Seeking mental health treatment for the first time is an intimidating task, but upon sitting down with Alicia Lightfoot, her friendly freckled face and calm, green eyes will instantly begin to soothe your aching nerves. A licensed clinical social worker with University Psychological Associates in Charlotte, N.C., Lightfoot grants her clients the privilege of a truly understanding confidante who strives not only to serve, but to learn. With a Master’s in Social Work and more than a decade of private practice under her belt, she has never left behind the mentality of a student seeking to understand the world — and herself.

A steadfast ally to the LGBTQ community, Lightfoot’s methods as a counselor center on unfailing respect for her clients and establishing trust to allow them to be vulnerable. As a mother and professional, compassion and commitment are her central philosophies.

When you meet a new client, how do you put them at ease?

I try to be myself with clients, but at the same time balance the boundaries and role I serve as a therapist. Each time I meet a new client I try to convey my respect for how hard it must be for the new client to come and talk to a total stranger about very personal issues. I also attempt to empower them to see that, as helpful as I hope the sessions can be, they are actually the expert on themselves. My hopeful outcome from the first session is that a client leaves knowing that the sessions are a place to be truly themselves without being judged. I also attempt to empower new clients to comfortably explore other therapists or counselors if they feel I might not be the right therapist for them; a large part of therapy is the ability to be at ease communicating with your therapist, and I get that I may not be a fit for everyone.

Outside of mental health services, are there other issues that you’re passionate about?

I’m pretty passionate about a lot of issues, and that is one of the other reasons why I chose to get my MSW. Social work has a Code of Ethics that syncs my personal and professional beliefs and at its core is about pursuing social justice and seeing the dignity and worth of the individual. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done in this field and I am inspired daily by the current number of grassroots movements working towards these goals.

Who has been an influential figure in your life, and how so?

My grandmother was an amazing woman and a constant in my life. She lived to be 100 years old and survived the Great Depression, served in World War II, had a family, worked and served her community in various capacities. Everyone who knew her was truly touched by her kindness and constant compassion for others.

What three courses would constitute your ideal meal?

I haven’t had a three-course meal in quite some time. My child is four, and I am lucky if I get to actually finish a basic meal if I am out somewhere before he starts trying to do football plays across my body or sit in my lap, making it virtually impossible to actually reach my plate.

When you have a day completely free of all obligations, how do you spend it?

Again, because I have a four-year-old, this seems like such a delightful concept. Ideally, I would sleep in, stay in my pajamas, watch some comedies on Hulu, take a nap and maybe read one of the dozen books I have started. I probably won’t have a whole day anytime soon, but when my kid starts preschool this month, I am going to try and just enjoy those few hours, maybe try and workout and well, probably take a nap.

What’s the best part of your job?

Without a doubt, the best part of my job is being allowed by my clients to be a safe place to process through life. I have such respect for my clients. It can be really difficult and intimidating to sit down and have an honest conversation about all the stuff in our heads. Life can be so overwhelming at times, and our brains can be such sticky traps when we keep it all inside. I try to stay open to the things that my clients are teaching me about the world and myself as well. While it is possible that not all of my clients would say I am a perfect therapist, I am confident that I have been able to sit with many of them through really difficult times. I am hopeful that sessions were helpful in empowering and encouraging them in ways that last beyond their time as my clients.