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Surviving Seasonal Depression

Social worker Tara Bates helps LGBTQ folks combat recurring end-of-the-year sadness.

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Tara Bates (photos by Lester John)

Now, more than ever, people may be finding themselves in need of help from a counselor. Fortunately for Houstonians, Tara Bates, MSW, LCSW, is here to help.

The licensed clinical social worker is the owner of Bates Counselling LLC, a new Space City practice that she launched in February. Bates, who identifies as lesbian, is committed to serving a diverse roster of clients, including fellow members of the queer community. “About half of the clients that I get to serve are LGBTQ,” she says.

For those who may be unsure about starting therapy, Bates says it’s not as scary as you think it is. “You are the expert in your life, and a counselor is just a person that you are allowing to partner with you. If you see a therapist and they don’t fit your personality, go see a different one. Don’t let one bad experience be the thing that stops you from getting help.”

Bates studied social work at the University of Houston. Prior to finding her calling, the 35-year-old Heights resident received her bachelor’s degree in communication at UH-D.

During her time as an undergrad, one of her professors suggested she should look into social work. At the time, Bates thought that social workers were “the people who took kids away and put them in foster care with Child Protective Services. I had no idea that social workers are basically superheroes.”

The social-work profession is very broad and encompasses activism, case management, consulting, counseling, and anything else a person might need help doing, Bates says. “Social work encourages diversity and acceptance. There aren’t too many career fields that welcome everyone, and that is how I knew it was really my ‘thing.’”

But getting to the place where she is now was a bit of roller coaster. After completing graduate school, Bates went on to work in HIV services for four years. Then she landed a job doing social-science research in the villages of Northern Afghanistan. “Crazy, right? After I came back to the States, I started doing therapy on a part-time basis—after work and on weekends, while I worked in homeless services for four years, then transitioned to the Public Health Department.” Just before COVID-19 hit the U.S., she took a major leap by starting her own practice and becoming a full-time therapist. “I get to be my own boss. It’s the best decision I could have made.”

Not to mention that she gets to do it all with the woman she loves. Bates and her partner, Zeljka Mijic, have been together for four years. Mijic does all of the billing, scheduling, and administrative work for Bates Counseling LLC, in addition to offering those management services to therapists in other states. “It’s been an awesome four years, and we truly are blessed to be able to support each other with both of our businesses. The coolest part about working for ourselves is being able to travel whenever we want.”

Zeljka Mijic and Tara Bates

Bates says that by far the best part of her work is seeing the growth and development of her clients. “It’s really amazing to be allowed to partner with someone as they work through the good and the bad that life throws at them. Social workers usually only work with people for just a snapshot in time. It’s such an honor to be trusted enough to sit with a client and join them on their life journey.”

As fall turns into winter, Bates notes that seasonal depression and holiday sadness greatly impact many people, especially LGBTQ folks who face additional stress and anxiety near the end of the year. Bates has some great advice to help those who are suffering.

Tips for Surviving the Holidays:

1. If you aren’t out, or you’re not accepted by your family, try reaching out to the friends who you are out to and doing a Zoom call before or after major holidays.

2. Make your own traditions with the people in your life who do love and appreciate you unconditionally.

3. Don’t forget to get out and help others. It can be as simple as making some cookies and dropping them off for your neighbors, sending holiday greeting cards to people in nursing homes, or paying for the person behind you when you are in the drive-thru at Starbucks.

4. It’s so easy for us to sit in a slump and feel stuck. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the great things we do have in our lives. Next time you notice yourself feeling down, try replacing your negative thoughts with three things you are grateful for. It helps to put things in perspective.

5. If the holiday family gatherings get tough, remind yourself that every moment in time has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Even if something feels uncomfortable or bad, it will eventually end.

6. If you feel like your family is purposefully hurting you or trying to gaslight you, just leave. You are an adult, and you have the right to remove yourself from a harmful situation.

For more information, visit batescounseling.com.

This article appears in the November 2020 issue of OutSmart magazine.

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Jenny Block

Jenny Block is a frequent contributor to a number of high-profile publications from Huffington Post to Playboy, and is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Solo Sex, and O Wow: Discovering Your Ultimate Orgasm. She has appeared on a variety of television and radio programs from Nightline to BBC Radio, and has spoken in bookstores and at events all across the country. Block is also a featured performer on Olivia Travel cruises and resorts.

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