We had the good fortune of connecting with Jenni J.V. Wilson, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Jenni J.V., we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I believe risk is relative. What feels risky for one person might seem like the obvious or conventional move for someone else. Making a choice to do one thing almost always means choosing not to do others. Having too many choices can sometimes immobilize us, leaving us at the whim of outside forces feeling like victims of circumstance rather than the powerful mapmakers of our own journeys. If we are waiting for clear answers, for some signpost-from-above on which direction we “should” take, we might never move at all.

Although I’d wanted to be a therapist since I was 10 years old, walking away from the entertainment industry to return to grad school for clinical psychology at age 40 seemed bold. However, my experience had shown me that no career field was riskier for me than the largely subjective world of arts and entertainment where I’d been bouncing around for nearly two decades. Had I come from a stable 9-to-5 working, 401K-having, security-promoting career, then the uncertainty of building a private psychotherapy practice would have felt more daunting, no doubt. But the freelance lifestyle of working in film and television had prepared me for the instabilities and debts I would face navigating grad school, logging 3000 interning hours, building a new professional network, and starting up a private practice – one client at a time.

I haven’t always said “Yes!” to opportunities presented to me, but I’ve learned the importance to educate, calculate, and meditate on potential moves to be as prepared as I can in the face of risk. If I’m taking a risk, I hope I’m doing it consciously!

There’s a Pema Chodron quote on a post-it by my desk that reads, “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.” In order to know ourselves, in order to grow, we must risk being uncomfortable in the newness of situations, in being vulnerable, in the short-term loss for the long-term gain, and in the face of possible annihilation. The risk of stagnation feels greater to me than any risk of failure.

What should our readers know about your business?
My business is “Your Virtual Best Friend” because I believe the relationship between therapist and client can be one of the closest a person might have in their lifetime. As a therapist I have the privilege of helping others discover more about themselves than anyone else might ever know and actively supporting them through life stages and changes. It can be heavy, sitting with the pain of others, and it can be elevating witnessing their breakthroughs and joys. It can be the stuff of a true – albeit one-sided – friendship within an hour or two a week.

Although I work with all kinds of clients, my areas of specialty are building successful relationships, avoiding toxic ones, bettering communication, managing stress, improving self-esteem, navigating complex identity issues, and increasing creative expression. I use narrative and post-modern techniques, as well as EMDR, in collaborative conversation with clients.

Building my business was slow and steady. I learned a lot about patience, and how not to get waylaid by suffering when progress seemed stagnant. I embrace downtime now, recharging and investing my energies back into networking with colleagues and connecting with loved ones I dearly miss when caught up in those busy periods. Learning how to surf these waves of change has paid off. My business has grown more from the relationships built with clients and colleagues who refer new clients to me, rather than from any marketing or branding I’ve done. I am admittedly embarrassed at the state of my website and lack of social media presence, and always intend to work on fixing that, (maybe in 2022!), but I’m more interested in finding new ways to support my clients and grow as a clinician than I am in self-promotion. Still, I know the marketing part of business is important, and I’m always excited to get opportunities to talk about my work with folx and outlets like Shoutout LA!

Lessons I’ve learned that have been essential in business include not taking things personally, managing expectations (of myself and others), and detaching from outcome. My work requires I continue gaining education, seeking counsel and support from peers and experts, all of which help keep me connected to humility and in a state of Beginner’s Mind. I am grateful to know so many talented folx who can help the clients I cannot, and I’m always happy to refer out to them.

The hardest part of the business for me has been in charging for what my time, skills, and experience are worth. It’s easy to be a “hooker with a heart of gold” in this field when the motivation was never fame or fortune. I’ve managed this by thoughtfully allotting a certain number of weekly hours for lower-fee clients, and balancing it out with those who can afford to pay my full-rate. The more successful my private practice is, the more volunteer hours I have to offer outside of it, as well.

I am proudly mixed-race. Stuck not being white enough or Mexican enough, I’ve lived a life in-between, outside the box, in the margins, and “potentially suspect” as Barack Obama describes the biracial experience. I think my greatest strengths as a therapist stem from my experiences feeling like an outsider but sticking around anyway. I can see multiple sides, deeply empathize, objectively listen, and truly want others to connect with their healthiest unapologetic selves – whatever that might look like.

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?
Los Angeles is a miracle city. I would want to share my favorite hiking spots like Franklin Canyon or Runyon. Take my dog with us down to the dog beach in Long Beach. To walk the Silverlake reservoir and shop at Skylight Bookstore on Vermont in Los Feliz. I love architecture and would drive them through Beverly Hills, Hollywood – including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, and the post-modern wonder of Sherman Oaks. I’d take them to brunch at Sweet Butter on Ventura Blvd, dinner at Yamashiro for the view, Crossroads Kitchen or Gracias Madre for their extensive delicious vegan offerings, and La Provence Patisserie and Cafe on Olympic Blvd in Beverly Hills for breakfast, lunch, sweets, and nosh. Shopping in Pasadena. I could spend an entire day at The Last Book Store downtown LA and all night at the downtown artwalk. I’m a big fan of LACMA. MOCA, and the Broad. A concert at the Greek or the Hollywood Bowl. A show at Largo. A visit to Earth2Comics in Sherman Oaks. And if they were down, I’m always game to pay a visit to the beautiful campus of my beloved undergrad alma mater Occidental College.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There’s a reason people become artists… and therapists, and my family or origin is my primary reason for both. My grandfather was “my person” as a child, that one loving, consistent adult who believes in you – he was the first person who told me I should be a therapist some day. My brilliant talented sisters Halli Villegas, Alejandra Villegas, Zoe Villegas, Elisa Gurule, and Roxanna Zuniga who I left behind to come to Los Angeles 34+ years ago, and whose powerful, fearless, creative Chicana energies continue to give me life from a distance.

I would not be alive were it not for all my friends and their families who’ve given literal and metaphorical shelter to me – sharing their lives, their secrets, their worlds, and their knowledge with me. Those lived experiences of listening to, observing, and being a part of their stories have been as educational as anything books have taught me. My business may not exist were it not for my brother-from-another-mother Jason Snyder, LMFT, another artist whose announcement he was going to grad school for clinical psychology inspired me to join him.

As different as we are, my clinical supervisor (and now friend) Dr. Wendy O’Connor challenged me to build my practice in a way that would be true to myself, encouraging me to take risks. Besides the clients themselves, Clinical Director Sarah Taylor is the reason I continue to work outside my private practice in addiction recovery at Conclusions Treatment Center in Mission Hills – when you find good people you love working with, it will take a lot to walk away.

Therapy can be a lonely profession, and I’m a people-person, so I am glad Darlene Basch, LCSW invited me to become involved with the Los Angeles chapter of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (LA-CAMFT) six years ago, where I’ve had the privilege of serving on the Board of Directors of this 600+ member chapter the past four years and as President in 2021.

No one has been more instrumental to my sanity and success than my partner Tom, who gave me his full and enthusiastic support when I decided to blow up our lives with a career change only a year into our marriage. We could not have known how that risk would be the best investment we’d made when in 2020, due to Covid, his work in the entertainment industry ground to a halt for 9-months, and mine as a psychotherapist increased astronomically.

Lastly, I frequently recommend and return to the books that inspire me, “A Guide to Rational Living” by Albert Ellis, “If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!” by Sheldon Kopp, and “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.

Website: www.jennijvwilson.com

Instagram: @ThePreppyRebel

Twitter: @JenniJVWilson

Facebook: www.facebook.com/JenniJVWilson

Image Credits
Jenni J.V. Wilson

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