Nicole Lewis-Keeber on How Your Trauma Affects Your Business: Part 2 of 2 | GP 70

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How does your personal healing journey impact your business growth? Do you have fear around your success? What are some outdated ideas that hold therapists back.?

In this podcast episode, Alison Pidgeon speaks with Nicole Lewis-Keeber about How Your Trauma Affects Your Business: Part 2 of 2.

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Nicole Lewis-Keeber on How Your Trauma Affects Your Business: Part 1. Meet Nicole Lewis-Keeber

Nicole Lewis-Keeber MSW LCSW is a business therapist and mindset coach who works with entrepreneurs to create and nurture healthy relationships with their businesses. She’s a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a Masters in Social Work and has a rich and varied experience as a therapist.

Certified in Brené Brown’s Dare To Lead™ methodology, she’s also been featured on numerous media outlets including Fast Company and NPR for her work in breaking the stigma of mental health and business ownership. She writes and speaks about the impact of small t trauma on businesses but her biggest, more important work is in combining therapeutic processes with business coaching to help entrepreneurs build emotionally sustainable & financially stable businesses.

Check out her website, follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

The Do No Harm Intensive Program available at

In This Podcast


  • Personal shortcomings can create business shortcomings
  • Trauma around success and being visible
  • Outdated ideas that hold therapists back

Personal shortcomings can create business shortcomings

I always say that you don’t drop your baggage at the door when you start a business, it comes in there with you. We bring all of who we are [into our business], all of the great stuff, and all the challenging stuff too. Starting a business really is a high dive into personal development whether you want it to be or not. (Nicole Lewis-Keeber)

You are going to face yourself when you start a business because all of your aspects, the good and the bad, are going to come to the forefront. This is why, if we are not careful, our personal shortcomings will become the business’s shortcomings.

If you struggle with handling money correctly, your business will struggle to handle money correctly and come out with a profit.

When we start our businesses, we take personal dives into who we are, and the areas on which we need to work become very clear: it is a double-edged sword, but with the right mindset and some bravery, we can bring the best and the worst of ourselves into our business and handle it well so that both ourselves and the businesses we own grow together.

Examples of personal shortcomings into business struggles:

  • Not knowing how to handle money correctly,
  • Struggling to trust people,

Not delegating for fear that your employees may let you down or are not up to par to do the job that you ask them to do is a trauma response to having been continuously let down in your past.

As your business grows, you need to be able to have people under you and trust them to do the work that you give them to do.

Trauma around success and being visible

Some business owners struggle with trauma around success for two potential reasons:

  1. They did not build for the capacity of success and feel stressed at the idea of having to work harder in order to progress their success,
  2. They doubt that they deserve their success and react to people in their lives who, due to these people’s own trauma and unhealed past, do not see them as successful.

Our family of origin, our friends… We lose people when we create a new life for ourselves and become more successful and step out of that box, we risk losing people and we often do … and that’s another reason why people take a step back. (Nicole Lewis-Keeber)

It then becomes important to ask yourself: the people who prefer you to remain in a stagnant position in life, the people who feel like they “lose” you when you grow and evolve, are they really your people? Do they perhaps benefit more from you when you are not succeeding past where they are?

It is a difficult discussion to have to make, but a necessary one, because the people that truly love and support you and have your back will encourage you to grow healthily and beyond your limits without keeping you tied down.

On the other hand, some business owners struggle with being visible in their success because at some point in their life, being ‘seen’ was unsafe for them.

… and so now, being seen whether it’s being seen as successful or being on the stage, being an author … [the] younger versions of themselves [and] their nervous system does not recognize that they are safe, they still make the connection of “being seen and viewed by people put me in harms way in my past, so how am I supposed to be seen and visible in my business … and experience myself as being safe?” (Nicole Lewis-Keeber)

Outdated ideas that hold therapists back

Many therapists go through grad school being taught that therapists do what they do because they are kind people, not business owners, and so they should not pursue money or properly charge for their services.

