The Science of Deepening Love and Connection in any Relationship with John Howard | POP 696

A photo of John Howard is captured. John Howard is featured on Practice of the Practice, a therapist podcast.

Why should couples talk less and touch more? How has new neuroscience research changed standard couple’s therapy? How is solely using logical communication potentially harmful to the relationship?

In this podcast episode, Joe Sanok speaks with John Howard about his book More Than Words.

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Meet John Howard

A photo of John Howard is captured. He is a therapist and CEO at PRESENCE, as well as a podcast host and author. John is featured on the Practice of the Practice, a therapist podcast.John Howard is an internationally-recognized therapist, wellness expert, and educator who uses the latest science to help couples have stronger relationships. He is the CEO of PRESENCE, a wellness center in Austin, TX dedicated to helping people achieve optimal physical, mental, and relationship health.

John is the host of The John Howard Show, a wellness podcast, and the creator of the Ready Set Love® series of online programs for couples. He is also the author of More than Words: The Science of Deepening Love and Connection in any Relationship — listeners who order the book will receive a free chapter on attachment theory.

Visit John Howard’s website and see also the PRESENCE website.

Connect with John on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

In This Podcast

  • About More Than Words
  • Talk less, touch more
  • Contested couple’s therapy strategies
  • John’s advice to private practitioners

About More Than Words

The book More Than Words shares the latest scientific discoveries about connection and relationships with the general public.

This powerful information about how to promote connection in any relationship hasn’t made its way to the public enough … what I have put in the book are the very latest approaches based on neuroscience and modern attachment theory when it comes to promoting connection. (John Howard)

The brain is primarily looking for a sense of safety and security when it is around other people. Once the brain feels safe, it creates a connection, and the pathways of relationships open up.

However, if people do not feel emotionally safe with one another the connection closes, and verbal communication becomes difficult.

How do you create a deep level connection, nervous system to nervous system, that promotes the goodwill that you need? That’s the first point of the book. (John Howard)

The second aim of the book is to share this information with a more diverse range of couples and include different types of love and connection into the bigger conversations around relationship health.

Talk less, touch more

The current culture prioritizes logical communication over emotional communication, and this can lead to some issues.

The brain and the nervous system want to feel safe with someone. That safety cannot be achieved through communication alone. It also needs touch, quality time, and nervous system regulation.

The research is clear that if we talk a little less and touch a little more, we can communicate directly to the subconscious [that], “I care about you, I’m here, I love you, I’m paying attention to you”. (John Howard)

People might not use those words because they feel awkward, but taking the time to be fully present, slow down, and be in the moment with your partner can create that co-nervous system regulation as well as a sense of mutual safety.

The research shows that connection is not a function of time [spent]. It’s much more a function of how present we are in the moment with each other. (John Howard)

Contested couple’s therapy strategies

Neuroscience has changed couple’s therapy, and some of the older therapeutic strategies have gone scientifically “out of date”.

The old style of couple’s therapy where you talk about your problems and then the therapist sends you home with some stuff to practice is not ideal in terms of shifting automatic behavior. (John Howard)

Modern couple’s therapy has become more experiential through neuroscience.

This means that couples are taught how to care for one another while dealing with conflict, using their body language, warming their tone of voice, and regulating their nervous systems together instead of remaining distant and detached.

John’s advice to private practitioners

In graduate school, people are taught theoretical orientations separately from neuroscience findings.

Now we understand that there is an intersection between physical and mental wellness, so consider an integrated and comprehensive treatment plan.

Books mentioned in this episode:

Useful Links mentioned in this episode:

Check out these additional resources:

Meet Joe Sanok

A photo of Joe Sanok is displayed. Joe, private practice consultant, offers helpful advice for group practice owners to grow their private practice. His therapist podcast, Practice of the Practice, offers this advice.

Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.

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Podcast Transcription

[JOE SANOK] This is the Practice of the Practice podcast with Joe Sanok, episode number 696.

