About Jennifer

Just a quick clarification:  My full name is actually Jennifer Swantkowski. However, after fifty years of people struggling to pronounce or spell my name, I decided for the purpose of this website and my social media accounts, to make it a bit easier on all of us and go with the significantly shorter “Swan.”

I believe the quote by Harry Stack Sullivan— “We are all more human than otherwise”—is most reflective of how I operate in my life both professionally and personally. I became aware at an early age that we had been granted this particular time slot here on Earth, it was not earned. All of us have equal rights to accept our space for the brief time that we are here and make our contribution to this world as best we can.

It was in college, after feeling a bit lost at sea for a few years following the death of my beloved Grandmother, that I decided that I wanted to study psychology. I then went on to earn a master’s degree and spent the next eight years in the field of grief, loss, and trauma. I worked with both adults and children who were dying, and also put together a program on traumatic loss for families at a local bereavement center.

I went on to earn a postgraduate certificate in End of Life Studies at Smith College in Northampton, MA and it was during that year-long program that I decided to pursue my PhD at Smith. Upon completing the coursework and writing my dissertation, I began to work as a family therapist at the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, MA, began teaching at Boston College, and also started a private practice.

A few years later, I returned to Houston to be closer to help my family as we rallied around a loved one navigating the perils of having been diagnosed with Early Onset Familial Alzheimer’s. Once in Houston, I served as an instructor at the University of Houston, began working at The Menninger Clinic providing family and individual therapy, and opened a private practice on the side.

In 2014, I committed to my private practice full-time focusing on de-pathologizing people and helping them move away from identifying with the alphabet soup of their diagnoses and move more fully into their lives. In doing so I worked with folks of all ages who grappled with anxiety, depression, grief, challenging life transitions, relationship issues/conflicts, and addiction/codependency.

Unfortunately, in 2016, I incurred a medication reaction/injury from the generic version of the antibiotic Levaquin that impacted my Central Nervous System and ultimately had to take a little time off work. As a result of this injury and subsequent adverse reaction to treatment, I was given a front-row seat in the world of what I now see and refer to as nervous system sensitization. Eventually, I chose to chronicle my journey and published the book The Waiting Room, detailing my experience. Around the same time, I started a YouTube channel (jenniferswanphd) devoted to issues regarding nervous system sensitization, medication adverse effects, and withdrawal issues. On this channel, I also post videos/audio clips on various topics such as mentalization and other skills/strategies for effective living.

While I never would have chosen this health crisis as a journey for myself, it has provided me with an invaluable educational experience. I now have much greater empathy, understanding, and clarity in working with individuals who may, for any number of reasons, be grappling with a highly sensitized and heightened nervous system. As a result, I am working on a new book that describes and focuses on the hundreds of physical, emotional/mental, and cognitive symptoms that can arise when the nervous system is compromised/sensitized and how to adopt a healthy mindset and practical approach towards recovery.

The human nervous system is a highly adaptive and complex structure, and incredibly capable of helping us navigate the numerous stressors of today’s world. Accidents, trauma, and grief of various sorts, living in a home that is emotionally chaotic, hormonal instability, adverse reactions to medications, even information overload as a result of social media, FOMO (fear of missing out); contemporary life is challenging to say the least. However, we all have our fault lines—the point where the scales tip and we are no longer managing our lives effectively. Working with a coach or a therapist who understands the necessary counterintuitive approach most helpful in overcoming sensitization/disordered anxiety can be incredibly useful and potentially offset years of frustration wondering why all the best “efforts” seem to be ineffective.

After decades of working in the clinical realm that often centered around diagnostics and treating people with specific mental health disorders, I now focus solely on working to provide private mentorship, education, coaching, and consultative services, as well as working on several writing projects. As a mentor/coach/consultant, I am able to work nationally and internationally assisting individuals, couples, families, and organizations to formulate goals and employ strategies, skills, and effective mindset shifts on issues including, but not limited to:

·      Severe anxiety and nervous system sensitization.

·      Reframing one’s perspective from “why me” to  “what now.”

·      Setting appropriate boundaries and limits.

·      Navigating life transitions such as divorce, career challenges and loss.

·      Building productive relationships through effectual communication and mentalizing. (See video The #1 Ingredient in Relationships under the blog tab.)

·      Returning to life/work/family after incurring an adverse medication reaction or complicated discontinuation experience.

·      Working with people in substance abuse recovery to create a healthy perspective, developing the tools necessary to move forward without relying on addictive substances.

Mentorship/coaching/consulting, as I see it, is about staying in the here and now, teaching the fundamentals necessary for one to navigate their particular circumstances, and then providing ongoing support and direction as one practices and develops those skills. For example, when I was learning how to play basketball as a kid, if my coach had taught me how to dribble, shoot or pass once or twice and then never showed up again leaving me to master these new skills on my own, I wouldn’t have learned how to be a successful point guard. I needed the ongoing insights, guidance, correction, and support from a trusted coach. My performance improved considerably from having that external motivation and reinforcement on a consistent basis. Later in life, when I first experienced an array of disruptive anxious symptoms as a result of the medication injury, finding an experienced mentor who could help me not only develop new skills and strategies but to consistently support me as I made the necessary shifts, was both powerful and life-changing.

In a nutshell, my role is to help people drop bad habits of thought and behavior and to employ new strategies in their lives, one step at a time, over and over; to be courageous enough to take their shots, secure enough to handle the misses and enjoy the makes; and to be accountable for their behavior and actions while stepping out of scarcity and/or victim mentality to reach their goals and highest potential.

We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.

– George Bernard Shaw

Outside of my professional passions, I have been blessed with a very large loving, supportive family.  I enjoy spending as much time as I can with my amazing eleven nieces and nephews.  When the words “Aunt Jen” were bestowed upon me twenty-three years ago, I truly stepped into my best self.  They were then and are now, the most important and revered words in my life.

Thanks for stopping by my site and I look forward to hearing from you.  Keep swimming!

Jennifer Swantkowski, Ph D