In Colorado, we make physical health—and increasingly, mental health—a priority in our daily lives. Yet the health of our relationships doesn’t come up much in casual conversation, even though it’s an important component of what makes us happy, successful people. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we talked to Denver-based marriage and family therapist Alysha Trujillo of Modern Love Counseling, who brands herself as a contemporary prescription for our heartache.
5280: What’s the goal of your business?
Alysha Trujillo: Overall, my goal is to help people successfully maintain a loving and fulfilling relationship. I think we tend to not have those tools innately, and it’s lonely and isolating when you don’t feel like you can be vulnerable or connect with other people.
How did you discover that providing relationship counseling was one of your strengths?
I think through my own experiences—not having healthy relationships pretty much my entire life. Going into graduate school allowed me to tap into some of my issues and some of the things that were holding me back from acknowledging my own needs. When I started diving into myself, I found the love of my life [Trujillo is now engaged], and being able to maintain and establish my relationship with him has made me realize that it is hard and it takes a lot of work.
What are the keys to a healthy relationship?
In a nutshell, I would say it’s definitely self-awareness—and what that means is being able to understand your own needs, insecurities, and fears. Then being able to express and effectively communicate [those], so in essence just being vulnerable. Having a strong foundation and safety in a relationship is really important, and that’s obviously physical, but it’s also emotional, which encompasses trust as well. Also a level of acceptance—that maybe your partner isn’t perfect; maybe you’re not perfect; maybe your relationship isn’t perfect, but there’s this level of acceptance that it’s OK. Things change and things grow and things evolve, and that’s OK.
Why do you think that it’s so difficult for people to do these things naturally?
There are a lot of reasons. Many of my clients struggle with past trauma—maybe having someone violate your trust and not being able to effectively repair it. I’ve also seen a parental influence, [where you get] into trouble when you’re emoting or whenever you misbehaved as a child. That definitely translates to adulthood and thinking that emotions aren’t OK. Or being lost with the societal expectations of ‘I’m supposed to get a job and get married and have babies. I’m supposed to be in love. I’m supposed to be thin and beautiful. I’m supposed to be rich.’ That bombards the authentic you, so when you get into relationships, you realize it’s just not real or it doesn’t feel real.
What sets you apart from other marriage and family therapists?
I think my age is a huge factor [she’s 28]—not to say that older therapists can’t relate or I can’t relate to older clients, but being able to understand and relate to things like online dating and selfies and Instagram and all the stuff that’s in our millennial generation gives me an advantage. I have a lot of clients with issues like sexting, and other therapists might not fully understand what that means or what that’s about and try to pathologize it, where I think it’s an outlet for us to find acceptance in other areas.
On your website, you list a bunch of myths about counseling. What’s one of the big ones?
A perfect example is in couples counseling: A lot of times people expect me to take sides, but I don’t think behavior is pathological. I want to uncover what your needs are and what’s really going on inside of you so you can effectively express it to people and not [behave in a way] that ultimately denies you of getting your needs met. I’m also very transparent; if I have an emotional reaction or if my clients come in and they’re flustered and their energy is through the roof, I feel it and I name it. I say, ‘I’m feeling really anxious with you right now—is that how you’re feeling? Tell me what’s going on in your body.’ Just being able to be open with my clients and sharing that space and that experience is really helpful.
Do you see the stigma around counseling going away anytime soon?
Being newer and younger in the field, the population I work with is very open and receptive. I feel like the shift is already in movement, and that’s really exciting. A lot of that has to do with this awareness; people are saying, ‘Oh, my friends went to couples counseling.’ I’m hopeful that in the next five to 10 years, maybe we can realize and recognize that all our generations have struggles, and it’s not a negative thing.
What’s the most important thing for potential clients to understand about you?
Ultimately, the connection that you establish with your therapist is the most important part. I try to say that right off the bat, and I offer a 30-minute free consultation that allows them to come in and ask me questions and establish the rapport.
How does it feel when clients get what they’ve needed from you?
I feel this connection with them and I’ve been on this journey with them, so on the one hand I’m feeling sadness for not being able to continue that relationship, but also so proud of them and proud of myself, too, for being able to create that space for them and be their trusty copilot through their experience. I get emotional reflecting on my job a lot because it’s very touching to me that I have this impact on people. They have the same impact on me.
Trujillo’s individual sessions cost $100 for 60 minutes and $130 for 75 minutes, while couples will pay $130 for 60 minutes and $150 for 75 minutes. For more information, visit Modern Love Counseling, 3867 Tennyson St., 303-900-8514, modernlovecounseling.com.
Follow editorial assistant Mary Clare Fischer on Twitter at @mc_fischer.