Marriage Family Therapist
A Marriage and Family Therapist is often one of the most important confidants a person or family has. They work with individuals and families to create personal goals and then help their clients achieve those goals. This kind of professional must not only be compassionate, but tough enough to withstand the emotional experiences they often have while working with clients.
Lisa Bahar is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Orange County, California. Having graduated from Pepperdine University with a Master's in Clinical Psychology, Lisa currently operates her own practice. There, she uses the compassion and gift for listening and understanding that she's had since childhood in combination with the skills and knowledge she accumulated through may hard years of training.
Lisa graciously agreed to an interview so we could benefit from her experience and the obstacles she's faced along her career path.
Tell us about your education at Pepperdine University. How long did it take to become a certified LMFT? LPCC?
My experience at Pepperdine University was positive in the sense that I was fully engaged in the program and wanted to maximize the opportunity. In my Bachelor of Arts program I was not as engaged for a variety of reasons, however after returning to school for a second career, I wanted to have an experience that I would be fully involved in. I wanted to try to learn and participate as much as possible. Therefore, Pepperdine was an extremely positive experience because they supported my engagement. Bottom line: You create the experience.
Pepperdine is a 2 year Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology Program with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy. I had a Bachelor of Arts degree in an unrelated field, which was from University of Southern California in Cinema Television Production, therefore, I could transfer to Pepperdine's Masters program having had completed general education requirements in my Bachelor of Arts and Associate of Arts.
There were however, some courses that I needed to complete for a graduate degree of which I chose to take at a community college during the 2 years in the Masters program at Pepperdine. These were courses that were not in my general education for the Bachelor of Arts. The 2 year time frame was based on taking 4 classes per semester and therefore being a full-time student. I was on an evening track and therefore could work in the day time. There is a licensure process that a LMFT must complete before being eligible for the licensing examination, this is called an internship which took approximately 4 years to collect 3,000 hours of clinical experience in order to take the licensing examination. I was actually grandfathered into the LPCC program last year since I had met the requirements for the LPCC in California, I did however have to take an additional course which included the Careers in Counseling course that was not in my MFT program, and then had to take an equivalency examination with the Board of Behaviorial Sciences in order to be licensed as a LPCC (Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor).
How did you first become interested in counseling and therapy?
I was told throughout my life that I had a gift of understanding and listening and providing insight and feedback that was helpful to family and friends. I had multiple reasons, I wanted to return to school to get an advanced degree that would allow me the freedom to work on my own and not for someone else. I knew I was not cut out to be a subordinate and wanted to be my own boss. Therefore, I chose psychotherapy, because I knew I had a gift. It was also a way to create a livelihood that I could enjoy and help people live a purposeful life.
What swayed you into marriage and family therapy versus other avenues?
Because it was a second career, I did not have a lot of time to spend on schooling, therefore I knew I wanted the license to be able to be independent and own my business. I also knew that going for a Phd was going to take too much time in school and additional clinical training. Therefore, I went to school to get a Masters levels degree and license, which are the LMFT and LCSW.
You claim to be best known as a CBT therapist; how would you define that to someone looking for a career in therapy?
I am actually a DBT therapist which is a Dialectical Behavior Therapy therapist. This actually happened as a result of having worked with individuals dealing with difficulties to emotionally regulate themselves and needing skills to help with managing emotions and reactive behaviors, whether to themselves (ie self injury, suicidal ideation and threats) or threatening to hurt others. I work with psychiatrists who can medicate and provide medical assistance to stabilize, but were and are seeking therapists to assist clients with providing skills.
I was struggling to find therapists in the area that specialized in DBT which is an evidence based psychotherapy intervention initially designed for personality disorders including Borderline Personality Disorder, however has since over the years expanded to helping clients dealing with Anxiety, Bi Polar, Substance Abuse, Bulimia and other issues. I think it is wise for therapists to be familiar with this particular intervention and be able to learn and help others, since the DBT skills are really life skills.
During what part of your education did you know have to make a decision to go full steam ahead toward counseling and therapy?
I was out of work and dealing with a process of my own self discovery, not too happy with the circumstances and feeling as though I needed to reconnect with myself and what matters. As part of my own self exploration, I had the inspiration to return to school and then continued to focus on psychology and took the courses that built toward the Masters program. It was as though it was guided through inspiration and discipline really, it was a natural progression that fell into place. No one was hiring me, so I hired myself to get a degree and school accepted me in a time that I had no career.
What was the hardest part of your education?
I have to say since it was a second career, it was not as challenging as my Bachelor of Arts time, therefore it was actually a positive experience because I was doing it for me and knew this was about my own exploration and realization of taking care of me and my future.
Did you have any setbacks, challenges, or epiphanies along the way?
