Community//

Susan Harrington: “You need money to make money”

I grew up at a time when unlocked car doors and homes were commonplace. Neighbors trusted one another and we did not need the phrase “it takes a neighborhood to raise a child” because we knew our neighbors cared about one another and were watching out for each other. I believe that by bringing the […]

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I grew up at a time when unlocked car doors and homes were commonplace. Neighbors trusted one another and we did not need the phrase “it takes a neighborhood to raise a child” because we knew our neighbors cared about one another and were watching out for each other. I believe that by bringing the basic act of care and consideration for ourselves and for others back into our lives each person can make our world a safe, trusting, and nurturing place for the next generations. We are living in such a complicated and challenging time. Protests and violence are blurring the lines of freedom and change. Just this simple perspective change of acting from a place of care for me, you, our best interests, and the impact on our world has the ability to move change without further alienation, violence, and war. We are a systemically connected planet from our home life to our neighboring countries (and beyond). The hard part about making a social impact is self-awareness and self-correction. The easy part is feeling the natural rush from the oxytocin that floods our brains when we connect with another human being through care and consideration.


Aspart of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan HarringtonSusan G. Harrington is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). Susan is also a dually approved clinical supervisor by the State of Louisiana and by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy for those students who have completed the academic requirements for and are interested in attaining licensure as an LPC and/or an LMFT in Louisiana. Susan is a licensed therapist since 2002 and a clinical supervisor since 2007. Susan provides therapy on a full-time basis working with significant relationships, adults, teenagers, and children. Susan’s experience focuses on working with relationships and helping people improve communication, especially within their intimate relationships and family units. She has ample experience and training working with families impacted by substance abuse. Susan guides people who are struggling through grief and loss as a certified Grief Recovery facilitator since 2002. As a clinical supervisor, Susan is most able to support pre-licensed therapists in building clinical skills that focus on implementing systems theory with individuals, relationships, and families. Susan is also experienced with guiding pre-licensed therapists in working with substance-related concerns that impact the person struggling with abusing alcohol and/or drugs as well as family members wanting to support their family members while not enabling them.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Mychildhood started in the Cajun French-speaking town of Kaplan, Louisiana. My parents, older sister, and I spent most of our family free time together gardening, camping, and visiting extended family. Cajuns believe in hard work, quality time, and being there for each other. My parents dedicated their lives to my sister and me as we were born with a chronic health condition that continues to play a major role in my decision-making today. Loyalty, care, and consideration are core family values that I experienced every day growing up and have willingly taken with me into my professional career.

I started my college career later than most young adults following a marriage that ended one year later when my husband died in an accident. I completed my undergraduate degree in music composition but learned quickly that just a love of writing school band music was not going to financially provide for my future. It was soon after that my health took its first downturn resulting in eight years of dependence on the medical community and governmental programs. During this time, I met my current spouse of 30 years. We moved to Thibodaux, Louisiana, another small city further east, to start her career as a university professor and bring me closer to my medical care providers. It was during this period that my personal growth began with my first of two kidney transplants. Self-care and evaluation became my focal points. I returned to college for my first graduate degree in counseling. I found my calling and was soon working and thriving in the field. We moved to our current home in New Orleans, Louisiana. I was able to establish my private practice and expand my credentialing to include approved supervisor before Hurricane Katrina in 2005. During my efforts working with the Disaster Recovery Centers formed by the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), I began to reconnect to the people and values of my childhood, especially the importance of our connectedness to our community and nature. In 2010, I returned for my second graduate degree supporting my current specialization in family therapy. My graduate research focused on the tools and resources I would need to establish Maison Vie as a multi-therapeutic family therapy agency in 2014.

Throughout all of this and since, I have continued to value family, life, and the goodness that comes from nature. We have had major medical events in my extended family as well as with me. Life does not stop and neither have nor will I. Appreciation for each day that I can live, breathe and make a difference is my life-force.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I am not an avid reader. I much prefer life experiences. Quality time with my father included family camping trips and home gardening. We fished, built campfires, and tended to our home-grown fruits and vegetables. Spending time outdoors with him taught me about the importance of relationships, how we impact nature and how it impacts us, the importance of caring for it as a resource, and, most of all, nature’s hidden medicinal value.

