How do you start a private practice with faith in mind? How do you know which public needs to center your practice around? Why should you follow your peace when starting your business?
In this podcast episode, Whitney Owens speaks with Kelli Willard about how to faithfully start a private practice.
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Meet Kelli Willard
Kelli Willard, LMFT, is an energetic therapist and skilled promoter of clarity in session. She believes a one-size-fits-all approach to individual therapy or couple therapy is inefficient and potentially hurtful. Kelli is constantly learning best practices to help neurodivergent individuals thrive, integrating counseling techniques with Christian principles and neurodiversity concepts in her work.
Kelli is a member of the American Association for Marriage & Family Therapy as well as a published author and speaker.
In This Podcast
- What feels right?
- Seek help when starting
- Getting your practice off the ground
- Kelli’s advice to Christian counselors
What feels right?
When I talk about neurodiversity I do feel … peace … I do feel like it’s much easier to talk about neurodiversity than it is to sing a sonata, and I do think that’s from the Holy Spirit guiding me … there’s a reason you feel peace because this is where you’re supposed to be. (Kelli Willard)
When you talk about the things that interest you, inspire you, and motivate you to learn more, what are they? Are you structuring your work around them and incorporating them into your business?
Those feelings of intrigue, passion, and peace are the guiding lights that this aspect of therapy or counseling is the calling for your practice.
Seek help when starting
When you decide to start a private or group practice, seek help. You do not have to do everything on your own.
Work with people that are knowledgeable, who understand your direction, and who are inspired by your ideas.
Consulting gave me that framework to be able to show up, follow the directions, have a plan, sort out my thoughts, and I don’t think I could have done it on my own without that support. (Kelli Willard)
Getting your practice off the ground
Do not be held back by a practice you are in if you are feeling the call to start your own.
If you can sense the need for your work to be assessable on a larger scale, and you know there are clients out there who need you, and you feel inspired to take action, then pursue it.
Look for confirmations that this is the path for you. Pray and ask for guidance while following your intuition and peace.
I keep waiting for the anxiety to hit but it hasn’t and I’m realizing that it might not, that I actually may be onto something here. That I have made a good, careful, thoughtful, prayerful decision for my family, my clients, and myself that this may be some of the fruit of that contemplation. (Kelli Willard)
Kelli’s advice to Christian counselors
Uniqueness is a gift. It is an honor and our duty to explore our uniqueness as therapists so that we can be present with our clients and invite them to get to know themselves better.
Useful links mentioned in this episode:
- Use promo code ‘JOE’ to get three free months to try out TherapyNotes, no strings attached!
- Visit Kelli’s online practice, Love All The Brains
- Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram
- Join the Faith in Practice Conference from April 21st to 24th
- Take Faith in Practice further with the Mastermind Course
- Join the Faith in Practice Facebook Group and subscribe to the email list
- Email Whitney: [email protected]
Check out these additional resources:
- How to Launch a Conference | FP 123
- Next Level Practice
- Practice of the Practice Podcast Network
- Group Practice Boss
Meet Whitney Owens
Whitney is a licensed professional counselor and owns a growing group practice in Savannah, Georgia. Along with a wealth of experience managing a practice, she also has an extensive history working in a variety of clinical and religious settings, allowing her to specialize in consulting for faith-based practices and those wanting to connect with religious organizations.
Knowing the pains and difficulties surrounding building a private practice, she started this podcast to help clinicians start, grow, and scale a faith-based practice. She has learned how to start and grow a successful practice that adheres to her own faith and values. And as a private practice consultant, she has helped many clinicians do the same.
Thanks For Listening!
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Welcome to the Faith in Practice podcast. I’m your host Whitney Owens recording live from Savannah, Georgia. I’m a licensed professional counselor, group practice owner, and private practice consultant. Each week through personal story or amazing interviews, I will help you learn how to start, grow and scale your practice from a faith-based perspective. I will show you how to have an awesome faith-based practice without being cheesy or fake. You too can have a successful practice, make lots of money, and be true to yourself.
