Episode 105: Building Neurodivergent Friendly Classrooms: Creating Educational Change [featuring Erica Whitfield]
So far, the education system in the United States has been mainly geared toward creating a neurotypical learning environment, but not everyone absorbs and processes information in the same way.
I just finished recording an episode of the All Things Private Practice Podcast with the amazing Erica Whitfield, a therapist and passionate visionary for creating neurodivergent-friendly schools!
In this episode, we explore the significance of movement in learning and processing information. Both children and adults can benefit from incorporating movement into their educational experiences. Erica sheds light on the importance of validation, patience, and understanding, particularly for neurodivergent children, to prevent meltdowns and foster a supportive learning environment.
Here are three key takeaways from our conversation:
- Pursue your dreams: Erica encourages us to explore the dreams we haven't even imagined yet. By taking steps towards what truly aligns with us, we can experience joy and fulfillment in our lives.
- Redefine education: We discuss the impact of segregating children into same-age peer groups and the consequences of imposing arbitrary learning timelines. Erica quotes Carol Black, highlighting the need for a shift in educational approaches and acknowledging the importance of movement in learning.
- Embrace change: Erica shares her journey of pivoting and making hard decisions to create space for new pursuits. She reminds us that entrepreneurship is a journey of evolution and adaptation, and it's okay to change course as our passions and interests evolve.
One thought-provoking moment from the podcast was when Erica asked listeners to share a word they'd never heard before. This exercise is a reminder that there are worlds of knowledge and dreams that we have yet to explore and imagine.
To address the challenges faced by parents seeking inclusive and neurodivergent-friendly education, Erica is forming a team of like-minded individuals. This diverse team, comprising parents from different educational backgrounds, aims to raise awareness, advocate for change, and create classrooms that genuinely support every child's unique needs. The vision is not limited to indoor facilities but extends to cultivating environments that foster growth, creativity, and understanding.
Lastly, we explore the importance of pivoting and adapting as entrepreneurs. The realization that pursuing certain activities may no longer serve our goals can open up new avenues for creativity and fulfillment. By stepping out of our comfort zones and embracing change, we teeter on the line between fear and comfort, allowing ourselves to reach new heights in our profession.
More about Erica:
Erica is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and the Founder of Positive Development, LLC, a private practice for gifted, neurodivergent, children and adolescents.
As a bright and quirky child herself, Erica is uniquely positioned to understand and address the challenges faced by neurodivergent children. She has helped hundreds of kids unleash their capabilities, transform obstacles into opportunities, and find healthy ways to express their energy and creativity.
Erica has been featured on the podcasts, Raising Adults, The Gifted Mind, and Adventures in Being Gifted. She has experience providing professional development to teachers of gifted students and has written numerous parenting articles published by Jacksonville Mom, the largest parenting resource in her city.
Prior to private practice, Erica served as the Clinical Manager of a non-profit mental health organization and as President of the Florida Mental Health Counselors Association.
In the future, Erica aspires to create a school dedicated to developing the strengths of neurodivergent children.
Erica also loves encouraging other therapists in private practice to think past their mental limits and step into the next stage of their professional evolution.
Get in touch with Erica through her website to join my weekly newsletter where she shares tips on how to support the mental health of gifted and neurodivergent kids: positivedevelopmentllc.com
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PATRICK CASALE: Hey, everyone, you are listening to another episode of the All Things Private Practice Podcast. I'm your host, Patrick Casale joined today by who? Words are hard. My friend and colleague, Erica Whitfield. She is a licensed mental health counselor. Maybe I said that right, maybe I didn't, all the acronyms are crazy in this field. And the owner of Positive…
ERICA WHITFIELD: Development.
PATRICK CASALE: …Development LLC. Words are hard today, you all. It is Wednesday, I feel like it's Friday. Anyway, we are going to talk about some cool stuff.
Erica was actually a attendee at my Ireland retreat this year. And we got to talking about her vision, and her love and passion for working with neurodivergent kids. And she has some really, really cool ideas. And I wanted to bring her on so we could share those with the world and talk a little bit about your story.
So, Erica, thanks for being here. And thanks for making the time. And I know you just kind of mentioned before we started recording that you're nervous about this. So, I always like to bring that to attention so that we can just like drop in because it's fine. It's just a conversation, and it's about something you love. So, yeah, take it away. Tell us a little bit about, like, where this passion came from? Why it's important to you?
