When you figure out where to take your career, you shouldn’t feel like you have to chase after it right away. On Career Relaunch® podcast episode 89, Kessler Bickford, a former magazine editor turned psychotherapist, discusses the challenges of deciding where you take your career when you have multiple interests and the distinction between identifying and actually pursuing your passion.
We also talk about the importance of timing when making a career pivot, and during the Mental Fuel® segment, I also reveal the impact moving at different speeds in my own career had on my overall professional trajectory.
Key Career Takeaways
- Not knowing exactly where you belong professionally is okay and totally normal. Sometimes, you just have to trust your gut to guide you.
- Even if you know there’s something you’re meant to do, there’s a balance between going after it and waiting until you’re fully ready to make the leap. Timing is key.
- You likely have more than one gift inside you. It takes some courage to decide exactly where you ultimately want to direct your energies then go for it with everything you’ve got.
- Just like fit matters when you’re choosing a place to live or even a pair of shoes to buy, our overall job satisfaction has a lot to do with fit.
- Be patient with your moves. Don’t let fear run the show.
- We mentioned the Sept 2022 WSJ article, The Next Pandemic: Anxiety Over Life Itself
- The 13 best books for managing anxiety, according to psychologists– Business Insider, Oct 2022
- How to use anxiety to your advantage– BBC, Oct 2022
- Kessler also mentioned the importance of working with a professional therapist when trying to tackle struggles related to anxiety or shame. Your Guide to Getting the Most From Online Therapy from Everyday Health could be a helpful way to get a lay of the land.
During this episode’s Mental Fuel® segment, I talked about the importance identifying one initiative, project, or move in your career that you feel really eager to get done right away. Take a moment right now and reflect on what’s at stake and what might happen if you slowed down just a bit.
Do you need to pursue this specific goal at this very moment? Or is it something that could wait? At least for a bit? What would that cost you? How would it benefit you? Consider how slowing down might influence your ultimate chances of success.
About Kessler Bickford, Anxiety Therapist
Kessler Bickford is a psychotherapist running her own private practice who specializes in treating patients struggling with anxiety using a modality called Intensive Short-term Dynamic Psychotherapy. However, she began her career working for over a decade as an editor for Chesapeake Family Life magazine.
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Interview Segment Music Credits
- Bio Unit – Summer Rain
- Sappheiros – Embrace
- Guy Copeland – Agrotis Infusa
- Podington Bear – Celadon
- Alan Ellis – Sea Terms
- Howard Harper-Barnes – The Promising
Episode Interview Transcript
Teaser [first ~15s]: I needed to do some unfinished work in myself. I needed to live more before I could really speak into someone else’s life. I wasn’t ready. I thought I was. But, looking back, I couldn’t have done this the way I do it now. There wasn’t a chance.
Joseph: Hello, Kessler. It is good to talk with you again. Welcome to the Career Relaunch Podcast. It is great to have you on the show.
Kessler: [02:23] Thank you, Joseph. It’s really fun to do this.
Joseph: First of all, before we get started, how’s everything going with you? Are you doing okay?
Kessler: [02:28] Yeah. Life is good. Being a parent just supersedes everything because your happiness this like contingent on how your child is doing.
Joseph: I should probably say that you and I haven’t spoken in a while. So, this is actually going to be a little bit of a catch-up for you and I also. I was wondering if we could just start by getting a sense of what’s been keeping you busy right now in both your professional life and also your personal life.
Kessler: [02:57] I am a wife and I am a mother of a 10-year-old boy, as well as a psychotherapist. All that is always moving the speed of light and at the same time. It’s the balancing act. It’s settling into parenting, and then it’s settling into my professional life, and there’s a lot of sort of stop-and-start there.
Joseph: I’ll bet. I am also a parent, and I can understand how it’s really hard to have any stretch of time to do anything continuously. Let’s take those one at a time. You mentioned you’re a psychotherapist. Can you just give a snapshot of what you do, what you focus on, and what your approach is?
Kessler: [03:42] With your help, I found my branding. My specialty is treating anxiety. That is something I’ve studied extensively and have certification in. So many other issues connect with anxiety. While I’m helping people with anxiety, I’m also helping them with emotional issues and other things like that.