Welcome back to the Faith in Practice podcast. So glad that you’re here with me today. First, I want to start out talking about the Faith in Practice conference. If you didn’t listen to the last episode, go back one episode and hear more about the conference and the details. We are selling tickets right now. Those went on sale on February 2nd so if you’re interested, I want to make sure that you get in on this excitement. So to get the web site, you go to practiceofthepractice.com/faithinpractice conference. There you can get all the information and sign up.
Let me tell you a little bit about it, because I’m super thrilled. It’s going to be on Jekyll Island, April 21st through the 24th. We’re staying at the Courtyard Foreyard. They keep telling me about the pool being the biggest pool in the island. So that’s their claim to fame, but there’s some other really great features about the hotel. There’s a beautiful room where we’ll be meeting in that overlooks the ocean. Literally if you get bored of me talking, you can just turn your head and look at the ocean and think about the beach. They have bike rentals there that are part of being at the hotel. There is a cool little splash pad. People will be bringing kids, spouses, things like that. So that would be a good time to make a family vacation out of it. There’s lots of fun things to do on Jekyll Island.
To tell you a little bit more about the curriculum, we’re going to have three different sections to the conference, faith in action, faith in business and faith in counseling. So faith in action has to do with the ways that we in implement Christianity and Christian concepts into our work with clients. We’re actually going to have someone doing yoga, which is super exciting when you do that on the beach. There’s going to be a faith in business track. So that’s all stuff we talk about here on the podcast. How do I make a faith-based practice? How do I market that practice to other people, to churches, things like that
Then the last part is going to be faith in counseling. That is a track on actual integration of faith in a clinical setting and how do we assess someone’s faith? How do we use it to their advantage clinically? So looking forward to all that, I have some great speakers coming. If I named them, I’m not going to get everybody down but I definitely have the Practice of the Practice team, Joe and Alison and LaToya be there and some other really great people. Jessica Tappana, Yu Gilford, Gordon Brewer, Daniel Fava, Jane Carter, Amanda Landry, and there’s others. The list goes on. So I’m really looking forward to that. Make sure that you go ahead and purchase because we are limiting it to a hundred people and we have already sold over 50 tickets. Go to faith and practice conference, practiceofthepractice.com/faithandpractice conference.
Then just to answer questions, I know you’re probably thinking, okay, who knows what COVID is going to be like in April? I agree. Who knows what COVID is going to be like in April, but the good news is we’re at the beach. You can walk outside. So that’s good. There’ll be some space there and we are limiting it so there won’t be as many people, but we are going to put some safeguards in place. I know that there’s a lot of back and forth on what people are comfortable with, but these are the parameters, I guess, that we have put in place and making sure that you’re comfortable with those.
We are going to ask that everyone to take a COVID test 72 hours prior. No, you’re not going to have to walk up to us with a document. We’re just trusting that you actually took the test. We will probably purchase some tests if possible to have there at the event if necessary, but asking everyone to do that. Then we’re asking for masking indoors while you’re at the event, when we’re doing our speaking engagements and stuff like that. We want to be as kind to others as possible, but also as safe as possible. So that’s what we’re looking at.
Let’s go ahead and get into this episode today because I am super thrilled to have a friend, a dear friend here with me. I have Kelli Willard. Kelli and I go way back to graduate school. In fact, while we were talking before the recording and she was telling me about her work with couples, it made me feel like we were right in our internship when we used to get together and she would tell me about her work with couples and I would just soak it all in because y’all I stink at seeing couples. So I always had to learn from her. Then I’d be seeing individuals while she was in the other room working with her couples.
Kelli is a graduate from Richmont Graduate University and she’s a MFT here in the state of Georgia. She also does a lot of speaking and education around neurodiversity. I’ll let her share a little bit about that as we get into the episode. She currently has her own private practice called Love All The Brains. It’s also the avenue for where she does her speaking engagements. Welcome Kelli to the show.
