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Author: Maria Connolly

Focus on Excellence to Build a Sustainable Private Practice

focus on excellence to build a sustainable private practiceAre you a psychologist, therapist, life coach or other healing professional who is thinking about opening a private practice? Are you wondering what you’re letting yourself in for? Well, let me share with you my story and how personal development, along with a lot of hard work and determination, led me to a thriving private practice. I hope it will help inspire you to see that you can do it too.

Being a psychotherapist and life coach in my own private practice is a way of life that I love. I opened my own practice after becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) over 10 years ago. When I started out, I had dreams and hopes about what I wanted to create. At the time, however, there wasn’t a lot of information to help me know how to open a private practice and make it successful.

In fact, the information I did get wasn’t very helpful at all. When I began to ask around, I got a lot of personal opinions that were very discouraging. Since I had just begun studying NLP, I was aware that people use their map of the world, so I tried to stay clear of downers and began my own journey of discovery.

Instead, I asked myself: What do I want? Why? What will I get by having that? What is my mission?

These are questions that every professional should ask as they begin their own private practice. You’ll find that your personal development will go hand in hand with the development of your practice. It did for me. I had to clear my history, identify and change limiting beliefs, build confidence through specialized trainings and certifications, and finally choose business methods that have a similar philosophy to what I adhered to. Excellence has been my focus, believing that in order to succeed I had to stand out, offering that je ne sais quoi that would make people come back over and over and make them want to refer their friends, too.

As John W. Gardner says, “Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”

If that sounds like a lot of work…it is. But it’s crucial if you want a good foundation for when you build a sustainable private practice.

You’ll find that it’s an ongoing process of taking deliberate and consistent actions. It also involves being able to tolerate failure and use it as feedback for continual improvement. You’ll also find the need to continually adjust as you set long-term and short-term goals. The long-term goals for your practice will need to satisfy your big picture. You won’t ever want to lose sight of that big picture. You’ll also need to keep short-term goals that give you daily tasks to work on as you build your practice. There is a difference between working in your business – helping your clients – and working on your business – doing all the things a private practice requires so that it remains profitable and successful.

For me, my deliberate practice included immersing myself fully in trainings like NLP and Feldenkrais, with long-term commitments to developing inside and out as a person, as a therapist and as a business owner. Sometimes these commitments have been four to five year intensives, but it’s been worth it. In addition to seeing my private clients, I enjoy helping other practitioners who are eager to build their own business, integrating personal excellence, core values and originality. And if you’ve been in practice for a while already, I’m eager to help you bring life and enthusiasm back into your practice. If either of these sounds like something you’re looking for, contact me and we can discuss your one-on-one coaching options.

In my next post, I’ll share with you two main aspects that are essential in developing a successful private practice.

Principals and Benefits of Sponsorship

A powerful approach to healing is that of self-relations.  The primary objective of this new psychotherapy is to focus on the relationship between a person and their own self. In my last post, I shared some of my in-depth study with Stephen Gilligan, Ph.D, who came up with this approach. The idea is that each problem and symptom experienced by an individual presents opportunities for major growth, if self-awareness exists.  Without that awareness, one can become mired in self-destructive patterns.

The foundation of self-relations is the principle of sponsorship.  This is the commitment, or vow, to help a person (including one’s self) to recognize how to use every event and experience in a positive way by connecting the goodness and gifts of self and the world. This acknowledgement gives value to each occurrence, regardless of how injurious it may appear.

Sponsorship skills can be developed, and they are worth the effort to do so.  Young children, don’t have language or other sponsorship skills for their feeling states (like being tired, hungry, or angry) leaving them to “act them out” until a caring adult recognizes their meaning. Hopefully, over time a child learns to recognize and “sponsor” their own feeling states.

Without these sponsorship skills, negative experiences or behaviors are neglected or ignored and become increasingly troublesome.  If the problem or symptom is recognized and sponsored however, the person who has a positive relationship with oneself can validate the experience and build on it.

As a therapist, my job is to not only be there as a sponsor but to help my clients develop their own sponsorship skills.  A balance between the following aspects of sponsorship can transform a negative experience or behavior into one of value:

The receptive aspect of sponsorship encourages openness, a safe place to receive. It enables one to be curious, while intensely listening with kindness and understanding.

The active part of sponsorship includes being attentive, giving guidance while, at the same time, setting boundaries. It challenges self-limitations.

As this relationship between a person and their own self grows, they begin to see all the possibilities that are before them.  Through connectedness, their individual human value takes shape.  This develops self-appreciation and strength, along with the realization of the good gifts of who the person is. At this point, healing occurs naturally.

Self-Relations — A Powerful New Approach to Psychotherapy

Self-relations focuses on the crucial relationship between a person and their own self. This approach to healing is fascinating and I’ve been privileged to study it in-depth with Stephen Gilligan, Ph.D. He came up with this new vision for psychotherapy and shared his finding in his book: The Courage to Love: Principles and Practices of Self-Relations Psychotherapy

Self- relations is so effective, I’ve been utilizing it as a foundation to my therapeutic approach. Self-relations draws upon many distinct forms of therapy and healing. Dr. Gilligan derived much of his inspiration from, Milton H. Erickson, M.D., the father of American clinical hypnosis. However, self-relations primary objective is to awaken soul and love in a person’s experience of themselves and others. I’m able to utilize other techniques, such as hypnosis or NLP, to guide someone’s process of self-awakening.

