Sara Dungan on Working with Couples Going Through Divorce | FP 32

Sara Dungan on Working with Couples going through Divorce | FP 32

Do you work with couples? Have you considered discernment counseling? What do you need to know about testifying in family court?

In this podcast episode, Whitney Owens speaks to Sara Dungan about working with couples going through a divorce.

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Green Oak Accounting

Tired of never quite feeling comfortable with your practice financials? I’d like you to meet GreenOak Accounting. Their goal is to empower private practice owners with the financial information they need to make good business decisions. They specialize in working with solo and group private practices in the mental health industry, so they are uniquely positioned to help with figuring out what’s “normal” in your business finances and what’s not. So if you’ve ever had a conversation with your accountant or bookkeeper that left you wishing that they understood private practice or had some best practices to share, head over to www.greenoakaccounting.com and schedule a free consultation to see if they might be a good fit for you. They can help with all your accounting needs from bookkeeping to payroll to Profit First and budgeting & forecasting.

Meet Sara Dungan

Ms. Dungan is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Licensed Professional Counselor in Birmingham, AL. She has over 25 years of experience working with children and families. She began her professional life with a five-year tenure as a High School.

After several years of focused investment in her own children, she began working with the children and families at her local church as a Children’s Coordinator. In 2015, she received her Master’s in Counseling in marriage and family therapy and opened her private practice called Sparrow Counseling.

Ms. Dungan is particularly interested and experienced in guiding families through the pain and disappointment of divorce. Ms. Dungan is a Parenting Coordinator, Divorce Mediator, Reunification Therapist, and Co-Parenting Counselor. She has over 60 hours of mediation training and just recently presented to the AL Marriage and Family therapists conference on serving families of divorce. She has a passion for supporting families in their difficult seasons of loss and helping them find a reason to hope and love again.

Visit Sara’s website and join her Facebook group here. Get in touch with Sara at hello@sparrowcounsel.com

In This Podcast

Summary

  • Sparrow Counseling
  • The different types of therapy that Sara does
  • Co-parenting
  • Tips for therapists who have to go to court

Sparrow Counseling

Sara is divorced and went to school while going through her divorce, she always believed that she would remarry though. Sara wanted to open her private practice but didn’t want to use her name in case she remarried. She wanted to find something that wasn’t her name. After some brainstorming and prayer with friends, she came up with the name “Sparrow”. One of Sara’s friends is an illustrator and came up with some logo designs. The first one that Sara was drawn to was a bird flying out of a cage.

This really resonated with Sara as years earlier she had listened to Jim Dobson on the radio and he was talking about love having to be tough. He said that you can’t cage in people, you have to let them go and be free if you want to have a real relationship. She always remembered that metaphor of a bird flying out of a cage so was instantly drawn to it. She wanted to use the sparrow as a subtle reference to her faith and not have her faith be in your face as a lot of the population that she works with believe that there should be a separation between church and state. Sara wanted people to know that they could bring their faith into sessions if they want to. Her faith is an integral part of her personal walk but she only brings it in if the client brings it in.

The different types of therapy that Sara does

Discernment counseling

Sara realized that most couples who came for counseling had one person that was leaning out of the marriage and one person that wanted to stay in the marriage so she got trained in “discernment counseling.” This is where couples who are on the brink of divorce can come to a few sessions to get confidence and clarity about the future of their marriage and determine what kind of counseling they need. Discernment counseling gives couples three options:

  1. Status Quo – After discernment counseling, some couples decide to just wait it out right now for the sake of the kids.
  2. Separation or divorce.
  3. Six months of couples counseling with divorce being off the table and just focusing on the marriage for six months.

Co-parenting Counseling

Sara brings parents together to sit down at a conference table and discuss co-parenting. She does this because she wants the parents to understand that they’re creating a “business”, this business is healthy, thriving children and the parents are now business partners. They have to learn how to take the emotion out of it. She does a lot of education with the couples, teaching them how to get the emotion out and normalize things. They want to hurry the process but it takes time to figure out how to co-parent well.

Reunification Therapy

This is a very specialized form of therapy used when parents have gone through high-conflict divorce and have children who have aligned with one parent and have rejected the other. Sara has a core belief that, as long as both parents are safe and appropriate, kids should have the freedom to love both parents. Kids need both parents and they especially need to know that both parents love them and want what is best for them.

