It is hard not to be moved by the passion of a therapist who loves her work. And even via a google hangout interview, the energy and enthusiasm that Austin-based therapist Tracy Tanner, MA, LPC, LMFT, has for her work and clients is palpable and infectious. In this Spotlight interview, we dive into the importance of vision, staying connected to your “why”, and *gasp!* having fun doing what you do.
Tell me about the work that you do.
The main area of expertise in my practice is working with gifted & talented (GT) individuals. I started off with a lot of training with children and so I see a lot of children and families, and of course parents, when working with children. So a lot of GT kiddos and teens come to see me, because they have some unique social and emotional needs that I think are not always addressed or understood.
I just love that population and the creativity that I have to use in my sessions. And I like to have fun in my sessions, which is why my kiddos and teens enjoy therapy with me. We don’t always sit on the couch and talk. There’s movement and art and creative expression in sessions.
I also do a lot of work with tween and teen girls and I have a side business with my partner Blake Norton called Girl Talk Therapy. We provide group therapy for tween and teen girls and are expanding into additional family services as a group practice. Blake and I are doing branding and logoing right now so we can make the umbrella even bigger because “girl talk” is a little limiting right now – you know…“girl…talk” (laughs).
How did you decide to work with gifted and talented individuals?
I had an interest in grad school in working with GT individuals, coming from my own background and just being a GT kid. I had always felt a little bit off in the world. My own experience as a GT kid was that sometimes I could perceive things differently about the world and I took in information in different ways. I didn’t really understand that part of myself either, so part of my work with GT kids and teens is helping to get to know their gifted selves. Once I started getting a few of those clients, it just seemed like word got out and I started getting more and more of those referrals.
What do you find is the biggest social emotional difference with gifted and talented individuals?
There’s an issue with potentiality. They have a lot of potential in this world and people tell them that all the time. And they’ve probably experienced an ease at some point, like getting good grades. Then there’s this point in school where it becomes a challenge, not just academically but also socially and if they start to see a slip in their performance. They suddenly start to think like maybe they “lost” their GT-ness or maybe they aren’t as gifted as they thought.
I deal with that issue quite often, helping them to own that part of themselves, and know that that’s not something that you lose. I help them to define who they are as a gifted person.
Tell me a little bit about the part vision plays in your day-to-day activities now.
Beyond the mechanics of running a practice, I’ve found it important to keep a visionary type of thinking in which I don’t just settle for what I have now. It’s ok to have much bigger goals. My vision is being able to provide interns and associates with a placement while they’re getting their hours that can provide them with a steady income, so that they, like, don’t have to beg for food.
When you just come out of grad school, you feel like you’re ready to finally see clients, and make a little bit of money and yet you’re met with so many challenges in that area. You still are forking out a lot of money for supervision and everything else. Our vision supports the idea of having training and opportunity for the up and coming therapists.
Tell me about what it takes to stay connected to your “why.” What keeps you motivated?
So much of my motivation has to do with my own experiences growing up and being a teenager and experiencing therapy. Part of my practice and my style is to really demystify the experience of therapy and eliminating that stigma that we have about mental health.
The teens that I work with really appreciate that. A big part of our experience in therapy is talking about how therapy works, why therapy works and what this is going to do for you and your future. I think that just makes it click so much more for them. And a big part of the “why do I do this” is because I feel like I’m having a much larger impact on the younger generation and hopefully you know their experience in therapy as a kid or teen will help them down the road as an adult. They’ll have an easier time getting back into therapy should that be something they want down the road.
Let’s plant some of those seeds in the younger generation and eliminate some of the stigmas in mental health.
So true! It’s not always about pathology.
Yes, I often times tell the families that sit down on my couch, “Think about it. You’re not the only family to sit down on this couch. I don’t just see one client. I see a whole bunch.”
That’s why group therapy is so powerful for young people or for anybody in general really, because it connects us as humans and I feel like that’s huge. We have to figure out a confidential safe space where you can say what you want. But let’s also be realistic and know that our problems are not so private that no one else has experienced them before.
You can tell after that first session that clients feel a lot more comfortable as they recognize, “oh I’m just here because I’m dealing with the same troubles and worries that everyone else does”.
How have you dealt with self-doubt as you’ve grown your businesses?
It’s easy to think there are not enough clients out there or wonder how we can be a big success when there are so many other places and therapists that offer therapy. But it goes back to the idea that therapy is not just for “troubled” people, that therapy can be for anybody and should be accessible and meaningful for the wider population.
So back to what we were talking about earlier, I find that keeping the core values and core purpose in mind for what we want to grow helps to alleviate the doubt. And we have to practice what we preach with our clients. When you notice that criticism and self-doubt, you have to work on being more self-compassionate.
It can be really tough growing something from the ground up. It is not easy and there are going to be bumps along the way. But just because you have those bumps doesn’t mean that it is a total failure or a loss. We have to grow from those experiences. We have to learn. So I’ve been keeping that as a mantra in my mind and it really encourages me.
What has been the most important factor in building your practice?
For me, it’s been about making face to face connections, whether through workshops or trainings. I feel like it is really meaningful to say “this is my face and this is my personality,” so if you refer, you know that is going to be a good fit because you’ve gotten to know me. Yes, it’s important for us all to have that spiel about “this is how I do therapy and this is my expertise”, but when you network with people, it’s about making genuine connections. It’s not just about the means to the end. I really want to know who you are outside of the therapy room!
I want to have the ideal practice with my ideal clients and I know it’s possible. As a clinician, if you’re met with a lot of, say, feelings of hesitation, or you’re just downright not looking forward to seeing a client week after week, well that’s information and that’s telling you something. I’ve built a practice where I genuinely look forward to seeing my clients because I feel that we are a good match.
Ok, last question! Tell me something unique about you.
I sing! It’s just part of who I am and as my mother tells me, I’ve been singing since I was 2. I’m in the Tapestry singers choir in Austin, which is a huge part of my life. It’s a non-auditioned women’s chorus. I’m also in a smaller ensemble chorus that is auditioned. We have a couple concerts a year and do singing around the community.
And I sing in the room with my clients. I had one client one time that was like “why do you sing all your words”? I just can’t help myself.
You can find Tracy at: