I Built A Business Around Mental Health & Grew It To $1.8M/Year
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Greetings, my name is Roy Kiessling, founder of EMDR Consulting, an international training organization specializing in teaching the EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) psychotherapy to master's level and above mental health professionals.
I imagine many of you are not familiar with EMDR. Francine Shapiro developed EMDR in 1989 and, shortly after that, began teaching it to mental health professionals. It is a sophisticated, interpersonal form of therapy that helps reduce intense emotional anxiety generated by past childhood disturbing experiences and current traumas such as rape, assault, and natural disasters. The dynamic emotional shifts are neurological, not just cognitive, which sets EMDR apart from most forms of psychotherapy. Clients report feeling different, not just thinking differently.
Rapid eye movements and other forms of distracting activity seem to activate our adaptive processing system, something that automatically occurs during the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep. Therefore, the phrase "Let me sleep on it." is accurate! In addition, EMDR's treatment procedures are more focused; therefore, our emotional healing is more concentrated and effective than what randomly occurs while we sleep. If you’re interested in learning more about EMDR, check out this video.
What started as a one-person training organization in 2013, has now grown to administrative staff of 5. a training team of over 20 trainers and 150 coaches. EMDR Consulting is now one of the largest EMDR training organizations in the United States, annually conducting over 150 EMDR basic training courses a year, teaching over 1500 mental health professionals how to integrate EMDR into their clinical practice.
What's your backstory, and how did you come up with the idea?
When asked how my journey led me to where I am now, I recall Steve Jobs (Apple) noting that all of life's experiences build upon themselves. Perhaps not seeing the connections as they occur; however, one can see the links when looking back. In many ways, my journey seems to have followed that course, beginning in high school.
Use what you have learned from others and give them credit. Feel comfortable seeing things differently or expanding what you have learned from them.
In high school, I played chess, music, and tennis. In college, quite honestly, I was a disaster, not knowing what I wanted to do in my life. Finally, I decided I wanted to join the Marines and become a pilot. However, I had to graduate first!. So I chose to major in psychology, something that interested me due to my tennis competition.
The Marine Corps taught me to focus, set goals, and accomplish my missions. When eligible, I applied to become a flight instructor for the A-6 Intruder-a sophisticated all-weather attach bomber.
After five years in the Marines, not knowing what I wanted to do, I returned to my first passion, playing tennis. I decided my next career was playing and teaching tennis. As a tennis instructor, I improve my interpersonal skills as well as learning out to teach effectively- how to say the same thing in 5 different ways, to meet my students where there 2343, with terms they understood.
After 15 years of teaching, I shifted careers again, returning to my college interest in psychology. I attended Graduate School and earned a Master's in Social work.
When I learned EMDR, my current journey began. I have always positioned myself to teach, so it was natural to become involved in teaching EMDR. I joined Francine Shapiro's EMDR Institute, facilitating during her EMDR training, moderating her international internet discussion list, becoming a volunteer trainer for her humanitarian projects, and eventually a senior trainer for her training institute. I also began presenting EMDR workshops at EMDR's International Conference. All of this occurred between 1995 and 2006, so you can see, it was an accelerated journey!
In 2007 I realized that my approach to EMDR had evolved beyond the original model developed by Francine in 1990. As a result, I began presenting advanced EMDR workshops based on my conceptualization of EMDR. From my perspective, EMDR has evolved beyond the basic treatment approach developed by Francine in 1990.
The evolution of my approach to EMDR.
Feedback from participants reinforced my thinking to the point where I made one of the most challenging decisions in my life, to leave Francine's training umbrella and venture out on my own.
Much like leaving home for the first time, ending a long-term relationship, or moving to another state, it was a leap of commitment to my belief that I had something to offer. I left a family of relationships I had had for nearly fifteen years and started all over. In June of 2013, I founded EMDR Consulting and began offering my approach to EMDR. And in case you have not been tracking my journey chronologically, I started this new journey at age 68!
My professional network and reputation within the EMDR Community provided a solid base for offering EMDR basic training courses. Initially, I personally conducted all of these courses. However, by 2015 demand had grown to the point where I needed to add others to my training team, trainers, coaches, and most importantly, administrative support. It was at that point where EMDR Consulting became a complete organization.
Take us through the process of building out your first training event.