Joseph: Just so we’re all kind of on the same page, when you use the term “anxiety” in a clinical sense, can you just explain in layperson’s terms what exactly do you mean by that? What are the types of people who you might typically see in your practice?
Kessler: [04:20] There are four different levels of anxiety, and they’re very different. Some anxiety might not bother you. As anxiety gets higher and higher and creeps up to sort of the second third and fourth level, it becomes harder to manage and certainly creates more sort of physical disruptions in your body and disruptions in your life, and it becomes pretty serious. I’m helping people learn how to regulate anxiety that goes to a point where it’s so high, it’s affecting the cognitive ability as well as sort of creating a lot of physical symptoms, too.
Joseph: We will probably get into more details into how you became a psychotherapist as we go along this conversation. I also want to touch on the family life piece of it because as you mentioned, you are a mother, and that plays into the balance between work and the rest of your life. Could you just give a snapshot of how you balance the two, and how much one affects the other?
Kessler: [05:25] It’s kind of miraculous. I’m not sure sometimes how I made a day go by when I look back on the day. Because I’m in private practice, I can set my schedule. That allows me to tailor the time I need and carve that out for my son or family things, and then move my clients around that. That’s such a blessing of being in private practice or working for yourself is you have that kind of flexibility and can put family first, which is what I do.
Joseph: Before we go back in time to talk about your previous profession, what’s it like having a 10-year-old son at home?
Kessler: [06:08] He’s in fourth grade and he has just a ton of personality. He’s very sweet but someone once asked me how’s motherhood. I said, “You know, there’s nothing like having your own personality used against you.”
Kessler: [06:26] Because he looks just like my husband, but he has my temperament.
Joseph: I see. I’ve always thought it might be interesting as someone who is a psychotherapist to think about your children, their temperament, and their approach to life. It must influence your perceptions of your child and also inform your approach to parenting. Would you say that’s a fair statement?
Kessler: [06:49] I think it is fair. That doesn’t mean it’s a winning approach because I’m just human, and I’m at it with my fears and projections. The tricky thing is separating yourself from your child and realizing you’re two totally different people, and how you see something and feel about something is not the way they do. This allows them to have their own experience, their own personality separate from your own. That is something that’s I think hard for so many parents. It’s just accepting your child for the personality that they have that’s different from yours.
Joseph: I can completely relate to that. As you know, I’ve got a 4-, coming up on 5-year-old daughter. I do catch myself sometimes almost saying something along the lines of, “Well, when I was a kid…” This, and I just got to stop myself. I can feel myself tempted to bring it up but I stop myself.
Kessler: [07:48] Yeah.
Joseph: I know you haven’t always been a psychotherapist, Kessler. I’d like to kind of switch gears and go back in time now. Would you mind just telling me what you were up to before you entered the world of therapy? I understand you spent quite a bit of time as an editor. Can you tell me a little bit about that chapter of your career? And then, we’ll go forward from there.
Kessler: [08:06] I was a magazine editor for 12 years. I worked for a regional magazine that covered the Chesapeake regions of Maryland and Virginia and Delaware, and it was a lifestyle magazine. Before that, you know, mama was a rolling stone here. I had a lot of different careers. I was a wrangler on a dude ranch. I was a cleaning lady for a little while. I lived in the Bahamas for a while. I just didn’t know where I belonged. I was really lost. But, I knew I didn’t want to settle. I didn’t want to go into the corporate world just to check a box or have a job I didn’t love. I knew that if I didn’t love it, I was never going to be able to pull it off. I just sort of bided my time until my purpose came to me.
Joseph: There are some quite very different roles in there. So, you said wrangler on a dude ranch, and then, eventually, become a magazine editor. How did you go from the former to the latter? I’m just kind of reading between the lines here but was it to try to maybe take more practical job on paper that kind of felt a little bit more stable? Or, what was the motivation behind going into being a magazine editor?
Kessler: [09:23] I think I really realized I wanted to be a writer. I just had this life philosophy that even if you know there’s something inside you that you’re meant to do, if you touch it too soon, if you touch it when it’s not time, you could ruin it. What I mean by “ruin it” is if you’re not ready and you try it, the danger is you come out with a story that you failed. And so, this thing that you knew was inside you to do becomes this horrible story of failure, when the truth is is it just wasn’t time. So, you’ve got to wait for the time to be right. I think I was always just kind of waiting for it to be revealed to me what I really wanted to do, and then wait for the right time because they’re different. They’re two different things.
