Queer therapist who "grew up in gayness" helps with body image and life transitions

LHC: Hey there, welcome to “Let's make a health connection.” In this podcast, we introduce the interview and showcase the many healthcare providers and resources that we feature on our website, I'm Jennifer Barber, and I'm a licensed clinical social worker in Washington and Oregon, and I'm happy to be part of the local health connect provider community. Today we're talking to Stephanie Wickman, who goes by pronouns, she/her. Stephanie identifies as a queer able-bodied, curvy-bodied white woman with learning differences. She is a clinical social worker and drama therapist who opened her private practice, Riverway Counseling, in 2019. For over 16 years, she's helped those affected by chronic illness and mental health challenges. Stephanie's passionate about working with lgbtqia+ communities working through various life adjustments such as grief and loss, relationship stress, changing careers, or coping with work and family. Stephanie loves to work, in particular from a strengths-based and feminist framework, helping all people come to more peace with their bodies and relationship with food. She also has an extensive theater and comedy background and likes to incorporate humor metaphors and parts of self-work into therapeutic relationships. Stephanie Hello, That's a lot. You have had a significant background. That's a big intro. I like it.

SW: It sounds so great!

LHC: Oh my gosh, so tell us a little bit about this background.

SW: Sure, you know, I started out in social work, and I've also been an actor and an improviser comedian. Early in my career, I learned about theater for social change and I worked with houseless youth in Portland. This was in my early 20s, and I started doing outreach theater with them. They had a program there because they had some funding and we did, you know, they created their own plays and that's what started my theater for change journey. And then you know, more and more, I was like, I think, I need more clinical experience, so I went back for my grad degree at Portland State, and since then, let's see…

LHC: Yea, Portland state!

SW: My career has just gone to lots of different places. I worked in hospitals and mental health settings. I think of lots of different agencies, lots of different groups. I think mostly that a lot of the themes are queer. Career identified types of issues that arise, and then body image is a theme for me, but also chronic illness. a lot with folks who had been affected by cancer and disordered eating. So I think that a lot of the folks I work with are impacted by either having a family member or being themselves.

LHC: Are you meeting people in person, online, or a combination of the two?

SW: It's a mix. I have some people who just do virtual and other people who are a mix. Sometimes I find that someone will just want to come in once or twice to meet me in person so they get a good sense of me. We can kind of tune in energetically, and then we're back to virtual people. They say, "Oh, I feel, I feel more connected to you now, but I want to stay in my slippers." Yes, definitely. I don't know about you, but I'm wearing my slippers right now. I got cozy socks.

LHC: Cozy socks I love the virtual world. This background of history that you're talking about just makes me think that there's so much creativity and, as a therapist, I think a lot of people who connect with that creativity have that creative mind & might be curious about how you would incorporate creativity into the therapeutic process room. Can you talk a little bit about that?

SW: So really, it's just opening up that space for whatever makes the most sense to that client and what's happening in the room. Sometimes I might introduce it in a session. Hey, instead of checking in on how you're doing and saying it verbally, how would you like to do something like a movement just based on how you're doing today? So that you're actually engaging the body, or it could look like, "I really want to give you a gift today and it could be like an imaginary present." I have this box for you. If you open it up, it's filled with light and you can put it in your pocket. when you're in your work meeting and feeling calm. It's like we invite imagination into the space. And sometimes it might look like a creative writing exercise for somebody, or I've had artist clients who are musicians who want to do some song writing or write some lyrics based on what's happening for them. So I just really encourage bringing that in and realizing that we don't have to be talking heads the whole time. I think there's an element of humor too.

LHC: I think that when people read bios and maybe even listen to this podcast, they hear that you incorporate creativity and also humor. Sometimes people relax a little bit. It's like, okay, this person isn't stuffy right? So tell me a little bit about the humor piece. How do you connect with that?

SW: I just love how it works in the session and, you know, laughter really does help. It does connect a lot of the times when you're in the most pain and suffering. A lot of times you just want to go boom, you know, you want to literally think, everything is falling apart, and here I am, and we're like, everything is falling apart.

