Going from Creative to Therapist with Tiffany Butler

If you often feel like a therapist to your clients, you’re not alone.

In the latest episode of the MarketingMentorPodcast.com, I talked with Tiffany Butler, who spent 20+ years as a designer, copywriter and project manager, but often played the role of therapist for her clients too.

Then she went back to school to become the real thing.

In our conversation, Tiffany shares her journey and what she’s learned along the way. She took it slowly and then used her marketing background and skills to build what is now a year-old counseling practice near Portland Oregon -- and she is loving it!

This episode will be especially relevant to you if you’ve been wondering what’s next for you and/or if you sometimes feel like a therapist to your clients.

So listen here (or below) and learn….

 

Here's a screen shot of an "interim" LinkedIn profile Tiffany had (and which I loved) in which she describes "the marriage of two careers." It's brilliant!

 

Want more? 

If you like what you hear, we’d love it if you write a review, subscribe on Apple Podcasts and sign up for Quick Tips from Marketing Mentor.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

And here's the transcript, for those who prefer to read: 

ilise benun
I love evolution, the way things and people change and grow through their lives and especially in their careers over time. That's why I was so eager to reconnect with Tiffany Butler, a former designer, and content creator who has become a therapist. Her journey and what she's learned along the way will be especially relevant to you if you've been wondering what's next for you and also, if you sometimes feel like a therapist to your clients.

ilise benun
Tiffany took it slowly, and then used her marketing background and skills to build what is now a one year old, counseling practice near Portland, Oregon. So listen and learn.

ilise benun
Hello Tiffany Welcome back to the podcast. It's been a while since we talked and I really can't even remember what we talked about on the previous podcast episodes that we did. But we're talking today because you are someone with whom I worked, I would say, for a long time growing your business. And you'll say momentarily what that was. But at a certain point, you decided to make a transition, and you have. So, I want you to tell us where you are in that transition, and how it's going.

ilise benun
But because of that, you have two elevator pitches, two ways to introduce yourself and actually, before I let you do that...one of the things I love is your LinkedIn profile, where I think you weave together the two things that you still do. It's an evolution and that's kind of the point I'm hoping will come out of this -- how changes evolve. But I feel like the common denominator between the two things that you do is so interesting. So with that, said Tiffany. Please introduce yourself.

Tiffany Butler
Okay. So, I'm Tiffany Butler, I started my first business being a creative in 2002. So, almost 20 years ago, and that business was all around graphic design and writing. That evolved into website design and content strategy and branding, so it was kind of a continual evolution. I was working primarily with small and mid sized companies and then the occasional Fortune 500 company. And so quite a range, and where I seem to serve the best purpose was filling in where projects were not getting done. Moving to the front burner inside an organization -- the human resources weren't necessarily there to address those needs, so I was filling in where things weren't getting done, either because of a missing skill or just missing people hours to do that (or brains). Exactly right, right, that's the whole brain creative story.

ilise benun
Let me just say one thing about that which I find really interesting, because within what you just said -- you started with design, then you added websites, and content strategy and even content writing -- then a little bit of project management. So you have a lot of skills that complement each other but that's very unusual, right?

Unknown Speaker
I think so -- that's what I'm told. So, a need kept coming up and I was like, "Well, I think I can do that." I would just jump in and do it. It did build quite a range of skills.

ilise benun
And it was going well and you were making, from what I remember, a lot of money right.

Unknown Speaker
It was very, well, I mean, when I first started my goal was just to replace the income that I had as a marketing person in a pretty well known manufacturing company. The first year I was able to do that and then it just kept growing and growing and growing. So, yeah, it paid my bills for 20 years and then some. So it was, it was going well. Very much so.

ilise benun
Then what happened?

Tiffany Butler
Well, let's see, we're in 2021 now. So probably eight or nine years ago I started looking forward in my life and realizing I did not anticipate, nor did I want, a traditional retirement scenario where I would be just checked out of work, and playing all the time or doing, you know, doing whatever I wanted to do all the time. And so in thinking about that I thought, if I have, you know, a relatively healthy life, and I have the mental capacity to work into my 70s, maybe, or beyond. I was questioning my interest and ability to be relevant in marketing environments.

Tiffany Butler
I was seeing people all around me leaving the industry, maybe in their 50s or certainly getting close to 60, and I was just starting to hear more and more stories of ageism. I was in my early 40s at the time so I wasn't seeing it yet, but I had a concern about it.

