The Price of Inadvertently Telling People I am NOT The Therapist They Are Looking For by Nikki Gordon, LPC
When I launched my private practice in the middle of a global pandemic, I was well aware that unprecedented times would call for unconventional measures-at least when it came to getting the word out that I was now a solo practitioner. Fueled by my passion and drive for all things trauma, I plunged headlong into the business world, fortified by caffeine, sarcasm, and an amazing cheering section of fellow professionals. If anything was going to get this done, we were going to have to get it started and I wanted to be sure that my message was heard far and near, so that those who wanted to do the trauma work knew where the resources were. I was certain that my message would be well received, being a member of a community that is infamous for the amount of trauma that has shaped its demographics-much to my chagrin, I may have been a little overly confident in how that message would land, and I was made aware of that one evening when I received an email from someone who had heard my first attempts at spreading the news; an underwriting campaign on the local public radio station. “I heard your ad, and I want to do trauma work but not with you because of the other populations you work with, so can you refer me to someone else? You must know people”. I was baffled by the statement of ‘other populations’-I work with trauma survivors! Domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, PTSD, first responders, law enforcem……….oh. Oh boy. Ah, so that’s it. There’s that “other population” you speak of. Law enforcement. One more time for the people in the back-I WORK WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT.
It never occurred to me when I approved that ad copy, or when I wrote my website, or drafted my Psychology Today profile, that someone would read those five little words and decide that I was not worthy as a therapist. It did not cross my mind, that when I put out there via a brief statement of populations that I work with, I would be inciting vitriolic ire that would inflame someone’s righteous indignation to the point of denying themselves their own healing. Instead of working with someone educated and experienced in healing the very thing that tortures their own soul, they would choose the alternative simply because I have held space for men and women that have seen horrors that the rest of the population cannot begin to fathom; that my chair has held the officer that holds their head in their hands while they take a deep breath to steady themselves, because they just interviewed a victim and they’re working to process what they were just told and not vomit; that I have stood in below zero weather behind a long line of officers and first responders as they lined the street waiting for the hearse carrying their slain brother, in case one of them needed me.
In those moments, they deserved compassion as much as anyone. In those hours, and days, and weeks, their brains witnessed, and didn’t process, and didn’t resolve trauma, the same way anyone else’s would. Trauma is an injury-the working definition of trauma is a wound. My charge, my mission, my work, is to recognize and support the healing of those wounds. They did not stop being human, or experiencing the impact of trauma, because of their chosen profession. This concept seemed firmly rooted in the Occam’s Razor principle - the simplest, most obvious explanation is the one we should go with. That explanation is that I am a trauma therapist, and they had experienced trauma.
You see, there is this concept called dialectical thinking that we have lost sight of. When we address something through a dialectical lens, we are examining diametrically opposed pieces of information, or opinions, and working to find a middle way, often holding that two things can be true at the same time. I can acknowledge that policing in America needs new policies and procedures in place to eradicate institutional racism AND I can provide critical incident services for a department. I am able to denounce police brutality and demand reform AND engage in EMDR therapy with a suicidal officer diagnosed with PTSD. I continue to advocate for changing how mental health crises are addressed and ceasing to use our law enforcement agencies as social workers and therapists AND hold space for the people that have witnessed the very worst of what one human can do to another.
It is a slippery, dangerous slope that we start descending down when we become so convinced that we possess everything we need to reject out of hand anyone or anything that does not strictly adhere to our beliefs. Even more destructive is when we begin to use that belief system as judge and jury, accepting and rejecting entire human beings based on our own snap judgements. Rarely are things what they seem on the surface, and you miss a lot of life along the way when you narrow your field of view to only those things that enhance your confirmation bias.
This little foray in the public broadcasting world netted me some new pieces of information-first, apparently, I was successful in letting people know why I’m not the therapist they are looking for-an expensive lesson in more ways than one, to be sure. From an entire month-long underwriting campaign, there was only that single email-but it spoke on behalf of an entire community, and the messaging was the loudest voice in the room. I can assure you, the message was received because there was no mistaking it AND I will continue to place my faith in the humans that I serve, because that it is who I am as a therapist. Now, to move forward deliberately with the intention that those three little letters set, instead of the blinders that those five words apply.