I’m Joe Sanok, your host and welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast. I hope you are doing amazing today. Here we cover all sorts of things private practice from the logistical, nuts and bolts of your practice. We cover marketing. We cover people that aren’t at all in private practice, but have something to add. We also cover some clinical things. So I’m so excited about our guest today. John Howard is an internationally recognized therapist, wellness expert, and educator who uses the latest science to help couples have stronger relationships. He is the author of More Than Words: The Science of Deepening Love and Connection in any Relationship, that just came out on February 1st, 2022. He is also the host of the John Howard Show, a wellness podcast and the creator of the Ready Set Love® series of online programs for couples. John, welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast. So glad that you’re here today.
[JOHN HOWARD] Thanks so much, Joe. It’s an honor to be on your show.
[JOE] Yes, well, I always love hearing people’s background because sometimes when we start with podcast, online program, book, like thriving therapist, it’s like, oh my gosh, how do I even compete with this guy? But then the backstory oftentimes is a little bit of struggle, a little bit of learning. How did you get into couple’s work and the work that you’re doing now? Take us back a little bit.
[JOHN] Sure. I’ll tell everyone my story a little bit, just so it doesn’t seem so intimidating because as you know you’ve also built a lot of pieces to your business over time. It’s a step by step process. You start with one thing and then another thing, and before you know it, you’ve built a bunch of stuff. For me it started way back in childhood actually, and I think it’s important for people to know this about me. I struggled a lot as a kid. I was neglected emotionally. I played by myself, I grew up, I’m Cuban American, so I grew up speaking Spanish. English is my second language and I had trouble making friends at school in part because I didn’t speak the language, in part because I had really high anxiety that went untreated for most of my childhood.

So I just had a lot of problems growing up. I didn’t live with my parents. My Cuban grandmother died when I was nine and no one in the family talked about it. She just disappeared. So you can imagine the attachment trauma that I had to work through as I started becoming an adult. At some point I realized I was just really broken. I didn’t know how to have relationships. I just felt uneasy in myself. I was trying to figure out like a lot of people who I was and what life is about and what really made a big difference in my life was the science of connection and attachment theory. So when I went to graduate school for therapy, that’s what I focused on.

I spent time with some of the leading people that teach in that space in part, because I just needed the information to have healthy relationship with myself, but it made such a huge difference in my life that I went into that segment of the field and started to specialize in neuroscience-based couples therapy and attachment theory. That’s been awesome for me personally. It’s made such a huge difference to my personal growth, to focus in that area and it really helped me build a practice because not all therapists like doing couples therapy and it’s very needed. So it turned out that it was good for business as well.
[JOE] Yes, well, I love when people recognize in their own life, how then their career path was part of their own growth and expansion of thinking. I mean, some people would say because of my past, I’m never going into psychology. I don’t want to, like, I don’t even want to deal with that. Why did you plow full steam ahead into the psych world with that history?
[JOHN] You know, I didn’t feel like I really had a choice. I needed to heal in order to function. I think a lot of people find themselves in that place. Initially I actually sought out alternative modalities. I spent a lot of time in south America and small villages studying shamanism and indigenous healing traditions and that was all really helpful, but it was also a little bit scattered. At the time I thought therapists were lightweights. I was like, ah, that’s just a Western science of talking about stuff and thinking logically about stuff that can’t really make a difference to healing. So I used to poo poo therapy a lot. What happened was I started practicing some of these shamonic techniques.

I practiced as an energy healer for a long time and I started to realize the limitations of that type of work. People who were depressed, anxious on medications that had chronic psychological beliefs and perspectives that just weren’t shifting, I could help them feel better, but I was having trouble really helping them remap their own minds. I started realizing that psychology has so much to offer in that respect when it comes to permanent change, not just okay, I can feel better for a while, but how do you really change the way you think and see the world. There’s so much research and experience in psychology around that. So that’s really what drew me to it, was the deficiencies I had in my prior practice and looking for something more.
[JOE] I want to hear how you integrated that shamanism and what you learned kind in central and South America and psychology. I do want to tell people we did a whole series, 10-part series called the psychedelics series. That was about a year ago. If you search for that, we covered iowaska, MDMA, a psilocybin, talked to a number of experts in that field. So if you’re looking for resources, just search for that within the podcast. There’s a whole bunch of experts that I had interviewed in that area if that’s something you want to dig into a little bit more or understand even when your clients are talking about those things. It’s just important to be educated in whatever areas you or your clients are thinking. So how did you bring together those two worlds for yourself in the psych world because I think you’re right sometimes there’s this quote woo, woo world and that’s separate from psychology and then there’s the neuroscience. Can we prove it? No we can’t. Yes we can. For you, how did those two collide and come together into maybe a super theory or a super way of practicing?
[JOHN] Yes, they do intersect, but you sort of have to go looking for it. I mean, there’s a lot of segments of psychology that don’t agree very well with shamonic techniques. They’re too frontal lobe oriented, they’re too logical and analytic. But if you dig into the new neuroscience, which is all about how to heal trauma, how to regulate the right brain, somatic strategies, will those map really well onto ancient healing traditions, spiritual traditions, and shamonic techniques. So that’s where I found the intersection and one reason why I got so interested in neuroscience-based work, because there’s so much more talk there about how to speak to the subconscious, how to remap the nervous system, how to rewire procedural memory, all the things that happen when people meditate, for example. And ancient healing traditions have been talking about that stuff for a long time. I think that part of neuroscience is really well aligned with the older stuff.
[JOE] Wow, okay. So tell us about your book and the neuroscience that you’re discovering now and that you write about in the book. Walk us through it so we can dissect that together.
[JOHN] So More Than Words has really two main things that it’s trying to accomplish. The first is to share the very latest science of connection with the general public. This is stuff that if you’re going to the academic conferences as a therapist you get exposed to, but this really powerful information about how to promote connection in any relationship hasn’t really made its way into the public enough. So your audience is a little more savvy than most. They may know some of the stuff, they may not, but their clients almost certainly don’t know a lot of this stuff. So what I’ve put in the book is really the very latest approaches based in neuroscience and modern attachment theory when it comes to promoting connection. Understanding that verbal communication is not the most direct pathway to gaining trust from the nervous system.

