I also endeavor to spend quality time with family and close friends as frequently as possible whether it be simply meeting a friend for dinner to catch up or planning a weekend to be with family relatively uninterrupted.
As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Katarena Arger, LMFT.
Katarena Arger is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist currently working with Alter Health Group to provide uniquely individualized treatment with the primary goal of facilitating recovery and assisting individuals and their support system to achieve optimum health and wellness. She has worked across the spectrum of clinical settings from traditional outpatient clinics, acute psychiatric hospitals, residential treatment centers, and post-acute clinics. She utilizes multiple modalities and is formally trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy, Emotionally Focused Family Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Brainspotting.
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 am the oldest of three children and my parents have been married for over 47 years. My brothers and I were raised with a strong commitment to family, intellectual achievement, and civic duty. As adults, we are all dedicated to helping others and professionally contributing to the increased health and welfare of society in our own chosen areas of expertise. I was particularly drawn to the mental health field and have dedicated my career to helping others identify problematic patterns and behaviors and then assist them, both individually and in their interpersonal relationships, to achieve their full potential and overall wellbeing.
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?
Our mission at Alter Health Group is to transform lives and produce profound societal change by improving mental health and addiction recovery success rates guided by our core values of compassion, collaboration, integrity, excellence, and relentless innovation using data-directed methodologies. We combine the latest science and evidence-based approaches with compassionate understanding to help individuals recover and achieve their full potentiality. Alter Health Group offers a diverse array of services including residential, outpatient, and crisis support peer counseling to promote mental wellness using a multidimensional approach to attain holistic healing and wellbeing.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Prior to starting graduate school, I worked with individuals with a history of chronic homelessness, severe mental illness, and substance use issues. I developed a person-centered approach to wellness and witnessed first-hand the power and importance of meeting each person where they are at and being supportive first and foremost. Listening to their stories and how their lives unfolded was immensely powerful and I realized mental wellness is something we all face in our own way.
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?
Thinking back, I do not believe there was a singular ‘aha moment’ but rather a slow building of motivation. There is something incredibly powerful about witnessing an individual grow and transform their lives and I consider it a privilege to be a small part of each person’s recovery journey. I genuinely feel I have found my true calling and every day working to help others affirms that sentiment. Often, we have to just take that first step, then the next, and keep going forward even when we encounter obstacles or setbacks.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I would have to say the most interesting and exciting thing that has happened since joining Alter Health Group is our company being one of the select few CalHOPE grant recipients, California’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic to provide virtual support to Californians experiencing stress, anxiety and/or trauma because of the Covid-19 pandemic. We received the initial contract March 1, 2021 to provide free non-clinical peer support crisis counseling through the FEMA Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program designed to make mental health resources available statewide at no cost to the communities. By April 1, 2021 our program, named BeWellLine, was in full effect with 24/7 bilingual crisis support counseling services on multiple platforms. In less than one year we have provided over 20,000 individual crisis counseling support encounters. Due to the success of these services provided under the FEMA funding we have put full focus on to continuing this service internally with our team of 40+ counselors. Additionally, we now offer virtual support groups via BeWellLine.com such as encouragement, LGBTQIA+, substance abuse, Jewish, Hispanic, African Americans, domestic violence survivors, and women’s encouragement.
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?
I am grateful to have had numerous mentors and cheerleaders along the way including family, friends, professors, and leaders in the field. Early in my career I had a supervisor who became a true mentor to me. One of the most valuable pearls of wisdom she passed along was that we are individually responsible for teaching other people how to treat us. This simple piece of advice has stayed with me professionally and in my personal life as well.
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 consider the stigma of mental illness to be one of the few remaining in society today and the onus is on all of us to shift our perspective and perception both individually and collectively. We are gradually seeing the reconceptualization of mental illness toward mental health and wellness as we increase our knowledge of its etiology, but we still have a long way to go. It is important to remember that each of us will likely face mental health challenges as they are a normative part of life. Having good mental health or mental wellness is not simply the absence of illness or dysfunction, but rather a state of overall wellbeing and feeling good about yourself and your life. As we transition away from mental illness toward a more health-oriented and positive viewpoint and realize everyone is susceptible, perhaps the stigma about mental illness will continue to dissipate.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
One of the most revealing and consequential studies I have come across is The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. This study found a graded dose-response relationship between ACEs and negative health and well-being outcomes. In other words, as the number of ACEs increases so does the risk for negative outcomes. The government, society, and individuals can all be more proactive in prevention, detection, and treatment. Ameliorating risk factors for mental illness and noticing the early warning signs is critical.
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?
I consider good sleep, proper nutrition, and regular physical activity to be the frontline tools of mental and physical wellness. More and more we are seeing the research data support this from all different angles. In his book Why We Sleep Neuroscientist Matthew Walker provides a compelling and convincing argument for why sleep is paramount to optimal functioning and how it affects every aspect of our physical and mental wellbeing. I admit I am not always perfect and there may be nights I stay up a little too late, eat something that may not be the healthiest choice (but usually worth it), and run out of time in the day to get a little exercise. Nevertheless, I prioritize these three things in general to maintain my health and wellness. Along the lines of physical activity, I find simply spending time outdoors to be incredibly restorative and can have significant positive effects on our wellbeing. Author Florence Williams in her book The Nature Fix does a wonderful job delineating what current science and research shows about the mental, emotional, and physical health benefits of spending time in nature.
I also endeavor to spend quality time with family and close friends as frequently as possible whether it be simply meeting a friend for dinner to catch up or planning a weekend to be with family relatively uninterrupted. Human beings thrive on connection and being around those we love can have a profoundly reaffirming and renewing affect on our wellbeing. Another key element to maintaining my own mental wellness is regularly connecting with my spirituality and engaging in the practices that support it. One of my favorite descriptions of spirituality is anything that provides meaning and purpose to your life and striving for consistency in your values and actions. Attending to your spiritual wellness can have a meaningful impact on our overall wellbeing and supports our mental, emotional, and physical wellness.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
I enjoy reading and listening to anything by Brené Brown. Some of my other favorite books include Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté, The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, Mindsight by Daniel J. Siegel, and Affective Neuroscience by Jaak Panksepp. I do not listen to podcast as I prefer to read, but colleagues have recommended Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast hosted by Gabe Howard, The Savvy Psychologist’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Mental Health with Dr. Monica Johnson, and Speaking of Psychology from the American Psychology Association (APA). I also appreciate the works of clinical psychologist Dr. Jordan B. Peterson.
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?
We all have the capacity to make a difference in our society and positively impact our environment each and every day. Actively practicing compassion and kindness in our daily lives can go a long way for you and those around you. There are numerous benefits to having compassion toward others and exercising self-compassion such as increased happiness and life satisfaction, reduce stress and anxiety, improve health and medical outcomes, reduced psychopathology and depression, and increased social connectedness. Making a positive impact can begin with simply expressing compassion through acts of kindness, caring, and support that relieves the suffering of others and ourselves. A smile or a kind word counts, and that small gesture can make a big difference, especially if everyone in society begins to practice these small acts of compassion.
How can our readers follow you online?
I can be found at alterhealthgroup.com
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Mental Health Champions: Why & How Katarena Arger Is Helping To Champion Mental Wellness was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.