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Meet Merari E. Fernandez Castro of The Healing Journey Psychotherapy in The Loop

Today we’d like to introduce you to Merari E. Fernandez Castro.

Merari, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
In order to start my business, I had to have a series of job experiences that prepared me to create and lead a solo private practice in psychotherapy. I remember my first experience providing counseling and advocacy to domestic violence survivors. One day, I realized that clients called the organization asking to work with me because I had developed a reputation in the community. My caseload was full and my clients and I began to develop long-term relationships which were required to addressed deep traumas as a result of their exposure to intimate partner violence. I also developed a skill in providing educational workshops in the community which helped in keeping a steady flow of clients coming to the organization for services. It was through this experience that I realized I could open my own private practice given these were the skills I needed to maintain a psychotherapy private practice: marketing in the community, building a reputation, and having a continuous flow of clients coming into to your door. I eventually began working in a private group practice in which I had the opportunity to observe and absorb the nuances and differences of the business of psychotherapy until I finally opened my own office after realizing and believing in my capacities to lead a private business of my own.

Since I took the risk to open my own psychotherapy office, more opportunities to grow and expand have come my way. I have presented on yoga and psychotherapy for survivors of sexual assault as well as on immigration and acculturation processes. I also became an adjunct professor at Loyola University as part of their new bilingual Master in Social Work program with a particular focus on immigration studies. I am also pursuing a Ph.D. in Social Work with the hope to contribute to social work through writing, research and education.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It took me years and deep reflection in order to build the skill set necessary to own my own business. It was a combination of strategic planning and emotional skills that allowed me to develop the confidence necessary to succeed. I had to struggle against self-doubt and finding the niche within the competitive psychotherapy market in Chicago in which I planned to establish The Healing Journey Psychotherapy. In order to overcome my self-doubt and determine to succeed, I surrounded myself with talented and gifted people who had their private practices and a solid caseload with a niche similar than mine: minority groups, survivors of traumatic experiences and people who, for some reason, feel different or marginalized by society. I constantly found that I had to listen to my clients in order to review my protocols until I fine-tune the process in a way that made sense for my psychotherapy practice.

Please tell us about The Healing Journey Psychotherapy.
I decided to open the Healing Journey Psychotherapy in my desire to offer culturally sensitive and mindful oriented psychotherapy to adults and families in distress due to the aftermath of traumatic experiences in their lives. These traumatic experiences can encompass growing up in a complicated family, having multiple tragedies in life, suffering sexual violence or intimate partner violence as well as sickness or life transitions. I have always thought about the process of healing from these experiences as ongoing and long-term processes that do not get resolved with simple suggestions or a “ten steps guide” process. Human beings are very complex and deserve unique and complex perspectives that help them understand themselves and their life circumstances. Therefore, I offer a therapeutic relationship from the beginning which helps sustain the work ahead. I am also a yoga teacher and incorporate yoga breathing and meditation skills into my practice of psychotherapy for clients to learn to manage intense emotions in session and in their daily life.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I think I would have started my solo private practice a little earlier. It took me a while to get a sense of what I could do, so I understand I had to take my time. This wish comes out of how much I am enjoying the experience of being my own boss, the exposure to new and gratifying experiences through owning a business and the freedom I am enjoying through this process.

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