Couples Counseling

Divorce Mediation

Sara sits down with the couple and starts to look at parenting plans. If she gets a call to mediate a divorce, she brings in an attorney friend of hers and they work together. This saves families a lot of time, money, and the emotional stress of going to trial. Kids do so much better when parents mediate instead of litigate.

Co-parenting

I often say to co-parents, look, I don’t want your divorce to be your kids whole book. I want it to be a chapter of their lives. But a lot of parents, especially in America, we have this idea of win and lose in divorce, and there is no winners, there are losers, and we have to get to a place where we can work together and negotiate. Because at the end, we want our kids to be the winners.

50% of marriages end in divorce. This are a lot of people who need the type of service that Sara offers and there are not enough professionals doing it. Co-parents are a complicated bunch of people but the kids need this help, someone needs to help them transition.

Tips for therapists who have to go to court

  • Have a strong court policy
  • Unless you are a custody evaluator, you cannot make any recommendations for custody as a therapist
  • Tell the truth
  • Be prepared
  • Come in with a timeline (and make copies)
  • Be clear in your answers
  • If you don’t understand a question, ask them to rephrase
  • Don’t give more information than you need to

Litigation throws a big wrench into the therapeutic alliance. Sara often tells her lawyers that if they want her to continue working with the family then her testifying might not be the most helpful thing. You don’t want to end up in court, it does not serve families well. Try to work around it as much as possible.

Useful Links:

Meet Whitney Owens

Whitney Ownens | Build a faith-based practiceWhitney is a licensed professional counselor and owns a growing group practice in Savannah, Georgia. Along with a wealth of experience managing a practice, she also has an extensive history working in a variety of clinical and religious settings, allowing her to specialize in consulting for faith-based practices and those wanting to connect with religious organizations.

Knowing the pains and difficulties surrounding building a private practice, she started this podcast to help clinicians start, grow, and scale a faith-based practice. She has learned how to start and grow a successful practice that adheres to her own faith and values. And as a private practice consultant, she has helped many clinicians do the same.

Thanks For Listening!

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Faith in Practice is part of the Practice of the Practice Podcast Network, a network of podcasts that are changing the world. To hear other podcasts like Empowered and Unapologetic, Bomb Mom, Imperfect Thriving, Marketing a Practice or Beta Male Revolution, go to practiceofthepractice.com/network.

Podcast Transcription

[WHITNEY]:
Tired of never quite feeling comfortable with your practice financials? I’d like you to meet Green Oak Accounting. Their goal is to empower private practice owners with the financial information they need to make good business decisions. They specialize in working with solo and group practices in the mental health industry. So, they are uniquely positioned to help with figuring out what is normal in your business finances and what is not. So, if you’ve ever had a conversation with your accountant or bookkeeper that left you wishing that they understood private practice, or had some best practices to share, head on over to greenoakaccounting.com and schedule a free consultation to see if they may be a good fit for you. They can help with all your accounting needs from bookkeeping to payroll to profit first and budgeting and forecasting.

Welcome to the Faith in Practice podcast. I’m your host, Whitney Owens, recording live from Savannah, Georgia. The purpose of this podcast is to help you learn how to start, grow, and scale your private practice with a faith-based perspective.

I love doing podcasting, maybe even more than I thought I was going to, and I consider it a true honor that you even take the time to listen to the podcast. And then I get an opportunity every week to speak some really cool stuff into your lives and have a relationship with you and to get to know you. And I want to encourage you, if you listen to this podcast on a regular basis, please take the time to rate and review, particularly on iTunes, but any other platform that you listen to, because I want to be able to get the word out more. I want more people listening, not because I need something from it or anything like that, but because I want other people to get this information. I think about years ago when I was feeling really lonely in private practice, I remember I walked outside and was standing in my driveway, I was about to go on my run and I was thinking oh, I need a podcast to listen to. I don’t know what to listen to. I should listen to something about private practice because I was kind of doing my own thing. Honestly, I didn’t really know what I was doing, just trying to start a practice, trying to see clients, right? And I’m looking at my phone, that podcast looks okay. And I came across the Practice of the Practice podcast, which, of course, I thought it had a catchy name because it does. And I was like, this guy, Joe, I guess I’ll listen to him. And loved it, like felt like it spoke right to where I was at, gave me really practical tools moving forward. And more than anything has given me this amazing community to be a part of, and we all know that community is so important.

