Ways in which a person may recognize he or she is a highly sensitive person

— Dr. Kelley

5 coping mechanisms for highly sensitive people

— Dr. Kelley

If Kim Kardashian Can’t Do it How Can I?

After years of counseling, writing and advocating for survivors of domestic violence I have kept a pulse on the drama between Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Recently, I received a text from my co-author and survivor, Kendall Ann Combs, with the viral video of Trevor Noah addressing the controversy that read “No matter what Kim does he’s never going to leave her alone. If she ignores him, he acts out and somehow he’s always making his behavior her fault.”  

Knowing how courageous Kendall Ann has been with sharing her own survivor story, her concern for Kim; a powerful, famous, rich woman made me pause. A deeper look into the saga shows escalating emotional abuse and gaslighting tactics that resonates with survivors I have worked with before. This situation is proof that abuse can happen to anyone.

While Kardashian shines in the spotlight, that does not mean she wants to be harassed. She deserves safety and autonomy. Still, Kanye continues to harass her through social media and other means of intimidation. The emotional abuse and threats he seems to be getting away with are terrifying as a therapist, as my mission is to empower survivors to leave their abusers. If the system, media and our culture is failing to protect someone this powerful, how can I convince my clients to leave their abusers?

The issue lies in the narrative of what it means to survive abuse, which is misguided. Instead of asking a survivor, What took you so long to leave? The question should be, What did the abuser do to force you to stay?  Correcting how we talk about abuse and what it means to be a survivor redirects responsibility from the survivor to the abuser. It offers more compassion to survivors to speak up when they are being abused. If they feel they need to justify their trauma, this further isolates them, reducing the chance of them leaving when the relationship becomes toxic.

To address this misguided approach, I would like to call attention to the legal systems. As Trevor Noah highlighted in his defense of Kim, the legal system does not take domestic violence as serious as it could. In his past experience the law questioned whether his mother was overreacting about the fear she felt at the hands of her abuser. Negligence about her concern led to her later being shot in the head by that same abuser, which she miraculously survived.

This level of negligence points to a learned helplessness in how our society deals with intimate partner abuse. According to the Legal Information Network of Colorado (LINC) not all abusive behaviors in intimate relationships can be charged under criminal law, namely emotional abuse, financial abuse, technological abuse, or sexual abuse in the form of coercion.

This should not be the fate of those asking for help. For a survivor to seek legal counsel or an order of protection, the process should not in itself be traumatizing. Survivors are made to repeat and justify their stories, (often in the midst of experiencing post-trauma responses) so many times that some will back away from seeking the protections they deserve. Our court system should be tasked to create intentional direction for helping survivors. Empowering survivors to find safety after leaving means they will be more likely to do so, as leaving can be the most dangerous time for a survivor.

We must remember that judgment is meant for the abuser not the abused. Post-abuse safety plans carried out by helping professionals, court systems and healthcare agencies are necessary. Redirecting focus to survivors will be remind them of their power, despite attempts their abuser makes to strip them of it.  Are we going to stand by – or speak up?  We need to do better.

— Dr. Kelley

“Q & A with Dr. K”

I was once told that the reason I was invited to be on a podcast was not just because of my expert status (in the area of trauma recovery) but because I actually care. That was an enormous compliment and it got me thinking. What sets apart one “expert” from another. Often times it is intention.

My intention, with starting “Q & A with Dr. K” is to have a place for people to receive support from someone who does not see the world as black or white, but instead sees all of the nuances in between. One of my least favorite words is “always” because it is nearly impossible to say “always” about anything. Life is too complex, scary, gorgeous, messy, exciting, confusing and or extraordinary to say “always” about anything.

I can say that I put every effort to deeply consider and care about every question I receive, whether through social media or from a client in my office. I believe there is always more to learn and what we think we know is in never the end of the story. I am grateful to always be a student of my clients and those around me.

Any answers given on Q & A with Dr. K will come with loads of research, a dash of curiosity and the awareness that there is likely much more to keep learning. The most important thing that I hope to offer however is empathy. It is important that I never just be a person offering support simply to inflate my own ego because of everything I know, rather I am motivated by the potential that others will become happier, healthier and more whole because of what they learn.

When I experience empathy for others I can literally feel it in my body. This can sometimes become an achilleas heal and a topic I will certainly explore, how to protect your energy and well-being while still helping the world around you be a better place. When something I have learned can help another person, and I get to share that knowledge, I know that I am living my mission and my truth. I literally experience goosebumps at times when I am in session or supporting someone by teaching them a powerful idea of message that can help them out of a negative situation or empower them to find joy they never imagined possible. This desire to share what I know informs my writing, my counseling and my strong belief in the power of psychoeducation.

So how does it work?

On a weekly basis, or as often as life allows, I will collect any questions, comments or concerns received through my website and social media and spend time finding the most informed answers and ideas to share. I joke often that I am not great at trivia (pretty sure I am not an asset to any team looking to win) because I do not know a little about a lot but I know a lot about a little! Topics I feel passionate about include; mental health, physical and general wellness, living as a highly sensitive person (HSP), surviving trauma, parenting, clinical advice and support for other helping professionals, healthy relationships and how to find all the “selfs”- awareness/love/acceptance/esteem etc.

I am so excited to see what kind of things we will learn together. I will provide answers to questions I receive through Vlog posts @drameliakelley where you can hear first-hand what my thoughts, reflections and ideas are. I will teach new skills and engage you in experientials as often as I can, as well as provide resources where you can learn more about these topics.