Joseph: Were you feeling like editorial work just wasn’t doing it for you? How did you know that that wasn’t going to be your long-term professional calling?
Kessler: [10:27] When I was in my early 20, I’d say 22, 23. I got the insight that I wanted to be a therapist. I was like, “Wonderful!” The purpose finally showed up. I can go for it, right? So, I went to my pastor at the time. I asked for a meeting with him and I said, “I think my purpose has shown up.” He said, “Well, wonderful! What is it?” I said, “Well, as a therapist.” He said, “Well, I would wait.” And, I said, “What?! Wait? Why?” He said, “Well, you just want to make sure that you’re ready for it emotionally, in maturity-wise, and if you want to make sure it’s time.” While at the time I thought, “Well, the nerve of him to discourage an effervescent, excited, young woman,” I thought there’s some wisdom there.
So, I thought, “Okay. Well, I’m going to put it on the back burner being a therapist, and I’m going to go into the world of writing. If the urge to become a therapist comes back, if it shows back up after a while, I’ll pay attention to it then. But, for now, I’m just going to let it kind of germinate. For 12 years I was in the magazine world and it did come back. That feeling to go back and get a degree in therapy, and go into that part of me did come back.
Joseph: If you wouldn’t mind diving into this concept of jumping into something too early, I think that could be interesting to talk about. You mentioned your pastor had mentioned, “Hey, don’t do this right now.” I’ve actually have been given a similar advice myself when I was thinking about going into coaching one day. I remember a coach I spoke to, he said, “Don’t do this yet.” What do you think is behind these people’s comments to dissuade people from jumping into their path of passion too “early”? What would be the downside of that?
Kessler: [12:31] I think everything in life is motive. I can’t speak to what his motive was. For me, it wasn’t a malicious motive. It was a motive of making sure that I was ready. I needed to do some unfinished work in myself. I needed to live more before I could really speak into someone else’s life. The truth is, the human brain isn’t fully formed to your 24, 25, and I was 22, 23, so I wasn’t ready. I thought I was. Looking back, I couldn’t have done this the way I do it now. There wasn’t a chance. For me, it was really good advice. It wasn’t pleasant advice. It was tough advice to hear, but he was right.
Joseph: What do you think that time as a magazine editor did for you or enabled you to do that you wouldn’t have otherwise been able to pull off when you started to make that transition into psychotherapy?
Kessler: [12:36] People ask me that, “Well, what’s the connection?” It’s not a loose connection, it’s a very strong connection because as a writer, you’ve got to have the ability to step out of someone else’s story. When you’re interviewing them, in order to tell their story, you’ve got to remove yourself so that you can fully hear them and fully take in their experience so that you’re able to translate it onto paper. There was so much training and listening and asking questions that lead to deeper and more information for me, and removing myself from the equation so that it can be their moment, not mine. That was really part of my training in becoming a therapist.
Joseph: Can we also talk a little bit about the transition itself? We’re talking about two at least seemingly different professions. Although, I know you mentioned there’s a very strong connection in the transferable skills that you developed. Can you just give a glimpse into what it was like to be working full-time as an editor while also pursuing this new path of being trained and credentialed to become a psychotherapist?
Kessler: [14:50] I was the senior editor. The managing editor who worked under me, he and I changed jobs, swap jobs. He became the head of the magazine and I was the editor underneath of him. I didn’t have all that responsibility while I was going to graduate school. I think I did that for about a year. I went to school full time. I had a tremendous gift from my mother who supported me at that time so that I could go to school full-time and finish it as quickly as possible because I was 38.
Joseph: Is that considered kind of late?
Kessler: [15:35] I think for me, it felt late because I felt like a late bloomer. I wanted to be able to get right back into the job market as fast as I could. A lot of people go back to school right from college into a graduate or PhD program.
