Staff Highlight: Kyuanté Jenkins

Kyuanté Jenkins is the CBT Recovery Community Assistant Director at Skyland Trail and the leader of the BIPOC Staff Support Group. She enjoys building a life she loves coming home to, focusing on her passions and goals outside the work environment.

What motivated you to become a counselor, and how did you embark on this career path?

So, I originally went to school to be a veterinarian. I was a pre-med biology major. I had no interest in working with people. I loved animals though, and I had jobs with animals. But, pre-med was not my thing. It was so stressful. So I said, “I got to change this.” I remembered that I had taken a psychology class when I was in high school. I changed my major to Psychology and African-American studies because I didn’t know what else to do. And I was like, “This is amazing!” I felt like it was teaching me why I didn’t like working with people and helped me understand them. And when I understood why, it made me feel much better about working with them.

I had an African American studies family professor who was a marriage and family therapist. He would come to class and talk about his sessions and talk about what he did. I thought he was the most inspiring man I ever met in my life. I had never met anybody with such a passion for restoring families like me. So I talked to him one day and said, “I don’t know if I want to do social work. People tell me to do social work because it’s a broader field.” He was like, “You need to do what you want to do. So if you want to work with families, be a marriage and family therapist.” So, I found a program and got my degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.

Are there any misconceptions or myths about CBT that you often encounter, and how do you address them in your practice?

I think in my community, from Black people, the biggest misconception is that therapy is not necessary, and there’s this stigma about it being invasive. I feel like sometimes when we think about therapy we think of a white lady sitting in the chair across from us, or maybe a white man sitting in a chair across from us, prying into our business, and that’s not at all how I’ve done therapy and what I see therapy as. If they could see that, if they could know that, I think we would help a lot more people.

A misconception specific to CBT is that clients come into our office and just sit and talk all day. That we as CBT therapists are just meant to process with them all day and hear their thoughts and hear their challenges and/or they come to speak to us once a week, and never see us again. But CBT is a very skills-based, very solution-focused modality. So yeah, we can talk, but you have to do something. You have to practice skills, you have to find solutions. I’m going to be asking you what skills you use. I’m going to be asking you, “Did you use this tool that’s going to help you stop thinking in the unhealthy way that you think?” I think people get annoyed with how much work they have to do in therapy. They have to understand the difference between skills-based, solution-focused therapy and talk therapy.

Cultural competence is vital in mental health care. How do you ensure that your CBT practice is inclusive and respectful of clients from diverse backgrounds?

I ask a lot of questions and I’m very curious. I don’t assume things. I’m a Black woman, but I don’t know a lot about other people’s cultures just because I’m a Black woman. So I ask a lot of questions. I think the biggest thing I do is be myself. I’m authentic. Clients of color need you to be more real with them and more authentic with them, and it makes them feel comfortable and makes them feel like they can share.

I practice appropriate self-disclosure. So I’m gonna tell them stuff about myself so they can feel like, “Oh, okay, she gets it, she understands.” I don’t code-switch when I’m with people of color. I don’t talk differently or speak differently. I talk like myself so that they can feel like, “Okay, this person is not a robot and understands me.” 

I also love celebrating everybody, making sure everybody is celebrated for their differences the way they want to be celebrated. But I think the most important thing is that I’m just authentic. I show up as the Black woman that I am so that clients of color feel comfortable showing up as their authentic selves. I set the stage!

What do you find most fulfilling and rewarding about helping clients overcome their challenges and improve their mental health?

So I had a former client email me two days ago, and he said, “I was looking through my phone and I found your email and I wanted to check on you. I wanted you to know that you made a really huge impact in my life and I’ll never forget that.” So when they stay in touch and they come back and they tell you how you saved their lives, or they tell you how you impacted them, that is monumental for me. That I’m just doing my job and I’m speaking and I’m doing what I feel like I’m good at and it is saving lives. They might not know in the moment what you’re doing or saying is going to be life-changing, but they will eventually. When they get it and they remember that you said it, if that’s not rewarding, I don’t know what else is!

Self-care is vital for therapists. How do you personally maintain your well-being and resilience while working with clients?

It used to be stuff like the nail salon, hanging out with my friends, or brunch, but it’s changed. It’s morphed. Now it’s fulfilling my goals. So I get charged up with creating goals outside of work and fulfilling them and doing them. It makes me feel refreshed when I come back to work. ‘Cause I hate to leave here (work) and be doing all these great things here (work) and then go back to my life and I’m ‘just going to the nail salon’. 

Then it is sleeping/vegging out; just taking a day to sit down and do absolutely nothing. I love Saturdays when I’m just at my house with my dog doing nothing.

I was talking to the interns about this today, but it’s also exploring that fine line that helps you determine when too much is too much. For example, getting hurt in my personal life and understanding when it is ineffective to come to work!  

Can you share a favorite quote, piece of advice, or cheerleading mantra that inspires you?

You learn by failing. I have learned all that I’ve learned by messing stuff up, by failing. Do not be afraid to fail. Most of the things that I am extremely good at, I have failed at several times.

And I encourage people to always be authentic. I value authenticity so much. One of the biggest issues in mental health is that there is a huge gap between perspective and reality. A lot of times there’s a huge gap between who you want to be and who you actually are. I’ve found that just being who you are and living in the moment of who you are gets the best results.