Get to Know Davia Roberts, Counselor and Founder of Redefine Enough

if me editors
Mar 6, 2019 · 12 min read

An Interview with Davia Roberts

An interview with Davia Roberts, counselor and founder of Redefine Enough, a mental health community of women of color committed to amplifying stories, taking up space, and living authentically.

Content warning: depression, anxiety, racism, and therapy

Photo of Davia outside nearby a body of water in an upright kneeling Yoga pose

Tell us about yourself!

I run Redefine Enough and the AFFIRM Podcast. I also do public speaking engagements at colleges.

Currently, I call myself a counselor on sabbatical because I am a licensed clinician, but I no longer reside in that state. I needed a break. In short, I was a full-time trauma therapist who worked in non-profits. It was not sustainable. There were no systems in place where I could do that work long-term and still be healthy and take care of my needs.

In 2015, I made the decision that I want to still be able to provide space for people to heal and become informed through Redefine Enough and to do that through speaking at colleges and universities about mental health and trauma specifically.

Screenshot of the Redefine Enough home page

Why do you give mental health talks to students?

I love students, especially college students. We graduate high school and we’re told we’re adults, even though just a few years before, we were still having to ask to go to the restroom. We’re expected to know how to navigate everything in adulthood. To me, that’s unrealistic.

When we’re in college, we’re basically still kids. When I talk to a college student, I want them to know, “here is your chance for you to not pretend like you have it all together.” It’s more socially acceptable for college students to be transparent about struggles than adults. I want them to ask me about depression, ask me questions or share their experiences with anxiety or suicidal thoughts.

Let’s actually navigate this process to get there without having to pretend we have it all figured out.

Were you engaged in your mental health when you were a college student?

Throughout high school and undergrad, I was lucky that I didn’t deal with depression or anxiety. What actually drew me to the counseling field was my middle school students. Because I worked at a non-profit, I worked at different middle schools and noticed that students were struggling because of difficult home lives.

Because their personal lives were showing up in the classroom, I made the decision to show up for my students beyond a rigid curriculum and decided to go to grad school for counseling.

Photo of a grid of empty chairs from Unsplash

However, it was in graduate school that I actually started to take my own mental health seriously. I went to a counselor during my second year of graduate school. Oddly enough, my program did not require us to go through our own individual counseling. I made the decision because I thought it would be hypocritical for me not to do my own work. Before becoming a therapist.

I remember I went into this session, and I had my outline of what we were going to talk about. And I made it up in my mind, that it was just gonna be an easy, breezy, CoverGirl type of session, right. And within five minutes, I was ugly, boohoo crying and asking myself, “What are all these feelings right now?”

It was a validating experience and a very safe space for me to be in. I’m very happy and thankful that my first experience was such a positive one. I felt more comfortable when I was seeing a Black woman. It’s the reason I’m so dedicated to making sure that other people have someone like my therapist who “got it” and who didn’t make them feel like they had to change the way they spoke or code switch.

No one should have to code switch in therapy — that’s not the space for that. You should be able to be yourself.

It was in a graduate school that I started going to therapy to do my own work, but it was actually in the counseling field that I experienced depression and anxiety for the first time because of compassion fatigue.

What were your experiences as a Black woman studying counseling in grad school?

The reality is that the counseling profession is very white.

I think about the situations when I did multicultural counseling or group counseling work with classmates and being the only one to call out racism and microaggressions. I’d think to myself, “Well, I guess I’m going to be the angry Black woman today.”

I was one of three Black women in my program and I was definitely the most vocal. It’s exhausting. It’s hard when you’re the only one in a class while battling imposter syndrome and microaggressions. It’s exhausting being the person to have to correct others.

All in all, I can say that I was very thankful that I had a few Black faculty members that truly took me under their wings and were like, “I got you.” They were the reason I was able to maintain my sanity throughout grad school.

Let’s fast forward to working as a counselor in the non-profit space. What was that experience like?

When I was practicing, I lived in Austin, Texas. If you know anything about Austin, Austin is a very white city. I worked at a non-profit that lacked diversity. While there were diversity initiatives, there wasn’t any action to follow that up. As a counselor, I was constantly exposed to trauma. I also had to navigate racial trauma within my professional setting. It became too much to deal with.

It was challenging being at a non-profit where the wages don’t actually meet the standard of living in the city. I couldn’t afford to pay my own therapy! Even though I’m a Yoga teacher, I recognize that self-care can only get you so far.

