Taylor Garff, a compassionate therapist at Inner Heart Therapy, discusses his passion and experience with MysticMag. With personal experiences shaping his own journey, Taylor brings empathy and understanding to his counseling practice. Graduating with a Master’s in Counseling from Idaho State University in 2014, he has been committed to supporting individuals in their mental health journey ever since.
Can you tell us more about how your own life experiences led you to pursue a career in counseling, and how you approach working with clients?
From a young age, the desire to pursue a career in a helping profession was always present within me. Although my mother’s occupation as a doctor led many to assume I would follow in her footsteps, I discovered that my tolerance for bodily fluids did not align with hers. It was during my college years, when I sought counseling for my own anxiety, that I realized my calling in life. Through counseling, I learned valuable coping skills, improved my self-esteem, and found solace in having someone to confide in. Curious about my counselor’s background, I became determined to follow a similar path. Reflecting back, I wish I had discovered counseling earlier, as many of the challenges I faced were rooted in anxiety, a topic that wasn’t extensively covered in school.
In my approach to working with clients, I employ several lenses. The first and foremost is person-centered theory, which places my clients at the core of the therapeutic process. Recognizing that they are the true experts on themselves, their experiences, and their emotions, I create a safe and nonjudgmental space for them to explore their concerns. Central to person-centered therapy is empathy, as I strive to understand my clients’ experiences from their own perspectives rather than imposing my own beliefs or judgments upon them. I aim to cultivate a warm and supportive environment where they feel heard and validated.
The second lens I utilize is polyvagal therapy, encompassing the practice of heart math, which I will delve into further. This particular therapeutic approach assists clients in regulating their nervous systems by fostering a sense of befriending. It empowers them to recognize when their nervous system is activated and teaches them how to respond in ways that promote feelings of safety and comfort. By engaging in this process, I aim to alleviate anxiety, reduce stress, and improve interpersonal relationships. I appreciate this theory as it addresses the root cause of many mental health issues—an overactive nervous system. By regulating their nervous systems, clients can alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
The final component of my counseling approach involves HeartMath. HeartMath is a technique that facilitates emotional regulation by tapping into the natural rhythm of the heart. It recognizes the heart as more than a mere organ, acknowledging its role as a powerful source of intelligence and intuition. By learning to work with the heart’s rhythm, individuals can effectively reduce stress, enhance focus, and improve overall well-being. Heart math has been found to be effective in managing anxiety, improving mental health, and even addressing conditions such as depression, high blood pressure, and chronic pain. Its simplicity and accessibility make it an invaluable tool that can be incorporated into daily life. Personally benefiting from heart math, I have integrated it into my counseling style, offering clients an approach that has brought me personal and professional growth.
You mention having a natural ability to help people identify what they are feeling. Can you discuss some of the techniques you use to help clients better understand and manage their emotions?
Our current educational system lacks adequate preparation for individuals to identify and understand their emotions. To address this gap, I have found the utilization of a feelings wheel to be highly effective in helping my clients comprehend and manage their emotions. This tool ranges from basic emotions like sadness and anger to more nuanced ones such as grief and frustration. Taking this technique a step further, I guide clients in identifying where these specific emotions manifest in their bodies. Although it can initially be overwhelming to connect emotions to bodily sensations, I have discovered that it is one of the most effective ways to begin working with and understanding these emotions at a deeper level.
As previously discussed, heart math serves as a valuable tool in managing emotions. When clients experience draining emotions like sadness or anger, it serves as a signal to engage in heart-focused breathing, a heart math technique that helps shift their focus away from draining emotions toward more positive and fulfilling experiences.
Another technique I find beneficial is journaling. Simply acknowledging and understanding the presence of emotions can often be the key to allowing them to move through and dissipate. Emotions are meant to be temporary visitors, lingering for 30 seconds or less. However, our minds often hold onto them for hours or even days. By understanding why these emotions arise and actively processing and experiencing them, they can naturally run their course and dissipate, allowing for emotional growth and well-being.
You are able to sit with people at their ‘worst’ and ‘hear them in that space’. Can you talk about how you create a safe and non-judgmental environment for clients, particularly when they are in a vulnerable state?
