Angela Caldwell

Founder of Caldwell Family Institute

Angela Caldwell, MA, LMFT is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She serves as founder and director of the Caldwell Family Institute in Los Angeles, specializing in family-based treatment. She has been teaching graduate students for over a decade and is currently an adjunct professor at California State University Northridge, teaching systems theory and related courses. She has specialized training and experience in family-based treatment for non-suicidal self-injury.

Where did the idea for Caldwell Family Institute come from?

To be quite honest, the institute was actually born out of failure. I had been working for years as an individual therapist, primarily helping people with self-injury, and had not been able to achieve much success. I found that I was able to build trust, unearth deep-rooted wounds, and create an environment of safety for my clients, but beyond that, I was sending them home every week right back into the family circumstance that was causing the wound in the first place. I decided to switch my focus to healing the family environment instead, and once I started doing that, my success rate skyrocketed. At that point, the institute was born.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I don’t really have a typical day, and I’ve learned to come to peace with that. Unlike individual therapy, family therapy has to shift and change along with the natural shifts and changes of daily family life. There are periods where I’m meeting with a family two or three times a week to get through a rough patch, and then there are periods where we sit back for a few weeks and let the therapy take effect at home. So I suppose my work day consists of some combination of family therapy sessions and administration, but that could vary wildly from week to week.

My productivity comes in my routine *outside* of my work day. I get up at the same time every day, weekday or weekend, and have a morning routine with my family. I’m an avid tennis player, so I get my exercise in religiously before starting my work day, and that has served me well, because I go into the work day energized, and with a hefty dose of vitamin D. Once I’m at work, I don’t really allow any outside interruption until the work day is over. At that point, it’s back to my family obligations and personal time, and the phone and computer are off. Having fairly rigid start and end times, and keeping things compartmentalized, helps keep overwhelm at bay, and helps keep my productivity high.

How do you bring ideas to life?

You just do it. I’ve always been saddened to see people around me have a fantastic idea that gets buried under overthinking and overplanning. While I agree that it’s unwise to shoot from the hip, I argue that it’s equally unwise to take aim for too long. If I have an idea that I think is pretty great, I talk to a few trusted people about it for confirmation that it is, indeed, awesome. Through the course of those conversations, the idea starts to take shape, and once that shape reveals the first two or three steps, I take them. I don’t need every single step to be revealed before I start to pursue a great idea.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Andrew Yang’s Forward Party. He just announced it a few weeks ago, and I haven’t been this hopeful in a long time. I’ve spent the last decade watching the divisiveness in our country play out ruthlessly and violently in the families I treat, and my heart has been heavy for too long. From what I’m reading, the Forward Party might be the first time a third political party actually has legs, and it appears to be calling on our dignity and reason as a nation, quietly pleading for a return to neighborly courtesy.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Compartmentalization. The enemy of productivity is rumination and worry. I have a four-page list of things to solve, complete, address, return, submit, and worry about at work, and that needs a very tight cap or it will swallow me up. Mentally, I disallow any worry to occur before my work day, and then I disallow it again after the work day ends. I guess you could say that compartmentalization helps me “schedule” my worrying time, and that makes me productive, because I’m allowed to relax when I’m home and with my family.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Dear Younger Angela, not everyone needs to like you. Stop trying so hard to achieve such a ridiculous goal. Innovation and contributions to the greater good can happen without the fan base of the entire universe. Focus less on getting everyone on Team Angela, and more on the idea itself. You’re wasting energy.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Humans are easy and predictable. They are not complicated organisms engaging in random, unpredictable behavior, and God does not work in mysterious ways. There is a reason humans do what they do, and just because you can’t see it, doesn’t make them unknowable beings that mankind will never comprehend. Once you collect enough data about a human, you will find that they are, in fact, quite easy to understand. And once you understand them, you will find that it’s not that hard to exercise compassion for them.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Re-evaluate, revisit, and review your purpose. I have a list of difficult questions that all live in the moral, ethical, and spiritual realms, and I like to revisit them often to see how my answers are evolving over time. Answers to those difficult questions shape the next moves in my career, and often shift my messages over time.