So, I really want to encourage you to share this on iTunes, share with other practice owners, specifically ones that are building faith-based practices, because they need to hear this information. We all need it. We need to have a community with one another. There are so many ways to get involved in Practice of the Practice and the things that are going on. I do have a Facebook group that’s specifically for private practice owners that are building faith-based practices. So, I want to encourage you to look for that, it’s Faith in Practice is the name of the group. And you’ll have to answer a couple of questions, really simple. And I’ll let you in the group and that Facebook group is all about figuring out how are we doing this? How are we building a practice? How are we doing it from a faith-based perspective? And you can throw other questions out there, or blogs, or helpful information and we can all be there for one another.

I also do a lot of other work as well. I offer individual and group consulting. So, if that’s something that you’re interested in, getting more hands on, getting more hands-on help with your practice, and building that, please reach out to me and let’s talk about that. My email is whitney@practiceofthepractice.com. But thank you so much for the time that you take every week to listen to this podcast. And if there’s stuff that I can provide for you, helpful information, email me and let me know; let me know what you need for the podcast and we’ll make it happen.

So, I actually loved today’s interview with Sara Dungan. So, she’s going to talk about this unique work that she does with divorced families. And I think this idea of divorce and what the church thinks of divorce can be really tricky. And how do we do that in a faith-based way? And I’ve loved the approach that she brings to the table. And I do think there’s such a need for more people like her, the kind of work that she’s doing, in the space that she provides for couples and their relationships. So, I think you’ll really benefit from the work that she talks about in today’s episode of the Faith in Practice podcast, Sara Dungan on working with couples going through divorce.

Welcome to the Faith in Practice podcast. On today’s show I have Sara Dungan. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a licensed professional counselor in Birmingham, Alabama. She has over 25 years of experience working with children and families. She began her professional life, five-year tenure, and high school, and after several years of focused investment in her own children, she began working with the children and families at her local church as the children’s coordinator. In 2015 she received her master’s in counseling and marriage and family therapy and opened up her private practice, Sparrow Counseling. She is particularly interested in experiencing guiding families through the pain and disappointment of divorce. And Miss Dungan is a parenting coordinator, divorce mediator, reunification therapist, and co-parenting counselor. She has over 60 hours of mediation training and just recently presented at the Alabama Marriage and Family Therapist Conference on serving families of divorce. She has a passion for supporting families in their difficult seasons of loss and helping them find a reason for hope and love again. Sara, thanks for coming on the podcast today.

[SARA]:
You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

[WHITNEY]:
Yeah. So, I want to go ahead and hit this. I was really drawn to you because of the name of your practice, the Sparrow Counseling. And that’s just such a big part of when I’m talking with people about faith-based practices; how can we market ourselves in a way that’s faith-based but not overtly, right? And I just love the symbolism of the sparrow and the biblical parts to that. So, could you talk a little bit about Sparrow Counseling, and the name, and why you selected it, and kind of how you speak to your ideal client with that?

[SARA]:
Yeah. So, I’m divorced, and started my practice after… I went to school while my divorce was going on. And I always believed though, that I would remarry at one time. So, I did not want to open up a practice using my name, because I didn’t want to limit myself in case God brought somebody along that I wanted to marry. So, I made the decision then that I needed to find something that was not using my name. I went to the beach with several of my close girlfriends and they gave me a weekend of their time and energy and, through prayer and brainstorming, we came up with Sparrow. My friend is actually an illustrator, and she was starting to illustrate my logo, and the one that I was drawn to the most was a bird flying out of a cage. Because a long, long time ago, I was listening to Jim Dobson. When I was going to school, I was a teacher and I’ve listened to him on the radio, and he talks about that loves gotta be tough, and you cannot cage in people; you have to let them go and be free if you want to have real relationship with them. And I always remember that metaphor about a bird flying out of a cage. And so, when I saw that I was instantly drawn to it. So, we started working around names and came up with Sparrow, found the verse of how Jesus values the sparrows, and that is just like he values us. And so that is such a core belief of mine personally, that I was drawn to it. I did not want a hallelujah, praise the Lord counseling center because of the population that I work with. A lot of them believe there should be a separation between church and state. But I wanted to share, I wanted it to be in there somehow so that if people did want to bring faith into sessions, they knew where I was coming from. I don’t bring it in unless clients bring it in. But it is an integral part of my personal walk and my personal life. So, if that makes sense.

