CARIUNITY Part I: Reycine Mc Kenzie helps to reframe the “mental health narrative”

We’re kicking off our Female Founders Month with Reycine McKenzie, M.Sc. She is the Founder and Clinical Psychotherapist at Upward in Trinidad & Tobago. We appreciated the honest dialogue around a topic that affects millions of people everyday. Reycine maintained a true tone speaking to the issues in the mental health field. While she shared information about the road ahead through thoughtful insight, she provided a sense of hope and a vision for us working toward a place where we can change the narrative and challenge stigmas. We’re excited to share the first part of her interview!

CARIUNITY: When did you decide to pursue a career in psychology and what inspired you to join the mental health field?

Reycine: To be honest with you, I’ve wanted to be a psychologist since I was 7 years old. Growing up I had a neighbour who was a social worker. I was friends with his daughter so I was often over at their house playing. In my interactions with him though, I felt safe, listened to, comforted, and understood. I also loved the compassionate manner in which he interacted with our other neighbors and made them feel validated. When I found out that he counselled others for a living, I knew that I wanted to do the same. I wanted to comfort others and provide the same non-judgemental space he gave me. I think this speaks volumes about the impact our behaviour can have on children and the importance of modelling positive behaviours.

CARIUNITY: You mentioned wanting to improve the mental health landscape in your beloved country, Trinidad & Tobago. Can you share more about the impact you are hoping to make through the services you provide?

Reycine: Since returning to T&T in 2017 after pursuing my graduate studies in California, my focus has been on 1. Raising awareness on mental health issues, 2. Educating the public about the importance of mental health and mental health professionals, and 3. Helping my fellow Trinis develop greater self-insight, emotional intelligence, and outward compassion for others and the world. In line with that last point, I conduct individual, group, and family therapy and psychosocial assessments with individuals across the life span. I also see persons in my practice who have a wide array of mental health-related issues and give them a compassionate, confidential, and non-judgemental space to work through their issues and embrace positive change. In addition to therapy, I publish a newsletter for my practice every few months in which I share on hot-topic issues in mental health; I started a comic strip that addresses mental health issues in a more lighthearted manner; and I try to update my social media every few days with tips on how to deal with an array of mental wellness issues. I’m basically using as many avenues as I can to educate the general public on mental wellness issues. My hope for the upcoming years is to work in partnership with nonprofit organisations and other social service agencies to advocate for more mental health support for those who have the least access to mental health care.

CARIUNITY: Therapy can be expensive and in many communities, there is a lack of accessibility to services. How do you make your services accessible to a diverse population of socioeconomic backgrounds?

Reycine: This is something I often think about. On a larger scale, I would love to see my government and country start viewing mental health on the same plane as physical health. I believe when this shift occurs there will be more proactive movements toward creating greater access to mental health care. This is why I’ve been doing what I can to start broadening the mental health narrative from “mental illness” to “mental health and wellness” and how it applies to us all. If I, and other similarly minded mental health professionals, can change how even a few people see mental health it will have a ricochet effect that will shift the entire country’s narrative surrounding mental health culture. I have also made a conscious decision to charge on the lower end for my services as I wanted it to be within the reach of those that typically can’t afford it. I also negotiate with clients who have difficulty paying – sometimes this means allowing them to pay in installments, giving them a discounted rate to accommodate having more sessions with them, or having slightly longer sessions with them at the basic rate. This is all done on a case by case basis though. I am also hoping to start a “pro bono hour” during the work day once I can afford to do so.

Video editing credit goes to #NotOkay, a non-profit organisation in T&T dedicated to raising awareness about mental health issues and combating social stigma in our country.

CARIUNITY: Can you describe specific service needs that are recurring in your practice?

Reycine: Adults who come to see me are often battling anxiety, depression, or personality-related issues that make interpersonal interactions more difficult. Common stressors for them are work, academic pursuits, and family and relationship dynamics. Adolescents who come to my practice are usually navigating school-related stressors and trying to manage the delicate balance between wanting to be their authentic self and living under their parents’ roof and expectations. My child clients usually have conduct or behavioural issues for which their parents need assistance managing. As with all my clients, whether I’m doing talk therapy or play therapy (with kids), my goal is to deepen insights, offer potential solutions, shift perspectives, and create a space where positive change is embraced. I should stress, though, that several individuals seeking my professional help do not have a diagnosable mental disorder but are simply looking for a skilled and caring other with whom to share their life story and help them work through their difficulties.

CARIUNITY: Throughout the Caribbean, there is a high regard for religion. How do you approach mental health treatment while respecting beliefs and faith?

Reycine: In collecting demographic information during the intake process I usually ask clients about their affiliation with organised religion or sense of spirituality. My clients are free not to answer this question but I ask it because it informs my approach to treatment. When I know what my client’s spiritual/religious views are I take special care in respecting their customs and I also have a clearer picture as to how these views are affecting their psychological state and sense of right and wrong. More often than not, spirituality serves as a protective factor for clients – that is, it uplifts them even when it seems like everything else is not going well. Therefore, in my treatment of clients with strong spiritual beliefs, I may reflect on proverbs in line with their belief system to guide them into deeper self-reflection or encourage them to seek additional support from caring others within their religious community. Overall, I think there has been a shift in mental health recently where we’ve acknowledged that spirituality is another dimension of culture, similar to ethnicity, SES, or nationality. We cannot exclude it from our formulation and treatment of our clients as it is often a fundamental part of who they are and it shapes how they see themselves, others, and the world.

We were inspired by Reycine’s approach to accessibility, her expertise, and dedication to providing services within her community. Stay tuned and follow UPWARD on social media for wellness tips. We’ll have an opportunity to learn more about her practice, how culture has impacted Reycine’s work ethic, and goals for UPWARD, located in Barataria. Part II of this article series is set to publish later this week!