Aspiring Families Uses a Holistic Approach to Mental Health
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time for recognizing the magnitude of mental health issues in our present-day society. For Dr. Azmaira Maker, the founder of Aspiring Families Center for Mental Health and Wellness, the designation doesn’t quite apply, since she and her team address such issues 12 months of the year.
Maker established her practice in the Del Mar/Carmel Valley area 12 years ago to provide comprehensive, integrative, and holistic mental health assessments and therapy to adults, children, and especially families. Maker holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is a licensed clinical psychologist with more than 20 years of experience. Her team of eight therapists and doctors offer a wide range of treatments, including equine-assisted therapy, and nutritional and fitness services for her clients.
Maker focuses on families because— she explains, “No one lives in isolation or in a vacuum. If I work with only the individual and do not pay attention to the family dynamics, or the children’s needs, or parent guidance, I am likely to be missing significant information. The goal is to move the individual within their family system to a higher and more productive level of functioning.”
When dealing with children, Maker goes the extra mile in learning about a child’s overall life — by reaching out to school administrators, teachers, pediatricians, and psychiatrists involved with the child. It’s time-consuming, but she says this team approach is worth the effort because the results are more comprehensive.
“Having a team makes it more effective and efficient, as different team members are responsible for varying pieces of the treatment. Schools, pediatricians, and psychiatrists are typically very responsible in returning our calls and collaborating closely with us in the best interest of the client and family. A collaborative approach is necessary and most effective as it allows us to work with the client from multiple angles.”
Family dynamics shift in all sorts of ways these days, so family issues vary a great deal. “We work with families experiencing divorce, loss, developmental, academic, behavioral, and socio-emotional difficulties, as well as chronic illness, substance use, and eating disorders,” explains Maker. “Each family presentation and dynamic is unique and I conduct in-depth evaluations to tease apart the varying issues so that we can target treatment in focused ways.”
What Is a Holistic Approach to Mental Health?
Maker describes holistic mental health as one that focuses on the individual, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease.
She proposes different approaches based on the age of the client. For teenagers and young adults, she focuses on developmental and environmental risk factors, vulnerabilities, and strengths. She tries to move the teenager or young adult to higher levels of developmental functioning. This could be in the cognitive, social, or emotional realm. She tries to pinpoint the triggers of anxiety, depression, disordered eating, substance use, academic failure, loss of motivation, or social isolation.
With adults, her approach is a little different. She explains, “There is an added complicated layer of psychological history and past events that I need to include in the therapeutic work. This includes childhood, trauma, loss, career, relocations, marriages, and mental health issues that could be playing a role in the client’s current needs and presentations. Hence, sometimes the work with adults is more long-term than with teens and children.”
Maker has also written two books based on what she’s identified as worthwhile subjects through her practice. They are “Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children” and “Where Did My Friend Go? Helping Children Cope with a Traumatic Death.” She chose to concentrate on issues of loss because, she says, many kids experience loss and trauma through divorce and death.
She adds, “It is part of life and I wanted to create positive tools to help young children cope. There are many books available for older children and adults on these topics. My books focus on three to six years of age, but also have an adult component to them. The books are therapeutic in nature. The adult guide in the beginning and the focus questions at the end allow any adult (parent, teacher, grandparent, pediatrician, etc.) to utilize the books to help the young child verbalize, process, cope, and heal from the grief, loss, and trauma they are experiencing.”
According to Maker, most practices employ only one or two treatment approaches. Because she has a team of specialists in different areas of treatment, she offers a range of therapies including neuropsychological testing, cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, play therapy, mindfulness and neurofeedback. Team members will also visit clients at home, school, or the hospital if necessary.