ERICA WHITFIELD: Absolutely. And before I even do that, Patrick, can I just say you brought up the fact that I went to one of your retreats. And I just want to let the listeners know that if you have not done a retreat with Patrick, you need to do that ASAP because they're incredible. I went to the Ireland retreat and from the excursions that were playing to the delicious foods, the dynamic speakers, to just the vibe, and the people that were there, it's something that you want to experience. So, make sure you check those retreats out, you know, when you get the chance to do so.
PATRICK CASALE: I did not pay Erica to say that. I just want to just like-
ERICA WHITFIELD: No.
PATRICK CASALE: … say that out loud. You know, it's crazy, like, when I get guests registrations coming in to retreats and I don't know them personally, right? Like, I always kind of do a Facebook stalk. I'm like, "Who is this person? Am I friends with them? No. Who is this Erica Whitfield person?" Had to do some, like, digging, found you, friended you, we became friends.
But it's interesting because it sounds like you went on that experience because you listen to the podcast. And like, that's cool for me to know that, like, this is having an impact. So, your vision really had an impact on me because I think it's just a really cool idea. So, yeah, please take it away, and let's highlight what you're thinking about.
ERICA WHITFIELD: Definitely. So, I'll give you all some background just on how I came into the work that I'm doing right now. I worked in the school system for well over a decade and still consult with the school system now. And a group of kids that really started to pull at my heartstrings were the neurodivergent kids who I didn't even realize back then and I think many of the adults around me too. Parents, administrators, teachers didn't realize that they were neurodivergent either. I don't even think we were using that word back then very often.
PATRICK CASALE: Right, right.
ERICA WHITFIELD: And it was so painstaking to see these well-meaning, very caring adults misunderstand and mislabel the kids that were in the school system. And so I'd see things like the kid who would love to dig in the dirt, and someone would think that was a problem, not realizing that this kid has hypersensitivities and is seeking sensation, you know? He's meeting a need. And I'd see things like the kid who constantly needs to get out of her seat because that's how she actually learns and processes better. I'd see her get reprimanded and told that she needed to sit down and be still so she could learn. Do the opposite of what that [CROSSTALK 00:04:48]-
PATRICK CASALE: …class so sit down so you can learn even though this is, obviously, not your learning style and this doesn't work for you.
ERICA WHITFIELD: Exactly. And you know what really hit home for me, Patrick? When I started to see grown adults who can't sit still when they're trying to learn something, that's when it really hit home. Like, this isn't even a kid's thing, this is the fact that some humans need movement in order to process better and take in information. So, it pulls at my heartstrings that like we're not recognizing that enough to hearing more about that.
And then I'd see things like the kid who just needed a little validation, patience, and understanding, and that could have totally prevented the meltdown that led to him going into the principal's office and destroying it.
PATRICK CASALE: Yep.
ERICA WHITFIELD: So, there's these simple shifts that we can be making that I've learned over time, that are so powerful with neurodivergent kids. And so my vision comes from wanting to take what I've learned, put it more out there so people can, like, latch on to it, use it, nurture, and help these kids grow, and then, possibly do something really unique, which is the vision of starting a school customized for neurodivergent kids.
PATRICK CASALE: It's amazing. You know, when you told me about this in Ireland, I was like blown away. I was like, "Holy shit, that would be amazing." I didn't know growing up, you know that I was neurodivergent. I don't think, like you mentioned, maybe we didn't have the wording, maybe we weren't assessing appropriately, we didn't have the resources, whatever the case may be. And I think I probably would have gotten labeled as like, gifted, or you know, needs accommodation with A, B, and C, or whatever the case may be.
And I had a hard time in school because information came really easily. Like, I could get A's on papers and tests. I didn't even need to be in the classroom. But what was really a struggle, like you mentioned, sitting still because I'm a pacer when I'm absorbing, I will stem, I will, like, have to move. And that will lead to behavioral challenges when you're feeling so overwhelmed and you're feeling like, "I'm really confined and I'm really uncomfortable." So, I had a lot of outbursts. Like, I was probably kind of a class clown in a lot of ways. And I would say a lot of sarcastic inappropriate shit.