[WHITNEY]:
Yeah, it sure does. It’s beautiful. I love the logo and what it means. So, can you talk some about you mentioned your population that you work with; can you talk about the types of clients that you work with?

[SARA]:
Yeah. So, when I was in graduate school, I was going through my divorce and a lot of grief and was studying children of divorce. So every paper, every project was always about… that I tried to focus on was children of divorce, because selfishly, I was thinking about my own kids, and I wanted to get them through this in the most resilient way they possibly could. While I was doing that, I realized that a lot of families of divorce are underserved by mental health professionals. And I think a lot of that has to do with graduate schools do a really good job of scaring us with working with family law professionals, and having to testify, and having to work with judges and lawyers and things like that. But I feel called to the work because what I found in my research is if I can get parents talking, I can help kids. And it’s the ongoing conflict that parents, divorced parents, have that hurts kids the most. So, if I can get parents to a place where they can start making decisions in the best interest of their children, I know I can help children. And that’s always my practice. I often will tell, when I’m working with co-parents, look, I see your kids as my clients. Even though they’re not there, I really want to help them. And by getting parents together, I think that’s how I can do it.

[WHITNEY]:
I love it. And that goes back to this idea that… I don’t know, I just see over and over that God leads us into our niche, into our profession, for a reason. And this idea that you reached out and did that research and learnt so you can best help your kids and now you’re helping so many families, it’s amazing.

[SARA]:
Yeah. I just say, I feel called to the work. And it is scary – working with family law professionals is scary at times and having to testify is scary. I actually have gotten to the place though; I love the challenge. I’ve made a lot of friends with family law professionals that have kind of walked me through the process. So, it’s not as scary as it used to be. But these families are complicated, and they need help. They need us to be the eyes and the ears of the judge to say, look, Judge, this is what I see going on in this family that I think would be helpful for you to know. So.

[WHITNEY]:
Yeah, I’m glad you’re out there doing that important work, and there needs to be more therapists doing this work because it is so needed.

[SARA]:
Yeah, I agree.

[WHITNEY]:
Yeah, so talk about the reunification and the different types of therapy that you do with couples, and families.

[SARA]:
Okay. So, what I found is… When you go to my website, at the top, it says serving families of divorce, so I would often get couples who were very conflicted coming in, wanting counseling, marriage counseling, couples counseling. And I realized that usually there was one person leaning out of the marriage, and one person going, oh, no, I want to stay married. And so, they’re leaning into the marriage. And so I got trained in discernment counseling, where couples on the verge of divorce, they’re on the brink, can come together for a few sessions to get confidence and clarity about the future of their marriage, and in discernment counseling you’re looking at, are your problems solvable? You’re not trying to solve the problems, which is what you’re trying to do in couples counseling. And what I like about discernment counseling is you’ve got three options. You can stay status quo, which some couples do because after going through discernment counseling, they realize, look, our kids are important. We’re just going to wait this out right now. You can move to separation or divorce. Or you can move to six months of couples counseling, with the buy-in of divorce is off the table and we’re going to focus on our marriage for six months. And now you’ve got both people bought into doing couples counseling, which is what I think is important. Instead of trying to overwork or work so hard with a couple that really, there’s one person that really wants to be out of the marriage. They don’t want to stay in it.

So, I have been trained in discernment counseling; I am a co-parenting counselor, which means I get two parents coming together, we sit down at my conference table. I don’t do it in my counseling room, we sit at a conference table because I’m trying to help them understand, we’re creating a business. And your business is healthy, thriving children, and you are now business partners, so we have to learn how to take the emotion out of it. So, I do a lot of education with couples in that realm and trying to help them learn how to get emotion out and that just takes time. I try to normalize things because they want to hurry up the process and you can’t hurry up the process. It takes time for you to figure out how to do this well.

