Jennifer Simmons is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Durham, CT specializing in working with adolescents and young adults as they navigate major life transitions, anxiety, depression, and relationship challenges. As a Certified School Counselor with over 10 years of experience, Jennifer is also experienced in helping clients navigate academic issues and/or issues related to the college admissions process. In sessions, she combines a strengths-based approach with components of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness practices. Jennifer conveniently offers both in-person and virtual therapy options to clients throughout the state of Connecticut.
We asked Jennifer more about her work with clients and her guiding philosophies on therapy.
Jennifer’s background and personal life
How did you decide to become a therapist?
Like many young people, the journey to my career was a winding path, and I struggled to find a career that felt like the right balance of my interests, aptitudes, and talents. I started college studying design at a very small art school before transferring to a larger university and changing my major two more times before finally landing on counseling and psychology. I was still thinking I wanted a career in the arts when I started taking psychology courses, and it did not take long before I felt I had finally found the space where I belong. I was so energized by what I was learning, and I had a deep thirst for more. I had never felt that before.
I have so much gratitude for the professors who enabled me to visualize myself as a professional counselor and build confidence in myself through sharing their own journeys and experiences. Once I believed I could be successful, it still took many, many steps (and 16 years!) to start my own private practice, but I never doubted if the time investment and hard work was the right decision for me. I truly love what I do, and my clients are my greatest source of energy and inspiration.
What was your previous work before going into private practice?
I started my post-graduate career working as a school counselor in a large urban high school. I did this work for 5 years before transitioning to a leadership role overseeing counseling programs in the district. While I enjoyed the systematic programming and mentoring aspect of being a counseling supervisor, I missed the direct client work. I began working part-time with clients through an online counseling platform at the start of the pandemic, and I was hooked. It took two years for me to make the full transition to private practice, and I could not be happier in my current role.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love being creative, doing art projects with my kids, yoga, and reading. I'm also looking forward to traveling more post pandemic and taking my kids on new adventures.
Jennifer’s specialties and therapy philosophies
What guiding principles inform your work?
My work as a counselor is guided by three main principles:
- Meeting clients with "unconditional positive regard." This means no matter what is shared by the client, they receive nothing but support and respect from the therapist. This is crucial to establishing a trusting therapeutic alliance with clients were they feel safe enough to be vulnerable.
- Respecting a client's autonomy and ability to make choices for themselves.
- Teaching radical self love and acceptance and believing that all humans are innately deserving of peace in their lives simply because they exist.
What clientele do you work with most frequently?
I specialize in working with adolescents and young adults as they transition in and out of college and careers. I also have a passion for working with women who want to challenge the patriarchy and practice radical self love and acceptance.
I think about how much of an impact the women who mentored me had on my life and how important it was for me to see them living their own lives and challenging the norms I had been raised with. I believe all women should have exposure to that.
Can you tell us more about your specialties in anxiety and depression?
So many of my clients are held captive by the fear their anxiety brings. Helping clients recognize rational from irrational fears and challenge the negative thinking that contributes to anxiety is skill that takes time to develop but can make a big impact on reducing anxiety.
I share with my clients that anxiety and depression are like fraternal twins, the symptoms look and feel different but, at the core, they are born from the same space in our minds where negative automatic thoughts are abundant. For depression, I use the same approach as with treating anxiety—helping clients become aware of their thinking patterns and recognize their irrational thoughts. This is a skill that is needed to remap our emotional responses and decrease depressive thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
Can you tell us about your work with clients on topics related to self-esteem and identity?
Self esteem is something almost all of my clients rumble with at some point in therapy as we work to examine the thoughts and feelings we have lead them to feel pain and suffering. Learning about how our early life experiences influence the development of our core sense of self and how it is possible to change these core beliefs serves as the foundation to success in decreasing anxiety and depression.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Everyday I am inspired by the honesty and vulnerability my clients bring to sessions. I am honored that clients trust me to walk along side them in their journeys. Something happens in the therapy room that creates a connection to another human that is so beautiful. I am grateful that I get to spend my days surrounded by this energy. It enhances who I am as a person.
