Mental Health Champions: How Dr. Jennifer Charles of Building Block Resolutions Is Using Applied Behavior Analysis To Promote Mental Wellness
Positive thinking — As cliché as it seems, positive thinking is essential. It’s so easy to get bogged down with news stories and even things that have nothing to do with us. I used to find it difficult to think positively. That’s why I came up with the Boosting Healthy Habits App. This app is based on a behavioral analytic technique that utilizes a timer to help the user use repetition and practice to get any behavior to turn into a habit — even positive thinking. Thinking positively is a habit, and it can definitely turn into a habit.
As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Jennifer Charles.
Dr. Jennifer Charles, Ph.D., is the CEO of Building Block Resolutions, Inc., a company she founded in 2008 to provide evidence-based interventions for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), parent coaching, and crisis management training.
Dr. Charles has over 20 years of experience in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis, working with families who have children on the autism spectrum or who are at risk for developing ASDs.
Jennifer loves helping clients overcome their struggles by providing them with effective interventions that target specific areas where they need help improving their skills; She also enjoys building systems that will help our employees grow professionally so they can be better be equipped to support our client’s needs now and in the future!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I was born in Haiti; my parents moved to the US when I was three years old. They worked two or three jobs to make ends meet for my siblings and me, but we believed that if you were educated and worked hard, anything was possible. We lived all over the US before settling down in Miami. My parents taught me independence-my dad got me an alarm clock one time for Christmas so I could manage my time wisely!
In high school, I enjoyed a well-rounded experience growing up in Miami: running track, being a cheerleader, and heading the yearbook committee.
My parents were entrepreneurs at heart; they built our home themselves after purchasing a vacant lot and eventually started their own business.
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?
The field of Applied Behavior Analysis is a relatively new field. Its applications can be used in many different areas of life. At Building Block Resolutions, I choose to apply its methodologies to mental and behavioral health — And we’ve seen excellent results.
I was shocked to hear that roughly 1 in 50 children is diagnosed with Autism. That number only seems to be climbing. The funny thing about Autism, unlike many other developmental disabilities, is that you cannot look at someone and tell they have Autism. The other fascinating thing about Autism is that most of them have average or even above-average IQs. The problem is that their social skills are lacking to such an extent that they find it difficult to hold down jobs and even interact with other people.
It’s a shame that these often brilliant people can’t always share their talents with the world because they have a hard time socializing. When they reach their teenage years, they start getting such an awareness that they are different than many of them contemplate self-destruction. Our therapy helps address many of their concerns — especially since most of them come to us before puberty. We’ve been able to completely change the trajectory of the lives of people, and that is important work.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I was working with a young man about 15 years old; he was crying about not having any friends. I felt terrible for him, but also I related to him a bit because my family moved around, and I remember getting to a new city or school and having to figure how to observe in order to fit in. Behavior Analysis actually has systematic techniques to help break down complex tasks into simple processes.
I came up with a plan to apply some of the techniques to help him make some friends — and it worked! What a turnaround I saw, and his parents reported to me by just having peers that he could relate to. I realized this is essential work, and it gave me the passion to not only do it myself but for inspiring a new generation of people to the impactful work that they can engage in with this kind of work. It would be easy to go into a University to train new graduates for the field, but I felt it would be even more impactful to hire and train dedicated, caring therapists — who want to make a difference — and teach them about the field so we could make a greater impact together than I could individually treating clients myself one at a time.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
My parents were entrepreneurs, so I never felt that it was out of reach. However, it is easy to get comfortable in someone else’s company. Unfortunately, I never worked for a company that I wanted to work for, so I decided to create one. I was in a position that I didn’t like and could not see any path in front of me that I felt comfortable taking, so I decided to make my own path. I believe in something called “divine discontent,” where you’re so uncomfortable you have to make a change. Everyone has their own ways of coping; my way of coping was to do something about it.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Going through our first frivolous lawsuit. In many states, the laws are there to protect employees from unscrupulous business owners. Unfortunately, there are people who find the tendency for the courts to side with the employees as something to take advantage of. The case was eventually thrown out — however, I learned so much about how the courts work and how to keep my business above reproach. It was like going through business school because I had to learn so much so quickly.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
My parents were entrepreneurs themselves — when they would give me advice, I wouldn’t even realize how useful it was until some time had passed, and I realized they were right all along. The core principles of running a successful business are the same whether you’re running a fruit stand or a multi-million-dollar corporation.
When I was an undergrad getting my bachelor’s in psychology, I had no idea what I wanted to do with it. I knew that most psychologists had post-grad degrees. Florida State University had an amazing class called Careers in Psychology, where every week, someone in a different sector in the field of Psychology would come in a speak to us. I didn’t even know what behavior analysis was until Dr. Jon Baily spoke about it. He explained that if you wanted your boyfriend to bring you flowers every week, behavior analysis could help — I was like, “sign me up!”. I took some classes, and I was hooked after that; clearly, there was much more to it than that. I found the applications to be useful far and wide. I thought the biggest place I could make an impact was 1) with children and 2) With inspiring people in this field.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
I believe it’s a sigma for 3 reasons:
First, because society does not always support — people do not often encourage truth-telling. When was the last time someone asked you how you were doing, and you believed they genuinely wanted to know the answer? Most people will say very little. It seems that society is more interested in making everything seem like it’s going great rather than being honest. That’s one of the reasons I love working with people with Autism. Many of them don’t have the little nuances of society, and they tell you exactly what is on their minds. Unfortunately, it’s not always met with the warmest of reception. So I work with them on first realizing nothing is wrong with them, but also how to recognize what may be socially acceptable isn’t always what will get them the results they want, and that’s okay. Recognizing and being okay with societal trends is the best way to overcome them if there is nothing you can do about them.