In the late ’60s, store-bought vegetables were canned and preserved with salt. My sister and I were unable to have salt in our diet due to our chronic health status, so we had a large garden filled with potatoes, green beans, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, and corn. Family time was spent tending to the garden, then harvesting and preserving our produce. My sister preferred being indoors. She would entertain herself when we were told to work in the garden by finding those small green frogs or garden snakes. That was her moment to play. I was typically the target of her outdoor playtime. A frog or snake would come flying into space I was pulling some vegetables off a plant. I would let out that ‘little girl scream,’ call for Dad to fuss at her, and then we would all giggle. The mood would shift, and we would then remember some family story that just begged to be told, again, which made the garden time pass quicker. To this day, I will buy farmer’s market produce over those at the grocery. Fresh grown is better.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul And sings the tune without words and never stops — at all.” (Emily Dickenson)

Hope is what I hold dearest to as I live with chronic illness since birth. It is the tool that is most helpful for serving clients who struggle with so many different concerns. When you are a child and come to learn that your life consists of frequently being ill and kept home from school and playing with others, you only have a couple of choices; I must have chosen hope.

There are many stories my Mom shares of my optimism. She would say, “Susan always sees the silver lining on every cloud.” As children, my sister and I had very frequent trips to the doctor. And, by trips, I mean four-hour drives into New Orleans. The pediatrician’s treatment of us extended to her responsibility as a medical professor of future doctors. We would be paraded in hospital gowns in front of a semi-auditorium of medical residents. I am told I would walk in smiling and when anyone would just smile back, I would freely start sharing some unrelated funny story holding up the doctor’s plans. The doctor would smile and wait, laughing at my story with the residents until my Mom would get so uncomfortable with my agenda taking precedence over the doctor’s that I would be redirected to stand quietly so the doctor could teach.

I take this attitude with me each and every day. As a family therapist, I find that hope is the single presence I can bring to the therapeutic experience that can guide a family toward healing and happiness. My professional private agenda with every client is to work myself out of the career I love so much and for our next generation to not have the concerns of the prior generations that require the need for mental health services.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

I created Maison Vie in the image of my family experience. The name given to my agency is Maison Vie, which is Cajun French for “life-giving home.” Maison Vie is a place where families receive mental health services with the intent of supporting them in needed healing and happiness.

I want every family to experience a home filled with love, discipline, and positive quality time. Children who live and grow in a home in which members work together for the family good as well as balance life’s responsibilities by playing together are more likely to develop into adults with a secure attachment in which to form their adult family connections. They have the ability to have a well-rounded sense of self and a sense of confidence that puts care and consideration as intentional in their daily interactions.

The vision of Maison Vie is 3-fold. First, we create an emotional space whereby families experience a safe, caring environment to know happiness. We want each family to inherently know how to bring home positive regard for one another. Second, we offer low-cost accessible counseling to families by also supporting the professional development of pre-licensed therapists in their professional growth. I want our staff to professionally “grow up” in a caring, supportive environment as well. Our final vision is to provide our community an annual free opportunity to learn and experience different holistic interventions that may also improve their well-being, like addressing nutrition concerns when living on a budget or teaching simple and effective massage techniques to lower aggression and stress. In combination, Maison Vie’s vision and mission hope to inspire care and consideration, thus healing and happiness, in every family we touch.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. We just don’t get up and do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I began my career as a licensed therapist in private practice, going to my comfortable, quiet office each day supporting my clients in accomplishing their goals. After a time, I noticed an emptiness inside saying to me that I could do more. I realized I was not behaving as I believed and as I lived. My work was self-serving, yet I grew up receiving and believing in care and consideration as the cornerstones of happiness After much soul-searching, family conversations, and peer-to-peer consultations, I began the transformation of my sole private practice into Maison Vie. The emptiness filled with that silver-lining my mother spoke of so often.