How do you co-regulate, how do you earn the trust of the right brain, the emotional brain, the somatic system, because as your listeners know, I’m preaching to the choir here, but the brain is primarily looking for a sense of safety and security when it’s around other people. Once it checks that box, it satisfies itself that there is a sense of connection there and then all the other dimensions of relationship open up, parenting, sex, money management, habits in the home. But if you don’t feel connected, you don’t really have the goodwill to manage all that stuff. A lot of people try to communicate to bridge those differences, but the verbal communication can be stressful and annoying. People get irritated and then they start to argue. So how do you create a deep level connection, nervous system to nervous system that promotes the Goodwill that you need?

That’s really the first point of the book. The second point is to really extend relationship health into greater inclusion of diverse individuals and couples. This is just a pet peeve of mine that a lot of the books on the market only talk about relationship between a man and a woman or they only talk about monogamous, married people and all the examples are around that. There’s too many couples today that just don’t see themselves in those resources. As a therapist, I use a science-based definition of relationship, health not a cultural or a religious one. So based on the science of connection I speak to diverse individuals and couples in the book and I’m hoping it’s a resource for everybody.
[JOE] Well, that first question of how to connect nervous systems what is the research showing us like, were there any studies you saw that really just stand out to you that you just got geeked out over like, oh my gosh, this study really like represented what I’m thinking here. Take us through some of the science and some of the outcomes that you saw.
[JOHN] I wish I could point to just one study, but the amazing thing about this line of research in psychology is that is how extensive it is. I mean, the book is based on over 250 peer reviewed research articles which is probably 10 times more than any relationship self-help book I’ve ever picked up. The reason why I really wanted to include all of those studies is to show people the breadth of the research. I mean, these things have been studied and studied and confirmed many, many times over. Essentially what the research shows is that in human interactions, the brain and the nervous system are mostly concerned with safety and security. Until that box is checked it’s really hard to play in the other dimensions of relationship. The problem is we live in a culture that prioritizes logical communication, and we’re not really taught how to co-regulate nervous systems, how to communicate connection to the subconscious.

So I do that in the book. For example, the research is really clear that if we talk a little less and we touch a little bit more, we can communicate directly to the subconscious. I care about you, I’m here, I love you, I’m paying attention to you. A lot of people don’t use those words because they’re a little bit embarrassing and awkward but when you take the time to be fully present, you slow down, you sink into the moment, you look someone in the eyes, you touch them and you say meaningful, that creates a connection that lasts all day. That’s another myth we have in modern society is that we need time for date night and time to spend with our partner, otherwise connection is impossible, but the research shows that connection is not a function of time. It’s much more a function of how present we are in the moment with each other. I’ve been using this with my couples for years and years and years, the couples I work with clinically and it works really well. It’s really powerful. So there’s also my own experience of what really helps people be more connected which I’ve woven into the book as well.
[JOE] So is this true, both with the beginning of a relationship as well as established, or does it change, I’m thinking about new relationship energy versus you’re a year in versus you’re 17 years in. Like, are there different strategies based on the length of the relationship or is it pretty much universal all the way through?
[JOHN] That’s such a great question. Obviously you’re a therapist and an experienced clinician because most people who interview me don’t ask a nuanced question like that, but you know as well as your listeners know that there are phases to relationships and the relationship is different in each phase. What is true consistently across the board is the nervous system still cares primarily about how secure do I feel with you? Can I relax with you? Do I trust you emotionally? That’s true from the very first date all the way through the phases of relationship, the brain never becomes unconcerned with that. We can leverage that to create connection in all the phases of relationship.

