Mental Health Meets Comic-Con: A Picture of Creativity and Innovation with Southeast Psych
Psych Spotlight is an ongoing series with PsychMaven where we highlight points of interest, intrigue, and innovation around mental health knowledge and practice; whether that is in films, books, treatment providers, or whatever else we find arresting. This entry covers the psychotherapy practice, Southeast Psych.
It was in the fall of 2014 that I first became aware of this practice; and it is amazing how we can come across inspiration when we are not even looking for it.
I was planning a live training I was set to do with my continuing education group, the Narrative Institute. I had never done a training in the Charlotte, NC area before; and I did not have any professional contacts nearby. What drew me there was simply strategic, Charlotte was a major metropolitan area in the southeast and was only a few hours’ drive for me to reach. I had already done successful trainings in Nashville and Atlanta, and I was looking to simply further expand my teaching business and Charlotte seemed like a logical next step (and if you have an interest in learning about how to do your own CE events, check out our course here).
There are downsides, though, in trying to get enrollment for a CE training in a new town, and I was hustling to get the word out. One of my main methodologies back then was to get on the therapist directory with Psychology Today, and systematically go through the listings and collecting contact information for therapists. I would then go through and individually reach out to each therapist that I thought would have interest in the training and invite them to come join us. The work was tedious, but it was an effective way to spread the word and had the secondary consequence of allowing me to become familiar with the clinical landscape of Charlotte. It was in this process that I discovered Southeast Psych. I must have found a profile of a particular provider which led me to their website, I am not sure who, but once I started cruising through their site I was blown away. See this video for their story:
Founded in 2000 by psychologists Dave Verhaagen and Frank Gaskill, Southeast Psych inspired me from the start. When I got to the page on their website listing their clinicians, they had each of their providers listed with standard professional pictures. But when I drew my mouse over each picture, they transformed into hand-drawn sketches of the comic book superhero alter ego of the therapist. Everything about how they presented themselves was tinged with references to modern fantasy and pop culture. It was fun to look at! And that was something exceptional about this experience, it was fun and different. Before this point, I had spent dozens of hours scrolling through therapist website after therapist website. Some were certainly more attractive and better organized than others, but I had not yet come across a practice website that gave me a story of a place that was fun.
As I explored their content further, I realized that their tongue-in-cheek approach was not without substance. They had extensive resources for their community, particularly around services to school-aged children and neuro-diversity. They were doing classes and camps, therapy groups, and educational webinars. I was not leading my own therapy practice yet, but I remember thinking then that when I got to that stage in my career, I wanted to take note some of their innovations. As I explored further, looking at YouTube postings and other writeups. I was further inspired by the culture of camaraderie and humor. A great example of this is one of their “Quiznapped” videos here:
I was very much hoping that I could connect further with this group at my training. I contacted the CEO of the practice, Dr. Craig Pohlman, to let him know about the upcoming event I was planning. He graciously emailed me back and told me he would spread the word, but he also noted that they had an autism training scheduled for the same day that most of their staff was already committed to. I was unable to meet anyone in the practice at that point, but I have stayed engaged as a fan.
In 2016, the practice opened a secondary location in Nashville, TN (with a classmate of mine from my Masters program, Dr. Brittany Rader, joining the staff). I also enjoy the videos and podcasts that they put out with Shrink Tank, where they explore the psychological dynamics of pop-culture. See one of my favorite recent videos with therapist Jonathan Hetterly, talking about Avengers Endgame, here:
Southeast Psych provided inspiration to me that I have carried in my journey as a clinician. I was not necessarily inspired to do a comic book theme therapy practice, because true inspiration more often inspires us in our own creativity as opposed to just copying somebody else’s. I felt I was given a permission to not leave mental health in the few and small boxes with which we are constantly presented. That there is a space for creativity and innovation in the work that we do. We hope that as you read this and explore their practice, it might give you your own inspiration. Learn more about Southeast Psych at www.southeastpsych.com
S. David Hall, PsyD serves as the Chief Maven of PsychMaven. He is a psychotherapist and supervisor, and is the founder of Haven Family Psychiatry in Knoxville, TN. He has served as the President for the Tennessee Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (TNAMFT) and as an adjunct professor with Richmont Graduate University.