Women In Wellness: Kelly McDaniel On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

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Practice being honest ~ When I’m having a lot of feelings, I find a moment to share some of them with my husband so that when I behave poorly, he doesn’t take it personally. I do this with close friends too. It’s messy. And it’s not easy. But it helps create deeper bonds with those I care about. Checking in with myself first (journaling, sitting still) helps me be honest. Also, helps keep me brief ~ no one want to hear a lengthy monologue. That’s what my therapist is for.

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly McDaniel.

Kelly McDaniel, LPC, NCC, CSAT is a licensed professional counselor and author who specializes in treating women who experience addictive relational patterns. A pioneer in her field, McDaniel is the first clinician to name Mother Hunger as an attachment injury and explore the repercussions of bonding to an emotionally compromised mother. Kelly teaches workshops and speaks to audiences nationwide about Mother Hunger. She is a frequent podcast guest and her groundbreaking work is being used at several treatment centers around the country.

Learn more at: KellyMcDanielTherapy.com

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

When I was nine years old, I knew that I wanted to be a therapist. But when I was choosing a college, my parents talked me out of this career idea, so instead, I pursued a degree in English Literature. That wasn’t their first choice for me either, but I really wasn’t good at anything else.

Fortunately, I gained life changing insight in Women’s Studies courses. I decided to pursue graduate school in English because I wasn’t ready to leave the cocoon of the college campus.

I worked for the University as a Resident Director under the guidance of a trained therapist who taught us about eating disorders, suicide prevention, and substance abuse. Magically, I had stumbled into the foundation for the career I really wanted.

After graduation, I spent a brief time in corporate Human Resources and teaching literature at a local junior college. Teaching was rewarding as I could bring multicultural literature into the classroom, and HR allowed me to support diverse people. I liked the students and the employees, sensing where each person carried deeper issues.

In 1993, I gave birth to a baby boy and found new purpose as a mother. A few years after this life changing event, however, his father and I divorced. The loss of a marriage spurred me to into psychotherapy (ultimately, the best training for becoming a therapist) and a few years later, when my son went to kindergarten, I returned to school to pursue a Masters in Counseling.

School was easy because I was studying what I wanted to. I sailed through the program and the exams, and did my internship in a college counseling center. Soon after, the opportunity to join a professional development group came my way. Twelve clinicians met quarterly to learn from our mentor and inspire each other. From that group, the inspiration and collaboration came to write my first book Ready to Heal (2008).

That book launched my dream private practice. And led me to write my new book Mother Hunger; How Adult Daughters Can Understand and Heal from Lost Nurturance, Protection, and Guidance (July 2021, Hay House.)

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

When I was teaching others to write, leaning heavily on Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, it didn’t occur to me that I was also learning to write. Writing skills came in handy when I started a private practice. I wrote a short article for a local, wholistic publication about women, relationships, and addictive love. To my surprise, that little article filled my practice within 2 weeks. I tell this story because it still amazes me (this was before blogs, Instagram, or even Facebook). The essay turned into my first book Ready to Heal: Breaking Free of Addictive Relationships.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The biggest mistake I made in my career didn’t come when I first started. Regular psychotherapy and being a mother kept my priorities clear, so life was mostly in balance. Trouble came years later when my son left for college. My first book was a success, my practice was doing well, and I had happily remarried. But I felt unmoored. I didn’t know what to do with all the freedom. Buried trauma symptoms emerged and I came off the rails a bit, moving my practice and upending some very dear souls who counted on me.

In hindsight, I’m not sure how to have avoided this season in my personal and professional life. It took me to a deeper place of healing, but also hurt some lovely clients who weren’t ready for me to go. I made appropriate referrals, but I learned an important lesson; a therapist who specializes in the type of work that I do requires a significant commitment to each person, and if I’m not able to make that commitment, I can’t take new clients.

In time, I reorganized my practice to offer Intensives instead of weekly sessions. The Intensives gave me the flexibility to provide deeper, long-lasting psychotherapy and also travel with my husband and write a new book. With the onset of a global pandemic, work is changing again, but this time, I’m a bit more ready for how the change affects me and my practice.

Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

When we don’t have a name for what hurts, we can’t heal it or treat it. By naming “Mother Hunger”, I’m helping thousands of women emerge from chronic shame and frozen grief.

Mother Hunger is an attachment injury that until now has had no name so the invisible heartbreak masquerades as anxiety, depression, and various mood disorders.

With a name, clinicians can better support clients. With a name, women can better understand themselves. With a name, the three essential maternal elements (nurturance, protection and guidance) that were missing in formative years can be replaced in adulthood. With a name, we can shift our collective awareness toward the critical nature of mothering and better support families.

Growing awareness of ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) is a promising development in psychology and medicine. ACE’s threaten secure attachment. Secure attachment is the primary need for all of us as children. Securely attached children grow up to adults who can manage relationships and life without undue distress.

Mother Hunger is another name for insecure attachment. Mother Hunger, or insecure attachment, exists on a spectrum and emerges from inadequate nurturing, protection, and guidance in childhood. For this reason, I consider Mother Hunger an ACE and work to educate about it.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

Practice being quiet ~ one of the most profound experiences in my life was taking a silent retreat. I was only 21 the first time. In silence, there is nowhere to hide from internal emotions that we can dismiss by staying busy. For six days without sound or stimulation from the outside world, I met my deepest fears. I take a similar retreat every 10 years, and each time, something new about the preciousness of life and the inevitability of death helps keep my priorities in focus.

Practice being playful ~ for many of us who grew up too fast, we didn’t learn to play. Like many of the women I work with, my childhood was stressful. Play was seen as a waste of time. As an adult, I find healthy ways to play to steer clear of addictive habits. Sometimes, playtime is as simple as knitting. Or cooking. Sometimes it’s more elaborate like a trip with friends or family.

Practice being present ~ By journaling or sitting quietly, I check in with myself. What kind of energy am I’m bringing to the day, to my home, to my partnerships, friendships, and clients? It’s not always easy to identify what I’m feeling, especially when I’m overwhelmed. When life is too much, I remind myself that this is a “practice” not a destination.

Practice being honest ~ When I’m having a lot of feelings, I find a moment to share some of them with my husband so that when I behave poorly, he doesn’t take it personally. I do this with close friends too. It’s messy. And it’s not easy. But it helps create deeper bonds with those I care about. Checking in with myself first (journaling, sitting still) helps me be honest. Also, helps keep me brief ~ no one want to hear a lengthy monologue. That’s what my therapist is for.

Have a therapist ~ Psychotherapy helps me be the mother I want to be, the clinician I want to be, the wife I want to be, the friend I want to be, and the woman I want to be.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

A Mother Hunger movement!

What are your “Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

At the start of my second career, I had wonderful guidance. A wise supervisor said to me, “don’t schedule clients on a Monday…everything is awful on Mondays. Take that day for your own self-care” I followed her advice ( and share it with younger clinicians) and have always been grateful to have Mondays for myself after a work week and a weekend with family.

A mentor encouraged me to avoid insurance companies. Staying away from adjusters who determine treatment practices has been priceless advice and saved me many headaches.

A mentor encouraged me to stay in therapy and supervision, pursue the best trainings, and know my worth. Her clear guidance helped me find the path to provide excellent clinical treatment, integrate theoretical models, and write meaningful books.

I think it’s tempting when starting a practice to take on any client who calls for help.

In trainings, I learned the importance of knowing who I work well with and who I don’t.

I experimented with this during Internship and early in my practice. The flow of working one on one with adult women was much easier for me than running groups, providing family therapy, or working with men. These lessons helped me avoid burnout by say “no” to clients that I didn’t feel qualified to support.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Mental Health is dear to me because my whole life is dedicated to managing my own and helping others. Nutrition, specifically a plant-based diet, is part of my mental health. Now that I’m finished writing the Mother Hunger book, I’m spending free time learning more about the climate crisis and making new efforts to be part of a solution.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

Please subscribe to my newsletter at KellyMcDanielTherapy.com and follow me @kellymcdanieltherapy on Instagram

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.