Being Seen Gives Us Life: My Journey Away from and Back to Private Practice

Written by Rima Jomaa, LMFT

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Therapy is a blend of art and science. It holds limitless combinations and effective approaches. As long as therapists work within the legal and ethical guides of their state board, there are many opportunities from freedom and creativity. This allows us to apply our own special touch to the work.

I have an entrepreneurial spirit. I have always loved this about being a psychotherapist. This has in countless settings with a myriad of populations, allowed me to connect with each one in new ways.

As freeing as this path can be, it has the potential to freeze people in their tracks. Unsure of being a solo business owner, many clinicians might opt for the safety net that a group practice. Or, a counseling center. Doing the work and leaving the business details to someone else has its appeal. Private practice isn’t for everyone.

For those drawn to the opportunities private practice provides, we learn that it is not easy. It’s filled with twists and turns that mirror the journey of any business owner.

Getting involved as a private practice therapist

As an intern, I found networking with other therapists was an integral. It led to private practice success (and I do not mean financial success). Networking has created a depth of experiences for me. From the beginning of my career, it has helped me shine a light on the direction that I want to go in. Networking has created experiences that changed my life. Here are a few of the ways that connecting with other clinicians in intentional ways had an impact on me:

  • I hosted happy hour events for interns. This led to me going on a free trip to Costa Rica.
  • I joined a group therapy for interns run by the president of the local networking committee in LA. In those weekly sessions, I worked out some of my deepest cultural wounds. I held and supported by other therapists doing their work.
  • I presented on social media topics for therapists. This turned into my first business, with the help of one of the board members. This board member became my business coach and mentor. I flew her out on an all-expenses paid trip to Costa Rica a few years ago. Because of how much she influenced me and how much grace she showed me.
  • I passed my information to a woman who called me one day out of the blue for social media services. This opportunity turned into a 2-year mentorship with one of the most fascinating women I’ve ever met. My years with her deserve a piece all on their own. The few sentences I tried to describe her with didn’t do poetic justice so I won’t even try. Let me say she changed the course of my life. Are you seeing a theme?

An alternative path

After that fateful first trip to Costa Rica, my heart kept leading me back to the country of Pura Vida. There was no stopping me from moving abroad full-time. It was not easy to navigate how to continue doing what I love while living abroad. I left the profession for a couple of years to manage a hotel. This was not for me. I missed my passion, being of service, and the connections I made with colleagues and clients.

Once I left Los Angeles, I felt completely disconnected from my therapist community. I was not a part of it anymore and I was feeling the loss.

In many ways I didn’t even feel like a psychotherapist anymore. In my new town, no one knew me as such. The town knew me as the new manager of that hotel. People perceived me in a much different way than people who know me as a therapist. I did not like my time as a manager. Tourism was not fulfilling. The one positive was learning about running a business. It was enough to last me many lifetimes. Yet, I yearned to practice therapy again. The legality of it all was very challenging.

This was pre-COVID, when teletherapy was taboo. The laws were changing. This began to create the possibility of a 100% virtual practice. Yet, the majority of clinicians would regard teletherapy as a last resort option. They would turn their noses up at the idea of having a teletherapy practice. It did not represent a high standard of care on a consistent basis in the eyes of many.

Recapturing my passion

To put it lightly, I wasn’t sure what to do. Having heart-to-heart with my brother while on a trip to Lebanon influenced me deeply. It helped me realize that there was a deep void in my life. Reflecting on my past experiences with therapy, I had gone through so many years practicing what I loved. I had worked so hard to get licensed, only to have to leave it all behind because I didn’t want to live in America anymore.

That was the summer of 2018. This is the point where I decided I was not going to let traditions hold me back. Instead I would innovate and create a way to provide high quality care in a virtual setting. It was incredibly exciting to find that working online as a therapist actually had many advantages. There were so many things I had never considered before. Despite the unavoidable challenges it does provide. I came to realize that I did not have to compromise anything to deliver therapy online. I realized that I could instead adapt to find ways for it to be an even more enriching experience.

I’m so grateful that I followed my heart and listened to my intuition. I made the leap back onto the therapeutic path and I have built my practice up from scratch once again. The one thing that was missing up until a few months ago was the networking piece. Where I live, no one knows what it means to be a psychotherapist. I’m surrounded by foreigners who are from places that don’t encourage an open dialogue. Especially, around therapy in the way California does. There is mystery around my work. People often compare it to the work of other healers. If I hear one more person tell me, “My sessions as a meditation teacher and life coach turn into therapy anyways,” I will lose it. I often feel like there isn’t a capacity for others to understand and validate the depth of my work on a daily basis.

Finding Community

As we know as therapists, solitary confinement is one of the worst forms of punishment. It is when one ceases to be “seen” by others. The lack of validation and acknowledged by others can cause one to lose their sense of self identity. Human interaction is important to keeping our sense of who we are solid and consistent. People are mirrors to us and we exist in their reflections.

I found Heard and took a deeper dive into what they were creating and providing, I immediately wanted to be a part of it. I knew it was the missing piece I needed to get back into a community of like-minded professionals. Building community creates an opportunity to support others and to feel supported. After a little over a month of active participation with the community, it has already been such an enriching experience.

This is a much needed solution. It has been amazing to see the intersection of passionate therapists and innovators. It provides a different experience from the platforms I was a part of before. There are new potentials for providers. While I was hesitant to add more to my calendar, I have found energy through the connections I have made. The support I receive and the feeling of sharing experiences by others who are on this journey with me is deeply rewarding.

Rima Daniella Jomaa is a psychotherapist, activist, vegan and expat based in Costa Rica. She uses a holistic approach to connect with clients and guide them on the path of living an authentic life.

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