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Committed to community: A Q&A with Santa Cruz therapist Holly Hughes

Presented by Holly Hughes & Co.
Holly Hughes, therapist, sits with her client in her Downtown Santa Cruz office
Lookout had the pleasure of speaking to Holly Hughes, Santa Cruz therapist, to learn more about her renowned practice, as well as tips on how to maintain a positive mindset during these trying times.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

From global health crises to looming economic recessions, the past few years have placed unprecedented stress on people at home and around the world. Now, more than ever, it’s essential to take time and reflect on how life’s obstacles impact our mental health. That’s where experts like Holly Hughes can help.

Hughes is a highly-accomplished behavioral health clinician with over twenty years of experience and a focus on evidence-based models and empathic care. She founded Holly Hughes & Co to help people in the Santa Cruz community experience meaningful growth and sustainable improvements in their lives through mental health.

Hughes’ practice stands out in a sea of therapists by embodying warmth, connection, accessible expertise, and care through an equity lens. As a result, Hughes and her team have proudly created a fiercely community-driven approach to therapy. Lookout had the pleasure of speaking to Hughes to learn more about her renowned practice and tips on maintaining a positive mindset during these trying times.

Lookout: Tell us a bit about who you are and what brought you to this work.

Holly Hughes: My family and I have lived in Santa Cruz for over a decade, and we love it here. My wife and I co-parent our 14-year-old son with my former partner, and I have found Seabright to be a fantastic place to work and raise a family. We love the community, living near the water, biking around, hiking, taking our dog to the beach, and hanging out with our friends in our backyard.

My interest in behavioral health stemmed from my family experiences growing up. The importance of mental health and caretaking is something my family modeled for me in many different ways. I saw people in my family navigate life’s challenges with a lot of grace. I also saw a remarkable amount of dedication and compassion that made it easy for me to envision myself building a career in the mental health field.

Later, my experience in San Francisco working with people who don’t have houses also revealed the depth of how broken the systems are. That was hard to see, yet I also saw how amazingly resilient people are despite the trauma and lack of access to care that they may face.

All these years later, I feel fortunate to be able to use those experiences to build a practice that supports a community I care about deeply.

Lookout: What do you love the most about your role as a helper?

Hughes: I work in two settings: my practice working one-on-one with clients and at Janus of Santa Cruz, a local substance use disorder organization where I’m part of a team of care providers. Often, I’ll get asked – “how do you do what you do? It must be difficult.” Yes, there are challenges, but for me, being a care provider is super inspiring. It creates space for me to connect with people at a level of authenticity and depth.

One of the beautiful aspects of offering care to people and using my gifts in the world is that I experience an uplifted mood, reduced stress, and everyday reminders about self-care. So for me, being a therapist serves a dual purpose of giving and receiving so much from my work.

Lookout: How do your values drive the work you do?

Hughes: Whether it’s direct client care or team care, I weave my core values of empathy, equity, and shared engagement into everything I do as much as possible.

In my client work, I strive to bring my best self to the table as I sit with folks willing to be vulnerable and reach for change in their lives. It’s my goal to be open, curious, humble, and alert so I can engage people where they are.

The team setting is also very inspiring. I’ve worked shoulder-to-shoulder with impressive healers and helpers, including counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, nurses, and doctors. Understanding my lane while developing and maintaining trusted connections with colleagues has been imperative to providing whole-person care.

I feel fortunate that in both settings, I can hold health equity, particularly, as a Northstar. If nothing else, the pandemic has shown us that none of us are healthy until we all are healthy. This is something I never forget in my work.

Lookout: Does life ever get hard for you? If so, how do you navigate those feelings?

Hughes: Yes, I am a behavioral health clinician, and I’m also human. Like most people, my process internally can be complex. Difficult emotions like perfectionism, fear, ego and shame can find their way into my daily life, just like anyone else. I practice greeting them with grace, but it doesn’t always come easily to me.

I remember early years when my mom would say, “Don’t let it get to you.” I remember feeling confused because my default channel is that stuff does get to me. Now I see that one of my lifelong journeys is integrating my sensitive nature with my ambition. It can be a tricky balance!

Outside of my own experience, when I look around our community and the world, I recognize that at the root of much of our suffering are intractable problems, unhealed trauma, and inequities. It’s not easy to see people struggle, especially when I know there’s an aspect of injustice.

I navigate that overwhelming frustration by choosing to believe the brain has an immense capacity to heal. It’s also why I choose to engage in equity work. And, of course, when I feel tired and sad, I try to practice embracing those moments.

Lookout: How can people reach you for care?

Hughes: We’d love to connect with Lookout readers who want to learn more about therapy! We offer in-person and video sessions in our downtown Santa Cruz office inside the Galleria building. We support individuals, couples, and families as they process and heal from trauma. We offer EMDR in addition to other types of therapy. You can visit our website for more information and inquire about appointments.

In addition, we provide development opportunities for behavioral health teams through organizational workshops focused on empathic care and team connection and cohesion. See our Services page on our website.

We’re open to hiring!