Private Practice Prep

There’s a lot that goes into opening a small business as a therapist, but not nearly as much as I thought. With the exception of those few moments where I’m just completely nervous about the future and this crazy endeavor I’ve gotten myself into, it’s actually been kind of fun.

You know what’s totally weird though? Promoting yourself. If there’s one lesson I’ve had people wag their finger at me for and say, “Don’t fail to do that!” it’s been about marketing my strengths, skills, and abilities. I mean, I know I’m a great therapist and I will get the job done, but other people don’t know that. You can’t really measure if I’m the best, you just have to experience it for yourself. A lot of people have a problem with that idea because it means potentially paying for services only to be disappointed by what they paid for, plus feeling even more upset because they really needed help, took a chance, and ended up feeling likely a lot worse.

So, I’ve been placed in this interesting position where I have to step outside of myself and say, “What are my strengths? What will clients see in me that they won’t get from other therapists?” and then tell the whole world about it. So, do you want to see what I’ve been up to?

The Jen Bingaman Private Practice site

Man, Jesse definitely has a fan club and I am its president and CEO. I seriously can’t imagine my life without him as my partner, much less imagine how stupidly difficult and expensive it would be to start this business without his techspertise (I just made that word up… I like it!). I might have to give him my first born child or something…

Anyway, we still have some small tweaks here and there (pictures, glitz, header), but the site is live and all the copy is there. For those of you who are curious, have the time, the interest, or the expertise, please go to the site and poke around. Let me know if you have any suggestions based on your experience or if you see any glaring spelling or grammatical errors. I’ve looked over it so many times, my eyes are turning to mush.

If you’re feeling really wonderful and generous, especially if you live in Seattle, will you share the site with your friends and family, especially on social media? It goes a long, long way.

Jen Bingaman on Psychology Today

So for those of you who don’t know, Psychology Today is pretty much the go-to resource for people looking for therapy services. They are practically a monopoly, but they also have a pretty decent set-up for showcasing therapists and providing people with a good selection of practitioners in their area. I worked long and hard (and may continue to do so) to get my profile as accurate and authentic as possible since I know a large majority of my web referrals will come from Psychology Today.

Jen Bingaman at Seattle Direct Counseling

I’m really excited about this one. I’m a member of a group practice! I working with two other wonderful therapists, each of us with our own style and skills. I’ll be working from a downtown office one day of the week, providing eTherapy other days. If any of you out there have been interested in eTherapy in the past, the time is nigh! If you don’t live in Washington, there can be some tricky rules about state-to-state internet counseling, so look up the laws for your state before you contact me and share what you find. Man, I am so excited about all of this. It’s going to be such a fun adventure.

I’ve done tons of other less exciting things like get liability insurance, open a business checking account (OK, so that was fun until I had to put money in it… and then spend it), get a business license, and pay lots of stupid fees for all of it. Oh well, you have to spend money to make money, right?

Speaking of spending money… I’m going to need an amazing accountant. Does anyone have any recommendations here is Seattle? There’s a reason why I never majored in Finance.

Tomorrow is Friday. So many good things… including puppies!

Share Your Story: Ashley

I knew I had an eating disorder before anyone else did. I started obsessing over my weight from the time I was about seven or eight. I would mark on my calendar the days I was allowed to eat junk food and the days I wasn’t. By nine, I was binge eating and hiding food from my parents. I exercised in my room to the tune of Disney tapes in hopes I would become thinner. I’d learned about anorexia and bulimia in school for years, but no one ever talked about people like me. The only outward sign that there was a problem was the weight gain that never seemed to stop. Since I ate normally in front of other people and binged in private, the cause was a mystery. Today my dad will say to me, “I had no idea that was going on.” My response is always, “That’s because I never wanted anyone to know.”

