Laura Renfro LMFT specializes in helping people through all types of life chnages. Working through a pandemic, she’s learned to transition, adapt, and innovate. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price talked to Laura about her experience.
NAN PRICE: As a licensed therapist, you didn’t intentionally plan to work for yourself. How did that evolve for you?
LAURA RENFRO: After graduating from the University of Connecticut with a Master’s of Arts degree in Human Development and Family Relations, I worked in a child guidance agency and then I was working in private day schools as a school counselor. The transformation happened when an emotional little boy shared a personal secret with me and I was able to comfort him. I’d always felt a desire to have deeper connections with kids and families. I started my private practice in West Hartford more than 20 years ago. It’s been an amazing adventure.
NAN: There’s a big difference between working with a practice versus working on your own.
LAURA: Yes. It can be scary for a lot of people who go into private practice. It helped that I had a core belief that I was going to do okay, if not well. I had a lot of people who wanted to work with me, and I had a lot of networking abilities. So, when I went into private practice, it was a little isolating at the beginning. Growing a network of supervisors and peers and talking about cases together was critically important.
At this phase in my career, I do a lot more work in the field of peacekeeping during divorce. There are several incredible experts in the Hartford area who I look up to and guided me in learning how to keep conflict low in the families going through divorce and keep families healthy and intact. I couldn’t have done it without those mentors.
NAN: How have you innovated in the past 20 years and particularly now with the COVID-19 pandemic?
LAURA: As a family therapist, I really look at bigger systems, like how schools, employers, state agencies, and places of worship impact kids and families. Those systems keep me engaged, not just with an individual client, but with a whole group of people who support kids and families and adults in their lives. That’s where I’ve had to find new ways to innovate.
In terms of COVID-19, most therapists went right to virtual platforms. And, while that was great because we could maintain connections. However, for younger children, who I really enjoy working with, I had to accept that they needed a break from screens and trying to connect and learn on a computer. Kids were telling me they didn’t want to be on the screen anymore, which was refreshing to hear! Early on, I found a tremendous number of kids and teenagers doing better than when they were in in school. And I don’t think it was innovation, I think because they were home and there was less stress and pressure with social media, college applications, SAT scores, who’s dating who. It was kind of refreshing. In that way, I think COVID-19 was a silver lining for a lot of families.
With my practice, I started to look at how I could keep working with children. In the warmer weather, I was seeing clients individually and in group sessions at town parks, outside in fresh air with safety guidelines in place, of course. It was a way to be creative and think outside the box.
NAN: For someone with a specialty who becomes a business owner, you’re then faced with the challenges of learning how to run a business. Tell us about that experience.
LAURA: I am not a financial person and I think I’ve become a successful businesswoman in spite of not having that kind of book knowledge. Part of that is due to an incredible accountant who taught me from ground zero things like making sure that my LLC was in place, ensuring I had the right federal and state documents to pay my taxes on time, making sure the secretary of state knew I existed, and keeping my public license through the Department of Public Health up to date. I’ve also had to learn how to not only read leases, but also know to ask someone to help me read the lease to make sure I wasn’t missing anything I don’t know because I’m not a contract lawyer.
My biggest takeaway is learning how to ask for help and reach out to other people who are experts at what they do to help me take care of myself, grow my business, and protect myself as a business owner.
NAN: What’s next?
LAURA: It’s going to be interesting to see what happens as we go down the road over the next year. I’ve recently come to accept that fall and winter are going to look different than this summer, which has been glorious being outside and socializing a bit at safe distances. And that it’s okay. It’s going to have to be okay. I’ve found my new mindset. I think it’s not only going to enrich my personal and my family life, but my business life as well.