The Trap Therapist team got an opportunity to sit down with Melissa Douglass, LCSW, a Chicago, IL native who is now a Missouri Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Melissa has a Bachelor of Social Work and a Master of Social Work from University of Missouri – St. Louis. Read more about her below!
- Dylesia Barner, Founder of Trap Therapist: Tell me more about what you do professionally? (license(s), specialties, target populations, certifications, etc.)
Melissa Douglass, Owner of Goal Driven Counseling: I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Distance Credentialed Counselor. I own a tele mental health practice for young adults who are struggling with educational, career, and life transitions. When I decided to start a business, I knew I didn’t want it to be just another private practice. I also wanted it to appeal to my target population, so I thought of ways I could do that and ended up with this merger of technology and mental health to further normalize addressing mental health concerns while increasing access.
- DB: Where were you born and raised?
MD: Chicago, Illinois. More specifically Englewood, which is on the south west side.
- DB: What were you like growing up?
MD: I was a Goodie Two Shoes! Shortly after I was born, the ‘neighborhood granny’ asked my mom to allow her to raise me, to avoid my mom giving another one of her children up for adoption. So, I grew up with my biological mom always living fairly close to me. She was an addict, but I’d visit her often – my granny always made sure she did her best to keep our relationship in tact. She’d also take me to church multiple times a week. My granny had all daughters and they played a big role in raising me too. I also have older siblings I’ve never met, because my mom gave them up for adoption at the hospital when they were born. There are six of us total, but I’ve never met two.
- DB: What was growing up like?
MD: I was shielded from a lot and well taken care of. My granny had a wonderful reputation in our neighborhood, so everybody made sure nothing ever happened to her or anyone in her house. She taught me that school was my full-time job and didn’t allow us to listen to secular music, watch movies with bad language, or spend the night over people’s houses. I didn’t realize until I was much older that we lived in such a dangerous area. I’d hear gunshots and knew double and triple homicides were happening, but I normalized it, because it was all I knew. I didn’t truly understand the gravity of the violence in my neighborhood until I was a young adult. It was like I lived a double life, because my granny worked so hard to protect me from everything that was going on. I remember feeling unsafe when I’d go visit my mom though. Her environment was chaotic and unstable at the time. I also realize I had no male interactions growing up. My birth father was murdered when I was seven, I didn’t have uncles, and because my granny didn’t have any sons; I later realized I never learned how to have real interpersonal relationships with males which impacted my future relationships.
- DB: What generational curses were present in your family that you had to break to get where you are today?
MD: Definitely addiction. My mom has been sober for twelve years now though, and we have a wonderful relationship. She actually is my only other family member that lives in St. Louis with me. Other curses would be the ‘independent woman’ teaching. I was taught I could make it on my own and didn’t need a man, which was something I had to completely unlearn and adjust that mindset for a healthy marriage. Then there’s educational attainment, because I was a first-generation college student. And failing to take risks, and financial difficulties.
- DB: What are three things from your upbringing that inspired you to become a psychotherapist and an entrepreneur?
MD: Growing up and seeing how small factors can completely change everything got me very interested in the human experience and family systems. I was originally on track to go to law school, but after taking a pre-law class in college, I realized I hated law! I didn’t like how black and white everything was and learned a lot about how my mind works. The class showed me how much I cared about people’s experiences, which is the gray. Also, being taught to have strong spirituality and faith base further helped me accept that not only did I have the power to create a new norm, but I could empower others to see that within themselves and do the same.
- DB: How does your practice reflect who you are as a clinician and the changes you would like to see like in your area of specialization?
MD: I want my clients to walk away with valuable knowledge they can understand and digest and a true relationship, so I’m real and don’t use a lot of clinical jargon.
- DB: How does being from an urban, low-income area define you? How does it define your approach to treatment?
MD: I understand struggle, so my approach is very natural and reassuring. Although I was well taken care of emotional and physically, there weren’t a lot of resources. My grandma worked an overnight shift over 20 years so I understand sacrifice while always having to prioritize and problem solve.
- DB: Who was your role model growing up and why?
MD: My granny! She provided for me, gave me a solid foundation, and didn’t have to; it was pure choice. She and my aunts loved me no differently than if I were theirs biologically.
- DB: What do you believe is the most common reason people from “the trap” stay stuck?
MD: Mindset. You don’t know what you don’t know until you see something different. I went to Whitney Young Magnet School, which was thirty minutes away from my neighborhood. Being in that environment, around affluent kids proved to me that there was more than what I was used to, but I also had the support of my granny and aunts to help make sure I didn’t get stuck. Most people in the trap struggle to find support when reality hits them that there is better.
- DB: Can you think of a “turning point” in your life that made you who you are today versus who you stereotypically should have become? What was it? And what personal decisions did you have to make to honor the grace it offered you?
MD: The family that raised me was the first turning point because I can’t imagine how different my life might have been without them. Also, having my oldest daughter, as a sophomore in college away from home, increased the pressure that I had to make something of myself. I knew no matter how hard things got, I had to keep going because I had another life I had to take care of and I was determined to be the parent to her that I wish I had growing up. Failure and not reaching my goals weren’t an option because I had to be an example.
- DB: What support and/or resources did you use to change the trajectory of your life?
MD: Education, extracurricular activities, mentors, sponsors, and going to a college prep school.
- DB: What is the most significant professional accomplishment you’ve made to date?
MD: Definitely opening my practice. In order to do so, I had to overcome a lot of fear because I doubted myself due to my age, questioned whether or not I had enough experience, or if I was even capable of running a business.
- DB: If you had to sum your childhood up by picking five nostalgia-inducing people, places, or things (can include songs, television shows, movies, etc.), who/where/what would you pick and why?
MD: Saturday morning cartoons and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, because he didn’t grow up with his family either. Also church. Something about church just reminds me of my granny and all the services we went to when I was younger. I think going back and visiting Chicago and seeing the downtown Chicago skyline reminds me of growing up too. On a school field trip, we visited the capitol and I met Barack Obama back when he was the Senator of Illinois and Michelle Obama also graduated from Whitney Young High School like I did.
- DB: What is something you still do that can be explained by where you were born/raised?
MD: My Chi-town accent that creeps out from time to time and craving mild sauce! Also, just being hip to a true inner city urban experience. Before I started my practice, when I led youth groups in more of a community setting, one of my co-workers would joke with me and say I have the wisdom of an old woman, but can get on the same level with a teen and bond using their slang, knowing the latest dances, and just understanding life through their eyes. I would agree with that because I learned to be adaptable without losing the heart of who I really am.