You cannot run a business based upon guilt, you can’t. You will not be fruitful, it will not grow, and you’ll be burnt out at the end of the day and your clients need better than that from you too, they don’t need to have their treatment in your business run from a place of guilt. (Nicole)

As a therapist, when you stick to your principles and your words, you model good boundaries and self-respect to your clients:

  • By sticking to the scheduled hours of the counseling session,
  • Providing what was paid for in a package – no guilt-ridden bonuses,
  • By speaking honestly and kindly about your terms,
  • By being clear on the cost and offering payment options if there are, no giving unnecessary pro-bono’s to keep the client happy.

Books mentioned in this episode:

Nicole Lewis Keeber – How to Love Your Business: Stop Recreating Trauma and Have a Business You Love – and That Loves You Back

Useful Links:

Meet Alison Pidgeon

A portrait of Alison Pidgeon is shown. She discusses ways to grow your group practice on this week's episode of Practice of the Practice. Alison is a serial entrepreneur with four businesses, one of which is a 15 clinician group practice. She’s also a mom to three boys, wife, coffee drinker, and loves to travel. She started her practice in 2015 and, four years later, has two locations. With a specialization in women’s issues, the practices have made a positive impact on the community by offering different types of specialties not being offered anywhere else in the area.

Alison has been working with Practice of the Practice since 2016. She has helped over 70 therapist entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses, through mastermind groups and individual consulting.

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Podcast Transcription

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You are listening to the Grow a Group Practice podcast. Whether you are thinking about starting a group practice are in the beginning stages, or want to learn how to scale up your already existing group practice, you are in the right place. I’m Alison Pidgeon, your host, a serial entrepreneur with four businesses, one of which is a large group practice that I started in 2015. Each week I feature a guest or topic that is relevant to group practice owners. Let’s get started.

Hello. Welcome. I’m so glad that you decided to listen to this podcast episode today. This is the second part of an interview I did with a friend of mine named Nicole Lewis-Keeber. She is both a business coach and an LCSW, and she combines both of her skillsets to help entrepreneurs who have difficulty with trauma and how that impacts their business, learn to love their business, and also have any an emotionally sustainable and financially stable business. Nicole is just one of those really amazing wise people who is always doing something super interesting. I just had such a great time talking with her. I was like hanging on every word, which is why this episode ended up being two parts because we talked for almost an hour. So if you didn’t listen to the first part, which we released last week, definitely go back and listen to that, because this is the second half of the interview and it probably will make more sense if you start at the beginning.

So I also wanted to mention within a few days of us recording this podcast episode, Nicole told me, or actually I saw on her social media that she released a book and the book is called How to Love Your Business and you can actually buy it on Amazon. She did not mention this at all when we were recording and so I was like, “Oh my gosh, please send me this link to your book.” So we have that link in the show and I just think it’s so amazing that she’s really uncovering kind of this new specialty with how to help entrepreneurs with trauma backgrounds and she wrote a book about it called How to Love Your Business. So definitely check that out. And here is the second part of my interview with Nicole Lewis-Keeber.

So I guess my other question is something that I’ve noticed, because I feel like having a business is like the greatest kind of like, I don’t know if self-transformation is the right word, but like you’re forced to kind of look at your own stuff. Because if you aren’t good at something in your personal life well, you’re not going to be good at, in your business. You know what I mean? Like you’re not going to somehow be dramatically different as a business owner than you are in your personal life. So like, if you’re bad at managing your money and your personal life, you’re not going to suddenly be great at it when you’re running your business. So I feel like there’s so much, obviously people probably have different levels of insight, but there’s so much of that stuff that comes up that you’re like, “Oh gosh, I really need to look at this,” because it like comes up in your business and then you realize like it’s all related. So I’m sure you see a lot of that too.
Oh for sure.
Yes. Can you think of any specific examples of how that comes up for people?
Yes. Well, I mean, I always say you don’t drop your baggage at the door and you start a business. It comes in there with you. We bring all of who we are into and all the great stuff and all the challenging stuff too. And starting a business, it really is a high dive into personal development, whether you wanted it to be or not.
That’s the word I was thinking of or the term personal development.
You’re going to face yourself when you start a business.
And those things are going to come to the forefront. So like you mentioned if you have difficulty with making money decisions in your personal life, to think that you automatically would be able to make really solid decisions money-wise in your business without some kind of special support or additional education or training, or even some mindset work around it would be not nice to you to do. So and if you have a challenge and trusting people, like this is one of the ways that trauma really shows up in business that my research kind of pulled up to the top is that trust is one of the biggest things. So if you have difficulty trusting other people and you’ve always been someone who just kind of does it yourself and you relied on yourself, like that’s a fantastic skillset to have if you’re an entrepreneur.