But really what was happening is like, I was not put in a place where I was going to be successful because it was just not set up for neurodivergent kiddos, it was more set up for a neurotypical learning environment.
ERICA WHITFIELD: Exactly.
PATRICK CASALE: And I say that all the time, right? Like, if I'm not looking at you, if I'm on my phone while I'm talking to you, or if I'm like multitasking, it's actually helping me pay attention. But in a school system or in a work situation and environment, what that's called is you're being disrespectful, you're not paying attention, you're being disruptive. All of the things that we hear that further reinforces like, my inability to fit into this world.
ERICA WHITFIELD: Exactly. And I can't even tell you how many times myself growing up, like, I was mistaken as the rude child. It's really interesting, right? I actually kind of had two sides. So, if you knew me, you know my teachers loved me actually. I was a modest student. I had one teacher say, "I wish I could clone all the students to make her just like Erica."
But personally, you know, like, in school, I actually did thrive because I was interested in the information, so they were seeing like best sides of me. If you'd take me outside of that learning setting and bring me into a personal social setting, and it's a completely different story.
You probably saw that at the retreat, Patrick. Like, when we were doing like the educational CEU portions, I was like talking and sharing. But like, look at me in a social setting, I'm happy often a quarter, looking off into the clouds, and just like reflecting of everything that's happening in the day, that's when I'm happy.
PATRICK CASALE: Yeah. And I'm glad that, you know, you were able to name that in the questionnaire that we send out for like, "Hey, is there anything that we need to know?" Or, "Is there any accommodation we need to make?" And you mentioned, "If I am being quiet, or I'm being introverted, it's actually because I'm having a good time. And that's how I socialize."
So, again, another example of our own neurodivergent needs. And I think that when you're in a school setting that requires socialization, it can look like Erica's disinterested, she's not social. Like, she can't get along with the other kids. Like, she's not developing appropriately, as, I think, imagining those could be the narratives, when in reality, it's like, "I'm actually doing quite well. Like, this is really working for me if you leave me the fuck alone."
ERICA WHITFIELD: Exactly. And that's the message that I have to give to a lot of our parents and teachers too, when we're working with, like, our kids. Like, "Hey, look, as long as it's not seriously interfering with these kid's ability to function, that they seem happy, that they seem regulated, let them be."
And we have boundaries around that. Okay, I get it. Like, you don't want your kid to like stay in their room for four days straight. Okay, that could potentially be some kind of an issue. But like, we don't have to make our kids feel like there's something wrong if they don't constantly want to be outside of the home surrounded by tons of people either.
PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely. I mean, yeah because the sensory overwhelm and the overstimulation, it's real, and it's really intense. And if you don't understand what it's like for a neurodiverse child, and their nervous system, and their nerve development, and how overwhelmed they can become because of the constant absorption of energy and the overstimulation. Like, I explain it as like, everything is intensified, right? So, like, noises, sound, smells, textures, people talking. If I know that I'm getting to this place where I'm really overstimulated, everything feels so much louder. Like, the hum of the electricity of the refrigerator gets louder, people, like, talking next to me. I'm like, picking up on all of these things. It becomes very irritating, it becomes very frustrating.
And I think as a kid, when you don't have language for that, or understanding, or insight, it is further complicated. And the issue becomes exacerbated when the parents, and teachers, and adults around you don't know how to support you.
ERICA WHITFIELD: So spot on, so spot on. So, you know, to continue with what you're saying here, with the vision of the school, we would have that education. It would be ingrained in the knowledge that gets presented to the parents that bring their kids to this school, to the teachers and educators who are working with these kids.
Imagine having two classrooms, maybe even three, one classroom is for kids with hypersensitive needs. Maybe they need like a lower, like vibe, you know? Low key vibe. Maybe we're going to dim the lighting in this classroom, for the most part, maybe we're going to play calming music or no music at all because of their sensitivity to sound, maybe we're going to like, make sure that there's not over-stimulation happening in this classroom.
And then imagine for other group of kids, you know, these might be the kids who are more commonly diagnosed with things like ADHD, hyposensitive needs, they're seeking stimulation, and they need it more because they don't feel it as much as the neurotypical person. Imagine them being able to have movement in almost everything that they do while they're learning, they're not expected to sit still, they have constant breaks, they're going outdoors more.
