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Beauty in Healing

Reclaim helps Minnesota queer and trans youth access mental health services


Tucked away on Raymond Avenue, no more than a block or two from the light rail, sits a quaint little storefront. Unassuming from the outside, you’d be surprised by how much takes place in its walls. For some it’s a safe space and a place for counsel, for others it’s a place for learning and self-discovery, and for some it’s home.

This place is  Reclaim, a center offering mental health support to queer, trans and gender-nonconforming youth.

Since 2013, Reclaim has served as a welcoming space providing therapy to youth ages 13-25, who are often marginalized because of their gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. It is one of the several LGBTQ+ organizations funded by the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation.

“We have a team of very skilled master’s-level clinicians and therapists who work with our youth using a variety of different modalities,” said Reclaim executive director Felicia Washington-Sy. “We help youth using our clinical tools, particularly narrative therapy, to be able to address their own issues of anxiety and depression as well as ways that they can interact with their environments that improve their ability to cope.”

At Reclaim, therapists work to provide youth uncovering who they are with support and resources to move through a world that’s not always equitable and understanding. Its therapy team is made up of individuals who all represent the LGBTQ+ community, offering not only a listening ear, but an empathetic perspective.

Since the 1930s, there has been a significant shift in the number of individuals who suffer from anxiety and depression. The reasons for this spike include many factors, ranging from career to finances, responsibilities, family proximity and even identity. According to the 2018 survey on  Stress in America conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), 21 percent of Generation Z (ages 9-22) reported dealing with gender issues relating to their sexual orientation and identity as a significant source of stress.

“One of the primary tools that therapists have is their ability to engage a client,” said Felicia. “At Reclaim you don't have to teach someone about what they are going through because the clinicians themselves are very likely to have experienced some of the same anxieties and triggers.”

Art therapy lets youth positively express themselves

One of the ways Reclaim lets youth positively express their healing journey is at its annual event, Art Heals. Each year, Art Heals brings together queer and trans youth as well as local queer and trans community artists to celebrate the healing power of creative expression.

“Art therapy is a therapeutic modality that focuses on visual and metaphorical tools for healing emotional suffering. It is a way of externalizing the feelings that cause pain,” said art therapist Quinn Rivenburgh. Through the medium of art, Quinn provides support to their young clients as they handle everyday struggles as well as challenges that come with exploring and defining identity.

“In my sessions for youth who may be interested, I work to help them craft what they're going to include in Art Heals,” said Quinn. “For a lot of kids who have had to hide their identities or not be themselves with their families, at school or in church, having an art show like Art Heals can be a powerful therapeutic moment. In this art show they are revealing true versions of themselves, and still get to maintain some safety in being anonymous if that's what makes them feel safer and more comfortable.”

In their experience as a therapist, art has made it easier for individuals to work out their trauma.

“When we’re in these overwhelming experiences, our brain processes those experiences differently,” said Quinn. “Our brain is very good at surviving and protecting us from this traumatic material, and sometimes talking about it doesn’t help you feel healed. Art has a way of bypassing some of our brain’s defenses against handling these traumatic memories, becoming a powerful vehicle for change.”

This work has not only benefited the youth Quinn works with, but them as well.

“Every day I feel so grateful to be able to witness my clients' journeys and their self-discovery,” said Quinn. Like a GPS, they consider their work guiding youth as they take their trip through life, dealing with all types of relationships, be it with parents, friends or partners. Quinn loves that “Reclaim is a safe place where youth can be them.”

In addition to working with LGBTQ+ youth, Reclaim also offers family counseling and does trainings in Saint Paul Public Schools specifically addressing issues of bias and discrimination in an effort to provide understanding and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.

For more information about the work they do, visit Reclaim's website.

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