Partner Spotlight: Claudia Linares, Girasol Counseling

Earlier this year, Y-WE launched the Healing Justice Collective, an initiative that connects current and past Y-WE participants to trusted mental health practitioners and covers the cost. In this series we are highlighting the partners and practitioners who make the Healing Justice Collective possible. Claudia Linares, Associate Licensed Clinical Social Worker (she/her/ella) of Girasol Counseling, is one of the therapists actively holding spots for Y-WE clients. She provides case management, family/community advocacy, and therapy for marginalized populations and communities of color. 

Listen to the audio recording of this interview between Claudia and Y-WE’s Community Wellness & Mental Health Specialist, Shaena.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about your background, experience, interests, and where your passions live?

A: Yeah. So a little bit about myself. I am a daughter of Salvadorian immigrants who migrated to the US in the 80s, the later 80s. They migrated here because they were fleeing the Salvadorian war. And for folks who don’t know too much about it, it was sadly one of the most, or I think it was considered the most violent contemporary war in Latin America. And my parents, they migrated to central LA, and they met in South Central LA at a church. There’s a lot of Salvadorians in that area, and also a lot of Salvadorians still go to that church. And I usually start with the story of my parents. Because I think it really frames who I am. And so because of the injustices that were going on in El Salvador and sadly, some that continue to happen, my parents ended up here. They ended up here in the US, and they also were seeking healing in church and having a spiritual community. So I think that has really formed me in being someone that seeks community for our survival and also being able to thrive in community. But I also am a very spiritual person, and really interested and committed to what I believe is the healing work that my parents and my grandparents started before me.

Yeah, and then my experience in healing work. I mean, I feel like I’ve done healing work most of my life. But I’m a social worker by trade. And I am a mental health therapist and have my own private practice called Girasol Counseling. And it’s located here in Tacoma and the hilltop area. And then I work primarily with folks who are looking to heal childhood trauma or different kinds of trauma, like historical, generational. My interests outside of that, still kind of connected, is I really love being in nature. I am a gardener. I’m growing a lot of our food right now. Which is really great. And I spend a lot of time outside just gardening. I love it, I get lost out there. There’s been times that my husband has to come out and be like, “love, it’s 10 o’clock. Like you need to come inside”. So I just love it. I love it.

Q: What was your process in choosing the therapeutic route? How did you choose the name and what philosophies and values guided the building of it?

A: So after I did my Bachelor’s in Psychology and then I graduated and I [was] like, “okay, so what do I do now?” And so it took a while for me to figure that out. But after I graduated, I started working at a middle school in White Center called Cascade Middle School. And I was a family liaison there. And while I worked there, I was supporting a lot of families just navigating the educational system, but then people  would just talk to me, and I ended up supporting them and navigating a lot of different systems. And so I also hung out with a lot of the kids there. They put me in – you know the school systems – like you have one job, but then you’re going to do like five other jobs. So I was at the school, and then I ended up working at the – what’s it called, the name is escaping me. Like, when you didn’t wear your uniform, you got sent to the office to go change, I was that lady that would be there and give them the clothes that they would change [into] but then I ended up just really getting to hang out with a lot of kids. And I was there in the morning, so some of the kids, the young people would come and hang out with me, even if they, you know, didn’t have to be there. 

So I think all these experiences and learning more about the kind of systems that people were navigating as immigrants as people that were poor, [had] disabilities, or mental health issues, just really opened up just how many systemic injustices there are. And so I was like, “What is the work that I can do to try to do something about this?” And so then I heard about social work. And I’m like, “Okay, let’s do it.” And so when I was at the Masters of Social Work at UW, I ended up working for Southwest Youth and Family Services as a therapist intern, and I just fell in love with it. I was like, “Oh, this is it, this is what I need to do.” And I think one of the ways I knew that this is what I’m supposed to do is like I just dreamed, and I became so creative. And I ended up creating a healing empowerment youth program called C.O.M.I.D.A. (Comunidad Orgullosa Más Ideal De Las Américas). It is all around young people who are new arrivals from Central America, just creating a space for them. And we did it in a way that was very culturally relevant and just very safe and similar. We would just cook together. So we cooked like pupusas, paella, we just made food together and talked and it created this community for young people who, a lot of them had fled some really violent situations in their home countries.