In fact many people who are entrepreneurial or small business oriented often have childhood trauma that created that skillset and that need to be the boss. Fantastic, but at some point you have to learn to rely on other people to do their part and think of giving them ownership over it. And this is a piece of the puzzle I see that people really struggle with. So if you have difficulty trusting people personally and struggle with trust and relationships, you are in a relationship with your business. It is something outside of you that you are relating to. That trust issue is going to come up in your business in many, many different ways.
That is so good. I can totally see how that works.
Yes, because relying on someone is the behavior of trust and if you have trust challenges, you’re not going to, you might hire an employee and give them some tasks, but you’re not giving them ownership. You’re still involved. I see people who hire staff all the time and they still keep doing the job. I’m like, “Save your money, quit, you know, like, because you’re still doing the job yourself. You need to learn to rely on other people to do their part.
Or they’re like micromanaging them.
Yes. I’ve seen that too. I feel like that whole delegation piece is so hard for so many business owners. We spend so much time when we do business consulting, like trying to convince people that they need to hire like an assistant and stuff like that and it just, it blows my mind, but it’s such a hard thing for people to give up.
Yes. I mean, when you think about in the therapeutic setting, we tell people, just trust people. It’s going to work that way. There has to be a deeper conversation about, okay, well, why was trust in other people eroded? What circumstances led you to have these amazing skillsets that are very entrepreneurial that are not going to be leverage-able though for you if you do not learn what it means to trust someone else?
Absolutely. So another thing too, I’m wondering if you notice something that I see happen with business owners too, is like, and I’m sure this is probably all tied up with trauma as well, but they’re almost like afraid of being successful. So anytime they start to get some traction and like maybe their businesses starting to grow or maybe they’re turning away clients and they could hire somebody like they don’t, there’s some reason why they can’t kind of grow their business or be even more successful. I’m curious how you see that play out from a trauma perspective.
I definitely see that s a trauma response because they haven’t built the capacity for what they’ve created. And so what does that do? It puts us into a nervous system response because we, it feels unsafe to have that success because maybe there’s some like emotional requirement around it that’s unclear to you that you don’t have to navigate. Or if you’re already stressed out at that level to get where you are, the thought of doubling that amount of stress to grow the business or to be able to continue with the revenue building that you’re doing their activities sometimes that mindset is okay. So if I had to work this hard to get here, in order to double this, I have to work, doubly hard and I just don’t have it in me. And that’s always, that’s an issue and it’s not necessarily the case.

So I think it has to do with the capacity issue. It has to do with our nervous system response to something that feels very unsafe and unknown. And then there’s all of the social and emotional issues that come up around, like, who am I to have this? Who am I to be this person? Other people don’t know how to see me as a successful person. I had that come up a lot. Like people still don’t know how to see me as a successful business owner, as an author, as a speaker, because all they can still see me is someone who was “dumb” and barely graduated high school. And I’m like, “That is on you, not me.” But there is that social piece of it, like our family of origin, our friends, we lose people when we create a new life for ourselves and become more successful and step out of that box.

We risk losing people when we often do. So again, that’s another why, the reason why people will kind of take a step back. And also if you have trauma around being visible, like one of the pieces of the research shows that the way trauma shows up for a lot of folks is through visibility, that being seen was unsafe for them at some point in their life. And so now being seen whether it’s being seen as successful, being on a stage, being an author, like whatever it may be for them, as far as their visibility, their younger versions of themselves, their nervous system does not recognize that they are safe. They see, they still make this connection of being seen and viewed by people put me in harms way in the past. So how am I supposed to be seen and visible in my business, as a successful business owner, speaker or whatever, and experience myself as being safe? They haven’t had that experience. So it’s kind of hard to build out from there. So there’s a lot of reasons why people will pull back from that success.
Yes. And I know you’ve mentioned a couple of times that you did some research into how trauma and owning a business intersect. I’m just curious if what you found in terms of like, are there a lot of resources? Is this something that has been researched for a long time or there’s a lot of researchers or not very much research? Like what did you find when you started looking into it?
Yes, not very much.
Yes. That was my guess. It was like it.
Not very much. And I think the reason why is that because again, people are looking for that kind of like big T trauma. I’ve done retreats and workshops and all the things on this topic and I’ve had people in the room say to me, “Yes, I had this experience,” and what they will then describe as a sexual assault and they’ll say that was probably a small T trauma and I’m just going, oh my God, no. So because we have minimized and diminished people’s experiences, emotion, the feelings so much as a culture, that these folks are sitting here with these really significant traumatic events and they’re barely able to recognize it if perhaps it was a small t trauma. And so I think part of the reason why there’s not a lot of researches that we just haven’t defined trauma outside of these very small, small slivers of the pie.

