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Meet the Yes Collective Experts: Jena Curtis, EdD

Jena Curtis is a professor of Gender and Sexuality and SUNY Cortland. After years of being on the main stage for HIV/AIDS advocacy, Jena turned to academia. Some of her published works include “HIV/AIDS Adherence: Teaching About Treatment and Stigma” and “Using Online Discussion Forums to Promote Critical Reflection among Pre and In-Service HIV/AIDS Educators and Service Providers.

What does family mean to you?

Family is the base cap from which we venture into the world. Our family are the people who love us, who provide both encouragement and safety as we journey through our lives. They can be the people who raised us, and also the people that we meet along the trail and welcome into our lives.

What does thriving mean to you?

I worry that in our self-talk we sometimes set the bar for thriving a little too tight. It can seem that if we’re not #winning we can’t be thriving. And we forget growth is often so subtle as to be invisible. Thriving can mean simply facing the challenges and noting the joys of each day. Help seeking and honoring vulnerable emotions are all part of thriving.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

In elementary school, I wanted to be a pediatric hematologist. I wanted to cure hemophilia so that my brother wouldn’t be a “bleeder” anymore. Then the AIDS pandemic started (and I learned about Organic Chemistry) and I wanted to become a lawyer and then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court so I could fight discrimination.

When did you know you wanted to study gender and sexuality? Can you tell us about that time in your life, and what it felt like to come to that realization?

My early AIDS activism taught me that much of what I “knew” about sexuality and sexual health was either wrong or woefully inadequate. I grew up in a family where no one talked about sex both because it's embarrassing and also something for “later when you are grown up.”

Then I became an adult and realized that the questions that I had had as an adolescent about love and sexuality were universal- and still unanswered. It wasn't that I was broken, it’s that relationships are hard work.

As a culture, we spend more time formally teaching teens how to parallel park than we do teaching them how to talk to a crush. Realizing that everyone has questions and worries about sexuality AND that there are answers to be had was life-changing.

In your teaching and research, what are some of the common challenges you see teenagers and young adults face with their sexuality?

The research tells us that adolescence and emerging adulthood is a time of tremendous change and also incredible variability. Some people know exactly who they are and what they want, others are very uncertain about their sexuality or gender identity, or what type of relationships that they want. Most folks are somewhat in the middle.

It's normal to be sure; it’s normal to be uncertain; it’s normal to completely confused. New research supports the idea that it is both healthy and normal to still be figuring fundamental aspects of our identity well into our 30s, so the idea that someone magically has the answers by the time that they graduate from high school is unrealistic and harmful.

There are a million ways to reach healthy, happy adulthood. But we tend to talk about it as a single super-highway that we all merge onto at 18 before we set the cruise control for the rest of our lives.

In your teaching and research, what do you see as the biggest mistakes parents make in talking about gender and sexuality with their kids?

The biggest mistake that I see parents make is in thinking that their children only “learn” about sexuality (and other stuff) when they are talking or actively “teaching.”

Our children are constantly absorbing lessons about love and connection from us by seeing (and imitating) how we interact with them and other people in our lives. Any parent who has watched in horror as a small child repeats overheard swear words to grandma knows that little ears are always listening.

Our children are constantly learning about gender and sexuality from their environment. It’s our job to ask ourselves if the lessons or rules that we teach our children about love, sex, and respect are the same lessons that we model for them in our everyday behavior. And if there is a disconnect, if we are teaching our sons to treat women with the respect, at the same time we allow other adults in our lives to use words like “girly” to mean weak or stupid, then it’s worth thinking about our values and what we want our children to learn.

As a mom and as an educator and researcher, what is one piece of parenting advice you’d give to Yes Collective Parents?

Parenting is this all-encompassing, completely immersive experience that we somehow believe should come naturally to us—if we're good people. Never in my life have I been asked to do a harder, more important job with such minimal guidance and structure. It makes sense that parenting would often seem overwhelming and impossible to get right. I wish I had been as comfortable admitting this 30 years ago as I am now.

What is one piece of self-care advice you’d give to Yes Collective Parents?

I grew up with a mother who thought that taking time to goof off was selfish. Maternal love and sacrifice were the same thing. Good mothers took what was left, put themselves last, and got the burnt slices of pizza.

