A therapist and a client call into a Zoom meeting.
No, that’s not the start of a COVID-19-age joke — it’s the blossoming routine for Aspen therapist Kathleen Callahan and Snowmass resident Marc Fernandes.
But these call-ins haven’t been for therapy sessions or virtual business meetups. These Zoom meetings are part of the therapist-client duo’s new mental health podcast “A Kinder Mind,” which aims to put out real life, experience-based mental health, coping and self management strategies to support people through the pandemic and beyond.
“With COVID and everything, we saw an opportunity to talk about mental health issues and maybe alleviate some pain people are having,” Callahan said.
“It became obvious to Kathleen and I that there was a huge need in the community,” Fernandes added.
On a recent afternoon in Snowmass Base Village, Callahan and Fernandes talked about their inspiration for “A Kinder Mind” and explained how their relationship has shifted over the past two years from a “difficult” client and therapist partnership — as Fernandes tends to push Callahan to thoroughly explain the reasoning behind many of her mental well-being strategies — to a close friendship.
“Marc never takes anything at word value, I definitely had to prove the science of what I was saying, which was great for me because I am a nerd, 10,000 times over,” said Callahan, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist based in Aspen, laughing. “We have a great rapport and while we started as therapist-client, now we’re friends.”
Callahan said she’s been pushing Fernandes, a longtime Aspen Skiing Co. ski pro with a background in musical theatre and video production, to pursue his dream of creating an at-home studio where he can produce voice overs, audio book readings, music and more.
Late last year, Fernandes said he started getting the information and equipment he needed to make this studio a reality. So when COVID-19 spread to the valley and life as most people knew it was derailed due to the pandemic, Fernandes and Callahan said they decided to try producing a podcast that could give people realistic coping mechanisms and mental well-being strategies to help them through.
“We started with a focus of we’re all stuck at home, the pandemic happened, so how do we help people be better partners, better parents and better spouses?” Fernandes said.
“I don’t feel like anything we’re putting out there is completely earth shattering but it is a constant reminder, if nothing else, that we should be paying attention to self care and taking care of ourselves in a way that allows us to be healthier, especially with everything that’s going on.”
As the COVID-19 crisis has evolved, so has the podcast. From tips and strategies to stay sane during the stay-at-home order, published on SoundCloud as “Marc and Kathleen’s Mental Health Podcast”; to more tips based off personal experiences on things like how to recognize your values, carry forward the positive self-care aspects of the COVID-19 lockdown, and learn to be a better listener, especially amid the current Black Lives Matter movement, Callahan and Fernandes said the podcast episode discussions have grown in breadth and in listenership.
Instead of just being published on SoundCloud, Callahan and Fernandes recently began posting Zoom videos of themselves recording the podcast on Facebook, too, with the current “A Kinder Mind” title — which refers to helping people learn how to be mentally kinder to themselves and then in turn be kinder and more compassionate toward others, becoming the best versions of themselves.
And while both Fernandes and Callahan said the COVID-19-related social distancing and public health protocols offered up more time and resulted in the more immediate need of a resource like “A Kinder Mind,” the duo plans to continue tweaking and evolving the podcast so that it stays relevant and helpful moving forward.
“We’re not sure where it’s going to go from here but we keep getting more and more followers and we want to keep it lively and relevant with what’s happening in the world,” Callahan said, noting that the podcast’s Facebook group already has more than 500 followers. “We’ll keep going as long as people see it as useful.”
Ensuring the podcast is useful and helpful to local listeners who may be struggling with their mental health is the anchor for Callahan and Fernandes. Over the past two years, both said the Aspen-Snowmass community has greatly suffered from clusters of suicides, mainly during the offseasons. Fernandes lost two coworkers in back-to-back offseasons and Callahan lost her son to suicide in July 2018.
Both feel that through being open and honest about their experiences and personal mental health struggles they can encourage and inspire other people to do the same, and want to do whatever they can support the mental health of their friends and neighbors.
“I had a son who committed suicide almost two years ago and I’m not afraid to talk about it,” said Callahan, who also helps lead the Hospitality Matters support group in Aspen. “I try to teach people that you can be real, you can be kind and you can still move forward. … If you can be real with others they’re more likely to be able to be real with themselves and then back with you.”
When asked how Callahan and Fernandes feel the pandemic will impact people’s willingness and openness to discuss their mental health issues and struggles — considering the COVID-19 crisis is serving as a shared stress-, anxiety- and even depression-inducing experience and discussion topic for everyone — the podcast producers said they hope it will help people create healthier, self-care habits, to feel more resilient and to continue connecting with others.
For example, Callahan said she knows people in Aspen who live with roommates they never really connected with before, but who they are now consistently cooking and playing games with due to the pandemic for the first time, which she hopes people will make time to continue.
“One of the things Kathleen has said a few times in the podcast that has really helped me is reminding people that yes, we’ve been through this really traumatic thing. It’s been really hard for many people in different ways, but we if we’re sitting here today, we’ve survived an awful shared human experience,” Fernandes said.
“And I think what we’re seeing now from a social justice standpoint is due to the pandemic to a point. We’ve gone through this shared experience, realized human kind is human kind and all of a sudden there’s a sector of our society that has been oppressed and pushed down and we’re like, ‘Yeah, no that’s not OK, that can’t continue.’”
As the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement continue to impact people in Aspen and around the world, Callahan and Fernandes said they hope to frame their future episodes around more listener-based questions and topics, assuring their reach and content will make a difference now and over the months to come.
“I feel like the human experience is we often feel like we’re very alone but we’re not,” Fernandes said. “For me, the most powerful piece of this podcast is helping release the stigma of needing help. … If I can help anyone find a way to either help themselves or ask, that feeds my own journey and mental health.”