I also do reunification therapy, which is a very specialized form of therapy where parents who have gone through a high conflict divorce, have children that have aligned with one parent and have not aligned, rejected or refused to be with another parent. And I have a core belief that as long as both parents are safe and appropriate, which is a very relative term – and I use that somewhat loosely – I think kids should have the freedom to love both parents. And I say I use that loosely because often co-parents, when they’re involved in a divorce, can nitpick over how the other parent is parenting. I just think that kids need both parents. They especially need to know that both parents love them. And both parents want the best for them. When we have a kid starting to believe that mom loves me more than dad, and dad doesn’t love me, I feel like that has dangerous ramifications for the rest of that child’s life. So, that’s a very family-based form of counseling, not that I’m getting the whole family in there, but I am working with the whole family, because the most important person in reunification therapy is actually the favored or aligned parent, because they’re the ones that are often transporting or transferring their anxiety about the other parent to the child. So, I have to really get the buy-in that, hey, it’s really important that my other parent have relationship with my child.

So, I also do that and then I do couples counseling. I do divorce mediation, where we will sit down and start looking at parenting plans. If I get a call to mediate a divorce, I often bring an attorney friend of mine in and we work on it together. And that saves families so much time and so much money. And the emotion, just emotional stress of having to go to court and prepare for trial, which a lot of cases don’t even make it to trial. But the attorneys are trained to prepare for trial. And so, a lot goes into that. And so, I love mediation; I love sitting down with parents and start working out family issues. And there’s a lot of really good research that says kids do so much better when parents mediate instead of litigate. And there’s a couple blogs on my website about that.

[WHITNEY]:
Yes, so how did you get all this training? Where did you go for this?

[SARA]:
Whoo, that’s a good question since I’ve only been in practice since 2016. Well, okay, I’m a teacher at heart, so I do love to learn. For parenting coordination, which I didn’t talk about – that’s like another form of co-parenting counseling – I went to Atlanta and was trained by a parenting coordinator there. For reunification therapy I did online training with oh, I can’t… I think it’s Hudson College. And I’m hoping to watch the experts do reunification therapy at a camp in Vermont this summer. So, I can come along and be like a staff member that observes other therapists do this. And this camp is called Overcoming Barriers which you can Google. It’s amazing, the kind of work that these people are doing, but they bring families together that are court-ordered to come to their camp, and they put the favorite parents on one side of the camp, they put the rejected parents on the other side of the camp. And they put the children in the middle. And they work for a week with these families trying to help them reunify the child with the rejected parent.

The online training I did was with some of these experts. I’m also a member of the AFCC. I can’t… it’s the conciliation, family, conciliation courts, I can’t remember if it’s American or Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. It’s a great organization for family law professionals. And once you join, they have conferences and webinars specifically working in this realm. They’re the ones that set a lot of the national guidelines of how counselors should be working with families in transition with divorce. So, those are some of the ways and then I just… I learn, I read, I talk to mentors and try to get my hands on anything I can do to learn how to help these families.

[WHITNEY]:
I just love your niche. Like, it is so important. And I love the way you talked about children, like you’re doing this to help them have that better life and that’s so beautiful. And so if there are therapists that are listening to the podcast that are trying to figure out their niche, I mean, if you’re passionate about this, this is a good one, because that’s so needed. We’ve got, what is it? You’re gonna know better than me, but it’s like 50% of families, marriages, end in divorce. That’s 50% of the population out there that is needing this type of service.

[SARA]:
Right. Right. And not to be… I mean, they are a complicated bunch of people, but these kids need it. Someone needs to help them figure out how to transition. And I often say to co-parents is, look, I don’t want your divorce to be your kids’ whole book. I want it to be a chapter of their lives. But a lot of parents, especially in America, we have this idea of, of win-lose in divorce, and there is no winners. There are losers. And we have to get to a place where we can work together and negotiate. Because at the end, we want our kids to be the winners. And I will say, I practice what I preach. I work with my co-parent, and we have a very amicable relationship. And that’s not always been that way, and at times, it’s messy. But man, it is so much better for our children.

