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My Journey into the Field

One of the questions I get asked most often by clients is what inspired me to become a therapist. My reasons for getting into the field of social work aren’t unique to ones I’ve heard from my fellow colleagues (therapist, heal thyself).

As a child, I remember  struggling with my own mental health. I was eight years old when I first recognized feelings of depression. As the feelings persisted, I noticed that my parents had very different ways of reacting to what I was going through. The more disparate the treatment became, the more I sought to make sense of it.

My curiosity became my main coping strategy. I began connecting the seemingly unconnected pieces of my family’s story in order to better understand them and their reactions to my mental health struggles. In doing so, I found protection from internalizing my parents’ behavior.

The more I cultivated this lens over time, the more useful I found it to be. It became clear to me that I wanted to continue using this lens to help others make meaning and heal from their stories as I had learned to do with my own.

Veering off the Path

Much like my desire to become a therapist, I also knew that one day I would own my own therapy practice. I have always been independent-minded, and I enjoy the freedom and creativity that owning a business can facilitate.

Although it was something I was confident would happen, I never anticipated starting it at the time I did. I figured it was something I would pivot to as a well-seasoned, distinguished therapist (with the accompanying wrinkles).

When I began seriously considering starting a private practice in the spring of 2022, three years after receiving my masters, I was surprised–and even a little unsettled–to realize I was beginning to diverge from a path I had previously laid out for myself.

Owning my own business was the destination of that path, but why was I rearing off towards what felt like a shortcut? Was I taking the easy way out? And, what could I be missing in moving away from the path I was currently on?

Connecting Back to My Values

Amidst the confusion, I reached for my curiosity lens, wanting to better understand my decision-making process and what was driving it. I started with my values.

Much of the work I do with clients centers around values. Earlier this year, I published a blog about how our values can guide us through meaningful change. In the post, I outlined an exercise from Brene Brown that helps in identifying two core values (you can read the blog here).

My two core values are authenticity and growth. I often joke that I picked the former core value because I’m incapable of being anyone other than myself. Staying true to who I am feels as intuitive as breathing.

Growth is my second core value due to my insatiable need to learn and evolve, both personally and professionally. If I’m not feeling challenged, I tend to feel stagnant and restless.

Keeping my values in mind, I began reflecting on the professional experiences I have had since graduate school, and how they were shaping my thoughts to start a practice sooner than I anticipated.

Pattern Recognition

My career trajectory had developed a pattern, of sorts, and it went a little something like this:

I would begin a job, start to recognize broken organizational systems, advocate for change, be met with resistance and defensiveness, experience feelings of powerlessness, and eventually exercise the only real power I had: leave.

At the time, I was over a year into my then-current position at a group practice. It was my third job in the last three years, and I wanted to stick it out for as long as I could.

Despite my desire, as the months went on and I became more awake to systems (or lack thereof) that were problematic or unethical, I once again found myself tangled up in this pattern. Equipped with the recognition after several months of data collection at the practice, I felt confident in predicting what was to come.

This pattern was becoming harmful to me, and I knew I needed to figure out a way to break it. It was after this realization that I started voicing thoughts to my inner circle about quitting my job and potentially starting my own practice.

Some of my family members were concerned about the risks involved with starting out on my own, wondering why I would leave the security and comfort of a group practice, especially when I had reasonable independence and control in my clinical work.

Values, Applied

Even amidst some of the external and internal doubt, there was a nagging persistence to steer off in a new direction. It turns out, my values were the source of this persistence.

Any time I noticed a broken system coupled with organizational resistance to address it, I was unable to look past it. I refused to accept that certain practices were “too hard” to improve, as it felt like the organization’s growth potential, and therefore my own, was being stunted.

Furthermore, when I was silenced or asked to stay in my lane at work, I felt another major misalignment between the company’s values and my own.

As a social worker, I am first and foremost a systems thinker. It was the lens I worked so hard to cultivate growing up; my reason for being in the field, and a big part of what makes me good at what I do. Shutting off that lens in service of organizational comfort felt fundamentally inauthentic to who I am, how I show up, and where I hold value.

In the summer of 2022, I made the decision to quit my job, go on an extended vacation, and open up Sansara Counseling and Consulting, PLLC. While these decisions felt somewhat daunting and led to their own unique challenges, opening my own practice was ultimately one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made.

Reflecting back, I recognize how my values acted as guideposts, steering me along a path that, while new and uncertain, felt authentic to who I am and full of opportunities for personal and professional growth.