Why did you decide to work for non-profits as opposed to starting your own private practice?

I’ve never been interested in having my own private practice. I have always known that I’ve wanted to do many things and help a lot of people. I always envisioned a career where I can teach, volunteer, organize communities, and train others. I didn’t want to do one-on-one sessions for the rest of my career. I always wanted to make myself available to the person that needed me the most.

Non-profits allowed me to work with people who otherwise may not have the resources made available to them.

It was really important for me to feel my work was driven by purpose and not convenience.

How did Redefine Enough come into the picture?

A year after graduate school, I was a shiny new therapist working at the University of Texas at Austin. I worked in the career counseling department. I was bored and wanted to be able to work in different spaces in order to really make a difference. I wasn’t interested in reviewing resumes or coaching someone through interview preparations.

I wanted to really be able to improve someone’s life and I believe that career counseling can be part of that, specifically tackling self-worth and self-concept, but it wasn’t fulfilling for me.

I started volunteering at a community center with young women. There, I recognized the need for women to have foundational knowledge of wellness and mental health in a language they could understand. What spurred the creation of Redefine Enough was recognizing the gap in the mental health and wellness spaces for young women of color to explore their identity and their own needs.

What have you learned from the young women of color you’ve talked to in the AFFIRM Podcast?

When Redefine Enough started in 2015, I had no idea how much it would grow and take shape. Honestly, I didn’t have a particular vision for it. It’s led me to retreats, webinars, workshops, and now the AFFIRM Podcast. I’ve learned from every single person that has shared with us on the show. It reminds me that we’re all struggling, learning, and unlearning.

This podcast gets to the heart of modern women of color and the real life issues they/we face. Davia has the most gentle voice and soul and makes it easy for the interviewee to open up and get real. Thank you, such a joy to see the taboo of mental health being broken.

— iTunes review from stefunny137

How did you get into podcasting?

It’s funny because I feel like I just kind of fell into podcasting. Once I made the decision I was going to do it, I stuck with it. I wanted to amplify the mental health and wellness stories of women of color and through Redefine Enough, I already had a network of dope women who care about mental health.

Growth has been organic. I got really lucky because podcasting is heavily saturated. But I also give credit to a blog post I made that went viral.

Screenshot of Davia’s blog post “5 mental health podcasts by therapists of color”

Burnout happens all the time, even when you’re working on things you’re passionate about. How have you been while running Redefine Enough?

Today, it’s solely operated by me and it gets hard. I would love to be able to hire a team, but I simply do not have the capital at the moment for that. I am thankful that I have growing supporters on my Patreon page. Their financial support is so powerful.

There are people who believe that there’s a team behind Redefine Enough and because of that people request more of my time and labor. I have my limits and I’m not going to overextend myself. I believe my experiences in navigating compassion fatigue and burnout in my counseling career has made me much more aware of this.

Photo of mail inside a mailbox slot from Unsplash

When I receive personal messages or candid emails, I ask myself whether I have the space to deal with it and give myself the time I need to respond back.

At the end of the day, I’m only one person. I want to honor the other person’s needs but I also have to take care of myself.

I want to be able to help people when I’m happy and can do so without resentment.

Do you have any advice for someone who is seeking affordable or low-cost professional mental health treatment?

I’m in that state right now!

The best piece of advice that I can give someone who is seeking therapy is: don’t wait until a crisis happens.

I cannot stress this enough. When you’re in the middle of a crisis, you’ll settle for anything. It’s important to find the right fit. Look for treatment when you’re at your healthiest.

When you feel at your baseline, start putting out feelers into the community. Start doing research on what options are available to you at colleges, community centers, non-profits, crisis centers, and hotlines. Even though I recommend hotlines, they’re not a substitute for counseling. However, hotlines can typically provide you with contact information for agencies in your region. You should also ask whether sliding scales or financial assistance is offered.

If you want to address trauma, make sure that a person you are paired with actually has experience working with clients who deal with trauma. As a woman of color, I get listeners who want to become my client because I’m a Black woman. Me sharing the same ethnic background or race does not mean I am the best fit for you. It’s important to make sure you are actually getting the right person who has the right skill set to meet your needs and hold space for you.

Be gentle with yourself in the process. Give yourself time because in the end, when you find the right person, it is worth it. Though I’m not negating all the barriers and systemic issues that the mental health care system has.

