The Journey Towards Inclusive Mental Health Services
Journey to a Trauma Informed Life co-owner Angelica Spraggins sheds light
As children, many of us were traditionally taught that America is a melting pot. As we get older, we learn to debate whether America is actually more of a salad bowl. These metaphors are often used to describe America's multiculturalism in that we are all together but we all still have distinct cultures. "Sometimes we forget that the melting pot should include services, businesses, healthcare… So if your population is diverse — and even if it's not — there should be that representation in all the spaces you encounter," said Angelica Spraggins MA, CRC, LPC, co-owner of Journey to a Trauma Informed Life. "A large part of why what we are doing at Journey is so important really has to do with being a reflection of the community that you live in," she said.
Creating representation in spaces such as the mental health community has been a goal for Spraggins. She always knew she wanted to go into private practice but wasn't quite sure how that vision would bring itself into reality until she developed a mentorship with Journey co-owner Dr. William Kohler. "I chose to join Journey after finding a mentor in Will (Kohler), taking me under his wing about how to be an actual therapist. He made sure that he was being conscious that, as a Black woman, there was a certain amount of mental fatigue I had just from existing in a place like Erie. Acknowledging some of the ways we practice therapy is not conducive to the Black experience and that some of the things I carried as a Black woman were added on to my practice and it would be a benefit," said Spraggins. "I want to help mold people who are helping other people."
Since graduating from Edinboro University with a bachelor's degree in psychology and master's in rehabilitation counseling, Rochester, N.Y. native Angelica Spraggins has made Erie her home and has continuously contributed to creating a more inclusive culture. "Once I realized Erie would be my home, my goal has been to make it feel that way," Spraggins said when receiving her 40 under 40 recognition in 2020. "My goal in making Erie a better place is to make sure people of color and members of the Queer community feel at home." Not only is Spraggins providing therapeutic services, she is also a co-founder of Erie's Black Wall Street (EBWS), a local nonprofit meant to empower Black entrepreneurship through promotion, networking, and cultivation.
It is through this same networking and cultivation that Spraggins encourages others to tend to their mental health. Reaching people about a subject like therapy can be challenging, but Spraggins says it is all a part of her regular conversations. "People always ask: 'What do you do?' and I always say: 'I'm a therapist.' I think sometimes we take this high level of intellectualizing about how to connect with people. My method I learned from my wife is just being in spaces where people are, and having honest, open, conversations and talk about my mental health, talk about my career," she explains.
Representation matters when finding a therapist who is a good fit for the client and Spraggins has these conversations and makes these connections often here in Erie. "The issue for people of color is finding someone who 'I don't have to break down who I am first and then get to the hard stuff.' It's sometimes difficult to understand but when you can see someone who reflects you, there's an ease in having that conversation," said Spraggins. "This is not just specific to the Black and brown communities, Queer communities, cisgendered, non people of color, differently-abled individuals… sitting across from someone who can have some connection to your experience takes some of that worry away from 'do I have to explain every part of who I am or can I get to the hard stuff?'" said Spraggins.
Dr. William Kohler (left) and Angelica Spraggins became co-owners of Journey to a Trauma Informed Life after Kohler mentored Spraggins, helping her to embrace her past experiences to shape the kind of therapy she provides to the community. Contributed photo.
Journey to a Trauma Informed Life, LLC began in July 2019 with this in mind, founded by three therapists (Dr. William Koehler, Dr. Tyler Titus and Rachel Anysz) who saw a need for trauma-informed, culturally and LGBTQ+ sensitive mental health services in our community. Dr. William Koehler purchased the ownership shares from Dr. Titus and Anysz in 2021 to become sole proprietor. The practice has been continually evolving, moving from its West Eighth Street location to leasing space in a new building in 2022 at 201 W. 11th St. Journey has grown to a staff of 12 diverse therapists and in 2023, Spraggins became co-owner alongside Koehler. Spraggins specializes in BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities and utilizes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Talk Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. She also runs group therapy for Q+BIPOC individuals at Central Outreach.
The timing of Journey's growth has happened at a vulnerable time in the community. "COVID was especially devastating for communities of color, lower income communities, diverse communities, those communities that already have disadvantages in our society, were double hit when COVID came. So, how do we get through this, how do we work through anxiety, depression, social anxiety, when you're in your house away from other human beings for months at a time? That has an effect on your mental health and it is scientifically proven that isolation has devastating effects on mental health. So, coming out of COVID, I really wanted to be able to create a space for Black and brown individuals to feel safe," said Spraggins.
She goes on to explain that no matter what one has experienced in life, one has some form of trauma: "A large part of working with my clients specifically is breaking down what trauma is. I think that we have an understanding that trauma has to be gun violence or combat or physical violence. But trauma can be acute — so it can be one large instance — or complex-consistent trauma, over and over. So I really try to break down the ideologies in what we believe trauma is and when we start to ask questions about smaller traumatic events, people tend to understand," said Spraggins.
Spraggins also conducts Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Training. "Journey has contracted with Family Services for quarterly training and one of the things we talk about are the messages that the community sends to people of color, diverse people in general, or differently abled people," said Spraggins. "One of the discussions we've had were the liquor stores in Pennsylvania and when you go into a liquor store, the majority of liquors that are behind the counters are the ones closely correlated to the Black community. Hennessy, Grey Goose, those are the ones in the rap videos. Hennessy was one of the first sponsors of the NAACP but those are held behind the counters, not the more expensive alcohols that are on the shelves. Or when you go to Elm Street Walmart as opposed to Edinboro Walmart and there are a lot more locks on the products; what message does that send to you as a Black or brown person here in Erie? What message does that send you about what the community believes about you or how you see yourself? Those micro-aggressions, those small signals, that's traumatic and it keeps you from being a full person or a full citizen," Spraggins explains.
"I don't ever try to convince anyone they need therapy, but what I try to do is give people a better understanding of things that are harmful that we may not recognize and how they can affect you in ways that maybe you don't want them to. Therapy can be a component to help you work through some of that, maybe you want to deal with certain circumstances differently… Maybe you being sad all the time is not just who you are as a person. It's less about convincing and more of trying to get them to see a different angle of their experiences that are impactful to them," said Spraggins.
"Healing is different for different people and as professionals, regardless of how much education we have or how many studies we read, I always tell my clients I can't tell you how to heal — it's really up to you to tell me what you need so we operate in a manner of therapy in whatever capacity a person needs," said Spraggins.
She explains that talk therapy may not be helpful for everyone but Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, playing games, art therapy, or reiki components can be utilized. "We have to be flexible in helping people heal from things and we have to start empowering people to be able to communicate what they need. I think a lot of people are afraid that it doesn't fit within the box of how people have told them how to heal so… I don't journal and I don't jog, so what can I do to help heal myself? If we are creative and we collaborate as professionals, the individuals seeking help and more people would feel safe," said Spraggins. She encourages people to find the right fit and remember that "if you go to a therapist, you don't have to stick with that therapist if they're not for you."
Journey offers many different pathways to healing including Talk Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, EMDR, Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and Group Therapy: Q+ Youth, Q+ Adults, Trauma 101, and Autism/ADHD support groups, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Training/Consultation (DEI). More information about these modalities can be found on their website. They have also added the following additional services this year: Yoga, Reiki (energy healing), and Meditation/ Mindfulness practices. Journey has partnered with Central Outreach to provide Q+ support groups monthly and Flow Freely for Reiki, meditation, and doula services.
You can learn more about Journey at atraumainformedlife.com
Amy VanScoter is a registered yoga and meditation instructor with a passion for wellness, and a marketing/communications professional. She can be reached at email@example.com