Therapy sessions with Jennifer
What will our first session together be like? What happens in ongoing sessions?
The first session is called the "intake session." This is where you introduce yourself and share the presenting issue that brought you to counseling. I will also ask for some background information such as where you grew up, who lived with you growing up, what your relationships were like with your family of origin, and what your current life is like now. These questions help me assess the areas in your life that are being impacted by mental health concerns. You will also have the opportunity to share what you hope to gain from our work together.
How long do clients typically see you for?
Most of the clients I work with see me from 6-12 months. Sessions usually start at a weekly or bi-weekly frequency and move to once a month or less once clients feel they no longer require regular occurring sessions.
Are there any books you often recommend to clients?
- Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson — for anyone who wants to examine the type of parenting they received and how it has effected their life as an adult
- Anything by Brene Brown — for exploring shame, and vulnerability
- The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor — for changing the narrative of how women view themselves in our society
- The Body Keeps Score by Bressel van der Kolk — for better understanding trauma and it's impact on the body
- Like a Mother By Angela Garbes — for a feminist view on being a mother in our society
- Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jetha — for re-evaluating human sexual behavior and understanding the root of many of our society's toxic stereotypes
Do you assign “homework” between sessions?
I love assigning homework. Sometimes homework looks like reading or journaling, but most of the time it's practicing a skill we discussed in session—such as mindfulness, observing negative thoughts, reframing thoughts, or practicing saying positive affirmations.
How do you help ensure I'm making progress in therapy?
To monitor progress, I use several tools, including asking you to rate your current symptoms. I'll also ask you how you feel about your progress in order to get feedback on what is working and what may need to be adjusted to better meet your needs.
I also provide regular summaries of growth I have observed. Part of my responsibility as a therapist is to operate from a goal-oriented treatment plan that I review every 90 days. I include the client in the goal setting and review process of the treatment plan.
How do I know that it’s time to start seeking therapy?
I believe everyone deserves the gift of therapy—whether it is to treat depression, help with relationship conflicts, process through past trauma, or work on self improvement. It is an act of kindness to ourselves that signifies that we are worth an hour every other week to pause and focus on our self in a safe and non-judgmental space.
For others the need for counseling is clear when they feel that their mental health is impacting their ability to work, sleep, eat, socialize, or care for self. A lost of interest in hobbies and changes to eating and sleeping habits are usually signs that something emotional needs to be addressed.
How can I prepare for our first session?
Clients are asked to complete an intake packet with important background information that will help me assess their needs. Starting therapy can be a difficult and scary thing to do. Try to remember that the therapists is there for you. Come just as you are, with no need to apologize or judge yourself.
How will I know it’s time to end my time in therapy with you or reduce session frequency?
This is something we will discuss together during progress check-ins. I want my clients to know that I support what they feel is best because I trust they can make good choices for themselves. Clients don't have to worry about their therapist's feelings around decreasing or terminating therapy. Sometimes I will bring up the idea of decreasing or stopping therapy as well if I see signs that the client is no longer in need of services.
Why should I seek therapy, rather than turning to my partner, friends, or other loved ones?
Connecting with partners, friends, and family is so important but these relationships are different than the one with a therapist because you don't have to do any care taking of the therapist; you don't have to filter or worry about what your therapist thinks of you. Therapy really is a unique space where we can give ourselves permission to be authentic with out concern for others.
It is also helpful that therapists are held to ethical standards and attend up-to-date trainings in effective treatments, so you can feel confident that the work you do is grounded in best practices and is not going to cause you any harm.
What advice would you share with therapy seekers?
Do it! Be kind to yourself. You deserve to feel your best and you don't need to do it alone. Therapy is self love.
Visit Jennifer’s profile to watch her introductory video, read more about her, and contact her for an initial consultation!