5 Excellent Psychologist Writers Discuss the Importance of Mental Health

Five psychologist authors discuss mental health tips, reducing stigma around treatment, and their personal journeys.

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Mental health is just as important as physical health. It influences our overall health as well as how we see and interact with those around us. We’re now surrounded by more positive and welcome conversations around mental health. However, stigma and negative sentiments still live on. For this interview, we’ve gathered five women psychologist authors working on championing mental health and reducing negativity surrounding the much-needed topic. They share their motivation to write about mental health, their personal journeys, reducing stigma, tips for boosting well-being, as well as their book(s) and other books to help others on their journey.

Dr. Sonia R. Banks

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Dr. Sonia R. Banks is a results-driven clinical psychologist and behavioral health strategist who makes the most of the transitions we all go through when reaching our desired goals. Dr. Banks uses behavioral play to change attitudes and introduce people to their “Possible Selves.” She unleashes potential by challenging assumptions that limit our effectiveness and uses a person-centered approach to empower you to live your unique life and turn inner thoughts into spoken words that can lead to amazing resolutions. She currently leads a passionate process to improve quality of life and, through @Play, infuses playful activities as a tool for consulting, coaching, and team engagement, inspiring everyone from executives and entrepreneurs to couples and families.

Dr. Michele Owens

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Dr. Michele Owens is an acclaimed psychologist and educator known for her ability to support while challenging, inspire while facilitating, and to identify opportunities to enhance growth and new perspectives. Passionate about healthy relationship development for women, couples, and adolescents in low-income and minority communities, she designs and conducts workshops on diversity, multiculturalism, and relationship enhancement, where she facilitates challenging and impactful conversations. Her mission: to release the stigma associated with mental health concerns and treatment in these communities. If you ask her what it’s all about, she’s likely to tell you that what matters most is “who you love and who loves you back.” Appearing on several media outlets, with printed features in Essence and Jet, her writings can also be found in the award-winning book Psychotherapy with African American Women and in The Psychology of Black Boys and Adolescents.

Dr. Linda Anderson

Dr. Linda Anderson
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Dr. Linda Anderson is a highly sought-after clinical psychologist, life coach, and therapist guiding you to enhance your power, achieve your goals, and sustain a happy, healthy lifestyle. Driven to achieve results with flexibility and a cooperative spirit, she possesses the unique ability to engage, encourage, and enlighten with the understanding of how to navigate life’s relationships using the power of mental wellness to engage in successful work-life balance. Her research investigating women’s perceptions of power and their vulnerability to coerced sexual experiences has led her to teach, write, and counsel women from a perspective of critical compassion and empowerment.

Dr. Donna Oriowo

Photo of Dr. Donna Oriowo.

Dr. Donna Oriowo (oreo-whoa!) LICSW, CST is an award-winning DEI advocate, international speaker, and certified sex and relationship therapist in the Washington, D.C. metro area. She owns a private practice, AnnodRight, through which she works with Black women on issues related to colorism and texturism and its impacts on mental and sexual health. Dr. Oriowo specializes in helping Black women to feel free, fabulous, and f*cked! She is the author of Cocoa Butter & Hair Grease: A Self Love Journey Through Hair and Skin and the host of a weekly family meeting for Black women called “In My Black Feelings.”

Dr. Claire Nicogossian

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Dr. Claire is a licensed clinical psychologist with over twenty years of experience as a therapist. She is passionate about well-being and self-care for mothers and writes on these topics at MomsWellBeing.com, Mother.ly, ThriveGlobal.com, HuffingtonPost, Scary Mommy, Dr. Oz, mothering.com, and the Today Show Community Parenting Team. You can listen to her podcast, In-Session with Dr. Claire. As a mom to four girls, she knows first-hand the importance of self-care in motherhood and encourages moms — and dads — to place priority on personal well-being. She has created online resources and quizzes for parents: “Are You a Burned-Out Mom?,” “Are You a Burned-Out Dad?,” and “How is Your Well-Being and Self-Care?

The Questions

1. What motivated you to become an author focusing on mental health topics?

Dr. Sonia R. Banks: As a clinical psychologist, my focus is on helping people to flourish, and the best way to ensure that happens is to write a book about it.

Dr. Michele Owens: I have been working in the field as a psychologist for many years. Throughout that time, I noticed that many of those I treated ran into difficulty based on internal stories they held about life, themselves, and others. They often got stuck expecting others to align with their silent beliefs and expectations, and they experienced any number of challenging emotions and relationship difficulties as a result. They weren’t talking about any of it either, so the potential for conflict and unhappy relationships with others was huge.

This was an issue my two co-authors and I discussed frequently. Since we know that not everyone is going to seek out formal professional help for their struggles, and we saw this phenomenon happen so often, we thought it was important to share these insights with a wider audience. In my case, I had written and presented on various topics to other clinicians, but writing this book was an opportunity to reach so many others. It also gave us an opportunity to relate our understanding of this in a way that our readers could use readily in their daily lives.

Dr. Linda Anderson: To impact others’ well-being and have more satisfying relationships at home, work, and play.

There is a good reason why we are “the doctors who feel the listening.” We are authors and clinical psychologists — Drs. Linda Anderson, Sonia Banks, and Michele Owens — who formed our own study group and decided to write this book. After observing the phenomenon of silent agreements in our work with patients, coaching clients, and business organizations, we recognized the impact of silent agreements, whether in the romantic arena, with family, friends, or at work. Over time, we developed a method of uncovering and addressing them for more open and effective communication, self-awareness, and overall relationship improvement. We also saw the benefit to those who adopted this approach and felt it important to share our approach with a wider audience, who might not otherwise be aware of how silent agreements might be affecting their lives.

We continue to explore and notice the ways silent agreements show up in our patients’ and clients’ lives. We also often uncovered and shared silent agreements we have had in our own lives. We got a lot of advice along the way, and everybody had a different idea about how to approach the book. Even so, everyone understood our concept and usually would end up sharing some examples of their own silent agreements.

At some point, about halfway in, we discovered that none of us were too fond of writing, but we had all been silent about it as we agreed to write the book anyway. We all got a good laugh out of that one since we write all the time together.

Dr. Donna Oriowo: I ended up in the mental health field by way of kismet. It was a combination of the right circumstances changing where I was going, and then people kept telling me their business.

Focusing on mental health topics is just the natural step for me. I am passionate about my work because I work with Black women. We know a lot about mental health, but there are some obvious and glaring holes I feel equipped to help fill.

Dr. Claire Nicogossian: I was motivated to become an author focusing on mental health when I became a mother. As a psychologist, I have a master’s in counseling and a doctorate in clinical psychology, and when I became a mother of premature twins, I started to experience overwhelming anxiety and physical and emotional exhaustion. In those early years of motherhood, I thought to myself, “How come no one is talking about how to manage emotions and take care of maternal mental health?”

I had two advanced degrees, years of experience and training, and I’m also a very rational, reasonable, and logical person — however, motherhood was a transition and role I was grateful for, and I felt perplexed, wishing I had been prepared by other mothers and medical professionals on how to manage and care for my emotions while caring for and raising children. And there was no book that I could find that addressed motherhood and the emotions and self-care needed in your tool kit of motherhood. So, I wrote that book, the book I needed when I first became a mother. What motivated me to pursue writing about motherhood and not the pretty, happy, what-you-see-on-social-media portrayal of motherhood was I wanted the raw, real, and relatable aspects of motherhood that I was experiencing myself and in the therapy hour supporting parents.

2. How has your personal journey with mental health shaped you as both a professional and an author in the field?

Dr. Sonia R. Banks: It helps the work to be able to live and write about the stories we tell ourselves that help us balance, buffer, and break down barriers at times.

Dr. Michele Owens: I grew up with a mother who always talked about people with compassion and concern. She was open to all kinds of people, often those who others easily dismissed, rejected, or denigrated. She had a gift for connecting with others, such that strangers everywhere would open up to her about their problems and struggles. I can’t count the number of conversations we had about who she met on a given day, their issues, and what feelings, motivations, and challenges lay behind their current circumstances. I believe I absorbed this curiosity about others and leaned toward wanting to understand what makes people tick. In the course of my growing up, I also was acquainted with several people — peers and others — whose mental health struggles were clear and impactful, so I grew up with a sense of how important it was for folks to get the mental health support they need.