LHC: Yes right

SW: So it's just like holding the hard dark shadow places also with that, like the kind of human element of it, and seeing the themes. So I feel like compassion and humor are really good cousins, companions, or something like that. I mean, it's almost like we need it just like hope, right? Of course, those things that sometimes we can't connect to, and of course, if someone is Using humor to avoid that, then it's like, "okay, what's happening here?" There's a joke versus let's get to the heart of what's happening.

LHC: Do you work with kids?

SW: You know, I actually used to, but so far I've mostly been working with young adults and adults. I do have some adolescent clients, and I would take a couple of adolescents. I would say mostly older teens, young adults and adults. There's so much in that older teen group.

LHC: I read in your bio that you're talking about transitions and that age group is just so rich and full.

SW: It's an exciting time to be working with someone. Sometimes you know, they’re like, "no, that's stupid. I do not want to do that." I'm like, okay, on to something else.

LHC: You also say that you have a passion for working with the lgbtqia+ community, and I just want to stop for just a second and acknowledge and thank you so much for opening your doors to all people, especially this population. So, can you tell us a little bit about working with queer clients and what drew you to that and keeps you there?

SW: I myself identify as queer. I actually saw a little bit about my background. It's like generationally. I grew up with two dads along with my mother and her spouse. So I grew up in gayness, basically from a young age, and I know how much that can impact somebody formatively. Also, there are so many different nuances to that and walking through the world with those kinds of lenses. I'm really open to understanding, and there's a lot. I'm in that umbrella. They're just like, I am a cis woman. I work with a lot of trans clients, but I have to continually do training, and you know the person who's across from me is the expert because I don't have that lived experience. So I have to keep coming in and working on being humble because even though I'm in the umbrella, there's so much diversity and experience of gender identity and sexuality. There are so many different aspects, it's just so rich, but there aren't enough services. I think there aren't enough places for queer folks to come in just to be themselves or explore this idea of, like, what I've been. I feel like I'm stepping into masculinity and femininity and I feel like it vacillates for me from day to day. I don't know how to express it and being able to just be in a space where you can hold that for somebody so that they can become more and more their authentic best selves.

LHC: I love that. Again, thank you so much. Thanks for answering that question too. Tell us a little bit about working with people who have body image eating disorders and kind of what your background is with this and what people might expect when they're thinking, "This is something that I want to be working toward" or how might you begin work with someone who comes in with those issues?

SW: It's so hard to actually come in to address these things. I've worked in a lot of different eating disorder settings. There are so many different levels of care, like inpatient, where someone needs to be hospitalized versus somebody who's just discovering that they're coming into disorder. And they haven't really thought about it that much, and they just realized, "Oh my gosh, this is happening to me." So there's just such a wide range and there's a spectrum of disordered eating and dieting culture which I think affects everybody. Everybody who I see is affected by diet culture and then all the way to sort of feeling out of control and having those thoughts about food in their body that are just so hard. I think, coming in, where is this person at and also, if it's disordered eating, I often need a team of other people to work with, like a dietitian, because I work within our own spheres. So there's no handling so much of the food pieces, but it's also a position depending on where someone is in their care. We need to monitor this too because this is, unfortunately, some of the presentations include isolation secrecy. Part of you with disordered eating wants to be seen and wants to heal, and other parts are like, "No, I need that." We absolutely need this. This has kept me safe. This is my coping. I can't let go of restricting myself. I can't let go of binging. It's really holding both things and trying to almost like I'm learning more and more as I've gone from working almost from a harm reduction perspective. But sometimes it's like, "Okay, you need to go to treatment right now." Yes, it can be that way at times.How do we get you major help? Which is really hard because some people aren't ready even though they need it. At least, what can we do to minimize risk for you? What can we do to hold this space for you when it's so hard and so distressing to make this choice of coming in to get help?

