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Have you experienced intimate betrayal? How do you talk to your kids about divorce? Have you used the YOU-turn method to calm yourself down in moments of emotional flooding?
In the last episode of the How I Got Through It series, Joe Sanok speaks about getting through betrayal, divorce, and a religious transition with Emily Runyan.
In this Podcast:
- Losing yourself in a toxic relationship
- Coping with betrayal
- Experiencing a religious transition
- Helpful habits and mindset shifts
- Emily’s advice to her younger self
Losing yourself in a toxic relationship
Emily was trying everything she could think of to make her marriage work. However, her partner at the time was not willing and did not share her passions.
I arranged weekend getaways and date nights, and he came along unenthusiastically, but for me, that deepened the sense of, “There’s got to be a right way for this thing to work out and if I just find that right way then it will work out.” (Emily Runyan)
In the end, it was only her left in the relationship, and she felt that she had lost herself in the attempt to keep it.
Coping with betrayal
The final straw for Emily was finding out that her partner was having an affair.
After about a year of hustling for scraps, [there was] a disclosure of an affair and I had been so in my hustling-for-scraps mode that I had been in denial about noticing signs that were there during that year. (Emily Runyan)
Emily experienced a deep pain that she did not know was possible to feel and felt deep betrayal.
Although, due to the toxic nature of the partnership, the affair made her feel less valued and “not good enough” instead of giving her fuel to fire her exit.
Luckily, her therapy skills stepped in, and she sought a therapist and started looking after herself.
What grew out of that trauma was a deep sense of getting to know myself better [by] being with myself in my worst moments and just loving and comforting myself as I was going through that. (Emily Runyan)
Experiencing a religious transition
Sometimes traumas in life can impact a person to the extent that they begin to question the things they had never thought to question before.
As this unraveled … I had done everything right according to the religion, and still, life wasn’t great and things didn’t turn out great. (Emily Runyan)
Emily was already in a process of leaning away from the religion that she grew up in, with much love and appreciation, but understanding that it did no longer suit her growth and development as an individual.
I took off what I felt were shackles of that religious view of women in women’s roles … I felt like I had to so that I could step into my empowerment as a single mother and provider for my children. (Emily Runyan)
Helpful habits and mindset shifts
Emily used the mindset shift of the YOU-turn, which is coming to a stop turning back to the direction that you want to be in once you realize you have been going the wrong way.
You can use the YOU-turn method by asking yourself these questions when you feel flooded:
- What are you feeling?
- Where is it in your body?
- What does this feeling mean?
Emily’s advice to her younger self
You will have the happiest and best life when you do not betray yourself. Celebrate your uniqueness and build a life that protects them.
Useful Links mentioned in this episode:
Check out these additional resources:
Meet Joe Sanok
Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.
Thanks For Listening!
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Before we start today’s show, just a trigger warning that we are going to be talking about infidelity, divorce, and religious transitions in today’s show. Just so you know what you’re getting into.
This is the Practice of the Practice podcast with Joe Sanok, session number 752.
I’m Joe Sanok, your host, and welcome to The Practice of the Practice Podcast. We are in our final episode of the How I Got Through It Series. This started in late June where I kicked off the story, not the story, my story when LaToya interviewed me about what’s been going on in my life. So if you missed that, go ahead and go back to episode 736 that launched on June 22nd, 2022. That’s how I became a unexpected single dad, uncoupling all sorts of things. That’s actually, when that episode went live, that’s when Emily, our guest today, actually heard that and reached out to me on Facebook and said, “Hey if you need someone else to pop in to tell their story,” she told me a little bit about her backstory and I was like, “Oh my gosh, yes.”
So we had this final episode here just sitting, I wasn’t sure if I was going to do another how I got through it, we’d had a cancellation, or if I was going to just jump into the next series. But so excited to have Emily on this show today. We’ll tell you a little bit at the end about what episodes we have coming up. We’ve got a really exciting lineup for the rest of the summer and early fall that are coming, but Emily Runyan is here with us today. Emily, welcome to the Practice of the Practice Podcast. So excited that you’re here with us today.
Thank you, Joe. I am excited to be here and excited to share as we share our stories with the community and hopefully help people feel not so alone and feel empowered.
