The Mastermind Effect

My practice is turning from lone wolf to wolf pack.

Pivoting my practice of psychology is not just a business decision. Now is a time for radical change. Our whole society, even institutions that deliver human services like mental health and education and health care, is constructed on a framework that fosters racism, toxic masculinity, ableism, transphobia, and homophobia. We need new models to move our institutions in a more inclusive direction.

I previously shared how our team is writing an obituary for the billable hour. Today, we are kicking over the cubicles.

People love to declare how they are “a lone wolf.” I think that is because most of us have experienced so many challenging and toxic work cultures that we have learned to prefer to work in isolation. But, wait. Don’t wolves hunt in packs?

When you work in a cubicle (or all of 2020, at your kitchen table), you have to stand up to make eye contact. You need to get up out of your seat to share an idea or ask a question. You need to reach out, beyond your walls, to connect. The “connective tissue” that supports our work is created beyond the cubicle walls.

Parents hire therapists and tutors for their kids but they don’t always get the results that they seek. In suburban Philadelphia, we are privileged to live in an area swimming with qualified professionals who do great work. However, contracting to work by the hour hinders the full power of this therapeutic relationship. The professional doesn’t have the perch to gain a larger vision of the family system, the client family doesn’t benefit from the cohesion that a team approach can provide, and the relationship is constrained by a contract that is constantly renegotiated from one billable hour to the next.

While in college, I studied architecture at Cornell University one summer. It was the first time since kindergarten that I did creative work in front of other people. Spread across the large, open studio floor, our drafting tables were grouped into pods of six students. Working in this open space gave me:

  • the opportunity to see other people working, which created momentum through positive peer pressure
  • a source of inspiration when I could see another student in the studio was in the zone
  • the ease to ask spontaneous, little questions that moved my work forward and got me unstuck
  • regular eye contact with a team of other students who wanted to support me
  • a great way to share music and jokes and to be silly, the connective tissue that tied all the work together
  • the chance to help a fellow student when they were stuck

I have indelible memories of those benefits. Over 30 years later, I realize how I have been chasing that vibe ever since.

As psychologists, our work is inherently one-to-one, behind closed doors. The limits of confidentiality rival the levels of security clearance in the CIA. There are good reasons for client communication to be held as privileged but these limits can also impede us from collaborating when needed. I know that we could be stronger if we could use teamwork to solve the problems that families ask me to consult on.

Until now, I have been missing that “connective tissue” that supports my work with families and kids. Brief opportunities to consult with colleagues, under strict rules of anonymity, yielded breakthroughs that always help the client. As we transcend the limits of the billable hour, our team approach is also kicking over the cubicles to benefit our client families.

In his 1925 book “The Law of Success,” Napoleon Hill described the power of the Mastermind Group. We are smarter and more innovative when we work together to solve a problem or design a solution. My recent collaborations have led to explosive results. In writing my first book with the help of Kristin Kane Ford and creating the podcast I Am The Worst Parent Ever with Nicole Merritt, I achieved levels of productivity that I never thought possible.

Now, I am bringing that power of collaboration in-house, working in synchrony with colleagues whom I hold in high esteem. With some simple team agreements and informed consent from our client families, our team of board-certified behavior analysts, licensed and school-certified psychologists offer a holistic, collaborative approach for families that need more than hourly therapy. Creating our own mastermind group opens up a universe of possible results for the families we support.

I feel like I put together a team of Super Friends (not coincidentally my favorite cartoon growing up). We are equipped to provide a wide range of services in addition to therapy:

  • parent coaching
  • executive functioning coaching
  • behavior consultation
  • comprehensive and focused (e.g., Executive Function) assessments

Our team is making a difference for kids and families, consulting to find solutions beyond the therapy hour. We focus on the horizon, not the clock.

The teamwork that we achieve parallels the connections that we help families to achieve. Our team meets together to put in the work, deciding how we will make decisions, where our roles start and stop, and when we need to slow down to reach a consensus. Our approach to teamwork parallels the ways that engaged parents and children support each other.

The secret ingredient is the trust that we have for our families, the trust that we have in each other, and the commitment we make to take radical responsibility for our families, dedicating all of our resources to the family’s goals.

photo credit: Brooke Cagle/Unsplash