Shemya Vaughn, Ph.D.
Providing services to people with disabilities since 1997, Dr. Shemya Vaughn is both a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselor with a doctorate in rehabilitation counselor education from Michigan State University.
In addition to disability service provision, she has taught at three community colleges, and four universities. In 2016, she created The Sexuality & Disability Institute, LLC ( https://www.sexualitydisability.com/ ) to provide affordable online psychological services to individuals with disabilities who identify as LGBTQIA. Her book, Transgender Youth, was published in 2016 and addresses the challenges trans youth face spiritually, in foster care, in school sports, and at home. She considers herself a social justice advocate, educator, and mental health professional for underrepresented populations.
What are your recommendations for ending stigma in the Black community?
In the Black community, most of us were raised not to “spread our family’s business in the streets”. We have heard our parents and other elders warn us against telling our secrets to someone. This is an unhealthy practice. Secrets can kill us. If a secret is too heavy for us, we should ask someone else to carry that heavy load with us. This is what therapists do.
I recommend we end the mystery about what happens inside therapy sessions.
I recommend that we explain confidentiality and privacy on an ongoing basis.
I recommend that therapists disclose that we also see therapists of our own, to dispel the myth that therapy is only for “crazy folks.”
I recommend that we therapists go talk to churches about what we do to normalize getting help and put a face on therapy to end the stigma.
What are some things we should know about your area of expertise?
My area of expertise is with disability and sexuality. I mostly work with couples where one of them have a disability and need help getting their relationship back on track after the disruption of the disability onset or diagnosis. I help couples determine what their roles were before the disability and what they need the roles to be for the relationship to survive and thrive within their new reality.
I also work with individuals who are experiencing trauma, depression, and anxiety while they forge ahead trying to improve their quality of life. I use the Adverse Childhood Events survey to determine the childhood traumas and we discuss how events that occurred before age 18 impact them as adults. Finally, we process the trauma and develop healthy action plans to move forward.
What does Black Mental Wellness mean to you?
Black Mental Wellness means learning how to thrive in a world where you experience racism, sexism, and many other isms depending on your social identities. Unfortunately, because of the historical and intergenerational oppression and marginalization, we trek through these isms and microaggressions while trying to improve our quality of life, while trying to raise families, and while trying to be better versions of ourselves – but we do not have to do this alone. Black Mental Wellness is placing all of these negative forces into proper perspective so that you make it through each day as a whole person who expresses themselves authentically. When we achieve Black Mental Wellness, we are careful with our words, take care of ourselves prior to saving others, and we honor our loved ones by communicating in healthy ways with them.
What can potential clients expect during an initial session? Follow up sessions?
In our initial session, we will discuss what is presently bothering the client or couple. I always ask what is causing the greatest amount of stress in their lives so that we can prioritize our work together. Although therapy goals are traditionally used as a road map, I understand that some clients are so far removed from their pain that they do not know what it is that needs to change for them to feel better. In follow-up sessions, I challenge clients to question thoughts and behaviors, I challenge them to start making small changes in their thoughts and behaviors to bring them closer to the kind of life they want to live or the kind of relationship they want to have with their partners. Clients can expect to feel heard, unjudged, and a sense of relief after sharing painful memories with someone who knows how to hold space for emotional traumas.