Second, the media does not represent people with mental health conditions in a compassionate light. Most people turn to media — whether that be TV, podcasts, the internet, books, etc. to get perspective on topics and issues. Additionally, countless studies have shown that media shapes people’s perceptions of reality. Whenever you see someone on TV with a mental health disorder, they are often ridiculed or made to feel that something is wrong with them. One of the biggest movies of 2019 was the Joker — which represented someone with a mental illness who becomes a killer. In reality, 44 million people in the United States have mental illness and manage it without resorting to murdering people.
Finally, the government does not adequately help fund and treat mental illness — mental health treatment can be expensive, thus remaining just out of reach for the average American. Mental health problems can end up causing disruption in work, family, and society. The government is failing its people by not providing mental health support for its citizens. The government is also failing by relying solely on pharmaceutical drugs, which may often mask the problem instead of getting to the root of the issues to try to solve them.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
Individuals can start by educating themselves on mental illness. If 44 million people in the United States have a mental illness — that means on your daily commute, you probably ran into several people who you interacted with just find without any conflicts. This is the reality of most people. Educating themselves on the topic will bring an understanding which will result in compassion for people suffering from mental illness.
Society should start taking away unrealistic standards of living, beauty and start promoting real images. When scrolling through social media, you’d think everyone but you is living happy, glamourous lifestyles, sipping cocktails, and hanging out at the beach all day. You’d also think that everyone has perfect bodies with flawless skin. Then, you’d look in the mirror and at your perfectly acceptable job and think that you’re a failure. This is the reality of so many people, as the rates of anxiety and depression among young people have increased in direct correlation with the rising dependence on social media. It’s already been proven that social media is addictive and even produces withdrawal effects. Therefore, they must promote realistic standards of beauty and lifestyles — this would go a long way to helping decrease depression and anxiety among young people.
Government can look to treat the root causes of such mental illness instead of condemning it. Funding treatment is a great start; however, much of the root causes of mental illness are controllable. Among them are social disadvantages, poverty, debt, discrimination, social isolation, long-term stress, unemployment, and substance abuse are just to name a few of the ones which the government can address if they cared to. Of course, there are some genetic components to mental illness. However, the vast majority of cases are triggered by some external event. The money that goes to fund wars can easily be transferred to social programs to address these issues — if the government cared to do that.
What are your 5 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
Working out –
Working out is one of my favorite ways to keep sane. Not only does it make me feel good about myself, but the benefits from working out have been shown in studies, not just for fitness-related goals like weight loss or muscle building; they’ve also proven that exercising regularly helps improve mental clarity and focus when I’m feeling stressed!
I usually workout around 30–45 minutes every day — and even 10-minute mini-workouts can do wonders during mornings because occasional physical exertion releases endorphins which help combat anxiety as well gives an instant mood boost without any additional effort required.
Adding a meditation ritual to my daily routine is really a game-changer. Meditating daily is like a clean-up for my brain. Sometimes there is so much going on up there, taking 15–20 minutes daily to stop just helps put everything in perspective
Laughter really is the best medicine. I believe that when we lose our sense of humor, our mental health is not far behind. That’s why every day, I try to do something that makes me laugh — whether it be tuning into a comedy show or calling up a funny friend.
Getting to know yourself –
Socrates said to “know thyself.” An interesting thing happens when you really take the time to get to know yourself: You start to have compassion for yourself. You begin to forgive yourself. And you start to love yourself. Most people can tell you more about the hottest celebrity than about their own selves. Every day it’s worth it to sit down to analyze yourself, your day, what made you happy, and what made you angry. What you may find might scare you, upset you, and even at times disgust you, but in the end, it brings self-compassion and better self-awareness — this compassion and self-awareness helps you live unapologetically yourself — which aids in better mental health.
Positive thinking –
As cliché as it seems, positive thinking is essential. It’s so easy to get bogged down with news stories and even things that have nothing to do with us. I used to find it difficult to think positively. That’s why I came up with the Boosting Healthy Habits App. This app is based on a behavioral analytic technique that utilizes a timer to help the user use repetition and practice to get any behavior to turn into a habit — even positive thinking. Thinking positively is a habit, and it can definitely turn into a habit.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
What helps me the most is looking at the bigger picture. So many things happen in a week, or even in a day, it’s important to have guiding principles to come back to; 4-hour Workweek by Tim Ferris and The E-Myth by Michael Gerber are books whose lessons have had had a lasting impact on me when it came to business philosophy. They helped keep my focus on what was important is doing something I really enjoyed. Additionally, I listen to Abraham Hicks to keep my spirits up when things get down.
If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I would tell them that first, you must be good to yourself before you can be good to someone else. You only give from your overflow, and therefore you must make sure you yourself have a good mental space before you can help others. Next, I’d say that helping others feels good — so when you help others, you’re ultimately helping yourself.
How can our readers follow you online?
Personal social media:
Professional social media:
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Mental Health Champions: How Dr Jennifer Charles of Building Block Resolutions Is Using Applied Beh was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.