Traditional therapy often jumps immediately into practicing specific techniques to fix or eradicate symptoms. In contrast, self-relations views symptoms as a sign of something trying to wake up within a person. Gilligan describes symptoms as an awakening of the soul from a person who has in some way been wounded or scarred in the process of living. By acknowledging the purpose of a symptom, such as depression or anxiety, a person is in a much better position to seriously reexamine their life and begin the process of living with renewed purpose.

Self-relations asserts that therapeutic work should always be centered on supporting this awakening process. The therapist’s job is to be there as “sponsor,” to support this awakening by holding a safe space open for a person to enter, explore, and test out their feelings, thoughts, and intentions. I look forward to sharing the principles and benefits of sponsorship in my next blog post.

Resources to Learn More About Mindfulness

In a series of blog posts I’ve been exploring mindfulness. I’ve talked about what it means to be mindful and the benefits especially when it comes to coping with stress. I’ve also shared exercises to help you start practicing it in your daily life. Now I’d like to offer suggestions for further reading for those of you that would like to learn more.


A famous Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron gives insight about true mindfulness:


Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life – Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness – Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD

Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness – Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD

The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness – Mark G. Williams, John D. Teasdale, Zindel V. Segal & Jon Kabat-Zinn

Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting – Myla Kabat-Zinn, Jon Kabat-Zinn

Peaceful Mind: Using Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Psychology to Overcome Depression – John R. McQuaid and Paula E. Carmona

Please contact me to set-up a private session or to join my mindfulness group

When and How to Practice Mindfulness

Learn how to practice mindfulness so you can access powerful inner resources so you can change the way we see – and ultimately experience – difficult situations. In my current series of blog posts I’ve been examining mindfulness as a way to access powerful inner resources so we can change the way we see – and ultimately experience – difficult situations. You can read the last couple posts to get an overview of mindfulness and better understand the benefits.

Here are two important things to know about when to practice mindfulness:

* Mindfulness needs to be practiced daily in order to have access to the skill when needed. This is true with all new skills. In fact, Malcolm Gladwell in his new book “Outliers” says that we need to practice a skill 10,000 times in order to develop excellence. He refers to Tiger Woods as an example of constant practice leading to excellence.

* Mindfulness needs to be practiced when you are not in crisis. It is difficult to learn or refine a new skill while in crisis.

Here are some suggestions on how to practice mindfulness:

* Start where you are, not where you think you should be. This is the act of developing patience and staying power.

* Maintain a positive attitude. This is not a “Pollyanna” attitude of everything is okay but a willingness to remaining open, attentive and curious. It includes cultivating loving-kindness and sometimes even a radical acceptance of what is instead of what you’d like it to be.

Here are some brief exercises you can use to increase your mindfulness:

* Mindful breathing. Conscious breathing is the key to connecting together body and mind and bringing the energy of mindfulness into each moment of your life. The simple act of focusing the attention on the breath for a short time every day calms the body and the mind.

When practicing simple breath meditations, you enter the mind body interaction without judgments or opinions. Instead, you just observe the natural rhythm of the breath. You can do so without forcing it to be longer, deeper, or slower. With attention and a little time, your breath will deepen naturally on its own. Occasionally, your mind will wander off. When your mind wanders, name what it wanders to and come back to the breathing. Your practice is simply to take note of this distraction and to bring your attention gently back to your breath.

* Mindful eating. Eating mindfully means eating with awareness, exquisite awareness of the experience of eating through our five senses. Mindful eating is being present, moment by moment, for each sensation that happens during eating, such as reaching for the food, holding it, chewing it, tasting it and swallowing it.

If you’ve ever practiced mindfulness, you’re familiar with how easily our minds wander. The same happens when we eat. When you begin to practice mindful eating, one important thing to remember is not to judge yourself when you notice your mind drifting off the experience of eating. Instead, just keep returning to the awareness of that taste, chew, bite or swallow. Bringing mindfulness to our eating practice results in a healthier relationship to all foods by becoming more deliberate in our choices and ultimately brings more happiness to all aspects of life.

Simple first steps towards introducing mindfulness while eating:

o Eat with your non-dominant hand.
o Eat without TV, newspaper or computer.
o Eat sitting down.
o Slow down your usual pace by 20%.

* Mindfulness with our thoughts and emotions. Probably the most powerful mindfulness practice is the observation of thoughts and emotions as they arise, coupled with an attitude of acceptance. For example, when we deliberately focus our attention on an emotion such as anger, without trying to change it with our mind, the transitory, insubstantial nature of the emotion becomes evident. We release the tension that prolongs the emotion so that it cannot persist. However if attention slips to the reason for the anger, then the emotion is sustained. Following the ebb and flow of that emotion on purpose, noticing the intensity, frequency and quality, allows you to participate in the experience as if you were just a bystander without getting attached to it or trying to push it away.

You can do the same in relationship with your thoughts, by noting that you are having a thought without identifying with it. This simple practice will undoubtedly increase your sense of awareness, clarity, and insight. As you continue to foster and reinforce these new and healthier mental patterns your sense of mental stability, balance, peace, and happiness will continue to grow ever stronger.

* Bring mindfulness to every activity. Drinking tea, coffee, doing the dishes, walking, and sitting, etc. You can use the same principle of gentle awareness to explore the activity through your senses and introduce more purposefulness in every moment.

If this is a skill you’re interested in really refining please contact me for a private session or to join my mindfulness group. I’ll be sharing additional resources on mindfulness in my upcoming post.

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