While I spent years in and out of therapy for clinical depression, my weight and my relationship with food were issues I never wanted to discuss. I couldn’t even talk about my body without weeping uncontrollably. I had countless therapists, and no one ever even touched the surface of my relationship with food. What broke through that concrete wall I had built so carefully in my mind was a simple class assignment: give up something that you really like for six weeks, write about the experience, and participate in “support groups” with peers who gave up similar items.

I decided to give up meat. Not only would it be a challenge, I was secretly hoping that this assignment would combine my two greatest obsessions: losing weight, and perfect grades. I had been dieting almost my entire life to control my weight, and I saw this assignment as just another opportunity to diet. Plus, I could get an “A” at the same time! I fantasized that at the end of the six weeks, I would be able to proudly say that not only had I stuck to my commitment to give up meat, I’d lost ten pounds (no, FIFTEEN!) in the process and felt lighter and better than ever. Clearly, I’d totally missed the point the professor was trying to make. I was too busy imagining my slimmer figure.  The assignment started out as a challenge but quickly grew to resemble my own personal hell. Journaling about the process was like holding up a mirror to my eating disorder. I finally saw it in all of its sick, twisted glory. I saw how much I hated my body and my relationship with food. How I never felt good, pretty, worthy enough. I never felt enough. I’d spent my whole life trying to be perfect, and my body would not cooperate by molding itself into a size 2. Therefore, my mind told me I was worthless.

Clearly, I needed help. I was depressed and miserable, all for a class assignment (or so I thought). I found an eating disorders specialist in town and made an appointment. I didn’t pick her because I thought I had an eating disorder, but because I thought if she could deal with people who had serious problems, surely she could deal with my “food issues”. The joke was on me, because she knew from day one I had Binge Eating Disorder. From the first few sessions, it was clear I had a decision to make: I could keep going on diets that didn’t work, or I could try something I had never tried before.

Recovery was a revolutionary concept to me.  I kept seeing my therapists and added a dietician who specialized in ED to my treatment team. I quit dieting (frightening) and got rid of my scale. I started using a food journal to write down what I ate, my hunger and satiety levels, and my own emotions during each meal. I’ll admit, I hate food journals. Asking to see my food journal is like asking me to take my clothes off. I won’t do it for just anyone, and if I’m doing it for you, you’d better feel damn special. It requires me to be vulnerable and talk about something that has always been so private to me. But I see how necessary it is, because it helps my dietician talk to me about the connection between my emotions and food, between types of food and feeling full or hungry. I’d spent years disconnected from my body, and these techniques helped me come home to my physical being.

It wasn’t long before the bingeing stopped. Yes, it still happens occasionally, but it’s rare and I have insight into why it occurs. I avoid triggers as much as possible and set myself up to succeed. I’ve learned to put my recovery first, and to start prioritizing myself. I have come along way in almost two years, and I have never felt better. If you’d told me there would come a day where I would only think about food when I was hungry, or when I could eat whatever food I liked as part of my lifestyle, I would have laughed in your face. I never imagined that a life existed where food could not hold me prisoner.

My recovery is the best and most difficult decision I have ever made for myself. I am so proud of everything I’ve accomplished, and I can’t wait to see what is yet to come. I struggle a lot with my relationship with food, but I am finding peace that balances out the days when ED overwhelms me. I am finding the positive voice in my head that is becoming powerful enough to talk back to the voice of my eating disorder. I rejoice in every tiny speck of progress, even when it might be invisible to everyone else. I have confidence that I will recover someday, and until then, I am happy to be on the road that leads to a life free from Binge Eating Disorder.

Big thanks to Ashley for putting a voice behind this issue and sharing your story with us. To read more of Ashley’s journey, visit her blog called A Recipe for Sanity.

Share Your Story is a series intended to remove the stigma associated with mental health topics and allow courageous souls to share their inspiring journeys to mental wellness and connect with anyone who is reading. To read more about this series, visit the original post here. To share your own story, e-mail Jen at jen [at] thepursuitofsassiness [dot] com. No topic is off limits.

