Practice gratitude upon waking. Resist the urge to reach for your phone and check your emails or scan social media. Instead, give thanks for another day. With this gratitude mindset, create an intention for the day. Examples of intentions I use are, “Today, I navigate the challenges of work and home with peace and confident clarity.” Just like in sports psychology, visualizing how our day will go improves the likelihood of it going the way we intend. I’m a big believer in self-fulfilling prophecy. So use gratitude to build on the positives in your life.
As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.
What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?
One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing psychotherapist Joyce Marter LCPC.
Joyce Marter has been a licensed psychotherapist for over twenty years and is an expert in mental health, mindfulness, emotional intelligence and the psychology of money. Marter is the Founder of Urban Balance, a counseling practice that currently has over 175 therapists working from nearly 20 locations in six states. Marter is Adjunct Faculty at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, a member of the National Speakers Association and is a national keynote speaker. Her book, The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life, will be published by Sounds True and in bookstores in July.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?
When I started my undergraduate degree at the Ohio State University in 1994, they required students with an undecided major to participate in a class that would help them determine their course of study. The professor encouraged me to study what I love and am interested in learning more about, rather than to obsess about what I was going to be or do in the future. This advice was golden and I’m grateful that it started me on my career journey as a psychotherapist, which I have found intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and financially rewarding.
Psychology was appealing to me because I am interested in the deeper layers of people — our emotions, relationships and connections to one another and the world around us. I knew someday that I wanted to have a family, and thought being a therapist in private practice would afford me a flexible schedule and work/life balance. I learned quickly that I needed a graduate degree if I wanted to quit my work as a waitress and become a therapist, so I immersed myself in my studies and in research in the area of cross cultural psychology, as social justice has always been very important to me.
When I started graduate school at Northwestern University, I suffered from imposter syndrome. The only reason I applied was because my older sister made me. I am grateful for my sister’s belief in me when I was not yet able to believe in myself.
I thought I came into the profession of counseling because I wanted to help people. When I started grad school, I recognized myself and my family in the descriptions of disorders and dysfunctions. I was afraid that my professors would see that I dealt with an anxiety disorder and that they would tell me I wasn’t fit to be a therapist. Thankfully, the program recognized that most therapists come into the field because of earlier life experiences that have shaped and molded us into who we are; traumas that have carved wisdom into our being and gifting us with awareness, compassion and a desire to be of service to others. They recommended that we all seek personal therapy as we went through our clinical training. I am beyond grateful that these experiences gave me a language a and a lens through which to understand myself, my relationships, and the world around me. This resulted in transformative healing and change.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
What is perhaps my most interesting story is also my most painful. I started my business, Urban Balance, with a dear friend and colleague at a time when I had $500 to invest and $50,000 in student loans. We set out with the mission to de-stigmafy mental healthcare and make services accessible and affordable by being in-network with most insurance. We were very grateful that the business grew extremely quickly, but the bigger we got, the more money was outstanding in insurance collections due to delays in getting paid. This was manageable when we were smaller, but with the growth we had hundreds of thousands of dollars outstanding in insurance and were unable to pay our rents and staff on time. It was a massively stressful experience and one that cost me my business partner and friend. She left suddenly, saying the pressures were more than she could handle and many of our staff left, taking their clients with them. I thought I would have to file business bankruptcy. This experience was devastating — I had lost a best friend and thought my dream business would fail.
Thankfully, this experience broke me open and I made an important life shift. Instead of trying to control and manage things myself (operating from ego), I practiced humility and asked for support. And support came out of the woodwork. My staff, family and friends were all willing to help. I even had a neighbor reach out and recommend I get a business valuation. I didn’t know what was, but I was open to all the help I could get.
When I handed my Quickbooks file over to the CPA my neighbor recommended, I was crying because of my crushing financial situation. I had hundreds of thousands of dollars in leases, over 30 employees, hundreds of clients for whom I felt responsible, and over $100,000 in debt. After crunching numbers, the CPA told me my business model worked and that I truly had a cash flow problem. He helped connect me with a bank that could provide proper lending so I could pay my staff on time and recover my business. Together with the CPA and my leadership team and six years of very hard work, we turned the business around and I was able to successfully sell it for millions six years later.
When my business partner left, an esteemed former employer said to me, “You have just been given a great gift.” I did not understand how losing my good friend and partner and being in financial distress was a blessing, but he was right. It proved to be the moment when I rose to the challenge and came into myself fully and completely; learning for the first time how capable and truly supported I could be. This was revolutionary and life-changing.