So there’s not a lot of research on it. So what I have really relied on heavily is some of Brene Brown’s research around shame and vulnerability, which thankfully I’m trained in a lot of that. I’ve used some of that to kind of helped me figure out how to have these conversations and to look at some of the resources out there. But what I’m kind of doing right now is having conversations with small business owners and entrepreneurs over the past three years to see what patterns emerge so that I can pull out some more research. And I really would love to actually get funded to have a like, I’m giving air quotes, “formal research project” on this, because I know there’s so much more here that I can’t quite get to because of the time that’s required for me to do it.

You know, I’m a small business owner. I don’t have time to have 10 conversations a day with small business owners. But what has shown up in the research that I’ve done is that there’s very specific categories that have kind of saturated and that it shows up in obviously money. It shows up in visibility, it shows up in trust, it shows up in boundaries. Also there is a control component that’s kind of saturating to the top a little bit to in a way that people are seeking some kind of control on how that they do business. That’s usually connected to a loss of control at some point in their life. But there’s so much more that I haven’t tapped into yet, but that’s what has come forward so far.
Yes. Yes, that’s great. And I can see how all of those things obviously intersect with being a business owner. Do you, I know you probably have worked with therapists in the past with your coaching. Do you feel like there’s anything in particular related to therapists in your work that you think would be helpful to share?
Yes, I, yes …
Because I think about the money piece. Like, I feel like the brainwashing starts early, like in graduate school. Like you’re just doing this because you’re a good person, not because you’re going to make a lot of money and then people go into private practice and they’re like, “I could make six figures.” We’re like, “Yes, you could.” And like, then they feel all kinds of things, shame, and like they maybe self-sabotage by like giving too many sliding scale spots or, I mean, I could probably name a million examples, but I’m curious what you see.
Yes. There’s so much indoctrination around being good and being a healer, being a healing modality that, you know there’s resentments globally about you charging for it that it should just be something that you do out of the goodness of your heart. And we get conditioned to that really early in our families and how we see money. I didn’t have any positive examples of money growing up. It was be of service and maybe you’ll get paid and you like it. Or like, my example, I’m dating myself in my examples of what it meant to have money, security and wealth were all like the young and the restless and like Richard, was it Richard Newman? What was his first name? It doesn’t matter. But anyway like Jay [inaudible 00:16:03] yes, our Victor Newman from The Young and the Restless, you know, like in the eighties wealth and decadence and all those things. They were really kind of connected to just not nice people.

So we kind of have to overcome that programming about what it means to value ourselves. And you can be really great at, I see people who are great sales people for other people, who are top 1% of their company. I think it’s Cisco, was one person I worked with and they were at the top 1% in sales. That’s hard to do in that company but then when it came time to start their own business, they really struggled with putting a number on what they do because they’re having to put a number on their value at that point and we have not been taught to do that.

So money for sure, when it comes to therapists, I see a lot of people who just assume they have to credential with all these companies. They just assume they can only make a certain amount of money. They feel guilty in every decision that they make within their business, and you cannot run a business based upon guilt. You can’t. You will not be fruitful, it will not grow, and you will be burnt out at the end of the day and your clients need better than that from you too. They don’t need to have their treatment and your business run from a place of guilt.
Right? I’m actually surprised at the number of therapists I’ve worked with doing business consulting who told me they were making a business decision because they didn’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings. And I was like, ‘Well, that’s not your responsibility, first of all, and second of all, you have to do what’s best for your business. Not because you’re afraid of hurting somebody’s feelings.” So I’m sure you’ve had those conversations too.
That’s a different skillset. And when I say that your relationship with you, that you’re in a relationship with your business, the way that I see that happen and play out with people who are therapists, who have private practices, group practices, coaches, sales copy people, I mean, I have a lot of PR agency owners that I work with on go figure on that, but the thing is that we create this relationship with our business where our business ends up being like some authority figure or some parent that we can’t please, or some person that has some opinion about who we get to be in our business. So we run it in this way that we’re constantly deferring our power to this entity that is not even real, like Brene calls it, the Royal we. I call it the invisible they.