For example, when people play these dating games, I’m too cool for school, you’re going to have to chase me in order to show that I’m valuable or something like that, well, we know from the research, all that does is muck up the secure attachment component of that future relationship. So what are you doing that for? So even in the honeymoon phase where like you said, there’s NRE and the chemical cocktail and all that stuff, I encourage people to act securely just like they would in a committed relationship and to do it from the get go so that you start establishing a sense of security and values in that relationship, because you don’t know where it’s going to go.

Then when you get into the reality phase, which is where these differences become annoying, you know we have to live with people and deal with these differences, well you have to have a deep sense of connection to bridge those. Otherwise you just end up arguing all the time. If you and I start living together and you’re a saver and I’m a spender we’re going to be at each other’s throats every single day. We have to have a very strong level of subconscious connection to get through that. That’s what the book helps people with, is how do you build that to carry you into the phases of relationship everybody wants, where you feel relaxed, you’re trusting and you can really enjoy yourselves.
[JOE] So within that example is the idea that then if there’s a base safety and security, trust, knowing that you and I have each other’s best interest in mind, then when we get to the money fight or differences of opinion, there’s that core, like I know John’s got my back. I know Joe’s got my back, even though he wants to spend an S ton of money on fill in the blank.
[JOHN] I do. I do want to spend an S ton of money if you don’t mind. No, you’re absolutely right. I mean, what most people do is they try to communicate through differences and that doesn’t work very well because the nervous system is scared. It feels threatened by the difference. So unless you can put me at ease, our verbal back and forth is typically just going to be a debate of ideas and it can harm the relationship. What’s really important to understand is that we have to connect first and prove to our nervous systems that we love each other. We’re going to do that by sitting closely to each other. We’re going to do that by touching each other.

We’re going to do that by making eye contact, by monitoring our tone of voice so that it’s warm and kind, by using our body language that obviously communicates in signals, friendliness. We’re going to do all those things so that the nervous system can relax and trust exactly like you said you’ve got my back, I care about you. That’s the most important thing we’re going to track here, is how do we feel with each other? How do we take care of each other? So when people connect, well, they manage their money differences. But when they don’t, it’s an impossible job because communication alone can’t do it
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[JOE SANOK] Now there’s so many different research-based couples’ programs out there, and I’m not going to ask you to call them out, but what are some maybe leading teachings you see that are pretty predominant out there that you would say, “I don’t think the research really supports that. Like we bought into that 10 years ago and now I don’t see it.” Where would you tear down ways that maybe therapists unknowingly are practicing that’s now maybe not being supported by the research as much?
[JOHN] Well, I don’t mind naming them. It’s a conversation we’re always having in the field because the research gets updated every year. Most of the major models of couples therapy are still pretty good. I mean, Gottman method has been around for decades. It’s got solid research behind it. It’s still a valid approach. You have newer ones like Sue Johnson’s EFT and Stan Tatkin’s Packed. These are more neuroscience informed models, which make use of regulation theory and modern attachment theory and things like that. I mean, all these models are still valid, but what I would say is that neuroscience really changed couple’s therapy a lot. Some of the older models I think struggled to revamp themselves because once you’ve been teaching something a while, it’s hard to change the training manuals, it’s hard to retrain faculty.

One difference we have seen in the neuroscience era is that the old style of couples therapy where you talk about your problems and then the therapist sends you home with some stuff to practice is not ideal in terms of shifting automatic behavior. Most relationship behavior is automatic. It’s procedural. Our facial expressions, our tone of voice, our eyes, our body language, everything happens so fast. You can’t really control that stuff with thought. So when you’re engaged in a more psychoeducational type of couples therapy you’re having to think your way through to different behaviors.

