Blending consulting skills & therapeutic training to foster family harmony: A Q&A with Dawn Schooler
Updated: Aug 18
We’re so happy to welcome Dawn Schooler to the Trella team. With years of experience as a counsellor and coach working with family enterprise clients, Dawn brings a unique combination of skills and a deep understanding of relationship dynamics. We are so fortunate to have her on our team.
- Judi Cunningham
What inspired you to shift your focus from individual counselling to advising family enterprises? It was a confluence of factors really. I had been working as an individual therapist for several years while also growing my own counselling business when a colleague invited me in to work with a family business client. At that time, I didn't know a lot about family businesses, but I was curious to see how my skills could support the family and my colleague. After working with several families, I began to see some patterns and challenges in the way anxiety, relationship dynamics and addiction presented in the family. These were different to what I would normally see working with individuals or couples. I have always taken a systems approach when addressing the complexity of mental and relational health but when you layer on the family business and family members working or managing wealth together this adds another layer that was intriguing and dynamic to me. I just had to keep saying yes to this work because it matters. The family and the individual family members need a safe place where they can get guidance and assistance from someone with a therapeutic background who also understands business. It was about this time that I enrolled in the FEA program and became designated. Since that day, working with families has just become the most significant part of my consulting practice.
Counselling is usually a solo profession. How are you adjusting to working with the team at Trella?
I come from a background of coaching women's athletics and the notion of team, the different roles, the value each person brings always made intuitive sense to me. To find myself drawn to a profession where I have team members with different expertise and skills is wonderful. On a basketball team for example you have short fast people, tall slow people, five-foot ten strong people, and you need them all, plus someone to coach and hydrate the team. I see multi-discipline advising in that same way. We're all part of that team supporting the family. We bring different perspectives, different strengths, and a well-rounded offering for families. Personally, I am always learning from the families as well as from my colleagues and that’s a truly wonderful place to be.
You use the term therapeutic coach, what does that mean and what can families expect?
Business family advising usually focuses on the lawyer or the accountant or the financial planner. These advisors come in and say, here are some good ideas that make a lot of sense when we're thinking about tax advantages, protecting assets, and building wealth for families. And they're right. Those are usually really good ideas. But alongside this technical expertise, there also needs to be expertise that focus on what's good for the health and harmony of the family. This is especially true when we are talking about transgenerational transitions. When I combine my consulting skills with my training as a therapist I am in the role of therapeutic coach. I can bring the very best of both disciplines together, let go of the formality of the therapist and help the family address and discuss topics that might range from relationship tensions to ownership decisions to continuity planning, always with an eye on supporting the wellness and relational development of the whole family.
You are currently exploring the role of gender across the leadership and transition of family owned businesses in Canada for your DBA. How do you see this informing your work with families?
The research I’m doing is looking at stories and taking a narrative inquiry approach. This invites us to understand that every single story, even one story, matters. I don't know what I'm going to find. But what I do believe is that men, women, and all gender identities are affected by these gender ideas which are often invisible and not spoken of because people are not thinking about gender in relationship to family succession.
I want to be able to offer perhaps five things that we learned that are making a difference for other family businesses in Canada. I want to find these stories, search for the exceptions, and then offer them in a way that could be helpful.
Families tend to avoid difficult conversations. What would you say to families who want to get started?
A couple of things come to mind; I strongly encourage families to reach out for professional support from people who have done this before. Professionals who can hold the space, set some ground rules, and facilitate the conversation.
The other is, for families to remember that they didn't get where they are in one conversation in one day, week, or month. They usually got where they are from years of small seemingly negligible incidents that have built up over time. So, I always like to slow people down and let them know that the goal of our first conversation is to get to our second conversation. That you don't have to know how to do that because I know how, and I encourage families to get in the game.
When you’re not immersed in your work how do you love to spend your time?
I enjoy getting outside almost every day. Long walks are probably my best medicine to synthesize my day, quiet my nervous system, absorb what's happened and prepare for the next day. I enjoy cooking at home and hosting friends and family, treating them with some wonderful cooking and eating that stuff is important.
Learn more about Dawn and the rest of the Trella team on our About page.