In 2010, my first step was a dual education journey. I returned to academia and earned a second master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy because I would need the education to affirm supervising future therapists under my supervision. I also took all the workshops offered through our local chapter of the Small Business Development Center in order to learn how to manage a business that lends itself to more understanding than that of a sole proprietorship. Finally, at the start of 2014, Maison Vie opened its doors with two therapists in training and me.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I was motivated to contract with a successful colleague as my business consultant soon after completing my preparation. His experience as an assistant director and clinical supervisor at a well-known agency that also provided services through the use of therapists in training was paramount to my success in establishing Maison Vie. Weekly discussions provided insight into being the mentor I hoped to be like my parents were for me — supportive, curious, caring, and encouraging, while also providing structure, discipline, and clear expectations and consequences. I felt more confident and less anxious when I joined the dual education with his mentorship as it gave me structure and guidance for me to stand on with confidence.

Are there three things that the community can do to help you in your great work?

The attempts I made to be accepted into government-supported programs designed to help jump-start small businesses were unsuccessful because of basic requirements I viewed as flawed. According to the federal definition, in order to be considered a “small business” the business needs to employ 50 or fewer employees and have a budget that was, at least, in the 5-digit numbers and higher. How does a self-employed person form a start-up business for the purpose of creating an income, have tens of thousands of dollars to dedicate to one budget, yet must also be able to pay employees? I hit the third block in the system when I was finally able to show a significant enough profit to attempt to apply for a business loan or business line of credit. I learned this important business growth move required a Dun and Bradstreet credit rating. The “catch 22” revealed itself as I was not able to acquire all of the required six credit rating scores without three vendors extending Maison Vie credit, but the vendors were unwilling to contract with Maison Vie because It had not acquired this credit rating.

I want to add that these definitions and requirements are also at the core of each proposed law submitted by our State’s politicians during our current global crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I closely monitor state proposals made with the claimed agenda to help keep small businesses alive through the phasing-in process. Each one requires “employees” and an ability to show a certain intact budget. Maison Vie serves those in our community that fall between those proverbial cracks of governmental assistance and the middle class. Our staff is in legally acquired training lending to them as contracted members of our team, not employees. Many small businesses are not being reached equally.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

As a family therapist, I view leadership as similar to how we guide adults with parenting — a joining of discipline and nurture. It is valuable to stay connected to our common journey of growth and development, especially when we are in a place of authority to those we guide and mentor. We are not born into knowing how to lead (or parent). We learn from personal experiences from our first interaction under supervisors through our professional development. I keep in mind how I learned lessons and have made adjustments in my skill set as I learned to become a therapist. This helps me provide structure and transparent communication as a leader while being available for my therapists in training as they grow into their professional selves.

It may sound like Maison Vie is an ideal work environment. However, proof of the necessity of being a nurturing leader has presented in the times that staff have expressed dissatisfaction with my leadership. I recall the time I informed staff of a price increase in our clinical services. A few of the clinical staff expressed their disagreement with my decision. Complaints included challenges that we would lose clientele, including those who could not afford the increase. I listened and designed plans to address their concerns that attended to their worry about client impact as well as their internal struggle with viewing themselves as worth the higher fee. As therapists, we have to believe in our professional worth. The difficulty is putting a monetary value on that worth.