What we have found in the neuroscience era is that if you just help people practice healthier relationship skills experientially, that that stuff really sticks, especially when people get upset and they get stressed and their frontal lobes go offline. If they’ve practiced their moves, like what do I do when I hate your guts, what do I do when I feel scared and I want to end the relationship? Well, if people have practiced those scenarios, they have more available moves. They know things that they can do and say that promote connection. So these days couples’ therapy is way more experiential for that reason.
[JOE] So what would an experiential activity look like either therapist led or someone taking homework home, like, okay, I want to practice being mad at you. What does that even look like?
[JOHN] So it’s great to do in therapy. This is why I find couples therapy to be pretty fun because it’s a little bit like an acting class in terms of these newer methods. You’re getting people to practice interactions that are typically hard for them. So going back to our money difference, if that’s a tough conversation for us, well we need to practice how we do it well. We can’t just hope it goes better the next time. So I have a lot of exercises in the book so that people can put themselves in a practice scenario. What that means is you pick a time when you’re both fairly well regulated. You can’t do this when you’re arguing. At that point you have to connect and regulate to bring the Goodwill back online, but let’s pick a time when we’re not upset and we’re not arguing and we already know this money difference is kicking our butt.

Okay, so what we can do at home as a couple is we can say, look, when you and I talk about money, we suck at it. Okay, let’s just be honest. It’s not just your fault or mine. It’s just, we have a difference and we don’t manage it very well. So let’s practice what a healthier money conversation could look like, and let’s go slow and let’s monitor ourselves really carefully to see when it goes off, when we get frustrated, when we get overwhelmed and what we do for each other when that happens do we just keep talking? Do we elevate our tone of voice? Do our eyes start to look more aggressive or can we build the skill to recognize that and go I’m starting to get frustrated. I know you love me, I know you care about me, why don’t we take a walk together, hold hands, just chill out for a few minutes and then go back to it?. So these are strategies I teach in the book where instead of pushing through hard stuff, where you get dis-regulated, you learn how to take care of each other in the moment.
[JOE] Yes, so going back to that idea of just safety and falling into somebody, even when it all hits the fan.
[JOHN] I have to know that you care about me, even if we’re on a tough topic, because if my brain starts to question that now we’re in real trouble and the sense of threat really goes up.
[JOE] It seems to point too, I think it’s the third horseman in the Gottman where that like criticism and critique, where that’s going to be so pronounced, if you don’t have just a basic sense of connection with that person.
[JOHN] Exactly. I think Gottman identified this pretty early on that master couples really take care of the process of interaction and they’re willing to pivot off the content. His antidote for criticism is slow start and slow start is a good antidote to criticism. The only issue there is a slow start is a good beginning, but now you have to track the nervous system moment by moment throughout the interaction. You have to be ready to pivot at any time.
[JOE] I’m thinking about, so like the book, The Scream Free Marriage he talks about how relationships are like a campfire if one element changes, like you don’t have to have your partner change to make it work; whereas I think the Gottman oftentimes talk about if one partner has critique and criticism, like it’s going to be very hard for that couple. So on one side we hear just one person can change the marriage, which that makes sense, on the other side, if you both aren’t in that’s tough too. When you think about, say there is one person that is doing a lot of self-development work, they’re trying to work on this and the other person, maybe they go along with it because they know their partner is doing this work, but they’re not fully in, how does a couple’s therapists work with that type of couple? Or what do you do in those types of situations?
[JOHN] So the danger with personal growth is that it could help the relationship. It could also harm the relationship. A lot of people don’t realize this, but as therapists, we see it a lot. If one person goes to therapy and starts really engaging in their own personal growth, it could possibly widen the divide they have with their partner. If the partner’s not coming along, then you’re possibly making the chasm larger and worse. So if the relationship is important to you and you want to keep it is important for people to move together throughout life, to share ideas, to cross pollinate each other’s minds, to be humble and curious and continue learning from each other. That adaptation continues to promote connection throughout life because we all change as we get older. So you can’t just put a relationship on autopilot.

So it’s a tricky thing because sometimes an individual needs to grow and when they do it makes the relationship better. That does happen sometimes. The research I think would validate that if someone takes up meditation, they’re likely to make their relationship better because they can regulate better. But there’s so many other examples where people think, okay, if I just focus on myself, it’ll make my relationship better and it doesn’t. The big problem with that is you’re not moving together as a team. Think about any sports team. If the individuals just focus on their individual skillset, well, they might play better, but in team sports, you really have to coordinate if you’re going to be a strong team and if you don’t coordinate well, you’re going to get exposed no matter how talented the individuals are.