As the saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day.” As I mentioned earlier, it was not a single event but rather an accumulation of events that contributed to developing my training materials and organization.
- I became trained in EMDR and found it to be a powerful, effective form of psychotherapy that I used frequently with my clients.
- As soon as I was eligible, I applied and was accepted by Francine Shapiro’s training organization to facilitate practice sessions during her basic training course. I had the opportunity to listen to her entire training team teach EMDR.
- I began offering specialty workshops and presented at our International Conference.
- I volunteered to moderate Shapiro’s international discussion list. In that position, I learned a great deal about what was working, and what needed to be presented differently.
- Being invited to train for Shapiro has a huge leap forward as I had the opportunity to develop the first humanitarian training manual that we used overseas. During my volunteer service for Shapiro’s humanitarian projects (2001-2013), I conducted 125 basic training courses.
- When I was invited by Shapiro to become one of her senior trainers, I felt my professional journey had reached its apex. Training, helping to develop training materials, being actively involved in her EMDR community was all I could imagine wanting.
From being a trainer and internet list moderator, I began to hear the same questions, see the same areas of confusion. Over time this led me to start conceptualizing EMDR differently from Francine's original model. I tested these theories by offering specialty workshops, listening to participants' feedback, modifying and adapting materials with each presentation.
In 2010 I realized I was heading in a different direction than Shapiro and her training approach. I struggled with this internal conflict, teaching the materials as originally developed by Shapiro, and my own perceptions. Not only was it a struggle of content, but it was also a struggle of whether to leave her EMDR community, one that I had been a part of for nearly fifteen years. That internal debate continued until November of 2012 when I officially resigned from my position with Shapiro’s organization.
Describe the process of launching the business and getting traction.
Once I made the decision to leave, the real challenge began. I wish I could say it was a leap of faith, that I had a business plan, an outline course to follow. Actually, it was a jump into the unknown! Of course, I had years of experience training others in EMDR, however, most of that was teaching others Shapiro’s basic course. When I resigned from my positions at Shapiro’s organizations in November 2012 my material had not been fully written. I had not submitted my training for approval and actually was not even certain it would be approved. While my training included the basic foundations of Shapiro's EMDR, I had heard that other materials had not been approved, and that could happen to me as well. I recall saying to my wife, “Well, if this does not work, guess I’ll retire!”
While waiting for approval I taught a small group of clinicians my materials for no cost, just to give them a test drive. After the course, I listened to their feedback, made some revisions, and waited.
June 13, 2013, I was notified that my training materials were approved and I “officially” launched my training. I returned to that small group and retaught the materials so they would be officially trained. I also contacted another colleague who had known I was going to be trained independent of Shapiro’s organization and we scheduled my first “official” training.
In 2014 and 2015 I scheduled training throughout the county. There were several key elements in building “traction” for my training.
- Existing relationships: Most were in areas where I had established relationships, depending upon their network of clinicians for registrants.
- Pricing: EMDR training is quite expensive as it includes the lecture, practice, and follow-up consultation. Most training at the time were only charged for the lecture/practice portion of the training. The follow-up consultation was extra. In pricing the training, all the fees were included, and I offered a reduced rate for those clinicians working in non-profit organizations. These rates were one of the lowest training rates in the country.
- Location: I purposefully scheduled training in smaller cities, using local EMDR clinicians to help during the training and provide after-training support. I followed a “Boots on the ground'' approach.
- Content: Typical training was presented in a rigid, protocol format, much like the airline pilot’s adherence to protocols and procedures. In contrast, my training was integrative, flexible, and intuitive, much like an acrobatic or combat pilot’s approach to flying.
- Referrals: Enough cannot be said about the value of “Word-of-mouth referrals.” Having participants tell their colleagues about the training created repeat demand.
- Organizational culture: When I formed EMDR Consulting, my primary value was “Service above Self (borrowed from The Rotary Club). Treating our participants as we would want to be treated. At times it was difficult to “walk the talk”, i.e., giving refunds, discounts to displeased participants, based upon the concept of, “If I were in that situation, what would I expect, consider to be fair, under the circumstance?”
Administrative: Looking back on our growth, our major surge occurred when I hired an administrator. When I first hired Karen, while not a business major, she had great organizational skills and a passion for EMDR. We learned together as our organization grew. Once again, “On the job training, modifying and adapting to the ever-growing demand.”
