How to be a True Ally: Spotlight on Dr. Traci Lowenthal

The individuals that make up our SimplePractice community come from incredibly diverse backgrounds and experiences. Our Spotlight series is our chance to share their stories with you. Through these interviews, we learn about their specialties, struggles, and the epiphanies that come with experience.

Dr. Traci Lowenthal started her professional life as a legal secretary. After 15 years of watching clients in legal battles and situations of never ending conflict, something clicked for her. Like many individuals in our community, she followed her true calling and pursued her second career as a therapist.

Traci’s commitment to her practice, Creative Insights Counseling, is clear. First, she excels at providing care to the incredibly underserved LGBTQIA populations of Redlands and Claremont. Second, she started the fast-growing Facebook group, LGBQIA and Trans Affirming Therapists, and through that created a tight-knit network of allies who use the space for referrals and sharing resources.

A few members of the SimplePractice team recently visited Traci, and her intern Patty Gonzales, at their office in the heart of downtown Redlands. After a brief stop at Augie’s Coffee House, we sit down to delve into the reasons behind the fast growth of Creative Insights Counseling, and how these two practitioners organize their time to continue working towards a healthy, balanced practice.

Natasha: Traci and Patty, thanks so much for having us. I’d love to hear a little bit about your stories and how you each arrived at providing services to the LGBTQIA population.

Traci: At my very first practicum, one of my first clients was a trans woman of color. I was brand new, so I thought, “I’ll see anybody.” I was so eager at the time. Looking back, I probably had no basis for seeing that client. I had no training whatsoever! I’m thankful because I learned so many wonderful things from that person, clinically and just in general. From that point on, I continued to work with trans clients… It fell into my lap and it has honestly been the best ever.

Patty: When I was younger my family really needed mental health care, but it was basically nonexistent in the area that we lived in. Our only options were providers that spoke English and had no understanding of culture or language which was very disheartening for us.  

Fast forward a few years, I went to school and really, really, fell in love with doing therapy in English and in Spanish. I like to think of myself as a translator. Whether it be a translator for language and culture, or queerness and identity. I really like that role.  

T: Believe it or not, Patty reached out to me on her own. She emailed me and said, “I’d love to know more about what you’re doing. I’d love to connect with you, and potentially work together.” We got together and really connected about the work, and felt like we could work well together. It’s been 2 years and it’s been amazing!

Natasha: How have you dealt with the incredible growth of your practice?

T: I reached a point when I was a solo-practitioner where I definitely felt the need to do something differently. I could only see so many clients, and there’s constantly been a great need specifically within the LGBTQIA community. It’s an incredibly underserved population. Feeling like I couldn’t do enough was not a good place to be, but I didn’t have a good grasp on how to expand my services. When Patty reached out, it was a wonderful opportunity to supervise her and her work with the same community.

In the last year, we’ve developed workshops and trainings, so now we go out and offer trainings to other therapists. The year before last, I did a couple of them for free, and then last year my goal was to start charging for them. I think we may have done, gosh, I don’t even know. 10 to 12 workshops last year.

I feel like my biggest challenge regarding growing our business is being able to handle all the administrative stuff. I have to think really hard about how to strike a balance between seeing clients and marketing the practice amongst other things. I’m at that point where I really have to stop seeing as many clients as I’m seeing! I have 12 this week but really need to stick to 6… that way I’d have a couple of days in the week to focus on growth.

P: It’s a constant game of checks and balances. The business right now is Traci and myself. There’s a limit to the amount of stuff we can do. We’re constantly assessing the possibilities and then thinking about what is the next best move and how to be more strategic with our time. We’re trying to figure out how we can balance this big, giant dream of being able to help everybody with gender and sexuality and with their experiences of being folks of color with saying “well, why don’t I take a week off and take care of myself because I’m of no help if I’m a mess.”

I don’t know that Traci takes enough credit. She’s constantly looking at how to improve our system, including automated forms, making sure our website is in tip top shape. Traci has really done so many things to improve the kind of work that we’re doing.

We’re definitely dealing with growing pains right now. Luckily SimplePractice is helping us streamline as we get bigger.

Natasha: Ah! We’re always so happy to hear that. Patty, I understand you’re very close to gaining licensure. How does it feel?

P: I’m taking the licensing exam really soon! The clinical exam is a beast. It’s four hours and it’s basically the bar exam for therapists. I’ll hopefully be licensed by the end of summer, knock on wood.

It’s super exciting since it’s been such a long road. The requirement is that you put in hundreds of hours of study, in addition to working out and trying to feed your dog and trying to be married and trying to… be a regular person. I don’t know that anybody talks about just how intense the state systems are for the licensing of therapists. If you’re a licensed therapist that means that you had to endure six years of hard work to gain that license.

N: How do you stay motivated?