At the same time, I had major concerns about improving the circumstances and well-being of the Black community. All of this fed into my decision to become a psychologist and included my desire to assist my community in addressing some of the pain and mental health challenges that exist there. As I began on this path, it was also clear that I needed to understand myself, and I have embraced that journey throughout. As such, my views on how to sustain one’s mental health have expanded over the years, and I have employed some of the same strategies for wellness that I share with those I treat.

Dr. Linda Anderson: I tell everyone who asks me “why would you want to be a therapist?” I always reply “I come by it completely honestly.” As a young child, I was the keeper of family secrets as told to me by my grandmother. I was the one she confided in. Little did she know she was grooming me for the profession I would enter years later! Trying to understand people’s motivations has always fascinated me.

Dr. Donna Oriowo: My personal journey has helped me to better relate to and understand what others could be going through, while allowing me to speak about it in a way that is pretty easily understood and is authentic to me.

I am often using my personal experiences or what my friends have gone through to let others know that they are not alone. Sometimes, that’s all we need.

Dr. Claire Nicogossian: My personal journey with mental health started in my family of origin. I am the daughter of a first-generation immigrant, my father, who came to the United States as an adult for his medical residency. My mother is a retired emergency department nurse of 50 years. In my family, we didn’t talk about emotions, or feelings, and I think there are many reasons for that. One, my parents’ careers were in the medical field, often focusing on physical ailments and symptoms; two, as a daughter of an immigrant, it’s a luxury to focus on emotions. Instead, the message was to get an education for stability and security, work hard, contribute to your field, and make a better life for yourself and your family. This is what was encouraged rather than talking about mental health.

I was the one in my family who always wanted to understand the individual and what they were going through. I was very curious about mental health. I was very curious about different cultures, about the symptoms that people have in their lives, and I wanted to find solutions to problems and circumstances. Fast-forward to motherhood, and I began to have experiences and emotional reactions to motherhood that I needed help and guidance on, which is why I felt inspired to write my book. I knew other mothers felt like I did and that I was not alone.

3. What actions can individuals take to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health treatment and related issues?

Dr. Sonia R. Banks: Talk to a professional when the pressures impacting you exceed your internal emotional resources to manage them. Everyone needs three ways to stay mentally fit and at their top mental performance: a. a coach, b. a therapist, and c. a spiritual director.

Dr. Michele Owens: One of the ways that the stigma will diminish is for more and more people to talk openly about their personal experiences with mental health issues and treatment. This can certainly be done on an individual level, but businesses, organizations, religious organizations, media outlets, etc. can do a lot if they enter the conversation and sustain it as a priority. While there has certainly been some movement in that regard — largely because of the information explosion online and sharing of experiences on social media — we still have a way to go. As we open up these conversations more, it is also important that those of us who are trained in the field share what we know in as many ways as possible so that accurate and up-to-date information is available to the public.

Dr. Linda Anderson: These are some resources: taking time to share with people we trust in safe spaces to see we are not alone, finding opportunities to learn more about mental health through media, films (i.e. Antoine Fisher, Rainman, and many more ), reading select books, listening to podcasts, and many more online opportunities that emphasize health and wellness. We must overcome our reluctance to ask for help from trusted others who would never shame us for being vulnerable.

Dr. Donna Oriowo: We can talk about mental health with the same ease we would use when speaking about our favorite snacks, about catching a cold, or about something we recently saw on TV. Speaking up about it more and not cloaking it in shame means we reduce the stigma, make it mundane, and take that salaciousness out of it.

Dr. Claire Nicogossian: The first thing that we can do as an individual to reduce the stigma around mental health is to be open and talk about our own mental health and become advocates for mental health by reducing isolation and shame by sharing our stories. Mental health is part of our overall well-being, including our physical health. I often hear in therapy hour, while supporting clients and patients, that mental health issues are character flaws, that a person isn’t trying hard enough, and that a person is “lazy.” These beliefs perpetuate the stigma of mental health. Symptoms of mental health, such as depression or anxiety, can show up as low motivation, fatigue, lack of energy, and inability to be productive. If we label a person as lazy, we are judging them instead of being compassionate and curious about what someone’s experiencing. We can provide them with support and less judgment.