Joseph: Let’s shift gears here then, Kessler. Let’s talk about your entry into becoming a full-time psychotherapist. Coincidentally, it’s not uncommon for me to cross paths with people who have been working in the corporate world have realized that they would rather have a more people-focused profession, and they do start to consider things like psychotherapy or going into clinical psychology. How do you go from studying clinical psychology to then eventually working as a psychotherapist? Can you just explain what path you followed and how did you land in the practice that you landed in?
Kessler: [16:27] I found a practice I wanted to work in. I did my research and I identified a local practice in my hometown where I wanted to work. I called them and I said, “You know I’m about to graduate. I’d like to come talk to you about if you have any openings.” The owner of the practice said, “Well, you’re not fully licensed yet. I just can’t take you on. Call me when you’re fully licensed.” I just didn’t leave him alone. I hounded the poor man until he gave me a job. I just chased him until he’s, “All right, enough! Anything to get you to quit calling me.” I think it’s about identifying where you want to work and then just going for it.
Joseph: How do you go about finding patients? Do they come to you? Do you proactively — “market” is kind of a strong word here, but kind of promote or kind of drive visibility for your practice? How do you go about finding your clients, your patients?
Kessler: [17:26] When I first got out of grad school, I worked in a group practice, and now, I’m in private practice. The marketing is very different. In a group, they provide you with your clients a lot of times. In private practice, it’s solely up to me to go do my own marketing and find my own clients. Word of mouth always has the most legs. It always is the best way to go.
Joseph: How was it for you? As you were part of that group practice, can you just give a sense of what your trajectory was there? How you were feeling about that? How that evolved for you?
Kessler: [19:03] It was a great place to start. It was a great place for me to get my feet wet in the industry, to be around other therapists to see how they work, to have people to talk to other therapists to talk to when I had a break. That’s what I wanted in the beginning was to have that kind of community to build my confidence in. It wasn’t long before I realized like what I really wanted to do was go into business for myself.
Joseph: Was there something in particular that was kind of nagging you about being part of a group practice versus branching off on your own that was triggering you to think, “Hey, I need to go start my own practice”?
Kessler: [18:50] There are lots of problems when you get a bunch of therapists together.
Joseph: Okay. I can imagine, yeah.
Kessler: [18:58] How many jokes can we make up with that one? Therapists have all kinds of different modalities they use, right? There are tons of different ways to do therapy. I had my own training compared to their training. Sometimes it clashes, sometimes it works. But, for me, that was a little bit of a rub that we didn’t have the same kinds of therapy we did. That becomes disagreement on how to do therapy and the best ways to do therapy. While you can learn from each other, it’s nice to be around sort of more people are doing the same kind of therapy you’re doing. Also, your schedule is not your own when you work in a group, and neither is your rate. It’s set for you.
Joseph: Let’s talk about your transition then, going from part of a group practice to branching off on your own to start your own solo practice. What was that like for you? that maybe let’s start off in the early days. How did you think it was going to go and then how did it actually go?
Kessler: [20:03] It makes me remember when I first found you online. I thought, “If I’m going to go out on my own, I’ve got to have something that differentiates me from the other sea of therapists out there.” I found you online. I have this memory of sneaking out of the office, going to sit in my car, and having these secret telephone conversations with you.
Joseph: I have recollections of that, also.
Kessler: [20:29] You helped me prepare for my exit because you helped me think through who I wanted to be in private practice. Yes, it was a business decision, but it was also very much of a philosophy I was building with your help of who I wanted to be, how I wanted to be known, and really thinking through all that. So, I really thank you, by the way, that you gave me that education before I stepped out on my own. It made it very much less impulsive and much more deliberate.
Joseph: That’s great. Here, I should probably say, just full disclosure, we have worked together professionally before where I guess, as you mentioned, when you were thinking about branching off on your own. You came to me and we talked a little bit about your branding and your positioning. Can you share a little bit about what was the best thing about branching off on your own, and what was the most challenging, just in the early days?
Kessler: [21:28] The scariest part was, “Oh, my God! Where am I going to get my clients from?” Because they’ve kind of been fed to me. My boss was very kind and said to me, “You can whomever you’re seeing now, the clients we’ve given you now, you’re welcome to take them with you if you’d like.” So, he was very generous in that way. But, the nature of the therapy I do is short-term work. It doesn’t take many weeks or months for patients to sort of “graduate,” if you will, from their therapy. Which means I need other clients to be right on the heels to fill the space. Yes, I could take my old clients with me but where were the new ones going to come from? That was a real nail-biter for me.
