I was lucky to be born into a family of avid puzzlers. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve sitting in my granddaddy’s den as he worked the New York Times crossword and convening around a card table with my dad and sisters, sifting through pieces of our newest jigsaw puzzle in preparation for hours of conversation and connection.
According to my parents, my fascination for life’s enigmas started early. My mom loves retelling old stories of my twin sister and I using our “secret twin language” to brainstorm new methods for breaking out of our cribs and into pretty much anything deemed forbidden or off-limits.
In high school, I discovered theatre. As an overcontrolled kid, acting allowed me to access those pieces of me that I had buried and hidden for so long – it provided an emotional outlet and balance to my analytical mind. I appreciated the art of character development and the collaborative effort involved in bringing stories to life on-stage. I began to understand humans as the most complex puzzles of all.
Throughout my childhood, I was always encouraged by the adults in my life to ask questions, seek answers, and be an active part of the conversation. However, growing up in a small, rural East Texas town, I always felt I was missing something. I knew my understanding of the world was limited by my current context, and I yearned to be exposed to diverse perspectives. So, my sister and I devised our next escape route – the University of Texas at Austin (UT).
As a philosophy major, I was introduced to all the great thinkers. Socrates taught me that “the unexamined life is not worth living” and that recognizing my own ignorance was an essential first step in truth seeking. I also came to understand that many of the answers I sought could be found within. The existentialists taught me that we are all a sum of our parts and that it is up to us to create meaning and purpose in our lives.
College was also the time when I was first confronted with my own personal puzzles. I originally chose to study philosophy enroute to my goal of becoming an attorney. Unlike my twin sister, I always struggled to make life decisions. She knew from birth she wanted to be a doctor, but I honestly never knew what my path would be.
However, the deeper I delved into my philosophical studies, the more fascinated I became by the human condition. I had also become frustrated and disillusioned with our legal system and my chosen career path. I discussed my concerns with a trusted professor who offered me the sage advice to “abandon the path prescribed by others and start forging your own.”
The next semester, I signed up for elective courses that truly interested me – a women’s studies class entitled, Women and Madness, and a psychology class entitled, Attractiveness. I was introduced to feminist ideology and literature. I gained awareness of the patriarchy and its destructive consequences for women. I began reflecting on my own experiences of femininity, as well as those of the women around me. I observed how we relentlessly tore ourselves and each other down in pursuit of man-made ideals and societal definitions of “success.”
My own perfectionism, interpersonal traumas, poor self-image, and the resulting feelings of shame, depression, and anxiety I had experienced throughout my life began to make more sense. In pursuit of a deeper understanding of these issues, I joined an eating disorder research lab where we investigated developmental factors that contribute to mental health challenges in women. We also examined the efficacy of a preventive intervention for eating disorders called, The Body Project.
Most people would think that my path would be fairly straightforward from here, but I still had a few years of self-discovery and major failures to go before I would reconnect with my ultimate purpose of becoming a psychologist. Perspective allows me to appreciate and make meaning of these painful, aimless moments — they were all pieces of my puzzle. Over the past decade, I have continued researching in the field of eating disorders with a focus on the negative consequences of social media on young women’s self-image and mood. Because of the many challenges associated with treating these disorders, I am also interested in the development and widespread dissemination of preventative programs for eating disorders.
Today, in my work as a psychologist, I continue to adopt the perspective of a puzzler. Most clients I work with are feeling stuck in old patterns of behavior and are seeking a way out. Though not all of life’s problems are “solvable,” I do believe that by developing insight around our behaviors we can begin to understand how they function in our lives to both serve and hinder us, allowing us to take the essential first steps toward learning, healing, and personal growth.
Some clients walk in with all the needed pieces – they just need help in seeing and consciously using their resources. Other clients have insight around their unhelpful behaviors but were given a puzzle box with missing pieces – they know what needs to change, but they need help developing new tools to do so. I work with individuals to better understand how their biology, personal history, and present circumstances have come to shape them into the awesome, amazingly complex human beings they have become.
Dr. Tiffany Graves received her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Xavier University. Prior to joining Galia Collaborative as a postdoctoral fellow, she worked at the Lindner Center of HOPE within the Harold C. Schott Foundation Eating Disorders Program. Dr. Graves completed her pre-doctoral internship in clinical psychology at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center/Medical College of Georgia Consortium where she gained extensive training and experience in the assessment and treatment of mental health issues disproportionately affecting women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Dr. Graves is an affirmative care provider and is specialized in the treatment of eating disorders and body image issues, interpersonal and sexual trauma, borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, perfectionism, and mood and anxiety disorders. She enjoys working with adolescents, families, and adults. Dr. Graves believes in working collaboratively with her clients to develop a comprehensive, empirically-supported treatment plan for addressing their areas of concern.
Dr. Graves primarily utilizes behavioral techniques with acceptance and mindfulness-based practices. She has extensive training in a variety of evidence-based treatments that emphasize these principles (i.e., Acceptance and Commitment Therapy [ACT], Dialectical Behavior Therapy [DBT], and Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy [RO DBT]). She has additionally received specialized training in several empirically-supported trauma interventions including, Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Prolonged Exposure (PE), and Written Exposure Therapy (WET).
- We as humans vastly underestimate ourselves.
- Laughter is often the best medicine, especially when we can learn to laugh at ourselves.
- All bodies are works of art and worthy of celebration.
- Pain can be our greatest teacher if we are willing to sit and listen.
- Burnout is real and preventable.
- Words have power, particularly those we say to ourselves.
- We are all worthy of validation and self-compassion.
- Human rights are non-negotiable.
- Letting go of old stories and ways of being can be both terrifying and liberating.
- Life is best lived in the present moment.
- Meaning and purpose come from living a values-driven life.
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