I never questioned those lessons until I had adolescent children and had to think about what I wanted for them as adults and possible parents. Now my youngest is helping me find hobbies. It’s hard. Don’t wait until you’re 50.

What is your own most important self-care practice? Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to it, what it looks like, and how it helps you?

Vulnerability is a superpower. My brain is capable of incredibly negative self-talk. If I let it, it can monologue on my inadequacies for days. It’s like a Netflix special. All 20 seasons of my bloopers reel are streaming all the time. The fastest way off that feedback loop is checking in with someone else.

To say to another human, “Here's this important thing I think I'm messing up,” is like diving into an icy lake. You have to gather up your courage and take a heart-shuddering plunge. I came to this out of desperation.

My youngest child was critically ill, I'd just gotten a big promotion at work with increased responsibilities, and it felt like I was failing spectacularly in each and every sphere of my life. I struggled quietly for as long as I could, and then one day, not knowing what else to do, I went to my boss and blurted, “I know I'm not doing my share, but I can barely manage what I've currently got. I’m worried that everyone in the department resents me for not doing more. And I'm so overwhelmed I don't know how to fix any of it.” And as scary as it was to say that, it was less painful than ruminating on it internally all day.

And, of course, my boss didn’t actually think I was failing spectacularly. She was able to help me prioritize my new responsibilities instead of trying to start all of them at once- because she had distance and perspective.

Since then, I’ve built the practice of vulnerability into my life. I actually ask myself if I want to let the bloopers-reel stream in my brain, or if I want a reality check. I have a circle of trusted, intimate friends that I save the super-hard stuff for, and I'm learning to be more vulnerable about the regular stuff with people in my everyday life.

What lies ahead for Jena Curtis?

I’m looking forward to more family time, warmer weather, and picnics.

Meet the Yes Collective Experts: Jena Curtis, EdD

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Jena Curtis is a professor of Gender and Sexuality and SUNY Cortland. After years of being on the main stage for HIV/AIDS advocacy, Jena turned to academia. Some of her published works include “HIV/AIDS Adherence: Teaching About Treatment and Stigma” and “Using Online Discussion Forums to Promote Critical Reflection among Pre and In-Service HIV/AIDS Educators and Service Providers.

What does family mean to you?

Family is the base cap from which we venture into the world. Our family are the people who love us, who provide both encouragement and safety as we journey through our lives. They can be the people who raised us, and also the people that we meet along the trail and welcome into our lives.

What does thriving mean to you?

I worry that in our self-talk we sometimes set the bar for thriving a little too tight. It can seem that if we’re not #winning we can’t be thriving. And we forget growth is often so subtle as to be invisible. Thriving can mean simply facing the challenges and noting the joys of each day. Help seeking and honoring vulnerable emotions are all part of thriving.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

In elementary school, I wanted to be a pediatric hematologist. I wanted to cure hemophilia so that my brother wouldn’t be a “bleeder” anymore. Then the AIDS pandemic started (and I learned about Organic Chemistry) and I wanted to become a lawyer and then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court so I could fight discrimination.

When did you know you wanted to study gender and sexuality? Can you tell us about that time in your life, and what it felt like to come to that realization?

My early AIDS activism taught me that much of what I “knew” about sexuality and sexual health was either wrong or woefully inadequate. I grew up in a family where no one talked about sex both because it's embarrassing and also something for “later when you are grown up.”

Then I became an adult and realized that the questions that I had had as an adolescent about love and sexuality were universal- and still unanswered. It wasn't that I was broken, it’s that relationships are hard work.

As a culture, we spend more time formally teaching teens how to parallel park than we do teaching them how to talk to a crush. Realizing that everyone has questions and worries about sexuality AND that there are answers to be had was life-changing.

In your teaching and research, what are some of the common challenges you see teenagers and young adults face with their sexuality?

The research tells us that adolescence and emerging adulthood is a time of tremendous change and also incredible variability. Some people know exactly who they are and what they want, others are very uncertain about their sexuality or gender identity, or what type of relationships that they want. Most folks are somewhat in the middle.

