BABE #202: LAURA ROTHAFEL — Marriage & Family Therapist, LMFT, LPCC
Laura’s huge heart, kind soul and genuine demeanor radiate throughout her interview. A Los Angeles native, she’s a business owner, therapist, mother, wife, caretaker and all around BWH nurturing the people she serves both professionally and personally. As a Marriage and Family Therapist both in her private practice and in California’s education system, her work is far from easy, often selfless, and oh so needed. We commend Laura —and the many babes like her— who work tirelessly to help heal our hearts and raise our spirits in our grand pursuits as hustlin’ babes.
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA (Silverlake)
Current city: Villa Park, California
Alma mater: California State University @ Long Beach, Pepperdine University
Degree: BA in Interpersonal and Organizational Psychology, MA in Counseling Psychology
Very first job: Retail at Robinson’s during the holidays as the Snoopy girl.
Hustle(s): Marriage & Family Therapy - LMFT, LPCC; Therapist/Clinical Supervisor, Orange Coast Community College
Babe you admire and why?
I admire a woman named Cathy Seelig. When I first moved to Orange County to take care of my mom who had ovarian cancer, I was blessed with her as my neighbor. Being the only single working mom in the neighborhood with a somewhat scandalous job (working with pregnant substance-abusing and/or HIV-positive women) she quickly became part of my support system. She offered to pick up my daughter from daycare, take her to Girl Scouts and bring her back. She asked me to get involved in PTA by doing some parent education and eventually to use my skills assisting with high school Sunday School class. Cathy taught me how to give in a way that I had never experienced. She was my first role model in how to give back by volunteering.
How do you spend your free time?
Trying to self care. I don’t have much free time because of the care we give my mother-in-law who has been living in our dining room for the last 20 months. My husband works at home, so when I’m not working I try to give him a break. We have taken to going to lunch and the movies on Wednesday while I'm out of school for the summer. I get my nails and toes done every two to three weeks where they have massage chairs and I can sip on a glass of wine. Walking my Great Dane or putzing in the yard also clears my head. The last thing I do is try to spend at least day a month with my girlfriends. I’ve known them for over 40 years, and they give the greatest support and know how to be playful.
What’s something most don't know about you?
I have a magic brave button I turn on when I'm scared.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. They appear to live a life of integrity and purpose.
Tell us about your hustle:
In my practice, I sublet office space and support other therapists who are starting private practices. I have three employees who are associate marriage and family therapists, so I'm technically their employer and have a greater responsibility for their clinical, legal and ethical development. Creating a safe, nurturing environment for all is important to me. So, that means fresh flowers, sometimes sweets, and usually a little holiday decoration so we can celebrate. I'm also a therapist and spend time listening to clients' stories and helping them make sense of their lives. Another role in my business is a consultant as a clinical supervisor for other agencies. The other part of my work life involves working as an employee for Orange Coast Community College providing mental health to students.
What does your typical workday look like?
My days are usually quite busy and sometimes include working at the college as well as my office. I build in breaks with clients to run to Costco to pick up flowers, candy and water at least once a week. A little bit of flower arranging to make sure they look fresh. I try to see no more than four clients without a break. Unfortunately, I never took into consideration that I really don’t like to sit still, so I need to move. I do my paperwork when I get home, often after I fix dinner and get my mother-in-law back into bed (which is like another job).
What led you to pursue a career in psychology and therapy?
As a child, I watched my mom struggle. She would often end up in a state hospital for several weeks at a time in my early years. I noticed that every time she went to see her psychiatrist, she appeared calmer—and that was good for me. My preference would have been to be a psychiatrist, but the structure and educational foundation to get me through school was sorely lacking. (And my young-adult decision skills were skewed.) Right after I graduated with my undergraduate degree, my brother passed away, which added to even more chaos in my developmental process. My stepdad died, and my then-husband cheated on me (again) in the same month. So, I decided to take the money I was left with and use it for grad school. I picked up the phone, and in two weeks I started school, basically as a single mom.
Have you always considered yourself as a mediator and counselor?
Out of survival and necessity I learned to be a cautious observer and, thus, my innate ability to read people became strengthened. When you live with instability and chaos (and survive) the potential for empathy can increase.
How do you balance owning the business with maintaining your personal practice as a therapist?
Integrity. But, people will always come first. Sometimes I don’t put the money first, which makes me a bad businesswoman but a better human being.
How do you balance leaving “work” at “work” in a role with such emotional weight?
First of all, I have two identities: Laura, which is my legal name, is my professional side. Gigi is my family, friend, delightfully quirky side, which allows me to leave work behind. Sometimes I might think of something that’s troubling me, but I remember it’s not my life. I can’t control their decisions or what happens in their life. Reminding myself of my role in their process is helpful. I also developed a mantra early on for really rough situations” “Get tough or die.” It reminds me to take care of me first.
How does your community impact your work?
My community always lends itself for opportunities to give back, either with an organization like Friendly Center where I started a free mental health program for people who might fall through the cracks, Soldier’s Project or when I come across someone who wants to do the work but lacks the resources, I can fold them into my practice. My experience is that what I give to the community comes back to me, either from just feeling good or referrals.
Similarly, what is your support system like?
Blessed. I have great colleagues, friendships that go back 40 and 50 years and most importantly a family that loves me dearly.
How do you prioritize and make time to take care of yourself?
Sometimes it can be really difficult, especially when the people I personally love need my care and attention. I have a few statements I use to get me to breaks for self-care like, “I can do anything for X amount of time,” or one of favorites is reminding myself that nothing lasts forever—the season will eventually change. Since I'm training the next generation of therapists, I need to live by example. There is an ebb and flow to self-care. Sometimes like now, during the summer, I can do a better job at it and when I feel overwhelmed or exhausted I know I need to prioritize me.
How have your past academic and professional experiences prepared you for the work you do today? How have they not prepared you?
My academic experiences were not stellar, as I always worked close to full-time waiting tables and bartending. I learned what I needed to know and that you don’t have to be perfect. You do the best you can do at any given moment with the circumstances surrounding you. Waiting on tables taught me how to multitask and manage people. They don’t teach business in an MFT program or give much encouragement on making a living in mental health. What I found was they taught about research and theories and how to conceptualize from a theory. They missed a reality component when I was in school.
What’s been your biggest career milestone?
My biggest milestone is exactly what I'm doing now. I started my training over 30 years ago and I still love what I do for work. I treasure each human being who comes into my office (wherever I am) and sits across from me either as a client, student or employee. Each story and person adds to my experience of the human condition.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
When I was a young woman it was hard to be taken seriously, because people would judge me based on how I looked. I used to have to sell that I was “book smart” to keep the boundaries clear, when in fact I had way more life experience by 30 when I started my career than many people ever experience.
What does success look like to you?
I'm not really sure what it looks like, but it feels warm and fuzzy.
Where do you see psychology changing in the next five years? What would you like to see change?
The field of therapy needs to change in ways that are more helpful than harmful. Much has changed since entering the field, especially in terms of understanding addiction and treatment. But with the concept of short-term, situation-specific therapy we are failing miserably. I struggle with the lack of continuity of care. You can go to program X for eight or 10 sessions. “Oh, not done”—here’s a different referral and they can see you for 10, and so on. It’s the safety of relationship that actually promotes healing and wellness over time. It’s the shared history and ability to see when there is a shift and share the progression or regression. If I know someone is going to need services long-term, my goal is to connect them with a private practitioner if financially possible.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Make “no” one of you favorite words. It’s OK to have boundaries and set limits. It’s also okay to ask for what you’re worth.
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