Wednesday, April 17th, 2024

Ann-Marie Johnson of OWR Therapy, LLC Story


Helping those in dark places step into the ligh

by Kathy Van Mullekom

Ann-Marie Johnson

Ann-Marie Johnson

Life had a career plan for Ann-Marie Johnson, even as a five-year-old living with her grandmother in Jamaica. Growing up, she knew she wanted to help as many people as possible so they would not suffer the early-life trauma she experienced. Now she is a licensed clinical social worker with a new practice, OWR Therapy in Chesapeake. And she is offering separate offices or suites in her facility for rent to other clinicians.

"I think this career path chose me," Ann-Marie says. "My husband is always telling me that I want to save the world-and he's right. I want to support  people who have experienced hurt and trauma, who may feel overwhelmed by a darkness that overshadows their life."

Ann-Marie's life took a few turns and twists before she began seriously working toward bachelor's and master's degrees in social work. At age five, she moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to be with her mother. Later, she attended a local community college there. "I struggled with that," she says. "I was not in the mindset for school at that time."

Eventually, she married, had two daughters, and worked at a job that she says merely "sustained my life."  

While in her early 30s, a friend visiting Florida told her about his wife's graduation from the renowned social work program at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Something clicked in Ann-Marie's heart and mind. "At that moment, I just kept thinking that something was pulling me to do more," she recalls.

Within weeks, Ann-Marie and her family headed to Michigan with no housing secured but with the assurance that she had been accepted into Andrews University. Two social work degrees later, they returned to Florida, where Ann-Marie worked with hospice and then as a medical social worker. In 2012, she met her current husband, Robert, and moved to Virginia Beach in 2015. Together they have a total of three daughters: Aaleyah, Dominique, and Abigail, ages 26, 23, and 18, respectively.

For the past year, Ann-Marie worked as a therapist in private practice. Now she has taken the big step of launching her own practice-OWR Therapy-through which she offers many services, including perinatal mental health and complex trauma.

Ann-Marie wants to help people find the rays of sunshine they want and deserve, which is why she selected OWR as the practice's acronym. While the official name is Optimal Wholeness Restored Therapy, OWR in Hebrew means "light" or "happiness."

"We often find ourselves in dark spaces, dark places," Ann-Marie points out, "and the OWR Therapy name describes coming into the light. When darkness tries to overwhelm your life, remember: light dispels darkness. Let your light shine."

Ann-Marie has experienced darkness herself. "I dealt with post-partum depression after my first daughter's birth," she recalls, "and what got me through it was seeing a mental health therapist and realizing I had to do something. I was in the house with a baby, and I was spiraling, so I made the decision to start walking. There was a park across the street from where we were living. I walked there with my daughter and did a couple of laps on the track. Being out in the sun and fresh air did something for me. It felt so good, and it was then that exercise became a part of my life. I believe diet and exercise are some key components in dealing with mental illness."

At age 52, exercise and good nutrition remain a major part of Ann-Marie's life. For fun and relaxation, she cooks, reads, and enjoys Facetime with her granddaughter, two-year-old Sabrina, in Florida.

"I also love to read," she notes. "It's time to myself. Being okay with who you are is healthy, and I practice that with meditation and reading. That's my stress relief. And then sometimes I just want to turn on the TV and zone out. I also love to exercise, and I encourage that with my clients. A healthy diet and exercise can do a lot for you-and I know that from experience."

"When darkness tries
to overwhelm your life,
Remember: light dispels darkness.
Let your light shine."
                                  -Ann-Marie Johnson

In addition, Ann-Marie offers group counseling for moms and dads, as well as marriage and family counseling for couples. Having recently completed training in treating complex trauma to become a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional (CCTP), she offers therapy sessions that deal with the aftermath of a crisis, divorce, military life, rape, emotional and physical abuse, and the loss of a child.

Statistically, women are more inclined to see a therapist-which has led to the myth that, in couple's therapy, a female counselor will side with a woman client. 

"I'm very conscious of my approach to couples therapy, and there is absolutely no 'taking sides,'" she insists. " I'm there for both people. They, as a couple, are a 'client' to me. And statistically, things are changing: more and more men now feel comfortable seeking help."

Like a growing number of therapists, Ann-Marie sees mindfulness as a positive approach to helping clients find calm in a stormy world. Mindfulness focuses on the present moment, on what is happening here and now. The deep breathing that goes along with mindfulness helps soothe the mind and the body, allowing mental energy to focus on rational thinking instead of runaway emotions.  

"I'm finding many people struggle with guilt, shame, and judging themselves," Ann-Marie explains. "During the mindfulness process, you are not judging any thought."

She also sees benefits in cognitive behavior therapy for some clients. The treatment uses journaling, meditation, and positive self-talk to help people switch from negative, distorted thoughts and behaviors to a more positive lifestyle.

"With everything happening, there are a lot of traumas in the world," she observes. "Some people may not recognize when they are in that zone where they are experiencing depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues."

Ann-Marie says the red flags to watch for include extreme sadness or apathy, anger or excessive crying, disinterest in activities or connecting with others, and changes in eating habits or sleep patterns. She advises calling a mental health professional if there are at least three of these red flags over a two-week period.

"I'm glad more people realize there can be mental wholeness and there can be light," Ann-Marie concludes. "It can be challenging to own your story, but running from it can lead to even more devastating results. With OWR Therapy, I am offering people a place where they can go to seek support and guidance. They can step into the light."

Photo by Michele Thompson

OWR Therapy, LLC

548 Battlefield Blvd, S
Chesapeake, VA 23322