Partner Spotlight: Israt Audry, Licensed Social Worker & Therapist

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. Israt Audry (they/them) is one of the therapists actively holding spots for Y-WE clients. They are an Associate Licensed Clinical Social Worker who places belonging and connectedness at the heart of their work, and we connected with Israt through our partnership with Whole Valley Therapy

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

Q: Tell me a bit about you. What’s your background, your experience, your interests?

A: My name is Israt. I use they/them pronouns. I am a queer, South Asian, non-binary person practicing mental health work in a medical setting and also have recently done some individual therapy work. I have two cats, and I love them very much. I spend a lot of time with them. And I spend a lot of time reading which brings me a lot of joy. It’s like tapping into an inner child. Joy. Yeah, that’s a little bit about me. Anything else you want to know?

Prior to getting my social work degree in 2021,  I was doing seven to eight years of community organizing work with South Asian immigrant folks, many of whom were undocumented and working class. I was working on things like racial justice, gender justice, and immigrant justice work, leading campaigns for immigrant rights, and then also working with Asian American youth throughout the country to help expose Asian youth to social justice activism and organizing work. Pairing folks with national organizations to get a feel of what community organizing looks like and can be. And then I got my MSW at the University of Washington in 2021. Since then I have been doing medical social work, working with end of life care, a lot of grief and bereavement work and caregiver support in cancer work, and then, more recently, over the last six months have been doing individual therapy work with folks across issues but particularly LGBTQ folks. Working through family of origin stuff, working through complex trauma, depression, anxiety, and identity stuff. 

Q: Where do your passions live? What are the values that guide your practice?

A: I think I was politicized given my own personal experiences as an undocumented person living in New York City. I grew up in political homes that were very radical, leftist organizations that are dedicated to the well being and thriving of working class minoritized people. And so a lot of my values stem from a collectivist culture, stem from anti-capital frameworks, anti-patriarchal, anti-violence frameworks. And so when I went into doing mental health work, it was from our realization that there was not enough healers who looked like me, who had identities like me, particularly queer and trans identities in my communities, even though there were many of us who needed that kind of support, and also, particularly support for my mom’s generation of people. I’m really passionate about delivering in-language therapeutic work to all the South Asian moms and people of their generation. So currently, I envision a practice where I can really center those community frameworks that I have rooted in anti-patriarchal anti-capital values, and tried to figure out ways to do that, while still working within a system that has many limitations and ethical boundaries that don’t necessarily align with the way that I want to practice this work long term in community.

Q: What drew you to the work that Y-WE is doing with the Healing Justice Collective?

A: Yeah, I think it roots back to the original reason why I wanted to do this work, which was recognizing a need for practitioners of color who have these intersecting identities like I do. Muslim, queer, trans, working class — wanting to make space for other people who are living in those identities, without access to mental health care, which is an increasing need in this country, I think worldwide. But yeah, I think with my experience of working with youth, and recognizing how important mental health is and how many gaps there are in mental health care and the conversations around mental health, I wanted to — I think Y-WE’s work, or at least vision, is aligned with my values of providing mental health care that is rooted in social justice frameworks. That’s not always the case across the mental health field. I think it’s actually a rarity and privilege when you get to work with mental health providers who are acutely aware of the systemic injustices that shape our experiences every day. To be able to then bring that framework to session and understand why people are experiencing things the way they are, compounded by things like childhood stuff or family stuff. I think it adds a layer of understanding and reasoning that can be really insightful and helpful. And we need more of that. So yeah, I think Y-WE’s values align with the way that I want to practice and I’m happy to be able to hold space for youth who share some of my identities and can find support.

