Lori Fitzgerald- we need to cut ourselves the same slack that our male peers give themselves!

This blog features Lori Fitzgerald, Psychotherapist and Illustrator. Lori runs both The Therapy Den and LoriFitzDoodles simultaneously. Read this blog for an amazing insight into running multiple businesses as well as some incredible life advice!

I've always run two careers together. My main passions at school were psychology and art/creative practice. I could never choose between the two so used to flit between one or the other changing every few years. I've worked in many different jobs ranging from assistants in charity shops, project manager at Fashion Week, celeb stylist, PR Manager, addiction counsellor, healthcare assistant, NHS manager, art therapist, interior designer, and then in the last ten years a counsellor/psychotherapist in private practice. I don't think I ever felt 'at home' with a job until setting up in private practice as The Therapy Den. I still pinch myself that I did this and I'm doing this. Now I've set up my side business 'Lori FitzDoodles' I really feel like I have a gorgeous balance I could continue in until retirement or lottery win (whichever comes first)

My typical day starts at around 6.30am when I wake and check social media and the news. I have (what I feel is) a large following on Facebook which I like to keep happy with mental health posts and warmly inviting memes. It's a lovely community on The Therapy Den Facebook page and I enjoy the process of interacting with everyone. Twitter is for me to be an observer and I love reading what the world is pondering although I never post. Instagram shows my arty side and family life. I post my illustrations on there as well as my vinyl collection.

I do the school run with my daughter then arrive at work just after 9 am. I see four to five psychotherapy or mentoring clients a day and finish at 3 pm to start the reverse journey to school and then home.

Evenings are about prepping for the next days client list, cooking tea if my husband is working late (dislike that bit, I'm not a fan of cooking AT ALL) and watching thrillers on Netflix or Amazon with a pot of tea (rock n roll right?).

Wednesdays are my LorifitzDoodles day and I work 9 am till 3 pm drawing, sketching and finding inspiration for illustrations. I'm currently in residency running a year-long illustration project around women and mental health. Most of my current illustrations are of women who have at some point shared their story with me. I try and capture who they are as minimally as possible without embellishment. Colourful but raw.

Ultimately a desire to support people with their mental health and a desire to always remain creative for my own mental health and wellbeing inspired me to start my career. When I was a child I had significant family members who struggled with their mental health, then I also had quite serious addiction and mental health issues myself in my teens and early twenties. I had a period of homelessness that led to some very dark times and I recognise the vulnerability in us human-shapes. Anyone of us at any point can experience a decline in our mental health and therefore good therapy and understanding can feel in short supply at times. I want to offer a service that truly supports the clients who choose me as their therapist. I'm not for everyone but I work bloody hard to be the therapist the clients need whatever they are going through or have experienced in the past.

Apart from loads of study and general geekiness I feel I got to this point due to always remaining curious, being flexible yet tenacious, remembering that everyone is dealing with shit we don't know about and therefore trying not to presume anything, being hopeful, leaning on good friends when required, allowing for periods of wealth and periods of poverty, and ultimately learning from every single thing I've experienced including some bouts of crippling depression and a raging drug addiction in my younger years. I've been in a good place for a long time but I recognise that I'm still learning.....

The way I overcame my setbacks was by crying, laughing, swearing, eating chocolate, and pushing through with support when possible. My husband (aka The Chap) is a fabulous partner who has been a total rock for the last 18 years. I can be a very emotional person at first when I meet a problem or issue, but I'm also deeply rational so doing my best to keep my feet on the ground and break down problems into bite-size chunks (like the chocolate I eat) has been the way forward.

I am passionate about providing warm, nurturing and non-judgemental therapeutic support for any client that works with me. To maintain my own mental health and professional health with regular supervision and therapy. To keep being creative and always look deeper and wider without missing the details. Therapy, like art/creative practice, is all about the micro and the macro and the balance between.

Being a mother to two loin fruit means I have to bring home the bacon but I am damned if I am going to do this within a career I dislike or feel 'meh' about or working for someone I have little respect for. I should mention at this point that I'm a raging feminist and my gawd it's important for women to not be talked out of rooms we deserve to be in. Go back 50-60 years and psychotherapy was mainly the domain of men projecting their insecurities onto women. Thankfully the landscape of therapy has changed loads but we are still dealing with the toxic nature of patriarchal society and both women and men’s mental health are suffering as a result. This is not okay. This drives me. And the biscuits. Therapists have a lot of biscuits and good tea.