Like this is your business. You get to run it in the way that works for you and you get to make money in it. And your clients are a part of that, but they’re not the most important factor. You matter. And that’s one of the things I hear from a lot of clients I work with, particularly in my do no harm intensives is they’ll say to me, “I really love my therapist and I see that they are recreating their own trauma in their practice. And I really wish that they knew that that was not necessary so that they would not do that because I, as their client can see them doing that now that I have this language.”
Yes. I see that with therapists, especially with the boundaries piece where their schedule is full and they say, “Oh, I’ll fit you in.” Or they start seeing a clients on weekends when they decided at the beginning of their business, that they would never work on the weekends because they feel obligated to make the schedules work or whatever. So that’s another big piece that I see happening.
Yes. I don’t know if I mentioned that that’s one of the categories in the research I’m on. I cannot remember —
Yes you did [crosstalk].
Yes, big one.
Yes big one for sure.
And plays out on a lot of different ways. So my clients are telling me that they’re seeing their therapists who are running their practices from a place of guilt, from a place of shame, from a place of diminishment, from a place of not having boundaries. And the people in our lives, our business, our clients, our family, they will rise to the level of the boundary that we set and if we don’t have them, they will wash over us. That’s just how it works. And so we have to really learn what that means. So yes, this is just a word to the them that your clients are watching and they see you and how you’re not putting yourself first.
Yes. And I tell my own clinicians, like you are modeling good boundaries for your clients. Like when you start and end the session on time, that is modeling good boundaries when you don’t, when you’re always running late or when you let the session run over, you’re not modeling good boundaries. And think about like the therapeutic impact on your client when you do things like that.
Yes. Because whether they get aggravated with us or not our nervous systems have a different idea about what that means. And so the consistency of the message and how we model things matters.
Absolutely. Yes. I actually have a client who worked with another professional who like the session went way over and it actually, she had a trauma background and just her running the session over, it made her really anxious. Because she was like, “When is this going to end? And my run in, like, am I taking away from the next person’s appointment?” It was a very uncomfortable situation for her and I’m sure the professional was just like, “Oh, okay, it’s fine. We’re going over. No big deal.” But like, she didn’t see it that way.
Yes. I see this in the coaching world where people will they’ll keep adding new things in, like you say, the client already said yes to one program. And because you feel like you need to add value or you’re insecure in your pricing, or you start to feel like, I can’t believe they said yes, so now I have to give them more. And adding those bonuses and giving more, it requires something of the client that they didn’t say yes to. And you think it’s a bonus, but actually what it is, for them, it’s something else they have to look at, read, attend to, answer questions about. And they didn’t say yes to that. They said yes to the program the way it was.
Yes. That’s such a good point. That can be such a slippery slope. And I think, especially when you have money shame and you’re like, oh wow, they’re paying all this money for this program or this coaching and you’re like, I should really give them something else, but it’s really out of your own guilt for what you’re charging.
That rarely works out because they didn’t say yes to that. So then what it does, is it fractures the trust between the two of you.
Yes. And so another way of modeling good boundaries would be provide what you said you were going to provide, nothing more, nothing less.
Clear as timed.
Clear as time, yes. I love it. Yes. Something you said quite a while ago that I didn’t get a chance to ask you about was you said you hate the term, charge your worth. Can you tell us more about that?
Well, I think that, I honestly, I think it’s one of those mindset things that gets kind of amused actually, and that I hate seeing mindset used as a weapon on people and that not something that like mindset industry can be pretty, pretty awful actually. So the thing is that I believe that we as humans, that we are priceless. Like how do you put a price tag on somebody? And so I think that you’re infinitely priceless and when someone says you need to charge what you’re worth and you’ve had trauma in your life and your value has been impacted, it is very hard to understand what your worth is and how to charge for it. Like there’s other questions that need to be asked. So to tell someone who hasn’t ever been told to value themselves, have had people make them feel less than to just say, “You just need to charge what you’re worth,” like they don’t understand what that means.