Here’s another point I have to make, Whitney, is I often hear co-parents say, well, you know, when they’re 19 I’ll never have to have my co-parent in my life anymore. And I say, no, that’s not the case. My daughter just had our first grandson. Do we want the next generation thinking that grandma and grandpa can’t get along? No. We want to promote to the next generation, love, forgiveness, kindness throughout the family structure. And there’s also weddings, there’s graduations, your co-parent is going nowhere. They will be in your lives forever. And you get to decide the kind of relationship you want. But it’s great when they bring in their faith because I love to challenge co-parents on their faith, because they often think that their faith does not apply to their co-parent. And it does. We’ve got to forgive. We’ve got to let go and let God; there’s lots of things our faith challenges us with and I do think working with your co-parent is probably the hardest thing, hardest relationship, but it is so worth it.

[WHITNEY]:
Yes, so I was thinking about this when you were talking about the discernment counseling, when people are coming in and trying to figure out where they’re at what they want. And if you’re seeing faith-based clients, do you have people coming in saying, oh absolutely, I will not divorce; the Bible says this, that, and the other. And if so, how do you handle people that get so set in that belief and what they think the Bible is saying about divorce? And how do you walk them through that?

[SARA]:
Yeah. So, I think that’s a great question and it’s one that I’m still figuring out, because I have had pastors say, how does discernment counseling fit in, when there’s no biblical place for divorce? And I guess what I say back to that is, it’s not my life, it’s their life. I have to answer to God for my life; they have to answer to God for their life. And all I want to do is help them make the best decision they can for the future of their marriage. So, I would allow them to ask those questions of each other, but in the end, it is their decision. This is a very structured form of counseling that has really good questions in it to lead and guide these couples to make the best decision for them.

[WHITNEY]:
Oh, that’s perfect. And I really like what you’re saying, because this is not only what it’s like for the discernment counseling and couples thinking about divorce, but in all areas of us as faith-based counselors, like we’re not there to tell them how to live their life; we’re there to offer guidance, love, teaching when we can, and then let them make the decision for themselves. And I always say even if they decide to do something that maybe I don’t feel it fully obeys whatever the Bible has to say about it, honestly, I’m glad that they came to speak to someone who’s a believer than someone who’s not. And at least I can pray for them as they make the decision, as opposed to going to someone that’s not praying for them when they’re making that decision.

[SARA]:
And, you know, I’ve thought a lot about this, and I’ve talked to my business coach about it as well; in the end, the church doesn’t handle these couples great either. They tell him to stay together, stay together, go get counseling, go get counseling. And a lot of those couples that end up getting divorced leave the church; that doesn’t help these couples. Giving some guidance and walking alongside of them through this process is what I think can help couples stay connected to God as they’re making these… these are really awful decisions to make. So.

[WHITNEY]:
Yeah. You’re totally right. And you hear that all the time, like with the work I do in churches and couples, especially if we have affairs involved, and then one’s not coming to church anymore, and the other one, and it does cause a lot of separation. And then you’ve got kids who don’t know which church should I go to? Will mom be mad if I go to dad’s church? Will dad be mad if I go to mom’s church? And then the kids are in confusion.

[SARA]:
Yep. Yeah. And what that ends up… to me, what that leads to is the kids’ confusion about their relationship with God. And ultimately, as parents, don’t we want our kids to have a confidence, whatever church whatever parent goes to, that their God loves them. And so that confusion does not help children.

[WHITNEY]:
Yeah, I want to go back to what you said that sometimes the church is saying no, don’t get divorced, and how that creates that increased conflict. So I actually am similar in you in the sense that when I was in, I think it was college that I did this, but I also did a research paper on the effects of divorce on children, because my parents divorced when I was early middle school age. And so, I wanted to kind of research what that was like, and the main thing I took away was that the conflict is worse. It’s better on kids if they go ahead and divorce than to stay married for a long time with high levels of conflict and then divorce. That’s actually worse for the kids.

[SARA]:
Yeah. I would agree. I would agree. And then we have kids that are… we have parents that, the church is saying stay together, staying together and they’re in a constant state of anxiety, because they never know when mom and dad are actually going to get along, and when they’re actually going to be on the same team. Listen, I’ve got my relationship with God, I’m the one that’s got to answer to God. Everyone else has to have their own answers. So, I’m at peace with my answers. And I just want to help guide people to find some clarity and confidence in what their answers could be.