When we don’t understand someone’s experience, if we can take the curious approach and try to understand what they may be experiencing, we instantly reduce the stigma of mental health. And practically speaking, there are certain words that I do not use in my description of things, which include the words “crazy,” “nuts,” or “insane.” These words perpetuate the stigma of mental health and are rooted in a history of psychiatry and psychology that are quite outdated and unhelpful.

4. What are some easy methods individuals can incorporate into their daily routine to care for their mental health?

Dr. Sonia R. Banks: Morning meditation with journal writing followed by exercise and reflection.

Dr. Michele Owens: There are so many ways that we can incorporate efforts to support our mental health into our daily lives. I am a big advocate for pausing to exist in the moment. One method that I suggest is a mindfulness technique using your five senses. You can do this anywhere, but doing it while out in nature is extra special. You simply pause to observe five things that you see, four that you feel, three that you hear, two that you smell, and one that you taste. It is an easy way to let go of thoughts about what happened before or what’s coming up next, and it tends to help you relax, regain perspective, and enjoy existing in the moment. It can also be a stress buster at work or when facing a difficult circumstance.

I also stress having good sleep hygiene, as so much can fall by the wayside when we are sleep deprived — not the least of which is concentration, memory, and mood stability. I encourage folks to develop a sleep routine that clearly marks the end of your waking hours and allows your brain to fully register that you are winding down to go to sleep. For some, it is journaling, listening to music, sipping some tea, or relaxing with a book. Find what works for you and incorporate it with regularity.

Dr. Linda Anderson: Here is a short list: Focusing on self-care and daily inspiration through music and other creative forms of expression; making time with supportive family and friends and nurturing social interactions; making time for fun, laughter, and enjoyment; keeping moderation and balance in mind when making life choices; setting healthy boundaries in relationships; limiting time on social media and constant exposure to “bad news;” trying not to get overwhelmed by feelings that would make you overreact without giving yourself time to think through a tense situation; physical self-care — food, exercise, sleep, medical care — and emotional self-care — keeping a journal, relaxation, meditation, prayer, hugging loved ones, and making yourself a priority.

Dr. Donna Oriowo: Knowing more about you and sitting with your feelings is one thing you can add by way of journaling. You can actually take time to write at the end of your day, or you can do an audio or video journal.

Another method to take care of your mental health is to engage in boring self-care: wash your ass, brush your teeth, call a friend, eat a meal, take a nap. The ways we take care of ourselves and connect with others and the world around us can help the world within us.

Dr. Claire Nicogossian: Our mental health is something that we need to take care of daily through a practice of intention to care for ourselves. Sleep is one of the most crucial and important foundational components of mental health, so it’s important to stick to a sleep routine and make sure that your sleep is optimized throughout the day, which includes staying hydrated, eating nourishing food, and reducing caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants that can take away from restorative sleep. Another method to take care of your mental health is to focus on your breathing and making sure that you’re not holding your breath throughout the day, as we know people who are anxious tend to take shorter, more shallow breaths. So, even throughout the day, checking in with your patterns of breathing and making sure you’re regulating your breathing is something we call “paste breathing,” which can be a great way to manage your stress and improve your mental health.

As a parent and a psychologist, as well as a teacher and a writer, some of the things that are very important in my daily practice are movement, mindfulness, and, every day, focusing on moments of joy and gratitude, which really helps change your perspective and focus on the good and the here and now. My book, Mama, You Are Enough, has great skills and strategies on incorporating many activities into your daily routine.

5. What specific impact do you hope your book will have on its readers?

Dr. Sonia R. Banks: Silent Agreements helps people look at their beliefs, values, expectations, and wishes that may be from old ways of thinking with fantastic questions about how to get to what is really going on inside.

Dr. Michele Owens: My co-authors and I are hoping that readers will get a clear picture of what silent agreements are, how easy it is to fall into them, and how silent agreements can pop up everywhere in our lives. We have aimed to raise readers’ curiosity and understanding about the assumptions, beliefs, and expectations they have been carrying — but not talking about — and how this has affected their relationships throughout their lives. This is not a book to simply tell people they are doing something wrong because we are not making that judgment. Besides, sometimes you have a positive unspoken agreement with someone that is based on healthy mutual understanding and a natural alignment with the other. Instead, the book is intended to help people utilize clear strategies for bringing their silent agreements out into the open so that where they have a negative impact, there is a way to communicate to address them. With the help offered in our book, we believe that our readers can develop better communication, a clearer understanding of self and others, and improved relationships overall.

