"I feel like there's been a bit of a change in recognizing how important aspects of family life and presence are... our culture has created a system in which everybody has their place — kids go to school, parents go to work... And when a lot of those things stopped, it's become more apparent that certain family systems weren't as healthy as we might have thought and that there's an opportunity to really focus in on what it actually means to have healthy interpersonal relationships that are interdependent, rather than anti-dependent or independent."
Max Ziegenhagen is a marriage and family therapist and the owner of North Family Counseling in Colorado Springs. After identifying a critical need for teen therapy in the Springs, Max moved from California to open a trauma-specialized practice. Today, Max and his team of therapists serve individuals wrestling with a range of mental and relational challenges.
In this episode, Max discusses the positive and negative implications that COVID-19 and the stay-at-home order had on the mental and emotional health of his community, sharing how his practice had to pivot in response to new challenges and crises.
Listen to our conversation to hear why Max remains hopeful and encouraged despite counseling through a pandemic. For more COS in COVID stories, visit our full library of interviews.
Joe: Hi there. I’m Joe, president and founder of Keyhole Marketing.
Shannon: And I’m Shannon Jirik. I work for Keyhole as the assistant brand manager.
Joe: And this is Metaphorically Speaking, a podcast that explores the mysterious side of marketing.
Shannon: Hello and welcome back to Metaphorically Speaking. This is-
Joe: Welcome back.
Shannon: Oh, wow. He’s singing.
Joe: I just had to add that in there after your welcome back. I loved it.
Shannon: That was really beautiful. I think you should incorporate that in every intro moving forward.
Joe: Never doing that again.
Shannon: Cut to music, Joe’s coming in. Well anyway, if you’re done, I’ll proceed.
Joe: I’m done. Please go.
Shannon: We are continuing our miniseries that we’re calling COS and COVID, or Colorado Springs. And this is just a series where we’re continuing to talk with small business owners and entrepreneurs in the Colorado Springs area about how their businesses and how they have been impacted by the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic that we’re currently in.
Joe: Yeah. This one, we’re going to talk with Max. I’m going to take a stab at it, Max Ziegenhagen. My wife who’s a German minor in college is probably rolling over, but she’s still alive so she’s just rolling.
Shannon: Oh my gosh, thank you for clarifying that.
Joe: Yeah, yeah. So he’s from North Family Counseling and has such an interesting story. I was really fascinated about this interview and interested in this because I was a Psychology minor myself and I just love sort of exploring how has COVID-19 impacted people’s lives on a personal level? And he’s dealing with that on the front lines. Strong major things he’s dealing with, primarily with teen suicide, which is really a big problem here in Colorado Springs and maybe Statewide, but definitely in this area. So he’s dealing a lot with that. And now we have just new challenges of just dealing with people when you’re around them 24/7 and we can’t go out and do the normal things you would do to just deal with life. It’s interesting.
Shannon: Yeah, like their name says, Family Counseling, they’re really addressing those at-home issues, which he says are just escalating at this point. You don’t really have as much of an escape or a reprieve from that home life as maybe we did before COVID.
Joe: Exactly. And he talks a little bit too about just how his business shifted from clearly a one-on-one interpersonal exchange to having to shift to a digital format, at least for a period of time and how that impacted conversations and relationships and therapy. But it’s interesting always to hear like how businesses are quick to respond and keep things going and that’s really fascinating to hear how he was able to do that. So really interesting story.
Shannon: Absolutely. Yeah. Max, thank you so much for sharing. And Joe said it in the episode, “But we’re just really grateful for you and your team and what they’re doing in the Colorado Springs community.” So we hope you all enjoy listening to this interview with Max.
Joe: Maybe just share a quick synopsis about North Family Counseling. Yeah, what do you offer, maybe how long have you guys been in business? Why do you guys exist in the first place?
Max Ziegenhagen: Yeah, so I actually moved here to Colorado Springs in the spring of 2017 to predominantly work with the teen suicide epidemic that was present in this community at that time and is still a major issue here. And slowly thereafter started my own practice, North Family Counseling. It was just me at the time, and it was pretty much full within the first month and a half of starting and recognizing the need for teen therapy alongside family therapy, which is really allowing the whole family to participate rather than simply trying to help this individual and put them back into a system that’s maybe having some difficulties. It’s an opportunity to help the entire system gain some functionality and be healthier.
And I realized more and more as I was here those first few months, just that the need for that was huge. I had moved here from California where almost everyone is a marriage and family therapist. And so it was unique to come to a community that needed that much more so than where I had just moved from.
Joe: Yeah. And how has the practice expanded since then? Do you still work primarily with teens or has it gone a little larger than that?
