Welcome to the Counselor Spotlight series, where clinicians at Therapy Austin share what inspires them, how they take care of themselves, and what influenced them to work in this field. First up we have the brave Sarah Akunebu. Enjoy!
For Sarah Akunebu, showing up as a professional counselor is important, but she also places great emphasis on being her most authentic self while doing healing work. She laughed, “I’m probably more of a human and less of a therapist” explaining those moments that I have with clients where we are connected human to human” is what she finds most meaningful in her work. She joyfully announced, “I don’t want to be Sarah the Therapist, I want to be Sarah doing therapy!”. She has even had clients return to working with her after a break and share how impactful her humanity in the therapy room has aided in their healing journey.
Even though Sarah has found the just-right formula for her therapeutic practice, she continues to be surprised by “how dynamic it (being in the therapy room) is on the inside for the counselor”. She goes on to explain that at different stages in the therapeutic process she has hit the limit of growth in that stage, but the natural cycle of “being a human being” (ever evolving) presents her with a new opportunity to move into the next stage of development. She highlighted that during the 10th or 11th month at Therapy Austin she was able to recognize the depth of that work with clients, and also within herself. Sarah welcomes the reminder that she continues to grow professionally through those therapeutic relationships built with those longer-term clients.
A few phrases Sarah often finds herself saying over and over to clients is “Tune In”, and she truly witnesses her clients’ experiences by telling them “I want to validate that for you”. She explained, “I want people to naturally tune into what is happening inside of them. Whether it be physical activity or an emotional state that is happening in the physical body, or that inner voice that is there”. Sarah believes that many people carry the very information they need to thrive, but are often told “it’s not important, or not to listen to it”. Sarah points out that for many adults, they are disconnected from that child-like part inside of them that allows them to be mystified by beautiful moments.
SELF-CARE. SELF-CARE. SELF-CARE. That is what is drilled into most budding therapists while in school, and for good reason. Self-care is paramount to be able to do effective therapeutic work. Sarah described her self-care practice as “always evolving”, and explained that changing up her regimen helps to keep her grounded and recharged. Starting in early 2015, She began incorporating physical exercise into her self-care practice and it was a game changer. Sarah vowed, “I’m never going to give it up”. Additionally, she keeps a dream journal to “tune in” to her inner world, and incorporates daily prayer for moment of peace and quiet. One simple trick to help her get those important Z’s is “AIRPLANE MODE”, which she turns on all of her electronics at night.
If self-care is paramount, then where a therapist seeks wisdom is a close-second for a strong therapeutic practice. Sarah shared that just as she encourages clients to tune in to themselves, she also must connect to herself to tap into her internal knowing. She explained that in the past she sought wisdom from outside of herself assuming that “they were wise because they were older”. She went on to explain, “Now, I realize that I was being stripped away of wisdom inside of me and told not to trust or speak on it. Now, I seek a sense of wisdom inside myself; speaking very clearly from that space and from my heart”. Sarah also looks to others who have had life experiences that brought them face to face with what it is to be a human being. She values their wisdom because they have learned to not take physical or emotional pain out on other people.
Sarah is half Nigerian and half Mexican raised by immigrant parents in a home where different languages flowed throughout the house. She considers that a “really unique experience”. She has also experienced people not witnessing all of who she is, but rather only focusing on what she may look like or what language she speaks. This impacted her in the past, and she learned to channel that negative experience into creating openness and acceptance within in her therapeutic practice. “Being open to people, even those who look different from me, feeds my human side and my Sarah doing therapy side”.
A big thank you to Sarah for letting us peek into her personal experience as a therapist! I hope you enjoyed getting know Sarah and if you feel you would like to hear more about Sarah’s practice and request an appointment with her, head over to her profile.
written by Frances Fazzio