Rob and Sherry talk in depth about the topic of therapy. Sherry sheds some light on questions like, when should someone think about going to therapy, what happens in therapy, how to find a therapist, and the differences between therapy and consulting.

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Episode Transcript

Sherry Walling:I got up at like 5:45 this morning to work on my little writing project.
Rob Walling:Yeah, how’s that going?
Sherry Walling:You know, like writing projects go. I wish I was a little bit further along, but I feel really motivated to get it done, so hopefully I’ll continue to find this really great schedule of getting up early and not being distracted by small people, and get some good writing finished.
Rob Walling:Seemed to work so far today. That is your ebook on raising entrepreneurial kids, is that right?
Sherry Walling:Yep, that’s the one.
Rob Walling:If you’re listening and you’re interested in perhaps hearing … it’s some of our combined thoughts from stuff we’ve talked about in the past, as well as a lot of your new thoughts that you’re putting down. Folks can come to zenfounder.com, enter your email address, and you’ll definitely be the first to hear about it, although the first to hear about it aside from our patrons, folks who support ZenFounder with a patron pledge. They, of course, receive free copies of the stuff we produce, so that’s at supportzenfounder.com. If you get value out of this show, we’d appreciate a pledge. But, also buying the eBooks and such that we produce also will help support the show.
Sherry Walling:And it makes me not feel so bad about the world.
Rob Walling:Why do you feel bad about the world?
Sherry Walling:I’m just kidding. It’s just an ego stroke.
Rob Walling:You’re just trolling everyone.
Sherry Walling:Please love me! Please buy my book! Please!
Rob Walling:And leave iTunes reviews while you’re at it.
Sherry Walling:Oh my God, okay. Let’s actually do something with this episode.
 Today I wanted to dive in to talk a little bit about something we’ve never talked about on the show in depth, but it’s surprising because of how much of an expert you are on this topic, but it’s talking about therapy. And basically, what it looks like to go to therapy, what happens in therapy, how do you know you have a good therapist, the difference between therapy and coaching or consulting because you do both and they are in fact different things. So, given that you are a trained clinical psychologist with a PhD and Masters in Psychology and you’ve been practicing now for how long?
Sherry Walling:I became licensed in 2008. But that was after five years of intensive practice under supervision.
Rob Walling:Right, so you kind of started as a trainee in 2003. So you have quite a bit of experience under your belt at this point. I remember growing up, let’s say in the 80s, people would talk about going to a psychologist, a shrink, they would call them, and there was just a really negative perception of it, I think. That maybe you were weak or that something was wrong with you if you went to therapy. I feel like that, at least in the circle I ran in, has completely changed. And there isn’t as much of a stigma. But I do imagine that there’s some folks who see this that might think, “I would never go to therapy, I’m not having major clinical issues” or “I’m not majorly depressed” or “I’m on the brink of divorce” so I think that’s kind of the first start. Why do people and why should people perhaps consider going to therapy?
Sherry Walling:I think I have a little bit of a mission in the founder community to really normalize the experience of going to therapy. And I’m very utilitarian about it in the sense that you have someone else cut your hair, you have a dentist that takes care of your teeth, you have these experts that you go to because they have a skill, a way of seeing the world, a level of training in a particular topic that you don’t have.
 And I would sort of make the argument that therapy is like that. That there are those of us who have specialized training in emotional life and inner life and relationships and whether or not there is this sort of acute, egregious problem, it can be really helpful to get in the room with an expert and just sort of talk through some different aspects of your life and see what could be improved or what blind spots you might have. So I would make the case that going to therapy is part of preventative health and something that is … should be sort of normative and common. Unfortunately, though, I think many people go to therapy when, like you say, they’re no longer functional at work. They are missing work and not able to do the tasks of their job or they’re on the brink of some sort of personal crisis or of the loss of an important relationship. But that certainly is not the only way to use therapy well.
Rob Walling:Right, right, yeah. You don’t need to be on the brink of something. That was a thing I noticed when you were getting your Master’s. That a lot of your co … I think it was actually a requirement as you went through and were getting trained, that you had to go to therapy for six months or a year and that, I remember, it becoming really normative. As we were hanging around with those sorts of people cause I was like “what do you talk about if you don’t have anything wrong with you?” But that was the thing. We all have something wrong with us. We all can use that sounding board of another person who is trained in helping people get unstuck. All of us have some sticking points, and have something that we are dealing with at any given time in our life even if it’s not some major bout of depression or something like that.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, I think that in a perfect world I would recommend that every founder establish a relationship with a therapist. And go for a couple of months, get grounded, get connected understand how they work, let them understand you, and then just have that person in your Rolodex, so to speak, that you have this established relationship and when you need them, when you reach a point of crisis, or when things start to fall apart or not go well, then you already have a person to go to. You already have that contact and that relationship established.