Thank you so much for having me Whitney. This is fun.
Yes. Well, why don’t you first share a little bit more. I gave a little introduction, but share, fill in the holes there for us about your journey into private practice, maybe a little bit about your family background, whatever you want to share.
Well, I’ve personally been married for 18 years, this January, 2022, which I can’t believe, but I am happily married and I have two children who are approaching age 10 and age eight. So it is an exciting season in our lives because the kids are getting a little bit more independent and as a new homeschool mom I’m really cherishing that independent study because then it gives me a little bit of a breather. That is a very new venture for me. The homeschooling part has been something since the pandemic. Also Love All The Brains is quite new for me as well as I used to be a member of a group practice that wasn’t mine. I was an employee for a group practice for 12 years, right out of grad school. So this past year I have taken a very big leap and our family has undergone some really good changes because of it.
So yes, let’s talk about that today because I bet when you just said that people who listen to the show, some are probably at group practices right now, trying to make the decision what’s best for me, where is God calling me? 12 years, that’s a long time. I mean, most people don’t work at a job for longer than a couple of years. So I’d love to dive into, when did you start thinking about the transition? What made you decide to make the transition? Let’s get into a little bit about how the Lord was involved in that process for you?
Well, in high school, I was one of those people that was a really big psych nerd. I was also a music nerd, drama nerd, all the nerd things. I was the queen of the nerds. So I really would write all my psychology papers on sex. I just knew very early on that I was going to be a sex therapist much probably to my parents dismay who probably didn’t understand that potential career path. But I also thought I would be an opera singer and I wanted to be on Broadway and all these things. This is where I say that I am a very proud ADHD and I have a lot of energy and interest in a lot of areas.
Anyway, I went to undergrad and had that dual track where psychology had a lot of my passion, but music also had a lot of my passion and through a series of events that I realized how sensitive I was to rejection. And I had a lot of anxiety pop up, stage fright for the first time in my life, really paralyzed me in college. That was really God steering me towards psychology, taking me off of the stage of my own creation, basically being this star and sort of using my talents in a different way because I could use all that presence and all of that, hopefully when I had it confidence to then be a counselor in the room that wasn’t just meek. I was actually using my skills, not to draw attention to myself, but in order to just communicate clearly and have a presence with people.
That’s what I use in my speaking engagements. Now I might not be singing for people, but I’m definitely using my comfort, the acquired comfort. I did eventually get better from my stage fright paralysis in order to communicate really. So I love being a counselor that actually is a person and that I think that gives your clients the freedom to be people as well. Of course I listen and nod and all the wonderful things to help people to express themselves. But also I like to use creativity and humor in the room and I like to cultivate that relationship with people where we can just be people here and your counselors, a little nutty and that’s okay.
I mean, we wouldn’t be therapists if we weren’t a little nutty.
So I forgot your original question of just, [crosstalk]
You prefaced that you’re an ADHD, so we’re all good.
So let’s go back. So I think I was talking about how I went to, I went to my master’s degree and I thought I was going to be a Christian sex therapist, which I was. I was a very a good Christian sex therapist for a long time. I was involved in the group practice that really had a Christian sex therapy focus. That was wonderful for me. I did that and I enjoyed it and then I started having children and my children had brain differences. I have an autistic son and I have a child also with a PANS brain, Pediatric Acute Neuropsychiatric Syndrome. It started to be very, very clear to me that my focus needed to shift in order to support, at that time, families of children with special needs.
Then it started to become very clear to me, oh, wow, the experiences that my children are having growing up really mirror a lot of the experiences that I had as a child growing up. I was not identified as an ADHD or with sensory processing challenges until my late thirties after I recognized myself and my children. And this is genetic. They got it from somewhere. They got it from me. So then my focus shifted towards I really don’t want to see a couple, unless one of them is ADHD or autistic because who is out there really doing good, competent therapy for people with brain differences to try to help them understand themselves and their partner and relationships? Much of couple’s therapy is very ableist and from a neurotypical lens and that became abundantly clear to me. So I began to sort of specialize, specialize, specialize to the point then that I realized I probably should branch out on my own for my own private practice, as scary as that sounded so that I could really meet that need in a very specialized way.
