Taking Up Financial Space as Anti-Oppressive with Dena Omar
“If we look at the systems of oppression in which we work — white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, ableism — all of these things tell people like us to stay small so we don’t disrupt the status quo. We want to get big so we can disrupt the status quo. We can’t do that by being small. ”
Meet Dena Omar
I am an antiracist, feminist therapist who identifies as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. As an Arab American who was raised Muslim, I know how it feels to be outside the mainstream. As a person with fair skin and a feminine appearance, I know how it feels for my identities to be “invisible.” Because I have white privilege, I am working hard to unpack my racism so that I can do my part to dismantle white supremacy. I have a casual style sometimes punctuated with NSFW language. I’m an over-thinker who never stops learning.
In This Episode…
Have you been wondering how to BOTH increase your income and also stand up against the oppressive systems that dominate our society? Listen in as Linzy and Dena cut to the core of these issues in our society and the way they affect therapy and private practice. Most importantly, Dena and Linzy really explore what we as therapists can do about it! We talk about how to become bigger and increase income while also remaining focused on core values as a way to bring about change. Listen in to hear more about reframing our thoughts about these important issues.
Connect with Dena and learn more about her anti-oppression work and how you can get involved! Visit her website to learn more. You can also find her on Instagram.
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Dena [00:00:04] If we look at the systems of oppression in which we work, white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, ableism, all of these things tell people like us to stay small so you don’t disrupt the status quo. We want to get big so we can disrupt the status quo. We can’t do that by being small.
Linzy [00:00:29] Welcome to the Money Skills For Therapists podcast, where we answer this question. How can therapists and health practitioners go from money shame and confusion to feeling calm and confident about their finances and get money really working for them in both their private practice and their lives? I’m your host, Linzy Bonham, therapist turned money coach and creator of the course Money Skills For Therapists. Hello, and welcome back to the podcast. I am so excited for today’s episode. Listening back, I was having my own aha moments and I was part of the original conversation. But first I wanted to tell you that today’s episode is brought to you by my masterclass, The 4-Step Framework to Getting Your Business Finances Totally in Order. The price for Money Skills For Therapists is going up in 2022, so if you’re interested in the course, check out the masterclass today. It’s going to lay out my approach to money in general. I’m going to describe all the helpful ways that we get you going from money confusion and shame to calm and clarity in Money Skills For Therapists. And it’s your chance to slide in the door at the 2021 price before it goes up $700 in 2022. So if you’re curious to learn more, if you’re interested in Money Skills For Therapists, check out the link in the show notes today to get into that 2021 price before we close the doors. So my guest today is Dena Omar. Dena is an anti-racist feminist therapist who identifies as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. She is a graduate of Money Skills For Therapists. She finished up the course about a year and a half ago now, and her growth in that time has been phenomenal. Dena and I today dig in to taking up space as therapists and business owners and practitioners and women and BIPOC as a political act. We explore how taking up space with money allows us to turn our money into time and make our life actually reflect the things that we really value, and also how money allows us to turn our energy towards making bigger change and taking up space. Dena and I really challenge this idea of money for the sake of money, but look into how money can be a powerful tool to shape your life and shape your community and ultimately make political change in the world. So this conversation is full of opportunities for AHA moments that I’ve had some listening back, and I suspect that many of you listening today because we’re all steeped in capitalism and white supremacy and schooling that tells us to stay small. We’ll probably be able to have lots of aha moments today, too. So here’s Dena Omar.
Linzy [00:03:21] So, Dena, thank you so much for joining me today.
Dena [00:03:24] Thanks for having me.
Linzy [00:03:26] So, Dena, as I just mentioned in your bio, your passion and focus right now is anti oppression in therapy. So I know this is something that a lot of our listeners will be able to share similar values. This is something that we think about a lot as people who hopefully are educated in systemic oppression and think about these things a lot, you know, coming into the work that we do. And I see this a lot is like a conflict that we have internally as therapists who are aware of what’s wrong with the world and systemic oppression. And so, one question that I have for you is, as therapists, how can we resolve the fact that we are running private practices within capitalism, which is a system that we largely don’t like? Many therapists listening to this show will not be like pro pro-capitalism, but reconciling that that’s the framework that we work in with the fact that we need to meet our own needs.
