Lisa Mitchell

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Business advise from the end of a successful practice.

Lisa Mitchell | May 14, 2018 | 29 comments


We can learn from people at the end.

When people are at the end—end of life, end of a relationship, end of a long hard project—they have a unique viewpoint that can only be gained from having lived through it to the very end. I’ve always listened a bit harder to the folks who are generous enough to share their view from their last stop.  When we pay attention to their wisdom, we benefit. So, since I’m at the end of a successful private practice, I want to share something that only now, 2 weeks away from closing my doors, I have come to understand clearly. (If you missed my initial announcement, you can read more about my transition here and here.)

I didn’t come to this understanding all by myself.  As is often the case these days, the combination of art and writing helped me arrive at this beautiful conclusion.  I want to share it with you in hopes that it inspires you to build your work-life so that it feeds you, heals you, and sustains you. Just like mine did for decades.

Let me tell you the story.

On Saturday, my friend, Terri invited me to come and play in her quilting studio.  Her text with the address and gate code also said, “Perhaps you’d like to make something with the theme of goodbye.” She mentioned that we could print meaningful photos onto silk organza and incorporate the silk image in a mini quilt.  I felt seen.  A little found out, actually.  She was giving me what I have given so many others.  A space to process through art making.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it.  I told her that it felt vulnerable but I supposed I needed to.  I wondered if I really had anything to express because I seemed okay with it all—like it was happening and I just needed to let it.  But, I went with it because I was curious and wanted to excavate anything that could lie dormant and mess up the new beginning I’m about to embrace.

In her studio, one walk lined with floor to ceiling shelves that hold fabric folded like books, Terri began searching for images on her Mac.  She pulled up my office address on Google maps.  A surge of nostalgia hit me.  The neighborhood showed first.  I recognized the parking places in front of the swing-set in the park across the street.  She zoomed in and I saw the next door well-house.  It’s the fenced-in water resource building that gushes water into the huge pipe system near the back door of my office.  And then, there it was–my office building.  Google showed a spring picture with the trees in full foliage.  The eucalyptus trees tower over the roof.  These are the branches that the chickens use now to roost. They fly from the porch overhang to the highest branch they can reach and then spend the night leaving their markings all over the driveway.

Terri printed a miniature version of the Google maps picture and handed it to me.  She also printed my logo—the one with a green paint palette that says “Beyond Words” in white.  Desales Linton of Electrical Soil made that logo for me at least 15 years ago, when websites were just html pages.  When I couldn’t change anything on my own because I didn’t know how to write code. This was the same logo that traveled with me faithfully—from my first office to my second, and now to this one—the very one of which I can hold a picture, printed on silk organza, in my hand and feel amazed.

I proceeded to build the quilt with scraps of colored fabric.  Terri showed me how to fuse them together as I went.  I chatted with her as a small village began to show itself in my art.  My office is there and some other wonderful buildings.  One made of words, one of bright painted colors—lime and red and orange, another with a roof made out of trees.  There are orbs of color floating in the sky above, deep purple, red polka dots, teal swirls.  I sandwiched some cotton batting between the collage and a backing and told Terri I wanted to come back another time to sew it.  I thanked her for giving me space to let my art express what I hadn’t been able to say in words.

The collage lived in the back seat of my car yesterday, and I listened to it as I loaded groceries there and a stake for the new wisteria vine in the front yard of our Carmichael home that is about to go on the market.

Here’s what my art tells me and what I want so badly for you to know.

7985 Park Drive is my first place of belonging.  When I moved my office there in 2010–after Cheryl and I built walls and filled in doors and added storage and an industrial sink—when I sat at the huge group tables with the wall panels for hanging paintings surrounding me—I couldn’t believe I’d done it.  I’d built a business that fit me.  For the first time in my life, I had friends who wanted to make art with me.  I had clients who wanted to do deep creative healing work.  I had a building that could support it all.

I used to walk into the office in the mornings before the sound machine was turned on and before the baroque music was playing for ambiance.  I used to breathe in the musty smell of acrylic paint and the dirt basement rising up through the old heating ducts.  I used to feel a flood of being home that was special, marvelous.  A sense of mineness.  Queenness. I felt pride and comfort all at the same time.

Feeling like I belong is a feeling I have waited for my entire life.  I didn’t grow up with artists.  My passion to create was a side-gig that I had to do all by myself.  Friends weren’t interested in coming over to make stuff with me.  High school and college gatherings were social exchanges with small talk and partying.  As young parent connections happened at sporting events and school volunteering opportunities. Before Park Drive never in my life had I had someone invite me to their studio to come play.  Never had I had friends who longed for uninterrupted creative time.  What I wanted most, to connect with others on an intimate emotional level through art seemed impossible.  I used to think I was a freak who had to keep this wish hidden in order to fit.

But my longing ended at Park Drive.  My freak status became a disproved identity. The community I formed there, The Art Therapy Studio Community, is an externalization of all that was (and still is) most important to me.  The community I formed has shown me this: With art and love and relationship, we join and heal.   I’m going to a new community that happens to share and live this belief.  Which will be so wonderful because I already feel a sense of belonging. I can take my quilt with me as a reminder of what happened on Park Drive.  How my business became a source of healing and self-acceptance.

This is what I’m trying to tell you from my view at this endpoint.

When you follow your longing and invite others into it, you heal.

As artists and therapists, I think we are at a particular advantage because we tend to be folks who are willing to risk.

Invite each other in!!

If you have a wish for creative time, emotional expression through art, space to write and share….whatever it is….INVITE EACH OTHER IN!  Form a therapist group with the explicit goal you want to achieve.  Set dates and commit.  Then show up, gather, and be vulnerable with each other.  Ban case consultation and, instead, talk about your experience being a therapist.  Stop judging one another for therapeutic effectiveness or soundness of personality.  Value each other’s unique experiences and expression.  BE with each other.  You will grow and so will your business! I know this because that’s what happened to me.