So the coordination really matters and that’s why as a couple’s therapist, I always challenge people to work as a team. So if I have a couple that comes in one, person’s engaging in personal growth, the other partner’s like, yes, I don’t know if I’m interested, I’m really looking for the common ground, where can they share a growth experience? Where can they improve the relationship with each other so that they’re not just moving apart?
[JOE] So as you build things whether it’s the book or video series, how has that directly impacted your actual clinical work in client acquisition, marketing, things like that?
[JOHN] That’s a great question for people that are building their practice, which you’ve done really successfully. I have a large group practice as well. I know a lot of people are right now in the midst of building group practices. So what I found is when I started doing other things besides just clinical work. When I started educating, when I started recording videos, when I started doing the podcast, when I started writing articles for third party platforms, when I started giving talks, all of it increased the visibility of my clinical practice. I started getting a lot more requests for therapy, which meant my rate had to go up because it was tough to manage the demand. Then as you probably experienced as well, I started hiring additional clinicians to meet the demand and training them so that they were versed in some of the same methods that people were calling me for.

So it takes a lot of extra work outside of clinical hours. This is where a lot of people have the idea to build a practice, they’d like to get to that level, but they may not be willing to put in the work because the bottom line is after a day of seeing clients you now have to spend additional hours networking, marketing, tending to your website, writing articles, editing stuff, recording a video, developing products, working on your social. So you never stop working in a sense. If you’re built that way, then it’s fine. All that marketing stuff definitely supercharges the demand that you can experience for your clinical work. And definitely that’s what I experienced, is that all the stuff around the clinical work helped build the practice.
[JOE] The way I think through it is, even when I had my practice is there’s the things that I know right now are going to make me money. We got to keep those going, but there’s things that if it’s successful, it’s going to make everything else just so much easier and scalable. So yes, it may take a long time to make that first hire or may take a long time to make that second hire and fill them up but if I have two or three people in the group practice that are seeing clients, I don’t have the same pressure to see as many clients. Or sure I spent all this time getting a book, deal, writing the book, then doing the like virtual book tour. When I look at the 200 plus interviews I did in August and September of 2021, like it financially does not make sense to write a book. But then the doors that it’s opened, just one new door can open up something amazing, those connections, meeting David Meltzer and being on his show and other folks. It’s like that wouldn’t have happened without this book. So for me, having those gambles that you’re always working on, you have no idea where that’s going to take you and it may help the practice. It may help you build multiple streams of income, even beyond the practice.
[JOHN] It’s true. All those pieces work together. It’s a tough sell when people have busy family lives and they’re just trying to focus on what makes them money in the short term. But I try to remind the therapists I train about this is, look, you’re going to end up doing a lot of stuff that doesn’t pay you, but it will pay you eventually. It’s an entrepreneurial mindset that I will work now for a future benefit. I used to spend a lot of time traveling to different cities, Joe, just networking with people in the mental health space. There wasn’t any money that was coming from that, but I was doing it because I knew then that I wanted to have an impact.

I knew then that I wanted to build a bigger platform than just doing clinical work, that I had a message to get out there into the space for professionals in the public. So I did a lot of things. I’d put up flyers in coffee shops and I’d give free talks in the community. I’d sign up family members for educational stuff, just so I could practice. I’d write articles over and over again until they were good enough to submit somewhere, all the little stuff. Unfortunately you don’t get paid for it up front, but if you hustle, then over time, it makes a big difference.
[JOE] I remember one of the first things I did with my private practice is I reached out to the local newspaper, the opinion section, and just said if you ever have somebody that no-shows or doesn’t get their article in on time, I’m happy to do a mental health article. Within two weeks they’re like, “Somebody didn’t put in their article on time. We need one last minute. Can you do one in like two hours?” So I got it in. Then they said, “Do you want to be a monthly article writer for us?” It was unpaid but the amount of grandmas that would cut it out and give it to their kids, it was hilarious. Once or twice a week I’d have some grandma just stop me and be like, “I love your articles. They’re so great.” It’s like that little thing that didn’t pay, you didn’t have a clear ROI on it. It’s in the newspaper, just was a way that got the word out about mental wellness counseling. So it’s like, you never know those little things that are going to really make you stand out.
[JOHN] Yes, absolutely. I think it’s so important. I used to teach a private practice class in graduate school for therapists and that was really the hardest thing to get across, is that it takes motivation and hustle. It’s not just tactics and strategies. You have to have the energy for it. And not everyone is built that way. Most people, when they get done with their sessions they just want to relax and watch Netflix. It’s a rare practitioner that then goes to work on their practice. But you and I have a lot of stories like that because for whatever reason, we had that extra energy and motivation to build something. I used to call up yoga studios and I used to say, “Hey, you probably don’t have anyone talking about depression and anxiety, but I’d love to come in and do that for free. Oh, by the way, I’ll bring a whole bunch of people that have never been to your studio before.”