So, the school, the foundation of it would be about catering to the sensory needs of our kids and designing everything around that. You know, designing it around the understanding of what our neurodivergent kids need.
PATRICK CASALE: I love that. And I think so often, you know, I don't have kids, but I know a lot of colleagues and friends who do and whose kiddos are neurodivergent. And they have a really hard time finding school systems where they can go and be comfortable, and be safe, and be understood, and be connected, and have a really healthy learning environment.
Instead, what happens is these kids get put into these classrooms almost in a punitive way, have these, I don't know the word for it. I think it's like IEP? These plans created for them. And then you have these resource, like, maybe teaching assistants who are really leading the classroom charge, and like you're not really providing a structure where they can really thrive. Instead, it's almost punishing them because they're different. And ostracizing them. Like, "Hey, let's pull this kid out of class and put them in this room." And I think it just leads to bullying, it leads to more heightened discrimination, it leads to a lot of ableism.
And that's where you're going to see the kids and the teens who are really depressed, and really struggling, and just having such a hard time navigating the world. And I just imagine if there was an environment in school, specifically, for ND kids, it would be really like, I'm thinking almost in images right now. I'm thinking of like, the X-Men in their, like, school system, right?
ERICA WHITFIELD: And that's literally what I think about when I think of the school.
PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, what is that school called? Now, I can't come up with the…
ERICA WHITFIELD: You're going to murder it.
PATRICK CASALE: It's going to drive me nuts. But that's what I'm thinking about is like how they were so… the school is created out of necessity, right? Because it's like, oh, we have these mutant kids and teens, and they're different, and they're being discriminated against. But here, we're going to really tap into their style, and their strengths, and their superpowers, and all the stuff that comes with those movies.
But like, I think about that, and I think that if you were able to get this off the ground that it would be wildly successful because you're in Florida, right?
ERICA WHITFIELD: Yes.
PATRICK CASALE: You're in a state, you know, to all my listeners, you know, it's not exactly as progressive as some other states in terms of how we work, in terms of accommodation.
ERICA WHITFIELD: That is an entirely different podcast that we're going to need way more than an hour to work out.
PATRICK CASALE: Yeah. And I think that this could be the start of something that could really lead to a movement where you're starting to see maybe you could create, like, some real funding here and you can start developing schools in different areas because this is needed, this is a necessity. And if you're able to tap into the potential of these kids, really be affirmative in terms of being neurodiverse and neurodivergent affirmative, having the right resources, I would have like clinicians on staff, I would have like sensory soothing on staff, right? Like, all as resources. So, there's so much you could do with this idea.
ERICA WHITFIELD: Absolutely. And I want to read a quote off from Carol Black. She's an educational analyst, director, and producer. And it kind of speaks to what we're talking about right now. And it's the perfect time to bring it up. So, I'm pulling it up here.
All right. So, she says, "We have radically altered our own evolved specie's behavior by segregating children artificially, in same age peer groups instead of mixed age communities by compelling them to be indoors and sedentary for most of the day, by asking them to learn from text-based artificial materials instead of contextualized real-world activities by dictating arbitrary timelines for learning, rather than following the unfolding of a child's developmental readiness. Common sense should tell us that all of this will have complex and unpredictable results." Which I think speaks to exactly what we're talking about.
PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, and what better reason to create a system and structure that diverges from the typical because there is such a necessity for these programs, and these school systems, and even these counseling centers for people who just don't fit into these boxes. And what we know, right, as research comes out, is that many more people are neurodivergent than we probably assume, a lot of whom go undiagnosed for a multitude of reasons.
But what we also understand is that if you're an ADHDer adult or autistic adult, the odds of you having an ADHD or autistic kiddo are pretty fucking high. So, we have to assume that there is a need for this that is not being met. So, the real question becomes, how the hell does this thing get off the ground?
ERICA WHITFIELD: There's an infinite number of [CROSSTALK 00:18:15]-
PATRICK CASALE: Yeah.
ERICA WHITFIELD: Yeah. You know, I think that, to your point, we have so many parents who really have this need. And there's a there's a group, specifically, of neurodivergent kids and are called twice exceptional. So, these are kids who are actually gifted but also have ADHD, or autism, or both, or all three.