Yes, for sure. We were talking before we got rolling that you’ve been a long-time listener to the show since the very beginning, and that’s so exciting when people have been a part of our community for a while. You’re in Group Practice Launch and you started listening before you even were like in grad school, which blows my mind. I remember thinking about those grad students being like, “Man, I wish I had this in grad school.” Thanks for being a long-time listener too.
Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you for all the support and help and resources you’ve provided that have helped given me the courage to grow an individual and now group practice.
Well, tell us a little bit about people or pets in your life that that make up your life and also a little bit about your business and the work you do.
Okay. I am in the Nashville, Tennessee area. I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and I have a practice that, as I mentioned, is newly growing into a group practice. I have three boys and they are all teenager range, so it is the fun years. Love these boys. We also have two boy dogs. So it’s just a lot of maleness in my household, but it’s a lot of fun.
It’s so funny because my world is like the complete opposite. It’s like sparkles and fairies.
We’re watching Marvel movies and Star Wars and shooting Nerf guns and things like that.
Oh, it sounds like so much fun. Which Star Wars stuff are you guys into right now?
Well let’s see, I’m just a fan of The Originals. So the new stuff that’s come out, I have, hmm, I should say tolerated. My boys are into lots of different iterations. I think they’re on the Disney, Disney app or Disney Channel there are many iterations in cartoon versions and things like that that they know of. Yes, I’m actually more into the Star Wars Legos because I can still get into those or the original movies.
I did like Book of Bobba. I felt like, I don’t know if you guys watched that, but it to me seemed like they tried to really capture that essence of like, Return of the Jedi.
I missed that one. I’m sure my boys saw it though.
It’s a new series similar to the Mandalorian on Disney Plus. So you just accidentally stumbled upon, I wouldn’t say Star Wars geek, I like The Originals and I’ve got some of the toys still, but I did not dive into that whole new universe of Star Wars. Holy cow, it seems to go deep. Well, that’s your life. Tell us a little bit about your practice and what you do for work.
So I specialize in working with trauma recovery. I’m a brain spotting practitioner and also use internal family systems to help people heal trauma. I work with couples and individuals and oh, adults and adolescents. As I’m growing my practice, I’m wanting to bring on skilled clinicians who are really good at what they do, but also have that balance of being incredibly kind and empathetic. The practice that we’re building, I purchased, it’s actually a house that I’m converting into my therapy office and I want to have a boutique-like feel with an outdoor, there’s a nice backyard space. I want to have like a serenity area and a place where people can come before or after therapy and just really exhale, get a snack, grab a sparkling water or soda or something and also receive excellent clinical care.
Wow, that sounds awesome. Well, you sent me a message on Facebook walking through a lot of things you’ve been through. Where does it make sense to start your story of what you’ve gone through?
Sure. So the essence is going through divorce, which was finalized in 2020. As most people who have gone through that know usually there’s symptom tumultuous times leading up to that. So for me there was some years of trauma in really employing old skills to this new extremely stressful, difficult situation and beating my head against a brick wall with these old skills that I had had, specifically the skills of losing myself in the marriage; doing whatever it took to keep it going, whatever it took to support my then husband. So that could be starting with a divorce in 2020 but there’s also leading up to that there was some damage that I did to myself unwittingly because I was trying to get through it in the only way that I knew how and that was hurting me even more.
What are some examples of how you lost yourself in that relationship or did things that maybe don’t align with who you are now?
Well it started with the context of the marriage, which was, we were both very religious. In that religious culture, the expectation is to have babies young, get married young, have babies young, grow the family because the family is highly valued. For women especially really our role was to be good wives and mothers. So I always felt a little different wanting to have a career. I had wanted to be a therapist probably since high school, but I put all of that on hold to help support my then husband through his education and training and getting his career set up.