Then when everything was done, I went and worked for Consejo, and I love Consejo, I do. But just like any mental health system, the burnout is so real. And so it was just not sustainable, and that’s when I decided that I wanted to continue to do therapy, but I wanted to do it in a way that I can take a little bit more control of how I show up for people. And so that’s really what encouraged me to explore that. And luckily, I had people in community who had done it. And Girasol Counseling – it means sunflower, and I think throughout all of these experiences I became really connected to the sunflower in a very spiritual way. I call myself the sunflower queen. Other people do too. So it’s not just me. I think sunflowers represent so many beautiful things, like strength, but one of the things I love about them is that they always move towards the sun. In Spanish, Girasol is like gira – movement towards – and then sol which is the sun. And so it’s like this constant movement of looking for the light. And we know that like, when there’s no sun they look to each other. And that really speaks to the community. And so my logo is actually two sunflowers looking at each other. And it’s just the way that these relationships and communities are really — there’s a light, there’s a love, there’s a healing there.

Q: I love that. It’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I saw that you were doing trauma stewardship work, and I was curious about what that looks like. And yeah, how’s that been as an offering to add to your practice? 

A: That has been really cool. So it all started because an org reached out to me, and it’s a group of organizers out in Aberdeen, and they asked me if I could provide some support. They were specifically saying for secondary trauma. And talking to them I was like, “Oh, trauma stewardship is really what would be helpful.” And so I started kind of developing something with them and then a neighbor org found out about it, and that’s kind of when I got something a little bit more structured. And I think it’s been really a gift. I feel like it’s something that I wish I had before I got to that point where my own therapist was like, “you’re about to burn out.” I remember the first time I went to one of the gatherings, I cried and I never – not to say that I will never cry like I do cry, I’m a big crier – but in sessions and group sessions it’s never happened. I think what it was that allowed me to cry was that I recognized myself as a service oriented person, a healer. And knowing that this is so needed for us to be able to have conversations with each other and understand the ways that for us to develop skills, trauma stewardship is good for us. But it’s also good for an organization and the collective and being able to know that relationship and identify it. So it was a really beautiful moment for I think all of us and so yeah, it’s been really exciting.

Q: Could you share what trauma stewardship is for folks who are reading that might not have heard of it?

A: Yeah. So Laura van Dernoot Lipsky. The way that she described it, my understanding of trauma stewardship is an understanding that this work that we do is going to hurt us. It’s going to impact us. The way that it really made sense to me was when she talked about going into water and expecting us not to get wet – like we’re gonna get wet. And so trauma stewardship is understanding, what does it look like to really know how to identify that trauma work is traumatic for us and it hurts our bodies and then how do we then take care of ourselves as we’re doing this work?

Q: So kind of shifting into more focused on this partnership. What drew you to the work that we’re doing with the Healing Justice Collective?

A: So I heard about it from a colleague of mine with the Women of Color Healers group that we have who shared it. And so, I work with young people, and so I got curious about what that looks like. And I think that working with an organization that loves young people and also takes a healing justice approach is definitely an organization that I want to work with. And an organization that understands that, like, our liberation is tied to each other, is definitely an organization I want to work with. So it was very clear to me that, from a lot of the actions that y’all do, and also just the programming, the language, I was like, yep. So I was all in.

Q: I’m really grateful that you decided to take the leap and try something that was brand new and experimental, and you’re still here. What has your experience been like, in the partnership and providing care to these young people?

A: I love all the young people that I’m working with. I think it’s been different than some of the other organizations that I’ve worked with, just because Y-WE is really involved in providing mentorship and opportunities for developing leadership, and so there’s a lot of support already in place. And so that’s been really cool. I think that the compensation is really equitable. And it also honestly just reinforces our worth in a lot of ways in a system that often tells us that service providers, or people that care about other people, should be compensated less. So to have organizations that say like, “Hey, we can compensate you in a very equitable way.” That felt really good.

