You can be the superhero of your own story

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Patricia Costales, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and CEO of The Guidance Center, a nonprofit child and family mental-health service provider headquartered in Long Beach, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

Superman is an immigrant. Batman experienced devastating trauma as a child due to community violence. Spider-Man was bullied in school. Jessica Jones suffers from PTSD.

Despite these challenges, the superheroes we know and love found a way to devote their lives to helping others. I think their secret is that they trusted someone and asked for help, and believed in themselves so that they could find a way past their own struggles.

This means that all of us have the ability to be superheroes.

I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the CEO of The Guidance Center. I have worked in community mental health my entire adult life and have a true connection to the superheroes in our industry. I can relate to their stories. I believe that my role in mental health is to be a role model in many ways, not just for our clients and staff, but for our community. I do that by letting people know how I am the hero of my own story.

I had in many ways a difficult childhood. I wasn’t a happy child growing up, but with the support of my teachers, I found help. It made a tremendous difference in my life. I credit those teachers for offering help and I credit myself for having the courage to accept it.

Accepting help is one of the hardest things The Guidance Center clients have to do. It is scary to walk through the doors of a mental health agency and ask for help. Many of the small children that we see haven’t had experiences with adults who are trustworthy. It takes heroism for them to come in and share their experiences and fears with our therapists.

There’s a superhero character who I think has a real correlation with community mental health, and for that reason, he is my favorite: Batman. Although he grew up with immense privilege, he had a tremendously difficult childhood. He saw both his parents murdered as a result of community violence. While he had someone to care for him, it must have been a pretty emotionally isolating experience. His physical needs may have been met, but I doubt anyone read to him, went to his open houses at school or slept with him at night if he was afraid of the dark. I’m not convinced he got all of those nurturing elements necessary to a child’s development, especially as a child who experienced that level of trauma. I think we could have helped him.

Despite his story, he found the courage as an adult, without any particular abilities, to dedicate himself to saving others and giving back. I think there is a direct parallel between his story, the work we do, the staff we have and the clients we see.

Everyone has a superpower. Empathy is mine. It’s different from sympathy. It’s different from compassion. Empathy is the ability to really sit with what someone is telling you. Sit with their experience, put yourself in their shoes and try to feel what they’re feeling. It’s a different level. It’s with empathy that we can change the world.

Every year, we host our annual Sunset Sip benefit. It’s a fun evening where our friends and supporters come together to not only raise mental health awareness in our communities, but also raise funds that will allow us to continue providing services to economically disadvantaged children and families who are struggling with mental illness and abuse. The work that we do would not be possible without the compassionate support of our community and sponsors.

I’d like to invite the community to join us at this year’s Sunset Sip on Sept. 15 at the Hotel Maya to unleash their own individual superpowers and meet the superheroes Saniya and Christopher, two Guidance Center clients who will be there to share their story.

Go here for information.

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