P: Having a good supervisor definitely helps… thanks Traci! I think being able to see the end in sight. Seeing that the tunnel is getting shorter. That helps. And just knowing that I’m doing the best at what I want to be doing is also key.

I started this journey in 2011 and made it through my Master’s exams, and now I’m almost done with my hours! I’m super close to gaining licensure and becoming a real human being and let’s just say that I’m going to throw a huge party.

N: So exciting! Congrats on all that you’ve accomplished so far. Traci, you said that providing care to this population fell in your lap, but how did you get to the point where you felt 100% comfortable helping the LGBTQIA community?

T: I still don’t feel 100% comfortable. I think the moment I decide, “Oh, yeah, I’ve got this” I should probably stop doing it, because this population, like many populations, is such an evolution, and there’s so much fluidity. There’s so much growth and change in just even things like terminology and I feel like I’m constantly learning. I do feel like if a trans person calls me, that I am competent and skilled in seeing them. I think it’s a combination of doing this for over a decade, working with the population, and then as the last few years have gone by, staying up to date by attending trainings and workshops.

N: What does the LGBTQIA behavioral health community look like?

T: There are so many therapists out there that are doing the same work. There are folks at places like the LA Gender Center that I connect with. There’s an organization called WPATH, which is the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. They just had their inaugural US conference here last weekend in Los Angeles which I was given the opportunity to present at. It was an amazing experience! It was definitely a career highlight. Honestly, I would say that the network of folks that I connect with has predominantly been achieved through social media.

N: That’s interesting. How so?

T: I actually started a Facebook group a couple years ago for therapists doing this work.  It grew to about 1,500, and then I realized I needed to make some adjustments, especially to my vetting process. I had to remove a lot of folks who weren’t mental health providers. A good portion of the group are located in Southern California which is really cool since I’ve been able to attend trainings with some of them. I’ve been able to connect with the members of the group that are located outside of SoCal on the phone and through their websites and blogs and things like that.

It’s a very small community of people that do this work, and that’s a big part of the goal of this Facebook group: to expand it and share resources with folks who might not otherwise have access.

The really cool part is that it has allowed me to create a map. If I’m trying to help a member looking for a therapist for a 14 year old trans kid in Kentucky, I can look at my map and say, “Well, I don’t know anybody in that town, but there’s somebody over here who might.” My group is a great place for referrals since there are so many people from different parts of the U.S.!

N: Have you had to be more mindful about the way that you practice therapy because of the recent political climate?

T: Yes. Definitely. Four years ago, I didn’t have to ask clients if they were affected by politics. Even now, months later, it’s just like, “How are you feeling about what’s going on in the political world?” I’m helping a lot of clients figure out how to take in information in a way that is not overwhelming and more anxiety provoking than it needs to be.

N: What kind of advice do you give your patients, then, in terms of the news that they’re taking in and how to deal with it?

T: This is advice I have to follow myself, too. I suggest that people take a few minutes maybe in the morning or at lunch, spend around 20 minutes, surf around, get the headlines, figure out what’s going on. Then that’s it. No consumption of news within a couple hours of bedtime. NPR is okay in the car, I think. It’s important to really limit the amount that you’re consuming, and then find healthy ways to have conversations about it.

Also, limit Facebook! There’s so much political stuff on Facebook, a constant stream. Unfollow (don’t unfriend, unless you really want to) the people who are constantly posting things that are upsetting. You don’t need to be bombarded with their stuff all the time if you don’t want to be. Try to practice self-care around things that are triggering or aggravating.

N: What three things do you wish you knew when you were first starting out?

T: Three things, I wish I knew… This is going to sound really snobby, but I did really well when I first started out. I connected with people and I found a space and I built in a referral process. I did all that from the start.

Beyond that, this is the advice I’d give to people just starting out: make sure you know how to bill and make the decision early on as to whether or not you’ll take insurance. Make sure you know how to hire people, this will come in handy as you grow your practice.

N: Confidence is key! Patty, what are your three pieces of advice?

P: Take care of yourself! Self care. Self care. Self care. Self care always comes first. You’re of no help to your clients if you’re dead in the chair. Know what I mean? Second, find your passion and focus on just that. So find a specialization. Find a population. Find whatever it is that is gonna be the reason that you get up in the morning when you don’t want to. And third, try to find the balance between being a therapist and being a person. Let the experiences in your life inform you and take care of you. Let that be part of the reason that you’re good at your job. I always tell people this kind of work is a calling. It’s not for everybody. It’s definitely a difficult job but it’s amazing.

Traci uses SimplePractice to help streamline her practice so that she can spend more time with her clients, building out her Facebook group, and growing Creative Insights Counseling.

We would love to help you spend more time on the things that matter. If you’re interested in building a stronger practice and joining the SimplePractice community, just use Traci’s referral link to get started with a 30 day free trial.

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