Tiffany Butler
And the other piece of it was I was seeing marketing becoming so much about data and analytics, and those were things that really did not interest me. It was more the creative side which, in my mind, I separate out to the art that's involved, the writing, what I call the creative aspects. I know there's creativity on the data side as well, but it just wasn't singing to me the same way that the work in the past had.

Tiffany Butler
So I started thinking about what I would do. What would I do instead of this, because this is what I know. Also, I had a big life change in 2014 that landed me in a counseling office for about a year on a weekly basis. The experience I had was so transformative, beyond getting me through that, the curveball experience I call it, beyond getting me through that -- it helped me recognize a whole lot of other things in my life that I wanted to be different -- or that could be different.

Tiffany Butler
And the idea came to me that, well, maybe I can be a therapist and help other people go through a similar process, if that's what they were wanting to do to make life changes. So I started floating that conversation with some of my close friends and confidants. There were a few who thought it seemed like a big diversion, a big change. I didn't see it quite that way.

I saw a lot of parallels between the marketing work that I was doing, and the therapy work that I would be doing after going back to school and going through a five year process to get all of the education and training that I needed to be able to start that.

ilise benun
Talk a little bit about those parallels. That's the common denominator that I was referring to before and I think it's really interesting, because often -- I feel this way myself -- there are parallels, there are common denominators. Everything I do is connected, even if, from the outside, you can't see it. So what are the parallels for you?

Tiffany Butler
The big one to me is helping people solve problems. in the marketing role that I had for those 20 years plus, you're talking with people who have run into problems they can't solve for themselves. They might be stuck for a variety of reasons, and your job as the marketing person is to come in and ask the right questions -- sometimes there's a story behind the story.

So I always looked at my role as being able to go in and get underneath the surface and find out what's really going on. Sometimes people are asking for solutions to a problem which may not be the real problem. So you have to be a little bit of an investigator in a marketing role.

And in a therapist role. It's not completely different. People will come in saying, "These are my problems, and this is what I want to be different." And oftentimes, when you get in and you start hearing their story, you discover that, oh, there are actually other things are going on and that's where we need to focus some of our attention.

So, again, you're a little bit of an investigator, you're building trust and getting to the real the story behind the story to help people make a change that, in both cases, people are wanting a different outcome. So we have to figure out what the different input needs to be,

ilise benun
All of what you just said makes perfect sense. But I also feel like there's a "blunter" (if that's a word) way of saying it, which is this: Didn't you, as a designer/writer/marketer, sometimes feel like you were your client's therapist?

Tiffany Butler
Absolutely. One of my colleagues actually said that and I started running with it. It did feel that way because when you get on the inside of a company, even a small one, there are politics going on. There are people who have ownership of things that maybe they shouldn't. And with all these things going on under the surface, you do hear a lot of their story, how they're experiencing that, how it makes life at work difficult for them, how it's preventing them from reaching their goal, or the goal that they're charged with. So, you do hear a lot of that and I mean that's part of the rapport and trust building experience in either case,

ilise benun
indeed, and one thing I'm thinking as I'm listening to you is that, I'm sure, I actually know, that you're very good at what you do, whether it's design or writing or marketing or project management. But let's hypothesize and let's say you weren't very good at those things, but you were an excellent listener. And you made your clients feel heard, and you were reliable and you did what you said you were going to do. Don't you think that's what people really want anyway?

Tiffany Butler
Absolutely, and I would tell you that in the therapy world, I cannot remember exactly the percentage, but I want to say it's around 70% of the success in a therapeutic relationship is about the therapeutic relationship. Did the client feel heard? Did they feel seen? Did they feel like their experience was validated? More than your technical skill, all the interventions you know how to use -- relationship trumps everything else in the therapy world.

ilise benun
I think that can be said that in the marketing world too, the trust piece and the relationship is everything. I just want to underscore it because there are so many people starting out new, whether as a copywriter or a designer, or adding a new skill, and they're feeling very insecure and self conscious -- sometimes they even suffer from imposter syndrome about this new thing that they're offering to the market. So I try to make the point that, yes, you have to be good at what you do, but it's not the most important thing. That it's the relationship and how you do the work, as opposed to the work product itself that you deliver, that is the most important. And it sounds like you agree with me.