Joseph: How do you go about finding the patients? It’s kind of this ironic sort of system where if you’re doing your job well, I suppose, as a psychotherapist, it’s the same thing in coaching. Your patient’s not going to be your patient for very long because they’re going to get better.
Kessler: [22:30] Right, yes.
Joseph: And so, you kind of need this pipeline of patients. How do you go about doing that as a therapist?
Kessler: [22:35] It is feast or famine. In the five years I’ve been on my own, I still haven’t been able to crack the code of why are some months great and others are crickets. I don’t mean crickets, I mean maybe four, five, six, seven people as opposed to 20. it goes up, it goes down; it goes up, it goes down. I don’t know the rhyme or reason. I’ve spent a lot of time I think driving myself crazy trying to find the “why.” I think a lesson there has been, for me, it does come back. When it’s slow, use that time to rest. Just don’t let the fear eat you up, that it’s not going to come back.
Joseph: Yeah, that is an interesting point because one of the questions I wanted to ask you, Kessler, was about your life as a psychotherapist. Many people, they’re probably coming to you at their most desperate moments I’m imagining. They’re coming to you, you’re dealing with issues related to anxieties. You’re dealing with people who are struggling a lot with something. When they see you, they’re probably really needing some serious help. How do you maintain your own psychology and your own stability through it all?
You mentioned having let’s say 20 patients at any one given time, I would imagine that’s somewhat emotionally and physically draining. Is that the case as a psychotherapist, do you feel the weight of the patients you’re working with? Or, do you just find a way to kind of separate yourself from that? I’ve always been really curious to hear about that straight from an actual psychotherapist.
Kessler: [24:21] That hasn’t been a struggle for me because when you have hope for a patient, when they are highly invested in themselves and have the want, the will to meet their goals, I don’t worry about them. Because they’ve already decided they’re going to walk this road and they’re going to get to what they want. I also did some crisis work when I was in grad school as part of my grad school work, and that was very different. That was very draining for me because people didn’t always have the will or the want to get better. The sympathy would just pour out of you and that was draining. That’s a very different population. I think as long as I see that a patient has the will, the want, the drive to get to their therapy goals, I’m energized by that.
Joseph: Well, before we talk about some of the lessons you’ve learned through your transitions, I also just want to ask you about what you have found to be the most surprising aspect of shifting from being part of a group practice to now being someone who’s running your own practice.
Kessler: [25:44] I still have a community that I’ve created with other therapists around me, and reached out and gotten to know them and have coffee and we meet for lunch. I can still have that community without having it in my office space.
Something else I found very surprising is that we’ve got more than one gift in us. it takes some courage to put your eyes on that other part of you, that other gift because sometimes, it upsets the apple cart, right? Sometimes, it can upset your life when you do that because it brings some change. I do believe we all have more than one gift inside of us.
Joseph: The last thing I was hoping I could talk with you about, Kessler, before we wrap up with what you’re focused on right now in your practice is just a few questions about the things you’ve learned along the way of your very interesting career change journey. I was hoping we could start by getting a sense of if you had to give advice to your younger self as it relates to making a major career change, what might that be?
Kessler: [26:54] Don’t second guess your gut about timing and have the courage to listen to it. You might hear a “no,” and that might be hard to hear. That no is designed to protect you. It’s designed to keep that change, that direction, you want to go. It’s designed to keep it sacred and it’ll come. Just listen to your gut about the timing of it all.
Joseph: I think sometimes we feel pressured, as quickly as possible, move on to that thing that we feel is really going to light us up and going to energize us, but to be patient with it, I suppose, if you can be.
Kessler: [27:47] Yes. Be patient with it and just question it.
Joseph: When you look back on your career change, Kessler, what’s something that you wished you had known that you now know?
Kessler: [27:58] I think don’t let fear run the show. It can cause a lot of hesitation. It can cause a lot of wasted time. Just go for it. If it’s the right time, just do it. Life’s too short to hesitate, to wait.