Rob Walling:Okay, so I feel like my next question is what happens, from your perspective, in therapy?
Sherry Walling:That’s a giant question. On one level, it is something that rewrites the structure of your brain so there’s a lot happening on a cellular level all the way to an emotional experience. On a very practical level, though, usually therapy involves a kind of getting to know you session or two where the therapist may lead with a lot of questions and sort of understand your history, what stressors you’re experiencing, what has led you to come to therapy at this time. And then for most modes of therapy there is some open space of your ability as a client to really talk through anything. And the therapist’s job is to make connections between past and present, between your thoughts and your feelings. What they’re actually doing in the room depends a little bit on their orientation to therapy and the kinds of … the model that they are working from in terms of what they believe is helpful to people or not. So, no two therapists practice exactly alike, but, in general, there is this sort of model of a safe, confidential, highly legally protected place to talk to a trained, very astute listener.
Rob Walling:And why is that helpful? You mentioned two things, one, astute listener. Two, someone who is professionally trained to make connections between thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Why are those helpful for someone who, again, may not feel like they are necessarily struggling with a lot of stuff all the time.
Sherry Walling:I feel like there’s lots of answers I want to give. On one hand, the process is about helping someone cultivate their own capacity for self-reflection. So, therapy is an experience that helps someone learn how to have an examined life, an intentional life. And I think that that’s very important for health. I think it’s very important for business, so that when you are reacting to a client or one member of your team in a particular way, you understand where that reaction comes from. You understand the way they remind you of your father and make you feel inferior or something. I think it’s a really important thing to be someone of internal depth who has the capacity for self-understanding. So that’s sort of the larger, philosophical level.
 More practically, I think many of us are really hungry for listening connection. Where we can speak without fear of judgment, where we can tell our story, where we can be authentic about who we are with someone who is genuinely interested in helping us be the best version of ourselves. Therapy isn’t advice giving. I don’t tell my patients what to do. Honestly, I try to help them connect to what they already, intuitively, somewhere in the depths of themselves know is what’s best for them. And that happens through listening. It happens through a process, it happens through vulnerability, and some patience.
Rob Walling:And so, there might be some folks listening to this who’d never even considered going to therapy because again, they don’t have a dire need or something specific they are thinking about. Do you feel like everyone at some point in their lives should try it out? Or what school of thought, I’ve heard different opinions on this, certain folks: “Everyone should be in therapy” and other people say, “everyone should try therapy at least once” and there’s just a lot of different schools of thought. How do you feel about that?
Sherry Walling:I’m probably more of the “therapy is part of personal growth” school of thought. A more traditional insurance based medical model would say, “you have no business in a therapy room unless you have a diagnosable mental illness” so there’s definitely a variety of perspectives. Again, I would lean toward therapy as something that helps promote growth and insight and maturity. And I think, folks who are also really, really struggling to function well given the demands of their lives or the workings of their brain, then absolutely, therapy is a life saving tool for some people.
Rob Walling:And so if someone wants to maybe, dip their toe in the water, how do you go about looking for a therapist? Where do you start? Do you just go to Google? Do you go to the Yellow Page … No, wait, is it White Pa … I don’t even remember which one …
Sherry Walling:Do those exist anymore?
Rob Walling:I know! That’s right! They always go straight to the recycle bin when they arrive here so … I mean is that it? You go to Google? Is there a website where a lot of therapist hang out their shingles, so to speak?
Sherry Walling:Well there’s several different options. I think Psychology Today is a pretty reputable, National website. And it’s just a place for individual clinicians to go on and put their information and talk about what their interests are. Maybe you could find out if they take your insurance, and where their office is located and those kinds of things. So that’s a great option if you’re searching locally according to your address.
 And there are therapist finder and other things like that. I think word of mouth is also a great strategy. So, talking with people about who they’ve seen if you have a psychologist friend in your life asking for a recommendation. I think, unfortunately, all professional enterprises, there’s a lot of really wonderful, good clinicians and then there’s a handful of really crappy ones. So, you want to make sure that you are with someone who is licensed, who is, trained at a reputable school, who has a good amount of experience. But most of all, you want to work with somebody who you like. Who is interesting to sit with, who you feel listens well and understands you, who you feel some kind of connection with.
