Dr. Geri-Lynn Utter’s New Book Inspires People To Check In On Their Mental Health
by Melissa Jacobs
When Dr. Geri-Lynn Utter, PsyD. says you can do something – grapple with past trauma, reverse the course of generational addiction, talk to your kids about gut-wrenchingly difficult topics – you believe her. Because she has done those very things … and so much more.
The Montgomery County-based psychologist’s newly released book, Aftershock: How Past Events Shake Up Your Life Today, continues Utter’s mission of inspiring people to seek treatment for their mental health concerns. Utter explains that seemingly commonplace events can have deep effects on our psyches. “Divorce, the death of a loved one, losing a job and even menopause are life events that will happen to many of us, but may not be accompanied by a mental health diagnosis,” she said. “These ‘life traumas,’ have significant impacts on our mental health, and are an inescapable part of the human experience.”
Utter published her first book Mainlining Philly: Survival, Hope and Resisting Drug Addiction in 2020. In it, she chronicles her chaotic upbringing in Kensington, the notorious epicenter of Philadelphia’s drug culture, with parents who struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, complex trauma, depression and anxiety.
Amidst the challenges of growing up with her parents came something good and formative: honesty about addiction. At a very young age, Dr. Utter’s father helped her understand that she could be at risk of developing a drug addiction. “My father told me when I was 5 years old that there was a ‘monster’ that lived inside my brain, and that using drugs and alcohol would wake up the monster,” she said. “That’s what led us to the situation in which we found ourselves: living in a two-room efficiency of a boarding house, cooking on a hot plate and using a shared bathroom. We had to live in the devastation caused by my parents’ addiction, and my dad wanted something better for me.”
Being honest about addiction didn’t give Utter’s father the ability to overcome his own struggles. But it did empower her to become educated about addiction and its links to mental health concerns. Utter’s undergraduate degree is from Cabrini University, and she earned her master’s in clinical and counseling psychology, and doctorate of clinical psychology from Chestnut Hill College.
While her CV is impressive, Utter’s life experience is what makes her so compelling. Effervescent and perceptive, Utter delivers information in bite-size, easily digestible nuggets that are both logical and deeply impactful.
“There are things that happened to us – in our childhoods or two days ago – that determine how we make decisions and affect the quality of our lives,” Utter said. “Some of those things can be positive and some can be negative and traumatic. You may not even initially recognize how something that happened in your life like the loss of your dream job, going through the IVF or adoption process, or even starting your own business is impacting your mental health.”
“Remember therapy is not a service that is reserved only for folks who have experienced something severely traumatic. It is for anyone going through a difficult time,” she said. “Many of us don’t hesitate to go to the medical doctor when we are suffering from a physical ailment. We should learn how to do the same for our psyches. That’s what therapy is for.”
That’s also what Utter’s books are for. Where Mainlining Philly: Survival, Hope and Resisting Drug Addiction inspires hope, Aftershock: How Past Events Shake Up Your Life Today presents actionable steps for people to identify, treat and overcome traumas. “Trauma can – and usually does – impact us physically in a number of ways,” Utter explains. “Insomnia, over-eating, irritability, using drugs and drinking too much alcohol are a few of the unhealthy coping skills we use to manage trauma and other mental health concerns. It’s important to recognize these symptoms and treat the underlying trauma.”
Utter also wants to prevent trauma, particularly that which accompanies generational addiction. Open conversations with kids are a great way to do that, Utter said. Creating a comfortable environment for your kids to speak openly with you, providing accurate education, and reinforcing their self-worth empowers children, Utter believes. “We absolutely need to educate our children about the risks of addiction and other mental health concerns, like the anxiety to be ‘perfect’ academically and athletically. The goal is to educate and empower our kids so that they make smart decisions when we aren’t around to guide them.”
Having those open conversations requires adults to be honest with themselves about their behaviors, and perhaps their traumas. But too many of us are pretending that we have perfect lives, Utter said. “It’s exhausting and completely unproductive to maintain the illusion of perfection,” she explained. “Nothing and no one are perfect. It’s the process of both accepting and addressing problems that makes us stronger.
Books like Mainlining Philly: Survival, Hope and Resisting Drug Addiction and Aftershock: How Past Events Shake Up Your Life Today are great tools for starting, or continuing, mental health care. Reading these books are like chatting with Utter. You gain a true sense of who she is and that, ultimately, her ability to survive and thrive can inspire your own personal journey. Now married with two kids and a thriving psychology practice, Utter’s happy ending is one that she created for herself, independent of her family history. “I don’t hold myself up as a role model – at all,” Utter said with a laugh. “But I do firmly believe that change is possible through mental health care and I’m very happy to inspire others to create change in their own lives.”
Dr. Geri-Lynn Utter, Psy.D. is the author of Aftershock: How Past Events Shake Up Your Life Today, Mainlining Philly: Survival, Hope and Resisting Drug Addiction and the director of the new documentary Utter Nonsense. To connect with Dr. Utter, visit her website.
Main Line Tonight worked with Dr. Utter to present this story as sponsored content.
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