about the issues affecting their lives. This is quite normal.

Regarding when it is the “right time”, I’d say an individual may want to consider therapy when they feel disconnected from themselves, their environment, or others. Because various forms of stress, oppression, and emotional/psychological wounding are harming and painful we may naturally begin to focus on the sensation of the distress. That may cause us to pull away from our environments. For many, this process is natural, and can be a necessary part of a cycle. Our systems are meant to re-calibrate, regulate, and balance out eventually. When we notice that we become stuck, or are experiencing prolonged feelings of disconnection, struggling to come out and re-orient towards relationships and the environment, then we may need some support at these times. We may also experience times where we feel caught up in needing external validation, or feeling hypervigilant of the environment. This may interrupt our ability to connect to ourselves.

The “appropriate time”, or the time we need to exercise caution and seek support, is when the distress we’re experiencing becomes chronic or inhibits our capacity to function. Some tangible signs are when symptoms become consistent and perpetual. Symptoms can be experienced as:

  • Inability to stay present

  • Overwhelming and persistent feelings/thoughts of: sadness, depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, panic, anger

  • Sense of neediness, low self-esteem or lack of self-worth, and an inability to make decisions

  • Hypervigilance, or fear-based responses when there is no immediate threat or danger

  • Noticeable changes to your eating habits or sleep cycle

  • Constant irritability, mood swings, emotional outbursts and sense of isolation

  • Feeling constantly exhausted or overwhelmed, or consistently feeling numb and dissociating

  • A general sense of apathy and inability to care for yourself in order to function daily

These are only some of the ways we may experience mental unwell-ness.

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5. Finding a good match can take time. What type of preliminary questions should patients ask their potential psychotherapists? What should they be prepared for?

For a Psychotherapist you can ask if they’re registered or belong to a regulatory body. You can ask for their registration number, or look them up. The CRPO offers a website and outlines the standards and practices of the profession.

In general, consider getting information about the therapist’s educational training, their approach, and the modalities they employ. I think it’s important to also get a sense of whether their approach aligns with your values, and how the therapist’s offerings will support your life experience. Much of that may be gathered through your intuition and your felt sense of their personality during the initial consultation.

I think it’s important to seek trauma-informed therapy if you have experienced abuse and oppression. Since trauma-sensitive care cannot be practiced without an understanding of social justice it will be critical to know the therapist’s perspective surrounding this.

For those of us who are not part of dominant in-groups it’s important to consider that therapy should include a social justice framework. Otherwise, there is the risk of having your lived realities becoming pathologized, especially if the therapist is not actively educating themselves about social justice. When this happens it may feel invalidating and re-stigmatizing. It may create shame, and dismiss or diminish an individual’s experience. For me it is important to seek therapy and healing from other black and brown folks or advocating allies who employ social justice practices that don’t inadvertently diminish my identity and lived experience. 

Consider looking for someone who:

  • Co-creates a wellness plan with you to reach your therapeutic goals

  • Helps you feel empowered

  • Works with you to co-create your process, as opposed to trying to ‘fix’ you or ‘do to’ you

  • Embodies clear boundaries and explains consent as an ongoing dynamic between you

  • Feels like a good match that you can trust

  • Can work from a healing-centered approach, focusing on your resiliency

  • Demonstrates confidentiality and privacy

  • Helps create a container to elicit felt sensations of your safety

  • Has on-going supervision

  • Engages in personal and professional development

  • Demonstrates empathy and is non-judgemental

For me, mental health is everything that contributes to our state of well-being, including our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical sense of self.

6. What does the term “mental health” mean to you? Has your profession as a Registered Psychotherapist changed your understanding of the term (if so, in what way)? 

For me, mental health is everything that contributes to our state of well-being, including our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical sense of self. It means feeling like we can actualize our capacity for growth, and the ability to cope with our experience of stress. Our mental health should help us feel functional and allow us to feel connected with ourselves and our communities. 

My profession helps me deepen my understanding of how our well-being is tied to our mind-body connection. I think that committing to my ongoing education and understanding of how social justice is integral to practicing psychotherapy deepens this knowledge as well. Social justice values in (and outside of) a therapy context are crucial to understanding how colonization, white supremacy, patriarchy, racism, ableism, heterosexism, access barriers, and other oppressive systems deeply affect our mental health.

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7. Outside of counseling, what are some of your favourite mental health resources? What should people who are on a budget consider?

One of my favourite and accessible ways to support my own mental health is having a somatic- / mindfulness-based practice. This helps me create a sense of connection to myself, to feel grounded and centered.

Also, Mama Earth! I’m very enthusiastic about this. In a nutshell, nature. If you can get yourself to it, a neighbourhood park will do, sitting by a body of water, just getting outside regularly! Take off your shoes, stand on the grass, run your hands through sand, and sit amongst trees.

A few other ways I support myself:

  • Breath work is a great resource. There are a lot of relaxation videos on YouTube.

  • Podcasts and meditation applications

  • Listening to music or creating it (drumming comes to mind)

Consider moving your body: dancing, yoga, martial arts, chair aerobics, or whatever that is for you. 

Community libraries provide access to books and workbooks as self-reflective tools for those who enjoy that.

Napping! I’m also very enthusiastic about resting—it’s so important.

Connecting to our faith, and/spirituality is a meaningful consideration. Speaking to our ancestors and learning about our histories. For those of us who have been disconnected from our ancestry and are seeking a sense of connection, it may be rewarding to begin with exploring culture as a way to connect, e.g. food, music, song, dance, social gatherings etc. Whenever we’re informing ourselves historically it would also be important to consider the lens through which we’re sourcing our information. i.e. Is the information steeped in colonized, patriarchal, supremist or capitalist frames? Consider who’s offering the resources. Look for offerings with inclusive perspectives that are aligned with your values and life experience.

Connect with your friends, family/chosen who make you feel good. If you are isolated or feeling alienated then consider becoming a part of community-led, accessible groups. There is one for almost anything you may have an interest in or need support for. Start with a local community centre to inquire.

There are also free drop-in clinics throughout the city, as well as 24 hour anonymous helplines for folks who need contact and connection.

If you are someone who enjoys engaging in social media, then I would advise using it strategically: for a determined period of time, setting filters that narrow your feeds to receive information that you find positive, affirming, and validating. Is there a moderated chat/group you could join with a code of ethics that provides security? 

Orient towards your pleasure, what brings you joy and makes you laugh and feel balanced. Do that, whatever that is, like you’ve been written a prescription and it’s your medicine.

8. Anything else you want to add (advice, comments, final words, etc)?

Just that it’s important to know that we’re not alone. Most of our wounds, interruptions to our development, our traumas all happened in relation to someone or something. In order to heal, it takes connection and being in-relationship as well. This is important to know and to remember: in order to heal we all need support.