Meet Mpho Perras - Therapist, Entrepreneur, Author, Speaker, & Empower women to recognize their inner worth and love themselves
Hi Mpho, can you start by introducing yourself please include education, social, and cultural background.
Hello, I am Mpho Perras and I am a licensed marriage and family therapist in Oakland, California. I am the author of the Peaceful Thoughts Journal for the Working Woman, a journal I created for women to express their deepest thoughts and emotions after a long day at work. I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo to a South African father and African-American mother. We moved to the United States when I was a baby. I grew up in northern California. I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Sonoma State University and my Master of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology from Notre Dame de Namur University. I’m married with two daughters. I enjoy spending time with my family, baking, traveling, knitting, writing, and spa days.
How did you get into Mental Health and how long have you been practicing?
As long as I remember, I was interested in listening to people and their problems. After watching Silence of the Lambs in high school, I wanted to become a forensic psychologist. In college, I majored in Psychology and minored on criminal justice. After I received my degree, I was a little burned out from internships and heard there was not much money in human services. I knew I did not want to continue on to graduate school right way, so I decided to work for a marketing company. After a year, I figured out that was not for me. I saw a job for juvenile counselor for a county probation department. It sounded right up my alley. It was a mixture of psychology and criminal justice. I worked at juvenile hall for 2 years, then as a probation officer for 16 years. About 5 years in, I realized that I wanted to be a therapist. I went back to school part-time while working full-time. I graduated and started interning. I had 3000 hours to complete and I had to work full-time, so I paced myself. I worked at a variety of sites, counseling kids and adults. I became licensed in June 2015 and opened my practice a month later. I continue to work as probation officer Monday through Friday and saw clients at my practice on Saturdays. A year ago, I was offered a contract position for an EAP company onsite at Google. They were looking to hire more therapists of color. I saw it as a great opportunity, so I left probation. Now, I work at Google 2 days a week and see clients at my private practice 2 to 3 days week.
You founded Peaceful Thoughts Therapy, what is it and how long has it been in existence?
I founded Peaceful Thoughts Therapyin June 2015. It is a mental health private practice in Oakland, California. I provide individual and group therapy and teletherapy. I also lead workshops and speak on topics about self-esteem, self-care, the effects of childhood abandonment and empowering women. My mission is to support, empower and motivate women of color in their journey to healing their past, increasing their self-esteem, and loving themselves again. I wanted to create a safe space for women of color where they can feel emotionally safe, at peace, and good enough. I want them to be able to laugh, cry, or scream and know that I will be there to help them get through the pain. My 5-year goal is to open a wellness center with additional therapists, including a massage therapist and acupuncturist, in order to help women, heal their mind, body and spirit.
What are the services you provide and how do you break down your fees?
I provide individual therapy and teletherapy (video/phone, text) at a rate of $155 per session. I also accept insurance (Anthem Blue Cross and Lyra Behavioral Health). My group therapy range is $40 to $70 per session. My speaking and workshop fees vary depending on location, time and topic, etc. I also created the Peaceful Thoughts Journal for the Working Woman which is available on Amazon. Right now, it is on sale for $8.99.
Mental health isn't for a specific group of people; it is for everybody. We hear a lot about "protect your mental health" "we should have taken mental health days from work" etc. How would you define "mental health"?
I would define mental health as the emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being of a person. It affects the way we think, feel and act when life events, challenges or relationships come our way. How we react and handle stress, trauma, or any type of life transition or experience. Mental health can also be affected by our brain chemistry or genetics too. I added the spiritual component because of what I have seen in many clients. Most of my clients are black women and as we know, spirituality is huge in our community. They discuss how when they are dealing with a loss, a break-up, life transitions or trauma, they are also lacking in their spirituality. They tell me when they are spiritually-centered, trust and faith in God or whatever they believe in, they feel better mentally.
Can you briefly walk through your therapy process from start to finish, to give the readers a sense of what it might be like to work with you?
Clients usually contact me via phone or email. We set up a phone consultation so I can find out why they are seeking therapy. During the phone call I ask them what the current situation is and what they would like their situation to be after they complete therapy. If I find they are a good fit, we talk about how they will be paying for the session and set up an appointment. I email paperwork, which should be completed before the first session. During the first session, I review the intake paperwork with the client and ask questions. At the same time, I observe their mood, body language, speech and mindset. Sometimes they intake takes 2 sessions. Afterwards, we develop a treatment plan together. Most of the time, we start off meeting weekly, then when things start to improve, we switch to biweekly, then monthly. Every few weeks I check in with the client to see how things are progressing and if any changes need to be made. Once the treatment goals are accomplished, we discuss a termination plan. Sometimes ending therapy can be hard for some clients, so I really take the time to process how they feel about ending therapy. I empower them by talking about the tremendous progress they made and their support system. I've had a few clients return months later for check-ins and “tune-ups”.
What are your thoughts on mobile/online therapy?
I really enjoy mobile/online therapy. There are many people who struggle to make in-person appointments due to work/travel schedules, childcare issues, lack of transportation and mobility issues due to health. It also expands my reach. I can provide therapy all over the state of California. I’ve been able to reach women of color who are struggling to find a therapist of color in areas that are only 2% to 3% black with no black therapists... My clients are relieved to find a therapist who they feel understands them and can help them navigate the world as a person of color.