Since your series is about gratitude, I wanted to share this story from early in my career with you. At a job I held in my mid to late twenties, I had a nightmare boss who was critical and harsh and would not promote me. She drove me to tears. Today, I am incredibly grateful for this boss. If it were not for her, I never would have left that job and started Urban Balance, which is now a national outpatient mental health company with more than 160 therapists working from 15 locations in five states, continuing to fulfill the mission to provide quality mental health services to more and more people in need.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” ~Maya Angelou
I love this quote from Maya Angelou because so many of us spend so much time trying to change other people — their thoughts, feelings, behaviors and choices when really, all we have control over is our own thoughts, emotions, behaviors and choices. Over the years, many of my clients have expended tremendous energy talking about somebody else in their therapy. I’ve done it myself. The first time I was in therapy, my mother starred in almost every session. The next time, I spent a lot of time talking about my ex-husband. It wasn’t until I took an honest look at myself, and empowered myself to shift my attitude and make brave changes that my life began to transform and evolve.
This quote is very useful during the pandemic. I share it in all my corporate training on promoting mental health and resilience during challenging times. There is much we probably don’t like about the pandemic, but when we change our attitude to gratitude, we shift our focus from the negatives to the positives and feel better emotionally, physically and relationally.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?
When I read The Color Purple by Alice Walker as a teenager, I was deeply moved and believe it may have been the moment I felt called to help people recover from trauma and abuse and heal and move forward in their lives by accessing support from others, healing their relationship with themselves, and empowering themselves to move forward personally and professionally. When the movie came out, I remember tears streaming down my face with compassion for the suffering and also joy in the beautiful healing and metamorphosis the protagonist underwent.
As a therapist practicing for over 25 years, it has been a profound honor and privilege to get to know thousands of clients over the years, to mirror back to them all their strengths and unique gifts and talents, help them reframe their hardships as blessings, and empower them to blossom into the highest version of themselves. I have reaped so much wisdom from my clients, which has been an unexpected and enormous blessing.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am thrilled beyond measure that my book, which is a culmination of everything I have learned from my clients and my own personal journey, will be published by Sounds True on July 27th. The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life is a mental health/financial health self-help book. It is based on something fascinating I learned through my practice. As my clients made progress in therapy, regardless of their presenting issue, they started to make more money, getting raises and promotions and starting and succeeding in their own businesses. This is because we were always working on their underlying self-esteem and there is a direct connection between self-worth and net-worth.
My book will help people change their relationships with themselves and their psychology of money so they can build and optimize their mental fitness and financial health and resilience for holistic success that includes health, work-life balance and loving, connected relationships. Each chapter is a mindset that is empirically supported to promote positive mental health and improve your thinking, emotions and relationship around money. I include inspirational stories from my clients, vulnerable stories about my own growth edges, and practical tools and exercises to improve your relationship with yourself and welcome a life of abundance and financial prosperity. My hope and intention is that this book will help many people improve their mental health, financial health, and relationships for greater holistic success.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I couldn’t agree more that our success is very much dependent on our support system and the people who believe in us, extend generosity, and lift us up. I am extremely grateful for the countless people who have contributed to my success, personally and professionally.
My mentor, Mark Samuelson, was extremely instrumental in my growth as a clinician and in the early stages of development of my private practice. When I felt overwhelmed or intimidated by new challenges, such as learning the ins and outs of billing insurance for treatment, he practiced tough love and was insistent that I believe in myself and move through the discomfort of growth. I am not sure I would have done that without his support and working with insurance was one of the cornerstones of the business I built and sold.
But perhaps the most influential person has been my own therapist, Arlene Englander. Through therapy, Arlene helped me to stop setting my own ceilings through self-limiting beliefs, to turn down the volume of my inner critic, and to shift my thinking about money so that could open myself up to a life of abundance and prosperity. I believe we can all benefit from therapy or counseling at various points in our lives and it most certainly does not mean we are crazy. We all have mental health issues as part of the human condition and treatment is accessible and effective and can be life-saving and life-changing.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?
