We had the good fortune of connecting with Abbey Gesing and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Abbey, how does your business help the community?
I teach Adult and Youth Mental Health First Aid classes all over the US. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a national program to teach the skills to respond to the signs of mental illness and substance use. It is an evidence-based program used worldwide. Over 2 million people have been trained so far. Their mission is to make Mental Health First Aid as common as CPR. My interest in MHFA was born out of a desire to provide mental health education and reduce stigma on a larger community scale. I was noticing in my personal life and in my work with clients how much stigma and misinformation was really blocking people from getting support. People are often scared of saying the wrong thing or upsetting someone, however we need to be able to have these conversations with each other. This 8 hour course teaches people concrete things to say and do to intervene early or manage a crisis. I’ve done trainings with HR professionals, pharmacists, faith leaders, case managers, teachers and much more.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I established Gesing Counseling in 2018. I always wanted to be in community and partnership with other therapists but wasn’t sure exactly what that would look like. In 2019 I joined Omni Counseling and Nutrition as an independent contractor and in 2020 I trained as a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Instructor. Now I split my time between seeing clients for Omni and doing community MHFA trainings. This balance offers me some community and structure with the group practice, while also giving me flexibility and autonomy to explore other community mental health initiatives. It has felt like a long road to get to a balanced place in my career. I still struggle with trusting I’m “doing the right thing” or putting my own mental health first. There are so many people, podcasts, books, etc that helped me get to this place. I left graduate school with very little confidence in how to speak about mental health or advocate for my clients. I’ve learned a lot about how social justice intersects with therapy. The book “The Body Is Not an Apology” by Sonya Renee Taylor opened my eyes to these intersections. As a white person and therapist I need to continually do the work of unpacking my own privilege and whiteness so that I don’t do harm to my clients. Luckily I work for a group practice, Omni Counseling and Nutrition, that shares similar beliefs about mental health being inherently political. I truly love helping people unlearn what the system has taught them they need to do or feel or be. It continues to be a daily practice that challenges me in new ways. And I mess up sometimes! Whether it’s in a training or therapy session I want people to know I see them not as something to be fixed but to be understood and supported.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
When people come to visit I love to show off our access to the mountains, parks and delicious local food. I’m pretty laid back and don’t like to fill a day with too much stuff. Wake up and grab coffee at a local shop. Pablos or Weathervane are my favorites. Head to the foothills for a hike. Maybe St. Mary’s Glacier for a nice view or up to Evergreen for a walk around the lake. On the way back stop for a gluten free beer from Holidaily in Golden. They typically have plenty of patio space and a delicious food truck all certified gluten free. Come back to Denver and hang out in Washington Park. Head out for dinner someone delicious like Linger or Uncle. I also like to walk around places like Milk Market or Avanti because they feel like fancy food courts. Sharing food with community is something I miss most about pre-pandemic life.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
In 2020 I became a Mental Health First Aid instructor for both the adult and youth programs. My mom, Mary Gesing, is actually a therapist and MHFA instructor in Iowa, where I’m from. She was a huge support and inspiration for me to get trained as an instructor. I was lucky to grow up with parents who taught me empathy and systemic thinking. It was really instilled in me that everyone deserves respect and support. I also learned if you have education or privilege it’s your job to pass it on and lift others up. I think MHFA is a great example of doing just that. Mental health needs to be treated as a public health issue. Even in 2021 there is still so much stigma around asking for help or needing medication. We can’t rely on mental health professionals to do all the work because most people don’t even make it to the professionals. They suffer in silence or die way too early. People are way more likely to seek help if someone they know suggests it. That’s why MHFA is SO crucial. Also, shout out to my therapist over the years! Being a therapist for a therapist is a special kind of struggle.
Jennifer Davis made the “Change the System” art displayed in our office. https://www.jenniferdavisart.com/ I wanted to highlight her work as it represents our systemic approach to therapy.