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For Therapists in Private Practice: Fostering Community, Not Competition

Reprinted from the Summer 2013 Newsletter

“As an individual I can and do achieve much. But my aspirations and the path along which they lead are beyond my abilities alone. In community, I find fellowship, am challenged to go beyond, and receive the support to do so. In community, we work together to create the next world, a world worth inheriting. In community, we achieve magnificent things – as we are all magnified by fellowship: the bond of a shared vision and the mutual effort to make it manifest.” Chris Martenson,

You’ve heard all the proverbs: “No man is an island” (John Donne). “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (Aristotle). “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2). People hunger for community and belonging. However, here in America, we are founded on individualism—the competing of businesses where the “survival of the fittest” wins out. Marketing seminars teach networking and strategies to put our business at the top of the heap, and the drive to get there before everyone else does. That’s a lot of work, and I imagine, a pretty lonely place to be. What if we worked together to promote each other and created a community where learning, shared vision, and combined effort fostered secure connection within our therapeutic EFT community? Imagine how that would transform the amount of people we could reach – rather than trying to do it all on our own!

I remember in my neighborhood as a child, you did not see multiple lemonade stands on every corner competing for business. Instead, one kid came up with the idea, grabbed a few excited friends and very quickly all the kids in the neighborhood were waving down cars, pouring cup after cup of watered down lemonade. It was a collaborative effort to work the stand. Each kid was engaged with the idea of selling as many cups of lemonade as possible—or waving down cars (I’m not sure which was more fun). And then we would all split the change we earned from the stand. It was fun – community at its best.

Every day, as clinicians, we work tirelessly behind closed doors to help couples and families become more accessible, responsive and emotionally engaged (A. R. E.) with each other. So how are we doing in our own therapeutic community? How are we practicing A. R. E. amongst our office mates and fellow clinicians and on the list serv and online groups we participate in? Do we share new ideas with colleagues or hoard them for ourselves? Do we find ourselves envious when a colleague gets accolades, writes a book, or fills their appointment book? Or do we feel inspired and motivated to use our own creative talents to do the same? Do we work collaboratively with other EFT therapists when referring clients out, or do we have our own agenda? And most importantly, when we disagree or find our own raw spots triggered by another therapist, how do we let them know?

As I continue to learn EFT in private practice, I have noticed a shift in my own emotional life as I continue to learn this model. I’m more accessible, responsive and emotionally engaged with my family. I have also noticed how important it is that I practice this with colleagues. Sure, we get nervous when role playing, unsure of ourselves with difficult clients, and a bit intimidated when we see training DVDs that make it look so simple and easy! In these situations, most EFT colleagues are accessible, responsive, and engaged with each other—and when they are not, it is glaringly obvious and sometimes hurtful!

So, in an effort to be more self aware, I decided that I would model A. R. E. by “fostering community instead of competition.” That’s my motto this year and the platform from which I have been trying to work over the last few months. I promote clinicians on my professional social media pages. I ask referring therapists, “What would be helpful to you and support your couple work as I work with this individual you have referred?” I am transparent about my fear of role playing, showing a video, or working with a difficult couple. Despite enjoying a full practice at the moment, I respond to emails in a timely fashion, answer phone calls within 24 hours to colleagues and outside agencies (most of which are surprised when I do), and try to connect on a personal level with those in my office.

A key component in developing those connections and achieving that vision is adopting the core values of ICEEFT that “We adhere to the philosophy that relationships are at the core of human experience.” and that “all people can maximize their potential given a nurturing social environment.” This means that partnership with colleagues should promote and fulfill our common goals of community spirit, lifelong learning, and healthy relationships. And when we make a mistake, we can acknowledge the impact it might have on our co-worker, empathize,and respond in a way that fosters healing and repair, rather than with a defensive response.

Let’s be honest “folks” (a Sue Johnson, Emotionally Focused Therapy founder favorite community term), we can only take our clients as far as we have gone in this model, and if we are not doing the deep work ourselves by practicing openness and vulnerability, as well as creating safety for our colleagues, we are going to continually get stuck with our clients…and the people we collaborate with. How can we ask a client to turn to their partner, child, parent, spouse and share from a soft and vulnerable place that is scary and hard and uncomfortable, if we are avoiding a colleague that we are upset at? Maybe it is just me, but it’s easier for me when I can integrate what I do in session with who I am in the

world rather than separate my therapeutic skills from my daily interactions.

As with the lemonade stand as a child, I’m excited about the people attracted to the EFT model; therapists whose desire, like mine, is to foster community rather than competition. It reminds me of this quote by Mother Teresa: “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” Come join me in selling cups of secure connection to couples, individuals, and families who are struggling. It’s a richer, deeper experience when we can all grow by supporting each other – and it’s a lot more fun too!

Kimberly (formerly Sandstrom) McNary, is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist & Relationship Educator working in San Diego with Couples, Families & Individuals to help relationships thrive. Kimberly can be reached at

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