First and foremost, although I exclusively offer telehealth counseling services, I have designed a calming office space that aims to create a sense of tranquility. By meeting clients in their own homes or safe environments, we are able to quickly address the root causes of their concerns. Despite some initial hesitation surrounding telehealth for therapy, I have found it to be just as, if not more, effective in facilitating positive outcomes.
Furthermore, by prioritizing the regulation of my own nervous system through practices like heart math and polyvagal therapy, I can support my clients in co-regulating their emotions. I recognize that our sessions may be the only time during the week when they have access to a co-regulating presence, and I value the importance of providing that support.
Lastly, I firmly believe that the therapy space should be free from my personal judgments or biases. It is my responsibility to validate my clients’ experiences and strive to understand them from their perspective, rather than imposing my own viewpoints. I recognize that they are the true experts on their own lives and emotions, and I hold the belief that everyone has the capacity for positive growth.
What do you think are some of the most common mental health challenges that clients come to you for, and how do you typically address these issues in your therapy sessions?
Many clients seek my support for common mental health challenges such as anxiety, trauma, and concerns related to being part of the LGBTQ+ community. For individuals dealing with anxiety, I find it helpful to explore their inner dialogue that perpetuates their anxious thoughts. By challenging and addressing their inner critic and negative thinking patterns, we can create space to work on befriending their nervous system. Given the unpredictable nature of anxiety, I provide clients with a variety of coping skills, equipping them with a diverse toolbox of techniques that can be applied in different situations.
When working with individuals who have experienced trauma, I typically initiate the process with written exposure therapy. This evidence-based approach allows clients to navigate their trauma without re-traumatization, as they don’t have to verbally recount their traumatic experiences. This therapy generally spans about five sessions, after which we can focus on building resilience and incorporating additional coping strategies.
For those within the LGBTQ+ community, who often face marginalization and discrimination, establishing a sense of safety and rapport is paramount. Recognizing that I may be the only accepting person in their life, I prioritize creating a secure and respectful environment. When it comes to topics such as gender identity or sexual orientation, I allow clients to determine when and if they are ready to discuss them, avoiding any pressure. Once a solid therapeutic relationship has been established, we can explore ways to enhance feelings of safety and discuss potential options, such as coming out, transitioning, or accessing gender-affirming care, based on their individual needs and preferences.
How do you incorporate mindfulness and other holistic techniques into your counseling approach, and what benefits can clients expect to experience from these practices?
I find great value in integrating mindfulness into my therapeutic practice, as it addresses the tendency for individuals to dwell in either future-oriented anxiety or past-focused depression. Mindfulness brings awareness to the present moment, emphasizing the importance of working with what is here and now. While we cannot change the future or alter the past, we can develop skills to cope with them effectively. By incorporating mindfulness, we can quiet the inner critic and gain a deeper understanding of the emotions present within the body, fostering the process of befriending the nervous system.
In addition to mindfulness, I also utilize practices such as heart math and breath work. These techniques allow individuals to harness the power of the breath as a coping mechanism, providing a readily available tool for calming down and navigating various situations, regardless of their location or circumstances. The benefits of breath work can extend to reduced pain, decreased anxiety and depression, and even alleviation of high blood pressure. By incorporating holistic practices, I aim to offer diverse approaches to therapy, recognizing that not everyone may resonate with traditional cognitive behavioral therapy. Embracing holistic perspectives allows individuals to explore therapy from a different angle, addressing their unique needs in a comprehensive manner.
How can I work with you?
I work with people located in Idaho, Utah, Colorado, and Florida. Additionally, individuals in the UK are also eligible for services.
What if I’ve tried therapy, and it didn’t work before?
Therapists and counselors are not one-size-fits-all. My best advice is to find a handful of therapists that look like you’d work well with and to set up a consultation with each of them to learn more about their styles and ask questions. As a therapist, I love when my clients are shopping around because my only goal is that they find a provider that fits their needs, and I’m okay if that’s not me!
If you would like to find out more about Taylor Garff, visit https://www.innerhearttherapy.org/