Max: It’s expanded a bit from there. We eventually took on more staff in April of 2019. We have four other therapists working alongside me at this point, so there’s five of us and two administrators. We really are attempting to create something that is sort of a holistic opportunity for family health in the mental health world, being able to address marital issues, family strife, parenting, alongside the major issues such as depression, anxiety, addiction, and the stuff that just affects families’ daily function to want families to be able to thrive.
Joe: Awesome. How was your business maybe immediately impacted by COVID, just in those initial weeks when everything kind of rolled out. Where you considered essential? Where you closed for a little while? What kind of played out for your business?
Max: Well, actually that was just an incredible example of the immediate impact of the business is when we had to shift to this telehealth virtual format. I have two small kids and we had a huge impact on me being home and present. And my kids are confused and let’s play and hang out. Along with, we saw an almost immediate halt in any inquiries related to therapy at the beginning, for the first three weeks.
And prior to that, we had been really seeing an influx of people calling in and looking for help and assistance and seeking out somebody that was a good fit, both relationally and practically, and everything just sort of stopped. It’s definitely picked back up again since then, but the shift has been that the things that we are receiving now have a lot more to do with acute crises rather than simply kind of the idea of general family wellness and health.
Joe: Can you describe that a little bit more for us to understand what that is exactly?
Max: Yeah, I mean the simplest way to think about it is if you stick a family in their house and they’re not able to find a reprieve from that experience indoors, whatever difficulties already exist are going to be exacerbated or increased. Because if you’re already having some friction, if you stick together and you have no opportunity to breathe for a moment, it just sort of escalates. And that’s really what we’ve seen since the onset of March really is that things have increasingly escalated in the home.
If they’re already marital difficulties, those difficulties have become much more acute and clear. If there’s already family strife, the fighting has gotten worse. And that’s not to say that’s happened for every single family across the board. I think a lot of people have really been encouraged by finding that they have a good rhythm or a structure that already exists that’s really positive. But for a lot of us it’s been pretty difficult.
Joe: Yeah. And I know for our family, and we’ve been in counseling my wife and I have for, I don’t know, eight, nine years and we continue to meet with our counselor online. But you know, you just go through seasons of this sometimes where we’re feeling really strong and other times it seems like Groundhog day where everything’s the exact same and you’re just worn out and you need some space. You’ve mentioned that online counseling. Was that a platform you had already leveraged? Was that new to your practice?
Max: We had already been using it predominantly as a way to address if there was bad weather.
Joe: Oh, okay.
Max: And so giving people an opportunity to still make use of their investment, but at the same time not having to drive into the office if there was a bomb cyclone, I forgot how many years that was. But certain things, just providing an opportunity. Also people who are sick but still feeling well enough where they still wanted to be able to talk to their therapist, but it was very minimally used. And so it’s become something that we use all the time now.
Joe: Yeah. Are you able to meet personally with people or are you sort of only on the online?
Max: I failed to mention kind of how we expanded, but we’re addressing all sorts of family issues. But we’re a trauma specialized practice. And so we tend to deal with the things that are more intense. And because of that, there are certain things for people where it’s just best practice to have them be able to actually see somebody or interact with somebody in person.
We have the parameters in place to be able to do that well. With the mask mandate we are needing to wear masks at this point in the office, in addition to being able to still be open and clean and available for clients. Our offices are pretty large and so we’re able to sit pretty far apart. That’s been a huge benefit to be able to still see people in person, which has been necessary for a lot of people.
Joe: Yeah. Yeah, I can imagine. I mean we’ve been able to make it work online. Our counselor is in Florida. When we lived in Indiana, she was right down the road, we were able to meet with her. But we’ve kind of been in the virtual connection for a while. It’s worked well. But I know for some you just need that… Especially nowadays when it’s hard to even see people, family and friends, it’s nice to have a personal contact with somebody who’s going deep in your life, I’m sure.
What do you see as like maybe some longterm effects of this? Will you continue to kind of do a 50/50 virtual face-to-face and maybe, more from a technical standpoint, how does it affect your business? But also what are some of the longterm impacts from a counseling standpoint, as far as the needs of your patients, your clients?
Max: I think there’s been a couple of things that have been assessed as longterm changes. The presence of telehealth as a part of things I think is already a part of the game, but it’s really just become an implanted part of the process at this point for therapy. Because people can now access services in the State of Colorado and outside of it on a much easier basis than was previously considered to be possible.
And the guidelines around telehealth and finally been evaluated during this, which beforehand, it was basically a mental health gray area that people were still trying to assess what was the legality around it? Are we going off of the laws in that State or this State? Do you have to meet in person at least once? There were a lot of questions that are now being fleshed out by the governing boards of each state. So I think that’s been really helpful.
