Mary Elizabeth Akinaka is the lead therapist at our Birmingham program. Since she started in 2014, she has been dedicated to walking alongside clients on their paths to recovery. We feel grateful to have her as an employee and a friend!
Out of everything you could do for work, why have you chosen to help those struggling with eating disorders?
I have chosen to help those struggling because I am in recovery myself. I battled an eating disorder for the majority of my life. I feel it is an honor to give what others gave to me: Recovery.
Where are you from?
I grew up moving every 3-5 years. I have lived in Texas, Australia, France, Maryland, Tennessee, and now Alabama!
When did you start working for Alsana?
I started working for Alsana in August of 2014. I was in graduate school and started as a direct care staff. I ended up doing my internship with Alsana and never left!
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Having the honor of walking the recovery journey with my clients. It is a true privilege.
What were your three favorite childhood activities?
Playing the piano, singing, and playing with my younger sister.
What would you tell your 13-year-old self?
Although life is hard and there are times you feel so alone, know that it is worth it, because beautiful things are coming, sweet girl!
Why do you work for Alsana?
I work for Alsana because I am passionate about working with people who need support on their journey. I believe we all deserve a community of support in our darkest times, and I feel it is an honor to do this for our clients.
What three words would you use to describe treatment at Alsana?
How do you help individuals struggling with eating disorders?
I help clients with eating disorders by providing them with intentional, effective, and individualized care. My role is to walk alongside my clients, allowing them to explore themselves in a safe and non-judgmental environment.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
The best meal I have ever eaten is escargot and steak frit in Paris.
Where is your favorite place on earth?
It’s a toss-up between Melbourne, Australia and Paris, France. Both of these were my home and hold special memories.
What’s your favorite part of helping clients?
My favorite part of helping clients is watching their transformation from broken and hurting to believing that there is hope and a greater purpose in their life.
What words of hope/encouragement would you give someone struggling with an eating disorder?
To not give up when it feels as if you have done all that you can. Take a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other. It’s going to be okay—eventually. Just keep holding on.
What do you believe is the most common motivator for healing?
The most common motivator for healing is exploring what you are recovering towards. To know why you want to put in the hard work to heal.
What do you think is the worst part of living with an eating disorder?
I think the worst part is the shame and fear of judgment from those around you. This shame leads to webs of lies that continue to impact self-worth and belief that you are worthy of healing.
What would you tell a client on their first day?
I know you want to run. But if you can hold tight for the first 3-5 days, I promise it gets better. We are here to support you and meet you right where you are.
What do you do on the weekends?
On the weekends, I hang out with my little boy and husband. We usually lay low and just enjoy being with one another!
What was the best concert you’ve ever been to?
The best concert(s) I have ever been to is Brandi Carlile. I have seen her seven times and she never disappoints!
What’s the most fun thing you’ve ever done with the clients/a client?
The most fun thing I have done is going and grooming and caring for horses. The atmosphere is beautiful and the joy I saw in the clients was magical!
Have you ever had an experience in your life that you thought was bad at the time, but that turned out to be good?
Experiencing an eating disorder was really difficult, but it has led me to live out my passion of changing the lives of others who struggle.
“Let your light shine” is a foundational principle of Alsana’s culture. We expect employees to come as they are and bring their whole selves to work, just as we want our clients to feel comfortable bringing their whole selves—exactly as they are—to their eating disorder treatment.
Alsana’s staff spotlight series highlights the way our employees let their light shine and the unique attributes only they can add to our clients’ recovery experience.