Life After Poverty
A psychotherapist helps formerly poor executives grapple with their past
image by Zina Saunders / www.zinasaunders.com
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Jinnie English says she thought she’d finish her degree in social service administration and take “a managerial position in clinical social work at some kind of agency.” But after graduating from the University of Chicago, she was her family’s sole breadwinner, with two children and one on the way. To earn more than a typical social worker’s salary, she opened her own counseling and therapy practice.
She discovered a “niche population of executives.” Her high-powered clients—most of them African American, Latino, or Asian—were successful in their careers and, by outward measures, in their lives. But their backgrounds often “included poverty, abuse, homelessness, not having a parent,” she says. “Under a really nice suit, great haircut, nice home in the suburbs . . . they were left with the internal struggle of being poor.” English had found her specialty.
Her practice, which English eventually renamed Chicago’s High Achievers, offers two types of services for individuals: “professional” and “personal” development. Typically, clients come in through the career-counseling side, often because they don’t realize that they have personal issues. As those deeper issues come to light, they switch to psychotherapy (English is a licensed clinical social worker).
For clients who work in corporate America, adjusting to wealth and professional success can be a significant problem. “It’s culture shock,” English says. They may have been the first in their families to go to college or to hold a white-collar job.
“Many of my clients grew up in families that were extremely dysfunctional,” she says. “They have no idea how to deal with power or control.”