As a fellow “questioner” per Gretchen Rubin’s 4 Tendencies quiz, I live for this stuff. In fact questioning and finding the answer from trusted sources elevates my self-awareness, and at times makes this crazy uncontrollable world seem a little less overwhelming. I hope as you continue to learn more about the things you care deeply about you will experience the same.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

May you be happy, may you be well and may you be at peace.   

— Dr. Kelley

So You Wrote a Book?

Many people ask how my co-author and I went about creating our debut book together.  It all began because of a podcast. I love talking to people and I especially love when it is with powerful, intelligent and funny women such as Kendall Ann. After recording an episode on her podcast, High Heels and Heartache, I asked her if she had ever thought of writing a book about everything she has learned while doing her podcast. 

That “aha” moment led to, What I Wish I Knew: Surviving and Thriving After an Abusive Relationship. This book was not my first step into the world of writing, but it certainly was one of the most life-changing experiences I’ve had. My passion for writing began in my early childhood. I was constantly reading and typing (literally typing on a type-writer) mini-series and mock-magazine articles. From there my writing has taken more of scholarly and psycho-educational turn due to my work and decades worth of schooling (yes I do seem to have an obsession with school it seems).  

But still I have always been drawn to stories, especially true stories and memoires. That is why the process of writing our book was so unique, it was a way to merge my experience as an academic and clinical writer with that of non-fiction narration and story-telling. 

Each chapter was a new challenge and opportunity for me to learn. Kendall Ann would write her experience from the inception of her abusive relationship, to her confusion about leaving. From there she shared her courageous story of escaping her abusive relationship and then the struggles of trusting herself and finding joy and love again. As her story evolved I moved and grew with her. I was present to her intense pain and her incredible triumph. The only way I could offer the best advice and support was by immersing myself and trying to imagine what Kendall Ann had felt. I would write with the same empathy I experience when sitting with someone I care for in my personal life or that I counsel. That was the only way to offer the truth.

Wearing both hats of writer and therapist, was both exciting and challenging. As I wrote, I tried to create a safe space for Kendall Ann to share her survival story. Being able to synthesize everything she went through into something that made sense to readers was really important to me. I wanted to make sure that the skills, research and ideas I was sharing felt relatable and attainable. I always kept in mind what it would be like to make major changes in life when experiencing the trauma of abuse. It was important to me that the readers gained a sense of empowerment from reading the book. I intended for everything I wrote to be applicable to the present moment. I wanted to reader to feel what it felt like to “take a deep breath” or practice journaling what they were learning in real time

I once read a quote about writing; “when writing a book make sure you write something you want to read, because you will read it 75 times”. This was so close to the truth that I wish I had kept count during the post-production process. I have come to realize that once I know what  I am writing about, I am not someone who experiences writers block. Rather I am someone who experiences more of a word avalanche. My words will come quickly and firmly onto a page. It is not until after they are written and I reemerge in the process as a reader that I truly know what I wrote and whether it conveys my true message. The editing process is where I connect with both my identity as a writer and creator. The first draft for me is when I simply show up. 

I will forever be grateful for this book, my co-author and everything I learned during writing, “What I Wish I Knew: Surviving and Thriving After an Abusive Relationship”. This experience will forever impact the way I work with survivors and how I counsel them. It has expanded my understanding of what it means to be a survivor and has deepened my awareness, compassion and respect for each and every one of them.  

— Dr. Kelley


It is the start of the new year and I have more things on my list to do than I can count, and I have been asked to write my first blog post. Do I want to? Absolutely not. But will I? Yes, because what matters to me is that this blog becomes a safe, accessible and inviting space that is full of knowledge I have learned over my 18-year career as a counselor, while still having a dash of self-deprecating authenticity and humor. When I write I can create a world contained inside my own ideas, but outside the page, nothing is within my control and nothing is perfect.

That is what we are here to learn and journey through together. How to navigate the things that matter most to us, while still remaining balanced and not becoming overwhelmed with everything we cannot control. This can be especially challenging if you have a dynamic way of feeling the world like I do. I identify myself, after countlessly retaking the self-survey, as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). This is not just a casual personality trait that results in preferences about how I like to spend my money, time and focus. Instead it dictates how I experience my every waking moment. In some ways it creates an enriched experience of being alive that non-HSPs will never get to enjoy. While in other ways it can make life and everything it has to offer so overwhelming that I will throw my hands up and declare, “I just can’t”. 

Saying “no” and holding your boundaries offers more of the moments when you can declare “I just can”. Whether you are a parent navigating the many managerial roles that life entails, a business owner, a student, a deep feeler, a survivor, someone enduring trauma and trying to come out the other side or one of the other many identities we pass through in this life,  I got you. Every bit of advice, support, or anecdotes will come directly from either my own lived experience or from some of the thousands of clients I have been fortunate enough to work with in my career. I welcome any and all questions, I love open dialogue and if there is something you want to hear more about, by all means contact me and ask, and if I do not know the answer… I will tell you. The one thing I am not aiming for on this blog is perfection. In fact I loathe the word. Instead I will leave you with these goals for us to aim for together. 

  • Failing regularly – because then you know you are attempting hard things.
  • Expressing often – because then you know you are being as close to your authentic self as possible.
  • Remaining curious – because without curiosity we are left with only the inner critic.
  • Learn the value of forgiveness – of ourselves, of others and of life when it goes off track from our anticipated plans.

Again I want to thank you for taking this moment with me. I like to champion for time as being one of the most important boundaries we have to offer ourselves. I am honored that you took a moment of yourtime to read my blog and I hope it becomes a comforting space that you choose to return.

May you be happy, may you be health and may you feel at peace.

— Dr. Kelley


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