The Experts: Dr. Beatrice Tatem
Dr. Beatrice Tatem Empowers Clients to Be The Best They Can Be
article by Kay Stothart Rector | photo by Martin G Meyers
Dr. Beatrice Tatem is a petite woman with a soft voice and a calm, pleasant demeanor. Her office is bright and colorful, just like the photos that accompany her monthly column in BayouLife, filled with artwork and artifacts from her travels and from the interesting people she has met over the years. Almost everything that decorates her office suite in the Chase Building off North 18th Street in Monroe has significance, from the books on the coffee table to the multitude of pillows she collects and changes out to match the season or her mood. “They may seem like just pillows,” she laughs, “but they have a purpose.” The pillows, she explains, are very therapeutic, and like other items in her counseling space, they help to make the surroundings comfortable and inviting. “When people come in for therapy,” she says, “I want the space to help them feel energized and uplifted.”
Tatem says writing for BayouLife each month is a way for her to reach out to the people that she wants to help. “As a psychologist, I find that I am more of a practitioner than a scientist,” says Tatem. She enjoys writing for the everyday person as opposed to highly intellectual articles in journals and trade publications. She strives to educate people about how counseling can improve their everyday lives.
Tatem was born in the Deep South and grew up on the East Coast. She describes her background as multi-cultural. Her father was a native of the Turks and Caicos Islands and her mother is from Greenwood, Mississippi. As a child, Tatem spent her summers in northeast Louisiana visiting her aunt and uncle, who were professors at Grambling State University. “I was kind of the daughter that they never had,” says Tatem. “I have wonderful memories of my summers in Louisiana,” she says.
Education was an extremely important component of Tatem’s childhood. Her father and mother were both college-educated and held advanced degrees, and they never passed up an opportunity to further their daughter’s education. Her father was fluent in four languages and had already traveled extensively by the time he attended college. On the wall in his study at home was a gigantic world map. Tatem recalls that she would chose a country, and her father would teach her all that he knew about that nation or region. On weekends, she and her parents would often visit museums and attend theater productions near their home in Philadelphia.
Following high school, Tatem attended her mother’s alma mater, Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. She says that going to Fisk was one of the best decisions she could have made, and she had a wonderful college experience. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Tatem went on to graduate school at Villanova University. Drawn to politics by her father’s interests and the talk of government and politics that was commonplace in her household growing up, she majored in political science with intentions of going to law school. Her father was a staunch Republican, while her mother was a Democrat. Although they had different party affiliations, they shared core values and similar views on social issues which they always discussed in her presence. Tatem completed the political science program at Villanova, but realized in the process that law school was not what she was really interested in. She instead went back to psychology, her first interest and true calling, eventually earning both a Master’s and a Doctorate degree in her field.
Looking back, Tatem says she has used that experience in her psychology practice, particularly in working with students trying to decipher their strengths and interests as they determine which career to pursue. Before opening Wellness Initiatives in Monroe, Tatem worked for a number of years in a university setting, heading up counseling programs at ULM and at Mississippi State University.
“I always knew that I wanted to work with people,” Tatem says. “I am fascinated by people, their stories and what makes them tick.” She remembers a sort of “lightbulb” moment while she was a student in the Masters program at State University of New York in Albany. She was taking a class with David Bluestein, who was considered an expert in career counseling, and while she was not fond of the class itself, she says it helped confirm that she was in the right field. “This is me,” Tatem says she remembers thinking.
Tatem’s very first experience as a counselor came just before she finished at SUNY Albany. That experience taught her lessons that she still uses today. She was assigned by her professor to a shelter for runaways and street kids in New York, an assignment that was not her first choice for the required practicum. Tatem’s first client there was a young man of about 14, who was very streetwise. From this client, whose real name she does not reveal but whom she calls “Bobby,” she learned what she considers to be most important in being an effective therapist.
When I walked in to meet my first client, I was so nervous. She had prepared for it and thought she knew exactly what to do. She remembers this teenage kid sat down and as she began talking with him, he said “You’re new at this, aren’t you? You don’t even know how to help me.”
Tatem says, “He predicted everything that I was going to do, and basically called me out. I just said to him, “Yes, you’re right.’” Thinking she had failed at her first therapy session, she went to her supervisor and admitted that she had not known the right things to say or how to help this young man. She went home feeling dejected. Two days later, her supervisor met with her to let her know that Bobby had asked to see her again and continue working with her. He said that Tatem was the first person in years who had actually been honest with him, and who had really listened to him and considered what he had to say.
That experience helped Tatem realize how important it is as a therapist to be honest and authentic. “I realized that what matters most is whether or not you really connect with the person you are counseling and trying to help,” says Tatem. “As a psychologist offering counseling, it is an honor for someone to open themselves up to and trust you, and I never take that lightly.” In her years of doing therapy with people, Tatem says she has learned that people do not care as much about who you are and or how many degrees you have, as much as they care about how you treat them and how you make them feel. “What is important is to be there, and to listen.”
Dr. Tatem has been in private practice in Monroe since 2012, providing therapy for children, adolescents and adults. As the founder of Wellness Initiatives, LLC, she strives to help her clients take the initiative to bring wellness into their lives. Tatem’s clientele is very diverse, ranging in age from age three to age seventy-eight and coming from many different environments and circumstances. She enjoys working with individuals to provide help and guidance through difficult situations and advice for uncovering their true potential for leading a life worth celebrating.