Share Your Story: Sarah

Sarah’s story was the first of the Share Your Story requests I received and it rocked me. It’s so powerful, it kind of takes the wind right out of you. What’s even more amazing is the grace in which Sarah owns her past, her vulnerability, and the person she has become through her ups and downs. I won’t say anymore because Sarah will say it better.

My personal story is quite a whirl-wind of events.

My parents divorced when I was about 2 years old, and I never knew my dad growing up. All I knew was what my mom told me, and she never told me “bad” things, most everything was good, but I never really asked too many questions because I did not understand the concept of a dad. I think it goes along with the whole thing of ‘you can’t miss what you never had’. They divorced because my dad was an alcoholic who was emotionally (never physically) abusive to my mom.

My grandparents partially raised me since my mom was a school teacher and a single mom. I give my mom so much credit because she managed to let me do everything from dance and gymnastics, to acting, to many vacations to visit family. When my grandparents died in 2002, I was about to start high school and it was like my world came crashing down on me. They died within 6 months of each other, and my mom who had battled depression since the divorce from my dad probably did not handle it well. I do not remember exactly how she handled it, but I do remember how I felt. When my Grandma died in February, I remember being in the room after she had passed and not even crying because I knew I had to hold it together for my grandpa and mom. I remember the nurse telling me how “strong” I was being, and how she was telling me, at 13 years old, the next steps of how to get the body to the funeral home and what to do. Inside I was broken, my nanny and I were one in the same and she had just been taken from me. But I knew I had to hold that inside. We ended up moving in with my grandpa to help take care of him but he died in July, a day after my birthday – to this day I am pretty sure he died of a broken heart.

In high school I began drinking around 14 years old. The first time I got drunk, I blacked out, threw up, and to make matters worse – I was at school. I got suspended for 5 days, but it did not stop me from my partying ways. My mom never really punished me for it either, I think that I was just too much to handle and she did not know what to do with me. After all, it was just her and I all my life and now my Grandparents were not there and so she really was just as lost as I was, I think. I ended up switching schools to try to get back on track, but it didn’t really work. I continued to party and drink, but in my mind everyone was doing it. I had no self-respect, was dating the wrong people, almost got pregnant at 16, and throughout it all my mom thought I was doing just fine. I think because my grades weren’t suffering she was not worried. I was almost raped (got away somehow), but that did not stop me.

By my senior year of high school I was out of control. I also stopped eating. So, if you’re keeping track I am now drinking and not eating…great combo right? I am not really sure why I stopped eating. I was working at a clothing store that put a lot of value on body image, so I wanted to fit in. I was going to clubs and bars and drinking 4 or 5 nights a week. I was rarely home, and if I was it was just to sleep before another night of partying. Again, I do not know what my mom thought I was doing. At this point I was noticing a change in my body, I knew I wasn’t eating, but Mary Kate Olsen was not eating either and it seemed like she was getting attention for it.

All I wanted was the attention from my mom. I wanted her to notice that I was in need of her, I wanted her to take care of me for a change rather than me taking care of her. She always said that we were roommates, for as long as I can remember she referred to us as that. It was funny at first, but then I think she really believed it. I remember being 8 years old and waking her up for school, I would make breakfast, and ever since I got my license I have driven every time we are in the car together. I was 5’7 and had gone from about 140 lbs to 91 pounds in about 4 months. My mom finally took me to a doctor for my weight loss.

