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Inspiring Conversations with Larisa Traga of Empower TCT

Today we’d like to introduce you to Larisa Traga. 

Larisa, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and started out in the field of psychology at SUNY Binghamton. In High School (and ever since), I did a lot of volunteer work, namely as a peer support counselor and this is how I decided what I wanted to do. I was accepted into the Master’s program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, which was very multicultural and comprehensive. Since finishing school, I have specialized in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) and MI (Motivational Interviewing) mainly because I felt my education didn’t give me the necessary tools in order to be an effective therapist with severe and persistent mental illness. Continuing to specialize in these disciplines gave me a really nice foundation to build on because of the different techniques available when working with people around behavior change. In terms of my professional journey, I have been working with severe and persistent mental illness, in the non-profit and public sectors until I founded Empower TCT (Training, Consulting, Therapy), LLC. Most of my experiences involve working with co-occurring disorders, people who have mental health, as well as substance use disorders, where there is usually some form of medical issue as well. 

I have worked extensively with trauma, which is why I am passionate about EMDR, specialized in it, and took it all the way to becoming an Approved Consultant and trainer. There is a lot of trauma involved when working with people with severe and persistent illness. I feel I have grown considerably as a result of my different experiences, working with the homeless populations, the underserved communities, the Native Americans, African Americans, and the Latinx communities. Integrating EMDR with Motivational Interviewing (MI) has allowed me to support clients working towards behavior change, whether it be reducing substance use, improving eating habits, making life style changes, and improving quality of life overall. 

In addition to having a private practice, I am an Adjunct Faculty at a local college, where I have been teaching for 7 years now in the Social and Behavioral Science Department. I teach courses like General Psychology, Crisis Intervention, Child Psychology, Meditation, among others and I enjoy working with the next generation of helpers. As a MINT (Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers) Certified Trainer and an EMDRIA Approved Consultant I provide public and private trainings to helpers wanting to specialize and learn one of these two modalities. As of this year, I have put together an Advanced EMDR Training teaching clinicians working with EMDR how to integrate Motivational Interviewing to support their clients in overcoming barriers to seeking the help they need among other behavior changes they might desire to make. 

I am very excited about the work that I do and being able to share what I have learned over years of specialization in the realm of trauma treatment and helping people improve their quality of life through behavior change. 

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I chuckle at the question, as I reflect on the many challenges that I had to overcome to get to where I am today. Being an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) and an empath, working with individuals who have suffered was a big challenge for some time. At times I questioned whether I picked the right field for myself and yet I stayed the course because of an unrelenting desire to help the underserved and underprivileged of our society. Moving states while fulfilling my licensing requirements was another big challenge that resulted in many years post-graduate degree being able to obtain my license. Not to mention the challenges of working for a public sector and having to manage challenges around bad leadership and personalities that did not value what I had to offer as a multicultural, multilingual ethnic minority working in the field of behavioral wellness and recovery. I remember how I started in the realm of training and providing technical assistance and support to the many Community-Based Organizations that I oversaw for standardization of practices across the county that I worked in. Starting out with groups of 6-8 staff and a colleague who worked alongside me train others in Evidence-Based Practices like Motivational Interviewing, Matrix Model, Seeking Safety model and slowly working up to training a group of about 60 providers from different areas within the county. Overcoming my fear of public speaking took a lot of work and continual exposure and I am grateful for the support I got along the way, as well as my determination to stay the course. 

Despite the many, many challenges and barriers, I was able to obtain my license in the state of California as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and specialize in the field of Substance Use Disorders as a Master Addiction Counselor with a Co-Occurring Disorders Certificate. I then pursued a specialization in EMDR so that I can offer a type of treatment that has received a lot of attention in the past 10 years, as being of the most effective for treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and more recently Depression and Anxiety Disorders as well. Parallel to specializing in EMDR, I pursued a specialization in Motivational Interviewing and became a member of MINT in 2016 and a Certified Trainer in 2020. Both of these specializations required time, effort, determination, and hard work. 

