I got to consult with Wesley Little in June. She’s a total go-getter. Even while talking about places that she needs help, she comes across as confident. Her website comes across as confident. So I was really excited that she pitched this fear of being seen blog post. We often don’t realize that the part of us that other people see isn’t always reflective of what we feel. Especially when we’re quaking in our boots. As I read the following post, I just kept nodding my head. I’ve sooooo been there. If you guys had any idea how terrified I was to hit “publish” on my first blog post (which, ironically, she mentions here as being helpful) you would be shocked. This fear of being seen stuff is so widespread. So if you’re putting off hitting the publish button or not reaching out like Wesley did to local publications or feeling the “vulnerability hangover” (stolen from Brene Brown) after really putting yourself out there, know that Wesley and I get it. Probably the vast majority of people reading this get it. Hopefully reading this post will help.
I started out in therapy being niche-resistant, like a lot of therapists. I didn’t want to exclude clients, didn’t want to be bored with only one type of client, and had taken my grad school training to mean that a good therapist can handle anyone who walks through the door. Marketing was also a tough nut for me to crack, because without a clear message and niche, I really couldn’t market cleanly. Would I just go to anyone or any group and tell them, “I like everyone!” ? I was too broad and vague to get traction with marketing.
Then I started building my own practice and saw lots of different clients, and realized I am actually NOT the world’s most adaptable therapist. I actually do work better with certain niches of clients. I also capped out at 12-15 clients a week and could not get those numbers higher for an entire year. Then I found Allison Puryear through a colleague, and I felt like someone was taking me by the hand and showing me in a clear and supportive way all that I hadn’t seen before. I became a believer. “I’m on board!” I thought, “I’m going to do this! This finally makes sense to me!” What I didn’t expect was the intense anxiety that would happen along each step of the way.
I chose my two niche areas. I built my website based on Allison’s great advice. I did an interview with my local online paper geared towards millennials about my niche areas. And then once I realized lots of people would be reading the interview once it was published, I had a giant two-week long panic attack.
What if they all think I’m a fraud? What if I’m not experienced enough to say these are my two areas of specialization? What if I should have 10 years of experience before I say I’m good at something? Even though I have advanced training in couples therapy and a masters degree, I haven’t seen enough people to really say I’m good at this! The senior therapists in my community are going to think I’m a joke.
During this time I watched a free webinar Allison did with two other practice builders, and one of them commented that the number one thing she sees therapists fear in building their practice is being seen. Can we just take a minute with that? Does reading that hit you like a wrecking ball, like it did with me? Therapists, whose whole job is to sit in front of someone and see them and witness them, are afraid of being seen. I am afraid of being seen. And once seen, being deemed unworthy.
In a lot of ways, our work is hidden. We don’t disclose much about our personal lives to our clients. Unless you’re in supervision, you’re not evaluated by being watched. Although we champion vulnerability and transparency, a lot of our job is about holding secrets, being very careful what we share about ourselves, and done behind closed doors.
So what can we do with this fear of being seen? What do we do with this iron door that blocks us from standing up and saying, “This is what I do! This is what I believe in. Even if I can’t guarantee that it helps you. Even if I don’t have a formula to show you exactly how it will go.” I think we can recognize it as the incredible personal growth opportunity it is, while also sometimes laying in the fetal position and watching Parks and Rec when it all gets too intense. I think we take this fear and say, ok, what is my next stage of development in vulnerability?
I saw my own kick-ass therapist during the throes of this panic siege and she said something I loved. She said, “Wesley, don’t buy into the cult of psychology. Don’t buy into the idea that there is one right way to do this. Realize that therapy is much more art than science. This is your art. There are a thousand ways to respond to a client’s comment or question. How do you respond?” Then she told me to email my interview to the therapist in my community whose judgment I was most afraid of. (Picture screaming face emoji here). Can I just say how much exposure therapy both sucks and works?
So I invite you into the arena of vulnerability as a therapist. Let’s exposure therapy ourselves through each stage of fear, knowing that the fear will be there. Let’s be a little sick feeling with how vulnerable we need to get! You have the best possible guide in this with Allison. Even if you just read everything on her website, which she generously offers for free, it can be life and practice changing. Good luck! And wish me luck too.
Wesley Anne Little is a therapist in Charlotte, North Carolina who is passionate about couples therapy. She wants people to have better relationships and marriages, and to stop suffering on their own. Check out more at www.wesleyannelittle.com.
Allison Puryear is an LCSW with a nearly diagnosable obsession with business development. She has started practices in three different states and wants you to know that building a private practice is shockingly doable when you have a plan and support. After retiring her individual consultation services, she opened the Abundance Party, where you can get practice-building help for the cost of a copay. You can download a free private practice checklist to make sure you have your ducks in a row, get weekly private practice tips, listen to the podcast, hop into the free Facebook Group. Allison is all about helping you gain the confidence and tools you need to succeed.