[WHITNEY]:
Yeah. So, I would love to hear if you have any tips for people who do have to go to court. I’ve been very fortunate, I’m like knocking on wood, that I have not had to do this yet. And I’ve been in some close calls, but like, I would love some tips on if I, or someone, were to have to go before a judge and talk about custody for kids. What would you recommend as far as some tips for that?

[SARA]:
For therapists, you’re speaking of?

[WHITNEY]:
For a therapist having to go and speak. Yeah.

[SARA]:
Okay. I would first say, have a strong court policy. And my friend, Nicol Stolar-Peterson, who is a therapist and has created a court policy, you can Google her. She has a great court policy. I would say, secondly, you cannot make any recommendations for custody as a therapist, so you can give overviews and feedback but you can’t say, unless you’re a custody evaluator, I think the kids should go live with mom or I think the kids should go live with dad. I would also say, to tell the truth, to be prepared. Nicol recommends that you come in with a timeline. And often when I’ve had to testify, I bring a timeline of the sessions I’ve had, maybe a couple points, a couple words to remind me what those sessions, what we talked about. Whatever I bring up to testify on a piece of paper I have to pass out to everyone, so you need to know that you need to make copies because that has to be… everyone has to be able to access that information. And, you know, then it’s really making sure that you’re clear in your answers. If you don’t understand a question that you say, can you please rephrase the question? And you’re smart in that you don’t give more information than you need to.

But the families that I’ve all gone to testify for I care about deeply. And I’ll say this, after testifying, litigation often throws a big wrench in the therapeutic alliance. So, I try to tell my lawyers that look, if you want me to continue to do counseling with this family, if I go and testify, that may or may… I don’t think that that’s going to help them. So, we try to come up with the best solutions to help the family. Sometimes we can get around that and sometimes we just can’t.

And I’ll say this in terms of families and court: you don’t want to be there. You do not want to be in court. You do not want other people making decisions for your family. I’ve had just a little bit of a glimpse into the family court system, and it’s so chaotic, and it does not serve families well. I think people have good intentions and they’re trying, but often the judges will say, I don’t want to take a scalpel to your family, try to figure this out yourselves. Having your day in court will not give you the satisfaction that you’re looking for. And I don’t think people realize that. You don’t know if the judge has a headache, got good sleep the night before, likes your attorney or not. What you get in court is probably 5% what is shared. So, you’ve got this whole family history that you want to share with the judge and the judge will hear such a small snippet of that, and so you don’t want to be there. I don’t want my families to go to court if they don’t have to. I try to work around that as much as possible.

[WHITNEY]:
Yes, that’s not where we want to be. So, tell me about… you mentioned that you had had a coach at some point in your building your practice. So, can you tell me why you decided to do that, and was that helpful?

[SARA]:
Yes, it’s been incredibly helpful. So, when I was opening my practice in 2016, I realized I don’t know how to run a business and graduate school didn’t teach me how. I was married to an entrepreneur, so that really… I saw the amount of work that goes into starting your own business. So, I started Googling and there wasn’t really much out there, but I did find Kelly and Miranda and I have worked… I’m in the Business Boot Camp with them. And now I’m doing one on one coaching with Kelly. And I often say I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. People have created processes, that are much smarter than me, that know how to run a private practice successfully. And to make money. I mean, I did not think I was going to make money as a counselor. I thought I was like, when I was going to graduate school, you sort of give up, you’re a wounded healer, and you give your soul to people. And then I realized I don’t want to be that way. I want to be profitable. I want to make money and I want to serve people well, but I don’t know how to do that. And Kelly and Miranda do, and so that has been helpful. It’s helped keep me accountable, because I would not do the things often that Kelly’s asking me to do because there’s certain things I’m good at, and there’s certain things I’m not, so it’s been really helpful to have someone keep me accountable.

[WHITNEY]:
Yes. I even found when I had a consultant, it would be like, really? You really want me to do that? I don’t think so. But then I would do it anyway because I mean, this guy knows better than I do. And then I would do it and I’d look back and be like, well, dang, I gotta listen to him every time and not question this anymore, because it always works.