So I had been doing that for years. That’s how I knew how to operate in a relationship and then as he, it was about 2018 that he told me I haven’t been happy in our marriage and I think I want to be done. I went into like hyperdrive, I got to lose myself even more to save this thing. So I see this now as a trauma response, but I just, I was barely sleeping. I would be up all-night devouring books and taking notes and creating scripts that I could say something just the right way and, or maybe if I make myself cuter or am more available to do activities he likes to do. I arranged weekend getaways and date nights and he came along unenthusiastically but for me, that deepened the sense of, okay, there’s got to be a right way for this thing to work out and if I just find that right way, then it’ll work out. Of course, I was putting all that pressure on myself and —
Well, and isn’t it sort of, I mean, in religious cultures and even in psychology or social work or however your training is, I mean, that idea of, we have clients that come to us all the time that are dealing with a problem and obviously we want to help them find that direction inside of themselves. But there’s also, there’s research, there’s tools, there’s the Gottman’s or whatever that if there are marriages that are struggling and people want to work on it, there’s tools that can help with that. So I think as a therapist that thinks that way and finds problems and helps people find those solutions in themselves that’s how we think. So, as I hear you say this, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I did all the same stuff Emily did.” It’s like if we just go to the Gottman’s Art and Love of Marriage or this art and science of marriage conference, if we start doing this and doing that and reading like a Stare Perl, there’s people that have studied this but then ultimately the other person is that other side of the equation of if they’re not putting in that time or wanting it it’s incredibly hard to have it be a one-sided thing.
Yes, it is. I had, as a marriage therapist prior to that, I had that naïve, but just, I’m an incredibly optimistic person, but it was there, I had a hefty dose of naivete also in believing that, oh, if people just have the right tools they can get through things. So I was applying that and I engaged in what I now call hustling for scraps for a good year. That really deepened this sense of, I’m not good enough because if I was just —
Tell me what you mean by hustling for scraps because I think I know what you mean, but dig into what that means to you.
It was just all the things that I was talking about, ways of trying to tie myself up in a pretzel, just trying all these different ways to get the response that I was wanting because it was just inconceivable for me for this thing to end. So I would try and try and try and get a little scrap of like, of hope, of response. That gave me some hope and that would keep me going. But again, the damage that that did was just really deep in the sense of I’m not good enough. So that was trauma one in what it did to me. Then we, there’s trauma two that enters the picture that we can move on to.
Tell us about trauma too.
So trauma too was after about a year of the hustling for scraps the disclosure of an affair. I had been so in my hustling for scraps mode that I was really in denial about noticing signs that were there during that year. That elicited pain that I never knew I could feel. It just was like, how can my body contain this? I thought, I literally thought I would explode, just not understanding how that could feel so painful. But of course, since I had been practicing for a year, I’m not good enough unless this thing turns around when the disclosure came out, that really deepened my sense of not good enough, what was wrong with me, the rejection, all those things. Luckily, I had had enough years of therapy and things like that that I went straight into healing. Okay, I’ve got to be with my feelings. I’ve got to be meeting with my therapist. What grew out of that trauma was a deep sense of really getting to know myself better, like, being with myself in my worst moments and just loving and comforting myself as I was going through that.
What were some of those really, like you said, your worst moments? Are there times, like, I know that for me, thinking about when we were on the road, I remember this one night that I just went for a walk at two in the morning and I’m in this like, park all by myself, just in the fetal position, just bawling. That’s going to stand out to me, like the coldness of the cement and just the pain that that will be with me forever probably. Were there times that just stand out to you where you just were totally broken apart and realized that that model that you had of having a marriage following what the church says that you can work on it, that it was just getting shattered?
Absolutely, so many. Some that stand out, well, I live near a lake and I paddleboard.
I love paddle boarding.
Me too. I’m really into nature. I used to live out west and I did a lot of things in the mountains. We don’t have mountains readily accessible where I live, but there’s lakes and so I was on my paddle board almost daily, as often as I could be on it. I would paddle furiously the pain and the anger, and then I would just collapse and sob and so and so, and just float. People, boats passing by probably thought I was just floating, enjoying the day but I was sobbing, sobbing, sobbing. Again, just wanted to sob the pain out, like, how can this pain get out of me? It’s just so big. There was also some fetal position on the floor moments and crying and saying out loud to myself, I’m not good enough. I’m not good enough. Like I couldn’t even, I couldn’t contain those words. They just blurted out and it the feeling was so big that I couldn’t stop saying that over and over again. I’m not good enough. I’m not good enough. Those were some of the worst moments.
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What happened next?