Gratitude is the ability to notice, acknowledge, and give thanks for the good parts of any situation, relationship, or experience. In cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is one of the most empirically supported approaches in counseling, it is believed that our thoughts precede our emotions and behaviors. The practice of gratitude helps us shift our thinking from the negative to the positive. When we focus on the negative, we fuel stress, anxiety and overwhelm with catastrophic and worst-case scenario thinking. When we focus on the positive, we can calm our minds, nervous systems and facilitate a state of inner peace and wellbeing. Gratitude also changes the energy we are putting out into the world from negative to positive, which improves our relationships and how others respond to us. Gratitude promotes psychological resilience, the ability to move through challenging situations, bounce back, and persevere.
Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?
I believe as human beings we are primed to be on guard and on the defensive to protect ourselves from harm. This causes our brains to scan and look for anything that might be a perceived threat and to focus on that. This tendency exacerbates stress, anxiety and depression and causes us to almost forget, or take for granted, all that is going well in our lives.
We must retrain our brains by practicing gratitude. Gratitude is a practice just like meditation, yoga or therapy because it is a process and one that requires ongoing attention. Gratitude is a mindfulness practice through which we become aware of all that is well and good in our lives and in the world around us. In a world where many of us suffer from the disease of being busy, it is very easy for our focus to fall away from gratitude and for our mind chatter of endless to do lists and worries to take over. We must be intentional about making gratitude a way of life.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?
- Decrease stress, tension, anxiety and depression caused by focusing on all that is wrong and worrisome.
- Promote a sense of inner peace, calm and wellbeing.
- Promote equanimity — -equilibrium or balance in your mood, emotional state or temper which can help you to successfully navigate the turbulence of interpersonal conflict and relationship issues so you can consciously respond rather than defensively react.
- Improve our relationships because instead of eliminating negativity or toxic energy, gratitude helps us be grounded, calm and positive — all characteristics people usually want to be around. When we practice gratitude, we can express to our loved ones what we value and appreciate about them, rather than focusing on criticisms or disappointments.
- Improve sleep by switching the focus from distressing thoughts that can impair sleep and cause insomnia to soothing thoughts that facilitate a sense of safety and security that promotes restful sleep.
- Connect with our inner joy and bliss. At the core, we are all light and love. When we move away the clouds of negativity (which comes from ego) through gratitude, we can connect with our deepest self, our essence. This is where peace and happiness reside.
Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?
My longtime client arrived at session with his head in traction after breaking his neck in a horrible car accident. I was quite taken aback by the large contraption he was wearing to immobilize his neck: a halo ring that looked like it was screwed into his skull with four large posts sticking out from his shoulders.
The first thing he said was, “I am so grateful!” Rather than being upset that a driver had struck him, or focusing on his pain, he expressed profound thanks that his life was spared. He did not spend time talking about his pain or losses, instead he focused on the blessings. This perspective allowed him to focus on the good while healing and recovering and I am sure it promoted mind/body healing from such an emotionally and physically traumatic experience.
Another client came to therapy after a job loss and a break up that caused her to move. She was overwhelmed with financial stress and grief and loss. She decided to use the unexpected time available to her to volunteer in Haiti for three weeks which was something she always wanted to do. When she returned she said, “I have no problems.” Being of service to others who were in greater distress that she herself gave her greater perspective. “I have my health and food, shelter and clean water. I have so much to be grateful for.” This provided the clarity and grounding she needed to put herself out in the world with confidence, landing a new job and relationships that brought her more happiness and fulfillment than ever before.
Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?
1.) Practice gratitude upon waking. Resist the urge to reach for your phone and check your emails or scan social media. Instead, give thanks for another day. With this gratitude mindset, create an intention for the day. Examples of intentions I use are, “Today, I navigate the challenges of work and home with peace and confident clarity.” Just like in sports psychology, visualizing how our day will go improves the likelihood of it going the way we intend. I’m a big believer in self-fulfilling prophecy. So use gratitude to build on the positives in your life.
2.) Look for the hidden blessings in hardships. This can be extremely challenging at times, especially if we have experienced horrible losses or traumas. I remember when my mother was dying a nurse at the hospital told me, “Everything is going to be okay.” I looked deep in his eyes and saw kindness, compassion and wisdom but I was annoyed. “Everything is absolutely not okay”, I thought to myself. I had lost my father in my late twenties and was only 36 with two small children. I wanted my mom to live. Even though she did pass away from brain cancer, the nurse was correct. Over time, everything was okay. And through my grief I learned so much about life and loss that has helped me to be of greater service to so many others going through suffering. There is always a gift in pain. We just need to look for it.