It's normal to be sure; it’s normal to be uncertain; it’s normal to completely confused. New research supports the idea that it is both healthy and normal to still be figuring fundamental aspects of our identity well into our 30s, so the idea that someone magically has the answers by the time that they graduate from high school is unrealistic and harmful.

There are a million ways to reach healthy, happy adulthood. But we tend to talk about it as a single super-highway that we all merge onto at 18 before we set the cruise control for the rest of our lives.

In your teaching and research, what do you see as the biggest mistakes parents make in talking about gender and sexuality with their kids?

The biggest mistake that I see parents make is in thinking that their children only “learn” about sexuality (and other stuff) when they are talking or actively “teaching.”

Our children are constantly absorbing lessons about love and connection from us by seeing (and imitating) how we interact with them and other people in our lives. Any parent who has watched in horror as a small child repeats overheard swear words to grandma knows that little ears are always listening.

Our children are constantly learning about gender and sexuality from their environment. It’s our job to ask ourselves if the lessons or rules that we teach our children about love, sex, and respect are the same lessons that we model for them in our everyday behavior. And if there is a disconnect, if we are teaching our sons to treat women with the respect, at the same time we allow other adults in our lives to use words like “girly” to mean weak or stupid, then it’s worth thinking about our values and what we want our children to learn.

As a mom and as an educator and researcher, what is one piece of parenting advice you’d give to Yes Collective Parents?

Parenting is this all-encompassing, completely immersive experience that we somehow believe should come naturally to us—if we're good people. Never in my life have I been asked to do a harder, more important job with such minimal guidance and structure. It makes sense that parenting would often seem overwhelming and impossible to get right. I wish I had been as comfortable admitting this 30 years ago as I am now.

What is one piece of self-care advice you’d give to Yes Collective Parents?

I grew up with a mother who thought that taking time to goof off was selfish. Maternal love and sacrifice were the same thing. Good mothers took what was left, put themselves last, and got the burnt slices of pizza.

I never questioned those lessons until I had adolescent children and had to think about what I wanted for them as adults and possible parents. Now my youngest is helping me find hobbies. It’s hard. Don’t wait until you’re 50.

What is your own most important self-care practice? Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to it, what it looks like, and how it helps you?

Vulnerability is a superpower. My brain is capable of incredibly negative self-talk. If I let it, it can monologue on my inadequacies for days. It’s like a Netflix special. All 20 seasons of my bloopers reel are streaming all the time. The fastest way off that feedback loop is checking in with someone else.

To say to another human, “Here's this important thing I think I'm messing up,” is like diving into an icy lake. You have to gather up your courage and take a heart-shuddering plunge. I came to this out of desperation.

My youngest child was critically ill, I'd just gotten a big promotion at work with increased responsibilities, and it felt like I was failing spectacularly in each and every sphere of my life. I struggled quietly for as long as I could, and then one day, not knowing what else to do, I went to my boss and blurted, “I know I'm not doing my share, but I can barely manage what I've currently got. I’m worried that everyone in the department resents me for not doing more. And I'm so overwhelmed I don't know how to fix any of it.” And as scary as it was to say that, it was less painful than ruminating on it internally all day.

And, of course, my boss didn’t actually think I was failing spectacularly. She was able to help me prioritize my new responsibilities instead of trying to start all of them at once- because she had distance and perspective.

Since then, I’ve built the practice of vulnerability into my life. I actually ask myself if I want to let the bloopers-reel stream in my brain, or if I want a reality check. I have a circle of trusted, intimate friends that I save the super-hard stuff for, and I'm learning to be more vulnerable about the regular stuff with people in my everyday life.

What lies ahead for Jena Curtis?

I’m looking forward to more family time, warmer weather, and picnics.

Jena Curtis is a professor of Gender and Sexuality and SUNY Cortland. After years of being on the main stage for HIV/AIDS advocacy, Jena turned to academia. Some of her published works include “HIV/AIDS Adherence: Teaching About Treatment and Stigma” and “Using Online Discussion Forums to Promote Critical Reflection among Pre and In-Service HIV/AIDS Educators and Service Providers.

What does family mean to you?

Family is the base cap from which we venture into the world. Our family are the people who love us, who provide both encouragement and safety as we journey through our lives. They can be the people who raised us, and also the people that we meet along the trail and welcome into our lives.

