Throughout her life, Jessica Thomas was seen as a person people could feel comfortable in sharing their feelings with. As a mental health and substance abuse counselor at Viva Wellness, she applies her skills to listening to clients and hopes to see more underrepresented voices in her field.

Growing up as the youngest in her family, Thomas had the opportunity to witness the lives of her siblings while receiving a sense of freedom.

She was always looked to as a good listener in her friend group, which made sense, given her current career as a mental health counselor. “My friends knew they could speak to me, because I showed empathy towards others and I came from a place of no judgement,” Thomas said.

As a Black, first-generation immigrant, Thomas discusses her experience going to Pace University for her bachelor’s degree.

“There was definitely a class dynamic,” Thomas said. “There were very few people that looked like me, which played a role in showing that I care, taking up space and finding places of support.”

After working at Pace’s counseling and LGBTQIA centers, Thomas noticed that many of the students shared the same issues of stress and transitioning into a new stage of their life away from their families. She noticed the disparity between who would usually take advantage of mental health resources.

“I hoped that more Black people and people of color were represented there,” Thomas said. “We deserve to have safe spaces where we don’t have to explain ourselves.”

She believes that Pace sparked her interest in pursuing psychology, but continuing her education at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology solidified her passion for the profession to become a therapist.

Now, Thomas (MHC-LP, CASAC-T) works as a mental health and substance abuse counselor at Viva Wellness.

Jor-el Caraballo, the co-founder of Viva Wellness, personally hired Thomas along with his business partner over a year ago. As Thomas’s supervisor, Caraballo believes that her thoughtfulness makes her a great member of the team.

“One of her best qualities is that she’s very kind to people,” Caraballo said. “She wants to make sure they feel supported and safe when they are sharing information with her.”

When she told her family about her career path, they were supportive. As fellow health professionals, they knew how important it was to be represented in fields where people of color have traditionally been excluded.

Since her career consists of listening and reacting to sensitive information from her clients, it’s important for her to also find a space where she can reflect on her emotions.

“I de-stress by going on weekly walks and listening to a guided meditation or healing sound bath provided by my favorite Black Wellness Healers,” Thomas said. “Lastly, I dedicate time to challenge myself to acknowledge the feeling that is occurring, sit with the feeling, and self-reflect on what is leading to my feeling of stress.”

When asked about her predictions on what mental health would look like in the future, she wants the field to become inclusive for groups who may have been left out of the conversation.

“I see mental health counseling continuing to become normalized as a necessary and go to resource for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC),” Thomas said. “I hope the mental health field sees an increase in BIPOC, especially those that belong within the intersections of LGBTQAI+ becoming therapists/counselors.”