Okay, so separation happened in 2019. I started to move through the denial phase and into acceptance that, okay, this thing was, this marriage was ending. It took a year for the divorce process. The separation was in 2019. The divorce wasn’t final for another year in 2020. So in that year, I really dug deep in healing. Let me back up because this is some, these were some interesting aspects to my healing, as I learned tools and skills, I felt like it was like a daily practice. Almost constantly throughout the day I would practice these mindfulness and self-healing things that I can describe later.
I was just constantly inundated with my own healing. I had some really dear friends who I leaned on who were just loving and supportive. I would talk to at least one of them every single day as I walked my dogs. Then I started to, it was really strange, but I started to have new clients in my therapy practice who were involved in some way in affairs. That was that was actually very healing for me because I care about all my clients. No matter what they’re struggling with, I see their humanity. I see just the beauty and as maybe they might be bubbling, bumbling around, causing messes in their life, but I understand where that comes from and the trauma that might be, that those actions might be born out of.
As I got to know some clients who were involved in affairs, I just gained so much empathy for what that was like for them and their side and that was surprising. I was surprised that I wasn’t furious with them. I was actually very empathetic and just my heart swelled for them. So that was helpful as I was working on my healing and dealing with a lot of hurt and anger. I was also cultivating empathy, which I think is important for, it was important for me because it helped in time helped me release some of that hurt and anger.
how did you, and maybe this is fast forwarding a bit, but, and we’ll come back to this moment, but since we’re talking about affairs and all of that, how do you handle that with your kids in regards to how much they know or how much, like who told what, or what has that been part of your conversation?
That is an ongoing growth area. My boys are older-ish between 13 and 19. I’ve really wrestled with that. One of them knew, well, let’s see, I’m trying to think of how to not get to into the weeds of this, essentially not all three of them know. As I’ve weighed that, I, especially them being boys want to help not have foster any family secrets. There are a lot of those on their dad’s side of the family and my side of the family, we are not perfect by any means but I also know that in the marriage, one of my contributions to the marriage just declining and not being good is a conflict avoidance and not talking about things and sweeping things under the rug.
So that’s something I’ve been really working on trying to do better with my boys. When it comes to talking about what happened, I have been very open to answer any questions they have. I have thought at some point if they really wanted to know to the extent that would be helpful for them, so that we don’t have family secrets, we don’t have the toxic things that get swept under the rug, but just like, we can talk about hard things and we can work through them together. So that’s a big answer, I guess.
No, I mean that it’s —
That’s still a work in progress.
Yes, I mean that’s what any of this is where we’re doing our best and we don’t know how we’re going to land in some areas and I mean it’s good to hear that you’re not sure how to talk about that. I mean, that’s helpful.
I’ve consulted so many sources on that, really, really wrestling with that and also checking it with my own anger and hurt. Because I’ve been really intentional to not sling mud, especially around my boys because while there was a, like we tend to point fingers at the cheater but there, in my healing, I really confronted many, many things that I did throughout the marriage that contributed to disconnection. So it’s not just that one thing. And I have talked to my boys about my contribution, mainly just extreme conflict avoidance and sweeping things under the rug and stuff. So I want my kids to have a balance perspective and to learn that it’s, I want them to hear me also own up to ways that I just didn’t live up to my potential or didn’t know better or realize that I could have done better in a lot of ways.
Now you had said when we were messaging that a lot of this challenged your religious point of view and maybe some shifts happened there. What happened with you spiritually as a result of what was going on?
I had already been leaning away from the religion that I grew up in with a lot of love but just a years long process of unraveling some things and realizing this wasn’t the best fit for me. That said, a another big part of the disconnection in that marriage was that my then husband left the religion early in the marriage, and it was about five or six years later that I started questioning myself. So there was several years of me being very a staunch believer and judgey as some staunch believers can be. So that was hurtful, I’m sure to him. As this unraveled, this was the, I had done everything right according to the religion and still the life wasn’t great, still things didn’t turn out great.
By then I was already leaning away and I think the biggest thing that I, the biggest shift away from that was an empowered shift towards my own empowerment as a career woman. Because I had, while I had been a therapist during the marriage, it was a side job for me, a hobby job. My world really still orbited around my then husband. So as I realized, like took off what I felt were shackles of that religious view of women and women’s roles and I felt like I had to, so that I could step into my empowerment as a single mother and provider for my children, and really being more ambitious and it’s okay to be a woman and be ambitious and grow my practice and grow my career.
