Today we’d like to introduce you to Laura Chackes, Psy.D.
Can you start by telling us your story of where you began and how you got to where you are today?
I grew up in University City, and was a very shy, quiet child. In fact, in preschool, I didn’t speak at all. I had a condition called Selective Mutism, which means that I spoke at home and in some public settings, but I did not speak at all in school. I saw a play therapist for a few years during that time, and eventually started talking to her and more in public until by the time I was in Kindergarten, I spoke some at school. Through the years I gradually became more talkative, with the help of other therapists along the way, but still struggled with social anxiety at times throughout my life.
I decided that I wanted to be a psychologist when I was in high school volunteering at Camp Rainbow, a summer camp for kids with cancer and sickle cell anemia. Each counselor was paired with one kid for a week, and we worked one-on-one with this child to help them engage in all of the “normal” sleep away camp activities. My second year at the camp I was paired with a boy named Jonah who had sickle cell anemia. Over the one week we were together we formed such an incredible bond that led to making the week a great experience for both of us. It was then that I decided that I wanted to find a career in which I could help others through forming relationships. This naturally led me to major in Psychology, which then led me to pursue my doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology.
I started my career as a psychologist working at St. Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute (SLBMI) as an anxiety disorder specialist, after completing a postdoctoral fellowship there. I didn’t choose this specialty because I had anxiety, and in fact didn’t put the two together at first. However, when I started to see others with Social Anxiety and eventually Selective Mutism, I was able to relate to what they were going through not just due to my education and clinical experience, but also due to my personal experience.
Fast forward about 10 years, I had moved on from SLBMI after working there for 7 years to a private practice at Clayton Behavioral. I was continuing to see clients of all ages with anxiety and OCD and had developed another specialty area in Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors or BFRBs for short. The two most common BFRBs are Hair Pulling Disorder (also known as Trichotillomania) and Skin Picking Disorder (also known as Dermatillomania or Excoriation Disorder). These disorders involve repetitively causing damage to one’s skin or hair due to a compulsive urge that is often almost impossible to resist.
I became passionate about helping people with BFRBs when I learned how much suffering was caused by the stigma attached to these disorders. Even other therapists have given me a look of disgust and asked, “why would you want to specialize in BFRBs?” This just drove me to fight harder to help those suffering with BFRBs to learn that what they struggle with is in fact a psychological disorder, and that treatment can be helpful in alleviating the symptoms and improving their quality of life. Most people with BFRBs live a double life in a way, so shameful of their disorder that they hide it from everyone in their lives. Many don’t even know what a BFRB is, and so by spreading awareness we can all help them learn that they are not alone, and that help is available.
My passion for spreading awareness about BFRBs has also helped push me out of my comfort zone. When I learned that many therapists don’t know what BFRBs are, and the vast majority have no idea how to treat them, I pushed myself through my fear of public speaking and spoke to large groups of people at national conferences and online. I created an online course for adults with BFRBs, as well as a course to train other therapists in treating BFRBs. I created a Facebook group for adults with BFRBs that has now grown to over 3000 members, many of whom did not know what a BFRB was before joining. The tears of relief that a 60-year-old sheds when she learns that the behavior that she’s been doing for 50 years is actually a symptom of a disorder, and that there are others who do it too, make all my hard work worth it.
Around this time about 6 years ago, I realized that in order to help more people, I needed to create a mental health center where I could work collaboratively with other clinicians who share similar education, experience, and training. Along with the help and confidence-boost from my husband, I created The Center for Mindfulness & CBT in August 2016. We started out with just three part-time therapists and me, who still had a full caseload at the time. We have now grown to over 20 clinicians and two full-time administrative staff. We provide evidence-based treatment to clients throughout Missouri and part of Illinois, as well as teach mindfulness and BFRB courses online to people throughout the world. I’ve found that by working together as a team, our clinicians are able to provide mental health and wellness services that are top-notch because we all learn from and complement each other.
In addition to my professional growth, I have also grown a family. I have a supportive husband and two amazing “children” who are now 14 and 12. They continue to challenge me in ways I never could have imagined, but they also bring me a level of joy and love that I never knew existed.
As I’ve reflected on where I started and where I am now, I have wondered how I went from a child who didn’t speak at all, to an adult who speaks in front of large groups and leads a team of over 20 people. So far, the answer that I’ve come up with is that I’ve followed my heart and grown through forming relationships. After the difficult years in preschool, I learned to love school. It was important to me to do well in school and help people, and following those passions led me to a career that I love and feel good about. It is so rewarding to hear from an employee that they love working for me, or from a client that I have helped them get to where they want to get in life. As I continue to grow alongside my family, friends, employees, interns, and clients, I thrive due to the relationships that we have formed. We each have our individual strengths and talents, but it is together that we create the real magic.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Due to the privileges associated with being white and middle-class, along with having a supportive family, I have been lucky to not have had the struggles that many have with regard to things like access to higher education and being able to take the risks involved in starting a private practice. My anxiety has certainly caused some obstacles in my life, such as self-doubt causing me to not push myself as far or as quickly towards my goals as I would have without anxiety. However, since I was taken to a therapist at a young age and have continued to seek out therapy when needed throughout my life, my anxiety has been pretty mild throughout most of my adult life.
Can you tell our readers more about The Center for Mindfulness & CBT, and what you think sets it apart from other mental health centers?
We are a mental health and wellness center that provides evidence-based (meaning research has proven it to be effective) treatment to children, teens, and adults in the St. Louis area. We specialize in treating anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs), mood disorders, behavior disorders, trauma-related disorders, and eating disorders. We are a team of over 20 psychologists, social workers, counselors, and psychiatric nurse practitioners who work collaboratively to provide optimal care to every client we see. We are supported by an amazing office manager and administrative assistant, who respond to every prospective new client who reaches out with the utmost care and compassion, offering them referrals and resources if we are not able to see them. We all continue to learn and grow in our professional development and receive training in important social issues such as anti-racism and learning about sexual orientations and gender identities that may differ from our own.
What makes you happy?
I love to give gifts to my employees and to see the smiles on their faces when they receive them. There are so many employers who don’t appreciate their employees, and it’s important for everyone who works at the Center to know that they are valued and appreciated.
I also love to hear about my clients’ successes in life. We often see people come in feeling so anxious that they cannot function in work or school, and they really aren’t enjoying life. When I hear that what we have worked on in therapy has helped them to do the things that they want to do in life, it makes me very happy.
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