When I am talking about the rarity of finding mental health providers who share some of the interests and accepting identities that I’ve talked about, I’m thinking about just the history of the mental health field. Starting with psychology, it’s a very white, male centric, Western focused field that has historically erased Black and Brown experiences. The mental health field is very problematic in the ways that it has conducted experimentation on communities of color, without communities of color ever seeing the fruits of their labor or the contributions that they are putting into this field. And then outside of that, in social work practice or counseling practice, the majority of the providers that we see are white — can be gender varying — but mostly white, lower middle class, upper middle class folks who are practicing with mostly that demographic, but also that leaves out the rest of us who are seeking mental health care. So where do those of us who are working class, who have experiences of complex diverse trauma, who are immigrants who need language justice, where do those of us go? And I think that unless we — I am fully aware that as an individual, I’m not going to change the landscape of this field. But this program, and more like it, are beacons of hope. You’re being so intentional about the providers that you’re working with, about the people that you invite to be in this collective, about the youth that you’re serving and are making therapy sessions available to. Without that level of intentionality, this field is just going to continue to turn out white, middle class, social workers who don’t often have lived experience of the things that their clients are bringing to them. And so, yeah, I think, challenging that. This program is very mindful of, again, the work that they’re doing with specific clinicians, also very mindful about providing clinicians pay, you know, we don’t get paid very much in this field anyway. And in order for us to make a living doing this work and to be able to create space for people who need it, getting paid is really important. And so I really appreciate that about this program, too, in the way that you’ve been so mindful about making sure that providers are getting paid the utmost and there are systems in place to make sure that that’s happening in an equitable way. 

Q: You’re one of the first therapists that we onboarded, starting in February. What has the experience been like for you? 

A: I’m smiling thinking about it. Yeah, I got to work with a couple of Y-WE youth, one more so than the other. And, you know, initially when I started individual therapy, I was like, I don’t want to work with youth. I’ve had eight years of that. I can’t do it anymore. I need a break. I love youth work and it was quite challenging at times. So I was hesitant about taking on youth work. And I will say doing youth work in this capacity of looking at one’s individual self healing journey has been really life giving. To see this young person just really reflect on their growth, reflect on areas of growth, reflect on the ways that the sessions have been helpful in processing their experiences, putting up boundaries. I think in a lot of ways it’s been really healing for my inner child to see someone at this age be so mindful and intentional about their growth in ways that I don’t think I had access to when I was their age. And it’s amazing to see what is possible when you create spaces like this for young people to really be thoughtful about the ways that they want to move through the world. Yeah, I’ve definitely shed tears over how beautiful these sessions have been and I feel very privileged and lucky to have experienced this.

Q: What has been the most joyous and or motivating parts of working with young people?

A: This is so cliche, but I think as I get older and more cynical and more jaded, the hope that young people carry and the rigor and discipline with which they envision a future is really inspiring. I think particularly Gen Z is so dedicated to living differently or creating a different world for themselves and the way that they are so self motivated and driven to be knowledgeable, to seek knowledge, to shift things and see things from a different perspective is really inspiring to me. And I say that knowing that I definitely exist in a bubble where the people I’m interacting with are, you know, engaging with content that I’m engaging with, and are more leftist, radical in their values. And so I know that this doesn’t probably apply to all Gen Z folks. But yeah, I think the youth that I do work with are very much dedicated to a better future. And they are dedicated to doing the work to build the future. And I think that goes to show, in terms of the way that they’re building community, the way that they’re practicing friendships, the way that they’re practicing romantic relationships or just challenging the status quo across different relational dynamics. And that is really beautiful for me to see people work towards. I think a lot of these values that I’ve had growing up around how to build relationships, how to practice friendships, and how to de-center and prioritize certain relationships. I’m really seeing that in practice with young people and I found a lot of joy in that. 

Q: What has this experience taught you? What do you feel like you’ve learned?

A: Maybe not to be so rigid in my expectations of the work. I think working with young people allows me to be playful and to cultivate joy much more intentionally, or look for moments of joy much more intentionally than I do with my adult clients. I think with adult folks, it’s much easier to stay in the muck and just get lost in the chaos of the world, whereas with young people, even when they’re going through a crisis, they’ll do the silliest things. They’ll do a little TikTok dance as they tell me their trauma, or like being able to laugh about our experiences. Working with young people really is a constant reminder of how important laughter and humor is in our collective healing, collective and individual healing. And yeah, I just appreciate the flexibility that is required to work with young people. I appreciate the play and the joy. I’m learning new perspectives from them, you know. Again, it sounds so cliche and like, I’m rolling my eyes at, you know, I get older and I feel out of touch with the world. But I think working with young people is one way to stay connected to what’s going on. And how things are shifting in the world, how they’re looking at things, and they teach me to look at things differently than I normally would. I think the older I get the more rigid I can be in expectations and doing things traditionally and following the status quo, but working with young people really allows me to live outside of that.

Q: What does healing mean to you? And how do you know that it’s happening? 

