In this edition, our special Cover Girl is an American -Licensed Therapist and Award-Winning Speaker, Kiaundra Jackson. Kiaundra is known as one of America’s leading Relationship Therapists. She has been seen on OWN’s TV show, Love Goals. Kiaundra has been recently featured in Oprah’s Magazine, Essence, Inc. Magazine, FOX, CBS and Forbes as one of the ‘Next 1000.’ She is an award-winning speaker, best-selling author, and TV Personality. She has been seen on the Emmy-Award Winning TV Show, The Doctors. She has been featured in Oprah Winfrey’s Magazine, The New York Times, FOX, The CW, CBS, Vice, BET and The Huffington Post as one of the ’10 Black Female Therapists You Should Know.’ She is an international speaker, best-selling author and a trusted Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who gets results. She is a noted expert on healthy relationships and mental health. Beyonce and the NAACP have recognised her work. Kiaundra is the visionary of KW Couples Therapy, a thriving private practice in the Los Angeles, CA area and the Co-Founder of Black Speakers Rock, a network for new and emerging speakers.
Kiaundra graciously agreed to an interview so we could benefit from her experience and the obstacles she’s faced along her career path. She holds two Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology and Sociology and a Master’s of Arts in Clinical Psychology. Enjoy!
A-CHOICES: Hi, Kiaundra. Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a little bit about your background? H, How long did it take to become a certified LMFT?
KIAUNDRA: Hello, hello! Thank you so much for having me. I come from a city in Compton, CA where poverty, drugs, and senseless gang violence was the norm. My parents attempted to protect me from as much as possible but was unable to hide the negativity that was manifesting in our own household. At the tender age of 10, I witnessed domestic violence amongst my parents and had the words “I will kill you!” etched into her brain by my biological father. The familial and financial shift of seeing my parents divorced, living in a single-parent home with my mother, and my older sister expecting her first child at 16-year old caused me to wonder if there was more to life. I just knew there had to be more than living from paycheck to paycheck, eating the same meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and barely getting by with just the basic necessities.
Honestly, I did not take the traditional educational path to becoming a therapist. After graduating high school, I attended Cerritos Community College for 2.5 years taking random classes because I was not sure what I wanted to major in. After graduating with my Associate in Arts degree, I went to California State University, Dominguez Hills where I double majored in Psychology and Sociology. That took about another 2 years. Then I did a 3-year graduate program at Azusa Pacific University. I accumulated enough hours to take my licensure exam and the rest is history! So, I guess you can say my whole educational background took over 7 years to complete.
A-CHOICES: How did you first become interested in counselling and therapy?
KIAUNDRA: For a long time, I was unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. I took random classes at a local community college so I could try to figure it out. It was my last semester at Cerritos Community College where I took a Marriage and Family class. The professor was a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist too and I just fell in love with the content. I was inquisitive and spent many days after class talking to the professor and asking questions. That was the moment when I knew that I wanted to help people by majoring in Psychology.
A-CHOICES: What swayed you into marriage and family therapy versus other avenues?
KIAUNDRA: There is always a debate here in America where people are often unsure if they want to go into marriage and family therapy or want to go into social work. I extensively researched both! I had a deep longing to focus on the relationship aspect and knew that therapy was what I wanted to do most. So, I made the bold decision to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and it was the best decision of my life!
A-CHOICES: During what part of your education did you know have to make a decision to go full steam ahead toward counselling and therapy?
KIAUNDRA: As I previously mentioned, the last semester at the community college changed everything for me. I knew the direction I needed to head in. Therapy became the definitive choice as I was looking into graduate school programs and leaning more heavily into marriage and family instead of social work.
A-CHOICES: What was the hardest part of your education?
KIAUNDRA: The hardest part of my education was being told by one of my graduate school professors that I was “never going to be a good therapist.” I remember that day like it was yesterday because I was going to quit graduate school after that. I was sad, crying and it took the new friends I made to convince me to stay in the program. I am so glad I did because I have been able to prove that professor wrong on so many levels. Even though I never went back to confront that professor, I am more than sure she knows who I am and has seen my body of work.
A-CHOICES: Tell us about your work. You have your own practice. How did you decide to take the leap to work for yourself? What are some of the greatest accomplishments thus far? Any particular challenges someone should think about before trying to go out on their own?
KIAUNDRA: My faith has always been a big part of life. In 2017, after working with children at a community-based mental health company, I heard God tell me to quit my full-time job. There are so many more details, but I quit my job to start my own business without a savings, a backup or anything else. I was just confident that I would not fail because God was with me and gave me the instructions. It was not easy. I was scared but I did it anyway. I also had a business partner, Wendy Talley, who helped me tremendously on my journey.
Only a few weeks later, I was named by the HuffPost as one of the ‘10 Black Female Therapists You Should Know.’ A few months after that, I released my first book: Staying Sane in an Insane World: A Prescription for Even Better Mental Health. Then, came a ton of speaking engagements, magazine features, interviews and TV show opportunities.