Tiffany Butler
Absolutely, it's people feeling like you're someone that can be relied upon. Do you understand the problem that they're trying to tell you about? And do you get them? That's so much of it. And then, do you do what you say you're going to do? I mean, in some ways, it's not that hard.

ilise benun
Now, you referenced ageism, which I think is really interesting, and I imagine that some of the people listening have either thought consciously about ageism in their career or even experienced it, especially in marketing where a lot of the "youngins" come in and they know all the technology. As you said, you weren't all that interested in the data piece. A lot of people I hear from feel that way.

I'm also imagining that, as they're listening to this conversation, they're thinking, "Oh, maybe I could be a therapist, right? Why not? So, the question I want to ask you is: now that you are a couple years in, can you tell a little bit more of that story, especially about the fact that you graduated in the middle of the pandemic and you had to start your practice in the middle of a pandemic, which maybe was a gift.

Tell us more of that story, and the bigger question is: is it what you imagined? Is it what you wanted and the reality -- I'm throwing a lot of questions at you -- what is the reality? What's the reality of what it really is like?

Tiffany Butler
So, I wouldn't say -- now that I'm kind of on the other side -- that it's not a lot unlike what I anticipated it would be. And you know, in some ways it can be hard and it kind of depends on the day. But the way that the transition happened, actually stepping through it, with the work I was doing previously, it couldn't have been a more perfect way to make this change. Having my own business as a marketing person gave me the flexibility to say, "I'm only available these hours or these days" because I was in school for about maybe six to nine classroom hours a week. Then I had homework and then I had, you know, all the other commitments that are required to get you through a graduate program.

So having my own business was really integral to being able to go back to school. It gave me the flexibility I needed without having to go to a supervisor and say, "Hey, I need to be off this Friday, or I need to leave early today because I have class." So that was great and I even expected to really have to reduce my work hours, but I didn't. That didn't happen. I was able to continue as I was.

Now, during that time (and anyone in the business would recognize this), and over time, your contacts at companies will leave, relationships will change, clients will go away and new ones will come along. So my client load had decreased a bit. I would say probably 2017 or 2018. And then at the end of 2018 I became a subcontractor on a Fortune 200 client. So I was working for them easily 8 to 10 hours a week, sometimes 20 hours a week. Having that client really made it easy, because I could focus. It was school or that one client, and then a few very small ones that had minimal needs. So that that made it a lot easier as time wore on.

I got through my education program. Then I had to complete an internship where I'm on site, doing therapy work. My internship ended up being at a county jail, which was a remarkable, fascinating experience that I will take with me for life. That began in 2019.

Then, as I was getting close to finishing that, the pandemic hit, and jails were one of the first facilities to shut down. I was not able to complete the last month or two of my internship in the traditional way. The state board was scrambling to figure out how people could make up their hours if they weren't able to actually meet with clients.

So I went through a very stressful period with that, but I did graduate and started my practice about a year ago last June. It's been almost seamless to be able to slowly wind down my marketing business, to the point that my counseling business is 90% of my income right now.

That took a while to get started. But my marketing background definitely helped get me going in counseling, where I was able to build pretty much a full caseload in maybe six or eight months. So that I'm thankful for, I think it would have struggled without that.

ilise benun
Say more about that, because I do think, and I've said this to other people, that your marketing background will help you in the future, no matter what you're promoting or what you're selling. Which skills, which marketing tools, which abilities came in the handiest?

Tiffany Butler
I think the fact that I could write my own content was a huge thing.

A lot of people who are starting out as counselors don't have any marketing background and they really struggle to be able to write about themselves and talk about that elevator speech. Who are the people that I serve? What's my niche? They struggle with that and with getting a website built. I was able to build my own and not have that expense and have something that I really liked and felt good about.

So that was very helpful. And this is ironic. I think what really helped get me in front of clients was Google ads. Yes. I'm located in a community of about 35,000 people and I'm about an hour outside of Portland. And I always had in my head that, in order to be successful, I would need to have an office in Portland. That's because that's where the bulk of the clients are.

As I was getting my feet wet. I'm like, wow, there's a lot of competition in Portland. There are a lot of people charging lower rates in Portland to get the business. The pandemic had already begun so people were warming up to the idea of doing teletherapy by video. And so that opened up the entire state to me. I could practice with anyone in the state doing a remote video session.

So when I came to accept the fact that I needed to do Google ads to get people to my website or to call me, I decided to target smaller communities where there was not an abundance of therapists already. Or where the community was so small, people know the therapists already, and that would be weird -- you don't want to work with someone who knows you well.

So I have a lot of clients who are two hours away from me and we've never met in person. We do video sessions, and they're in small communities where there may only be four or five therapists.

