Did you know that your inner emotional world or trauma affects your business? Might you be reacting to the business world from past traumas you have experienced? Is it a mindset issue you may have, or a trauma response?
In this podcast episode, Alison Pidgeon speaks with Nicole Lewis-Keeber about How Your Trauma Affects Your Business: Part 1 of 2.
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Nicole Lewis-Keeber MSW LCSW is a business therapist and mindset coach who works with entrepreneurs to create and nurture healthy relationships with their businesses. She’s a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a Masters in Social Work and has a rich and varied experience as a therapist.
Certified in Brené Brown’s Dare To Lead™ methodology, she’s also been featured on numerous media outlets including Fast Company and NPR for her work in breaking the stigma of mental health and business ownership. She writes and speaks about the impact of small t trauma on businesses but her biggest, more important work is in combining therapeutic processes with business coaching to help entrepreneurs build emotionally sustainable & financially stable businesses.
In This Podcast
- How coaching differs from therapy
- Mindset issue or trauma response?
- How trauma can show up in business
How coaching differs from therapy
They’re different in the fact that I think people who come into the coaching world, at least that I have worked with, they have a very specific goal they want to reach or they have a vision of something they want to make happen … they need targeted support to help them get to something. As therapists, we have been trained to help a person get to their own conclusion or see the “aha” themselves. (Nicole)
Coaching, even though it shares some similarities with therapy, differs from counseling. It’s usually tied with a specific goal and requires hard, intentional action, some risk-taking, and encourages the pursuit of some set goals.
Traditional therapy, on the other hand, seeks to help a patient come to their own answers through trained support. It doesn’t dictate to a client what they should do.
Mindset issue or trauma response?
You don’t have a mindset issue, you have a trauma response about your money. Once I began to see that then I started to see how trauma was playing out in the other places within their business. (Nicole)
For some people who struggle with their finances, it may simply be a mindset issue that they can change and adapt to suit their new environment and the goals that they want to achieve.
However, for other people, sometimes their dealings with money are not that objective. They have unconscious trauma responses that block them from creating wealth in their lives.
Creating and building a business requires people to take an active role in their lives. Not only in the present but also in trying to understand the past, because a business is built from people. If the people are struggling with something, the business may very well struggle with that same thing.
I think the reason people were attracted to working with me as a coach was because I had a therapist background and maybe they hadn’t been quite willing to look at something then in their past based on just their own need to but their business was important enough for them to take a peak and say: “I probably need to address some of these challenges because my business needs me to. (Nicole)
How trauma can show up and affect business
1 – Firstly, it’s important for people to name their complex or systemic trauma because these small traumas play into how we see ourselves in the world. This then directly impacts how we run our businesses.
2 – People may even start their businesses as a response to trauma they have experienced: their business could then become an embodiment of something they want to show someone, prove something, overcome something.
In this way, people end up putting business solutions on emotional challenges.
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Meet Alison Pidgeon
Alison is a serial entrepreneur with four businesses, one of which is a 15 clinician group practice. She’s also a mom to three boys, wife, coffee drinker, and loves to travel. She started her practice in 2015 and, four years later, has two locations. With a specialization in women’s issues, the practices have made a positive impact on the community by offering different types of specialties not being offered anywhere else in the area.
Alison has been working with Practice of the Practice since 2016. She has helped over 70 therapist entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses, through mastermind groups and individual consulting.
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You are listening to the Grow a Group Practice podcast. Whether you are thinking about starting a group practice, are in the beginning stages, or want to learn how to scale up your already existing group practice, you are in the right place. I’m Alison Pidgeon, your host, a serial entrepreneur with four businesses, one of which is a large group practice that I started in 2015. Each week I feature a guest or topic that is relevant to group practice owners. Let’s get started.
Hi. I’m Alison Pidgeon, your host, and I’m so glad you decided to join me today. I have a good friend on the podcast today named Nicole Lewis-Keeber. She is an LCSW turned business coach, and she has developed an amazing niche for herself which I’ll talk to you about in a second, but Nicole is just one of those people who is so wise and just has so many interesting things to say that I just kept talking. And so we are going to have her on two episodes. So today is the first episode and then next week will be the second episode. So definitely check out the second part of our conversation next week. But I’ll tell you a little bit about Nicole. She has been a really big proponent and sort of cheerleader for especially women business owners in my area in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, and her clients call her a business therapist. She helps entrepreneurs to create and nurture healthy relationships with their businesses.