I would not suggest anyone to do what I did. I only did that because it was clearly a “God-move.” Before leaving the security of a job, I would encourage people to create a plan on how to transition successfully, have a savings and get connected with others who can help you on this entrepreneur journey.
A-CHOICES: Beyoncé has recognised your work, how did this happen?what was it like meeting with her?
KIAUNDRA: This is probably one of my biggest accomplishments yet! Beyonce and the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) recognized my work out of 17,000 other businesses. The coolest part was that it came with a $10,000 check. I cried, thanked God, posted it on social media and my life has never been the same since.
A-CHOICES: In your work, what is an average day like?
KIAUNDRA: Let me be very clear. I am not your typical therapist. For the past 3 years, I have not seen clients for therapy. I made a pivot in my career (once again at God’s leading) to no longer see clients in my private practice. My focus is speaking and media opportunities. I took all the knowledge and expertise from my individual, couple and family therapy sessions and provide those gems via content on social media too. I moved away from a 1-to-1 model in therapy to a 1-to-many model. Making that transition has served me well thus far.
A-CHOICES: Any recommendations of authors, speakers, or experts you suggest to follow for folks interested in MFT as a career? You’re involved with many organisations. Do you have recommendations of groups and organisations for someone new to the industry should follow/join?
KIAUNDRA: The three organizations I would suggest is: The Black Girl Clinician Collective, Clinicians of Color and Black Speakers Network.
A-CHOICES: Tell us more about your best-selling book Hard Work or Harmony, and where our readers in Europe and Africa can buy it.
KIAUNDRA: Hard Work or Harmony? is a self-help book for women who desperately want to nurture their relationships with family, friends and co-workers but don’t really know how to do it.
It is an energetically informative go-to guide, that provides powerful chapters full of golden nuggets, relationship strategy, therapeutic advice, thought-provoking exercises and the occasional kick in the butt.
All of my books can be purchased on Amazon, most major online bookstores and via my website: www.KiaundraJackson.com
A-CHOICES: How did you get into speaking? H, and, how did you get speaking gigs?, How much do you charge?
KIAUNDRA: Speaking found me. Back in 2016, I use to go live on social media and talk about anything in regard to relationships and mental health. People started seeing my video and asked me to be on their podcasts. Then, podcast led to in-person speaking engagements. Then, in-person speaking engagements lead to other TV and media opportunities. Now, I absolutely love speaking and enjoy in-person and virtual events.
A-CHOICES: You were one of the keynote speakers at EMPOWERCON where you discussed how to have healthy relationships in EVERY area of life, tell us more?
KIAUNDRA: Yes, I was recently a keynote speaker at an event in Los Angeles, CA called EmpowerCON. I had the opportunity to speak about how to have healthy relationships in every area of your life like romantic partners, family, friends and co-workers. It was a huge hit! So many people came up to my vendor table afterwards to ask questions, take selfies with me, buy my books and even tell me how my keynote impacted them.
A-CHOICES: In general, are there any specific traits that work well for a marriage and family counsellor?
KIAUNDRA: Being a therapist is not for everyone. This is why it takes an incredibly unique person to manage other people’s issues. Some of the traits I believe are necessary is: being empathetic, good listening skills, compassion, understanding, kindness, foresight, relatability, organized, a good memory, knowledgeable and forward-thinking. Not having these qualities can be detrimental to the population you work with
A-CHOICES: Self-image can be really difficult for women of colour, particularly women of colour in a white society or community. Have you struggled with your own body image due to racism?
KIAUNDRA: I think I have experienced the most scrutiny about image within the Black culture rather than the white society at large. There is so much colourism and body image issue I had to work through because I have always been lighter-skinned. I have never been curvy; I’ve never had big breasts or wider hips like so many of my family members and friends. I just had to learn to avoid comparing myself and realize that God made me exactly how I am for a reason.
A-CHOICES: If you could inspire a movement, what would it be?
KIAUNDRA: If I could inspire a movement, it would be for us to treat our mental health just as we treat our physical health. We get regular check-ups to make sure our bodies are functioning like it is supposed to. I would love for us to have that same energy around our mental health. Getting check-ups and check-ins with a mental health professional every year to help get ahead of any potential issues would be amazing. Instead, we only seek professional help when something is wrong. Once mental health becomes a top priority for all, then everything else like healthy relationships, making good choices and managing your emotions will improve too.
A-CHOICES: Tell me more about the two shows you have on your YouTube channel: The Kiaundra Jackson’s Sshow and Keeping It Real with Kiaundra.
A-CHOICES: Any final words for those e future MFTs and counsellors who are reading this?
KIAUNDRA: I just hope whoever is reading this feels inspired and encouraged by my story. Please know that you truly can do anything you put your mind to if you just believe it, put in the work and never give up on yourself.
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Author: Gbenga Teejay Okunlola