In addition to that though, I feel like there’s been a bit of a change in recognizing how important aspects of family life and presence are. Because our culture has kind of created a system in which everybody has their place. Kids go to school, parents go to work, everybody has their sports and athletics and things that they participate in. And when a lot of those things stopped, I think it’s become a lot more apparent that certain family systems weren’t as healthy as we might’ve thought. And that there’s an opportunity to really focus in on what it actually means to have healthy interpersonal relationships that are interdependent rather than anti-dependent or independent.
And so that’s become a big area of focus for us is trying to figure out what’s the best way that a counseling practice along with other entities can really assist families at this time by providing content and opportunity to address the issues that have become more apparent during this time.
Joe: Yeah. I was interested about that. How do you sort of get the word out there? You just sort of hear if somebody raises their hand and says I have a need and you’re available, or are you trying to kind of get that word out there and market to those new-found needs in this era we are in today.
Max: So that’s actually been really interesting and I think that’s one of the biggest changes right now based on what’s still happening, is it’s become increasingly difficult as you are well aware, to get together or to sit down with people and to figure things out. And so I’ve had a lot of these types of interactions, not necessarily on podcasts, but Zoom calls and phone calls and virtual interaction with different groups. There’s an incredible group out in Denver called Equinox Wellness Center that I had the opportunity to tour their facility and to get to know the staff there and to figure out what they’re doing.
In addition to meeting with different churches and different organizations like COSILoveYou that are here in town, that are already doing quite a bit to provide assistance in what was already known to be really important. And so we’re at this point in the phase of really asking around and trying to assess. We know there is a need, but we’re still trying to debate and kind of figure out or determine where we fit within that need.
Joe: Yeah. Well, thanks so much for sharing more about your story and I’m just so grateful for what you guys are doing in the community. We’ve only been here a year, so just kind of finding out about some of the needs of the community, especially out here that are different than other parts of the country. Thanks for your service and for continuing to offer and connect to people during such a weird time. And just thanks for the time today as well.
Max: Of course, yeah. Thank you for making it a possibility. I love that you guys are bringing some visibility to the way that this has affected things business-wise and practically, and so I’m excited for what you guys are doing.
Joe: Yeah. It’s been interesting to hear some of these stories because I guess I’m always a glass half full kind of guy anyways. I was hoping to hear some of these stories, but so far they’ve all been really encouraging. It’s not just like business numbers and clients and those types of things, but just the resiliency of people and the businesses to find other ways to connect with their clients and their patients or their customers. And yeah, it’s been really encouraging from that perspective. Because those aren’t often the stories we hear. So it’s been enlightening for me, for sure.
Max: Yeah. I love that. And even getting to see too, when people are faced with difficulty like this, seeing families kind of come out of the woodwork and seek help and begin to talk about these things on social media or within their own groups or spheres of influence, has been encouraging to see as well, that things aren’t just being left alone, but they’re really being addressed.
Joe: Yeah. Can you maybe just close this on maybe some practical things that families can do at home? Obviously we’ve been able to leave the house a little bit more of late, but things may change back to the way they were. There’s some things that you could offer, just some practical tips for families to connect at home in that way.
Max: I mean, the reality is there are so many different things I could say, but boil down to the simplest thought is we’ve become a reactionary culture and we tend to simply do things as they come. We’re very busy and forward moving. And the most important thing that I’ve seen when families have really acclimated or pivoted during this time incredibly well, is when they took the time to be intentional. To sit down, to consider things as parents and to sit down with their kids and to really think through how they want to spend their time and what they actually want it to look like, as opposed to just finding themselves, creating new habits and structures around… I don’t know, excessive TV or bickering and arguing or leaving the house unclean.
There’s simple things and structure that we can create to allow the rest of the day to be really fluid and relaxing as long as we’re intentional about it. So it’s just having the conversation, really, and being calming down and relaxing enough to take a moment to figure out what’s actually needed.
Joe: Yeah, well that can be the awkward part, right? Of having to actually engage with other people that you’ve been in the same room with and house with for years and certainly months, but just to pull ourselves up from our devices and to actually see each other face-to-face. Thanks so much again, Max, and appreciate your time.
Max: Great. Thanks so much. Thanks for having me and I hope you have a great day.
Joe Dudeck: Thanks, you too.
Shannon: You’ve been listening to the “COS and COVID” miniseries on the Metaphorically Speaking Podcast. At Keyhole Marketing, we tell big stories for small businesses.
If you’re in the Colorado Springs area and struggling to tell your story in this season, we’d love to come alongside you and help you with your content, branding, SEO, social media, or photography needs.
Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if we can help.