When my former husband and I got divorced, my youngest daughter, Claudia wrote a paper on gratitude in the fourth grade. She wrote about how fortunate she was to have two parents who loved and supported her, with two homes with everything she needed. I was blown away by her resilience. Later on, she said the divorce was a blessing because her dad and I were both happier and now she has two new stepparents who provide her with even more support and family to love.
3.) Look at what’s amazing about your loved ones, rather than their faults. Practicing gratitude can help us focus on the strengths of our partners, kids, family and friends instead of focusing on the disappointments and frustrations. This allows us to have healthy detachment from their challenging aspects of self so that we can maintain more harmonious connections. When your loved ones see their best selves reflected by you, those parts of themselves will flourish and blossom. This practice has been especially helpful in raising my teenage girls. It lightens the tension of challenges and teaches them how gratitude can help them move forward in their own lives.
4.) Look at all you have rather than what you do not. One of my clients lost everything to addiction, including her physician husband who died of overdose, her liver which was destroyed from alcohol dependence, their home and all their money. After a lot of work in recovery and therapy, she came to session and told me how happy she was to be able to have her adult sons come over for Thanksgiving in her modest apartment with a meal she obtained through public assistance. I remember my eyes brimming with tears because I was so moved that even though she had lost so much and had relatively little, she was happy.
5.) Practice gratitude before bed. When I lay down to fall asleep, I run through my day and give thanks for everything that went well and for all the good choices I made (perhaps to eat nutritiously, exercise, or connect with a friend). This practice shifts my thinking from my worries or pressures of the next day to what is going well in my life. It helps me to feel good about myself and my life and to cultivate a sense of peace and relaxation. I’ve found this improves my sleep and also my mindset the next morning.
Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?
We must each learn how to be our own loving parent, best friend and compassionate advocate. When we are feeling low, we must wrap ourselves with self-compassion and love. I like to wrap myself in a cozy blanket, connect with my breath and the feeling of aliveness in my body. I practice mantras such as, “I am only a human being and I am doing the best that I can.” I breathe in what I need, such as peace, love or serenity, and breath out all that is not serving me (such as pain, fear or anger). Mindfulness practices like deep breathing, mediation and yoga are like a reboot for the mind, body and spirit and are part of my self-care regime and what I recommend to all of my clients.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?
Eckart Tolle’s The Power of Now and A New Earth helped me find peace in the present moment and detach from my own suffering so I could shift to mindful awareness and mindset of gratitude. I highly recommend his work to anyone who is interested in cultivating mindfulness and freeing themselves from the pain and suffering caused by ego.
Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly helped me to silence my inner critic, overcome perfectionism and imposter syndrome and put myself out in the world authentically and bravely. I love her work and her podcasts.
I am very honored that my book is being published by Sounds True, the publisher of Eckhart Tolle, Brene Brown and many of my heroes in the mindfulness movement. I highly recommend their authors, e-courses and Founder Tami Simon’s podcast, Insights at the Edge.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
The movement I would like to bring into the world is something I call Mental Wealth. Through my work and my own journey, I’ve seen universal truths and identified twelve mindsets that improve mental health, relationships, and financial prosperity when you put them into action.
For the past ten years, I have been sharing these insights through national speaking engagements. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, with attendees saying the content is inspiring, empowering, and even life-changing. They discovered that in order to live a truly abundant life, it’s essential to have both positive mental health and financial health, not one without the other. Now more people can adopt this holistic mindset and create a life of wellness and abundance, or Mental Wealth, by utilizing my book, The Financial Mindset Fix; A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life from the comfort of their own home.
The Mental Wealth movement is timely as we have been living through a mental health and stress epidemic. The pandemic is a global trauma and our world is in a mental health and financial health crisis. My hope is that my work will help people heal and recover and build emotional and financial resilience.
It’s not about the money — it’s about financial health and well-being. In my book, I encourage readers to improve their financial health for their own good as well as for others. I’m not encouraging greed, excess of material possessions, waste, or the love of money. When we compassionately (by doing no harm) acquire and manage money, it can enable generosity, altruism, and positive change for the greater good. We are talking about using financial prosperity to care for ourselves, each other, and the world around us. Love is the true currency of life.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
• LinkedIn: Joyce Marter
• Pinterest: Joyce Marter
• Twitter: @Joyce_Marter
• Instagram: Joyce.Marter
• Facebook: Joyce Marter, LCPC