If you’d like specific art activities to do in a therapist group, take a look at the last chapter in my book, Creativity as Co-Therapist.  I have a list of some good ones!

I’d love to have you share your experiences.  How has your business helped you heal?  What are you doing to try to help that happen?

29 responses to “Business advise from the end of a successful practice.”

  1. nancy polli says:

    Dearest Lisa, I love you to pieces! In quilts, in my art, in my life and in my work. They all have a patch of Lisa Spirit. I wish you much of all that is good in what comes next.

  2. Sue Cirillo says:

    I love your notes and will miss you. You are always part of the patchwork quilt that is known as Art Therapists. Hope and intend to see you in other environs.

  3. Ruth says:

    One of the luckiest things to happen to me as a therapist was meeting you and taking your classes. What an immersive experience they were; what a total treat for filling the soul. And, now your legacy… to encourage us, your ducklings, to carry on in your absence… to group together and create that life enriching experience. Yes, we must carry on.

  4. Cindi Westendorf says:

    YOU are so much of what I truly inspire to be each day Thanks for sharing the wisdom…hope you dont ever stop!!
    Enjoy each new adventure xoxo

  5. Yon Walls says:

    I’m so grateful for your closing words for your new beginning. You are generous!! It’s surely the kind of wisdom about art, therapy and making a business that we rarely get. As I’m now figuring out the possibility of growing a Therapy practice with creativity as co-therapist, your words are timely and body-felt. Best with your new beginning. So exciting!

  6. Mitchell Hudson says:

    Mom, you are the COOLEST.

    Love, Mitch

  7. Estee Cohen says:

    I am so grateful to have landed on your “Park Drive porch.” It has been a treasure and inspiration to learn from you and grow with you. I wish you all of the very best on your journey.

  8. Wendy Frush says:

    This piece is healing me and helping me to let you go on to your next adventure. It is not easy to be such a star in your profession but you have always made it look like a breeze. I am proud of your spirit but warn you I will visit often.

  9. Dear Lisa, more even than creating with others in your studio (which I’ve loved doing a lot), I have relished the atmosphere of connectedness you strive to create for us. I have indeed experienced healing and growth just by ‘showing up and engaging’. Thank you for your precious authenticity, and relentless grace for yourself and for us, your students. I will miss you, and am happy I hold a piece of you in my heart. Many blessings on the next season of your life. With love, Christine

    • Lisa Mitchell says:

      Christine, these words feel so good. Thank you for seeing me and what I most care about–and giving yourself to the process each and every time. There is a piece of you in my heart, too.

  10. Susan Doherty says:

    Oh poop!
    It’s so hard to let you go!
    I have no choice!
    Just know
    I love your guts❣️

  11. Diane says:

    I will be forever grateful for you bringing park drive into my life. The lessons I learned here will stay with me through my life. Your vision touched so many people and I’m grateful to have been one. Best of luck in your new adventures. I will miss the chickens. Take care.

  12. Susan Doherty says:


  13. Donna Aldridge says:

    Busy, as always, I hadn’t heard you were moving. Today, as I caught up on some of the things in my life I choose to spend time doing, as opposed to those I must do, I read this post, then went back and read the first two on this subject. Wow! My first thought was, how awesome for you! I often tell people that I have decided to live forever, as that is the only way I will ever be able to do everything I want to do. Some of the hardest decisions I have ever made were about what to choose next. Take your time, listen to your heart, and use your art as only you can. I am thrilled for you, even as I understand the sadness of leaving your child (because building a business is giving birth, and loving). I can’t wait to hear what happens next!

  14. Lilli Bentley says:

    Wow I just saw this! I participated in a workshop at your office while I was still a student, an experience I’ll never forget! Your wisdom, your creative healing space was inspiring. You have touched so many lives. I’m just starting out at an age when most people retire, but here I go. I wish you the best!!

  15. Aileen Danko says:

    I think healing comes from different aspects of life, my work, my art (seed beads, painting, stained glass) and my family. I do note that when I am alone or with close friends doing the artwork I feel calm and happy. I too may be coming to an end of my current work as another business takes off. Sure it will be bitter sweet not seeing the children in the office or making them better with various surgeries and seeing them heal. I just signed a lease extension and I know as the time approaches I will realize that it will be time to move on. Not in bad way, but to move on as you did to the next chapter. More me time, more time for art, more time for family.

  16. Lyla Tyler says:

    My dear friend
    We can learn from people in the end! And I’ve learned that those we love, live on in our hearts. Thank you for your precious studio where I learned so much. Thank you for laughing with me and sharing sacred space. Love you Lisa❤️

  17. Sally Swain says:

    Dearest Lisa
    I find your words and pictures moving. Beautiful.
    Thank you for your generosity, which is deep and wide as the ocean.
    These simple words touch me:
    ‘With art and love and relationship, we join and heal.’
    I wonder if I might reblog this piece? (And I wonder why I haven’t asked to reblog your posts before. They are always marvellous.)
    I’m not sure I know how to reblog, apart from cutting and pasting.
    much love and well wishes for the next adventure

  18. Carrie karademos says:

    Ithis gave me goosebumps! I can’t believe I won’t be creating in your studio any more! You are such an inspiration. I hope you never forget to set “leisure goals” and achieve them!

  19. Sharon Eakes says:

    Oh, Lisa, it is so sweet to read your thoughtful words and hear the impact you have had on peoples lives. The thing I have loved about this last chapter is how comfortably you settled into your own skin on Park Drive. I think it was a healing place for you. I have watched you move through so many transitions, I absolutely trust you to do it well. I will be visiting you often! I adore you, Mama

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