Alexa Bailey, LMSW is a clinical therapist specializing in trauma, mood disorders, and adolescent treatment. She obtained a Master of Social Work degree from Arizona State University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Northern Arizona University. Alexa is caring, kind, and friendly. She is an advocate for self-care and healthy habits. Here is her story!
What is your passion?
Every person faces the wilderness of the world, whether that be depression, trauma, life transitions, or any other challenges. And we are all searching for ways to walk in harmony with that wilderness and to grow through our experiences. I have had an incredible whirlwind of challenges, opportunities, and wonderful mentors that have led me through that wilderness to a work that I absolutely love. I am a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) currently working as a clinical therapist in private practice, specializing in trauma, mood disorders, and adolescent treatment. Ever a lifelong learner, I am continually growing my skills and building my expertise to be the best support and catalyst for change that I can be. I am currently utilizing a handful of interventions, namely Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and a number of other cognitive and creative approaches.
Within the therapy world, I have been consumed recently with understanding the intersectionality of our experiences and our environments and the intricacies of trauma within our human frame. Trauma is often framed in reference to war-time experiences or assault attacks, what are deemed “big T” traumas. Often we forget about the collection of experiences that can result in post-trauma symptoms. I’ve been very fascinated by these “little t” traumas and how we make sense of these experiences in the context of our lives. “Little t” trauma can be anything from interpersonal conflict to divorce and frequent moves. I am passionate about this work and understanding trauma in the context of our lives because of the impact symptoms can have on our long term functioning. When we get stuck in our faulty cognitions or ineffective communication or coping skills, we are effectively damned in our stagnation. Being a partner in someone’s journey to reclaim their life again and continue their growth has been my absolute honor, to help individuals realize their own potential, find their inner source of peace, and continue on their journey of life. So, I spend my time being creative in my interventions, meeting people where they are, and working to validate the “little t” traumas alongside the “big T” traumas. Endeavoring on my own growth journey has helped me in that quest and I’m super privileged to be a witness to people as they progress and be a partner in overcoming the roadblocks and detours that can impede their path to healing.
How did you come to be where you are now and what does growth mean to you?
People are fascinating creatures. Even though we live in the same world, we view it through different lenses. I have had to traverse my own path in order to better understand myself and in turn, the human species. If you asked me growing up what I wanted to be, I would have told you I wanted to be a psychologist, because I loved learning to understand people, and our motives, and why we thought the way we did. As I grew, I better came to understand my passion for helping my fellow man through the hardest parts of their journey, and so I found my way to social work, because of its diversity in understanding people from a systems perspective, seeing people not only as individual beings, but as beings who are influenced by the many systems that exist in our lives – family, work, ethnicity, religion, culture, you name it. I made my start with older adults, working with low-income, homebound seniors in their homes one-on-one and in the community. I functioned as an Outreach Specialist, providing crisis intervention and counseling, psychoeducation and community learning initiatives, as well as resource navigation. It was like I gained this new community of grandparents that I got to help through their hardships, and I loved it! I learned what it really meant to be with someone in their darkness, to empathize and give yourself to the work. I learned that even at age 80, we still have room to grow, and I felt ready to keep progressing and learning to do more and be more.
I went back to school for my master’s degree in social work and made my way into the world of substance use disorders and addiction recovery, while also innovating interdisciplinary work in community medicine as a part of the Student Health Outreach for Wellness (SHOW) program, a tri-university organization aimed at increasing access to healthcare and health education for vulnerable populations. I was able to work with many diverse professionals as the Social Work Liaison to innovate how we can holistically assess and care for individuals in treatment, and participated in research studies around the social determinants of health, while also working as a clinician in residential treatment. One of my proudest moments was in helping to create a creative arts therapy group alongside recreational therapy clinicians and seeing the power of personal growth. Addiction is hard, addiction is heavy. But in walking through the 12-steps with these people and working through the healing of deep-rooted pain and trauma, I saw the resiliency of the human spirit. I remember seeing the brokenness in a new admit, and watching the light come back to their eyes as they invested in themselves and challenged their negative thoughts, and connected to their higher selves. It was incredible to be a small piece in someone’s path to happiness.
Though I loved the world of addiction recovery, I still felt the pull for something more, and I made my way into community mental health, providing Multisystemic Therapy to families of adolescents who had severe acting out and delinquent behaviors. Talk about systems work! I was coming to families at the worst times in their lives, when all hope was almost lost. With that awesome responsibility, I worked with families in intensive therapy to foster that resilience, to help these families remember that even though it feels impossible at times, we take small steps to get closer to our goals. It was hard. It was draining. And for a while, I started to lose my grip on my own health as I gave every ounce of energy into the people I worked with. Every failed drug test of a client felt like a personal blow, every phone call in the middle of the night of another screaming fight or runaway teen felt heavy on my heart. I was connected almost 24/7 to my work and began to feel the life being sucked out of me. That’s why this profession has such a high burnout rate; it’s hard! And I was starting to lose the fire and passion I had once held and knew I needed to make a change and commit to what I knew I loved and take care of myself. This allowed for a transition to pursue where my real enthusiasm was: Trauma work.