My decision to join discipline and nurturing within a perspective of what each therapist in training needs is the cornerstone that allows Maison Vie to provide quality services to support our mission of joining families in healing and happiness. I model in my relationship with the trainees what they need to model in their services with the families we serve.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. You need money to make money. When I started this process, the math was simple. If I supervised 5 therapists who met with 10 clients each at our lowest rate for services, then each week we could collect 1500 dollars. My natural optimism and hope fueled my belief in success as easy. I did not count on clients not having 30 dollars! This learning lesson has resulted in adding a plan for non-payment. I had to learn this lesson because counselors are not taught in graduate school the realities of opening up business. I would have appreciated some understanding of general economics (not to mention marketing and accounting).
  2. Just because you are contracted with someone does not mean they will abide by the contract. The decision to transition from a sole proprietorship to a limited liability business model meant contracting with a tax accountant because of the tax law differences. My first choice for a tax accountant started off acceptable yet irritating. I put up with his politically opposing talk and strong opinions that harshly judged my political leanings for the convenience of working with him and his wife as my tax accountants. To make a long, painful, and frustrating story shorter, I learned that just because he said he filed my taxes electronically does not mean that he actually did — for two years! This resulted in a major IRS problem, consulting with a tax attorney, and hiring a new tax accountant to correct the errors.
  3. Hire a professional advertising agency early. At the start of Maison Vie’s journey, I attended a workshop hosted by Homestead, Inc., in conjunction with Google. The focus was on helping small business owners obtain a web presence without being a professional web designer or advertising agent. They put out the message that “anyone can do it,” and mislead us to believe having a website met customers would find you. No other effort needed. In other words, follow these instructions and money will pour in. I struggled for more than a year trying to get our analytics to improve. I came to admit I was not a salesperson. Then I decided to research and hire an advertising agency. Initially, it was brain-twisting to learn this new language. Now, I am so grateful that I no longer have to stress over finding ways to get online interactions and blocking out time in my schedule to put something out into the world of the Internet for consumers to scroll through, hoping it would catch their eye or get them to ‘like’ it. I can focus on what I am skilled at doing.
  4. How do you know when an interviewee is stretching the truth? As noted earlier, I contracted with a business consultant in an effort to design and implement a family therapy training agency that would also meet the needs of our community members who financially “fall between the cracks.” This meant that I needed to identify therapists in training who would be a “good fit” with our philosophy and vision. I had never interviewed anyone in my life. I had no experience in hiring and firing laws. And, I have a history of trusting people to say the truth. I am not a threatening person; why would someone have cause to lie to me? The consultant worked with me in discerning a formal interview document to help determine hiring decisions. Over time and experience, I am learning how to determine if someone is really going to do what they claimed in the interview and how to challenge them on it when their behavior proves the opposite to be true.
    I recall agreeing early in my leadership career with one graduate student in particular. She was enthusiastic, warm, personable, and intelligent. I regret not seeing the signs, especially when she answered my interview question appropriately. I asked her to rate her documentation behavior from “I struggle with” to “I complete my documentation soon after each appointment.” Her response fed into my optimism and my weakness (as a leader). She said, “Of course, I get it done!” I heard it as I wanted to, her behavior, however, has proven to mean “well, eventually, after you push and push, and then demand to see my records.”
  5. Businesses must be flexible all the time. My work as a family therapist, supervisor/leader of therapists in training, and a business owner consistently means I have to change with the world. As a consumer, I never saw a change in the way businesses operated. The current pandemic has catapulted me into a new role — policy writer — another skill not taught in our academic journey nor in my personal efforts at learning about running a business. At the beginning of the pandemic, I wrote one policy after another daily in my efforts to stay abreast of the safety of staff and clients, governmental decisions impacting my work, and the financial impacts it could have on my future ability to continue making a difference in our community, all the while assuring that we continued to provide ethical and clinical care of our current and future clients. I am grateful for our very early establishment of paperless documentation and training in synchronous services meaning there was one less major hoop to jump through.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I grew up at a time when unlocked car doors and homes were commonplace. Neighbors trusted one another and we did not need the phrase “it takes a neighborhood to raise a child” because we knew our neighbors cared about one another and were watching out for each other. I believe that by bringing the basic act of care and consideration for ourselves and for others back into our lives each person can make our world a safe, trusting, and nurturing place for the next generations. We are living in such a complicated and challenging time. Protests and violence are blurring the lines of freedom and change. Just this simple perspective change of acting from a place of care for me, you, our best interests, and the impact on our world has the ability to move change without further alienation, violence, and war. We are a systemically connected planet from our home life to our neighboring countries (and beyond). The hard part about making a social impact is self-awareness and self-correction. The easy part is feeling the natural rush from the oxytocin that floods our brains when we connect with another human being through care and consideration.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I have never thought about meeting with someone I have admired just because they have made some inspiring or admirable social impact. I suppose that is because I believe we are each equally responsible to impact our lives. I believe the ‘each one saves one’ concept to be a must when working toward making a social impact, even if my act is to smile each time I walk by someone or be the first woman in space. I am equal in ability to Gandhi, every US President, the World Health Organization, and my neighbor.

How can our readers follow you online?

As the owner of and clinical supervisor at Maison Vie, I have had the privilege to be interviewed on our local news programs. I have shared information that supports families in improving their overall well-being. These video clips can be found on our website (www.MaisonVieNewOrleans.com), social media accounts (@Maison Vie; Twitter and Instagram), and YouTube channel (Maison Vie New Orleans Therapy and Counseling; https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHO2M-EkTJS3Lc3tyd0nYQA).

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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