And here's the other thing, everyone's full right now with the pandemic. Practitioners are full, they have a six month waitlist and that has definitely helped me to be able to build my caseload faster because there's such high demand right now. I'm curious to see where the baseline will be, because I feel like I've got a little bit of a skewed experience because I started in the pandemic, so that remains to be seen.

ilise benun
Interesting. All right, we should probably wrap up but I have two more questions for you. One is, are you loving it? Is this what you wanted? And, if someone listening is thinking to themselves, "maybe that's a path for me," what advice would you give them or wish you had had early on?

Tiffany Butler
So, yes, I am loving it. I am.  Some days are much better than others. I kind of gauge my days on how did I feel like my clients left my office that day or their session that day? It's really rewarding to me when I know that somebody's life is getting better because of the conversations that we have together.

I've ended up doing a lot of couples work too. That's a little bit of a surprise, probably a third of my practice is couples work. And that's really rewarding as well, when you are able to help two people improve a relationship to the point that it's kind of life changing for them. And it's them doing the work, I'm just there being a guide. So I'm not taking credit for that at all. It just makes me happy to know people can have some weight lifted from their lives.

So, yeah, most days loving it. Some days are hard but that's true no matter what. Some people aren't ready to change and that can be really discouraging for a therapist. So that's that piece and the other remind me the other question?

ilise benun
What advice would you give someone starting out, or thinking about moving in this direction or what advice do you wish you had had early on?

Tiffany Butler
So if you're thinking about going down this road or one like it, being able to do it with the least amount of pressure on yourself. I was able to because I was able to continue working pretty much full time. I didn't have to take out any loans to go to school, which was a huge relief. But it took longer. I took four and a half years to go through my program, and if you want to do it full time you could get through in probably two years. But it can be very stressful. So I think doing what you need to do financially to not put a lot of pressure on yourself time-wise or money-wise to get through a program, whether it would be counseling or some other training program.

One of the big things that I'm still trying to get accustomed to is that you can't work harder than your client is working. And that's hard. In the marketing world, you're fixing problems, you're delivering pretty packages, everything's got a bow on it.

And in therapy that's not how -- you've got to be okay with the fact that some sessions are going to end in a really uncomfortable place. The work is hard. Sometimes clients are going to be upset and you've got to be able to sit with that and know that every session doesn't end with a bow on it. That can be hard and I'm having to really shift my mindset from "fix the client's problem at all costs." That's the goal. And in therapy, it doesn't work that way. As the therapist, you can only do so much and some problems can't be fixed. It's more like, "how do we cope with it?" And so that's a big shift of mindset for me, so I'm still having to practice on that one and remind myself that I'm doing more work than the client is so I need to rethink that.

ilise benun
I just have a little follow up thought there, because my question would be: have you considered yourself to be a people pleaser?
 Because I would imagine that is what gets challenged in a situation where we're not going to solve the problem. There's just so much you can do, and it's going to be uncomfortable sometimes.

Tiffany Butler
Absolutely, where that's been helpful actually though, is that a lot of my clients are also people pleasers. So I can use all of my anxiety, my people-pleasing, my perfectionism. It allows me to relate to them very easily so I understand their pain and frustration, and the relationship problems they have because they're trying to make everyone happy at their own expense. So it's almost funny how you can see yourself in your clients. T
hat sometimes their struggles are also your struggles, but that can also be a point of connection, and a very authentic understanding and validation of their experience. 


ilise benun
All right, so because I'm a marketer, you are welcome to give your web address. And you are licensed in Oregon, right? You can work with anyone in Oregon?

Tiffany Butler
Right, right. Yep, and I am at TiffanyButlerCounseling.com

ilise benun
Beautiful, and thank you so much Tiffany for sharing your journey, your process, what you've learned, and always so articulately. And I'm sure that your clients are really lucky and benefiting from everything, all of your experience. So good for you. Thank you.

Outro
I do hope you learned a little something. Little by little I promise it will get easier, and before you know it, you'll have more and more confidence.

Speaking of competence, if you cringe when a prospect asks for a proposal or if you can never come up with the right thing to say in the moment, I think you'll like my latest download, "Worth It: how getting good at the money conversation pays off."

It's packed with case studies, resources, and plenty of "what to say when" scripts for tricky, real time conversations and email messages. So you would never again say the wrong thing.

I'll be back soon with more conversations with creative professionals who are practicing what I preach to overcome, once and for all, the feast or famine syndrome. Until next time.