I love it. I think when thinking about how, as soon as you started talking about the neurodiversity piece, I got the fuzzy buzzies. A lot of times, yes, I mean the fuzzy buzzies are always nice, but almost like the feeling of the holy spirit, that feeling of this is where you’re supposed to be. I can see it in this, like a change in you because I was with you when you talked about your passion for being a sex therapist, which is great and, hey, you got to talk about that with all clients, but yes, can just really sense the Lord’s direction in this for you. So it sounds like what I’m hearing is you were having a great experience at this group practice, but just as the needs of your own children and the leading you felt in a different direction with the neurodiversity movement is what made you start thinking about starting your own thing. Is that right?
That’s exactly what happened because I’ve always felt in God’s loving kindness to me, He’s given me a little taste of a lot of things. Then now as I’m approaching 40, so much of that is just combing together and I’m realizing, oh, okay, you weren’t training, like I said, before, you weren’t training me to be on stage on Broadway. You were training me to have a presence and a platform elsewhere. Oh, you were really nurturing my sex therapy skills, not so that I could work with neuro-typical people, but so that I could use those skills and adapt them for the needs of people with different sensory experiences. So, so much has come together in this way that’s pretty astounding that I would’ve never guessed. If you would’ve asked me in undergrad or in a graduate school or in high school or something, I would’ve probably very confidently told you, “Oh, I’m going to be at Carnegie Hall someday.” Or I would be here or I would be there.
This is exactly where I didn’t expect to be. I’m not an entrepreneur by nature. My husband is, but I’m not. I’m certainly not a risk taker. I am quite, I’ve got a big personality, but I carry a lot of anxiety that I have to work through to a place of peace. When I do talk about neurodiversity, I do feel the same piece that you just described there. I do feel like it’s much easier to talk about neurodiversity than it is to maybe sing a Sonata or something. I do think that’s from the holy spirit, guiding me towards, there’s a reason you feel peace because this is where you’re supposed to be. As much as you love music, this is where you’re supposed to be. Music can be a hobby for you. That’s great. Have music, but that’s not necessarily the calling that I felt it was earlier in my life
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So talk more about, okay, you started thinking about leaving the group practice. So how did that come together and not being a risk taker, how did you get to the point of taking such a big risk?
Well, I knew I needed help. So drawing upon my husband, who is quite a successful entrepreneur, that is in his DNA, it really is. I do think you either sort of have that as a natural or you don’t. So I would talk to him and then well, I’m blessed to have a very close friendship with a pretty great business consultant. So I would like to say that Whitney has really supported me here in a, not just a friendship way, but from a business consulting standpoint, because I needed that structure.
I’m a J on the Myers Briggs, ESFJ, the hostess of the world. Yet the structure is really where I lean. I’m quite a solid J and if the structure’s not there, I get a little lost and then the ADHD spins and sputters and the anxiety spins and sputters. Consulting gave me that framework to be able to show up, follow the directions, have a plan sort out my thoughts. I don’t think I could have really done it on my own without that support.
Can you talk a little more, and thank you by the way. I appreciate that. It’s my pleasure to work with you and others. Tell me more about the emotional component. I mean, I think people probably are listening right now thinking about, “Should I leave? What should I do?” What’s your advice to them? What was the emotional part of that like for you?
I was so, so, so wrapped up in the loyalty component because I’m a six on the Enneagram. I have a lot of anxiety. Risk is not my thing. Also I’m just quite loyal, I guess, is the word. To a fault really, I have been known to stay in situations that are not as healthy until they’re sort of pointed out to me. I’m a little black and white in that I really either trust completely or I don’t trust at all. So if I’m in that spot of really trusting completely and really in a structure, I’m quite content to show up at a job every day for 12 years, for example, until then really God shakes your spirit and says, well maybe there’s a different path and it doesn’t have to be so scary.
