You Are Already Enough

Counseling alumna uses empathy and art to help her clients find value outside of their appearance and achievements.

Rachel Tenny writes at her desk
Photo Credit: Kelsie Elizabeth Photography

Chatting over Zoom on a cloudy February morning from her brightly colored living room, Rachel (Phillips) Tenny ’11, M.A. ’16, radiates warmth and kindness, assuring you that you are heard and your words are valid.

You deserve to be seen and known for who you truly are.
You are already enough, just the way you are.
You do not have to prove your worth.
Regardless of what you have been through, you are worthy of living a life that matters to you.

These statements, all found on Tenny’s website, are important lessons she is not only hoping to instill in her own daughters, but also with her clients, and with all who are reading this article who find themselves questioning their worthiness — because you are enough.

Meet Rachel

Tenny had initially never heard of Lenoir-Rhyne, but after some research she saw that the university offered an art therapy program.

Rachel Tenny poses outside for a photo with her two daughters, husband and au pair while outside
Tenny pictured with husband Bradley ’13, daughters Sloane (4), Norah (1) and their au pair, Paola, from Brazil. Photo Credit: Kendal Mariee Photography

“Throughout high school and my first year of college in Virginia, I had been interested in mental health and art,” said Tenny who came to Lenoir-Rhyne as a sophomore transfer student in 2009. “I had never seen an undergrad program like the art therapy program at LR, and found it to be the best fit for my skill sets and interests.”

During her time at LR, Tenny joined a sorority and immersed herself in social, philanthropic and academic events. Plus, she met her future husband, Bradley Tenny ’13.

“Some of my best memories come from my higher-level psychology and studio art classes and getting a glimpse into what working in the field of mental health could look like through practicum placements. They truly prepared me for everything I did to move forward with my career. Being able to be in smaller sized classes and have closer relationships with professors helped me to both understand myself and get a sense for what life outside of college would look like," said Tenny, who graduated with her bachelor’s in psychology and art therapy in 2011. “I also was able to engage in my own personal therapy through the LR counseling center, which was invaluable to me during that time.”

Post-graduation, she worked as a recruiter in Hickory until Bradley also graduated from LR in 2013. The pair got married and moved to South Carolina for Bradley to pursue his MSN at the University of South Carolina.

“At that point, I was still working in recruiting and HR, and while I liked certain aspects of the job, it wasn’t as challenging or fulfilling as I had hoped,” shared Tenny. “I decided to research counseling programs and saw LR was going to start offering courses in Columbia later that fall -— so I applied on a whim and was part of the first counseling cohort. It felt almost serendipitous to be back at LR for another degree.”

Her interactions with LR counseling staff stick out in Tenny’s mind during both her undergrad and graduate years as being positive trajectories.

“My own counseling journey through the counseling services offered at LR was so valuable to me. I was fortunate enough to have the same therapist in undergrad and grad school,” said Tenny. “She created such a welcoming and safe environment for me in therapy, one I am still thankful for today, and one that I try to emulate in my work now.”

After graduating from LR a second time in 2016 with her master’s in clinical mental health counseling, Tenny worked at a residential eating disorder treatment facility in Columbia until moving to Charlotte, North Carolina. She made the transition to private practice in 2019.

Rachel Tenny
Photo Credit: Kelsie Elizabeth Photography

Now based in Charlotte, Tenny is a licensed clinical mental health counselor supervisor (LCMHCS) and therapist whose areas of expertise include eating disorders, complex trauma and dissociative disorders, and perinatal mental health.

She approaches the therapeutic relationship with her clients as a partner: helping them understand their barriers, heal trauma, and find safety in their own bodies through somatic interventions.

“One of the biggest strengths I bring to my client is my relatability and humanness,” she shared. “I spent many years of my own life believing I needed to exist in a certain way in order to have a meaningful life. I want to help others find an existence outside of the constant striving for ‘enough-ness.’”

Enough-ness — the idea of being good enough — according to Tenny, is part of a bigger theme she sees with her clients.

“Believing we aren’t enough leads us to feel that we aren’t worthy, lovable or valuable unless we perform in some way. The truth is that the more we try to earn love, validation and approval, the more we will struggle to accept ourselves. We aren’t born feeling less than or not enough. We learn that over time. Or we learn to make ourselves smaller because we’re ‘too much' and are often contorting to fit an impossible mold.”

Tenny normalizes conversations around mental health, supporting her clients in a way that honors their humanity without stigma or shame. When she isn’t seeing clients, she works on helping educate others about mental health.

“The way we talk about mental health has changed in the last 10-15 years, and I am working hard to make sure that other people connect with resources that will help support them in understanding themselves more,” she shared.    

Blending her passion for making resources more accessible with her love of creating art, Tenny has designed her own affirmations, workbooks, worksheets, journals and mini-courses. “I wanted to figure out ways to make art meaningful. If you've ever been to therapy and looked at therapy worksheets, there are a lot of black and white copies, and they're not interesting. I thought, 'what if I created workbooks and worksheets that people will actually use?'"

A journal, papers, a pen, cup and glasses sit on a white desk
Photo Credit: Kelsie Elizabeth Photography

So, she did, by offering vibrant, illustrated workbooks and worksheets that make healing resources engaging and accessible, even for those who aren’t able to attend therapy sessions.

“I am constantly creating. My brain wants to break more complex things down simply and in easy to understand ways. That is really what helps people learn and implement changes for themselves.”

As she continues to create materials for herself and her practice, she is also expanding her resources for other therapists and counselors.    

“I am working on more short-form videos and courses for other mental health providers. Teaching is a passion for me, and I like doing it in a way that feels relational and makes people say ‘Oh, yeah, I haven't thought about it like that before.’ Or, ‘Oh, yeah, seeing how my brain is processing information based on my trauma — that makes more sense than you just telling me.’”

She supervises and provides consultation for other therapists, including being a clinical supervisor for a current LR counseling student this semester.     

Existing as You Are

With a passion for working with individuals to establish a healthy relationship with their bodies, Tenny also prides herself on empowering young girls and women to find value and worth outside of their appearance.     

“I am fortunate enough to have two daughters, which terrified me at first to be really honest. As human beings, we get a lot of messages about how we need to present to the world. But specifically, as women, we get inundated about how we need to present ourselves and to take up less space in the world because it makes others uncomfortable.

“My goal is to remind women, specifically, that they can exist in whatever way they want to. That they can take up space and have bold opinions. I want to show my daughters and anyone else that they deserve to live a life that feels meaningful to them. They don't have to follow a plan that someone else has outlined for them. They can pick and choose what they enjoy. Part of developing positive self-esteem comes from developing a healthy relationship with themselves from the very beginning.”

As a mother to a four-year old daughter and eleven-month old daughter, Tenny works hard to ensure she is helping them have a strong sense of self from an early age.

“My youngest isn’t quite aware yet — but I am constantly talking with my older daughter about what she does well, working with her to identify and express her emotions, and doing daily affirmations with her. So many of my clients talk about how their experiences as children shaped their trajectory with their mental health, and I am really aware of that with my own daughters,” shared Tenny. “I am far from perfect, but I want them to know it's okay to be passionate about things. It’s okay to be weird and different. It's okay to be exactly who you are. There is room for all of us.” 

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