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Nicole Sandifer

Psychotherapist

Westlake Village, CA

Women need to advocate for the continued strength in our profession both in pay and prestige.

I entered graduate school to become a psychotherapist and joined a community of women changing the face of American psychology. Once considered a man’s profession, the changing gender composition of psychology was obvious as I attended classes with a plethora of women and handful of men. Women may have outnumbered men, but it was still evident in research that women were earning less. I was one of those women not fully embracing her earning power and needed to understand why.

I started my clinical work in various non-profit settings and discovered my innate ability to provide clients an empathic holding environment for their emotional pain and anguish. I worked long hours, invested in my education and training, and was passionate about my dream of opening a private practice. Professors and supervisors warned me about the difficulties of making a good living and discouraged me from private practice. Being self-employed meant relying on insurance companies, no maternity leave, health benefits, 401K or consistent income.

The upside was the flexibility of the profession. It was disappointing to see many women in my field were limiting themselves by dabbling in therapy as a side job while our male colleagues were earning a great living in thriving practices. A profession now dominated by women was sending the message that instead of pursuing their goals, they must compromise their dreams.

I also held a belief that benevolent giving was somehow part of my professional duty as a woman, which left me at odds with myself when I needed to increase my fees.  Meanwhile, my male colleagues had no difficulty charging clients the fee they felt they deserved. I was anxious about balancing work and family, fearing motherhood meant being a part-timer. I didn’t imagine asking my husband to sacrifice aspects of his career as an architect to champion mine. Sadly, I underestimated my abilities and debated my choice to pursue my goal, but thankfully that was short lived.

With reassurance from my husband and family, I started leaning in and taking risks to make things happen. I surrounded myself with successful female therapists and discovered what set them apart from the rest. They valued themselves, didn’t underestimate their abilities, knew they deserved their success and charged fees reflecting their worth. Inspired by these women, I spearheaded a meeting with two colleagues encouraging them to leave their existing employers and open a practice with me.

Shortly thereafter, I leaned in again by getting pregnant and giving birth to my son Dane.  I took four months off work and risked losing my clients. Thankfully, my practice continued to flourish as my husband shared equally in the responsibilities of our domestic lives by cooking, cleaning, diapering, and helping with night time feedings. Saturdays have now become “daddy day” in our house while mommy is at the office. It is not always easy to be self-employed, but I have a successful practice and feel incredibly fulfilled both personally and professionally. Women need to advocate for the continued strength in our profession both in pay and prestige.

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