But I really had a lot of fear with change. Change is not something that I embrace typically in myself easily. I do eventually. It just takes me a long time to get there. Then I’m sort of all in and the ADHD hyperfocus gets me going, but it just really takes me a long time to get there. So I was just very fearful of change for a long time. Also just very, just not knowing the structure was very confusing. So I had to have help to sort of put those pieces together and then know what direction I was being called to in a specific way.
I knew I wanted to have this goal of when my kids grew up, regardless of what therapists they went to. I wanted them to feel comfortable and to have that person have some competence and a neurodiversity lens. Right now neurodiversity specialists, neurodiversity therapists are quite few and far between. I wanted to create a paradigm shift in the field and that was really my big overarching goal but I had no idea how to get there. I was afraid of how to get there because I was pretty comfortable with my day to day.
It sounds like your passion for that is what really pushed you to make the decision and then having the guidance of a consultant to say here’s how you do it and you can do it really allowed you to make that step in faith.
Well, I was really blessed through prayer and through a lot of contemplation. I’m a talker so I just talk to everyone and not a single person that I would talk about neuro adversity with, or I would pose the question of do you know somebody out there doing really great couple’s work where one is ADHD and one is not? Not a single person gave me negative feedback. Not a single person told me, oh, Kelli, that’s already saturated or you don’t seem like a good fit for that. Every single person was very energized. I can’t tell you how many times I got that response like you gave me today of, oh, I got goosebumps when you said that or something.
I just kept getting confirmation after confirmation after confirmation that yes, this was a need in the field. Yes, your personality seems to suit this. Yes, you have something to offer. Yes, you should pursue this. That was several years before then I actually took the plunge really towards that. That’s how much God’s kindness and reassurance was knocking at my door over and over towards that big picture of this paradigm shift could be possible and you could be a part of it.
Now I know, because I was with you in the journey leading up to putting in your notice at your job, the anxiety you had about that, the fear of disrespecting people and that’s not what you wanted because you just really appreciated them so much for what they had given you. So that was really hard for you to put your notice in and to just trust that you’d be able to grow a private practice separately. So it’s really only been a couple of weeks, like at the time of this recording that you just saw, so you just saw your first clients at your private practice last week, is that right? Or this week?
Well, January 1st started Love All The Brains. I started that first week with six clients. Second week of January has, I believe 10 clients. Because I’m sharing my time with my children as a homeschool mom in the morning, and then I see clients from three to 8:00 PM with a dinner break in between there, really my max would probably be about 10 to 12 clients if I want to balance things well and also pursue speaking. I’m trying to write a book. I’m trying to do too many things, Whitney. So I’m really almost full right now in my second week of private practice and that makes me really happy.
You might be more of an entrepreneur than you realize. That’s the entrepreneur brain, is we have everything that we love and we don’t know how to say no. So what does it feel like now that you’re on the other side, when you about what it was like to put in your notice and now you’ve got your practice? What does it feel like for you?
I do feel so much peace. I have been very surprised that my natural tendency towards anxiety has not sort of sabotaged or taken over. I haven’t felt any of that paralysis that I tend to because I really do tend to be all or nothing, either go, go, go or shut down. So I have just been very thankful for God’s support and guidance towards balance. I’m actually sleeping better than I have been in several months leading up to this change. I just feel that sense of, I keep saying confirmation, I guess, I keep waiting for the anxiety to hit and it hasn’t yet. I’m realizing that it might not, that I actually may be onto something here that I’ve made a really good, careful, thoughtful, prayerful decision for my family and my clients and myself that this may actually be some of the fruit of that contemplation and that our lifestyle this year in 2022 may be really, really, really good.
That’s fantastic. Now let’s talk about 2022, the Faith in Practice conference.
Yes. I’m going.
