I went on to earn a post-graduate certificate in End of Life Studies at Smith College and it was during that year-long program that I decided to pursue my PhD. In 2003, I began my doctoral work at Smith College School for Social Work. 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, served as an instructor for graduate fellows, and opened a private practice on the side.
In 2014, I committed to my private practice full-time and eventually began to finally write the book I had been wanting to write for years. My approach has always been to focus on de-pathologizing people and help 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, and those who had been diagnosed with various personality disorders, mood disorders as well as various forms of addiction. Unfortunately, in 2016, I incurred a medication reaction/injury from the generic version of the antibiotic Levaquin that affected my Central Nervous System and ultimately had to take a little time off work as well as suspend my writing. As a result of this injury and subsequent adverse reaction to treatment I was given a front row seat into the world of what I now see and refer to as nervous system sensitization.
I put my original writing on hold and published the book The Waiting Room, a book chronicling my health journey, in June of 2022. Around the same time, I started a YouTube channel (jenniferswanphd) devoted to issues regarding nervous system sensitization and medication withdrawal (specifically benzodiazepines).
While this health crisis is not a journey I would have chosen for myself, it has given me 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. Also as a result, I am working on a new book called Sensitized: A Practical Approach Through Nervous Suffering that discusses the hundreds of physical, emotional/mental and cognitive symptoms that can arise when the nervous system is compromised and how to adopt a healthy mindset and practical approach towards recovery. Many things can contribute to the breakdown of our nervous system — acute and/or chronic stressors such as accidents, trauma of various sorts, living with an alcoholic or in a home that is emotionally chaotic. We can see the taxation on the nervous system simply with information overload as a result of social media, FOMO (fear of missing out) and the common complaint I hear from folks that “I can’t just seem to ever catch up.”
I look at our nervous system as a highly adaptive and complex structure but we all have our fault lines — the point where the scales tip and we are no longer managing our lives effectively. Suddenly we can be met with an array of strange mental/physical/emotional/cogntive symptoms that leave us feeling scared, vulnerable and a shell of the person we had been possibly just months before. And the more we become afraid of the state we are in, the worse it gets. I’ll stop for now — I am sure are grasping by now my commitment and deep interest in understanding and helping folks with nervous system overload!
I also remain committed and involved in educating the public about the importance of full informed consent regarding medication of all types and serve as an advocate for better deprescribing habits to help individuals come off medications safely and with support.
My clinical interests include working with individuals with issues such as anxiety (nervous system sensitization), depression, addiction, personality disorders and life transitions. I also work with individuals and couples on issues pertaining to mentalization (see my YouTube video called The #1 Ingredient in Healthy Relationships), communication and conflict resolution. In fact, in addition to working on my book regarding the nervous system, I am also working on a book titled “Where I End and You Begin: The Sweet Spot and Secret Sauce of Healthy and Effective Relationships” that focuses in great depth on the construct of mentalization.