INTERVIEW BY JOSH BETANZOS. PHOTOS PROVIDED BY DR. ALEXANDER.
As mental health continues to become a more widely encouraged aspect of holistic living, we face an even greater need for licensed professionals that can address the needs of people from diverse backgrounds and, beyond that, address the needs of communities that lack the awareness and resources to address their own mental health adequately. Thankfully, Dallas has been blessed by the work of one of these professionals for over 20 years, someone who continues to push the conversation regarding mental health forward: Dr. Stacia Alexander.
Dr. Alexander, a seasoned psychotherapist, licensed professional counselor, and distinguished author, has owned and operated her private mental health practice, Positive Influences, since 1999. In her career, she has developed programs helping more than 17,000 persons and families in the DFW metroplex. While her private practice closed last December, she still raises awareness about mental health through public speaking. She also serves as the Director of Paul Quinn College’s Mental Health Clinic.
We had the chance to sit down with Dr. Alexander to talk about her passion for serving others and counseling, her private mental health practice, and where her work will take her going forward.
You’ve spent the last 20 years of your professional career serving others and improving lives. What was the catalyst for this passion? And what inspires you to continue the journey?
The passion blossomed out of my own childhood trauma. My parents divorced when I was seven, but my mom struggled with addiction, so I used to sit in the living room to read and escape. My dad left us when I was a little girl, but he had left behind all his literature from college. One day, I found a psychology book. I remember my instructor telling us in school that psychology was the study of the brain and human behaviors. So I pulled down the book, and I’m flipping through it, and I get to this page where it says “dysfunctional.” When I read the definition, I think, “That’s us.” I ended up reading that book– a college textbook– in 7th grade and decided right there that I would go into psychology so that other kids would not have to have the same experiences that I had.
As a result, I studied lifespan and childhood development in high school. I went and got my undergrad and then went into a master’s program. I got my license in 1998 when I was 28 years old, and that was it. I also quickly realized you couldn’t just work with the kids. You have to work with the entire family. So that’s how we ended up doing more work with families than just kids alone.
What is the age range of patients you see? Is it just children and families, or do you also work with adults?
We did the whole lifespan. The youngest we would take in the agency was about three to four if they were verbal, but we also did geriatric.
At one point, I had over 30 clinicians at one time. Generally speaking, we would have about ten to twelve on staff. But I’ve had as many as four locations open simultaneously, down to one location; it just depended on what the market held. You can have a heart for doing something, but at the end of the day, it is a business model. So there was some fluctuation over 20 years, but we serviced quite an extensive range.
Tell us about your private practice, Positive Influences. What was the mission behind it?
Positive Influences was a wraparound service agency offering counseling, parenting classes, and assessment for families and children. The overall goal was to face challenges today for blessings tomorrow. Because I am a believer, I’m a Christian, and so all of my work was built on my faith and what I feel like God had ordained for my life to do so. When I first started, the intent was to create a space for people to come in and really work through those things that were robbing them of their peace, whatever type of dysfunctional or maladaptive behaviors they had.
Through that, I was able to get contracts with the city, state, and the county to provide counseling for people and families that would not normally access services, meaning I made a point to reach out to people in Black and Brown communities to make sure that they had access to proper therapy.
What is the Emotionality of Success initiative? How can this program impact the women that participate?
My niche has evolved to counseling for professional women, relationship counseling, and marital counseling. Emotionality of Success is a program that I developed because I saw many professional women, and still do. I found myself saying the same things to them: “You do not need a disclaimer on your negative feelings. Just because you’re successful doesn’t mean you won’t struggle with some emotional challenges in your life.” Because that’s what we have been conditioned to think, you know? “Well, if I have everything together, I have no reason to be sad. That means I’m ungrateful.”
Emotionality of Success ended up being a lifestyle program. I talked about four quadrants of success, which were professional, relationships, spiritual, and self-care. I helped women understand that without that balance and each of those quadrants, they’re going to feel uncertain, and they’re not going to feel as confident in themselves.
We would work through different events, so we have had brunches, workshops, and trips we’ve taken. We had an annual brunch in August, followed by a workshop with about 100 women. We’re also going to Los Cabos on March 2. It’s women coming together to understand that mental health doesn’t just look like sitting in a counseling office.
Why are marriage and relationship counseling, family counseling, and counseling for yourself crucial for working adults and adolescents?
It’s about work/life balance. We’re not machines. We forget that we still need seven to eight hours of sleep at the end of the day. We forget that we need to drink enough water, we need protein and vegetables, and we need sunshine and exercise, because we’re so focused on the goals and what society says that we should achieve. It’s simply not manageable. It’s not sustainable over a long period to keep that lifestyle up. So, I tell people all the time, “You go to your optometrist once a year, you go to your dentist twice a year, you go to your physician once a year. And some of you have really nice people that you go to for maintaining your hair care. So why is your hair care more important than your mental health?”
You’ll have all of these other providers in place, but you won’t have a therapist. Everything else is out the door if your mind and your heart go. You’re not able to do any of those things. It’s been proven. You can go to work with a bad haircut, go to work with your side hurting, and go to work with a cavity. But once you start collapsing cognitively, you can’t keep it up.
What is the vision for your career going forward?
Now that all of our kids are adults and self-sufficient, things have settled down with the people we care for— because we’re caretakers, my husband and I— things have settled down. I did close the business, so that’s some level of responsibility that’s gone off my plate. Now I can travel; I can book speaking engagements and totally give the time that’s needed to develop those presentations. One of the hashtags I regularly use is “zip code expansion.” My husband just told me this morning, he said, “I told our son that from day one, the Thursday I met you, you were focused. And you’re still focused on that same goal. No one has been able to deter you.”
I am going to San Antonio next week. When I get back from Cabo, I go to New York, and then I go to North Carolina. So, there are quite a few things between now and April that are aligned with the goals that I have now to expand the conversation of mental health. I also recently released a book called 10+ Things I Wish I Knew about Mental Health in College. I wrote that because I run the counseling center over at Paul Quinn College and keep repeating the same things to the students. I also recognized that they were some of the same things I was dealing with in college. So I wrote the book, released it in December, and it’s doing pretty well. It’s on Amazon, and I’ll also speak on that tour.