We had the good fortune of connecting with Laura Lee Townsend and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Laura Lee, let’s start by talking about what inspires you?
I am continually inspired by my clients. The courage I see people summon to step into my office and face their biggest fears, traumas, obstacles, and/or inner and external critics head on is incredibly inspiring and humbling.
As a consumer and practitioner of therapy, I know how nerve-wracking it can be to revisit some of the most painful points in your life and entrust that information to a stranger. When I witness creative, prolific, intricate processing sessions that come from within others’ psyches and observe the human brain’s capacity to heal itself, it encourages me. I am reminded that I, too, can continue to push through my own perceived barriers and seek new levels of peace, healing, creativity, and confidence.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more? How did you get to where you are today business-wise. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way.
I specialize in trauma recovery, though I enjoy working with individuals, couples, and families of all backgrounds. I often use Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, which is an evidence-based integrative therapy protocol that aims to bridge the gap between mental and physical suffering to provide relief from all sorts of problems. It was originally designed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, but we now have lots of research showing it’s effective for much more, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, childhood trauma, and phobias. It’s endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), U.S. Department of Defense, and U.S. Veteran Affairs and World Health Organization (WHO). I have yet to find any mental health condition or problem that it has not helped.
I get so excited sharing about EMDR therapy because I have experienced it personally as well as offer it professionally. It’s such a completely different approach to therapy – it’s much more experiential compared to traditional talk therapy (at least in my experience) and you can quite literally feel the difference. The approach directs the client to focus on debilitating physical symptoms connected to the trauma or condition (for example, the racing heart, sweating and nausea characteristic of severe anxiety). I also prefer my EMDR approach because it comes from the position that the answers and soothing mechanisms are already present within us, which aligns with my personal philosophy.
My role in our work together is to provide the path and steps for clients to access relief and healing. It awes me to witness the endless array of possibilities our miraculous brains hold to process deeply terrifying and painful experiences into memories that no longer hold power over us. I especially enjoy working with creatives, entrepreneurs, performers, and professional athletes. It’s endless fascinating to me to watch how EMDR therapy helps people overcome their creative, professional, or performance blocks.
It has not been an easy journey. To be honest, heading into this career change, I did not realize how long it takes to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist or Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor. Not only do we have to earn Master’s Degrees, we also have to earn 3,000 hours of clinical experience under licensed supervisors. So that’s at least another two years of commitment after the two to three years of graduate school. I hit walls of fear along this process several times. It felt a bit like walking on a tightrope over a canyon and I just had to keep inching forward because going backwards wasn’t an option. A major reoccurring fear was the financial piece. Piling on massive student loans to go back to school, having a new baby, and not earning an income for a period of time so I could focus on my child and my schooling was extremely difficult for me. There were times where I panicked that I’d made a horrible mistake and felt guilty for putting my family through this.
Fortunately, I’m surrounded by supportive therapists who helped me work through my fears whenever they surfaced. So it probably comes as no surprise that one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to ask for help when I need it.
Therapy is so, so helpful for when we’re facing really difficult challenges in our lives. It helps you break down and examine your fears. And it’s not just about getting through the dark times and back to normal; therapy can also help you reach new levels of confidence and goals you may have never thought possible. Another empowering lesson I’ve learned that I often share with clients is the “and/both” approach to life rather than an “either/or” model. There are often so many more creative options than the standard choices we’re presented with at first glance. Take time to explore all the options to see what truly fits for you.
I’m grateful that this journey has been teaching me how to listen to and trust my own intuition. I didn’t do that a lot growing up or even in my 20s. I outsourced the answers because I believed others knew better. I came to realize that while loved ones’ opinions are important, only I know what decisions will serve me best. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” With this quote, he summarizes my definition of success. That’s why I find it especially rewarding to help others find and listen to their inner voice. I encourage others not to fear searching for work or relationships that lights them up when talking about it.
There were so many times I felt depressed and discouraged because I knew I wasn’t in a good fit career-wise or I felt like I was crazy for wanting something more than the standard model. But I kept searching and I’m so glad I didn’t give up on that little voice inside. Keep going, be kind to yourself, and seek support because it’s so worth all the effort when you find the people and passions you love.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’m lucky to live walking distance to the beach, so whenever friends or family come in to visit, going to the beach is always top of the list. So eating at Fisherman’s Restaurant on the San Clemente Pier is fun. For other food recommendations in San Clemente, I like to take people to The Cellar, Nick’s, Fig 313, Village Mediterranean Rim, 9 Style Sushi, Mongkut Thai, and Nomad’s. We also have a favorite dive bar Knuckleheads that we love to support. If our visitors are in town for a whole week, we might take them to Laguna Beach where there are lots of art galleries, restaurants and shops. I also like taking people down to Balboa Park in San Diego; home to lots of cool street performers, art, and museums. The San Diego Zoo is fun, too. Or we might go up to the Long Beach Aquarium and eat at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. If there are kids in the mix, we go to Disneyland, Legoland or Knott’s Berry Farm. Clearly COVID has changed a lot of what we can do and where we can go, though!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Oh wow, yes, absolutely. So many professors, supervisors, and loved ones have taught, mentored, and supported me through this ongoing journey of becoming a licensed therapist! I am aware every day that I could not be where I am without the support of my spouse, Adam. I gave birth to our daughter in the middle of my graduate schooling and he picked up so much slack (physically, emotionally, financially) so I could keep studying and working. He is an incredible partner. Of course, I had other family and friends cheering me on, but he absorbed the bulk of my endeavor. I am extremely proud of my Pepperdine University education. All the professors were exceptional, professional, inspiring, and supportive. I felt well-prepared for my career upon graduation. I hope to become a faculty member there eventually and give back to aspiring therapists and counselors. Some particular professors I would like to give a shout-out to include: Dr. Chris Hoff, Dr. Steven Beazley, Dr. Lori Aleknavicius, Anne Kerbrat, LMFT, Dr. Gimel Rogers, Dr. Rogelio Serrano, Dr. Amy Tuttle Guerrero, and Carly Ketchum, LMFT. Within my internship sites, I had many supervisors who spent countless hours mentoring me and providing feedback, support, and training. I will be forever grateful to Dr. Burt Winer with the Institute of Advanced Studies where I started my professional training. I’d also like to provide a shout-out to Kathleen Wenger, LMFT, who has been my most consistent mentor through this process. Other supervisors who have supported me through this process include Bill Yates, LMFT; Jack Platt, LCSW; Elizabeth Cappelletti, LMFT; Penelope Velazquez, LMFT, and Lynda Lennox, LMFT. I’m also grateful to so many colleagues along the way, especially those at the Laguna Beach Senior Center at the Susi Q, the GUIDE program through the City of Carlsbad, and those at Laguna Beach Counseling. All of these people have helped make me a better therapist. In addition, I want to thank the Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy masters, Dr. Michelle Gottlieb, Dr. Curt Rouanzoin, Dr. Charlotte, Winters, and Dr. Deb Silveria for their ongoing expertise in helping me become the best EMDR clinician I can be. Last but not least, a shout-out to the talented artist Milly Reed for nominating me, I wouldn’t get this exposure without her.