Rob Walling:Yeah, I think that’s a big deal for people. [inaudible 00:12:14] like you should perhaps interview multiple. Right? If the first person doesn’t necessarily jive with how you’re feeling it’s not like you’re committed. It’s like if you were to go look for a doctor or some other professional service person. You want to know … you’re going to be sitting with them and talking about a lot of things. And so if, you don’t necessarily see eye to eye or you don’t feel like there’s a connection there I would imagine you should check out multiple before you take the plunge and agree to start seeing somebody.
Sherry Walling:And a lot of people will do a free initial consult or they’ll at least do a 15 minute consult by phone. So you can get a sense of someone and whether it’s worth your time to go and see them.
Rob Walling:Right. So how do you know if you have a good therapist then?
Sherry Walling:In the formal clinical world, we talk about having a strong working alliance. And, that’s fancy speak for just feeling a good connection. Feeling your goals and their goals are aligned, feeling like there’s a level of emotional connection, like they understand you and you find them to be safe and comfortable to talk with. And I think, you want someone who has the right balance of challenging you versus being empathetic of giving you homework or pressing your buttons versus someone who is letting you shape the experience of treatment. It’s sort of about style. Some folks, some therapists, are very direct, they are very upfront. Others are much more laid back or allow a lot of silence. And it’s a little bit tricky because you don’t always want to choose what’s most comfortable. Sometimes you wanna choose what you most need. So if you’re uncomfortable with silence I might suggest you find a therapist who uses a lot of silence and sort of go in and work that out. And try to figure out why it is not comfortable for you to have open space in conversation.
 But I think you have a good therapist if you feel yourself growing. If you begin to feel different, if you begin to feel more insightful about your life, and if you begin to feel a little bit more comfortable in your own skin and your own experience.
Rob Walling:Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So, let’s talk about the difference then between therapy, which again, you had a in-person private practice in Fresno where you worked with a group of other clinicians and you saw folks who had experienced trauma and were dealing with all types of different stuff and then you have also done what is essentially, we call consulting work. And this tends to be remote, it’s video chat, and you’re essentially consulting with founders or founders and their spouses or founders and their co founders who are struggling with one thing or another whether it is relationship based or whether it’s anxiety based or whether it’s just things they are trying to overcome. How do you view this difference? Because there also a legal difference between the therapy and the consulting. In a sense that you have to be licensed to do therapy. So maybe talk about that, where the legal boundary is as well as maybe your perception. Of how the non-legal difference between therapy and the founder consulting that you’ve been doing here for the past year or two.
Sherry Walling:So they’re separate, but related, activities. When I am working under the mantle of a psychologist, it’s a legally protected very formal relationship. And my job is first to make a diagnosis, to understand essentially what’s wrong. To figure out whether it’s a traditional medical diagnosis or a theoretically diagnosis to sort of identify the problem for someone. And therapy, at least in the way that I practice it, it’s a heavy kind of responsibility of care taking where I’m the doctor and my job is to figure out what’s wrong and help make it better.
 It is collaborative, in that I work very closely in partnership with my clients, but it has a different dynamic and there are all these legal requirements about what you can do and can’t do and the primary way that the relationship is set up is that there is a helper and there is someone who is being helped. And I would say that usually that relationship is deeper and more intense so we will work with people for years if needed. And talk with them about the details of a sexual assault they experienced when they were a teenager and there’s a lot of death and intimacy and connection that goes along with that helping relationship.
 So in contrast, I think when I’m working as a consultant I’m not so much concerned with diagnosis. I feel like, usually folks who seek me out have a specific problem or a feeling or something that has driven them to contact me. And, I don’t have to spend a lot of time trying to identify what the problem is, they usually do that for me. So usually, the relationship is set up to be shorter term, maybe less emotionally connected, but still with that sense of listening and supporting and helping. It’s often geared more towards optimizing health rather than treating mental illness. So the goals are a little bit different. And the level of need or intensity is different.
