Twenty-five-year-old Tranell Graham is a Barbadian family therapist who has an MSc in Marriage and Family Therapy from Nova Southeastern University located in Fort Lauderdale.
Positive Vibes sat down with Graham to discuss why she decided to become a family therapist and an advocate for mental health education in Barbados.
Q: What is your mantra for life?
A: My mantra for life would have to be “even though you cannot control everything that happens, you can control your attitude towards it.” Understand that sometimes things may go completely haywire and your response to the situation is what determines the outcome. I am a firm believer that sometimes the wrong choices bring us to the right places and my own life is a testament to that.
Q: What is one thing the public would not know about you?
A: One thing the public would not know about me is that I am strangely into astrology despite my professional training that basically debunks the whole idea of it.
Q: When did you realise that you wanted to become a family therapist?
A: I would not say that my path to becoming a family therapist was as planned out as many would expect. It took a lot of making the wrong choices for me to get to the point where I realised that being a family therapist or being in a position to address mental health, in general, was my calling. After doing Psychology at the University of the West Indies I knew there was no way I would not go on to practise in the field. At that point, family therapy was still a slightly foreign concept to me but my own life experiences led me right to it.
Q: You studied and travelled abroad. How was this experience?
A: Being away from home, especially on your own, is never easy. It takes being able to adapt to your new surroundings while still maintaining who you are. My experience abroad taught me how to deal with different people from diverse backgrounds, something I thought was relatively easy before I left home. But there’s so much more to see and experience outside of Barbados. The change of scenery helped me appreciate so much about Barbados as well as appreciate and understand my journey. Being a West Indian therapist had its advantages and being my authentic self and staying true to my culture really helped me in the therapy room. Overall, I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I was given while abroad.
Q: You mentioned that in Barbados there is a stigma about mental health. How can this be changed?
A: Stigma surrounding mental health can be addressed through education. I believe those in a position to influence change in Barbados should use their platforms to educate themselves and others about mental health. Introducing a safe space where persons can speak their truth and talk openly about mental health can also help fight the stigma. We should definitely make an effort to bridge the gap between physical health and mental health. Addressing concerns regarding one’s mental wellbeing should be just as routine as going to your family doctor.
Q: Is it taxing dealing with family problems especially in a close-knit society like Barbados?
A: Since I have returned to Barbados I have not worked in my usual capacity. However, dealing with any problems outside of your own can be mentally and emotionally demanding. As a therapist or anyone in a helping profession for that matter, we are taught how to attend to our wellbeing and are able to promote our own self-care and manoeuvre burn out.
Q: What are some of the misconceptions Barbadians have about mental health?
A: I think as a society we were made to feel as though seeing a therapist or a psychologist is meant for worst-case scenarios and that persons with mental illnesses are crazy. In reality, anyone can be affected by mental illness regardless of age, socioeconomic status or race and there is no problem too big or too small for therapy.
Q: Why did you decide that you wanted to become an advocate for mental health awareness in Barbados?
A: Before I went on to do my Master’s I realised there was no improvement in the mental health climate for some years. I noticed more instances with children, especially, being in the foreground and was of the opinion that in some of these instances, there was some correlation with mental health. I decided then I wanted to be an advocate for the youth and a catalyst for change when it relates to mental health in Barbados.
Q: What is one thing you would like to see change in Barbados where mental health is concerned?
A: I would like to see our overall response to mental health change. I think in being more proactive we can address the underlying issues in Barbados before they get out of hand. Therapy can be used preventatively; receiving help does not indicate weakness.
Q: What is one of the highlights of your career thus far?
A: One of the highlights of my career is working with newly diagnosed children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Being in an environment where I was able to understand a disorder that sadly does not get the attention it deserves, especially in Barbados, was pivotal to my growth as a therapist. Passing this knowledge on to parents and seeing them employ that knowledge while becoming more confident in dealing with the disorder was extremely rewarding. (LG)