So then it puts more pressure and stress on them. So you need to say, “Well, what kind of business do you want to have? What kind of revenue do you want to bring in? How many people do you want to work with? What kind of work do you want to do?” Do you want, not everybody wants a seven figure business. Not everybody wants a six figure business as a practice. You know, like, let’s talk about what that is and so that you can charge, you can create pricing for what you do with your sessions based upon it being congruent with the vision that you have for your business. Not just to say to someone you need to charge what you’re worth and double your prices. Like people don’t operate that way. Their nervous systems don’t operate that way around money. There has to be a gradual change.
Yes. I think that’s such an interesting lens to see it through and I like your suggestion about like, maybe you just have to look at it from a more like logical perspective of like what are your goals as a business? Obviously you have to look at, “Okay, am I covering my overhead and paying myself and turning a profit and all of those kind of logistical practical things?” But yes, I think it’s such a complicated topic when people have to kind of set their own prices, because there’s so much that goes into it.
Yes. There’s definitely looking at the emotional component, the practical component, the revenue component that it’s so much more complex than just charge what you’re worth. I think that’s, I’ve said it, don’t get me wrong. I said it early out in my business around money mindset. I just think it’s more, it’s a lazy way out to say that to somebody like get into it and dig into a little bit deeper.
Yes. Like it’s not just like a cut and dry and simple answer. There’s a lot of factors like peeling back the layers of an onion.
Yes. Well, Nicole, it’s been so awesome to talk to you. I feel like you’ve just given us so many things to think about in terms of running our business and how trauma can impact that. And I was hoping you could tell us a little bit more about how you work with clients and also if people are interested in working with you, how they can get ahold of you.
Yes. So how I work with people right now is I do still do some one-on-one coaching for small business owners and founders. I also have a program that I’m launching again in June. It’s called The Do No Harm Intensive. And basically what that looks like is we look at what it means to a trauma conscious entrepreneur, business owner, or leader. There is no way to do no harm. That’s not possible, but the intentions that we set in our business and we understand it from this trauma lens can make a difference. So in that program, we look at defining what trauma is, how it impacts business, how it might be impacting your own business and then how you can get support for that. Because I want people to go see therapists. I prefer that they go see trauma trained therapists, as opposed to someone who has a coaching certification and trauma.

I think there’s so much talent and experience and wealth of knowledge out there in the therapy realm that people could be utilizing around these business pieces. So The Do No Harm Intensive looks at doing no harm to yourself, to your business, and then to the people that you’re working with, through your marketing, through how you do sales, your money, how you engage with your clients and your employees. So that’s really my focus right now, is getting more people through The Do No Harm Intensive. And I’ve had people who are therapists, artists, copywriters, business coaches, you name it, who’ve gone through it and it’s been really eye-opening to them to see how they might be recreating trauma in their business and how they work with people.

So that’s my focus now, is to do that. So if people are interested in learning more about that, the best thing to do is to follow me on Facebook at Nicole Lewis-Keeber Coaching or get on my website and my newsletter at And there is a trauma and entrepreneurship assessment there that they can take to kind of start to dig in to see, if I’m creating this group practice or I already have one where may I be replicating some trauma and how I do my business?
Yes. That’s amazing. I’m really glad that you came on today to tell us about the work that you’re doing. I think it’s so important. Thank you so much, Nicole.
Thank you for having me.
Thank you so much for listening. I hope that you found that as fascinating as I did. Nicole is such a gem and really appreciated the time that she spent with us. I will see you in the next episode once again.

Thank you so much to Therapy Notes for sponsoring this show. It makes notes, billing, scheduling, and telehealth a whole lot easier. And if you’re coming from another EHR, they make the transition really easy. Therapy Notes will import your client’s demographic data free of charge during your trial so you can get going right away. Use the promo code [JOE] to get three months free to try out Therapy Notes.

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This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regards to the subject matter covered. This is given with the understanding that neither the host, Practice of the Practice, or the guests are providing legal, mental health, or other professional information. If you need a professional, you should find one.