Dena [00:04:18] Yeah, I think that’s a really great question and one that I wrestle with a lot, especially as I get bigger and try to do more in the world of therapy. And I think about it like, how do I get to be a worse capitalist and still meet my needs? And that’s a really huge question. I want to consume less. I want to pay myself and my employees more. And I think that for most of us, because the work that we do is- we are mostly women who are doing therapy. We are also running up against patriarchy. And this idea that we’re worth less, that the work that we do is worth less. So I think part of it is naming this idea that we’re working in a capitalist system and that we need- that we want to- not just need to, but we want to reject some of those ideals. And that means really valuing the work that we do, putting a price tag on it that says this is important. This is important to me. This is important to my clients and it’s got value. And in a capitalist system, value is is largely determined by money, how much you pay for something. So I think that’s an important part. I think the other side of that coin is then valuing rest, valuing taking breaks, valuing putting our time and energy into things that aren’t just making us money and deciding where those things are and what’s important to me. Spending time with my family, going on vacations, being in nature, all those things that you know, we call self-care. It really is sort of saying to patriarchy, you don’t have all my time and energy. I think we get caught up in that cycle in private practice. If I’m not earning money, I’m not valuable. And if I’m not working, I’m not earning money. And we need to change how we value ourselves and change how we do this thing of earning money.
Linzy [00:06:18] So I’m hearing like a couple of different ideas there. One is actually by valuing our services higher, like by pricing them maybe higher than our maybe than our first gut instinct is. That actually, kind of- what is that? Is that sticking it to capitalism? Or is it just like like, you know, is that is that taking our place in capitalism and saying it’s valuable? Tell me more about how you see those things being connected.
Dena [00:06:42] Yeah, I see it as an F-U to capitalism. Yeah. Like, you’re going to tell me in this capitalist patriarchal white supremacist culture that the work I do isn’t valuable and I’m going to say it is. And people who value this will come to me and do what we need to do. And we will then translate that into our clients and will help our clients learn to value themselves more. So it’s really this fundamental grassroots movement of helping marginalized folks become more empowered. If we can say, Look, this is really valuable and you’re valuable and you’re spending this money on yourself. It’s not you’re spending it on me, you’re spending this money on yourself and you’re valuable. And so how do we then, you know, kind of push- keep pushing that.
Linzy [00:07:30] You know, typically, I think therapy is devalued because it is women’s work. It is the work that tends to come naturally to women. It’s the work that women were never paid for before, but that they did for their communities and their families and their friend groups and and whatever else. So by actually saying this is valuable, we’re pushing back against that message that, you know, it’s not valuable because it’s what women do.
Dena [00:07:53] Yes. Yeah, absolutely. It’s care work, and care work is valuable.
Linzy [00:07:57] So valuable. And then I’d love to unpack this other part of what you were saying too about like rest and taking a break. I love you naming being less consumeristic or anti-consumerism in what you do because that that really resonates with me because what I do notice is, you know, therapists, we do have this ability to have like this upward mobility, right? Like we are in a profession where you can charge $30 a session or you can charge like 130 for the exact same session and your quality of life has, just like your income, has changed drastically for doing the same work right and people will pay at both price points. And so what I see can happen really quickly is like we can fall into lifestyle creep, where it’s like, Well, now we have more money so now we have a somewhat nicer car and we go on this like nicer trip where we buy nicer clothes. It’s like we turn it into consumerism. And I’m wondering for you. Tell me about like turning it into time or rest instead.
Dena [00:08:54] I think you summed it up really great, turning it into time and rest. And I think it starts with understanding where your values are. And that’s a really in-depth long term- we’re not just talking about, Oh, I value my family, right? We’re talking about where do I really spend my time and my money that translates into my values. I feel most in line with myself when my time and my money are going to where my values are. And so doing that deep dive into what do I value? How do I then spend my resources on that? So for example, maybe one of the things that I do is donate more to the causes that are important to me. Maybe I diversify where I spend my money, all of the things that are important to me, I put money into over time, right? It’s not just I buy my kid a new toy, but we spend time playing together. We spend time going for walks. And if I’m making more money, I have the time to do that. Our time and money are intricately linked. And I would throw values in there are time money and values are key in how we spend our lives.
Linzy [00:10:07] Because that is your life. In the end, that is what your life is. Your life is how you spend your time, and it’s easy to spend our time trying to make money to turn it into things. But that’s not actually- at the end of your life you’re not like, That Lamborghini, that was really it for me. That was it. That was the meaning.
