About the Therapist
Who am I? (Leslie LaRo Hayes)
If you have landed on my website, you may be curious about who I am. Well, that’s a fairly layered topic so I have to start somewhere.
I am a proud Texan. Even before Texas was a state, generations of my family called Texas home and built a legacy of strength, sacrifice, faith, and hard work. I currently live in Medina County with my husband and some wild, but contented cats.
I am passionate about building strong connections between people, using understanding and acceptance of self/other, and motivation to grow closer to those important enough to keep pushing through difficult times.
I am a committed follower of Christ, believing religion symbolizes Man’s flawed effort to reach God, but relationship is God’s flawless plan to reach us. These two are not the same.
I believe without Relationship, Religion feels empty and can bring doubt, resentment, and a sense of being lost.
People are responsible for which of these they develop, as they are responsible for how this plays out in the tapestry of life. We cannot ‘borrow’ the faith of another person. It is something we develop alone with God.
Born in the mid-1960s, I grew up the youngest of 3 girls in San Antonio, Texas, in a ‘traditional’ intact family. At various times in my life I have acted in less-than “traditional” ways, meaning I did not always behave as was expected in my community—this has been a source of both blessing and heartache throughout my life.
I recognize not all families reflect my own experience but this does not make them less valid than my own.
You may not share my beliefs or values but I will offer you the best I have and will respect and treat you with the dignity all persons deserve. The values and standards I was taught (and have challenged) are a part of the filter through which I view life and I think it important for all potential clients to understand how I view them and the world we inhabit together. I will not try to be “all things to all people” so if my skills, training, or personality don’t offer what you need to assist you in your struggle, I will offer referrals to you for someone who may be a better fit for you.
I am a 20+year veteran public school educator and have been working with individuals, couples, and families educationally and therapeutically all of my professional life. I taught individuals with “disabilities”, aged birth to 22 years in the public school environment. I worked primarily with children who struggled every day to accomplish things most of their peers took for granted. I helped families focus on what their children COULD do, rather than on what they could not yet do.
Later, as a teacher of students with visual impairments, I spent time developing and applying professional knowledge and skills in the areas of sensory development and integration, particularly vision, hearing and touch. This led to a fascination with the concept of infant mental health and development. (a fancy way to say developing a secure attachment style)—this continues to be an area of interest for me—strong identities develop from secure attachments and stable childhood relationships.
In 2001, I realized the world was changing around me and that I was not involved in the profession which provided the most spark to my passion. I simply needed to take a hard look in the mirror and DO what I knew I was born to do: being a professional “busybody.” My insatiable curiosity about people drove my decision to pursue both a masters and a doctoral degree in Marriage and Family Therapy so I could mutually teach and learn about the struggles of others. Finally, as I pursue professional goals that pull all of these elements together, I love what I do! I find it humbling and invigorating to come alongside others as they try to overcome things they have found overwhelming to tackle alone.
A little on the quirky side, I tend to laugh and cry with equal ease.
I delight in the ways people learn to love, while I am saddened when meeting someone who has forgotten how to love, or, more tragically, how to BE loved. Isolated people are frequently untrusting souls who may be unaware they are the only ones who can open the door for connection to bring back the light. Often it is fear of rejection or abandonment which leads one to close doors and reject outstretched hands of hope. Isolation is a silent killer of people all over the world. It has serious neurological impact on our lives.
I believe there are reasons for everything we think, feel, believe and do.
In order to be a fully functional and healthy human adult, we must learn to be more curious about ourselves and others, particularly those with whom we share our lives. If we pay close enough attention, behavior communicates volumes, much of it worthy of receiving, because it informs how we respond.
Our brains offer a fascinating map of who we have been, are now, and can become, given proper nurturing and development of new habits. Our minds have a primitive facet and a more complex “evolved” identity. Both have roles but sometimes need a “reboot.”
It is the brain and all its mysteries which defines our human potential and drives our behavior. Most of this happens without our giving it even a passing thought. I try to share with clients and others with whom I interact, the role our brains play in human function every moment of every day.
I believe all individuals can learn, grow, and connect to others in beneficial ways.
We are all “differently-abled” in some aspect or when asked to accomplish tasks in areas unknown to us. We all have something of value to bring to the garden. Not everything which is planted and sprouts is helpful and sometimes we need help weeding out the unhealthy and obstructive so the necessary and vital has room for growth and exposure. Good things sometimes wither and die because the light of attention and love never reaches them.