In terms of my illustration work my drive was around constantly saying to family and friends that it was going to be something I would take up “when I retire”. I realised that this was utter bullshit and that if I wanted to do it then I needed to do it now. So I am. And I'm glad I did. I feel so free when my pen hits the paper or I turn on my iPad and start doodling.

There was a time in history when women were told they couldn't do this job and here we are, thousands of us worldwide, being therapists and making a difference alongside our male peers.

What is your biggest achievement in life?

Previously extracting myself from homelessness, addiction, a terrible relationship and achieving everything I have now with extra sparkles (amazing partner, healthy kids, brilliant friends, thriving therapy business and awesome second hobby/job as an illustrator).

If I had to pick one I would say it's being a mother but even then there is more to it than being a mother and the concept of mother explodes into various memories around birth, the strength of the female body, heartache/loss, utter happiness.....

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?

Create, hold and watch your boundaries. Watch other people’s body language. Feel/listen to your gut as your brain and heart aren't always reliable although they are well-meaning. Sleep on all major decisions. Not everyone is as kind as you are, but as mentioned above, know that everyone is going through things that you may not know or understand.

Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?

Unfortunately yes. In many of my jobs, I've encountered sexual harassment and I think when I was younger I normalised this. But as I'm in private practice and work mainly with women it's not part of my professional life now thankfully. But I know that for many women and some men it's still present and I wouldn't hesitate to call it out.

Do you have a mantra you live your life by?

I wasn't sure so I asked a few of the clients I work with what do I say and they replied;

Boundaries + Integrity = Compassion. This is taken from the work of Self-Compassion specialist Kristin Neff and reminds us that we can't truly be compassionate with ourselves or others unless we have our boundaries and integrity in place. It's an important lesson for all of us myself included.

I also think 'Fuck It' has an important place in our lives at the appropriate times. We carry too much in today’s society and we need to learn to work out what’s important right now and what isn't.

What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?

I would urge young women to consider what their plan is for when they have to manage sexism in the workplace. Ideally, I would ask my younger self to call it out in a grounded and rational way but I appreciate that it can be a scary thing to consider doing. Have a plan.

To work and study/learn with integrity and honesty. I haven't always been honest with myself and others and it creates issues that come back to bite your bum. Don't be dragged into bitching or negative female stereotypes. If you go to bed every night knowing you've done your best even in challenging situations then you can sleep easier. You can't do any better than that.

And following that point, to not put yourself on a path to perfection as that never ends well. Society expects a great deal from girls and women in a different way to boys and men, and we need to cut ourselves the same slack that our male peers give themselves and receive.

What is the best bit of advice that you have ever been given?

That everyone is doing the best they can with what they have.

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

I can't tell you one as there are five; my long term psychotherapy supervisor Susan, my mentor Nette, my close friend and mental health buddy Sarah, and my grandmothers Sylvia and Doris. All unconditional, wise, honest, nurturing, tenacious, boundaried women.

What are your key motivators?

Keeping my mental health chipper and not waiting till retirement to do the things I want to do. The time is now.

Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance?

At the moment it actually feels like we are going backwards, but I can see that some areas of the industry are working hard to address the imbalances experienced but we have a long way to go yet. I have hope that it'll happen eventually but it may not be till our future grandchildren are out there and making a difference. I want to be wrong about this.

Don't be talked out of a room you deserve to be in.
Work with integrity and call out the bullshit.
Know your worth is vast.

What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?

I might not be the best person to answer this as I've never felt like a leader, to be honest. I'm more of a lone ranger type of worker, I like to innovate in my own bubble where I have to space to explore possibilities. However, I believe it's about remaining focussed, boundaried, and full of integrity. These are the qualities within leadership I admire anyway.

What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?

Lead by example. And 'don't be a dick' :)

What would you say to your 16-year-old self?

Slow down, calm down, watch what you are doing, get some support, you've got this, it's going to be okay. And don't make decisions based on rebounding from perceived failures, wait a few years and it's all going to be bloody amazing. Promise.

You can find Lori on Facebook and Instagram: @lorifitzdoodles. You can also find her work: @lorifitzdoodles.gallery. You can also check out YesSheCanTV here!


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