What does thriving mean to you?

I worry that in our self-talk we sometimes set the bar for thriving a little too tight. It can seem that if we’re not #winning we can’t be thriving. And we forget growth is often so subtle as to be invisible. Thriving can mean simply facing the challenges and noting the joys of each day. Help seeking and honoring vulnerable emotions are all part of thriving.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

In elementary school, I wanted to be a pediatric hematologist. I wanted to cure hemophilia so that my brother wouldn’t be a “bleeder” anymore. Then the AIDS pandemic started (and I learned about Organic Chemistry) and I wanted to become a lawyer and then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court so I could fight discrimination.

When did you know you wanted to study gender and sexuality? Can you tell us about that time in your life, and what it felt like to come to that realization?

My early AIDS activism taught me that much of what I “knew” about sexuality and sexual health was either wrong or woefully inadequate. I grew up in a family where no one talked about sex both because it's embarrassing and also something for “later when you are grown up.”

Then I became an adult and realized that the questions that I had had as an adolescent about love and sexuality were universal- and still unanswered. It wasn't that I was broken, it’s that relationships are hard work.

As a culture, we spend more time formally teaching teens how to parallel park than we do teaching them how to talk to a crush. Realizing that everyone has questions and worries about sexuality AND that there are answers to be had was life-changing.

In your teaching and research, what are some of the common challenges you see teenagers and young adults face with their sexuality?

The research tells us that adolescence and emerging adulthood is a time of tremendous change and also incredible variability. Some people know exactly who they are and what they want, others are very uncertain about their sexuality or gender identity, or what type of relationships that they want. Most folks are somewhat in the middle.

It's normal to be sure; it’s normal to be uncertain; it’s normal to completely confused. New research supports the idea that it is both healthy and normal to still be figuring fundamental aspects of our identity well into our 30s, so the idea that someone magically has the answers by the time that they graduate from high school is unrealistic and harmful.

There are a million ways to reach healthy, happy adulthood. But we tend to talk about it as a single super-highway that we all merge onto at 18 before we set the cruise control for the rest of our lives.

In your teaching and research, what do you see as the biggest mistakes parents make in talking about gender and sexuality with their kids?

The biggest mistake that I see parents make is in thinking that their children only “learn” about sexuality (and other stuff) when they are talking or actively “teaching.”

Our children are constantly absorbing lessons about love and connection from us by seeing (and imitating) how we interact with them and other people in our lives. Any parent who has watched in horror as a small child repeats overheard swear words to grandma knows that little ears are always listening.

Our children are constantly learning about gender and sexuality from their environment. It’s our job to ask ourselves if the lessons or rules that we teach our children about love, sex, and respect are the same lessons that we model for them in our everyday behavior. And if there is a disconnect, if we are teaching our sons to treat women with the respect, at the same time we allow other adults in our lives to use words like “girly” to mean weak or stupid, then it’s worth thinking about our values and what we want our children to learn.

As a mom and as an educator and researcher, what is one piece of parenting advice you’d give to Yes Collective Parents?

Parenting is this all-encompassing, completely immersive experience that we somehow believe should come naturally to us—if we're good people. Never in my life have I been asked to do a harder, more important job with such minimal guidance and structure. It makes sense that parenting would often seem overwhelming and impossible to get right. I wish I had been as comfortable admitting this 30 years ago as I am now.

What is one piece of self-care advice you’d give to Yes Collective Parents?

I grew up with a mother who thought that taking time to goof off was selfish. Maternal love and sacrifice were the same thing. Good mothers took what was left, put themselves last, and got the burnt slices of pizza.

I never questioned those lessons until I had adolescent children and had to think about what I wanted for them as adults and possible parents. Now my youngest is helping me find hobbies. It’s hard. Don’t wait until you’re 50.

What is your own most important self-care practice? Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to it, what it looks like, and how it helps you?

Vulnerability is a superpower. My brain is capable of incredibly negative self-talk. If I let it, it can monologue on my inadequacies for days. It’s like a Netflix special. All 20 seasons of my bloopers reel are streaming all the time. The fastest way off that feedback loop is checking in with someone else.

