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Kristina Jackson: Social worker wants to offer safe space to deal with mental health challenges

The Manhattan Mercury - 8/16/2022

Aug. 16—Tychelle Jones has seen firsthand that caring for mental health is as important as caring for physical health.

"If someone needed their medication for diabetes, you're not going to tell them, 'Don't take your insulin,'" Jones said.

Jones, a counselor and social worker in Manhattan, said her role is to create a safe space where people can learn about themselves and work through their mental health challenges in a non-judgmental environment.

"It's important to have someone who's going to be able to help process those feelings, give insight and hold you accountable for some of those behaviors, choices and responses," Jones said. "It's investing back in yourself."

Jones, 43, grew up in Manhattan and holds a bachelor's degree in criminal justice at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, and master's degrees in youth development from University of Nebraska and social work from Washburn University.

She started working at the Crisis Center in 2002 and then worked as a victim advocate on Fort Riley before opening her private practice, 365 Days 365 Chances Counseling Services, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jones does telepsychiatry for a company now but will be full-time at her own practice in January.

Jones said her mother joked that she has been a social worker since she was a child.

"She'd talk about me giving cats milk," Jones said. "Or a little girl didn't have shoes. (My mom) was looking for my shoes for picture day, and I gave them to the little girl."

Jones said working with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault made her recognize the importance of being a voice for vulnerable populations and giving people a chance for a fresh start regardless of their background.

"We all can be in that situation at any time," Jones said.

After leaving Fort Riley, Jones started working with a private practice and was inspired to start her own.

Jones has three children and a stepchild, and her daughter is currently studying social work. She had her first child when she was 18; she graduated from Manhattan High School in 1997, a semester early.

Jones said she thought a practice would be a legacy for her children and a place for her daughter — who was 1 month old when Jones received her bachelor's degree — to start her career should she choose to join.

"What better opportunity than to do it at home?" Jones said.

She said as a Manhattan native, she knew that there were not many minority clinicians in town, and Jones, who is Black, wanted to help fill that gap. She said it is easier for people to talk to someone who looks like them. She and a Black client can relate on more personal levels, rather than just from a clinical textbook perspective.

"I'm going to be able to share the lens they're looking through because we have a cultural connection," Jones said. "There have been many misdiagnosed and mismedicated individuals when it comes to people of color because of lack of understanding."

Her practice is entirely virtual. Jones said this came about because she opened it during the COVID-19 pandemic, but she's found advantages to it. It allows for more flexible hours for clients, whether it be a single mother who can't find a babysitter or an elderly person who can't drive to an office.

"Clients are very comfortable in their own setting," she said. "I don't care if they are in bed. It's going to give them an opportunity to be more transparent and open up."

Jones said having access to mental health services is part of well-rounded care. Mental health struggles can affect physical health, and if untreated can lead to crises, Jones said.

"Your body and your mind will make you sit down if you don't listen to what your body and your mind are telling you," she said.

In her own life, Jones tries to make sure she's taking care of herself as well as her clients. She's made jewelry, gone to the gym, shopping or to get a manicure and pedicure, and cooked meals with friends and family as ways to relax.

The job often requires her to spend her days going through people's traumatic experiences with them. While a therapist does separate this from their own experience, Jones said, those conversations can take a toll and make it even more important to care for her own mental health.

"The boundaries are there and they're clear but my goal is to help these individuals find a purpose," she said. "My goal is not to lead them but to walk with them."

She said even in times when others are depending on us in the many roles we all play, we are better able to care for others when we also care for ourselves.

"We cannot pour from empty cups," Jones said. "I'm not going to be effective if I'm not okay."


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