They thought I had a thyroid problem, and I let them think that. Eventually, the doctors caught up and advised I start treatment for an eating disorder. I wanted to go away for treatment, I wanted to escape, but that wasn’t an option. They signed me up for a nutritionist, which to me was a joke. I also started seeing a therapist. I tried going to 3 different therapists when my grandparents died, but neither of them were the right fit for me — so I did not have high hopes about finding a therapist again. A little foreshadowing, but I would prove myself wrong on this point about therapy. I loved seeing my therapist, but I certainly was not an easy client. I did not talk sometimes, other times I would tell her anything she wanted to hear. I had started dating a new guy, but of course with a life like I was leading, we were rocky and when he broke up with me, I tried to kill myself and ended up in the hospital for 3 days. Now, I had recovered from my eating issue, I had gained back weight, but emotionally I was still fragile. I think that boyfriend and I probably got back together, a time or two, but I kept seeing my therapist. I started noticing changes.

The summer between high school and college I really began partying, but emotionally I seemed to be doing so much better. I had learned so much from my therapist. I realized that I had always been afraid to make my mom upset, and she made me realize that it is okay to say ‘no’ to someone, or it is okay if someone is upset with me. It is part of life. I credit my life to this therapist. If it was not for her, I think I would be a very troubled person right now, or dead. During my first semester of college she told me she thought I could stop seeing her, but that was not what I wanted. I liked going to her every week. I liked that she listened and helped me. But, she made me realize I have the tools to do this on my own, and if I need someone she will always be there. I became okay with the idea of stopping counseling every week.

Within about a week or 2 of discussing the fact that I was going to stop seeing her, I got news that would forever change my life. My dad, who I had never met, never talked to, always tried to find him on Google, had died. Worse than that, he had been homeless for about the past 10 years, he drank himself to death, he was only about an hour and a half away from where I lived, and I would never get to meet him. I always wondered what he was doing, if he remembered me, if he had a new family, what his job was – I never thought he would be homeless. The people who he was around said that he did love me and that he knew one day I would find him. It was comforting to know that he did not forget about me. But one thing that stuck out in my mind – he died from alcohol. The path I was on was ruining my life. I needed a change.

As you can guess, I continued to see my counselor for a few more months, but this was where I really got my act together. I decided I wanted to be a counselor and work with people who have substance abuse problems. My dad felt ashamed of who he was; everyone was shocked that a homeless man had a family who loved him and cared about him. I wanted to change that stigma.

I stopped drinking, my body was healthy again, and I was thriving in school. I ended up graduating with my BA in psychology, but thought I wanted to go into forensic psychology. Doctoral programs in Psych are so competitive, I wanted to get a master’s in criminology first and maybe just join the FBI or CIA. I began my M.A. program immediately after my undergrad and quickly realized my heart was in psychology. I finished my M.A.. in criminology and I am currently in a master’s program for Psych with plans to get a Ph.D. in Clinical Psych when I finish here. My mentor for my Crim M.A. changed my life, introduced me to so many opportunities and now I do research studying alcohol. I do not want to practice full time anymore – I want to teach at a university, mentor students, and be able to practice on the side. I do not believe that my dad is the reason I am doing alcohol research, but I do think it guided me to where I am at.

Overall, I had lots of bumps in the road. Well actually, just one really LONGGGGG bump, but I came out of it alive and successful. My relationship with my mom is better than ever now. I do not dwell on my past. What I went through may be a lot to some people, but to others it may be nothing. I feel that we are each faced with different obstacles, and we each can handle different things in life. What may be a big deal to one person may be a minor hiccup for another — who am I to judge another persons’ struggle? The stereotype around homeless people drives me nuts. No one looks at me and thinks, “Oh, her dad was homeless, so I hear all of their stories”. I understand that they are just naive to the situation, and I just listen. I sometimes tell them that part of my life and they often are in disbelief, but that is why I am all for the Affordable Health Care Act. My dad had lots of medical problems, he was hit by cars several times, but never could get adequate treatment because he obviously could not afford insurance.

I hope that people realize it is possible to come out of the hole they may feel like they are so deep in. Find one thing that motivates you, and use it daily to succeed.

Thank you for your story, Sarah. If anyone out there would like to share their stories, please contact me at jen [at] thepursuitofsassiness [dot] com.