Rob Walling:Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think you touched on it in there, but there is a tends to be more of a short term versus long term vent as well.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, I think that the way I really like to do consulting is to meet weekly for three to five weeks and really get a foundational understanding of who someone is and what they are needing. And then from there, I might meet monthly or just as needed. And so it’s like you’re a person on call where as when I’m doing therapy, often I do meet weekly with people because I’m monitoring something or I have a watchful care taking eye. I think, also, at least for me, consulting is a little bit more of an egalitarian relationship. Most of the folks who come and do consulting with me have listened to the podcasts, they know a lot about me, they know about our family, versus in therapy I try to maintain some level of separateness between my professional and personal identities. That’s much more integrated in consulting.
 That said, most therapists work with people all over the spectrum in terms of health and illness. And so, because I am both a consultant and a therapist I have to be clear about which role I’m playing at any given time. So, I parse them out and maybe, exaggerate the separateness so that I’m clear in my head what I am doing.
 But, I just do want to sing that song over and over that I think working with a mental health professional, whether they are a consultant or whether they are a therapist, is a really really valuable experience and maybe, Rob, you could speak to that a little bit. You’ve been in therapy even though you have the most fabulous wife. Apparently, I can’t fix and support you in everything so what was your experience in therapy like as a founder?
Rob Walling:Well, yeah, this was in the early days. This is 2007, we lived in New Haven and I was making probably the depths of making the transition of consulting to products. And there’s just a lot of ups and downs, mostly downs, and it was struggling to get enough time to work on it, I was very frustrated, I was tired of consulting, we had a young child, like a one year old. And you were working, you were in your residency at Yale at the time. And so it was just a hard time. We were both trying to hustle, I was doing my 40 hours a week consulting and trying to do 10, 20 hours a week on the side and your residency was competitive and you were doing 50, 60 hour weeks. And we had the young kid. All of that to say, you and I only had so much time together and you only had so much capacity to sit and listen to and absorb what I was trying to think through and both of us that year didn’t necessarily have a lot of head space to help the other out in a way that we needed. And frankly, might not even be healthy to do that.
 I spent an hour a week talking to, like you said, a trained professional who is used to hearing people and reflecting things back and it’s like, how fair would that have been? To sit there and talk to you an hour straight every week after everything we were trying to get done that year. That’s when I realized, huh, these relationships with our friends and our spouses, they are supportive loving relationships but a lot of times, they are not the best place to really process something that is going to take 10s of hours, 100s of hours to process. It’s just not fair to that other person. So, for me, therapy, I think it was maybe, five, six months. I don’t recall how long it was but it was dealing with A) I was dealing with my first harsh winter and B) really dealing with the transition over to product. And so she just helped me think through the angles, think through what I was going through. Help give me sanity checks on a lot of fronts. And yeah, it was pretty much what you described.
 It’s not magic, it’s not like in Good Will Hunting where you suddenly have this breakthrough. And they say it’s not your fault and you cry and you’re cured. It’s like thinking through something with another intelligent person who is just a third party and is removed from things. It’s not loaded. That was the thing right? If you and I got into a conversation I would say, “I’m so frustrated that I don’t have time to work on my products.” And then instantly it was like you could feel defensive, pretty quickly, about that, whereas the therapist didn’t. She didn’t have any skin in this game other than to hear me out and say, “okay, what are you actually getting enough time … Why do you think you need more time? What would more time look like? How … ” Just really talk through stuff to give me some strategies and tactics for approaching that with you and dealing with that even in my own day to day life. How I could fix it myself without necessarily causing conflict between us.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, I think that is really important to point out is that, deciding to go to therapy or talk with a mental health professional is not because your spouse isn’t loving enough or your team isn’t supportive enough. It really is not a failure of your support network. I think, sometimes it’s a really helpful, healthy thing to do for your loved ones because you’re taking some responsibility for working through your own burdens in a way that doesn’t put a lot of undue burden on another person. And I think you’re absolutely right. At that point in our lives, I wasn’t able … We both weren’t getting what we needed. And we needed help to feel like we were well enough to really be supportive to each other. And that was a perfect time in our lives for us to both be in therapy. So mental health professionals are not scary, I promise. And if you meet a scary one just leave and find somebody else. And it can be an incredible resource, I think, for your own wellbeing and the wellbeing of your business if you are really proactive about taking care of yourself and your inner life.
Rob Walling:And if you have other questions, and whether they are questions about therapy, how to find a therapist, or about stuff that Sherry does and the consulting that she offers, you can always ping her at sherry@sherrywalling.com. And Sherry is spelled like the wine.
Sherry Walling:Thanks for listening to this episode of ZenFounder. Our theme song is “A New Beginning” by bendsound.com used under Creative Commons.