To say to another human, “Here's this important thing I think I'm messing up,” is like diving into an icy lake. You have to gather up your courage and take a heart-shuddering plunge. I came to this out of desperation.

My youngest child was critically ill, I'd just gotten a big promotion at work with increased responsibilities, and it felt like I was failing spectacularly in each and every sphere of my life. I struggled quietly for as long as I could, and then one day, not knowing what else to do, I went to my boss and blurted, “I know I'm not doing my share, but I can barely manage what I've currently got. I’m worried that everyone in the department resents me for not doing more. And I'm so overwhelmed I don't know how to fix any of it.” And as scary as it was to say that, it was less painful than ruminating on it internally all day.

And, of course, my boss didn’t actually think I was failing spectacularly. She was able to help me prioritize my new responsibilities instead of trying to start all of them at once- because she had distance and perspective.

Since then, I’ve built the practice of vulnerability into my life. I actually ask myself if I want to let the bloopers-reel stream in my brain, or if I want a reality check. I have a circle of trusted, intimate friends that I save the super-hard stuff for, and I'm learning to be more vulnerable about the regular stuff with people in my everyday life.

What lies ahead for Jena Curtis?

I’m looking forward to more family time, warmer weather, and picnics.

Jena Curtis is a professor of Gender and Sexuality and SUNY Cortland. After years of being on the main stage for HIV/AIDS advocacy, Jena turned to academia. Some of her published works include “HIV/AIDS Adherence: Teaching About Treatment and Stigma” and “Using Online Discussion Forums to Promote Critical Reflection among Pre and In-Service HIV/AIDS Educators and Service Providers.

What does family mean to you?

Family is the base cap from which we venture into the world. Our family are the people who love us, who provide both encouragement and safety as we journey through our lives. They can be the people who raised us, and also the people that we meet along the trail and welcome into our lives.

What does thriving mean to you?

I worry that in our self-talk we sometimes set the bar for thriving a little too tight. It can seem that if we’re not #winning we can’t be thriving. And we forget growth is often so subtle as to be invisible. Thriving can mean simply facing the challenges and noting the joys of each day. Help seeking and honoring vulnerable emotions are all part of thriving.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

In elementary school, I wanted to be a pediatric hematologist. I wanted to cure hemophilia so that my brother wouldn’t be a “bleeder” anymore. Then the AIDS pandemic started (and I learned about Organic Chemistry) and I wanted to become a lawyer and then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court so I could fight discrimination.

When did you know you wanted to study gender and sexuality? Can you tell us about that time in your life, and what it felt like to come to that realization?

My early AIDS activism taught me that much of what I “knew” about sexuality and sexual health was either wrong or woefully inadequate. I grew up in a family where no one talked about sex both because it's embarrassing and also something for “later when you are grown up.”

Then I became an adult and realized that the questions that I had had as an adolescent about love and sexuality were universal- and still unanswered. It wasn't that I was broken, it’s that relationships are hard work.

As a culture, we spend more time formally teaching teens how to parallel park than we do teaching them how to talk to a crush. Realizing that everyone has questions and worries about sexuality AND that there are answers to be had was life-changing.

In your teaching and research, what are some of the common challenges you see teenagers and young adults face with their sexuality?

The research tells us that adolescence and emerging adulthood is a time of tremendous change and also incredible variability. Some people know exactly who they are and what they want, others are very uncertain about their sexuality or gender identity, or what type of relationships that they want. Most folks are somewhat in the middle.

It's normal to be sure; it’s normal to be uncertain; it’s normal to completely confused. New research supports the idea that it is both healthy and normal to still be figuring fundamental aspects of our identity well into our 30s, so the idea that someone magically has the answers by the time that they graduate from high school is unrealistic and harmful.

There are a million ways to reach healthy, happy adulthood. But we tend to talk about it as a single super-highway that we all merge onto at 18 before we set the cruise control for the rest of our lives.

In your teaching and research, what do you see as the biggest mistakes parents make in talking about gender and sexuality with their kids?

The biggest mistake that I see parents make is in thinking that their children only “learn” about sexuality (and other stuff) when they are talking or actively “teaching.”

