Michelle Payton is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a clinician at My Mental Climb, a therapy practice in California specializing in holistic mental health services. Michelle’s areas of personal expertise include trauma/PTSD, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and LGBTQ-related topics. As a personal trainer, Michelle is particularly passionate about integrating the mind and body in the treatment of mental health conditions, whether that be through physical movement, mindfulness practices, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR), or related therapeutic modalities.
We asked Michelle more about her work with clients and her guiding philosophies on therapy.
Michelle’s background and personal life
How did you decide to become a therapist?
My first exposure to this field was when my older brother was taking psychology class in high school and brought the topic of dream interpretation to the dinner table. I was immediately fascinated by the brain’s ability to create stories in our head that we could create meaning out of.
As a teenager, I struggled with mental health challenges of my own that led to my participation in therapy with a Licensed Clinical Social Worker that changed how I viewed and experienced life. I realized at that age, that I was privileged in my early access to a therapist and that not everyone is as lucky. From my own experience in therapy, I was driven to pursue this career to help others.
What was your previous work before going into private practice?
I have worked in Residential Treatment for adolescence, School Based Counseling for children, Outpatient Psychiatric Care for children/ adolescents, and Correctional Mental Health for adults. I currently still work part-time in a correctional health setting working with the LGBTQIA+ and veteran unit at the facility.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I also work as a personal trainer and absolutely love working at the gym, going on walks with my dogs, or going on hikes with friends.
Michelle’s specialties and therapy philosophies
What guiding principles inform your work?
I practice from a trauma lens that draws light to how past distressing experiences can affect how we feel, act, or behave in the present. I believe that these memories are stored in our body and affect our mind and body until we process and heal from them.
What clientele do you work with most frequently?
I most frequently work with females and LGBTQIA+ identifying persons between the ages of 18-35 years old. I think it’s less about what draws me to these people and more about what draws them to me. I practice from an understanding and non-judgemental viewpoints which allows even the most guarded of patients to feel comfortable talking to me.
I personally specialize and enjoy working with patients who have experienced trauma and have disordered eating habits—both of which are prevalent in the populations I named.
Can you tell us more about your specialty in trauma and PTSD?
When you’ve experienced trauma, the memories are often inappropriately stored in your brain and body so that when triggered, you feel like you are re-experiencing the traumatic memory. The primary challenges I see is 1. People who have experienced trauma have learned to dissociate and are not present in their lives or 2 They are too flooded by these memories that they are unable to function adequately (get out of bed, socialize, work, etc).
I help people by utilizing trauma-focused interventions like EMDR to re-process these memories and beliefs so they are adequately stored in the brain and body so that they are not interfering with daily functioning
Can you tell us more about your expertise in working with clients facing anxiety?
Anxious people struggle with racing thoughts, sleep difficulties, negative thoughts, panic, and so much more that if occurred less frequently would be normal. However, these people are so overwhelmed with their anxious thoughts that they are imprisoned by them. I help people by utilizing CBT techniques to help patients connect their thoughts, feelings and behavior and stop negative and worried thoughts, putting them on trial or reframing them with integrating logic.
Can you tell us about your work with clients with low self-esteem?
Low self-esteem is often a symptom of depression and anxiety but I’ve also seen it stand alone. From what I’ve observed, it is typically a by product of negative experiences and verbal abuse from parents, partners, or other close people.
I help clients break from low self esteem and gain back confidence by learning positive affirmations, coping/ self care, boundary setting, and by reprocessing the memories that these negative beliefs about themselves are associated with install new positive cognitions about themselves .
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
What I find most rewarding about my work, is seeing how empowered my clients feel once they learn the techniques and skills to take back control of their trauma and their lives.
Therapy sessions with Michelle
What will our first session together be like? What happens in ongoing sessions?
During a first session with me, there are no expectations for how much or how little you’re comfortable to share. You’ll be in a safe and supportive place to ask questions and get to know me as I will get to know you. We'll discuss what brought you to therapy in general and at this specific time in your life and we'll begin to discuss your goals and aspirations you hope to accomplish in and outside of therapy.
Ongoing sessions will depend on what therapeutic approach will be best suited for you, your presenting problems, and your goals.
How long do clients typically see you for?
This really depends on what clients are seeking treatment for. I would say on average 6 months to a year.
Are there any books you often recommend to clients?
Absolutely. Here are some of the books I recommend:
- Journey to the Heart and Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
- The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
- Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
- Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
Do you assign “homework” between sessions?
No, not typically… I just recommend clients to write down any relevant memories or dreams that come up between sessions and to practice their coping and resources when feeling overwhelmed and needing to ground themselves
How do you help ensure I'm making progress in therapy?
Progress is typically tracked through baseline and ongoing measures of Anxiety, PTSD, and Depression. Additionally, if we are doing EMDR, we will be assessing and scaling how disturbing memories feel and how true negative and positive cognitions feel throughout treatment.
How can I prepare for our first session?
I think for any first session with a therapist, it is helpful for the client to know what their target problems are and what exactly they hope to accomplish in therapy. I like to ask the miracle questions - “If you woke up tomorrow and all your problems were solved, what would be different? “
How will I know it’s time to end my time in therapy with you or reduce session frequency?
Reduction of baseline measures, completion of treatment goals and successful processing of distressing memories. Successful processing means a scaled answer of 0/10 for distress when reflecting on negative memories and a 7/7 score for validity of new positive cognitions.
Visit Michelle’s profile to read more about her and contact her for an initial consultation!