So she found that a lot of business owners who had trauma backgrounds ended up kind of sometimes having this not so healthy relationship with their business and she combines her background as a licensed clinical social worker with her work as a business coach. She’s also been certified in Dare To Lead, the Brené Brown methodology. She’s been featured on Fast Company and NPR for her work in breaking the stigma of mental health and business ownership. She writes and speaks about the impact of small T trauma on businesses, but her biggest, most important work is combining therapeutic processes with business coaching to help entrepreneurs build emotionally sustainable and financially stable businesses. So I just found this whole conversation with Nicole to be fascinating. I hope you enjoy it as well. And like I said, if you want to hear more, definitely check out the second part of our interview next week.
[ALISON] Hi, Nicole, welcome to the podcast.
[NICOLE LEWIS-KEEBER] Hey there. Thanks for having me.
[ALISON] Yes. I’m so glad that you’re here. Nicole is a friend of mine that I met through the local business community, and I’m really excited to have you today, because I know you’re doing lots of cool things. So maybe we could just start out by having you introduce yourself and maybe a little bit too, about your background as a therapist and then how you kind of made the journey into coaching.
[NICOLE] Yes. Thank you for having me. It’s been quite a joy to see your journey as an entrepreneur too. So I’m kind of excited to be here on your podcast.
[ALISON] Oh, thank you.
[ALISON] Yes. So about me. So my name is Nicole Lewis-Keeber and my clients call me a business therapist. So I have allowed that label to stick. I am the founder of Love Your Business School and the Do No Harm Intensive. I’m also trained by Brené Brown in Dare to Lead processes and also The Daring Way. So I spent some time with her and her team training on those processes as well. I was a therapist for 18 years before transitioning into doing coaching with small business owners. And the area of expertise that I have is that I have been doing some research on how childhood trauma packs, small business owners, entrepreneurs, and leaders. And that’s pretty much the focus of what I do within my business and whatever program it is. It’s going to come back to how trauma has impacted either a decision about making a business, how we operate within it, how we treat ourselves within our business. And I’ve been doing this for over five years now.
[ALISON] Nice. And we’re definitely going to take a deep dive into all the things that you do now as a coach. What I’m curious, because I know you are a trained therapist, you’re LCSW, how did you make that kind of transition from, because you were doing kind of regular outpatient therapy, like people in private practices typically do and at some point you decided to become a coach. I’m just curious, like what was that decision-making process like for you and what was that transition like?
[NICOLE] Yes, you’re right. I have a master’s degree in social work. I’m a licensed clinical social worker in Pennsylvania and those 18 years that I was in practice, I had a variety of different modalities and places that I was operating as a clinician. Pretty much you name it, I’ve done it, whether it’s EAP, substance abuse treatment, mental health methadone, you name it, I’ve been there. So I did have a very small private practice of my own too for quite a while and have worked in other group practices. So I’ve kind of been around the block when it comes to being a therapist and a clinician.
So at about 18 years, what happened with me is that I was pretty burnt out because one of the things I was not taught in my programs was how to take care of myself. I was not taught about energy hygiene, about boundaries, like it was all just see eight, nine clients a day and then go home, eat, go home and come back and do the thing. So I was pretty burnt out by about 18 years and ended up leaving direct practice in the field altogether because I needed a break for myself and I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do at that point. So I took a breather.
[ALISON] I’m so glad you brought that up, like you used those words “I was not taught how to take care of myself” because they didn’t do that in my graduate program either. And it has taken me so long to learn it for myself. So I think they do a better job now. Like I’ve gone back and taught a class where I went to school and they do a better job now I think of educating them about self-care. But yes, when I went to school, there was like one handout on it like, “Oh, by the way, you better take good care of yourself or else you’re going to get burned out.” And it was like a 10-minute conversation and it was over.
[NICOLE] Right, and then they don’t give you time to go to the bathroom or have lunch at all during the day.
[NICOLE] So you’re supposed to somehow do this magically.
[NICOLE] It’s interesting because those systems around us, particularly in public, in agency work, they’re not set up that way. So it can be really frustrating.
[ALISON] Oh no. Yes. The structure of a community mental health agency does not do anything to help you with self-care.
[NICOLE] No, not at all. In fact, quite the opposite. So I’m surprised that I left after 18 years. I’m kind of proud of myself for that.