Our children are constantly absorbing lessons about love and connection from us by seeing (and imitating) how we interact with them and other people in our lives. Any parent who has watched in horror as a small child repeats overheard swear words to grandma knows that little ears are always listening.

Our children are constantly learning about gender and sexuality from their environment. It’s our job to ask ourselves if the lessons or rules that we teach our children about love, sex, and respect are the same lessons that we model for them in our everyday behavior. And if there is a disconnect, if we are teaching our sons to treat women with the respect, at the same time we allow other adults in our lives to use words like “girly” to mean weak or stupid, then it’s worth thinking about our values and what we want our children to learn.

As a mom and as an educator and researcher, what is one piece of parenting advice you’d give to Yes Collective Parents?

Parenting is this all-encompassing, completely immersive experience that we somehow believe should come naturally to us—if we're good people. Never in my life have I been asked to do a harder, more important job with such minimal guidance and structure. It makes sense that parenting would often seem overwhelming and impossible to get right. I wish I had been as comfortable admitting this 30 years ago as I am now.

What is one piece of self-care advice you’d give to Yes Collective Parents?

I grew up with a mother who thought that taking time to goof off was selfish. Maternal love and sacrifice were the same thing. Good mothers took what was left, put themselves last, and got the burnt slices of pizza.

I never questioned those lessons until I had adolescent children and had to think about what I wanted for them as adults and possible parents. Now my youngest is helping me find hobbies. It’s hard. Don’t wait until you’re 50.

What is your own most important self-care practice? Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to it, what it looks like, and how it helps you?

Vulnerability is a superpower. My brain is capable of incredibly negative self-talk. If I let it, it can monologue on my inadequacies for days. It’s like a Netflix special. All 20 seasons of my bloopers reel are streaming all the time. The fastest way off that feedback loop is checking in with someone else.

To say to another human, “Here's this important thing I think I'm messing up,” is like diving into an icy lake. You have to gather up your courage and take a heart-shuddering plunge. I came to this out of desperation.

My youngest child was critically ill, I'd just gotten a big promotion at work with increased responsibilities, and it felt like I was failing spectacularly in each and every sphere of my life. I struggled quietly for as long as I could, and then one day, not knowing what else to do, I went to my boss and blurted, “I know I'm not doing my share, but I can barely manage what I've currently got. I’m worried that everyone in the department resents me for not doing more. And I'm so overwhelmed I don't know how to fix any of it.” And as scary as it was to say that, it was less painful than ruminating on it internally all day.

And, of course, my boss didn’t actually think I was failing spectacularly. She was able to help me prioritize my new responsibilities instead of trying to start all of them at once- because she had distance and perspective.

Since then, I’ve built the practice of vulnerability into my life. I actually ask myself if I want to let the bloopers-reel stream in my brain, or if I want a reality check. I have a circle of trusted, intimate friends that I save the super-hard stuff for, and I'm learning to be more vulnerable about the regular stuff with people in my everyday life.

What lies ahead for Jena Curtis?

I’m looking forward to more family time, warmer weather, and picnics.

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Podcast Ep. 40. Nadia Torres-Eaton, PsyD, Leads the Yes Collective Therapist's Circle

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Podcast Ep. 40. Nadia Torres-Eaton, PsyD, Leads the Yes Collective Therapist's Circle

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Yes Collective Podcast

Breaking Generational Cycles of Disordered Eating and Food Shaming

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Breaking Generational Cycles of Disordered Eating and Food Shaming

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Anne Watson

Podcast Ep. 38: Audra & Justin's In-between-isode on the Frank Anderson, MD, Interview

Podcasts

Podcast Ep. 38: Audra & Justin's In-between-isode on the Frank Anderson, MD, Interview

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Yes Collective Podcast

Podcast Ep. 35: Christina Furnival, LPC, Leads the Yes Collective Therapist's Circle

Podcasts

Podcast Ep. 35: Christina Furnival, LPC, Leads the Yes Collective Therapist's Circle

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Yes Collective Podcast

Podcast Ep. 37: Frank Anderson, MD, on Breaking Cycles, Generational Healing, and Parenting Under Pressure

Podcasts

Podcast Ep. 37: Frank Anderson, MD, on Breaking Cycles, Generational Healing, and Parenting Under Pressure

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Yes Collective Podcast

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