Take a walk in Rock Creek Park with Aliza Graber and you’ll learn about a different form of mental health therapy. The licensed clinical social worker with Positive Strides Therapy and the Woolf Center counsels teens and young adults outside in the fresh air. She joins other experts in the belief that exercise and being in nature help alleviate anxiety, depression and other psychological challenges.
Now 36 years old, Graber, of Rockville, grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home and attended Berman Hebrew Academy. She studied at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University and returned to Berman as a middle school guidance counselor. Graber has also worked for Jewish Social Service Agency.
How did you get started in this walk and talk therapy?
I was working at JSSA and doing traditional therapy and I heard about this concept of Positive Strides led by Jennifer Udler (LCSW-C) and I thought it was pretty cool. I had her daughter as a counselor at Berman so I kind of knew her anyway. We connected because I just thought this was such a fantastic idea. So she introduced me more to how the whole thing works.
Why incorporate the outdoors in your individual therapy for teens and young adults?
It has been scientifically proven to heighten mood, boost productivity and make people feel better. It can sometimes be easier, in particular for kids and teens, to not sit there and stare at a therapist in an office, but be moving and walking.
Who influenced you growing up?
I had a close relationship with my guidance counselor at Berman. I think that was part of what inspired me because she always made us feel so comfortable, safe and loved.
Sometimes in elementary and middle school, adults seem like the enemy, the ones we have to fight against. I want to be that safe person for teens going through those years and be able to provide them with coping skills and a listening ear and validation.
What is the one thing that other people would be surprised to hear after meeting with you for the very first time?
I guess that I’ve struggled with anxiety, too, and have been working on it for many years. That is something obviously that has inspired my own journey in terms of working with people with anxiety. A lot of people get the impression that I’m very calm.
What is the best way to take care of yourself during the pandemic?
Stay connected to friends and family to the best of your ability even if you can’t see people in person. Otherwise, you can feel very isolated. I am very grateful. I have this really awesome group of friends, some of them I haven’t been able to see this whole time, but we’ve been really regular about checking in with each other. Also, I would say getting outside and walking to get some fresh air.
What is one thing you enjoy in your free time?
Scrapbooking. You don’t necessarily have to be an artist to be good at scrapbooking and enjoy it. It also serves the purpose of keeping pictures and maintaining memories.
Which animal acts the most Jewish?
Dogs. They like to stop and be social. My dog (a Chihuahua mix named Lily) loves challah and chicken and brisket at Bubbe’s where she gets a special treat.
What is your favorite Jewish holiday?
My favorite one is Sukkot, which isn’t surprising given that I like nature. I like Sukkot because we get to be outside and enjoy natural surroundings. I’ve always found it to be a nice family time and I like that it is the season of summer ending and going into the fall.
Which biblical character would you like to meet?
Aaron, I think. Moses’ brother. He was a peacemaker, ohev sholom, and really tried to work in the background to be supportive. There are stories that say Moses had a speech impediment and Aaron was brought in to be his supporter, his cheerleader. He helped Moses build up his confidence enough to be able to lead the nation.
If you could only keep one mitzvah, which would it be?
Oh, there are so many. I feel like it’s a bunch of interpersonal mitzvot, the idea of taking care of each other and those who need help. Giving charity but also going out and doing things to help change the world and make it a better place.