What we shine a light upon, grows.
Some of my philosophical influences have been the bible, C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Elisabeth Elliot, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A. W. Tozer, J. I. Packer, Phillip Yancey, Ravi Zacharias, Mother Teresa, R. C. Sproul, and Billy Graham. These sources have been instrumental in helping me answer my own life’s questions. I include a wealth of references in the RESOURCES section of this website for anyone interested in learning more about the nature of people in community with self and others.
Clinically, I offer primarily a relational & developmental approach to therapy, believing relationships are the building blocks of our lives. Therapeutic ties I build with clients may unearth aspects of both positive and negative experiences the client may have had in the past. I help clients examine filters, expectations, assumptions, and choices in an effort to see the “THEN” and “NOW” differently and form a new relationship with both to build a future free of unwanted ‘baggage.’ I cannot promise change to anyone—there are no magic wands for success, but I rarely give up on a client unless the client has decided that change is more difficult than they’d anticipated. A small percentage of clients begin the process with unrealistic expectations of what therapy can accomplish. I do all can do to help facilitate client-created change, from the inside-out.
Therapeutic and Personal Worldview
The external world may not reflect my internal state. The only thing I have ANY control over is my response to what life brings to me. It may be beautiful or it may be scary and horrifying: over this, I have NO control. It’s “out of my column” of control. However, what I believe about me, the world, and the One who created space for both, necessarily provides the template for how I respond (inside and outside) to the place I find myself to be. This rests squarely within “my column.”
I believe there is no piece of life not tied to the quality of our relationships.
Since our relationships all have a common denominator (US), this is where our work begins.
My therapeutic approach includes Attachment-based Emotionally Focused Therapy, psycho-education, and experiential modes to address the “A-B-C”s of life (Affect— emotion, Behavior— the things we do, & Cognition— the things we think about and believe). An integration of all these areas of our lives represents our answers to the “big 4” questions .
So, what are those questions?
I am glad you asked.
Who am I? Who are we all?
I am a product of those who came before me, even those I never met. I am a conglomeration of who my parents thought me to be, the friends I choose, the education I obtain, the stories I believe about myself and the world, the ties and meanings I hold onto from past events. I am the damaged feelings and tiny triumphs I tuck into the closets of my memory.
I am a child of the Living God.
I am mind, body, and spirit, even if I don’t nurture these three at all times during my journey.
I am getting there, wherever “there” is, one step at a time.
One day, I hope to fully understand who I am.
Who are YOU (my neighbor)?
YOU are everyone I have ever met, and those I have not. YOU are my neighbor, my sister, my brother, my teacher or student, you are my considered enemy and my dearest friend. YOU may have loved or hated me, yet never laid eyes upon me.
We share a universe as we might share a cup of tea, a bottle of beer or seat in the Colosseum. We have the same choices available to us, not always in the same resources, but always we share the option to respond in healthy or unhealthy ways and these choices form a pathway down which we travel; together, yet apart.
YOU want the same basic, vital things I want, though we may use different methods to pursue them. Like me, YOU long to be loved, accepted, safe, and to have enough at the end of the day. We have the same voids in our hearts–I cannot fill yours and you cannot fill mine.
I know only what YOU show the world, some of it subtle, some overt. YOUR words may not match your actions and that may present a problem when I decide whether YOU are trustworthy.
Events in our lives may make us see our choices through different lenses but really, they are the same in one respect. All provide a chance to do the right thing, a loving thing of grace, or to try to destroy, to hurt as we are hurt, and to frighten as we are frightened. We can reach out in mutual benefit or conquer in Pyrrhic victory. We can lift or we can shove, and both will suffer the consequences.
Every day, we have renewed opportunities to do it differently, until one day, those chances are no more, and it’s time to take the check to the register and see how we did in the balance of our time on earth. Regrets mean nothing in the final breath we take.
Who is GOD?
Those who choose disbelief think they need not answer this question. When facing a dark corner, we can choose to ask questions and listen for answers. Those who consider this mystery take many roads to define God, as if we are capable of placing language-handles on Who He Is. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans: “behold then the kindness and the severity of God.” If we choose to focus only on His kindness and choose to ignore the holiness and “severity” of who He is, we misrepresent the essence of who God is and will always be, and we will be wrong.