Dena [00:10:24] That was everything. I think the other factor. And for some of your listeners who are going to be business owners who are going to be group practice owners, is that then you can translate that into how you pay your employees and that we can start saying to our employees, you don’t have to run this rat race of agency work. You can actually be an employee in a group practice who makes a really good wage and does really good work, and we can pass on those values to more and more therapists. This is how it gets bigger. This is the drop in the lake that just kind of goes out and out and out. It’s not just clients, it’s other therapists. It’s creating that tidal wave of really good healers who are doing this work.
Linzy [00:11:09] Yeah. And I think that, you know, when you take that position like you are, Dena, of like becoming a group practice owner and you have people working for you now you’re creating working conditions for other people. I know I think about this a lot, something that I’ve been kind of like joking and reflecting on in terms of my turn into doing this business and helping therapists with their businesses rather than just doing therapy is like I want to win at capitalism. And winning at capitalism means, like, how can I generate a good revenue for my family so we’re comfortable, secure- security is really important to me personally- and also be a great boss who creates a great work environment where my employees, I’m not kind of basically profiting off of their exploitation. If I was going to be like really Marxist sounding about it. Because I think it’s easy for that to happen, even when we get into group practice, right? Like we start to see our employees as like revenue generating machines.
Dena [00:12:00] It’s dehumanizing, is what you’re talking about. And we all know that feeling when we’ve worked in agencies. They only wanted me for my productivity. I was completely replaceable because I was not a unique. I was just a cog in the wheel. We know that feeling. And it’s really sad when we then get into group practice and replicate that because we don’t know anything else. And I would say that that group owners don’t intentionally- they have really good intentions, and it happens because we don’t have another model, so we need to create another model.
Linzy [00:12:32] Yeah. And I would say part of it too is by having like presence and intention around money, like having money skills – that gives us the ability to start to to build that model, to create a sustainable model because you don’t want to be also creating a business that’s like always on the brink of closing because you’re actually spending more money than you have on your employees. Right, but you can start to find like, what is that actual real model that really works where employees are happy and healthy and they don’t feel like they’re just like cogs in the machine. But we’re also- you, as the person who owns the business, is getting paid for that work. And you know, you’re able to have spaciousness in your world as well. So, like what I’m hearing, Dena, you talk about, it flies in the face a little bit I think of what a message is a lot of us, I know for me, like growing up, especially feminist activism in my 20s, I have like a lot of trauma in that area. More therapy needed. But there was a lot I feel like there’s often this pressure when you are in those activist spaces to like, be small. Right? It’s like there’s all these problems in the world. Don’t take up space, right? Like, be small. We need to like, you know, in terms of fees for therapists, it means like, have a small fee, be accessible. And what I’m hearing from you was saying something different. So like what? Tell me more about kind of the- what is your kind of model or theory here that’s not about being small in order to be anti-oppressive?
Dena [00:13:51] This is a hard one because there’s bringing together lots of different theories. But if we look at the systems of oppression in which we work: white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, ableism, all of these things tell people like us to stay small so you don’t disrupt the status quo. We want to get big so we can disrupt the status quo. We can’t do that by being small. We can’t do that from- the Audre Lorde quote, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” right? We need to be big enough to be able dismantle the system. And that doesn’t happen by staying small. That doesn’t happen by not knowing. That doesn’t happen by sticking our heads in the sand. So we need to get bigger. We need to say this is important work. I think about in Arizona here, we just last year, the teachers unions got really big and they got really loud, and they had this whole movement about paying teachers more and valuing teachers work. It went nowhere, but it was a really good moment for teachers unions, and we don’t do that, especially in private practice, we’re little bubbles, where we’re doing our own thing and not really talking to each other much. Partly because of capitalism, we feel like we have to compete with other therapists in town. We have to compete with other people. So we’re essentially starting from this mindset of not having enough. When we start moving into an abundance mindset, we start getting bigger, we can really disrupt the systems that that keep us in these places. It’s all connected.
Linzy [00:15:28] Yeah. And I think when we do that too. Certainly what I’ve seen is is we will get pushback from from our own people, from our own friends, from our own colleagues and like classmates, they will try to police us back into being small.
Dena [00:15:41] Yes, I had a supervisee who told me that her previous supervisor told me it was unethical for her to charge higher rates and higher rates at even at a fairly low amount. She was she was at like 110, which is not like she was at 300 or 400 dollars. And the other supervisor was telling her it was unethical to do that, and I just- it felt like a punch in the gut. So that’s really saying you don’t- you’re not worthy, you’re not valuable. It’s dehumanizing. You should just grind. And the hazing process that we have to go through, that’s another whole soapbox for me. It just is awful. So we need to change that.