One of the most common questions I receive from consultees is how to make EMDR therapy their main modality and transition into being an EMDR therapist. They see the ease and comfort I have in my own practice as an EMDR therapist as well as in the group practice I co-founded. They want to emulate this and are stuck, not knowing the steps to take. However, what they don’t see are the years of work, education, training, consultation, client sessions, blood, sweat, and tears that went into building my clinical practice into what it is today. Cultivating a culture of EMDR therapy in your individual work with clients as well as your clinical setting is possible by being mindful of the following considerations.
Jump right in. A challenge I hear from new EMDR therapists is how to get themselves on board with EMDR therapy. Especially after part 1 of the basic training, many clinicians are completely overwhelmed by all of the new information presented and have a difficult time shifting their clinical framework from the old way of doing things to this new, seemingly mystical clinical framework. My best advice is to not wait. Jump right into to it as soon as you leave the training. Come Monday morning, start phase 1 with your clients and look for targets you can process. Also, schedule consultation soon after part 1 to further discuss and consult on how to implement the 8 phase protocol with your current clients. Schedule part 2 within a few months of completing part 1 even if you haven’t completed many consultation hours or started really using EMDR therapy much within your practice. If you wait, you will lose momentum as well as get lost in the new information. Months may pass before you tiptoe into using any bilateral stimulation, even just for resourcing. It’s okay if you have to read from a script during the first 100 sessions or ask the steps out of order periodically. Your EMDR sessions will be messier than what was demonstrated in the trainings; just keep jumping into it over and over again. Practice makes perfect and your clients will forgive you or not even know the difference if you asked for the VOC before the SUDs.
Shift your focus from clinical tool to clinical modality. Since its conception, the view on EMDR therapy shifted from a tool to use within therapy to an all-encompassing treatment modality. By viewing it as such, the approach is altered from having specific EMDR sessions in which you wave your fingers in front of your clients to engaging in EMDR therapy from day one with a client even without bilateral stimulation. Working through the 8 phases of EMDR therapy and understanding the effects of traumas/adverse experiences, further integrates EMDR therapy as a clinical modality. There are many insights and breakthroughs that occur in identifying the origins of negative beliefs and their associated traumas/adverse experiences. Knowing the power of these insights takes the pressure off of rushing into phase 3-6 when a client is not fully prepared and resourced and further highlights the benefits that occur even outside of reprocessing sessions emphasizing a culture of EMDR therapy within your practice.
Have the motto “we can process that!” I constantly have my ears open to potential targets and am known to say, to a bit of chagrin of my clients, “we can process that!”. Not all traumas/adverse experiences are disclosed at the beginning of treatment. Sometimes they are slow to reveal themselves because a client isn’t ready or is just ignorant that these potential targets are affecting their current functioning. With all the advanced EMDR topic trainings targeting specific symptoms and issues, there is potential for an endless number of special protocols. However, you do not have to be specially trained if you have a strong understanding of the basic EMDR therapy protocol and are competent in working with the specific population. Though there may be special considerations with different populations, you can target and process anything that proves to be a trauma/adverse experience. Attend consultation sessions and EMDR networking groups to listen to other clinicians’ experiences in identifying shrouded targets. The more you practice your EMDR skills, the more you will hone your intuition about what constitutes a good target.
Identify yourself as an EMDR Therapist. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy; if you identify as one, you are one. Introduce yourself as an EMDR therapist, which will give you ample opportunity to discuss your treatment approach with potential clients and referral sources. As you become more established, clients will seek you out specifically for EMDR therapy further cultivating the culture of EMDR therapy within your practice. I regularly receive requests from potential clients looking specifically for EMDR therapy indicating a familiarity with this modality. Initially after being trained in EMDR therapy, however, I had to convince all my clients to try this new-fangled therapy. It was a shift from their conceptualization of traditional talk therapy to a culture of EMDR therapy in which we identified potential trauma targets and used bilateral stimulation to desensitize and reprocess these targets. Despite my immediate enthusiasm for EMDR therapy, not all of my clients were as convinced, and it took some time, effort, educating, and demonstrating to create a culture of EMDR therapy within my own practice.