Yes, you are. Kelli was one of the first people that signed up as a volunteer for the conference. So if you want to come and meet her and chat about neurodiversity, she will be ready to do so. I’m really looking forward to that.
Yes, I really do want every counselor out there to understand, oh, how do I even put this? Because it’s so close to my heart. I get so excited. I sometimes don’t speak well, but I want everyone to know that God created us all with a purpose and an identity and that the brain is part of that. For couples, when you marry a person, you know the saying you marry the family, you also marry the brain. So I really love helping people to know themselves and their neurology and their sensory makeup and their partners’ neurology, their sensory makeup, how they interact, how sometimes they’re in really great alignment. Sometimes they can be very opposite and how to handle the challenges of that. Then just to acknowledge that life is more challenging when you are not “typical.”
Yet there is no true normal. There is no true typical, but there is certainly a different life experience for people with different brains to the degree of a clinical difference. I don’t think we need to pathologize that or put a disease model on that. I think we just need to breathe through and accept the creation of that. I take a very good strengths perspective with that. So I’m always going to be emphasizing the strengths while acknowledging the challenges. So I can’t wait to maybe meet some like-minded people out there on that and connect and not feel so alone, I guess, because sometimes it does feel like I’m the only one out there on a street corner, talking about your brain is as unique as a fingerprint. That’s it’s okay. It’s going to be okay.
That’s wonderful. Well, good. So if anybody’s listening to the show, maybe they want to get in touch with you, maybe they also have a passion about neurodiversity or want to learn more from you, what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you?
I have a website www.loveallthebrains.com. I also am on social media. I need to get better in 2022 about being active there. I am @love_all_the_brains. I think I’ve said that correctly. I had to add those underscores for Instagram and then on Facebook, I have a page as well.
Wonderful. All right. So I want to ask you what I ask everyone at the end of the show, what do you believe every Christian counselor needs to know?
That uniqueness is a gift and we are all unique and a cliché as that sounds, I think it’s our honor and our duty as a therapist to really explore our own uniqueness so that we can be fully present with our clients and invite them to be exploring of their uniqueness too, whether in a relationship context or just if it’s individual counseling, the relationship they have with themselves. So I think it’s very important to just continue to know theyself and explore that person of a therapist, which to me is very inclusive of neurology and how our brain is wired and to really sort of accept and grow through the challenges and maybe tap into some strengths.
I’ve felt a lot of freedom now for my private practice to have just a little bit more creativity with interventions, a little bit more of myself coming through because it’s my own business now. I can put my own flavor to it. There’s freedom to that that I want to pass on to my clients, freedom to be themselves as long as it’s safe to do so. Masking is a whole issue with neuro divergent people that I want to honor and respect. Sometimes it’s not safe to be themselves, but whenever safe uniqueness is a gift and we should step into it.
Kelli, thank you.
Always. You’re welcome.
I enjoy talking with you. You’ve been a big support to me, even as I raised my own daughter with autism and coming to you for guidance and really more than anything, the emotional support from other moms. So I appreciate you and thrilled for your new practice and getting to see it grow and cannot wait till we get to really hang out in Jekyll Island.
Thank you so much. I’m looking forward to it.
Well, thanks for coming on the show today.
You’re welcome. Thank you for having me
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Thank you for listening to the Faith in Practice podcast. If you love this podcast, please rate and review on iTunes or your favorite podcast player. If you liked this episode and want to know more, check out the Practice of the Practice website. Also there, you can learn more about me, options for working together, such as individual and in group consulting, or just shoot me an email, [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you.
This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. This is given with the understanding that neither the host, Practice of the Practice, or the guests are providing legal, mental health, or other professional information. If you need a professional, you should find one.
Faith in Practice is part of the Practice of the Practice Podcast Network, a network of podcasts that are changing the world. To hear other podcasts like Empowered and Unapologetic, Bomb Mom, Imperfect Thriving, Marketing a Practice or Beta Male Revolution, go to practiceofthepractice.com/network.