Meet Jennifer Briere
Jennifer Briere has a warmth in her smile and a frank, open humbleness about her which I am certain, when coupled with her sense of humor, sets her clients at ease. I’ve asked her to meet with me today because I’ve heard she recently began participating in a private practice. The name of the practice has me intrigued: Therapy Today Counseling and Consultation. She tells me that the name summarizes one of the unique qualities of the practice: if you call today, and you want to talk with a therapist today, they’ll get you in. Today.
Therapy today! Imagine. One of the constant complaints I hear from clients involves the amount of time it can take to get in to see a therapist for the first time. My agency, for instance, is required to provide a client a first intake appointment time within 14 days of their first request for one. 14 days! That’s two weeks, and that’s actually pretty good. To see a psychiatrist? Even longer. So for a therapist to get a new client in to see them on the very day they contact them? I’m impressed. Of course, I’ve known Jennifer in various contexts for almost ten years now. The fact that Therapy Today has hired her doesn’t surprise me, but it also impresses me. Apparently they have good taste.
Before I forget, if you need therapy TODAY you can reach her at:
2001 Abbot Rd.
East Lansing MI 48823
Now for some things I can tell you about Jennifer. When you first meet her you might be struck by her slightly elfin appearance. Her pixie-style red hair might accentuate that impression. What will impress you the most on your first encounter, however, is likely to be the warmth in her smile and the depth in her gaze. She meets your eyes, and you know she’s hearing you, even when she’s doing the talking.
As my readers may recall, one of my peculiar quirks is that I tend to mentally transform people I meet into Dungeons and Dragons type character classes. Jennifer, I decide, would be a hybrid techno-elf wizard/healer. It’s a formidable, if slightly apocryphal and not recognized by standard D&D rules, class. Regardless, my gut tells me there’s a depth here, and yet I suspect she would also tell me that she’s a work-in-progress. I like that honesty in a therapist.
As we talk, I grow to understand a bit where that depth comes from. She’s not an armchair therapist: she’s had to live by her own advice. Her route to becoming a therapist took several unexpected turns. She initially planned to be a speech therapist, and then a sign language interpreter, she tells me with a slightly sheepish grin. Those careers weren’t good matches for her, she tells me. I suspect, although I can’t say for certain, that it is because neither afforded her the freedom to intervene in the suffering of others as much as she felt called to do.
A Therapist with Priorities
Like me, Jennifer has a Masters in Social Work. Unlike me, Jennifer is a clinical supervisor in my agency. Her work focuses on adults whereas mine focuses mostly on children and families. When I ask her about the area she holds near and dear to her heart, she lights up. The work she does with the LGBT community has been the most enriching and rewarding experience she has ever had, she tells me. This is interesting to me, as I didn’t know she did work with that population, and didn’t even realize that my agency provided services focused on supporting that group. I’m surprised even more when she tells me that there aren’t really any community support groups for the LGBT community.
“Surely you jest,” I protest. “What about the well-established nefarious and shadowy-yet-ironically-bright-and-flamboyant gay agenda that aims to take over our schools, churches, and government? I thought they were so well established at grass roots levels that there were millions of pockets all over the nation, just waiting for the rainbow clarion call to rise up and spread their gay malice across the globe! There must be community support groups in place!”
No, she tells me, there aren’t. She doesn’t come out and say it, but I’m left with the feeling that perhaps I’ve been watching too much Fox News lately. Jennifer tells me that even Michigan State University has shut off its LGBT support services to everyone but students. While this doesn’t surprise me at all, it does get me wondering. Where do they go for help and support?
I ask her what philosophy or theoretical framework she identifies with. Mindful Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, she tells me, and this does not surprise me. “I find it to be the most empowering for the consumer,” she says. “To empower them to not be dependent upon someone else to make the changes they need to.” One typical exercise she might ask you to do would be to focus on four or five of your top core personality traits and utilize those as a basis to build upon by using your specific strengths.
This I can identify with. My own style of therapy tends to be more cognitively based, but I like the mindfulness component she brings with it. I mention that I am drawn to it partially due the mindfulness and CBT both being rooted in Zen Buddhism, and she nods in agreement at this. I also suggest that I have always felt the most important work of therapy occurs during the time between therapy sessions, to which she also agrees.
Jennifer tells me that she has had to walk the walk of her professional advice in the past few years, dealing with some particularly trying and emotionally difficult events. My ears perk up at this, as I am always looking for a Fellow Faker; somebody who is pretending to be more sane than they really are. Pathetic, you say? Probably. Validating I say. Abso-friggin-lutely.
Sadly, Jennifer doesn’t quite fit this bill. There were times when she may have been forced to pretend, but this lady across the table from me, casually sipping her short vanilla salted caramel latte, actually appears to be sane. Like, really sane. This, of course, makes me suspicious; she must be a better Faker than I. I’ll have to pay attention; I could learn from her.
“I was really forced to apply what I was teaching in group,” she tells me, talking about becoming a single mother. She also speaks about how this impacted her professional stance as a supervisor, speaking of days where she felt she “had to get in to meetings with my game face on,” but that in accepting a stance of vulnerability, she was able to just view the people around the table as “just that; people sitting around a table.”
This is significant. I know that bureaucracies tend to like meetings, and these meetings can be ruthless at times. Jennifer speaks of accepting responsibility when things don’t work out, and at attempting to establish a culture of safety within her own clinical team. My limited experience with big-wigs in supervisory positions would indicate that this is a bit of a rare stance to take.
When I ask her how she came to this stance, she refers to a Social worker by the name of Brenae Brown. Apparently Mz. Brown has some remarkable TED talks on Vulnerability and shame. She also, Jennifer tells me, has a blog at www.ordinarycourage.com which Jennifer is a rabid consumer of. I’ll have to check this out, I realize as she’s talking about it, as it seems to have been pivotal in helping this woman before me navigate difficult times and tricky waters, coming out on the other side.
And she has indeed, come out on the other side. I’ve watched from afar as she rose through the ranks at work. I’ve heard her mentioned, always favorably, in various settings. Recently she even won an the “Women who Inspire” award which is given by a local university for amazing women who overcome adversity, have a proven service to others, and have made a positive change for the better in the community. While this impresses me, it doesn’t surprise me.
Something that does surprise me about her, however, is that she didn’t even mention this when I was interviewing her. Now if I’d won that award, I’d probably get that award plaque and drill some holes in it so I could wear it on a thick gold necklace everywhere I went. “What this old thing?” I’d say when people asked me, “oh, it’s just that a bunch of people think I’m totally awesome. Yeah, I beat out a ton of other people for it.” I’d wear it everywhere. Jennifer, however, didn’t even mention it.
I even gave her the perfect opening when I asked “what are your bragging rights?” You know what she said? And I quote: “I’m proud that I really do have the genuine ability to accept people for who they are.” Wow. That’s what I’d want in my therapist.
Jennifer, I recognize, won’t be the therapist for everyone. If you don’t want to be supported, challenged, and gently prompted to grow in ways that will open your horizons and expand your personal success, well, you should avoid her. For all the rest of you Fellow Fakers out there, you could do far worse than to sit down for an hour long chat with Jennifer Briere.