Thommi Lawson is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) who partners with Motivo to provide online clinical supervision for therapists seeking licensure in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. In this interview, she explains how her unique background and philosophy make her an outstanding supervisor.
It’s obvious that Thommi, based in South Carolina, thrives in her chosen profession, but it was a long and unique journey to get her there. At the age of 18, Thommi knew she wanted to be successful. And for her, that meant a high-paying gig as an accountant. But when she declared her major, the business school dean wasn’t so sure accounting seemed like a great fit for the vibrant, personable Thommi.
“I was a nontraditional student throughout my graduate studies,” Thommi explains. “I was a full-time student, employee, and caregiver. It was challenging!”
This only fueled her adolescent prove-em-wrong attitude, pushing her closer to that accounting career. Yet, after graduating and spending three days in her first accounting job, she realized the dean was right. With no other choice but to stick with it, she discovered that while she didn’t love accounting, she was a quick study with the software program. This landed her a job as a consultant for the software company, which led to an MBA and continued success with management in the software field.
Eventually, Thommi craved a new challenge and moved into Human Resources, which she loved. Helping employees be successful in spite of personal and professional constraints fulfilled her in a new way.
“It was in that position that I realized, hey, this is something bigger. I need to explore this more,” says Thommi. That exploration resulted in a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health. Immediately after, she took on a Ph.D program, partially triggered off a dare from a friend. Ultimately, it helped her discover her love of teaching future therapists.
Thommi’s diverse and winding career history has helped her carve out a niche as a career counselor.
“I love helping people figure out what they were created to do, what will bring them joy at the end of the day,” Thommi explains. “When I was working in software, I was only fulfilled on the 1st and the 15th. You need more than that.”
Similarly, her other niche is with helping clinicians and pre-licensed therapists figure out where they fit best in the mental health field.
“There are so many opportunities, beyond just sitting in a chair doing talk therapy,” says Thommi, of bringing professional identity development into her supervision.
And that is also where her ‘self-care evangelism’ comes in handy.
“I want to make sure that my supervisees are well, so they are doing the best work with their clients because our number one edict is to do no harm,” emphasizes Thommi. “And so yes, I worry about their clients, but I worry about them first.”
Thommi recalls working two jobs while she was a supervisee. She knows that supervisees are hoping for things to slow down after completing their degree, but it only ramps up, and that is why she ‘preaches, teaches and demonstrates’ self-care.
A session with Thommi always starts with an act of self-care, something to ground and focus both her and the supervisee. Whether it is a five-minute guided meditation or an exercise in gratitude, supervisees have come to expect this self-care-in-action moment.
“Sometimes I have them pick up one object from their desk . . . smell it, stare at it, taste it – well, don’t lick your phone,” she laughs. Another favorite utilizes a simple pipe cleaner with beads on it. They slide the beads across the pipe cleaner as they inhale and exhale. These exercises not only ground the session, but provide long-term tools for both the therapist and their future clients.
When not guiding her supervisees through self-care experiences, Thommi hones in on professional identity development. She helps them envision themselves in the profession.
She brings them to conferences, even presenting together. Recently, Thommi and a supervisee participated in a podcast together where they discussed their supervision experience. She seeks out ways to stretch them, in the same way her own supervisor once insisted she give couples counseling a try, even though she was hesitant.
“If you haven’t noticed, I’m sort of a rebel,” admits Thommi. “I knew for sure I didn’t want to work with married couples. But he told me that I had to try it. I fought him on that.”
After working with her first couple, she was surprised when they came back for their second session. And they kept coming back. So while it isn’t her main area of focus, she does continue to work with couples and is grateful her supervisor pushed her outside her comfort zone.
Another way Thommi aides her supervisees is by helping them become aware of counter-transference. She does this by asking the supervisee to notice what in the client they see in themselves. Thommi likens this to holding up a mirror.
“I just want to know what internal dialogue is going on with them,” she says, “because oftentimes something has reminded them of their past or something currently happening. This helps the supervisee become aware of blind spots they have.”
Overall, Thommi looks to create a meaningful experience for those who come to her for supervision, far beyond a “check-the-box activity” as is often the case. She works hard to build trust and keep the supervisor-supervisee relationship strong, one self-care exercise at a time.
“Because of my experience as a nontraditional student, I aim to influence and reform service delivery models that attract, support and retain nontraditional students and new professionals. Motivo is a platform that helps to fill the gap for many new professionals who are challenged by time and time zones.”
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