[NICOLE] But it took a minute. I had to actually take a break because I was having physical symptoms. They thought I had MS because of some of the symptoms I was having, but it turns out I was just really burnt out and having migraines. So I didn’t know if I wanted to do this anymore, and I left and took a moment and I was very blessed to be able to do that. And I actually ended up working for a Medicaid product in Mississippi, doing referrals for children who had equipment needs. So I could work from home because I just needed a minute to get myself together. So I ended up actually working with a life coach who was trained by Martha Beck because I knew that I still wanted to work with people and I wanted my skills and my everything I had trained to do to still be something that I utilized.
I just wasn’t sure what or how to do that and really enjoyed working with this coach. So I saw what could possibly happen if you worked with people in a coaching capacity as opposed to a therapy capacity. And I decided I wanted to get trained to do some coaching myself and the program that I jumped into because it was available at that moment was a money mindset program, a coaching program. And it completely changed how I saw everything about money, about work, about value, about time. So I ended up doing, starting a business, doing money mindset coaching for small business owners. And that’s kind of how I got my business started and how it’s evolved since then.
[ALISON] Wow. That’s great. I feel like so many great things can come, I mean, obviously being burned out and having to quit your job sounds like a terrible situation, but it’s actually the same thing that happened to me. Like I was just super burned out and one day I was like, “I cannot do this anymore,” and put in my notice and in a shorter amount of time I left. So then I started my business. So obviously good things come out of bad situations, but it’s unfortunate that we as therapists get to that point where we just have nothing left to give and we just leave the profession. You know what I mean? Like it’s sad, but I mean, it sounds like you took lemons and made lemonade, so that’s great.
[NICOLE] Yes, after a moment, and one of the most important things within that coaching program that I learned was that I had basically taken a vow of poverty to go into social work. I always believed that being a social worker meant, or even a therapist meant I was not going to be able to make a lot of money. And that’s not true. Like down to the penny, and they told me in graduate school, if you get a job, you will probably make this. And so then you go get an interview for an employer and they say, “This is all we’ll pay you.” And it never occurred to me once to negotiate that or say, “No, that’s not okay with me.” I just defaulted into it and said, “Yes.” And the truth is that as a therapist and social worker with my own business, doing what I do, I make three times what I did as a therapist and I work less hours.
[ALISON] Right. Exactly. So what in your mind are some of the big features of how coaching is different than therapy now that you’ve been on both sides of it?
[NICOLE] So I would say that I’m not that great at it and keeping them separate, which is why my clients call me a business therapist. So I feel like I do therapeutic coaching. So they’re different in the fact that I think that people who come into the coaching world, at least that I’ve worked with, if they have a very specific goal they want to reach typically, or they have a vision of something that they want to make happen and they’re not exactly sure how to get there and they need some targeted support., they need perhaps some advice or they need someone to hold them accountable. You know, like they need some very specific targeted support to get to something. And we as therapists we’ve been trained to in a lot of ways to help the person get to their own conclusion or see the aha themselves.
Like we don’t typically sit on the couch and say, “You need to go do this.” I think we’re a little bit more cautious and we hold back as we should and use the tools that we have. And it’s a little bit of a longer time that we work with that person. Because a lot of times also we’re working with some kind of either mental health diagnosis or addiction or like a family issue. And so it’s much more complicated and complex than the coaching modality. However, the coaching modality can be very powerful and very impactful as well.
[ALISON] Yes. And that’s actually something that I found really liberating and I don’t know if you would agree, but like when I started doing business consulting, just feeling much more free to like just say exactly what I’m thinking, unlike in therapy, when I’d be like, “Oh, I better not tell them what to do because I’m not supposed to do that.”
[NICOLE] It’s so true.
[ALISON] Do you find that that’s like, it’s just more enjoyable because you get to sort of just be more direct?
[NICOLE] I think so, because I think one of the talents and the gifts that I have is that I can see patterns and I can connect patterns pretty quickly. And I can connect something that seemingly insignificant to something that’s playing a huge part in your day to day life right now, which I think is why the business pieces that I do with my clients is super helpful. So when I can notice that and see those connections and those patterns and everything kind of lines, it’s like everything lines up in front of my eyes, it’s like a little blackboard behind the person’s head. It’s like, “Oh, okay, this happened. That happened. These are connected and that’s why this happened.” It’s like it just all kind of comes together. And in the coaching modality, I can say, “Hey, hang on. This and this, and you need to go do this.” And it’s much more accepted in there and they’re more receptive, I think in some ways. And it really is a way for me to use that talent and that intuition and that ability to connect patterns that other people don’t necessarily see in a way that is super useful.
