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Mental Health Counselor to Share Her Work and Endometriosis Journey at Patient Day

Mental Health Counselor to Share Her Work and Endometriosis Journey at Patient Day

Many endometriosis patients find the strength and resilience during their journey to turn their pain into something positive. Shakira O’Garro has taken that to the extreme, transforming her pain into a career. 

O’Garro, a licensed mental health counselor, will be one of more than 40 speakers at EndoFound’s 15th Annual Patient Symposium on March 2 and 3 in New York City. The theme of the conference, “Understand Your Endo, Take Control of Your Life!” precisely describes O’Garro’s approach. 

“A lot of women I know who have endometriosis and have a therapist feel their therapist has been their saving grace through the madness,” O’Garro said. “I’ve suffered a lot, and now I’ve dedicated my life to helping other women who are going through it.” 

O’Garro owns Cheerful Heart Mental Health Counseling in White Plains, NY. She’s been providing mental health services to women, primarily of Black descent, for the past decade. She also integrates her Christian faith into her sessions with clients who welcome it. 

Many of O’Garro’s patients have depression or anxiety caused by chronic physical pain, in some cases due to endometriosis. O’Garro began feeling endometriosis symptoms at age 11 and would suffer for 17 years before being diagnosed. 

“I had a lot of heavy bleeding, ER trips, gastrointestinal symptoms, muscular-skeletal pain, brain fog. I did well in school but missed a lot of days. I just popped a lot of ibuprofen and soldiered through.” 

O’Garro said she’s battled obesity much of her life and said doctors told her the pain would disappear if she lost weight.

 “When I was 27, I lost 60 pounds by working out, eating well, doing everything I was supposed to do—and I got sicker,” O’Garro said. “I ended up in the ER, and they said they didn’t know what was happening. I’d finally had enough and googled my symptoms. That’s when I first found out about endometriosis. I had surgery and was diagnosed in 2018, a couple of days before I turned 28.” 

Because of the severity of her endometriosis, she had a second surgery in 2021 when the symptoms returned. While she initially felt better, she expects to have a third surgery soon. 

As painful as the physical side of this disease has been for O’Garro, dealing with the mental effects has been equally challenging. She said when she was in graduate school—before she knew the cause of her pain—her mentor and professor encouraged students to attend therapy to understand what it’s like to be a patient. O’Garro jumped at the opportunity, hoping not only to be educated but to find some relief.

 “I would tell the therapist what was going on, and she would be very empathetic and understanding and my biggest support, but she wasn’t a health psychologist or a pain psychologist,” O’Garro said. “She didn’t know what to do on the mental health side, like trying to regulate my nervous system or helping me with acceptance—things that can help someone with chronic pain and traumatic medical experiences.” 

That type of counseling has become O’Garro’s specialty. Along with her work at Cheerful Heart, she uses her expertise to run a support group for women with endometriosis. They meet once a month online, and she encourages connections outside the group. Her ability to counsel with empathy has changed lives. 

“A lot of women don’t seek mental health when they are going through this,” she said. “They are going from doctor to doctor to try to figure out the physical aspect but not the mental health impact.” 

That will be the focus of her Patient Day talk. This year will be her first speaking at the event. 

“I plan to highlight how mental health should be an integral part of an endometriosis patient’s multidisciplinary treatment plan, because right now it’s not,” O’Garro said. “And that’s a great disservice to patients.” 

O’Garro said if she could speak to her younger self today, she’d apologize for people not taking her symptoms seriously or having the confidence to figure out what was wrong. 

“But I’d also remind her that she’s been strong and resilient and has gotten to the other side,” she said. “Her suffering hasn’t been wasted. There’s purpose in it. She’s helping other people not suffer like she did.” 

The 15th Annual EndoFound Patient Symposium will be from 9:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. on Saturday, March 2, and from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. on Sunday, March 3, at the 4W43 Building, 4 West 43rd St. in New York City. For tickets, visit www.endofound.org/patientday

To learn more about Shakira O’Garro, LMHC, LPC, LPCC, NCC, visit https://cheerfulheartmhcpllc.com.