Anna Shaffner, LPC, LCASA, NCC
I grew up in Winston-Salem with loving parents and two older sisters. My dad started his own successful business and my mom had been a social worker before she had my oldest sister. My parents were both high achievers who served on numerous boards and volunteered within the community extensively. At a young age, I developed an idea of doing the right thing that translated into periods of impossibly high standards for myself, or perfectionism. When I was fifteen, I put myself on a strict low carb diet and lost twenty pounds in two months. At first, I felt more energetic, studied and slept better, and was happier with my appearance. But before long I started to feel exhausted and have mood swings, and felt the added strain on my body and relationships.
I eventually found a healthy balance of well-rounded diet and exercise, and gained a deeper compassion for myself in the process. Recognizing the importance of my relationship to my health at that age helps me in my work with adolescent clients today. I know how the struggle of trying to meet expectations while dealing with inevitable change can shape a person for years to come. This battle also sparked my interest in Nutrition, which became my major at Clemson University, while minoring in Psychology.
I was about halfway through my last semester of college when my mother died unexpectedly. My parents were in town for a Clemson football game, a life-long family tradition, when she had a stroke at the breakfast table. She passed a week later. Two of my closest friends had lost a parent, but countless conversations with them over the years couldn’t prepare me for my own loss. I was trying to finish strong before graduation, but I could hardly get out of bed, much less focus on exams and my thesis paper. So I decided to meet with a counselor, despite the perfectionist voice in my head telling me I could use that hour more productively.
My counselor helped me acknowledge the immense stress I was under, guided me through the start of a long grieving process, and helped me find compassion for myself once again. I told only a few people that I was going to therapy. I thought it made me seem weak or self-indulgent, or that it might even be hurtful for some - that even with all the support from family, friends, church, and our community, I still felt alone and paralyzed with pain. Since joining the mental health field, I have worked hard to overcome those fears and to help reduce the stigma surrounding these issues that so many of us face.
I went on to pursue a degree in Counseling at UNC Greensboro. My internship at a substance abuse treatment center filled me with appreciation for the world of addiction and recovery, which taught me more about the powerful connection of mind and body. It also led to my first job after completing my Masters degree, where I discovered my affinity for helping adolescents and young adults navigate through the array of challenges we face as we emerge into adulthood.
My experience in this field has also shown me the importance of community – the comfort that comes from having a deeper connection with those around us, and a priority of mutual support and respect. An important part of my work with adolescents is to help you form goals that authentically reflect your values, while encouraging you to continue seeking the support of loved ones. As my friend Justin would say, “Independence is BS,” because we all have to rely on one another for any of us to reach our full potential. Justin and I both promote this philosophy in our work as therapists, through our incorporation of group and family therapy as well as our efforts to encourage more openness about the mental health concerns that so many of us attempt to battle alone.