LHC: You had asked me to talk a little bit or ask you about the macro and social justice lens as it pertains to body image and eating disorders. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

LW Yeah, sure. So I think and, of course, coming from a social work perspective, I think a lot of the time, especially with body image, pieces of I'm not I'm not good enough. or. "You know, I need to lose this much weight and then I'll be okay and then it'll be right." Then the voices come into our heads. You're not doing enough. You shouldn't have eaten that. Well, what's happening right? So I really won't like to work with people on kind of deconstructing and stepping outside and going, "Okay, where are these voices coming from?" Are these outside voices right? Sophia Renee Taylor. She's got it. The bodies are an apology, but she talks about outside voices versus inside voices and how we often internalize them as our own. It's our own truth when it's like, "Wait a minute, whose voice is that?" That's society's voice. That's a patriarchal voice. We've made them our own. So it's like helping normalize how common this is and how hard this is. It takes away some of the shame and blame that come with it. I'd really like to come at it from just really looking at those environmental pieces and also generationally. So it's like all this we learn from our parents or where did our mothers or our fathers get their messages? So it sort of helps with that thread.

LHW: Tell me about your approach. Is there a specific approach or theory base that you tend to work from or that you're more comfortable with?

SW: I mean, I feel like I'm pretty honest, pretty eclectic and open. I definitely use a lot of motivational interviewing and come from a strengths-based approach. So there's even when it's so bad or when someone's like, "See? "No one wants to work with me or there's nothing good. It's like, okay let's find something there. You got up today. You took a shower. That is really something. It's just really trying to find what the challenges are but also what this person is doing already and trying to work on that to build confidence. Sometimes I love mindfulness-based pieces. I think I do use quite a bit of CBT too, because I think it helps. It's almost like mindfulness-based CBT. If I were to kind of put it into a bracket just because I feel like it needs to be both working on what's happening and working on our thoughts and in our head and our behaviors. Also stop, pause and really try to work on being in the present throughout the work.

LHC: You explain that fabulously. So tell me where you practice. Where can people find you, either online or in person?

SW: I have a fabulous office in Officer's Row. This is three days a week.

LHC: I do want the address.

SW: So it's 951 Officers Row. It's a really lovely location, and actually we can offer maybe a little bit of walk and talk or being outside in nature, which is really cool for that setting. I have an all virtual day, which is Thursday, but I weave in virtual sessions at the office too. So Mondays to Thursdays are my days.

LHC: Great. How might people find you online?

SW: It's I do have a Facebook page. That's riverway counseling. r-i-v-e-r-w-a-y.

LHC: Yeah, we will add those to the show notes. So, anybody listening to this, they'll have a little tag at the end of the video so they can go directly to the website and Facebook.

SW: Wonderful yeah.

LHC: Do you have anything you want to share with people that might help just kind of connect you to them a little more closely? Yeah, thoughts or maybe even share things that you might have coming up or things that you're working on right now.

SW: Yeah well. I mean, in my personal life, it's just getting back into improv. Doing some comedy around town. I feel like people are sort of returning, right? and we're supposed to be okay. It's like we're supposed to be productive and it's now we're, "Let's move on" and people are so not ready or need more holding or more space for what has happened. Not even before the pandemic, but before that, right? So I just think I just know that I have a big heart space and understand struggle even though I don't have your lived experience of struggle and just knowing that comes in. It's important to come in and have someone just be with you during this. I'd love to get to know new clients and offer help if I can.

LHC: So Stephanie Wickman with Riverway Counseling, thank you so much for being here today for doing this interview and letting people know that you're out there and who you are and I appreciate you.

SW: Thank you. Thank you, Jen.

LHC: All right, have a great day.

SW: Okay, thanks. Thanks again for listening to Let's make a health connection. Find us online at as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Links and show notes for this interview are available on our podcast page. These interviews are really fun, and I hope you made a health connection today. We'll talk again next time. Let's make a health connection, copyright 2022, is the property of MBS Therapy, LLC, a Washington-based company. Local health care is inclusive and does not endorse any political or religious group. Thank you again for listening, and we'll see you next time on

By Jennifer Barber, LICSW 5-9-2022