Interpersonal skills. I cannot say enough about having an administrative team that has great interpersonal skills. They represent the “front door” of our organization. While
The Training Team: Choosing those of like mind and goals: As demand for the training grew, adding additional team members was necessary. Fortunately, those I sought out, or who approached me, share the same values and goals. They understood and supported the EMDR approach that I had developed, and at the same time, felt comfortable enough to offer suggestions, improvement. The “It takes a village” could not be more true in developing and improving one’s product.
Part of EMDR Consulting’s training team!
In summation, it is essential to believe in yourself and your product. Find the niche in your community, and build the best, highest quality product you can create. Build your core values and mission on how your product can serve others and then "walk the talk." Surround yourself with like-minded individuals who share your visions and passions. “Walk-the-talk” sometimes means making business decisions that are in the best interest of your customer, at the expense of your "bottom line."
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
EMDR Consulting builds on three essential foundational legs.
1) Your business culture, values, and mission. Create an inclusive, respectful culture, and one where everyone has opportunities to contribute and succeed. Surround yourself with those who share your values, visions, and goals. Our business culture of service above self, i.e., looking at everything from our customer's perspective: "If that situation happened to me, what would I expect as a fair resolution." is the foundation of our success. Couple this with great respect for your customer, their values, goals, and how you can fulfill their needs. While our primary product is providing EMDR basic training courses, contributing to the growth of our profession and its community is our overall mission. Share what you have. Often my colleagues have commented on how much I share. Being in a position to share something that will benefit others makes this easy. As the saying goes, "It is better to teach villagers to fish than it is to catch the fish yourself."
2) Your opportunity and responsibility: Be humble, realize that you have a gift, skill, or vision that will help others. Be willing to knock on doors, or, what is often more challenging, walk into doors that open before you, perhaps even before you feel prepared! Studies have shown that those who have a vision stay the course during the good and challenges and succeed. Believe in your idea and your product and take the necessary risks to fulfill that vision.
3) Your product: Have a product that you believe is the best you can develop. Accept input from those around you. Have the courage to modify and adapt and the humility to realize it takes a village to create an exceptional product, i.e., contributions for your team, customers, and critics
In retrospect, all my past experiences build upon one another, just as Steve Jobs had noted.
My links to success came from:
1) interpersonal skills: teaching tennis;
2) logical thinking: chess;
3) focus: chess, music, tennis, The Marine Corps, flying;
4) creative, intuitive responses: tennis, flying;
5) the ability to believe in oneself and complete a "mission" (The Marine Corps), and interpersonal skills.
How are you doing today, and how does the future look?
The COVID pandemic has created challenges and new opportunities. First, we needed to learn how to teach EMDR virtually. Adjusting our materials has been challenging yet rewarding. Because we can now offer training online and in person, we have expanded our opportunity to teach those who could otherwise not afford the cost, travel, and time from work. As a result, EMDR is now being administered through telehealth as well as in person.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out
First, define your mission, goals, and values. What do you wish to accomplish, and how will it serve others? Next, determine the niche that your product will help. Is it something new or a better version of something already on the market?
Be prepared to put all your time and energy into your project. Are you jumping in with both feet? If so, have the resources, financial and emotional, to be on your own until your product begins earning a profit. If easing into the market, your project will become your second job, perhaps one that takes a lot of time with every little initial payback.
Have and use your support system. If in a relationship, explain your goals and the time it will take away from the relationship. Having that interpersonal support will help build a better product as well as your relationship.
Be familiar with your market. Are you new to the market, with innovative ideas, or already an expert? If you have colleagues familiar with the market, ask them for opinions, suggestions, and ideas.
Realize that this will be a team effort; even if you perceive this as your product, you will be drawing experience and knowledge from multiple sources. Use what you have learned from others and give them credit. Feel comfortable seeing things differently or expanding what you have learned from them.
Where can we learn more?
There are multiple opportunities to learn about your market and build your business—reading other presentations from "Starter Story," regardless of whether their product is related to yours, is a great way to start. In addition, if you can take one or two new ideas from an article, it is time well spent.
Youtube is another option. Again, listen to others and what they have done.
Network. Build supportive networks. Support others' projects. By doing so, while sharing your knowledge, you learn as well. Connect through social media outlets such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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