That’s a really easy sell for any other wellness business to go, ah, sure, we’d love to have a licensed person come in and talk about something smart and bring a whole bunch of new people to our business. Well, what I could do with that, even though it was a free talk that I would give in the evening or something like that was one, I’d get clients out of it because the studio is promoting it to their community and to their list. Two, I’d go to the next wellness business down the street and say, “Hey, I just gave this great talk at X yoga studio and it went really well. I’d be willing to do the same for your business.” So it’s taking each opportunity you can create and leveraging it into a bigger opportunity. That’s what entrepreneurs do. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of work, but if you have the energy for it does help build a practice.
[JOE] Oh, so many great tips. I know we could talk for a long time, John. The last question I always ask is if every private practitioner in the world were listening right now, what would you want them to know?
[JOHN] The main thing I want them to know is that in graduate school, a lot of people are taught theoretical orientations separately and in distinct fashion. That’s not how private practice actually works, especially in the neuroscience era. Maybe 20 or 30 years ago, you could get away with being this type of therapist, that type of therapist, these very sort of niched out boutique ways of working. The problem now is that we understand the intersection of physical and mental health more than ever. We understand depression is also physical. Anxiety is also physical. Stress is also physical. So I’m a big proponent of integrative healing and comprehensive treatment plans. If you’re a therapist in private practice, you may be the only wellness provider that person is seeing.

They maybe haven’t seen a doctor in a few years, but possibly their mental health issue has a physical component. How are their hormones? How’s their thyroid? Are they physically healthy? Are they sleeping? How’s their diet? What’s going on with them physically impacts their mental health and what’s going on with them mentally impacts their physical health. So the biggest thing I try to get across now in my trainings is you need to be prepared to create comprehensive treatment plans. You don’t have to do it all. You’re not going to be the medical doctor or the primary care provider or the psychiatrist or the nutritionist or any of that stuff, but you better make sure that stuff is being handled. Otherwise you’re pushing a boulder a pill. You can try to work on someone’s depression for two years, but if it’s not an integrative comprehensive plan and approach to the depression, you may not be very successful.
[JOE] So awesome. John, if people want to get your book, I know you also have some things that are extra resources for people, where can they find those resources and more about the book?
[JOHN] People can go to The advantage of going to that website, buying the book, putting in your order number, all that stuff is you will get a free bonus chapter on attachment that I wrote for the book that didn’t make it into the book because we already had too many cool things and the publisher was like it’s chalk full of stuff. So I decided to give it away free as a bonus chapter. People get a neuroscience-based guide to connection. They get my myth busting guide of busting popular relationship myths. So is the place to go and then they can communicate with me from there.
[JOE] Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice podcast.
[JOHN] Thank you so much, Joe. It’s been a great honor to speak to your people.
[JOE] Well, we love covering things that are clinical here, as well as all sorts of other stuff about private practice. I mean this month already has been just chalked full of things. We kicked it off with Danielle Hayden talking about knowing your numbers, last week we talked to Lexi and Ron who talked all about being married entrepreneurs. Later this month we have a huge series coming out. We have, let me see how many episodes are going to be in this series. We’re going to have oh, it wasn’t as huge as I thought, three episodes with Alison and Whitney about Group Practice Boss and how to launch a group practice. So some really great things coming up. Make sure you keep up. We’re doing four episodes a week now. So just make sure that you find the ones that suit your fancy.

Also we could not do this without our sponsors. Brighter Vision has been a sponsor for years. Brighter Vision specializes in making therapist websites and for a low monthly fee of $59 a month, you get all the IT support, all of the building, all of that optimization of your website, totally for that price of 59 bucks. If you want to get some free months head on over to practice, I’m sorry, head on over to and you’ll be able to get those free months also.

So thank you so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Have an amazing week. I’ll talk to you soon.

Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music. We really like it. And this podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. This is given with the understanding that neither the host, the publisher, or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical, or other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.

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