Dr. Linda Anderson: This book increases the readership’s insight into their motivations and how they view challenging areas in their relationships, as well as their ability to make more meaningful choices. In each chapter, we tell stories that show how silent agreements affect different types of relationships. The stories provide real-life examples of silent agreements we have encountered in others — as well as lived ourselves — and we believe you may identify with them.

As you read, you will notice a series of questions provided toward the end of each chapter. They help you to think about the significance of silent agreements and to figure out if you have a silent agreement of your own. You are asked to reflect on these stories and are provided with exercises to help you to think about your own silent agreements. By the time you finish reading these chapters, you will be able to identify, understand, and analyze your silent agreements from start to finish and discover what options are available for you to work through them. You will be able to use what you have learned to help you make choices about your silent agreements that will fit your life and lifestyle and help you to have the types of relationships that work best for you.

Dr. Donna Oriowo: I hope that we will understand self-esteem differently than how we do now, and that it will be used as a catalyst for different interactions with ourselves and others. More than anything, I want more people to live free, fabulous, and f*cked lives.

Dr. Claire Nicogossian: I’m very proud of my book because it provides parents and mothers with information on motherhood and taking care of your mental health and well-being. Know we have a positive impact not only on the parent but on the children that she cares for and raises. I also have a goal in writing my book, which is reaching people I may never have the chance to work with in therapy or those who may never have access to a therapist, so being able to provide important mental health information is very meaningful.

Bonus Question

Aside from your book, what other mental health-focused books do you recommend, and what makes them stand out in your opinion?

Dr. Sonia R. Banks: Loving What Is by Byron Katie

Dr. Michele Owens: In the area of personal, romantic relationships, I think The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, is a good — and popular — book to help people identify their needs in a relationship and to share them clearly with their partner. This aligns with our work on helping people to communicate in the open rather than holding their partner accountable to some unspoken expectation about getting their needs met. For a focus on overall happiness, the book Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson is an older book that will give you some basic insights into what positivity is and how you can tap into it for overall happiness. This offers good insight as to how positivity can be developed and nurtured in our lives, which is essential in these trying times.

Another book in that genre is The Hope Circuit by Martin Seligman, one of the pioneers in positive psychology. It is both a memoir and exploration of the field of positive psychology, giving insights into some of his major findings about hope, gratitude, and resilience. It’s an interesting read from the point of view of a clinician trying to understand these issues for himself and for others. Another popular book at this time is The Garden Within by Dr. Anita Phillips. It is easily understandable and provides insights and information about how to understand and address your emotions for your own empowerment. It has a spiritual bent for those who are interested in an integrated understanding of the science of psychology and spiritual principles.

Dr. Donna Oriowo: Set Boundaries Find Peace, The Four Agreements, Pleasure Activism, Come As You Are, and Rest Is Resistance.

All of these books have key ingredients for how we can live the lives we want in pleasure and peace without pleasure and rest being the cost.

Thank you so much Drs. Banks, Owens, Anderson, Oriowo, and Nicogossian for these wonderful and insightful answers. These women are making a big impact in the lives of their patients, clients, and readers. Not to mention the facilitation of a more positive outlook on therapy and mental health for the world around us. They will surely inspire so many to improve their mental health and strive for a better life, as well as future psychologists and therapists.


Find Dr. Sonia R. Banks here.

Find Dr. Donna Oriowo here.

Find Dr. Claire Nicogossian here.

The authors interviewed in this article are all represented by Serendipity Literary Agency, a Black woman–owned agency dedicated to helping aspiring writers and illustrators build successful and sustainable careers. Serendipity represents clients in adult and young adult fiction, non-fiction, and children’s literature. The experienced agents at Serendipity have the contacts you need, the knowledge required to market your work effectively, and the skills to negotiate the most favorable contracts on your behalf. To learn more about Serendipity, click here.


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