[SARA]:
Yeah, it’s true. And if you want to be profitable, you know, I had a supervisor tell me, look, you just need a chair and a box of Kleenex and a lamp to start a private practice. Well, that is not true. That is so not true. You need a lot more than that. You need to know how to do your books and how to market and how to do social media and how… I mean, there’s so much to do when you run your own practice. And if you want it to be successful and profitable, there’s even more. So, I want to learn from somebody that’s already done it and knows how to do it well.

[WHITNEY]:
Yes. So, a lot of times people will say, oh, I don’t want to put the money into the consulting, is it actually gonna be helpful in the long run? It sounds like you would say that it’s been totally worth the investment that you’ve made; not only with your energy, but the financial part.

[SARA]:
Yeah, I would. I would say that that investment pushes me harder because this is an investment. And I get worried about money too. I’m like, gosh, this is a large chunk I’m putting forth, but because I’m doing that, it pushes me to get stuff done. And also, it’s an investment in myself, because I don’t know what I’m doing. So, I often struggle with insecurity of running a business and sometimes even just being a counselor, like, I don’t know what to say next. And to have someone walk alongside you, to encourage you and to guide you is an investment in myself and this practice, so that I can serve my clients in the best possible way.

[WHITNEY]:
That’s great. I mean, we ask our clients to do this all the time. And I have found even the clients that pay more for their counseling, as I’ve grown my rate over time, those are the ones that are more invested in their therapy. Those are the ones that get the most out of it. And so, yeah, we’re investing our money into a consultant because we know that we’re going to get that payoff when we’re putting ourselves into that, and we’re making more time for it because, put your money where your mouth is, right?

[SARA]:
Absolutely. Absolutely.

[WHITNEY]:
Yeah. Well, I love that you’ve come on the podcast. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, learn more about the work you’re doing, what’s the best way for them to do that?

[SARA]:
They can go to my website, and there’s hello@sparrowcouncil.com, and they can send my assistant an email and then that can get forwarded to me, and we can go from there.

[WHITNEY]:
Great. And Sara, I ask everyone on the podcast, what do you think that Christian counselors need to better understand or to know?

[SARA]:
Hmm. That is a good question. Hmm, well, I’m in the south. So, there are a lot of Christian counselors here, but then there’s also the people that don’t want to be aligned with Christianity whatsoever in terms of counseling. There’s counselors that do not want any part of Christianity. I think my first thing was, be as competent as possible; serve your clients as competently as you possibly can. And also, I just created a Facebook group for counselors in Alabama, because I think we need each other. Be open to talking to people and hearing new and different things. And I’ve been surprised, with this Facebook group, how many people have reached out and therapists – it’s a closed group for therapists and counselors in Alabama – to be a part of, because we all need each other and there’s lots of people we can serve. And so, I guess the competition thing gets… when you’re in private practice, we tend to compete with each other, but to be open that God’s going to guide you to the clients you need. So, I don’t know if that answered your question.

[WHITNEY]:
It’s wonderful. It’s wonderful. You had lots of great information. So, if somebody wanted to join that Facebook group, could they ask for an invite to that or…?

[SARA]:
Yeah, they can. They have to be in Alabama, and they have to be a counselor or therapist or just a mental health professional. There’s a couple questions to answer. And I just want my state to be connected, mental health professionals to be connected. So.

[WHITNEY]:
Yeah, what’s the name of the group?

[SARA]:
Alabama Counselors Connect; A-L, for Alabama, Counselors Connect.

[WHITNEY]:
All right, that’s wonderful. Well, thank you so much for your time today and being on the podcast.

[SARA]:
Yeah. Thank you, Whitney.

[WHITNEY]:
Thank you for listening to the Faith in Practice podcast. If you love this podcast, please rate and review on iTunes or your favorite podcast player. If you liked this episode and want to know more, check out the Practice of the Practice website. Also, there you can learn more about me, options for working together such as individual and group consulting, or just shoot me an e-mail whitney@practiceofthepractice.com. We’d love to hear from you.

This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. This is given with the understanding that neither the host, the Practice of the Practice, or the guests, are providing legal, mental health, or other professional information. If you need a professional, you should find one.

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