Tarsha Wiggins prepares for her group therapy sessions a little differently than more conventional mental health providers.
The process starts with a playlist: songs that Wiggins, the founder of Speak Wellness Behavioral Health and Consulting, can link to mental health.
In an approach she calls “trap therapy,” she uses hip-hop and R&B to delve into topics like depression, anxiety and trauma.
The tunes serve an important purpose.
“Unbeknownst to them, I’m bringing their guard down to have really meaningful and dynamic conversations about mental health,” Wiggins said.
The music releases natural endorphins that help people open up more, Wiggins said. Lyrics and messages in the songs can also be used to deliver important points on mental health in a relatable way.
Filling a need
Wiggins, a licensed clinical social worker and an alcohol and drug counselor, saw a need during the COVID-19 pandemic to share tools and coping strategies with people. At the moment, she does that via social media platforms and events as she works to set up a website with her services.
Wiggins officially formed her company in May. Since then, organizations have contacted her to provide trap therapy sessions and consultations that were provided for free to attendees.
As a Milwaukee native, the 37-year-old Wiggins said she can relate to the people who attend her sessions. Growing up on North 24th and West Vliet streets, she knows the challenges some of her clients face.
“Being of the community, being of that culture, not being afraid and just having those conversations with people – it means the world,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins stays active on social media, organizing “Mental Health Minutes” on Facebook and Instagram where she provides tips and thoughts for the day. While her videos are sometimes about heavy topics, Wiggins tries to keep things light and often uses humor to make people feel more at ease.
“Humor oftentimes can be a prescription for mental health,” Wiggins said
Wiggins also provides behavioral health consultations, referrals, corporate education sessions and has partnered with the Milwaukee Health Department’s Office of Violence Prevention.
Diana Williams, co-founder of Beyond 4 Walls Ministry, a nonprofit in Milwaukee that provides family-based resources, said Wiggins creates an environment where people feel comfortable discussing their feelings. Wiggins collaborated with Williams for a family summit focused on children’s mental health and coping during the pandemic.
“She makes it easy for people by coming to their level,” Williams said. “It doesn’t have to be as hard as they think.”
Malina Young, Wiggins’ sister-in-law, has attended a few trap therapy sessions.
“She made therapy cool,” Young said. “She had the whole room dancing during the song then reaching for tissues during the talkback.”
Wiggins conducts trap therapy sessions periodically but said she always look for opportunities to reach people.
“I’m comfortable having very uncomfortable conversations,” Wiggins said. “I can come talk to you anywhere about anything … just scoot over and let me sit down with you.”