Similarly, if an individual is unwilling to delve into both the strengths and weaknesses of the Self, but sees only one dimension, then he misrepresents himself to the world and to his own mind. Often, we refuse to fully open the closets of our hearts and see ourselves as God sees us in both light and shadow. We fool ourselves if we believe we hide from Him; like the first Man and Mate who spoiled the Garden, He finds the huddled and naked shamed.
Whatever we think He is, He is who He is. We cannot change this with words or white-out. If we could, then He wouldn’t be God and would be unworthy of worship.
We may get to decide for ourselves who we think God is (or whether He exists at all), but this ‘decision’ doesn’t change the truth of who He is. He’s okay with questions and doubt. He is even fine with strong negative emotion directed His way. He must get that a lot. Nothing surprises Him; nothing takes Him unawares. He never leaves His throne, even for a coffee break. He is the Author of eternity, so scratching through the parts we don’t like or tearing a page from a book already written doesn’t change the story, characters, or the ending a bit. It’s destructive, but changes nothing.
How do those three (me, God, & you) intersect day to day?
Truly, I believe the intersection of the answers to these first three questions which formulate the answer to the fourth.
Here lives the “what comes next” moment.
Everything we DO, BELIEVE, THINK, and FEEL, bubbles from the spring where these answers form an opening. Our lives, fortunes, hurts, triumphs and failures are born here.
Tragically, too many are unaware the answers evolve a little more every day so they do nothing to focus on what ends up being the most vital question of all. Sometimes, the questions and answers come clear and fast due to circumstances which befall us, and still we are able to consider the questions, change our answers and change our lives. In a sense, every circumstance or interaction offers us a crossroad.
“Make no mistake, when it comes to human interaction, grace is a choice; a decision, made in reaction to a situation, which creates one of two scenarios: graciousness or harsh judgment.”
If we can bring these four questions to the table, consider them carefully both in past and present scenarios, we can decide to adjust the structure of our “what comes next”. Here is where I try to help people open their shutters and scrub clean long-forgotten panes of fragile glass. It’s a daily task for everyone but sometimes we need to be told where we “missed a spot.”
Therapy can be a place where we are offered a new view of what think we already know. Just as an editor must not edit his/her own work (we miss the obvious because we “fill in” what “ought to be” on the page), people struggling to find the bottom of the pond in which they are drowning, may benefit from a caring other who says: “stand up—the water is not that deep.”
Where the philosophical meets the professional, what do I bring to this process for clients?
- An effort to understand your decisions and the experiences & belief systems upon which they are based
- Acceptance of your humanity and Compassion for your life—past and present
- Accountability for my part in the process and respectful challenge for you to be accountable for yours
- Hope and help to enact new patterns for positive change to grow
- Passion for people and years of experience working with individuals on self-awareness and personal growth
- Reflections of messages you present externally to spotlight persistent patterns and adverse consequences
- Effective and proven clinical techniques along with practical guidance; I will not attempt to force you into a “clinical template”. I try to match the method to the circumstance
- An effort to remain fully present during our time together~ to present my full attention to your situation and to postpone or reschedule a session if I find my own issues are interfering in your work
- I will nurture boundaries in our work which help define the purpose in what we do
- A space where you may feel safe to share what is really happening inside and outside your “Self” ~ therapy is no place for masks to remain in place
- Straightforward challenge when I believe you are not completely engaged in your own process- I will not allow a continued waste of resources (yours or mine) if the process is not benefiting you
- My mission is to stimulate growth using the idea that CONNECTION with others STARTS WITHIN US.
You cannot be part of a healthy “we” until you first develop a healthy “me.” Most misery begins with expecting others to complete them in some nebulous way or the meanings we attach to events in our lives. It is no one’s responsibility to provide that which you lack. This knowledge brings both power and obligation.
Clinical Experience & Ongoing Consultation
I began formal clinical training with clients under supervision beginning in 2005, at the St. Mary’s Family Life Center. Additional experience was obtained as an intern at the Jewish Family and Children Service, Child Safe (Child Advocacy Center), and Family Service Association, all in San Antonio, Texas.
The primary populations with whom I ‘cut my therapy teeth’ were children experiencing trauma or abuse, adults and older adolescents struggling with trauma-induced anxiety, depression, and social phobias, pre-married couples, family systems, and providing Neurofeedback services to adults, adolescents and children.
Currently, I am fully licensed by the State of Texas as a Marriage and Family Therapist and am an independent private practitioner of mental health services in Medina County located in south Texas, since 2012. I maintain a limited caseload so that I can focus adequate attention on each of my clients, and their goals.