In all my experience, I felt as though I was treating the symptoms of a larger cause. The acting out behaviors stemming from neglect or abuse, the addiction to substances originating from extremely painful life experiences and finding a way to cope with those heavy emotions, the declining health in older adults only deteriorating more quickly with the years of bitterness and loss of hope maintained for years on end without positive intervention. At the root of so much suffering lay this giant, ugly beast, rearing its head and spewing out fire, and its name was “TRAUMA”. And so I rolled up my sleeves and dove headfirst into it. This is where I now find myself, working with incredible people in private practice therapy, at Evolve Counseling and Behavioral Health Services as a therapist treating trauma, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, life transitions, faith crises, and all the other little things that put bumps in our road. I have seen the transformative power of engaging in trauma work, to reprocess past experiences, to challenge negative cognitions, and begin building new positive connections. The healing process is messy and incredible and challenging and wonderful. At times, I catch myself in pure awe at the power each individual possesses. I think we sometimes forget how extraordinary we are, how resilient we are. And when that light of understanding comes back on, and we start to see ourselves as we truly are, it’s magic. Pure magic.
So I spend my days working with incredible people who are finding their path, who are starting anew. And I get to be the guide in the darkness, to hold the light as we find our way through the wilderness. We walk together, we battle together, and on the other side, we take note of the scars and recognize that the scars we bear are not wounds or weakness, they are the remnants of a battle fought and won, a reminder of resilience and of healing. In this trauma work, it’s not about removing memories or taking away experiences, but rather about removing the negative emotions, removing the faulty cognitions we learned from the experiences, and being able to put them up on the screen of our lives and say, “yeah, I remember that” without going back to the original pain and anguish it first caused. We can look at the scars and know we are stronger from them.
What do you do to take care of yourself?
I am a very huge advocate for self-care, as my career is all about creating and cultivating wellness and healthy mental states. Because I spend my days in the weeds, dissecting trauma and depression and all the other ugly beasts of mental health issues, I try to take very good care of my mind, body, and spirit with regular self-care. To me, self-care and self-indulgence can be a very fine line. I’ll see people post on social media about their “retail therapy” self-care in buying expensive new things or extravagant desserts and excessive amounts of chocolate. I’m not past treating yourself, we all can indulge now and again! And I’ve been guilty of letting myself charade those things as self-care as well. However, my self-care comes in the form of trying to build and maintain healthy habits, so I dedicate time each week to meal plan (even if I don’t always stick to it perfectly), I try to meditate using Headspace at least 1-2x per day, and I try to exercise with something that I like, which usually includes Zumba or fitness classes like BodyPump or Pound. Do I do these perfectly? No way. And I usually look silly, too. I tried the running thing and I hate it. I hate it so much that I “trained” for a 5k and basically jogged slower than walking for most of it. But I’m trying. I love playing and making music with my husband and getting my creative juices flowing. I try to read at least one book a month for fun, listen to good podcasts, and occasionally scream-sing some music on the way home to get out those frustrations. What can I say? We all need an emotional outlet and better to scream-sing than just scream, am I right?
My most basic tip that I use for myself and for my clients is this: Take it slow. When we build up our self-care, it’s all about long term habits. A “treat yourself” moment here and there is good. But for long term wellness, our routines and habits are what make it great. You don’t have to be perfect and you will make mistakes. So expect it, accept it, and forgive yourself now. Treat yourself with grace and remember that YOU are worth the investment. Sometimes the best first step is to give yourself more moments of silence. In a world where everything is grabbing at our attention and entertainment is right at our fingertips, silence is a treasure. So start there. Get some sunshine, listen to bird song. Start somewhere, because at least you’re on the road.
What books or other media have been impactful on your journey?
I have 2 books that have been greatly important in my life. The first I read at a young age when it was given to me by my father, a wonderful man who has spent his life loving and caring for others, and it has been one of my favorites for years. The book is “How To Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. Though the title sounds pretentious, the message inside is so much more thoughtful. It’s all about how we treat each other and what people are looking for when they connect with others. If I could rename it, I would call it “How to Treat Each Other”, because it taught me to listen better and show up for people. We all need a person to listen, and I want to be that person.
The other is “The Gifts of Imperfection” by (of course) Brene Brown. This book is short and sweet and all about embracing who we are, and appreciating what vulnerability and imperfection allow us to do. We get caught up in “supposed to’s” and “should’s” and forget about being happy. When we live wholeheartedly, we are able to be more than we thought we could be. It’s a good reminder that there is power in vulnerability and being ourselves.
What piece of advice or request do you have for our readers before you leave?
When we think we’ve had our limit, when we are up against the wall and feel trapped and heavy and dark and alone, those are the moments when we have to get uncomfortable and reach out. The best thing we can do for ourselves in those moments of hardship is to stop trying to be our own hero and let trusted people in. For a long time, I told myself that I had to figure things out on my own. I’m a therapist, shouldn’t I know how to fix things by myself? I felt like I was a failure for showing any sign of weakness or anything less than perfection. What I now realize is that having a community to pull on and buoy us up in the heavy darkness is one of the most freeing things. One of my favorite researchers is Brene Brown, PhD, LMSW (sisters in social work!), and she has this quote of “lean into the discomfort”. And I love that. Just outside of our comfort zone is the place where growth starts. When we lean into that new feeling, that prickly feeling of something being unfamiliar, that’s where the fire gets lit underneath our feet, where we have to put in the work and the sweat to be good. So lean into it. Lean into taking care of yourself. Lean into applying for that job you don’t feel quite qualified for yet. Lean into opening up to a friend. Lean into the discomfort and take that leap, because more often than not, on the other side of discomfort is peace and success and new confidence. And if we fall, then we learned something and we get up and try again. I’m not perfect at it and I hate being new and not good at something. But I try anyway, and I haven’t been disappointed yet.
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