Marriage And Family

Adventures In Private Practice: Pastoral Counselor Rev. Christopher L. Smith, LMHC

The Reverend Christopher L. Smith combines his spiritual insight as an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church with impressive mental health and marriage and family therapy training in his New York City private practice Seeking Shalom.

Christopher offers a variety of mental health, EAP, and consultation services with the overarching theme of helping clients and professionals seek peace in their life. See how Christopher balances his ministry and private practice.

Why did you decide to open a private practice? As someone who has been gifted in different ways and who enjoys the peace that comes from balancing different interests, I was interested in working on a part-time basis and to preserve some degree of flexibility.  The easiest way to do this while being able to maintain control over the way I would practice in helping others was to formalize my own practice.

Formalizing a practice in the same building that I also serve as a pastor both added a degree of efficiency in my work as well as adding to the quality care in a community (Harlem and Washington Heights) that was lacking in some of the services that I offer.

Clients that therapists find to be the most "difficult" are sometimes the ones who can teach them the most. What have you learned from your toughest clients? "Difficult" clients come in a variety of forms.  Difficult clients with complex symptoms motivated me to seek training, consultation and supervision in new areas strengthening the breadth of my knowledge and abilities.  Clients that are difficult in terms of their methods of interacting with people (especially those who are working on or need to work on personality disorders) strengthen my own interpersonal skills, especially around boundaries and providing clear expectations, which then makes me better able to work with a wider range of individuals.

Clients that are difficult because their situation touches on personal issues help me both develop better boundaries (remaining focused on the client and not working on my issues through the work with the client) and to learn of areas that I need to work on for myself in other ways.  Then there are those difficult clients that have helped me learn my limits whose tough issues had to lead to the end of the therapeutic relationship in order to protect my own physical safety.

What's your biggest pet peeve about private practice? My biggest pet peeve is the way that economies of scale cannot be reached in private practice, especially on a part-time basis.  This is exacerbated in my case, as New York requires me to practice through two professional corporations as I am licensed in two mental health professions that are not allowed to be practiced in the same professional corporation.

How did you discover or develop your practice "niche"? I was fortunate that my "niche" is what led me into being a mental health professional.  My motivation began within counseling and pastoral care work within the seminary building on other experiences that made this calling evident to me. While my career has involved practicing outside my "niche", there was no question that pastoral counseling would be the focus of my own practice.

What resource (book, website, person) helped you the most when setting up your private private? There was not one resource that most helped me while setting up my private practice.  My original private practice was small to help maintain my skills and was possible because of the support of a number of pastors.  In developing a larger (but still part-time) practice that is more formalized, a wide variety of resources were helpful.  Probably most critical, though, was the encouragement and faith of a number of people in my relationship circles.

What has surprised you most about being in private practice? The largest surprise has been that the clients that have been attracted to my practice have almost exclusively been ones within the area of my niche.  Prior to moving in this direction, most colleagues have talked about needing to start out with a broad base of clients to make their practices work.

Has your private practice helped you grow professionally? How so? Being in private practice has forced me to become much clearer and to be able to more concisely describe what I do professionally.  This clarity is clear professional growth.

Has it helped you grow personally, too? How so? Being in private practice the way that I am has helped in my overall balance.

Being a therapist can be emotionally exhausting. What do you do to care for your own emotional and psychological health? While I care for my emotional and psychological health in the standard ways (such as meditation, walking, music and friends) that are the case for other therapists whether they are in private practice or practicing in a different form.  As my practice is in the same building as another role, I do not have to see large blocks of clients without breaks.  I am able to see clients for a little while, then go down to my other office and do something different as a respite before coming back to work with another client or two.  Additionally, I take time each week to be out of town.  While away, I am engaged in another role but it also tends to provide sort of a weekly mini-retreat.

How do you cope with the inevitable stressors involved with being your own boss? These stressors are not things that I cope with as they are positive stressors for me.   Rather than coping with them, I enjoy the challenges and exploration of the possibilities.

What personal strengths have helped you succeed in private practice? Patience, self confidence, motivation, my own spiritual understandings of vocation and social networks are probably the personal strengths that have most helped me to succeed in private practice.

To learn more about Rev. Christopher L. Smith, LMHC visit

Therapist Media Cheat Sheet: Look Good And Sound Smart On TV

TV interviews are a great way to educate about relationship and mental health topics and to raise visibility for your private practice. Over the past few years, I've actively sought out interview opportunities and have found that over time, they have bolstered my credibility, fostered trust in my knowledge and clinical skills, and raised visibility of my private practice. Thanks to social media, TV interviews can reach beyond the viewership of the live broadcast to a larger audience. One example is this short, live interview for a local Utah TV lifestyle program.  "How To Handle A Narcissistic Mother" has had over 9000 views on YouTube (and yes, I'm still working on not saying ,"um").

I reached out to other therapists to find out what they'd learned from their TV interview experience, what advice they'd give to therapists preparing for their first TV interview, and how these interviews have impacted their practice.

Here are 10 Tips to help you look and sound like an expert when TV interviews come your way.

