The Trap Therapist team got an opportunity to sit down with Sharon Lawrence, LCSW-C, ACSW, CAMS-II, DCC, a Harlem, NY native who is now a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Sharon has a Bachelor of Social Work from State University of New York – College of Fredonia and a Master of Social Work from State University of New York – University of Buffalo. 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.)
Sharon Lawrence, Owner of Selah Wellness & Therapeutic Services, LLC: I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a Certified Anger Management Specialist, a Prepare and Enrich facilitator, a Life Coach, and a Distance Credentialed Counselor. I’m also a Board Approved Clinical Supervisor. I like to refer to myself as “The Therapist for therapists,” because I have a passion for helping people in helping professions achieve self-care. I also treat other professionals as well as couples. My client base includes doctors, nurses, judges, teachers, IT professionals, etc
- DB: Where were you born and raised?
SL: Harlem, NY. At age 11, I went to live with my aunt and uncle in Flushing, NY.
- DB: What were you like growing up?
SL: I was respectful, because I disliked being in trouble, but I did mischievous things. I remember me and one of my sisters running on top of church roofs, knocking on doors and running, jumping from building to building, and climbing the fence at Colonial Pool at night to go swimming! I also remember us dyeing our hair with baking soda, peroxide, and the sun – we’d hang outside the window on summer days and let the sun tone our hair. That was back in the days when teachers could hit kids with paddles and the principal could walk around the halls smoking cigarettes, haha! I remember being hit on the hand with a paddle one time and my mom coming up to the school and smacking the teacher in response. I got into fights a lot, but I was a great student and loved to read even though I’m not sure who actually helped me with homework at home since my mom couldn’t read or write and I cannot remember my sisters helping me although one of them recalls doing so. I think I have always thought about things differently and knew I wanted to succeed.
- DB: What was growing up like?
SL: I grew up in Harlem, NY in the 1980’s. We were on food stamps and welfare and my mother who struggled with alcoholism and had only a 3rd grade education, but took care of us by providing a home, washing clothes by hand EVERY night and making sure we went to school. We grew up on 152nd Street in Harlem and would hang out on Bradhurt Avenue which was like a ½ mile long block area of parks so there was always something going on! Block parties, rap battles near the Polo Grounds, Double Dutch, just overall fun. However, I can recall being on welfare and my mom would give us each $20 from her check each month, so we’d travel as a family to 3rd Avenue in The Bronx to buy Beeboks (those were our version of Reeboks), slouch socks and bubble gum jeans. Those were the days! We didn’t have much, but we did not know we were poor. For dinner, she fried chicken every night and we each got two pieces. She made the BEST Fried Chicken ever!!
I have nine siblings, not including a twin brother who died seven days after we were born. However, I grew up with three of my siblings as the others were older and on their own. My parents (Daisy and Donald) weren’t together during my childhood– actually, I didn’t meet my father until I was nine. He would call me on the phone from time to time. We met after Mr. Tink, the neighborhood homeless man, showed him where we lived. He moved across the street and we connected. He had only been there for a few months before he passed from a heart attack. I always wonder if he knew something was going to happen.
- DB: What generational curses were present in your family that you had to break to get where you are today?
SL: Poverty, specifically, how to view finances, unsuccessful marriages, children out of wedlock, lack of education and alcoholism. Although, my mother struggled with alcoholism for many years, I was glad to see her make a choice to stop drinking six years before her passing. She gave her life to God and spent every Sunday in church. She loved church. This was motivating for me that change is possible.
- DB: What are three things from your upbringing that inspired you to become a psychotherapist and an entrepreneur?
SL: Well, kids were always drawn to me and my mom was so compassionate toward her grandchildren and other peoples’ babies. I initially internalized all that and wanted to become a nurse. I would later struggle academically, forcing me to withdraw from Hunter College and develop a plan for success. After one semester off, I enrolled in another college and later obtained my Associate’s Degree, which catapulted me in the direction of obtaining my Bachelor’s and Master’s in Social Work. I was drawn to the field because of the limitations of people in my community, my family and my desire to push others to explore better opportunities for themselves. I also realized through being a teen mentor and a good friend, that I had a gift of working with people. That was later confirmed during a church revival when it was spoken over my life that I had gift of working with people one-on-one.
- 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?
SL: Selah means “pause, reflect, revive,” which embodies my drive for self-care and overcoming stereotypes. My work with clients pushes them not to live according to the past, because my practice itself proves that progression and the ability to achieve goals are possible. I’d like to see mental health stigma eliminated, because it causes us to choose to remain where we are instead of seeking treatment and reviving our lives.
- DB: How does being from an urban, low-income area define you? How does it define your approach to treatment?
SL: It gives me insight on the full spectrum of presenting problems someone could enter therapy with. It also increases my relatability and makes me balanced. I believe being from an urban, low-income area is like a secret weapon, because it enhances my level of understanding and makes my approach very validating because I’m able to meet people where they are.
- DB: Who was your role model growing up and why?
SL: No one specifically, more so teachers, community leaders, and counselors who I saw doing something different than others around me.
- DB: What do you believe is the most common reason people from “the trap” stay stuck?
SL: Not believing opportunities to escape are designed for people like them and fear.
- 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?
SL: When I was pursuing my education initially at Hunter College, I became unfocused and kept failing classes, so a counselor met with me and told me I’d lose my financial aid privileges if I flunked out of school. That led to me taking a semester off to work, spend more time in church, and explore different majors that were available in the CUNY (City University of New York) and SUNY (State University of New York) system. The following semester, I enrolled in school, came back focused and ready to succeed. I ended up getting all A’s and one B, graduating with my Associate’s and pursued/obtained a Bachelor of Social Work degree and a Master of Social Work degree.
- DB: What support and/or resources did you use to change the trajectory of your life?
SL: School counselors, the Occupational Outlook Handbook, my support system (family and friends) and church/faith.
- DB: What is the most significant professional accomplishment you’ve made to date?
SL: Selah Wellness!! I’d been talking about opening it seven years before I actually did. I started last May, by October, I was submitting my letter of resignation to my full-time job, and by this January, I was full with clients on a waiting list for services.
- 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?
SL: Linden Butter Crunch cookies! Now-n-Later! We used to put them on the radiator to soften them. Also, Mr. Softee’s Ice Cream Truck brings back memories! Quarter water, penny candy, the movie Brown Sugar. And Houdini, LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, and roller skating. Also, dance contests, double dutch contests, and acorn fights! Don’t ask.
- DB: What is something you still do that can be explained by where you were born/raised?
SL: My house is like Alcatraz at night! I have a floor-mounted police lock for the door, an alarm system, and other security devices. Growing up, we had to keep everything on lock down to avoid break-ins. I also won’t leave stuff visible in my car. Every time I do something, my husband will ask me is that a NYC thing. I just laugh and realize that some of it is and some of it is just me.
To learn more about Selah Wellness & Therapeutic Services, LLC, follow @myselahwellness on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.