And so, what's happening is that there's such a need, there's such hopelessness amongst parents of where can I find a place that's going to understand my kids and help my kids instead of judging, label them, that their energies are already there?
So, right now, my part putting this together is bringing together almost like a team of parent Avengers, okay? So, we've got a mom who decided to pull her child out of homeschool, we have a mom who's unschooling, we have dads who are not happy with what's happening in the classroom with their kids, we have a parent who is happy, you know? Like, she actually brought her kids here and we were able to talk with their educators to make some serious changes in the classroom and now that kid's thriving, okay. And so we're putting together this team.
And my vision is that we're first just going to grow some educational awareness, go into the schools, talk about how to make your classrooms neurodivergent-friendly. And then we're going to just spin off on our own thing. And we're slowly going to start figuring out how we want to put this together.
You know, I don't I don't want this to necessarily be an indoor facility, you know? What is this going to look like? Are we going to be outside for most of the days on each day? Is it going to be like a drop-in and drop-out kind of thing? Is it going to be a supplemental thing? I'm not sure how it's going to look, but I know we've got the energy and momentum to make this happen.
PATRICK CASALE: I think it's a hell of an idea. And I think that you're onto something for sure. And, you know, that's really why I wanted to have you on here because I think sharing this message, not just to people who are listening, but for yourself, hopefully, acts like a catalyst or momentum because I know when we have our ideas like close to the vest, or in our heads, or in our small circles, they don't necessarily always grow. But I do think the more we put them out to the world, the more likely it is that this starts some sort of chain reaction. So, I really hope that that's what can happen because I do believe in what you're trying to do.
ERICA WHITFIELD: Absolutely, yeah. And I so believe what you talk about is like putting that energy out here, you know? Like, energy is infinite. You put one ripple out there, and you have no clue how much that is going to continue to impact the next person, and the next, and the next. There is things that we have contributed to in this world that we have no clue even contributed to, but it's because of an action or actions that we took.
So, yeah, we're going to start putting our first actions down and see how far we can ripple this into the vision that it's going to become.
PATRICK CASALE: That's really cool. And once you get to the investing phase, I'd love to be a part of it because I think this is a really cool concept. And I really do believe that this is necessary. So, really awesome idea, Erica, and I'm glad that you're able to talk about it passionately. And I think that provided that you can continue on this path, who the hell knows what the next five years can look like?
ERICA WHITFIELD: Right, right. And I know, like, that's not what I wanted to talk about today too, you know? Like, all of us, like we're all in private practice here and most of us are in private practice who are listening. And what does it look like to continue to move, like, forward into that next step? To that, like, higher-level part of yourself that's going to do these huge things that maybe you can't even imagine right now, you know?
So, I mean, like, I just look at your journey, Patrick, of like, starting, like your private practice, and you transformed it into a coaching business. And now you have this incredible retreat-like empire that you're creating. And I think that you represent an example of what all of us are capable of doing. And so it comes down to what you said, we better start putting actions into place.
So, I would love to just share, you know, three kind of tips that I have for anyone who's interested in looking past, like, what their next level of private practice might look like.
PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely, I'm happy to talk about that, for sure.
ERICA WHITFIELD: Awesome. So, one of the first things I wanted to encourage people to do is just to ask themselves the question, and this might be a little controversial, you may agree, you may disagree, but are you doing things because you want to do them or because you feel like you're obligated to do them?
And I would really like take an inventory of that, you know? Like, write down everything it is that you currently have on your plate, and then look at what am I doing that makes sense? What feels aligned? And then what do I want to push out of here?
And it can get so complicated with that because sometimes you look at your list and the things that you don't want to do are bringing you in like the most revenue. And then you have to, like, sit and resonate with that and figure out what that means.
But, you know, I did this chart once, and I mapped out like, okay, I'm doing this, it's making me the most money, I'm doing this, it's making me the least money, and blah, blah, blah. And you just kind of put it together what you want this future to look like. Are you doing it because you want to do it? Are you doing it because you feel like you have to do it?
PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely. I think that's a really intentional way of looking at your business structure. And post throat surgery and even prior, I stopped doing individual coaching. And individual coaching makes me a lot of money. And after throat surgery, since October, I've probably had about 100 people reach out and say, "I want to work with you. I don't see the link on your website. Like, how do I sign up? And how do we start this process?"
And these are not like even warm leads. These are people who are actively coming like, "Hey, I want to give you money, how do I do that." But I had to look at my energy, and my capacity, and my joy. And recognizing individual coaching was no longer bringing me any of those things, it was actually doing the opposite.
So, hard decision to make but decided I no longer want to do this, even though it's going to bring X amount of money in, it frees up time, and energy, and creativity to place them elsewhere. And I know that if I'm looking at capacity, and limitations, and energy if I'm going to host these retreats, you know, four or five times a year, and I'm going to need a two-month recovery process to get through them afterwards, individual coaching no longer fits in. Like, that's not something that that can work in my business structure.
So, for those of you listening, pivoting, adapting, evolving, changing, shifting, that's a part of entrepreneurialship. You're going to be interested and passionate about something one day, six months later, that may no longer be the case. Don't shame yourself for that. Allow yourself to just recognize like, okay, that was part of the journey, onto the next thing, and now create something that feels really inspiring again because anytime we feel inspired, we're going to market it with more enthusiasm, it's going to feel more energizing to us, we're going to show up better, instead of feeling like," I have to do this because this is what I do."
ERICA WHITFIELD: Exactly. So, you know, as you talk about that I just started thinking about, like, all the people that kind of get stuck in there. And it's so hard to give up something sometimes that's working because you don't quite know if something else is going to come and replace it. And so we never want to give it up because like, we don't necessarily see like what the end result is going to be, we just feel like we have this empty void. And if we can get past that fear of the empty void or thinking that nothing better is going to come, that's when we can really step into some magic.
PATRICK CASALE: I agree. And I think, you know, it's like this fearful excitement place. And I think both have to exist. And I always say that, like, if you're leaving your agency job, or you're listening to this, and you know what it was like to leave a consistent secure every other Friday paycheck from a place that treated you like shit mostly, to a place where you then are creating your own way, and you know, the pay can be unpredictable as an entrepreneur, but for the most part, substantially more money than you were making.
And then if you're going to start something new there is that fearfulness again, right? Of like, okay, if I try this coaching program, if I try this retreat, or this podcast, or I want to move to private pay only, there's always going to be risk when we're doing something new. But that's the fun and the beauty of owning your own business is creating your own way and getting to decide when something is no longer serving you or meeting your needs.
I'd like to step into that fearful place now instead of running from it. I think fear, and risk, and anxiety is like a compass, and it's kind of guiding us down the right path. So, I know if I'm doing something new, or bold, or big, like hosting this fucking summit in this Italian village, I never once thought I was going to say the words, I rented an entire medieval Italian village for an international summit. Like, that feels crazy.
ERICA WHITFIELD: Epic. It's really epic.
PATRICK CASALE: Epic. But there's so much risk involved, right? But then the realization of like, yes, the risk is real, but the payoff is also worth it because if you can pull this off, this is going to be something monumental and that feels like that outweighs the fearfulness that exists of saying, like, nobody's going to buy this, or whatever impostor syndrome is showing up for you when you start to create something new.
ERICA WHITFIELD: Yes. All right. And you just talked about compass and knowing how to navigate your way through that. So, that ties in my next little tip here, too. And there's something called the learning model, right? So, this was, like, put out there by a psychologist and led by Gaskey. And he talks about how at any given time, it's somewhere on this model, so imagine it curves. Now, if we're too low on the curve, we're in our comfort zone, okay? So, an example of like me, breaking out of a comfort zone was talking about agency jobs and staying there.
When I left and said, I'm about to start my own business, they said, "Please don't go, we'll make you vice president." Okay, well, that would have been great, right? Steady salary, much higher status, prestige, the ability to have more power to do greater things in the organization. That's wonderful. But that's not where my heart was. So, if I stayed there, that would have been uncomfortable. Even in growth, you know? It was a promotion, but even in that growth, it would have still been considered my conflict zone. I want to step out and do something different.
Right now, that model, you can also tip over the curve. Now, when you tip over the curve, you're in panic. And when you're in panic, that's when you may paralyze yourself. You've taken off so much that you can't think anymore. And so now you're just paralyzed, right? You got to like come back over that curve.
