It’s nice to connect!
I’m Tammy Whitten and I’m a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist.
But once upon a time, I was a little girl, and I was scared of the dark, terrified of snakes, and sometimes I would wake up from nightmares about something happening to my family.
Today, I’m all grown-up (well, as grown-up as I’ll ever be), and I’m still not a fan of the dark, I’m terrified of snakes, and I occasionally have the nightmare about something happening to my family. Thank goodness they are just dreams and not real.
In the time between then and now, I’ve managed to add some new fears to my list. I always thought that when I grew up, I wouldn’t be afraid of things anymore. I thought grown-ups had magical powers and secret knowledge that made them invincible to things like worry and fears.
Oh what I discovered once I crossed the threshold from childhood to adulthood! As an adult, I have stress, I get anxious, I make mistakes, and I have to keep finding ways to “keep on keeping on” as my grandpa would say. I would say that makes me pretty normal (though I do believe that being human and being authentic is a magical power).
Some days are harder than others, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t like those hard days so much. So I set out to find that “secret” knowledge that I thought I would suddenly have once I became an adult. And that’s why I’m here. I want to share what I’ve learned with you.
How I Got that Knowledge…
I remember the day before I started college. It’s the day I changed my major. I had waffled for a bit on whether I wanted to go to med school or I wanted to become a therapist. The day before my 18th birthday, I decided to go the therapy route. I haven’t looked back.
In college, I studied human development “from womb to tomb” as we joked about it. It was fascinating learning how we begin to learn and take in the world around us, and how that influences us for the rest of our life.
One of the hardest classes I took was “Language Development.” I still have the textbook, the accompanying guide, and all of my notes from that class. It was a doozy, but I can’t tell you how many times I have used what I learned from that class in my work with children who have been abused, couples who can’t get on the same page, and with people who are feeling down because they can’t seem to get anything right.
From having to observe and categorize the types of play toddlers and preschoolers were doing in their classrooms to working with school-aged children who didn’t know English and helping them to learn another language, my time was filled with lots of hands-on work so I could really learn how to bring what was in the textbooks to life.
My favorite moments in undergrad happened during my internship. I spent hundreds of hours working with families who were in labor and delivery, NICU, PICU, and the children’s hospital. I sat by the beds of women who were on bedrest from pre-eclampsia and other delicate situations during their pregnancies. I wheeled them down to see their infants for the first time in the NICU, hooked up to so many machines. I cried with them when they had miscarriages. I grieved with them when their children passed away, and I celebrated when after months of being at the hospital, they were able to take their child home.
It was a humbling experience that I will always treasure.
After college, it was time to test out what my professors had taught me. And did I put it to the test! There were times I scrunched up my face during lectures, and I thought, “This will never work with a real kid. A family in crisis doesn’t want to hear that.”
But when I was faced with some situations, I was at a loss for what to do. So I did what popped in my head- the things they had taught me. I wasn’t sure if it would work or not. However, I was desperate and so were the families. We needed to try anything for some change to happen.
Guess what? It worked! Even the stuff I wasn’t so sure about. Every time I saw a smile cross the face of the struggling students I was working with in the school system, I was thankful for the hours of studying I did on Friday nights during college.
I really got to test things out when I was hired to open a local office for a national non-profit organization. That had been a dream of mine for a long time. It was a life changing experience that is still one of my favorite memories. I loved the families we worked with, and I loved my co-workers. Once more, I got to use what I had learned, and even better, I got to add more to it.
One evening, I was to work with a client. It just so happened that his mom was a big name in our local community. She, too, knew her stuff about human development. My boss was also in town visiting that day. So I had two people sitting on the sideline while I was working with a sweet, energetic five year-old boy, so he could play on a local team- with his disability.
I don’t know what made me more nervous: being observed by those two women I looked up to or having to play a sport (I’m terribly unathletic). As I made my way out to the practice field, I was shaking. My boss said something to me that I have never forgotten in a moment of uncertainty: “You know more than you think you know.”
Since that evening, I have uttered those words so many times to my clients. When they aren’t sure which choice to make, I softly say, “You know more than you think you know.”
When one of the kids I was working with wasn’t sure if they knew how to solve the task in front of them, “You know more than you think you know.”
When a parent comes to me unsure how to help their child heal after a family event, “You know more than you think you know.”
Those words have been a blessing.
But I Needed More…
Even though I could write treatment plans to help my clients and their families in every aspect of their lives, I still felt like I was missing a big piece.
For a few years I wrestled with the idea of going back to school. Finally, I decided to just apply. If I got in, great. I’d go and learn more wonderful stuff. If not, then I put that urge aside and just focus on what I was doing.
Going back to school for marriage and family therapy changed my life. It has allowed me to be able to help others to change their lives- an honor that I don’t take lightly.
During graduate school, I continued to work with special needs families, in the hospital and in the community. I testified in court cases regarding the safety of my clients. I put everything together: develop of our minds, hearts, and bodies across a lifetime paired with the events that inevitably happen that aren’t anyone’s favorites. I wanted to be able to help my clients to recover from heartache, crisis, tragedy, and the worst ones of all- feeling unloved and without hope.
After grad school, I was invited to join the faculty at East Carolina University as a full-time instructor. I loved helping the students to feel the same excitement I did as they worked with children and families.
But I missed working with the families myself. So I decided to open my private practice, where I continue to work today.
How I Serve my Clients Today
As I worked with clients, it became clear to me that the biggest health issue we face is anxiety- and it’s two closely related cousins stress and depression.
Anxiety, stress, and depression show up everywhere. From worrying about being able to sleep, how to tell someone what’s on your mind, or finding your focus so you get everything done on your list, daily life is certainly impacted by worry.
But let a bigger, more intense situation happen, like questioning the impact your divorce will have on your kids, to healing from abusive situations, struggling to eat and keep down your meals everyday or coping with panic attacks, and you may feel anxiety, stress, and depression all at once.
Because of that common thread that runs through many of life’s situations, I’ve set my focus on learning how to navigate through those worries that impact you, you and your children, and you and your relationship.
Part of my practice centers on providing counseling and therapy services to local clients.
The other part of my practice focuses on providing education on these topics to hopefully prevent you from ever getting to that intense, crisis stage of living. This is what I call Family Life Education, and I provide this online and in my office. Most of this is unveiled through my other website, WomenManagingStress.com. Feel free to check it out and to join me there if you like.
Education and Training
- BS in Human Development/Family & Community Services from East Carolina University
- MS in Marriage & Family Therapy from East Carolina University
- Certified Family Life Educator from the National Council on Family Relations
- Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in North Carolina and Virginia
- Accredited Triple P Provider for Level 2 and Level 3 by Triple P International
- Emotionally Focused Therapy Externship from the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT) and the Greensboro Charlotte Center for Emotional Focused Therapy (GCCEFT)
- Core Skills in Emotionally Focused Therapy from ICEEFT and Washington Baltimore Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy (WBCEFT)