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Empower TCT (Training, Consulting, Therapy) LLC?
We offer Belief Focused EMDR and MI consulting, training, and technical assistance to individuals and organizations to improve their quality of care and services. More recently and with the challenges over the past couple of years, we have began to offer crisis intervention and de-escalation trainings called A-Tip and CID (Acute Traumatic Incident and Critical Incident Desensitization Protocols) to professional and non-professional helpers, first responders, hospital employees, school personnel, among others. We also offer Evidence-Based Mental health services in the form of individual, couples, families, and group counseling and crisis de-escalation services. More recently, we are offering intensive EMDR therapy to individuals within and outside of California interested in getting years of therapy done within a week or so. Rather than doing weekly or bi-weekly sessions, the client can receive up to 5 hours of therapy a day for as many days as is deemed needed in order to resolve barriers and challenges, they might be experiencing that are interfering with their ability to function optimally. 

Modalities that we specialize in and typically use in an eclectic manner include: Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness, Somatic, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Belief Focused Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), Rational Living Therapy (RLT) and Trauma Resiliency Model (TRM). As a therapist, I am also trained by CalGETs as a provider of therapy to individuals affected by a gambling disorder. 

Much of my work is providing training and consultation to clinicians, and this is my vision for EMPOWER TCT. Often, they are feeling burnt out, or are struggling with clients who have some form of substance use disorder. Some are struggling with a type of behavior change or not knowing how to help their patients heal their trauma. I work with many clinicians, who, like myself, feel that they need more in order to meet the needs of their clients. 

Burnout is very common among clinicians, and I have found that both EMDR and MI, which are strength-based and client-centered, are so effective in reducing burnout. The clinician does not have to live through the client’s trauma vicariously with these modalities. My vision is to help and empower clinicians, therapists, and healers to have clarity, direction, and confidence in their work with complex clients, therefore seeing their clients thrive and be more self-reliant and empowered as well. 

Specializing in Motivational Interviewing (MI) is what sets me apart from many other trainers, consultants, and therapists out there. MI is a counselling style to help support an individual to resolve their ambivalence for change. This means that anyone in any stage of the change process (pre-contemplative, contemplative, preparatory, action, maintenance) can benefit from the intervention of having a conversation within the style of motivational interviewing. 

We teach MI to teachers, first responders, clinicians, etc… Anyone who works with people in a field that requires change can benefit hugely from learning how to use MI, so as to be more empowered in helping their patients through those stages of change. More information on this can found on my website. 

Training is a significant part of my LLC because it is a way for me to reach beyond the micro-level of an individual basis. I provide public and private trainings to agencies, counties, and organizations around the nation. By providing these trainings, I am able to standardize practices and have a bigger reach around helping clinicians use the evidence-based practices within their clinical setting (EMDR, MI, and crisis intervention like A-tip/CID, etc…). 

This is a passion of mine. I really believe in what I do. I am passionate about helping clinicians, therapists, and healers to learn skills that help them be empowered in the difficult work that we do. 

I am here as a resource– trainer and consultant and provide public and private trainings to organizations and individuals interested in learning it and implementing it in work, as well as personal lives. 

1. Local resource for training and consulting purposes for EMDR, MI and Crisis Intervention;

2. We provide private and public trainings, for list of public go to my website under services

3. Trainings are experiential, many opportunities to practice and can review testimonies on my website;

4. We support agencies with implementation of skills learned, by providing follow-ups to allow those trained to ask questions, staff cases and empower to continue the journey;

We’d be interested to hear your thoughts on luck and what role, if any, you feel it’s played for you.
I would have to say that besides my share of bad luck along the way, I have also had good luck in that no matter how bleak things seemed at different points in my journey, I had a number of people in my life who supported me and empowered me along the way. When I founded Empower TCT, I was experiencing a lot of challenges with my health, and working for myself was the ideal setup. I had no idea that I would be able to grow the business to where I am today and be able to provide such a variety of services to both those seeking help and those who provide the help. I always had hope and believed that things would work themselves out, despite how bad things got for me. Having a positive attitude definitely helped with continuing to work hard towards my goals and my vision. 

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Tatyana Konovalchik

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