Dr. Jessica Gibbe Fernandez is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT), a board-certified sex therapist, a certified hypnotherapist, as well as a mom to two young daughters.
It was an aptitude test in college that revealed she was best suited to work with people, rather than numbers as she originally thought. Her imagined corporate career in accounting morphed into a move to the United States, a master’s and, later, a doctoral degree, and working in a non-profit group practice, The Samaritan Counseling Center, where she is an in-demand bilingual clinician and supervisor.
Jessica grew up in Mexico and completed her undergraduate studies there, earning a BS in Psychology. There is no licensing needed to practice psychology in Mexico, so Jessica jumped right into work with patients once she graduated.
“I felt so lost,” she remembers. “I didn’t know how to apply what I’d learned with my patients.” She knew she wanted more education, so she chose to pursue a Master’s in Clinical Psychology in the U.S., attending Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama.
Jessica hadn’t realized at the time that a Master’s would only allow her to work under another psychologist’s supervision. Her mentor/supervisor encouraged her to get a PhD. He also introduced her to Bowen Family Systems Theory, which is the base theory for how she approaches marriage and family therapy.
“It’s how my brain sees everything now – home system, work system, family system,” she says. “It changed my whole wiring after so many years of studying psychology. With psychology, it is all about the individual, which also interests me, but it made much more sense to look at the whole system.”
Jessica practices what she preaches, applying the concept of systems to all areas of her own life: her parenting, her friendships, her participation in a group practice, and her role as a supervisor.
Jessica’s multicultural background is part of what makes her a dynamic therapist and supervisor. At least half of her clients are Spanish-speaking, and until recently she was the only Spanish-speaking clinician in her practice and possibly her region.
“The culture is very different here than in Mexico. Very, very different,” Jessica reflects. “And even the culture in Alabama is unique unto itself when compared to the rest of the U.S. Learning everything in my second language wasn’t easy, so I think I’m very aware of and sensitive to multicultural issues.” She passes this awareness down to her supervisees, as well.
In addition to her multicultural knowledge, Jessica has other unique qualifications and skills. She specializes and is certified in sex therapy, as well as hypnotherapy.
Despite initial skepticism, it was Jessica’s supervisor that encouraged her to explore the use of hypnotherapy in her work. “I thought of hypnosis as the stage shows, where they make you act like a chicken,” she remembers. “But it’s actually an amazing tool.”
Jessica’s passion for Bowen theory extends into her supervision. She deeply considers the balance of the supervisory relationship.
“In relationships of any type, and throughout nature, the more one side functions on a higher level, the more the other individual in the system under-functions,” Jessica explains. “We are not on the same level in supervision, but I try to create a sense of equality: I work as hard as they work and I expect them to work as hard as I do. I don’t expect them to adjust to my styles or theories, but I ask them to adjust when it is an issue of ethics. This allows them to grow into the professional role.”
When working with pre-licensed clinicians, Jessica keeps in mind that the first three months of being in this field are the toughest.
“There’s a lot of anxiety and a lack of confidence,” says Jessica. “A lot of my supervisees are younger, which makes them even more anxious. They are often, but not always, in their 20s and worried about being perceived as trustworthy and professional by their older clients. So building their confidence is important. And then there’s the stress about getting hours. I remember that time. It’s hard!”
Remembering this hardship is also why Jessica supervises through Motivo.
“I think [Motivo] is great. Anything that makes getting your hours a little easier is good,” she says. “Here in Alabama, there aren’t many supervisors. I think there are only two or three in my city. So this platform can serve a lot of people well.”
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