When I started school, I made a promise to myself to learn how to speak up in class and not disappear into the pool of students, and therefore I was consistently asking questions, taking chances not sounding right and learning how to cultivate a voice. For many years, I would not speak up or offer my insights or thoughts. Now, I am sought after to provide my insights, perspectives and thoughts on issues, clinical questions, etc. Ironically my perspectives are appreciated since there are not always the norm and I am known quite often to "think outside the box". But that took time and practice to express opinions and verbalize them.
What advice would you have to some having difficulties on their educational path?
Keep following the path to completion, there is something about completing a path that you start, versus worrying about obstacles that life will present and the "what ifs". Don't stop suddenly and not pick up where you left off, complete what you start and move forward.
Follow your heart however, so if you are miserable or know that you are in school to make someone else happy and deny what you really know is the right thing to do, it will catch up to you sooner or later. Now is the time to make the commitment and set the tone for your future which is coded in the present.
Tell us about your work? You have your own practice. How did you decide to take the leap to work for yourself? What are some of the greatest accomplishments thus far? Any particular challenges someone should think about before trying to go out on their own?
I actually was not real big on being TOTALLY on my own, I wanted independence but did not realize that it was also learning how to run a business. I had a great mentor, Dr. Richard Granese who showed me how to do the mechanics of establishing my own practice, learning about the realities of insurance and how to make a business, he normalized things for me in a way that I know I would not have done on my own. He made it look simple and would stabilize me when I became anxious over minor business issues. For example, how to establish a corporation, obtaining an NPI, getting credentialed on insurance panels, paying corporate taxes, etc.
I now have a private practice in Newport Beach and I also work with Dr. Granese in private practice at Southern California psychiatric Associates, and I am also on the clinical team at Safe Harbor for Women. You have to have a mentality to be on your own, I have a lot of people indicate "I want what you have" but are not willing to put in the detailed effort, it is not for everyone to be their own boss, it takes a certain kind of mentality to be an entrepreneur. Therefore, be realistic with yourself, don't compete in an area that you are not cut out to take on, it can be overwhelming and too much effort, some people are better off not being a business owner.
What aspects of your education and training have been most crucial to your success? Give us some examples of the day-to-day processes as a therapist and business owner. Do you have to maintain continued education requirements?
I am consistently having to be detailed and watch each step I make from clinical issues, communication with other professionals that may be treating the individual, as well as making sure insurance is being completed and submitted correctly, monitoring staff to ensure money is collected and that we are following through on claims and status, being able to communicate to families and other significant others about resources and recommendations, billing and paying the bills, talking to CPA, making sure all expenses are in order for each quarter, making sure the office is running on a detailed structured systems, making sure marketing efforts are being completed.
Education is key and the process of education is daily, when participating in marketing, for example it helps me as a therapist to sharpen my abilities and continue to reflect on questions and thoughts that I am sharing whether it be in an article, blog, radio, etc. Being aware and fresh on new interventions is key to being on top of the game and providing excellence in care.
I do have to maintain continuing education credits for all licenses I hold which include my LPCC, LMFT and CCJP which is certified criminal justice addiction professional.
Any recommendations of authors, speakers, or experts you suggest to follow for folks interested in MFT as a career? You’re involved with many organizations. Do you have recommendations of groups and organizations for someone new to the industry should follow/join?
I would join if in California the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, since they are on the top of all the happenings that related to California based therapists. AAMFT is also great for MFTs on a National level. Being a part of these associations allows for connection with other therapists, legal advice, upcoming trainings and networking opportunities. Join and attend as much as possible to maintain connections.
Can you give examples of the industry research you have performed and how you got involved? What are you working on currently and why?
I am working on books related to Cinema Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy and also topics that are being asked of me including how to maintain balance at mid life and provide how to steps to achive that. I contribute to articles, radio and broadcast television as an expert on a variety of issues including relational expert, chemical dependency, emotional regulation and cinema therapy, a creative tool of using film stories to cultivate a unique group process which is very effective and unique.
If you could go back in time and choose to do your education all over again would you choose the same path? Same school? What are some of the other places or industries you could use your education to get into?
Great question. I wanted to be an actress, therefore my path would have been very different, ironically acting and studying people is not too different from psychology. I think I would have been happiest being a movie producer and actress and working in the film industry. It is still a big part of my heart and dream. The show is not over, maybe that will happen some day, who knows!
Any final words for the future MFT’s and counselors who are reading this?
Keep your focus, be authentic, avoid being around exploitive environments, remember you are influencing people all day long, you will make mistakes, be gentle with yourself, take care of yourself and know your limits.
For additional information about becoming a MFT visit our Marriage Family Therapist Career page.