Originally published July 26, 2017 on Walker’s Legacy.
Walker’s Legacy Profiles recognize unique women of color in business who embody the legacy of Madame C.J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire. In this installment, meet Maya M. Pittman.
Maya M. Pittman, NCC, LPC is a licensed professional counselor or psychotherapist who sees clients in private practice and at East Carolina University. Her role as a college counselor has furthered Maya’s passion for mental health awareness, especially when it comes to black college-aged women.
For National Minority Mental Health Month, we had a chance to sit down with Maya to learn more about how she engages university women in helping them prioritize their mental and emotional health.
What inspired you to pursue a career in mental health? What’s satisfying about it for you?
My inspiration to pursue a career in mental health originally came from my high school psychology teacher. Her passion about how much of an impact our mind has on our lives was completely captivating for me, and I was hooked from that point on. Not to mention the complexities of our brains are extraordinary. She challenged me to discover how I could use the understanding of psychology within my leadership roles as a student to better serve others. Eventually, through grief, I directly experienced what it means to develop and work towards sustaining my own mental health through life’s inevitable adversities. During my study of psychology at UNC-Chapel Hill, I stumbled upon the world of counseling while beginning to research graduate schools, and recognized how much of myself and values were involved in the practice.
It is beyond satisfying to help guide someone towards their desired and often necessary areas of personal change in order to become the best possible version of themselves.
Being able to facilitate one’s development, help them find the critical answers already contained in themselves, and aid in increasing someone’s overall quality of life is a role I’m so thankful to hold.
What do you think is the most significant thing you’ve done in terms of mental health awareness for black women and minorities?
The most significant thing I’ve done in terms of mental health awareness for black women/minorities is hold dual roles. While working in private practice, and being a college counselor I’ve found that many black women require more than 50 minutes of time with a therapist. Being able to help them expand their network and resources, act as a mentor, breakdown negative notions of self that they’ve subconsciously held, and provide a judgement free zone takes intentional balance in order to remain ethical. I love taking 10 minutes at the end of a session with young black women especially, to talk about how to wear their natural hair to a big interview, navigate communication barriers at a predominantly white institution, or share a soundbite from a popular podcast about wellness.
Additionally, I make myself visible by fully engaging in mental health outreach. When other black women see me presenting on a pertinent mental health topic, or speaking in order to motivate openness of thought, it normalizes the need to seek mental health assistance. Fulfilling my cultural responsibility by professionally stepping outside of the confines of my specific career role is the most significant thing I’ve done.
What are the biggest issues you see at the university level in terms of mental health for young women?
The biggest issue I’ve seen at the university level in terms of mental health for young women is developing a positive and healthy self-concept. In today’s society everything from family, friends, social media, and old age societal expectations challenge and breakdown how many young women view themselves. Their mindsets can become so negative and pressured which ultimately lead to anxiety and/or depression. They begin to dim their light so much it becomes difficult to see their path. Much of my work involves helping young women redefine or find who they are, identify their values and work towards making those values congruent to their thinking and behavior. Recognizing the need to, and how to prioritize self.
Many women need permission to put and keep themselves at the top of the list on a cognitive, physical and emotional level.
We have to help young women challenge the damaging agreements they have made about themselves.
How can the black community support mental health awareness? What are the barriers?
The number one thing the black community can do to support mental health awareness is breaking down the barrier of ignorance. We MUST learn, make ourselves aware of, and more importantly educate one another on mental health issues from depression, anxiety, race-related trauma and stress, and many more topics. My observations have revealed the harsh way in which the black community not only judges the experience of mental health issues, but seeking help for those issues. Many of us simply do not know what to look for regarding signs and symptoms, or what have a “mental health issue” truly means. The reality is that everyone, black folks included, will at some point run into a difficult mental obstacle that they will need to learn how to work through.
What advice do you have for women who are dealing with mental illness and/or considering therapy but are too afraid to get help?
My advice for women who are dealing with mental health illness and/or are considering therapy but are too afraid to ask for help is to ask themselves what they stand to lose if they do not get help sooner than later. Many women are so many things, to so many people, and we have to evaluate what will be sacrificed if we do not help ourselves first. Recognize the impact that their mental health has on every other facet of their lives. I would advise them to “shop” for a therapist they feel comfortable with and take ownership of their own therapeutic process. Do not feel like you have to have a beautiful written out explanation of “why” you’re seeing therapy, but simply show up and take perhaps the most valuable risk of your life.
What inspires you?
The people in my life inspire me. I am surrounded by such motivating forces found in my husband, my family, coworkers and friends who are all doing their part to help others attain a higher quality of life in some way shape or form. I am inspired by the fact that I hold a significant piece of the pie that will feed and fuel our future. We are all working together, and all have our own challenges that have had to be overcome time and time again. That is inspiring for me.
What advice do you have for other young black women who are interested in pursuing careers in mental/behavioral health?
My advice for other young black women who are interested in pursuing careers in mental/behavioral health is to connect with why it is significant for you. Mental/behavioral health is very hard, sometimes emotionally grueling work that can only be done through a foundation of true passion. Find out why it is important, and begin to immerse yourself in the field. Read articles, join organizations and listservs, talk to those who are currently in the field to help find your way and clarify concerns or questions. Learn from those that have become before you to recognize if it is the right field for you.