A Journey of Identity: From Intuition to Impassioned Advocacy
Christina Papanestor entered this world with immense energy and passion. Though her sense of self was more concealed as a child, she is told she had a “gaze of intensity” and an innate ability to sense the character and intentions of others, both young and old. From an early age, Christina consumed the world around her, contemplating all of its depth. As she grew, she continued to be fascinated by the lives of others, curious about the beliefs of her culture and ancestors, and perplexed by the idea of a “status quo.” A first-generation Greek-Italian American, Christina’s experience of herself and others was complex, and marked by a respect for the fluid nature of identity, self, other and culture. Often times, while negotiating her multiple cultural identities, Christina held both a strong sense of her own individuality, and an awareness of her connection with those around her no matter their differences. This duality of experience has informed much of Christina’s life path.
Amidst this cultural backdrop, there were a few pivotal moments in Christina’s life that provided a platform for personal discovery and a trajectory into the professional world. One formative moment occurred on a trip to the island of Karpathos. Having taken many trips to Greece, Christina was accustomed to the clear gender dynamics and power imbalance within the Greek, patriarchal society. However, on this trip she visited the village of Olympos.. Unlike most Greek villages, this small, ancient town was matriarchal in structure—women toiled the fields, ran the small businesses and held positions of power. Christina was struck by this “radical” distribution of power and sensed beauty in the stark reversal of traditional gender roles. At that moment, Christina realized that the concept and definition of a “woman” could be flexible, fluid and liberating, even in one of the most remote parts of the world. This lived experience validated her earlier questions about women’s prescribed gender roles, and confirmed the existence of diverse societal structures and gender norms that she studied while a student of cultural anthropology, gender studies and psychology in the USA and abroad.
Another pivotal moment for Christina took place while she worked as a state-certified sexual assault counselor for the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center in Santa Barbara, California. In addition to providing crisis counseling to survivors of sexual assault, one of her responsibilities was to escort and advocate for survivors who sought medical/legal assistance following an assault . During one of Christina’s shifts, she accompanied a young Chicana adolescent, (recently raped by a neighbor), and her family, to the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) cottage to determine whether the young girl had contracted a sexually transmitted infection from the assault. Christina has vivid memories of this experience—the look of fear on the young woman’s face and the terror in her grieving parents’ eyes. Christina felt immensely proud of playing a discrete role in an individual’s struggle for survival in the face of violence, as well as a visceral and ongoing commitment to justice and social/psychological advocacy for women. Christina continued her work with female and male survivors of sexual assault and trauma, while a clinical social work post-graduate Fellow at Stanford University's Counseling and Psychological Services.
So where has Christina’s life path taken her today? She is now licensed in the State of California as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and psychotherapist. Christina is currently working as a clinician at an intensive outpatient eating disorders clinic south of San Francisco. As part of a multi-disciplinary healthcare team, Christina works with her colleagues to treat disordered eating in adolescents and adults, within the context of family, society and gender identity. This Clinic is part of an outpatient Department of Psychiatry within a nationally-recognized Health Maintenance Organization (HMO). In her professional role, Christina consults regularly with regional psychiatry programs and medical providers, and is involved in both direct-service and program development.
More recently, Christina launched her own private psychotherapy and consultation practice in San Francisco. She treats individuals and couples with relationship struggles, disordered eating, life transitions, questions of identity, LGBT issues, career planning and the creative process. Christina has a focus on women’s health and integrative healing. Through this professional endeavor, Christina is engaging her passion for interpersonal connection, her wish to help others to challenge societal, cultural and gender norms and her commitment to guiding others toward self discovery and wellness. Christina’s clinical work is grounded in a bio-psycho-social approach to health – a framework that focuses on acknowledging, assessing and accessing an individual’s unique and varied abilities, strengths, challenges, life circumstances, and available resources when working towards healing.
If you asked Christina to describe herself, she would say—complex, passionate, driven, inquisitive, and an “ever-changing” woman. In fact, being a woman “informs every decision” Christina makes. If you asked her what advice she would give to others, she would say—“always dream, always challenge what you think is a limit to get to where you can be free to think, act and be what you wish. Find other women mentors – ask questions, accept guidance and LEARN always.”
Christina Papanestor is yet another example of a woman making waves. She has not only lived an incredibly rich life, but she has pushed herself to be the best that she can be and now works to empower others to do the same. Truly an inspiration.