1 - Do your homework

Find out who is interviewing you, how long the interview will be, and who watches the show so you can tailor your interview to fit the format and show yourself in your best light. Therapist Sharon Rivkin, MA, MFT and author of Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy suggests researching the show's demographics, audience, and format so you can tailor the interview to the show's viewers. Before his local television news interview, Psychotherapist John Sovec, M.A., LMFT went online and found clips of the newscaster who'd be interviewing him to get familiar with his interview style.

2 - Develop talking points

From my own TV experience, mapping out 5-6 talking points is crucial to building my confidence, producers' confidence and interviewers appreciate the direction. Sovec adds, "The TV world moves fast and I always find that talking points help me to stay centered." Texas Psychologist Susan Fletcher, Ph.D., author of Working in the Smart Zone: Smart Strategies to be a Top Performer at Work and at Home found that "some TV anchors will stick to the talking points while others will veer off. Be prepared to go a little off topic and be flexible. You can always work your way back to the topic."

3 - Add visuals and examples

Fletcher suggests incorporating visual elements into your TV segments and shares this example: "One of the most visual segments I did was What to do on your Spring Break Staycation and I had visuals for everything you could do with your children. I've also used personal photos to show my points." According to Rivkin, giving specific examples to support your talking points makes interviews more compelling. She's learned through experience to " succinct, clear and direct. Give an example of a client you've worked with. Stories are more compelling and paint a clearer picture than descriptions."

4 - Prepare and practice

When preparing for a TV interview Terrence Alspaugh, LPCP, Psychotherapist of Family Solutions of Maryland wrote down and memorized talking points on index cards. "I practiced elaborating on each point with illustrations and examples. I wanted to be sure that I could say more about the points if time allowed." TV veteran Will Courtenay, PhD, LCSW, The Men's Doc always "over-prepares: for interviews and says he's always glad he did.

5 - Remember that you're the expert

If you're feeling a bit anxious about an upcoming TV interview David Simonsen M.S. LMFT of Creative Solutions Counseling suggests, "Remember that you are the expert and they are coming to you. Find comfort in the fact that you know your field and you have knowledge they don't."

6 - Speak in sound bites

A sound bite is a short phrase or a few phrases of information.  Speaking in sound bites requires therapists to use skills that aren't often practiced. Good therapists often speak slowly, reflect back, pause often, and go deeper. However, good TV interview skills require the opposite: speak quickly, don't reflect back, keep the interview moving, and stay on target. For taped TV interviews, remember to pause at the end of each thought or phrase to allow for clean editing.

7 - Wear comfortable and flattering clothing

From my own TV experience, I find it's important to wear something comfortable that reflects my professional personality and my practice. If something you're wearing feels awkward or out of place it will detract your focus from the interview. Here are a few "what to wear" tips:

  • Bright solid colors generally look better than prints or white.
  • Wear colors that have elicited the most compliments in the past.
  • Accessorize close to your face, drawing the eye upward.
  • Wear more makeup than usual, even for men. "Wearing some foundation is especially important for men, who often have oily skin -- which will look shiny on screen -- and are more likely to sweat," Courtenay suggests.

8 - Look at the interviewer

Unless instructed otherwise, look at the interviewer. If the show is filming with several cameras, it can be confusing to track which camera to look at. For the record, the camera with the red light is the one currently filming. On her first TV interview Fletcher wasn't sure if she should look at a camera or at the interviewer after the interview was over. She says, "I was advised to continue looking at the TV host."

9 - Be yourself

Rivkin suggests, "Don't be afraid to be yourself and let your personality show. If appropriate, use humor. It can make the interview more interesting." Courtenay gives the following advice for therapists preparing for TV interviews, "Think of your interviewers as friends and remember they really are interested in talking with you. Try to achieve some intimacy, as if you're talking one-on-one to a friend. Don't worry about making mistakes, everyone does; if you misstate something, just simply repeat it."

10 - Don't Expect Immediate Results

Media Psychiatrist Carole Lieberman M.D. and author of Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets says:

Therapists often think that this will grow their practice, but unless you offer some very specific niche therapy that the public may not be familiar with, and patients with this need happen to see your appearance, it is not the most efficient way to get patients. I do not do it to grow my practice. In fact, TV appearances interfere with practice because you often have to reschedule patients at the last minute to do a TV show.

Of her TV interview experience Melody Brooke, MA, LPC, LMFT, author of Oh Wow This Changes Everything says that they haven't made a difference in her practice. "Its given me a lot of street credibility, but other than that, my practice has not grown at all." Courtenay adds,  "Unfortunately, the impact of my TV appearances are hard to judge. However, many of my clients have told me that they've seen interviews with me before we met." Sovec says that he usually gets some calls after TV interviews but sees them as another step toward building public awareness about his work and to build his credibility as an expert.

In an upcoming post I'll share tips to maximize your TV exposure. Until then, watch and learn from these seasoned therapists' TV interviews.

Watch Dr. Will Courtenay

Watch Dr. Susan Fletcher

Dr. Carole Lieberman