Diary of a Digital Nomad Psychotherapist
Another busy day in my Paris home office draws to a close. The last client of the day has just left and Sadie, my bichon frise is pining for a walk. I face another generic evening at home catching up with client notes, billing, and marketing my practice.
I feel fulfilled by my work but deep inside, I have wanderlust and my soul feels confined.
I take a moment to assess my feelings. I think about my life goals and decide to score myself on each of my goals to see if I can identify where the problem lies:
- Physical health: as a psychotherapist, my first responsibility is my health and well-being. Exercise and healthy diet have always been and will always be a foundation of my daily life.
- Develop a successful psychotherapy practice:
- Write. All writers know a writer’s life can be a roller coaster. My notes are all written but my manuscript is collecting dust in my hard drive:
- Personal and social fulfillment has gone to the back of the list as I juggle all the other elements and dedicate most of my time to marketing and running my practice:
- Meditation and spiritual life: I’m able to meditate regularly and be mindful throughout my day, especially when I’m with my clients. And yet, worldly life has a way of sneaking in and making noise when I’m seeking my inner silence.
Later this evening, as Sadie sleeps off her vigorous walk, I sit down at the computer to drown myself in work — my most reliable source of satisfaction.
I scan my inbox and click on an email from TherapyEverywhere.com. Katriel, the founder of this nascent startup asks a simple question. “Are you interested in moving your practice online?”
I left my home in the US when I was 19, turned 20 in London and, after a few months of travel, settled in France. Between university, odd jobs, and travelling Europe whenever I could, I kept myself busy for a few years. Degree in hand, I hit the road seriously and lived and worked as a wandering therapist in Europe, Asia, Australia and, the US. Somewhere in there I managed to run a restaurant in the south of England, write my first book (that didn’t get published) and completed my Masters degree in humanistic psychology. After years of travel, it dawned on me that everyone else was buying houses, raising families, and building a financial nest egg. I decided to get with the story and settled down once again in Paris where I opened my full time practice. While it felt like my wings had been clipped, it also felt like I was doing the right thing.
The email from Therapyeverywhere.com came at the right time. After 15 years of running a successful practice in Paris, it was time to get back to the nomadic lifestyle my soul was longing for. A resounding, “Yes!” zips from my outbox back to Katriel. I plod on through my to-do list until my eyelids get heavy.
Two days later, I meet Katriel on Skype and entrust therapyeverywhere.com with building my online practice; my road to freedom.
During the 15 years of my Paris practice, I had a recurring fantasy. I call it Siddhartha Syndrome.
The fantasy goes like this. I put on my jacket, walk out of my flat, hand my keys to a random passerby and wander off into the sunset. Well, Paris has more clouds than sunsets and, I’ve invested way too much time and money to just hand it all away. And yet, six months after I started to build my online practice, sure enough, I put my coat on, hand my keys to an AirBnB rental manager and head to the airport. I’ve given my clients four months warning. “I’m going to be moving my practice online.” Most of my Paris clients chose to keep working with me. Some preferred to find another therapist and keep working in person. This left us time to complete our process and say our goodbyes.
At first, I felt guilty about closing down my physical practice. But when a colleague pointed out that if the aim of my work is to help people become self-actualisers, I am setting a beautiful example for them by giving myself permission to pull out all the stops and follow my dream. I am creating a lifestyle that did not exist in the past, today’s technology opens up many possibilities so why not be a digital nomad therapist?! My colleague was right, as I told my clients about my transition to working online, client-after-client expressed excitement for me.
I arrange to stay with a friend for my first night in Mumbai. After that, I’ll just go with the flow. As I board my flight, I feel free, light, and ready for adventure. I am a wanderer, back on track. And, I get the best of both worlds, I can bring my work with me. Have wifi, will travel!
Five years as a digital nomad therapist have flown by. As I sit in my hotel room in a southern Indian village, I revel in my new life. My cost of living has gone down. My income has gone up. The change in lifestyle has given me the time I needed to complete my long standing book project that had been collecting dust at the back of my hard drive. I have travelled and presented my book in Europe, the US, and India. I’m now working on another book.
The transition was pretty smooth. Seeing that my only basic needs are food, shelter, and a good wifi connection, life has become much more simple. My clients are very accepting of my occasional change of time zones and periodic wifi issues, especially during Indian monsoon season.
In the past five years, I have taken countless trains, buses, and flights and stayed everywhere from New York City to rural India. Living as a nomadic psychotherapist has allowed me to balance the elements of my life. Most importantly, my two most important needs, my work and my love for freedom and travel are at the top on the list. Last year alone, I spent time in Bali, went on a U.S. road trip in which I traveled through 22 states and 15 national parks, and then spent 3 ½ months in Mexico. As I write, I am coming and going between the U.S. and Europe to present my book. In between these journeys, I roam in Southern India where I can enjoy long daily walks, serene village life, and amazing street food.
- Physical health: 10/10
- Psychotherapy practice — very fulfilling, meaningful and meaning-making: 10/10
- Write — Psychology in the Light of the East is doing great. I’ve had time to take two writing classes and another book is on the way!: 10/10
- Personal and social fulfillment — Enjoying more free time to spend with my friends, old and new: 10/10
- Meditation and Spiritual life — peace of mind has improved my spiritual life: 9/10 (let’s face it, there is always room for improvement)
- Bonus: I have time to volunteer in a psychiatric clinic in Kolkata and in my newfound community in Mumbai and have taken on mentoring several budding psychotherapists.
Moving my practice online has been liberating. Not only am I helping my clients find their happiness, I am living mine.