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On the Couch With Mary Jane Paul, Session 1

On the Couch with Mary Jane Paul (1)

One of the major reasons I started Therapy for Black Girls was to reduce the stigma associated with seeking therapy. It’s important to change the community narrative that therapy is only for “crazy” people. Therapy is not only helpful to relieve symptoms of mental illness. It’s also incredibly useful in increasing mental wellness. Sometimes these concepts seem a little abstract without concrete examples, so in an effort to bring these ideas to life I’m starting a new series on the blog called On the Couch. This series will focus on the work I might do with a fictional character if they were an actual client in my practice. Today, we have our first session with Mary Jane Paul from BET’s Being Mary Jane. The first session with any client is the intake session where I collect a lot of information from the client about the history of their concerns, their families,  and their reasons for seeking therapy. This will also serve as a nice recap if you haven’t been keeping up with the show 🙂 .

Background Information

Mary Jane is a 30-something African American female who is currently single and works as a TV anchor for a local station in Atlanta. Mary Jane shared that she was seeking therapy related to current difficulties sleeping, frequent crying spells, and increased feelings of irritability. When asked about stressors that may be contributing to her mood, she indicated a recent break up with an on again, off again boyfriend (Andre) and recently finding out that another man whom she has had a long standing relationship (David) is having a baby with another woman. Additionally, she discussed strain in her family and friend group and recent difficulties at work.

Family Dynamics

Mary Jane indicated that she has a close relationship with both of her parents who have been married her entire life. She stated that her father is the one she can turn to for help in a practical situation and her mother is the person she goes to when she needs some no-nonsense, no BS advice. She described her mother as incredibly caring but brutally honest. Mary Jane’s mother has also been diagnosed with Lupus. Mary Jane is the middle child with an older brother, Patrick and a younger brother, Paul Jr. She describes a close relationship with both brothers though is at times disappointed in some of the decisions they make. She also describes a very close but tenuous relationship with her niece, Patrick’s daughter, whom is affectionately know as Niecy. Niecy is a single mother of two small children. Mary Jane’s relationship with Niecy is often complicated by her disappointment in Niecy’s choices and her desire for Niecy to see herself the way she sees her. Mary Jane’s role in the family is that of caretaker and problem solver. She is the one who each of the family members turns to when there is an issue. She takes great pride in being there for her family.

Support System

Mary Jane describes a strong circle of friends including her co-workers Kara and Mark and another friend, Lisa. She describes  Mark as her best friend as he is the one with whom she can be her full self. While Kara and Lisa are also very supportive, she shares that at times they can be judgmental. She also shared that in her friend group she also plays the caretaker role. She is very active in supporting Kara through a recent divorce with her husband and in supporting Lisa who struggles with depression and has been suicidal in the past.

Relationship History

Mary Jane stated that she recently ended a relationship with her boyfriend, Andre. She shared that they had been dating for several months and that Andre is married with two children. Mary Jane indicated that Andre repeatedly said that he was planning to leave his wife to be with her but this never happened. She stated that she was the one to end the relationship after realizing that he was not really in love with her and would likely never end the marriage. Mary Jane also shared that while seeing Andre, she was also continuing to entertain the idea of her ex, David. Mary Jane stated that she recently realized that David is “the one who got away” but fears that it is too late for them as he is currently dating another woman who is pregnant with his child.

Employment History

Mary Jane has worked as a TV anchor at a local station for the past couple of years. She generally enjoys her work though does not like that her ideas for how she would like her show to proceed are often shot down by her bosses. Recently, following a piece she did exposing a lack of journalistic integrity of a friend, he committed suicide. Mary Jane is torn up about this yet was at odds with her station about her ability to address the death on air. She ultimately decided to address the death on air but is not sure of what consequences will follow.

Substance Use

Mary Jane stated that she enjoys several glasses of wine most nights of the week but does not believe that this is an issue of concern. She stated that she smokes marijuana recreationally on occasion but denied using any other drugs.

Strengths/Coping Mechanisms

Mary Jane shared that she works out several times a week and is an avid runner. She stated that she spends a lot of time with friends and likes to unwind by playing her favorite music and dancing around her home. She also stated that she enjoys making empowering post it notes for herself and posting them around her home as reminders of her strength.

Goals for Treatment

Mary Jane stated that she hopes that counseling will help her to 1) move past the hurt and disappointment from two most recent relationships, 2) establish healthier boundaries in all of her relationships, and 3) make healthier relationship choices.

Clinical Impressions

Mary Jane appears as a bright and motivated client. She appears aware and insightful though I suspect she is not completely aware of the factors that may have led her to make some of the decisions she has made in relationships. Important areas to focus on appear to be her role in both her family and friendships and her need to take care of others. It is likely this may lead her to feeling resentful of family and friends in ways she may not recognize. It also seems like some time will need to be spent talking through the recent suicide of  her friend as this may be one of the first times Mary Jane was not able to “fix” something and may actually see herself as the catalyst for something being “broken.”

Treatment Plan

Work with Mary Jane will focus on developing a strong rapport so that she feels therapy is a safe place to discuss her concerns. Mary Jane may be hesitant to share some of the issues she is struggling with for fear of being seen as weak and fear of being judged. Time will be spent processing what it is like for her to share her concerns with another African American woman and what it is like to perhaps be more vulnerable than she is able to be in other relationships. Time will also be spent exploring any cognitive distortions she may be engaging with and examining her self-talk for unhealthy and negative messages. It will also be important to engage Mary Jane in a relationship autopsy to further explore her decision making in relationships.

Tune in to BET tonight, February 3, 2015, for the second season premiere of Being Mary Jane and follow the On the Couch series to keep up with the work Mary Jane does in therapy.

Is there another character you would like to see on the couch? Share your suggestions in the comments.



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Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Sisterhood heals
Order Now

Looking for the UK Edition?
Order here

Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Looking for the UK Edition? Order here