And so the sweet spot, use your compass to get to that sweet spot and that's your growth period. And it's really interesting because the growth zone is so very close to the panic zone. It's like you have to get as close to what is possible before tipping over into like paralyzation and fear, where survive response gets activated and you're like, flight/freeze or fun, you know? You might need to fight, you know, your panic zone.
PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely. I think you do have to teeter on that line of panic, and fear, and comfort. And I think anytime we're going to take a risk and step out of our comfort zone, our nervous system, and our body, and our prefrontal cortex kick in, and like, "This is risky, don't do it, this is unsafe." And if you had stayed and taken that vice presidential role, which I always wonder like, why couldn't this have been offered to me before I put my notice? And like, why weren't you going to offer me this job beforehand?
But ultimately, if you're staying around and you're making decisions based on safety, and security, and like, even though it's not where your passion lies, I think then in a couple months, you're then saying, I don't really like this job anymore even though I accepted this promotion. Now I feel guilty for leaving, or I feel guilty for even considering doing something different. You have to really be aligned and anchored into what makes sense for you and your why is really important.
PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, it's short-term results. Like, when you do those things that you're doing because they feel safe, and they feel like they're going to give you, like, those immediate results that are going to increase your feelings of security, number one, that's a false sense of security because you can take that VP role, and then something happened with the company, and now you're unemployed, right?
So, you know, I think we need to stop trying to latch on to these false security blankets because really, the greatest security that exists is the security that we can produce ourselves, we know that we can count on ourselves.
PATRICK CASALE: I agree 100%.
ERICA WHITFIELD: So, the third thing is, and again, this one, you may like it, you may not, stop giving all the credit to future you. There's something called the achievement trap. And for this conversation, I'll call it the confidence trap. And the confidence trap is when you say, "Well, I'll be more confident when I graduate with this graduate degree. And I'll be more confident when I get this license. And I'll be more confident when I get these certifications. And I'll be more confident when I have all of this experience, you know, when I'm a world-renowned speaker."
And the reality is like this future you that you're thinking about, that's going to be more confident hasn't done anything yet. Like, it's past you and current you that's creating this vision. So, give the credit to all of the things that you have done and give the gratitude for all the things that you have done, you know? And the things that you're doing now, and the confidence, and trust in what you can do now because what you're doing now is what's creating this vision that you have in life.
PATRICK CASALE: That's a great point. I think we get caught up in that all the time not just as mental health professionals, entrepreneurs, in general, I always hear like, "When I'm EMDR trained, I'll be a better therapist." Or like, "Then people will want to work with me." Or like, "If I do these trainings, and I do this thing, then become the expert…" It's like, you know what you have, you know what's inside of you, you know the answers to a lot of these situations.
And I think it's really easy to say, like, "When I do this, I'll be more confident, when I do this, I'll be more confident." I can speak confidently and say like, I've now hosted six retreats in the last year, all of them have sold out, they've all been wonderful experiences. I'm never confident going into those fucking events. Like, there's so many variables, there's so much doubt going on, there's so much anxiety, but I do think you have to lean into that a little bit and just absorb, like, both can be true. Like, you can be good at something and you can still question your ability to complete the task because I think that's a really nice place to be because the self-doubt is creating humility, it's allowing you to show up authentically, it's allowing you to be real.
And then you do know you have these skills that you can put into place to move through A, B, and C. So, I like being in that space of like, I know I've done it before, that I can resource and anchor into. And I am really insecure in having impostor syndrome or self-doubt about my ability to put on a good event.
So, like, I live in that space all the time. But I think it's a difference now of like saying, in the past, this impostor syndrome would show up and be debilitating or paralyzing, and be prevented from moving forward. And now, it's more like I acknowledge that it exists. It's here, okay, this makes sense. And I'm going to do the thing anyway. And I think that's really the space that most of us are trying to get to is like, I don't want the impostor syndrome to drive the car, I want it to be like in the side car next to me.
ERICA WHITFIELD: Yeah. You're reminding me of, like, that famous quote, "Leap and the net will appear. Don't worry about the house, focus on the vision." And I firmly believe, like, putting your intent on the fact that you're going to create something is what actually produces the house to come to you.
PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely.
ERICA WHITFIELD: And I think too that when we get too bogged down into the details, we actually limit ourselves, you know? Like, I always like to ask people to tell me a word that they've never heard before. And they look at me like, you know, I'm crazy. And I'm like, "What do you mean? How can I do that?" I'm like, "Exactly." There are dreams out there that you haven't even been able to imagine yet because they're that incredible and that outside of your awareness, okay?
So, just like that word that exists out there that you know nothing of, imagine the fact that there are dreams beyond your wildest imagination that can lead to so much joy in your life. You have no clue what they are. You're taking that first step, and that second, and that third gets you closer and closer and closer to it. It starts to get into alignment, like you're talking about, and then you start to see this really cool thing unfold that you never could have even, like, dreamed of or planned.
PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, absolutely. I think most of us who started in grad school, our goal was to get a job at an agency, that's all we knew, then your goal is to become a private practice owner, and that's all you know. And that can be a finish line for a lot of people. But ultimately, you don't know what you don't know, right? And once you get into a new environment, you take more risks, more creativity starts to happen, you have more time, you have more autonomy, you start to come up with these ideas. And then it becomes, I'm going to create the school for neurodivergent kids, then it becomes I'm going to host a summit in an Italian village.
Like, none of those things were on my radar when I graduated in 2015. That was not a possibility, that was not a career choice, that was not even a thing that existed. So, it is about taking these little steps and these risks that build on top of each other because every time you take a new risk, no matter how small, it builds your confidence to take another, and it allows you to say, "I've done it before, I can do it again." When that feeling of I never am going to create something new, or I don't know what I'm doing, those are the times to anchor into the times that you were able to do that, no matter how minuscule or insignificant they may seem in the moment.
ERICA WHITFIELD: 100%. You know, when I read something that said too, all we have to do is focus on bringing our unique selves to the world and whatever it is that we're supposed to be giving, and the universe will take care of us. Imagine that. Don't worry about, like, how you're going to pay this. So, don't worry about what people are going to think of you. And don't worry about whether or not you're good enough. Like, just bring what you can to the table, share that unique gift that you were brought into this world to bring and everything else is going to take care of you.
And I know there are a lot of naysayers that are rolling their eyes right now that may relent, probably not this podcast because you got some great dreamers on here. But some people will roll their eyes at that and say, "Okay, well, yeah, Erica pipe dream."
But in my experiences, that's always proven to be true. Whenever I've taken those risks that you're talking about, it's always paid off. And I would never go back and make a different decision.
We talked about that VP position, I totally I'm interested in doing that right now, you know? What I have created now is so much more meaningful, it's so much more aligned. And the more you get aligned, the more you start bringing these experiences to you that feel so right. And they almost sometimes come with ease, at times. So, it's a really cool thing to experience and step into.
PATRICK CASALE: I love that. And I really do. I couldn't say it better myself. I think that's a wonderful, wonderful ending point for this conversation. So, really cool to talk to you today about all this. Still bitter that you beat me in hurling competition on the beach in Ireland. I don't know how you did that, but you know. But yeah, I love the vision. Really love the passion that you're bringing to this idea. And it's been a pleasure kind of having this conversation today and just hope that we can stay in touch about what this is going to look like for you in the future.
Tell the audience where they can find more of what you're doing and what you're putting out into the world.
ERICA WHITFIELD: Yeah, if you're interested in about, you know, learning more about how you can support neurodivergent kids, especially, in schools, and how we can like put supports around them that are going to help them thrive, go to my website, www.positivedevelopmentllc.com. Send me a message that says add me to the newsletter. And then every week you're going to get information from me about what we're doing here, how you can possibly get involved. And then just great information about how to support the mental health of neurodivergent kids.
PATRICK CASALE: Love it. And all of that information will be in the show notes for everyone so you have easy access to Erica's creations and you can stay in the loop. Thanks again for coming on. I really appreciate you making the time.
ERICA WHITFIELD: This was awesome, thank you.
PATRICK CASALE: To everyone listening to the All Things Private Practice Podcast, new episodes are out every single week on all major podcast platforms and YouTube. Like, download, subscribe, and share. Doubt yourself, do it anyway. We'll see you next week.
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