[ALISON] Yes. I love that you brought up about patterns because I feel like obviously as therapists, that’s what you’re trained to do. And then, like, I know when I do consulting, I’m kind of doing the same thing. Like I’m working with lots of different people and starting to see, oh, well there’s all these commonalities or the same question keeps coming up over and over. And that just helps me to design better, more valuable content and training and things for my clients. So yes, I think that’s really cool how it kind of crosses both professions. Yes. So tell us about the work that you do with your clients in more detail, because I feel like this is probably more prevalent than we realized. So I won’t, I’ll let you explain it and I won’t jump in and explain.
[NICOLE] Yes, so it’s an interesting kind of little journey of starting out doing money mindset. Once you’re a clinician, you kind of can’t help, but see stuff through a different lens. I was seeing that the clients that I was working with, that the issues that they were having around money was not a mindset issue necessarily, or at least not, in total. It was actually a trauma response that they were having that was playing out in their money. And because I had this unique lens of the therapist doing this coaching, I was like, “Hey, hang on a minute. This is not a mindset issue and no wonder all the books you read on mindset, or maybe some of the webinars or whatever you’ve gone through around money mindset aren’t working for you. And there’s a reason why.”
Because a lot of the people I was working with had tried these things and had a lot of shame that they couldn’t just change their mindset about their money, that they couldn’t just charge what they’re worth. I hate that so much. So they were spiraling out in shame that this thing that they should be able to do wasn’t working for them. And I said, it’s not supposed to, because you don’t have a mindset issue. You have a trauma response in your money. So once I began to see that, then I started to see how trauma was playing out in the other places within their business and also within mine. About two years into my business, I started to recognize that I was really not happy in my business and I kind of wanted to close up shop and I was feeling very disempowered.
And I had to figure out why do I feel this way? Because it’s a business of one, I’m going to solopreneur, you know, if my business is feeling unsettling and it feels really kind of actually abusive, why would it feel this way if the only answer is I’m setting it up to do this and feel this way. So why would I do that? Well, it’s because of my own trauma as a child. I was replicating childhood trauma patterns in my business. And so when I recognized that for myself and began to kind of fix some of those pieces of the puzzle for myself and my business, it just kind of organically evolved to working with clients who had a hunch that childhood experiences were playing out in their business in a way that was keeping them from reaching a revenue goal or to be able to leverage their time or up-level their business or whatever it is that they wanted to do.
And I think the reason people were attracted to working with me as a coach was because I had a therapist background and maybe they hadn’t quite been willing to look at something in their past based on just their own need to, but their business was important enough for them to take a peak and say, “I probably need to address some of these challenges because my business needs me too.” So it’s been an interesting journey to see how trauma shows up and it led me to start having conversations and doing some research on the specific ways that it actually shows up in business, which is where I’m at now.
[ALISON] Yes. And I would love if you could give us some examples because I think we don’t, obviously it’s hard to see the forest for the trees when you’re in your business and until you sort of learn a new perspective, you may not realize like, “Oh, what I’m doing is a trauma response, or I’m really replicating what happened to me in childhood.” So can you give us some concrete examples?
[NICOLE] Yes and I think the first thing we have to do isn’t it, and this probably in this audience is a no-brainer, but for a lot of people, they don’t recognize what trauma is. You know, they have this perspective of trauma being these big catastrophic events or big violent events, or like we see abuse, domestic violence, PTSD. So the average person does even recognize or know that they have trauma because that’s how we’ve define trauma at large as a society. And so I think a lot of education can happen with therapists and coaches and people who are trauma informed about really naming what trauma is. Like I always think that’s the first step of naming complex trauma. You know, I call it a small t trauma or systemic trauma. You know, these are all things that play into how we see ourselves in the world and what is available to us and that directly impacts your business.
So I think defining trauma helps people see that something that was seemingly insignificant to them as a child, because we tell people no big deal. Everybody had a hard childhood, suck it up. Like any of those messages we get about these experiences that don’t perhaps look like trauma, they stay with us and they come with neuro adulthood and yes, into our business. So defining it first, I think is super important. Also naming the fact that there’s a lot of trauma that happens with us. It’s outside of our control being whether it’s systemic, it’s the systems around us that perpetrate trauma, but don’t want us to get help with it because it then breaks the system. There’s so much here that people don’t really realize is playing out. So normalizing and naming it and defining it, I think gives people a lot of liberation around that.