What were some mindsets or habits or things that helped you get through the separation and early divorce like that when it’s the hardest part?
I’m glad you asked. The best skill that I learned was what’s called the U-turn. I learned this from Tara Brock, who’s a psychologist and meditation teacher. I follow her work and so somewhere in her teachings, she taught this thing called the U-turn. It’s like the driving U-turn where you’re going one direction and then you turn around and go back to where you came from but also like a y-o-u turn, Y-O-U, U. What it is, is when you realize that your thoughts are often, whatever the compulsive thoughts that you have or in my case, I felt like I would get hijacked by anger, like crazy in those beginning stages. I’d be driving down the road and realize I had been like yelling in my mind for about five minutes.
I was so angry, so much, like, it’s not fair and just, oh, so much. So I learned the U-turn and so as often as I could catch myself, I would, once I realized I was being hijacked by anger, I would come back to, okay, what am I feeling? What am I feeling? The U-turn is the three things. What are you feeling? Where is it in your body? So you connect with that somatic embodiment of it and what does this feeling need? So this was my daily practice that I did dozen of times or more a day and pretty much without fail, I would be angry, angry, do the U-turn, okay, what am I feeling? Then I would just melt and I would just so, and realize I am so hurt, I’m so devastated.
I connected with the actual pain, would notice it in my body. It’s usually my chest. Then I would just put my hand on my chest and what the feeling needed it felt like it just needed love and comfort. So I would put my hand on my chest and I would just tell myself sometimes out loud, if I was by myself, I would tell myself, It’s okay, sweetheart, I’m here with you. I won’t leave you. I know this is hard. We’ll get through this and just talk to myself like a soothing loved one. That was my practice for days and weeks and months. Did that constantly. I remember later on in the healing, I realized, oh, I haven’t had to do the U-turn. Then I would have experiences where more infrequently I would recognize I had been hijacked by anger because something might have happened post-divorce. I would go back to the U-turn and feel the feelings and comfort the feeling. That was probably the most powerful tool that I had in addition to, of course, like therapy sessions and leaning on friends and those things. But the U-turn was in the moment, this is what I can do with those big feelings and to actually comfort and heal them.
Yes, I mean, I think that having those things that when you’re in the midst of it, and it just feels like to just get through this day, I need something to ground me. For me, that was meditation and planking and walking and doing things physically, but also just sitting, journaling, reading. I mean, I had like two hours of stuff to do just to like feel that I wasn’t going to lose my mind during the day. Then over time it’s like, oh, I haven’t needed to plank as much. I haven’t needed to do the erching or there’s just other things that when you’re in it, you just need that as an anchor. For me it was like, oh, I haven’t done that in a couple days. It didn’t even occur to me. It’s interesting how these tools were such a companion for a period of time, and then it’s like you don’t quite need it as much when you get through more of it.
Yes, I can very much relate to all of that. I felt like my days were filled with so many self-resourcing tools and self-healing tools just to get me to be able to feed my kids, show up at work, and then the rest of the day was filled with all of these self-care things. I was reminded, I think by my therapist just about how our bodies heal, can heal themselves emotionally as well as physically and just consider that I had been in the emotional equivalent of a really bad car accident, and I was just going to need the time to be with myself while I healed. That was a helpful reminder so that I could just be in those moments day after day and not rush it and just know my body will heal when this is time and I’m just helping it heal in the right way or in the way where I have minimal baggage.
Now, if you could go back to any age and give yourself some advice, what age would you go back to and what would you say?
That’s a little difficult because while I look back and think, oh my gosh, I did so many things that I would do differently now, especially when I was more in the religious mindset, I don’t know if I would’ve trusted my older self. But if I could make a good case, I would tell my younger self, really as a teenager, when I had the stirrings of I was very adventurous and ambitious and very like jovial and fun loving, I would tell myself this is who you are and you will be the happiest and you will have the best life if you don’t betray yourself. I think the biggest lesson I learned from all of this was just how much I had betrayed myself, of course, in the ending stage of the marriage, but also even throughout.
