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Hidden Gems: Meet Michelle Roberts, LCSW of The Whole Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Roberts, LCSW.

Hi Michelle, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
My story is the product of huge measures of love and investment that have been poured into me over the years from many different sources. It is a true gift to have work that is meaningful to me and aligns with my values, and I am grateful for each person who helped to make it possible. I grew up in a fairly quiet, suburban town and was raised on family dinners and church youth group. I am thankful for the stability in my upbringing as it provided a solid foundation for what I would find when I ventured out on my own. Shortly after my 18th birthday, I moved to Los Angeles to attend college, not knowing a soul in the state of CA and with dreams of beach days with idyllic weather, new friendships and endless possibilities. And I relished those things as they came true! But I also found something else – as I explored a new city, the realities of human suffering, poverty, and inequality were dawning on me really for the first time as I wandered beyond the walls of my campus home. I began to grapple with the huge chasm I saw between the world I grew up in and this new world I was privy to now, and on the brink of adulthood, what was my place in it all? This eventually led me to a degree in Sociology and an $11/hour paycheck. I was so proud; I was directly impacting people in vulnerable positions in our society! As much as I loved my work, my salary prospects motivated me to pursue a Master of Social Work degree. Ever since I’ve had the unique privilege of sitting with people in their most dark and tender moments of wondering & wandering. I have so much gratitude for the mentors, colleagues, and loved ones who have seen me and shaped me as I turned into a therapist. And especially for my clients – their bravery in sharing their histories, fears, and hopes continues to be my greatest teacher as I seek to receive myself with as much care and compassion I’m holding as I sit with them.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Smooth is not how I would describe it. Does anyone say it’s been smooth? I’d say riddled with tears, confusion, and wrestling; and yes – joy, celebration and hope. I keep wanting to say that I’ve had some “fits and starts” in my career, but I don’t think that’s the most accurate description. Although social work and therapy have taken me to some really difficult places both professionally and personally, each of my experiences have built on one another as I’ve sought to integrate my work with my own development – my spirituality, my mental health, my love for my people and humanity at large.

One big challenge we have to overcome as developing clinicians is achieving professional licensure so we can practice independently. This requires gaining thousands of hours of supervised experience and passing a hefty exam. The process can be completed in as little as two years if you are very focused, but I took five years to complete it due to some of the challenges referenced above! I am proud to have checked this milestone off my list and to now be walking with others through the licensure process and supporting new therapists in their own growth journeys.

I work in a profession that requires me to stay engaged in my own growth and healing in order to show up in the way I want to with my clients and supervisees. And that means I am a human being dealing with my own “stuff” in real-time as I show up and provide space for others dealing with theirs. So I suppose the struggles have been about figuring out how I want to show up to my life, as I simultaneously help others to do the same. Although not everyone feels they have the space or permission to be in process, I hope with my practice to be a small part of creating that.

As you know, we’re big fans of The Whole Story. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
I own and operate a private therapy practice in Long Beach, CA. I named my business The Whole Story because ultimately I believe we are all seeking to move toward wholeness, a sense of peace and settledness with ourselves and our place in the world. I aim to hear and see each client in the fullness of their humanity. Often, therapy is the first place someone gets to truly tell their whole story – usually not in a linear way, but I hope our therapy “room” is a place to breathe and be received, whatever messy emotions are happening and however long it takes to make meaning of the story of your life, I will be honored to sit with you there. I don’t bring much rigidity into the therapy room or place a heavy emphasis on diagnosis unless a client is specifically requesting to explore and understand this. We’re all on a journey, hopefully a journey towards our own healing, and that requires a good amount of breath and space to accomplish.

I specialize in treating trauma & I enjoy sprinkling in somatic (body-based) skills. I work a lot with an attachment focus (exploring family of origin and how we have been shaped into who we are today). I also bring a strength-based lens, focusing on how you developed the survival skills that got you to this point and whether those skills are or are not serving you well at this phase of your life.

As a social worker, I also come at things from an anti-oppression perspective; I care a lot about how each of us can contribute to bending the arc of our world toward justice. Part of that is exploring what it means to own any sources of privilege we have and increase awareness of intersectional identities so we can show up to ourselves and others with a deeper sense of compassion and honor.

Some of the spaces I’ve worked in my career include:

– Working with people managing persistent mental health and substance use diagnoses.

– Providing therapy for teenagers and their families recovering from a mental health crisis or eating disorder.

– Caring for adults with developmental differences.

– Walking with families who overcame homelessness.

– Leading a team of care providers & coaching volunteers in the nonprofit world.

I offer individual, couples, and family therapy 100% via telehealth (video sessions) and I work with folks ages 13+.

I also offer consulting services, providing clinical supervision for therapists in training who are seeking professional licensure with the state of CA.

Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?
Hold tight to your relationships! Without question, the number one thing that has been impactful in my career so far is continuing to invest in connections with the people who have shaped me and taken an interest in my work. At no point have I framed this as “networking,” though. I think when we show up as our authentic selves and have the humility to remember that everyone has something to teach us, we grow. My greatest mentors have been supervisors and colleagues I have collected along the way – I enjoy keeping contact with lovely humans and I’m fortunate to have a number of them in my life. Those genuine connections have been absolutely huge in getting my business off the ground and developing my client base in this first year of operating. I’ve also had the chance to invest in other young professionals through my graduate school’s mentoring program, which has been a source of joy and connection.

As I was in the process of leaving my full-time job to launch my own practice, I made a list of local therapists I respect – some of whom I knew and others I stumbled upon when they presented at a training or webinar, etc. I asked if I could take each of them to coffee and then peppered them with questions about their practice, their marketing efforts, how they maintain balance, what certifications they’ve found worthwhile – everything! You may be surprised how willing people are to give you a bit of their time. I think many of us genuinely enjoy the opportunity for a new connection and to pass on knowledge gained along the way.

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

All photos were taken by my sister, also a local small biz owner! Jess Onesto of Cheers Babe Photo

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