The second piece of it is that once we’ve done that I really believe and see that people, a lot of people start a business, whether it’s a therapy practice, a coaching practice, if they’re an entrepreneur that a lot of the reason why we do these things are very much rooted in some experience that we had when we were a child where we wanted to either show someone something, prove something, overcome something. And that gets embedded into what I call our deeper why. That’s connected to what we decide to do. So for example, I grew up with a learning difference. I’m 50 now, so no one was really diagnosing learning differences when I was growing up and certainly not ADHD or neuro-divergence. And so I grew up in a system that did not know how to teach me. ].
So when you go to school every day and you have no idea what’s happening and no one can help you and you barely graduate, that works, that is a small T trauma and it impacts your life. It impacts how you see yourself, impacts how you assess your value. And what it did for me is when I started my business, there was a deeper why for me that’s kind of a younger version of me who wanted to show people that I’m not stupid, that I could be successful, I’m not stupid, that I am worthy. And so that deeper why got embedded into my business and made me make a lot of decisions that probably weren’t right for me in my business, because I wanted to prove something or I wanted to overcome the stigma. So I always ask people, “Why did you start your business? Why did you really start your business?”
[ALISON] Yes. That’s a great question. And I’m just curious, like, how does, if you don’t mind sharing, like how did that play itself out for you when you said you made some bad decisions, because that was your motivation?
[NICOLE] So what it did was it put me in a situation to kind of get into this hustle modality of, I got to write more articles. I have got to say yes to anytime I’m asked to do like a summit or to speak at an organization that, you know, first of all, my time wasn’t paid for and they would kind of manage what I and I couldn’t say, which was always excruciating. But I wanted to be seen as valuable and valued and as smart. And so I’d said yes to all of these opportunities that were not always aligned for me and then I would have to do cleanup afterwards because I would feel bad about myself or it took up time that I needed to use in my business somewhere else. So it was always kind of hustling to kind of catch up.
[ALISON] Yes. So it was sort of like taking on these maybe more, you know doing events stuff where you’d be very publicly like, look at me. I run this successful business. I’m being asked to speak at this event, but then it ended up maybe sometimes just being a distraction to what you really should have been doing.
[ALISON] Yes. That’s a really good example. So sorry I kind of interrupted you in the middle of your explanation there.
[NICOLE] No it’s okay. When I say it’s a journey, it’s a journey. And so there’s like the deeper why. So, and why this is important is that I see people who will put business solutions on emotional challenges every day. I work with a lot of business owners that we’ll get one more business coach by one more sales funnel, more credentialing because they don’t feel worthy or there is something that is disconnected for them. And so, because it’s a related to their business so by one more business thing, when it’s actually an emotional issue that they need to touch into that is connected to their childhood. So that whole deeper why really can show us what is it that you’re trying to reach and achieve with your business. If you want to feel like valued and super smart, that’s fine, totally fine. How do we get you there so that you quit putting the wrong solutions on this and not getting the relief that you’re looking for so that you stay in that vicious cycle?
And so that deeper why is also very important when you’re looking at your business, what is it you’re trying to get so that you can actually allow yourself to have that thing. So that deeper why is usually connected to some younger version of ourself that had some experience where they felt less than bothered, unsafe, unseen, unacknowledged. And so we bring those younger versions of ourselves, like the, I call them your inner kiddos into your business as well. And so I say they sit on your inner board of directors and they can either direct you towards what is going to work for you, or they can hold you back because we didn’t ask them whether they wanted, to start a business or not.
So if you have a seven-year-old that hates networking and doesn’t do well in networking situations internally impacting your business and how you end up showing up for networking events, i’s going to take you away from your goal. So I always say you have to do an inner kiddo check to see who is on your internal board of directors, and are they working with you or against you? And if you want to give them a job, give them a job. Like my seven year old does not like being a part of my business so she has gotten excused from the room. So that’s also a piece of this puzzle like, what kiddos are there with you as well and directing the choices that we make in our business?
[ALISON] Yes, absolutely.
[NICOLE] Because you can see how this is layered.
[ALISON] Yes, everything’s probably all interconnected.
[ALISON] Thank you so much, Nicole, for coming on the podcast. It’s really cool to hear that the work that you’re doing. And so this is the first part of our interview. If you want to go the second part, look for the podcast episode next week, where we will do the other part of the interview with Nicole Lewis-Keeber. And I’ll see you next time.
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