It’s easy for me to stay motivated because I can remember the very transformative and healing experience I had with my first therapist. As a result, I’m not willing to settle for anyone who is subpar. Another source of motivation for me was the desire to improve my condition. I believed that things could get better, so I was willing to exhaust my options in an attempt to grow and get there.

On the topic of support systems, how has your family impacted your mental health journey and vice-versa?

When I started Redefine Enough, I remember having family members reaching out to me and opening up about their own struggles. Before that, I never felt comfortable sharing with my family. There was a lot of silence in my family around mental illness. Redefine Enough helped to give my family members a language to discuss mental health. I would have relatives who would say, “Oh yeah, this person has anxiety. This person deals with depression.”

For years, I had a family member with severe anxiety, but they would always identify it as having “bad nerves”. They would talk about taking nerve medication as well. They revealed to me that they were really referring to anxiety when I asked them flat out.

Photo of a lighthouse lit at night from Unsplash

As a therapist, I had to set boundaries with my family because I can’t be their therapist and I have to tell them, “I want to let you know that there are lots of options out there. I can point you to resources.”

As a counselor, people are drawn to you because you can potentially help them. I don’t think they have malicious intent. It’s important to set boundaries before you are drained and family should also respect these boundaries.

You recently announced that you’re working on Redefine Enough full-time and focusing on mental health in the workplace 🎉 Could you tell us more about it?

Given my own personal experiences, I wanted to help improve workplaces through educating people about compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and other red flags to look out for. I also train management on how to respond to employees dealing with mental health issues and crises. However, I’m not training anyone to be clinicians.

If you notice that a person that was always “happy-go-lucky” no longer going to lunches and withdrawing, it’s a good opportunity to check in on them.

It starts with us creating an environment where it’s okay to not be perfect or 100% all the time. We shouldn’t live in fear of negative consequences when something is “wrong”.

At the end of the day, I want people to be able to do impactful work without feeling like they have to be a martyr for their profession. That’s just not realistic.

I love working with people who are devoted to impactful causes, including grassroots organizations that support low-income families and activists. That is my passion. I always want to be driven by purpose, whether it’s training managers at a company, or speaking with students about depression at a college workshop. It’s replenishing for me. I’m thankful that I get to focus on work that really makes a difference… as corny as that sounds.

Do you want to give any shoutouts to individuals or organizations that mean a lot to you?

I am very thankful for Dior Vargas and Imade of #DepressedWhileBlack who are both mental health advocates I looked up to when I started my work. It’s very inspiring and encouraging for me to see mental health advocates who don’t work in the mental health field as I do. I am always inspired by their transparency and their vulnerability and willingness to advocate for people who don’t always have a voice.

I’d also have to credit my family. My family has always been there to keep me going when I’ve felt like giving up. I’m thankful for the community that I have. I’m also thankful for the mental health advocates and the pioneers in my profession who are people of color that paved the way for me to do the work that I want to do.

I have significant gratitude for Kevin Cokley, my former professor and advisor from the University of Texas at Austin. He transformed me when it came to my career as a clinician and researcher. He pushed me outside my comfort zone as a budding researcher and gave me opportunities to grow in a safe and supportive environment.

Ashleigh Gore was my last supervisor when I was working at a non-profit. She was amazing. She helped me release my guilt of setting boundaries, stepping away, and taking care of myself. She would remind me, “Will your clients’ lives unravel if you’re not there for a session? Weren’t they resilient beforehand? Didn’t they make it this far?”

Lastly, I thank Mittie Knox for how she demonstrated how greatly my work as a clinician can be dedicated to social justice and an ongoing act of resistance. She is a former manager of mine who made space for me to vent, cry, and regroup when navigating racial injustices within my work. Mittie was very much a safe haven.

Thank you, Davia Roberts, for a very honest and insightful interview 💜 Please support Redefine Enough (on Patreon too!) and listen to the AFFIRM Podcast. It’s incredible mental health and wellness resources for women of color!

You can use our site if-me.org to share with loved ones your mental health experiences and plan out strategies to tackle them. Redefine Enough is one of many wonderful communities we list on our Resources page. We’re an open source organization run by volunteers.

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Open source mental health communication app to share your stories with loved ones. Available in several languages including Spanish! New contributors welcome 💜

if me editors

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Open source mental health communication app to share your stories with loved ones. Available in several languages including Spanish! New contributors welcome 💜

if me

if me

Open source mental health communication app to share your stories with loved ones. Available in several languages including Spanish! New contributors welcome 💜

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