Linzy [00:16:21] Yeah. So, Dena, you know, in terms of your own growth as a therapist, I’m going to guess you have your own story here, just a feeling. Can you share a little bit with me about your own shift from being like in this place of trying to stay small, being told to be small, into being big, taking up space?
Dena [00:16:38] That’s a good question and kind of a long story. The culture and the place where I grew up had many, many, many messages about being small and women are, women do, women aren’t big. And I pushed back against that in a lot of ways. And then I got into social work school and found that we were just sort of expected to be in this place where we were in second rate roles to doctors in some places, to psychiatrists in some places, to other case managers. That therapy was an adjunct. And that always just rubbed me the wrong way. I feel like what we do should be primary, should be. And then I got into private practice out of agency work, and it felt like a huge relief. And I thought, Oh, I could do this forever. I could just be this, chugging along, I had a full caseload, I was making what I thought was enough money, like it was enough and I was still unsatisfied. I was over systemd. I had, you know, I was over focused on keeping track of my money because I was beholden to insurance companies and it was really complicated and really hard. And then I started taking a hard look at, OK, how do I simplify? How do I stop spending my energy on chasing my tail and spend my energy on building something that I wanted? And it was that shift in focus. And I think that the first time I really got that Linzy was in your program, was that shift in focus from spending my energy spinning my wheels to spending my energy growing something. That was huge for me, and that was that was the thing that really unlocked my energy to make change. Maybe this is another thing about pushing back against capitalism when we have- capitalism says you have to do the grind to end the system, say if you don’t do the grind, you’re not good enough. But if you don’t do the grind, you have energy to change the system. So when I finally had enough spaciousness to start thinking about things other than where’s my income coming from, I could think about, Well, this is wrong and I want to make change. And not just where do I spend my money, but how do I want to make a bigger change? How do I want to get bigger and do these things? So it was really connected with finding the spaciousness in my income that gave me the time and energy to do this other work.
Linzy [00:19:15] And when you say, in your case, you know, like the spaciousness in your income? What did you do? For people who are listening who are like, I want that? What did you do?
Dena [00:19:22] Yeah, yeah. So I got rid of systems, which seems really counterintuitive, but I had way too many and I was spending way too much time freaking out and checking and rechecking. So part of that was having confidence in what I was doing and knowing that it was going to work and believing that the money was going to be there. I was freaked out that it just wasn’t going to show up. And of course it did. When I did the work, the money came. So that was a big part of it was really getting a good handle on what I have coming in, going out, cutting some expenses that I didn’t need. That was really helpful, but I needed to know- I needed some help figuring out what are the expenses I don’t need. What do I need? What’s going to help me and what’s not going to help me? That was that was a big deal. And I did raise my fee quite a bit and I got more comfortable raising my fee. I got more comfortable saying, this is what I charge, and it will probably change again. It will go up again as I change things. That was another thing. Was this idea that change is OK. I think we get stuck in this, especially for those of us who are perfectionists, we get stuck in this sense of, well, if I didn’t do it last year, then I can’t do it this year or I have to do it right immediately. And that was really helpful, having permission to to make change.
Linzy [00:20:44] Yeah, that making change and like working against your perfectionism, like, I see that so much, Dena, with students that I work with in the course. I think we’re also so used to like being achievers and like being good and like doing it right. And so what I notice is sometimes we’ll just stay the same because of some rule we’ve made up like, well, I can’t change my financial system now because I really want to have it like at the tax year. So I’m just going to keep doing this thing that’s not working and stressing me out for another six months until I can do it perfectly by like transitioning at the exact right time. And we make these rules that that have the effect of making us small. And when you’re talking too about managing like being over systemd like, I love to hear you mention that because that’s something that I feel like doesn’t always get flagged as an issue because it’s like you’re so organized. You have so many systems, like more systems are better. But as you talk about like that, simplification gave you the space and energy to focus on what you actually care about building, which in your case was building something new. And what I notice about being over systematized often it’s just about trying to manage our anxiety. Right? That’s what it is. In the end, it’s like all these like salves that we’re using to try to make ourselves feel good. And I know for myself when I’m in a space where I’m like, overly focused on systems, there’s this like small, tight feeling that happens, which has nothing. It’s a completely different experience than when you’re in this space that you’re talking about being. And now where you’re like expanding, creative, solving problems, developing language for people, it’s a completely different frame of mind.