The lesson would be to teach my young self how you love taking off your shoes and running barefoot even as like a 16 year old. Or you love to just dance around the house or just be silly or you want to go hike that big mountain. All those things are uniquely you and seek a life where, or seek to build a life where you can hold on to all those things that are uniquely you because the more you are true to yourself and don’t betray yourself the happier you will be.
Wow, that’s so beautiful and to think about that ultimate betrayal was towards yourself, from yourself is just such an interesting flip on betrayal. Emily, thank you so much for being on the Practice of Practice podcast. If people want to check out your website, learn more about what you’re doing, what’s the best place to send them?
Sure, my therapy practice is Tennessee Mental Wellness and the website is tnmentalwellness.com. I’m starting to create some e-courses that people can check out. My first one is a breakup recovery, free breakup recovery course. Of course, you can work with me if you live in Tennessee, but also, I’m wanting to provide things for people who live outside of the state boundaries and who are wanting help, especially around breakup recovery and betrayal recovery.
The work you’re doing is so awesome, Emily. Thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice Podcast.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a joy.
It’s so interesting now doing 15 or so of these how I got through it and to just take our time to learn. That question that I ask most of the people of going back to a younger self, oftentimes is a question that people struggle with because they’re like, I’m who I am because of all this stuff and what I even like, change anything or would I give myself a little bit of advice but then I’d be a different person? To find how, I mean, people in this series of lies of a married man, spinal injury, 11 year marriage of abuse, infidelity, death of a sibling, death of your kids, sexual abuse, I mean, just so many tough, tough things that none of the people say, “Oh, I’m really glad I went through that.”
Nobody says that, but to say, “I’m resilient. I found a strength I didn’t know I had. I found a closeness with friends or with a partner, or just with myself.” It’s just really remarkable how the human spirit can be so strong and can reframe and move away from being a victim and say I am going to be a better, if not the best version of myself given these circumstances. I don’t have to stay there. I’m going to continue to grow. I’m going to continue to screw up. I’m going to continue to try to get through it. There’s going to be times when I just need to be gentle with myself and there’s times where I need to push myself.
It’s been such an interesting series just for me personally. It’s been so healing to hear people’s stories and to just join them in their pain. There were so many times I had to mute myself because I was tearing up and to have the podcast really get to the heart of why we do what we do. When we do business, when we do marketing, when we launch practices, that’s amazing. We need to do the business side of it, but we don’t necessarily always get to the heart side of it and to just return to that for this series has just been so transformative for me. It just feels like I want to just walk slower through life, especially when other people maybe are reactive or are going through something that I don’t even know, to do my best to just be present and let things unfold and not have to be a fixer.
I’m just so grateful to all the guests that have been on this show for this series. We have an incredible lineup coming up in the next few weeks. We have, our next episode we’re going to be talking about how to start a private practice and transitioning off of insurance. Then we’re going to be talking about codependency, then about how to be a married entrepreneur, then I have an episode with Alison. Alison is going to be leaving our team. It’s been planned out so we’re going to be just chatting about her moving on other things and what she’s doing. We’re going to be talking about how to start and grow a group practice with LaToya and Ashley, then how to feel like a success. I mean, we have some really awesome episodes coming up in late July and August.
Then our big push is going to be leading into a level up week. So starting September 12th, we’re going to be doing tons of webinars that week, all around leveling up, helping you get to that next level. So really excited about that coming up too. That’s going to be all right on the main page of Practice of the Practice.
And we couldn’t do this podcast without our sponsors. Sponsors like Heard, who is our episode sponsor today help with bookkeeping. They have a tax platform that’s built specifically for therapists in private practice to help you track and improve your practice’s financial health. So many of our people in our membership communities have signed up for Heard. When you sign up, you’ll work directly with a financial specialist to track your income, expenses, file your taxes online, grow the business. You’re not going to have to worry about, Oh, do I have the right amount of money set aside for quarterly payments? No, they help you figure all that out. Plans start at just $149 a month and they can be tailored to your business’ needs. Go over to joinheard.com. Again, that’s joinheard.com and you can read more about it and connect with them.
Thank you so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Have a great day. I’ll talk to you soon.
Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music.
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