Q: Are there any highlights that are coming up for you when you’re sifting through touch points in this process?

A: So the young people I’ve been working with, it has been really cool to see the way that all of them have developed their leadership. I know a couple of them have moved into leadership roles in Y-WE which is really great and exciting. And then other ones have been developing their leadership on their own campus. And I just remember one of them was really working on their social anxiety and [is now] really being able to do really amazing work on their campus. And that was really exciting.

Q: I love to hear that. So, what does your work with young people look like? And what do you feel is the most joyous and or motivating part of that work?

A: I think it has been creating this beloved community that is multi generational, and really comes around and supports young people. And you know, where I grew up in LA, and just like having to move around, that wasn’t necessarily something that I received. But to be able to have that and witness that with young people is like, healing my inner child, like even saying that I’m like, “It’s really beautiful.” And working with young people gives me a lot of hope. Always keeps me learning. Like, there’s so much wisdom. There’s a lot of young elders, where I am constantly learning from young people too. And so I think that is one of the many things I love about them.

Q: I love that, “young elders.” What have you learned during the course of doing youth centered work?

A: There was one, this one that was recent, we just had a check in and they had told me like, about going — this is outside of like therapy, this is more like my community work. They had told me about just like, they’re now interning as a teacher, which is just amazing. And they told me, “you know, I’ve been getting a lot of people asking me to volunteer at other places,” and he’s like, “I wish I could do all of them. But I know that I only have so much to give. And when I go to school, and I see these kids, I know that I want to give everything to them.” And that really spoke to me about priorities, capacity, sustainability, because I think for me, I still struggle with this. Where people are like, “Hey, there’s this great opportunity” and they’re like doing this and that and I’m like, “yeah!” and I want to go everywhere sometimes. But then to be able to go back and be like “where’s my heart, like where do I really want to pour myself?” So I think this young elder I’m like, “whoa, you are wise,” really being able to say “I can’t I can’t say yes to everything but this is who I want to say yes to.”

Q: If you could go back and talk to your teenage self, what’s something you feel like you really needed to hear?

A: That it’s gonna be okay. I think there’s so much anxiety that everything was not going to be okay. And then that just feels really calm and peaceful, like it’s gonna be okay.

Q: In a dream world, if you could picture what youth liberation – especially as it pertains to young women and gender expansive folks – what does that look like? And what does that feel like to you? 

A: Yeah, I actually was kind of curious about what other people had said, and I think I was like, “wow,” I was blown away by what a lot of people have already said, and I think this question is really, really powerful. Especially now as we’re like – I don’t know if it’s especially now because I think historically, there’ve been people who have paid attention to their dreams and like, really cultivated spaces for dreams – but at least it feels somewhat new to me. But I think in a dream world, what youth liberation looks like, for me, is really a balancing act of sharing power and responsibility. And I think that’s youth liberation, or at least a piece of it. In that, young people are often robbed of their power and told what to do and how to be and not [be]. Their identities, like in gender, are often questioned as something that they’ve just made up. There’s just a lot of wanting to contain, and I think youth liberation is a power to be able to be expansive, creative, and colorful, and to have that voice. And I think at least when I think about the responsibility, I think there’s a lot that can be said about that. But I do think that part of youth liberation is also for older people like me, and other ones on this panel is, to know that we are responsible for our young people. That even if it’s a child that’s not my child, that I feel a responsibility to every kid in my neighborhood or my community. And that I see them and that I know them by their name that they know that I am a safe adult. And that you know, like it really does take a village to raise a child, a teenager, and so I think that that is kind of where my mind goes into — that responsibility. And then there is like again, I don’t know this kind of goes back to that of like, allowing them to also have the space and freedom to say how they want to be cared for.

Y-WE’s mission is to cultivate the power of diverse young women to be creative leaders and courageous changemakers, through transformative programs within a collaborative community of belonging. Learn more about the Healing Justice Collective and how you can support this work.

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