Dena [00:22:14] Absolutely. I think you hit the nail on the head.
Linzy [00:22:16] So, Dena, for people who want to hear more from you, tell us a little bit more about what you do and what offers you have for people who want to learn from you.
Dena [00:22:27] Yeah, I’m super excited. I’ve got a couple of things coming up. The first one is a half day workshop, so 4-hour workshop, around anti-oppression therapy and how to become an anti-oppression therapist. I’m really excited. We’re going to cover tons of different topics, of course, racism, white supremacy, but also ableism and queer identity. And how do we connect with clients beyond cultural competence? This is really the framework that I keep thinking of. You know, we have three hours of cultural competence that are required every two years. It’s not enough, and cultural competence is a really terrible lens to work through. It keeps us mired in those systems of oppression. So I really want to explore what does it mean to do it differently? How do we do private practice differently? How do we set ourselves as compassionate healers for marginalized folks? And it’s just not something that we learn. The other cool thing that I do in all of my trainings is it’s not just me lecturing at you, and I think that’s what we get a lot in cultural competency kind of stuff: I’m going to tell you what people who are insert identity experience. That’s not what we’re going to do. We’re really going to start with my own identity. We’re going to do a lot of exploration about identity development. And then how do I reach clients who are different than me? How do I help them when I don’t have that same experience? Because so many of us on this side are white or white-identified or straight, or all of those things where we have privilege and we really are missing the opportunity to help people in our society who need the most and therapy just does not do a good job with that. So I have my four-hour intro course afternoon we’re going to spend together doing this work. And then for people who want to do a deeper dive. I have a 12 week intensive where we talk about all this stuff, we have homework, we have accountability, and we talk about some of the practice grow things. And how do I advertise myself so that I’m not attracting only white clients, for example, how do I look in the world so that people of color and people who are queer and people who have disabilities will come to see me because that’s a big part of it.
Linzy [00:24:58] That’s great. So your website then, if people want to find you and learn more about these offerings, where can they find you?
Dena [00:25:05] Yeah. DenaOmar.com it’s the easiest place. I also have an Instagram. You can follow me there. Yeah. So all that information will be there.
Linzy [00:25:14] Great. Okay, and those links are in the show notes below. You can always just click over from there. So thank you so much, Dena. It has been so- I always love talking to you, and today is no exception. It’s been wonderful to talk to you today.
Dena [00:25:26] Thank you, Linzy. I appreciate it.
Linzy [00:25:42] I so appreciated my conversation with Dena. I really appreciated the pieces about looking at your values, your deeper values, and that’s something that I’ve talked about with some other podcast guests as well, because I think that’s such an important piece that can get missed when we get into the grind, as Dena puts it, of building a business and earning money and being self-employed. We just start to focus on making the business work, earning money, earning more, working more, as if that is the value of our life. And of course, that’s what capitalism tells us that it is. But when we actually zoom out and look at what are our real, authentic values, how do we really want to spend our life? I think about, when I die, what will I look back and actually value? What’s going to actually matter in the end? That can be really clarifying for how to make money work for us now and how to build your practice so that it serves your life now, not later, which is probably coming, but is never guaranteed. So, so, so clarifying Dena is brilliant. Absolutely check her out. She, I know, is building some great offers for therapists around anti oppressive therapy. So if you want to do more learning in that area, if you’re interested. Definitely check out Dena. We’ve got her links below in the show notes, and I’m just so appreciative of her for having this conversation with me. If you want to hear more from me, you can follow me on Instagram at @moneynutsandbolts. We’re putting out free money mindset, practical private practice stuff all the time. If you want to learn more from me and actually start working on getting your money working for you in your life, like Dena has done in a big way. Check out my masterclass, The 4-Step Framework to Getting Your Business Finances Totally in Order. As I’ve mentioned, the price is going up in 2022, part of taking up more space, having more impact. I’m doing it too. And that means that if you check out the masterclass now, if it’s 2021 when you’re listening, this is your chance to slide in at that 2021 price before it goes up in 2022. You can check out the link in the show notes. In the masterclass, I lay out my approach to money. You’re going to learn some of the big mistakes that therapists are making when we’re trying to get our money working for us. You’re also going to learn about Money Skills For Therapists, how I help you go from money confusion and shame to common confidence. Like Dena has done. And it’s your opportunity to jump into the course at the 2021 price before it goes up in 2022. Thank you so much for listening today.
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