A: Healing can look like lots of different things. I don’t think I’d have a particular definition of it. But I think healing requires a level of rigor and discipline and intentionality to work towards creating shifts that are necessary or that come to be necessary throughout your process. I think that it’s important to do healing on an individual level, and I think that healing is a collective effort. We don’t heal in silos. We are relational beings. And I think that the experiences that we have, the attachment styles we have, the people that we become are all products of our environments, and the cultures that we grow up in. And so in order to unlearn that, we have to, I think, work collaboratively with the people in our lives, to see things in a new way and to move past the long standing practices and conditioning that we receive. And so one thing that I think about when I’m doing healing work is, “how do I move away from traditional Western practices?” That again, are rooted in white supremacy and white culture. A lot of these traditional — talk therapy, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), what have you – were created with white people in mind, right. So that’s not the kind of work I want to do and that’s not the kind of work that will do service to the people that I want to serve.

So how can I do it differently? I think, for me, art therapy has quickly become a modality through which I find depth and meaning. You know, I think about how as a South Asian person, so much of my history is deeply rooted in the arts and how my ancestors have used the arts as a healing mechanism for centuries and all of that gets erased when you’re in a western establishment. And so I’m really dedicated to figuring out alternative ways to provide healing to people. Whether that’s through art, movement, poetry, writing, visual arts — there’s so many ways to do healing that’s not just one-on-one talk therapy. What does it look like to do art with your community? What does it look like to create art together? What does it look like to process things as you’re creating something together? Because when we’re creating we’re in some of our most vulnerable mind states. So yeah, healing is not linear. It doesn’t look any one way. You can do it through any number of modalities. I do believe in individual work that is disciplined and rigorous and requires a lot of grit to unlearn and undo some of the toxic conditionings that we’ve been taught over our lifetimes, as products of culture or what have you. And like you can’t do that in isolation. It always has to be in the context of the relationships you have and the people that are around you and the politics of the moment.

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

A: I think I envision a world in which people are able to experience their gender freely, they’re able to live outside of gendered norms and expectations of how they should live their life. I envision a world where conflict is generative, and people are able to work through complex issues without further perpetuating harm to each other. Yeah, so really centering transformative justice practices, doing things in ways that we like, being creative about problem solving, and being in relationship to each other. And really fighting the urges that we have to fall back into the status quo. I envision a world where people are able to care for each other deeply, and show up in community.

I reflect on Seeding Change a lot because I think that is a place in my life where I’ve seen people practice really alternative ways of being, like raising children together. This group of one generation of people had children around the same time and they do rotating childcare and they share learning spaces together and they cook each other meals. And I think practicing that level of community can be so liberating and freeing and I want that for more people. I want us, including myself, to be able to live outside of the rigidity of traditional gender norms and relationship dynamics. And to really hold important our external relationships outside of just ourselves and our romantic partnerships, our blood familial relationships. You know, I’ve been able to practice really building chosen family across the country, and I have this rich, beautiful network of people that I can reach out to if I’m struggling and they will always show up for me and that is just a testament to what it can look like when you intentionally build community. 

Q: Can you share what Seeding Change is?

A: Yeah, so Seeding Change is a national fellowship program that works with Asian American youth to deliver political education and field work experience working with community organizing groups across the country doing work in immigrant justice, racial justice, gender justice, environmental justice work. It really is creating a political home for Asian youth to develop their politics and to develop frameworks that are liberatory and radical. 

Q: If you could go back in time and talk to your teenage self, what’s something you think they needed to hear?

A: I think in terms of healing justice work, I would tell them that they have a lot of passion for this work and they have a lot of insight as to why it’s necessary and so, cut down on the negative self talk and imposter syndrome. Telling them that they are doing work that allows for the creation of more spaces and opportunities for people like them who are thinking beyond the limitations and boundaries of mental practice in the country. And you know, they are going to cultivate a community of other healers who are really dedicated to the same kind of vision and values that they have for the world and for the community. And to not doubt themselves so much in this work. 

Q: Is there anything else you want to share?

A: I think just for anybody out there who has means or influence or power, who are in positions of power, I think I just have a lot of existential dread about the state of mental health in the world. And particularly in places like Seattle where there’s such an increase in needs for mental health care. So for anybody listening who has any kind of semblance of power, making more opportunities available or space available for healing justice work to happen, at a level that’s not just superficial or to meet certain expectations or to show face. How can we think progressively and radically about the state of mental health care, and are we doing all that we can to provide care and support to the people that need it most? Particularly in Black and Brown communities, and communities of working class people.

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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