One example would be, “Why do humans hurt each other?” Over time, my answer to that question has been informed by my parents, religion, psychology, philosophy, and personal experience. An early answer to that question was, “Because they’re powerless and are grabbing power where they see it.” That answer narrowed my focus onto power dynamics for some time, and I did really interesting work with families around power structures and hierarchies. After a while, that answer changed to, “They don’t mean to; they’re just afraid of collapsing.” That answer shifted my work to the importance of reassurance in the face of terror and trauma, and the work took on another a different flavor. I imagine I’ll have another answer as I grow, and I plan to allow it to influence the kind of work I do with families.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I got some good advice early in my career, and I have held onto it with a death grip: Invest in your reputation. When I was growing my business in the early years, I didn’t spend money on a fancy office or glossy business cards. Instead, I put my capital in developing and offering trainings, grabbing opportunities to speak to audiences of other therapists, and targeting my networking to very specific organizations. I was hyper-focused on making sure people knew me as a certain kind of professional, and that has paid off in spades.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I think every entrepreneur probably suffers from the biting-off-more-than-I-can-chew disease, and I’m no exception. I’ve had several failures that all fall under the category of not enough bandwidth. The biggest one that comes to mind is this comprehensive training that we wanted to offer to certify other therapists in the specific family therapy model we were using to address self-injury. Big plans, big dreams, big fat failure. We never fully developed it, and I made the mistake of listing it on our website prematurely. We had all this interest come in from other therapists, and ended up letting them all down by not having a real program to offer them. Lesson learned. I only have so many hours, and so much energy. I can’t pursue every shiny object in my path.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

So you’re making me give up one of my shiny objects, huh? How about this one: I had this revelation a while back that one of the reasons Americans are reticent to come to therapy is because they’re afraid of being judged negatively by the therapist. I learned that some of my clients seemed to believe that I was constantly thinking about them and their bad choices, and ruling them out as lost causes. I thought it would be cool to do a reality show that followed a few therapists in their daily lives, so that potential clients could see (a) how therapists live, which seems to be endlessly fascinating to them, (b) that therapists really do go “off-duty” and stop thinking about their clients during the day, and (c) how therapists talk to each other about their clients. I think Americans would be pleasantly surprised to see how positive we are, how we root for our clients and really do hope their dreams come true.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The babysitter. Running a business, raising two young children, keeping up with tennis, volunteering for the PTA, setting up play dates, researching my cases, and presenting trainings makes for a hectic life and very little time for connecting with my biggest and most important fan, my husband. Spending $100 bucks for a few hours with him is beyond quantification.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

SimplePractice is a popular software platform that allows therapists to schedule, bill, and track cases. And it really is simple. You keep every shred of client information in one place, and it’s digital, so it’s easily accessible from any location with internet. They have a billion security protections, so I feel safe knowing my clients’ information is in a virtual vault, and I don’t carry around files and folders anymore.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***.” It is, by a landslide, the most practical, positive, and helpful guide I have ever read. He somehow manages to reach his readers with a friendly, down-to-earth, accessible tone and then challenges them to overcome their own “wimpiness” and start getting shit done. He breaks away from conventional advice about how best to solve problems, or how to cope with the anxiety of life, and basically invites readers to just accept and move on. It’s a tough love book that I’ve been seeking for a long time; I’m just sorry I didn’t come across it sooner.

What is your favorite quote?

“If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” -Mother Teresa

Key Learnings:

  • Productivity outside of the work day can support productivity during the work day.
  • Not all steps need to revealed to move toward an idea or goal.
  • Innovation and contributions to the greater good can happen without the fan base of the entire universe.
  • Re-evaluate, revisit, and review your purpose.
  • Invest in your reputation.