Get the word out. The more publicity and discussions about EMDR therapy, the more mainstream it becomes as a treatment modality. We can cultivate a culture of EMDR therapy in our clinical settings by addressing the effects of traumas/adverse experiences on the brain and explaining the Adaptive Information Processing model. Share the EMDR love with your friends and family. Post information and articles about the effects of trauma/adverse experiences and EMDR therapy on your social media. Host informational sessions at your practice or place of employment and work EMDR therapy into any presentations you are giving as a mental health provider. Network with other EMDR therapists by joining EMDRIA and regional network groups. If you are at an agency, hosting an informational session as a brown bag lunch can help education your colleagues in EMDR therapy. Also, ask your clients to provide testimonials about their experiences with EMDR therapy to their other healthcare providers..
Cultivating a culture of EMDR therapy can be an arduous process. You will constantly have to explain, reinforce, and reframe people’s beliefs about EMDR as a whole therapy framework. By jumping right into the 8 phases and identifying yourself as an EMDR therapist though, you will quickly begin to shift your practice to an EMDR therapy framework. Looking for potential targets within the therapeutic setting and getting the word out about EMDR therapy whether it is within your personal circle or at your practice or agency further cultivates a culture of EMDR therapy within your individual clinical practice as well as within your practice or agency. It will be well worth the effort as you process your clients’ traumas/adverse experiences helping them to achieve a higher level of healing.
I constantly hear the compliment, “Jamie, You are such a good marketer! You know how to get noticed and make things happen.”
Truthfully, I’m not a very good marketer. Any significant money I’ve put into promoting my programs and services purely for the sake of generating more sales never really panned out. I’ve done “marketing consultations” with experts and either (a) learned from them what I read for free online or in affordably purchased books or (b) found their advice impractical, costly, and not authentic to my mission.
Networking, however, resonates with the core of who I am and how I run my business. Networking is organic. Networking is the art of getting to know people and sharing who you are with them. Networking activates community. Everything I’ve built with my personal brand and Institute for Creative Mindfulness programs (EMDR therapy, Dancing Mindfulness, Yoga Unchained, Expressive Arts Certification) is a result of a few key networking practices I implemented. It’s my honor, in this blog, to share with you some field notes on what I’ve learned since beginning to venture out on my own in 2008.
1. Set your Intention and Create Room for it to Grow
When I began my career in professional counseling I still experienced a strong calling to teach – and I let people know about it in my network. Setting intentions are about planting seeds, not forcing outcomes. I began cultivating my intention by entering a PhD program with the hopes of being a counselor educator. However, after offering some CE workshops and receiving solid feedback on my skills in teaching clinicians advanced skills, a new path quickly revealed itself to me. Through the encouragement of my peers in these earlier years and through their willingness to share their contacts with me my training career grew. I fondly thank Ric Socie, an early co-worker and cheerleader, who shared his contact at the Cuyahoga County ADMHS Board in Cleveland, OH with me. The ADAMHS Board was the first group to ever pay me to do a training and the contacts I made and network I was willing to seek out grew from there.
2. Let People Know What you Do/Offer
Enlivened by the prospects that doing clinical trainings in combination with operating a specialized private practice could be my path to making a living, I continued to explore the possibilities of networking. In the era just before the potential of social media exploded, I learned to do things that I still encourage my consultants to do to this day – write letters and send emails. When I moved into a private practice specializing in trauma in 2008, I sent personal letters to all of the professional contacts I’d come to know in the three previous years working in agencies. From there I flowed my initial referrals that grew the word-of-mouth bug about my services and I have not wanted for work to this day.
Around this same time I spent mad hours on Google in between researching my doctoral dissertation, investigating which organizations offered professional trainings for continuing education. I composed a general email introducing myself and the areas in which I could train, and I personalized it as appropriate. I must have sent 500 emails in 2008 alone. I got about 5 replies, and from those replies grew the network that got me onto the national stage training and writing.