Joseph: One more question for you here. Just having been through this career change, what’s one thing that you have learned about yourself along the way?
Kessler: [28:24] Well, I was not a good student, okay. I have a little bit of a learning disability that was never identified. I wasn’t a great reader, focusing was hard for me. I didn’t come away with the experience that I was terribly bright. When I finally found my saying in life, I realized that I might not have a terribly high IQ, but I do have a high EQ. That was just something that wasn’t really valued by my family or at the time when I was growing up. I’m 53, by society either. I think it’s got much more clout now than it did when I was younger.
I got to see myself finally as smart, capable, bright, gifted, and that’s not to toot my own horn. It was just I could see myself in a different way that I’d always wanted to. Finding your thing that you’re really meant to do will bring that out for you.
Joseph: That’s a great point, Kessler. Sometimes, when you’re misplaced in the wrong profession, you can kind of mistakenly believe that you’ve got some issue and you’re just not able to do the job as well as you could or there’s something wrong with you because you’re not feeling energized by it. But you could just be completely in the wrong role and just not making the most of who you are and what you’re meant to do.
Kessler: [29:57] That’s right. It’s not a failure, it’s a bad fit. You’re not a failure.
Joseph: Absolutely. It’s like playing the wrong sport.
Kessler: [20:04] That’s right. You just got to find the right fit. that goes for relationships. It goes for careers. It goes for a pair of pants. You just have to find the right fit.
Joseph: I’d love to wrap up, Kessler, with what you’re focused on right now. I know we’ve touched on this, but can you just explain a little bit more about the focus of your practice on anxiety and shame, and the kind of help that you’re really excited about providing people that you work with?
Kessler: [30:39] I have been a student of the concept of shame since I was about 20 when I first heard the word. I really sort of built my life on first getting a hold of myself, to be healed of my own shame. And then, who knew that it was going to turn into what I’d be giving people for the rest of my life in turn. There’s one thing that every single person I’ve seen from the beginning of my career as a psychotherapist, that people have in common is shame, some element of shame. This has really been my focus is helping people come out of that, and being able to forgive themselves, and just break free of that cage of shame. That is always something in the works for me.
Joseph: I can’t let you go without actually asking you to maybe comment on this idea. I know before we hopped on this conversation, you actually shared an article in the Wall Street Journal with me that literally just came out before we recorded this. It came out in September 2022, and it was called “The Next Pandemic: Anxiety Over Life Itself.” You can imagine there are people out there who are probably listening to this, and maybe they’re dealing with a lot of economic uncertainty because of the unreal levels of inflation that are hitting people right now. We’ve got the war in Ukraine. We’ve got a lot of economic volatility. We’ve still got the pandemic that’s still in our hands.
If somebody’s listening to this and they’re either struggling with anxiety or they are struggling with shame, I am aware this is probably case by case basis, but do you have any broad suggestion on where people can start to at least make some strides in managing that anxiety or managing the kind of shame that they’re feeling?
Kessler: [32:43] It’s very hard to do on your own. I don’t think we were meant to do it alone. I think these are the issues that we were meant to do in a relationship with help. If you could do it alone, you would have already remedied the situation. It’s something we’re meant to do through a relationship. Make sure that you’ve got a therapist who is trained in anxiety regulation because it is a grossly misunderstood issue. I think not only in the therapy world but also in the medical world. You really want to have someone who is well trained and how to manage that.
Joseph: Speaking of which, if there is someone out there who’s listening to this and wants to learn more about the topic of shame or anxiety, or find out more about the work you do as a psychotherapist for people struggling with these issues, where can they go?
Kessler: [33:37] Well, thank you for asking. My website, which is my name, KesslerBickford, B-I-C-K-F-O-R-D.com.
Joseph: We will be sure to capture that in the show notes. I just wanted to thank you, Kessler, for well reconnecting with me first of all after all these years. Telling us more about your life as a psychotherapist, your transition from a very different industry into the world of psychotherapy. also just sharing some of your thoughts and insights on this topic of anxiety. Best of luck with your practice. Thank you for all the work you’re doing to assist your patients and all the people out there struggling with the challenges they’re facing right now.
Kessler: [34:16] Thank you, Joseph. It’s been fun.