David Barker-Hargrove, Ph.D.
LGBT & PTSD Psychologist
David Barker-Hargrove’s practice in Orlando, Florida is unique. With a 4-pronged approach to mental health and healing, he shines a light into the darkest of human corners. His specialties are:
- GLBT and Sexuality
- Post-traumatic stress/dissociative disorders
- Life Coaching
Having come from a working poor family and the first person in his lineage to go to college, Dr. Barker-Hargrove worked on his BA while on active duty in the United States Navy. He has a BA in Psychology from Columbia College, a Master’s Degree (MS) in Clinical Psychology from Troy State University, and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Barry University. He went from degree program to degree program without a break.
Dr. Baker-Hargrove, if you could say anything to the world right now, what would it be?
Recently during a staffing meeting, one of my providers was describing a case and she was struggling with the diagnosis based upon what the client was presenting. I urged her to not spend too much time deliberating on the diagnosis because to me all clients have the same diagnosis: they have a poor relationship with themselves. Most symptoms are attributable to that. Even someone with schizophrenia can benefit from symptom reduction greatly by working on, and improving, the relationship with the self. In today’s society, we are so focused on what everyone else is doing and a million things a day are competing for our attention. We have completely forgotten our first duty is to ensure our relationship with ourselves is healthy, secure and loving. At the end of the day, from before you first wake up and throughout the life span, you are the only constant. Nothing can harm you or help you as much as the thoughts in your head, and you have the responsibility to ensure you know which of those choices you are making, and to know you alone have the power to make that choice. Everything else in your universe stems from that whether you are conscious of it or not. It’s what I practice. It’s how I run my business. It’s what I teach my clients.
What made you want to enter the field of psychology?
I grew up gay in the 70’s and 80’s when it was especially hard on young gay people in school. I was bullied and harassed by the students and the teachers. I grew up feeling very alone and unsupported. I felt like an outcast in my family, my community and my church. As a result in my late teens I became a very angry, depressed and anxious person. I struggled with substance abuse and identity issues. Looking back, I don’t think I was a very nice person either. I was too busy hating myself and being angry with the world to be likeable. I was screwing up my life and going nowhere fast and decided to join the Navy as a last resort because I couldn’t keep a job and was without permanent housing.
The Navy really helped me sort myself out. I stopped doing drugs. The Navy gave me a sense of purpose, and I began to work on figuring out who I am, which helped me form the beginnings of self-confidence and self-respect. While on active duty, I came across a copy of The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. I had never heard of psychology or psychotherapy before then, and the book blew me away. I sought a therapist and sneaked off the ship to see her whenever I could. We met somewhat regularly for about three years. I’ve never been suicidal, but I still feel psychotherapy literally saved my life. I decided I wanted to give what I learned about rescuing my spirit back to the world. I have spent the last 20 years specializing in working with people who are similarly “broken”: people from the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community; people who struggle with substance abuse issues; and people who have experienced significant trauma. I do this because I know what it feels like to feel broken and without hope. I also know how to rescue your spirit, turn your life around and live the life of your dreams.
What groups/not-for-profits/awareness/ and organizations are you involved in, and which would you recommend for professionals or interested laypersons in your field?
About 2.5 years into my doctoral program, I accepted a position with the Mental Health Association of Central Florida (MHACF). MHACF is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about mental health issues in the community, fighting the stigma against mental illness, and working to create good linkages between mental health services and the people who need them. I was brought on as the director of public relations and fundraising events within an agency-wide budget of $125,000. I exited 4 years later as the Vice President of Grants and Development leaving the agency with an annual budget of 1.6 million. I have been involved in community service my entire career. I interned at a non-profit AIDS/HIV resource center and served for many years on the boards of the local gay and lesbian chamber of commerce and the organization that produces Central Florida’s gay pride event. I stay deeply connected to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community agencies and have now started my own non-profit organization, Two Spirit Mental Health Services, dedicated to providing public mental health services to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons who live at or below the poverty level.