3. Get the Conference Scene and Using “freebies” to Grow you Network
Unless you are firmly established speaker invited as a special guest, most professional conferences in various fields do not pay. In some cases it will cost you to travel and even register (usually at a discounted rate) for the conferences. However, participating in them can be tremendously valuable, and not just for adding another bullet point to your resume. Start with state or regional conferences if you don’t have the budget to travel nationally. In fact, state or regional conferences may be even more valuable for getting people to know you and what you offer in your area. This can be a tremendously powerful source for referrals. While the work may seem like a “freebie” at the time consider its value in the long-run. Even at my level where I can command decent money to speak and to train, I still teach a handful of events as “freebies” each year, usually as an act of service. However, sometimes my gut tells me it makes good networking sense. In addition to conferences, consider opportunities like speaking as a part of a public library series, offering a lunch and learn or community chat (many entities in the community host these programs), or volunteering your services to speak at places like Rotary luncheons or a local radio show. Approach these opportunities not as selling yourself, rather, to share the knowledge you have with your community and promotion may come as a byproduct of casting your light into the world.
4. Use Social Media (Wisely) as an Extension of your Network
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received on using social media is that if you use it to only promote your events and sell your services, you will fall flat. Rather, use social media to help people get to know you and to give away as many free resources as you are able and willing to share. This can be as simple as reposting a video, a blog, or a meme (crediting the source you found it where possible – and the source may get to know you too as a result). Although creating some of your own original content in this area and tagging it well can be very helpful, you can still go for sharing other resources. It’s completely up to you which platform or platforms you use – Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and Snapchat all have their potential. Know which ones you’re likely to use and like and start there.
I can speak most fully to YouTube and Facebook since I use them the most. YouTube allows people to find your teaching through tagging. If a good video has appeal, it will spread. You can make simple teaching videos on a cell phone; keep it concise and tag it well and you’d be surprised who may find you. If people subscribe to you cannel, they will be notified when you post new content. Making playlists of your favorite videos (even if they are not your original content) and titling the playlist with a popularly searchable name is another way to share knowledge and spread your channel.
There are multiple ways to put Facebook to work for you, enough to warrant a separate blog if there is interest. There are many options: LiveCasts, groups (starting groups, taking active part in existing groups), establishing a fan of business page or using your personal page in a savvy way. Although many of us make the choice to create fan pages to help with creating boundaries be advised that Facebook’s system either requires businesses to do paid “boosts” (which may or may not be doable for you) or necessitate that you post a great deal of content to stay on the scroll pages of you followers. For this reason I’ve found that using my personal page to share photos of events (with proper ethics followed for respecting others), to tag myself/check in at events or venues, and repost content from the business pages are all valuable. I can also generate productive conversation by sharing a thought or insight from my personal/professional life. Connect with people, share yourself, although be mindful not to air your dirty laundry or to use Facebook for ranting about a personal issue that ought to be worked on with your therapist or healing team first.
A final note on the possibilities of social media. I don’t use Twitter a great deal although a post I made there about Dancing Mindfulness – through the power of hash tagging – led me to a journalist who ended up featuring me and Dancing Mindfulness in the New York Times!
5. Trust Yourself and Work on Boundaries
For many people I advise in the area of building and growing a business or personal brand, a fear of “putting themselves out there” exists. What if I get haters or negative comments? (HINT: That means you’re probably doing something right). What if I’m not ready? (HINT: you’ll never really build the skills to handle this unless you practice them in the real world). All of this seems so unnecessary (Reality: There is an element of both work and surrendering the outcome for an intention to blossom). In this day and age, unless you get an amazing stroke of luck, being successful with cultivating a planted intention requires work – no coincidence it’s called networking. Embrace it in a way that feels genuine for you yet may cause you to feel a bit of that discomfort edge that creates opportunity for new growth. If you are engaged in your own therapy or healing arts, I encourage you to bring any themes or observations that emerge from hitting these edges to the table. There’s a feast to explore, if you’re willing, that can nourish you’re dreams and water the intentions you planted.
Institute for creative mindfulness
Our work and our mission is to redefine therapy and our conversations are about the art and practice of healing. Blog launched in May 2018 by Dr. Jamie Marich, affiliates, and friends.