How has both your private practice and your blog evolved over the years, and what do you think has been the major factor(s) contributing to the success of both?
When I opened my practice almost 4 years ago, I was more of generalist. At first, I wanted to service stressed out moms because I was a stressed-out mom. Well, the phone didn’t ring for months. My first client was a young girl with low self-esteem and relationship issues. I enjoyed working with her. I continued to get the same type of client. At that point I started working with both men and women with low self-esteem. Over the past year, I’ve niched it down to women of color with self-esteem and more recently women of color with low self-esteem stemming from childhood abandonment. I am happy with the way my practice has evolved. It feels right. I started blogging a year ago. It’s not as often as I like, but when I blog, I am passionate about what I write about. I think my writing has gotten a lot better over the past year. I’ve been asked to do more speaking events which is also something I love.
what are the strategies you have used to help young people and their families?
Right now, I only provided services to adult women ages 18 to 50. However, I believe if the client changes, the family changes. I've seen this happen, even if the family isn't even in the room. My clients have told me due to changing themselves, the relationships with their parents, spouses, partners and friends change. I work with women of color who don’t feel good about themselves and struggling in relationships and can't figure out why. I help them see the connection between the relationship with their fathers affects their relationships and how they navigate the world. Once they begin to see this through the therapy modalities I mentioned above, I move onto different strategies. I use a lot of written exercises that I create, or I find online or in workbooks. One exercise I use is to write a letter to someone who has hurt them. Many times, they don't send the letter, but releasing all the emotions is healing. Another exercise is writing about what they like about themselves. This is good because when you have low self-esteem, you feel you don't have any good qualities and you don't do anything right. I also implement strategies the client already uses into their treatment plan. I've had clients implement prayer, hiking, singing, bible verses, or artwork into their treatment plan. I use what has given them comfort, peace in the past, to heal them in the present.
what is the primary treatment approaches you use and how do they help clients?
My primary form of treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps the client see how their thoughts and perceptions affects their moods and behaviors. If you are thinking about something sad, you will become sad. If you think about something exciting, you will become excited. The key is to identify the negative thought patterns, assess whether they are reality, then find strategies to overcome them. I also work with a lot of women with relationship issues and trauma, so I tend to use psychodynamic therapy, which takes a look at the past and how if affects the present. Lastly, I use journaling for writing assignments. There are so many benefits to journaling including healing the past, reducing stress, and releasing bottled up emotions.
Can you share a success story you are particularly proud of?
Due to confidentiality, I can’t share a particular story, however, I can be general. I’ve had a quite a few clients who have come to me with anxiety because of the relationships they were in or relationships that had just ended. They felt feelings of rejection, shame, anger, mistrust and not feeling good enough. These were the same feelings they had after their fathers left them as a child. I helped them see the connection between their relationship with their dad and how they navigate relationships. For these clients the relationship with their fathers is usually non-existent. For most clients, the realization there is a connection between dad, reaction to relationships and self-esteem is a turning point. The second part to the healing process is forgiveness of their father, so they can move forward and forgive others. I start with dad, because he was the first man to leave them. Some clients don’t have the chance to do it face to face because their father has passed away or they are not around. Others know where their father is, however, they do not talk to them. In either case, forgiveness is the road to healing. I tell my clients they are doing it for themselves, not their fathers. In both scenarios I’ve seen women forgive their fathers, which improves self-esteem and relationships with their partners, friends and family. On a few occasions, I've provided therapy to my clients and their fathers. The breakthroughs are phenomenal.
What do you consider your strength as a therapist?
I would say my greatest strength is my sense of humor. I’ve learned that it makes my clients feel good and builds rapport. When appropriate, I make my clients laugh which in turn helps them feel better about themselves and world in which they live in. I would 95% of my clients have the same sense of humor, so it flows naturally.
Is there any advice you’d give to those who hope to launch their own private practice?
Connection, Connection, Connection. Meet people online and offline. I would definitely join relevant Facebook groups. I learned a lot from clinicians online. I joined FB groups for Bay Area clinicians, clinicians of color, and clinicians who are mothers. I also did a lot networking in-person. I met therapists and other entrepreneurs for coffee and learn about their businesses. I also attended small business networking events where I met many great entrepreneurs. I found that some of my Facebook and networking groups offered free trainings on such topics as using social media, networking, finances, legal information, creating multiple income streams. I can’t forget Podcasts. Podcasts are a great because you can listen to them anytime. They are great for commuting! Books are great too. Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn are other ways to connect and learn how to build a business.
What is one thing you would like to live the readers with?
Everyone can benefit from therapy. Even if you are feeling great, feel free to find someone to talk to. You may find after a few sessions, that there may be some issues or relationships you need to work on. If you are experiencing feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, shame, etc, also seek out therapy. If you are in a romantic partnerships, friendship or family, you can seek out therapy too. Therapists are there to help you navigate emotions, boost your self-esteem, and become authentic to yourself and others.
How can people connect with you and Peaceful Thoughts Therapy?