I participate in ongoing consultative relationships with other experienced clinicians to support my provision of quality therapeutic services. Staying connected with other providers helps me maintain a boundary between my struggles and those of my clients. Isolation of mental health professionals can lead to burnout and compassion fatigue on the part of the clinician, so I regularly seek the input and support of my peers and others more knowledgeable than myself.
To comply with the requirements of my licensure / profession, I seek additional training and knowledge through ongoing Continuing Education opportunities as part of my licensing requirement several times per year. These requirements include Ethics and application of legal considerations toward the practice of mental health in Texas.
One of my sweetest privileges has been encouraging the next generation of MFT’s through adjunct teaching and mentoring. For several years, I obtained this privilege as an adjunct instructor for a number of local private and public universities. When I realized I’d need to choose between teaching full time and working with clients full time, walking with clients reached the finish line by far more than a nose. Now I just “do therapy” and I have never enjoyed a profession more! I love what I do and the people with whom I do it.
Sometimes our garden starts out as a patch of weeds bigger than we are. We were born in the thicket and it’s all we know. Experience can be the best, yet hardest teacher of all. Lessons learned at her feet are rarely forgotten.
At the age of eight, the first real piece of ground I was free to cultivate was a part of our back yard where nothing of value ever showed its face. Johnson grass, dandelions, wild onions, and hard-packed clay made up the first opportunity to do something important, all by myself, in my own little ‘garden’. I planted petunias, but was horrified when they were choked out by the weeds I had allowed to stay in the ground. So, I weeded, and then seeded…and waited. I got petunias which still looked pretty disreputable— puny, really.
When I added compost from my dad’s pile, broke up the soil and made sure the ground stayed moist and open, I got the best stand of petunias you ever saw! The decomposed parts interacted with my efforts, softened, moistened, and warmed, until I saw results honored by hard work and sweet intentions. Trial and error was the name of the game.
Not much is different in life, really. You get a small plot of ground, you learn about what’s in the soil from getting your hands dirty and adding some good stuff and yanking out the bad stuff. A little rain falls, a bit of sun to heat things up, and you protect what you sow from pests from under and above ground level—vigilance and hard work usually pay off in the end. That’s my life-gardening philosophy and not surprisingly, also my professional philosophy.
You learn to use the best materials and methods you can, work as hard as you are able on the things you can control, and you leave the rest to God. He’s in charge, anyway.
If life holds a constant barrage of questions and answers, then our lives are a story in which we are responsible for how well we have been paying attention to both: they will be asked and answered regardless of our active participation.
In the last moments of our existence on earth, I believe the questions and answers become all too clear. If we have lived wisely and with compassion for self and others, we are not surprised by what we hear [Well done, good and faithful servant.]
If we have treated others as obligations or tools to get what we want…items on a list to be checked off like an inventory, then we are disturbed by what we hear. It means we chose the wrong definitions from the dictionary where the true Meaning of Life is found. We paid attention to the wrong details, the wrong voices, and to the wrong messages.
There is no room for regrets at the end of life; there is no time for do-overs. There will be plenty of time after death closes the door between NOW and NEVER to reflect, but even then, regrets will be of no use. Opportunities are not endless, they are gifts in hand right now. The Here-and-Now is what we have and how we engage it is entirely in OUR hands.
In the grand scheme of things, all we have at the end of our lives is a series of opportunities and the question about how we either used or misused each one of them. If these opportunities have been deemed undeserving of time and reflection, we have wrinkled the fabric of our relational lives.
It’s no exaggeration to say God considers such chances to have eternal consequence because He always prioritizes relationship over any other single aspect of human existence; relationship must begin with the model of loving and being loved. It cannot be forced, implored, shoved, or manufactured.
Love is a Person, a decision, a sacrifice, and a joy. It’s also frightening in its intensity, particularly when it has not been modeled consistently in our early lives, and we find ourselves trying to earn what must be offered and accepted without reservation.
A well-tended garden offers a chance to see LOVE at work, blooming, thriving, and attracting others to bask in its warmth and security. There will be thorns, mosquitoes, weeds, stinging creatures, and heavy clay resistant to a shovel. There will also be busy pollinators, explosion of color, scents that shift in an evening breeze, butterflies, ladybugs, and the most diligent example of the “never, ever, ever give up!” mindset: the “little ol’ ant.” In this garden we inhabit, we toil and we treasure-there will always be the option to remain aloof from the evidence and example of His love for each of us. It is unconditional, unearned, unequalled… and when we hold that truth in focus, we are undone.
- Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT) in the state of Texas (#201353)
Advanced Clinical Training
- Sand Tray Therapy [Levels 1 & 2] (Sand Tray Training Institute of NM - Theresa Kestly, Ph.D.)
- Restoration Therapy [LI] (Hargrave & Newton)
- Gottman Marital Theory [LI]
- Rapid Trauma Resolution Training with Jon Connelly, PhD, LCSW [LI & II]
- CISM (International Critical Incident Stress Foundation) Suicide Prevention, Intervention, and Post-vention Training
- CISM Group Crisis Intervention (Texas Dept. of State Health Services)
DIPLOMAS on my Walls
- Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Marriage and Family Therapy ~ St. Mary’s University in San Antonio
- Master of Arts (M.A.) in Marriage and Family Therapy ~ St. Mary’s University in San Antonio
- Master of Education (M.Ed.) Special Education degree specializing in Visual Impairments & Orientation & Mobility ~ Texas Tech University in Lubbock
- Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) Elementary and Early Childhood Education degree ~ University of Texas at San Antonio
Other Professional Certifications
Texas Education Agency (TEA) lifetime certifications in
- Elementary Education
- Special Education
- Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
- Texas Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
- American Association of Christian Counselors
- Texas Association of Christian Counselors
- Christian Counselors Network –Focus on the Family
- Texas Folklore Society [past affiliation]
- Daughters of the Republic of Texas – James George Chapter
- Alamo Defenders Descendants Association [past affiliation]
- Compliancy Group- Verified HIPAA Seal of Compliance
Understanding anyone…ourselves or others… is much easier and far more complete the more you know about the context of their (or our) earliest years of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual development.
You may notice that I have included images on this site of myself at tender ages because I realize that photographic evidence of my earnest intention toward tasks back then is an excellent window into that same quality today. I am an ‘odd child’, focused, intentional, hopeful, observant, slightly disheveled, and can remain so engrossed on a task that hours fly by and I am unaware.
What you see in me today, is what you will find in me any other day: struggle, weariness, contemplation, humor, creativity, philosophy, and sometimes triumph. I am about as imperfect a person who ever walked the planet, and I am completely okay with that!
I don’t fool myself when I look in a mirror. The imperfections are part of the journey; this is a truth I try to share with clients. Some things matter, some don’t. People always matter more than things, and safety is a key to growth at all stages of our lives.
Human ‘beans’ only grow to the outer edges of the safest places they find. Beyond that place, there is no light, so there is no exploration. I try to create safety, so Light can stream in through the cracks we must widen, examine, then find a way to either patch or to create a new window or a door. Intentionality is a beautiful product of freedom, that flits and lights like a newly emerged butterfly.
The purpose and beauty of the butterfly’s dance is contained in each landing, each current of air, and in each blossom which shares its powdery gift with the winged visitor who may never come again. The currents created by tiny, brilliant wings may change the world, and no one would know, who was not paying very close attention—like the exchanges within the therapy space: therapy should help create a brand or a seal, that says “I was here, and if you still find me here, then I choose to stay.”
Safety + Openness = Intimacy
This is true in ALL relationships, including with ourselves. [perhaps, especially so]
We are still that infant, 5-year-old, 12-year-old, high school senior, 24-year-old starting a new job, and every other transitional role to follow— simultaneously. Just as we experience conflicting emotions, so do we carry messages that contradict assumptions we apply in finding meaning in our daily lives. The application is not the problem, but it is the fact that much of this is buried so deeply, when it seeps out (and it always does), we are not even aware of the damage. This is what drives my work—detecting the odorless gas making us sick, the sucking clay quagmire that prevents forward movement, the obstacles we continually encounter without really looking closely at them because we are too afraid of what they might be.
Getting to know about a client’s earliest years, [first 3-5 years] is absolutely the key to finding meaning within the client’s relationship with their past and availability to their current lives. These formative years are the prime time for developing attachments to those who are supposed to not only love us without condition, but also teach us to LOVE OURSELVES, to find something to like about ourselves, so that we have something to offer others in our lives—throughout our lives. The level of security, the depths of fear, and our approach to any new element life introduces completely colors how we view change.
Our relationship with ourselves is planted in the first 3-5 years of our existence. Therapy can help clean out the weeds, roots, and overgrowth so that we can actually see what is there and what is needed. It’s what I do and it’s always a privilege to be invited into the life garden of others.