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Pioneering Journal Therapy (Kay Adams) Transcript

Course Lab – Episode 96

Pioneering Journal Therapy (Kay Adams)

Abe Crystal: So probably one of the deepest, the most grounded, one of the most experienced teachers that we’ve interviewed, and she had a wealth of experiences to share with other course creators.

Ari Iny: Hello and welcome to Course Lab. I’m Ari Iny, the director of growth at Mirasee, and I’m not in the studio with my co-host Abe Crystal, the co-founder of Ruzuku, because he’s on sabbatical, but he’s going to record the debrief with me when he gets back.

Today, we welcome Kathleen Adams to the show. Kathleen is a registered poetry and journal therapist and director of the center for Journal Therapy, which offers professional and personal development through live workshops, online courses, and live and online conferences. She is the author of 14 books, including the bestselling Journal to the Self, as well as the Journal to the Self card decks. Thanks for joining us today, Kay. We’re very excited to have you on the show.

Kay Adams: Thanks, Ari. It’s very good to be with you again.

Ari Iny: So to kick us off, can you give us kind of a 30,000-foot view about you and kind of how you came to the world of online courses?

Kay Adams: Yes, I can. Thank you for the question. I started this work in 1985 when I was a first semester graduate student. And I started with one workshop and knew without very much notice at all that this was my life’s work, that the intersection between journal writing and healing was my work in the world. I was a first semester graduate student in my counseling program at that point, and I was fortunate to have professors who were very, very interested in the idea that I was sort of inventing another expressive arts therapy. journal therapy, poetry therapy, was well established by then. And so that led to my first book, which led to a lot of other things.

And it turned out even though I was quite introverted in 1985 and would never have voluntarily changed that, when I started teaching my first journal workshop to some friends, I thought it was going to just be a one-time thing. I realized that even though I was introverted and it was really scary for me to talk to people, I had something to say that was more important than feeling comfortable. So I blasted through, and that became the catalyst for an entire career. I have spent now almost 39 years focused on journal therapy and all of its expressions.

And when I was in graduate school, I was able to construct some theories and then test them out when I got out of school and started working clinically and first in psychiatric hospitals and then in private practice. So it has just been a one foot in front of the other process and journey. And I tell people that I give thanks every day for having wonderful work to do and wonderful people to do it with. And I just feel like, you know, this is the very best way I could have spent my life.

Ari Iny: That is awesome. So I have a lot of questions about your journey. So, first of all, I want to acknowledge what you said, that you had something that was more important to say than it was to feel comfortable. And I feel like that is something worth calling out because I think a lot of people get stuck in that exact place. And I really appreciate you acknowledging that and kind of taking that in and then doing the work because I know you’ve helped so many people.

So you had one program and that’s how it all started. Now you have many, many programs, and currently you’re teaching online. So what was the transition like for you from kind of the in-person classes that you would teach to online?

Kay Adams: The origins of what is now my online teaching started almost ten years into my work. Fairly shortly after I graduated from my counseling program and started working full time in hospitals, I started an instructor certification training for this Journal to the Self workshop that was my core product then. And I was teaching people just locally, and I’m in Denver, Colorado, just locally in Denver. And a couple of times I went to Toronto and taught groups there

But about ten years later, I was in New York City teaching a workshop, and some women asked me if I had a distance learning program for this certification training. And I said, well, I don’t, but I will if you want to take it. So I started with a distance learning program that was mail based and audio based. And I mean, it’s very unsophisticated by today’s standards, but they got what they needed and they started teaching. And then that grew into its own product. We kept improving the home study program. We went from cassette tape to CD to mp3, etcetera. So that was constantly iterating.

But I think it was when I started with Ruzuku in 2017 or 18 that I did my first evergreen classes, certainly, but we also had some hybrid classes too, where I either taught it in real time with a group, or we did some email coaching and those kinds of things. I wasn’t doing live coaching at that point. And then I had to go through the same experience when I decided not to let introversion get in my way, and I had to go through exactly the same process with video. I was terrified of being on video, just terrified of it.

And I finally had to just get over myself because I had an online community called Journalverse that was mostly audio based. I did three or four audio interviews a month with people doing interesting things with writing. But when it came time to convert to video, I just couldn’t make the adaptation until I realized that I was getting notes from the Journalversity audience saying, you used to do these little things called Coffee with Kay, which were like three-minute videos that it would take me all day to make one because I was just like constantly messing up.

So I finally just decided to get over that, too. And I put myself through a journal process that I use for people who are stuck. I felt stuck. It’s called the structured right is the technique that I used, and the subtitle is pain to possibility in 15 minutes. Actually worked myself through my video phobia in 13 minutes flat.

Ari Iny: That’s awesome.

Kay Adams: It is. And I have not been afraid of video since. And that’s great.

Ari Iny: That’s amazing.

Kay Adams: Yeah. So when I started Ruzuku, that was my first fully online thing. I taught teleconferences. I would participate on audio, but I didn’t have the video component, and I didn’t have the text-based video component until I started with Ruzuku, which I just fell in love with immediately. I mean, Ruzuku was just a game changer in my work. So that was probably about 2017 or 2018 that I started. And now I teach online constantly.

Ari Iny: So when you were doing distance learning sets and then CDs and DVD’s, what percentage of your business was that versus traveling and teaching or your own practice?

Kay Adams: Well, the instructor training pretty much operated in background. I had a program manager for it, and so it was not really on my plate anymore. I reviewed things and approved things and had conversations with the instructors at the beginning and again at the end of their training. But I wasn’t really very hands on with that. It was kind of running in background, so the rest of my work was taking precedent.

For a long time I was in private practice as a therapist, and then I kind of moved away from that. We started another online school in 2008, and that’s all text based. Our instructors have the option of doing video training to supplement if they want to, but it’s essentially a text-based program. There was a time, for about six years, when I was traveling all over the US, teaching therapists my signature course in journal therapy theory and practice. So the actual work was no longer on my plate except for the supervision aspect of it.

Ari Iny: Until you started going on the road in teaching.

Kay Adams: Yeah, until I started going on the road in teaching. And then that was my primary work and practice. Certainly, since COVID. But even before COVID, I was moving fairly rapidly in the development of online teaching and now video-based teaching.

Ari Iny: And what percentage of your work now is online versus in person or other kinds of work?

Kay Adams: 80%

Ari Iny: Online?

Kay Adams: Yeah.

Ari Iny: And asynchronous, or is that also teaching live?

Kay Adams: Well, for now it’s asynchronous because I’m not doing a lot of live teaching. I’m now in the process of creating my first two hybrid courses and I just hired a ten hour a week marketing VA.

Ari Iny: That’s awesome. I’m really glad to hear it.

Kay Adams: I wouldn’t be able to do this next piece if I didn’t have some help because I just am one person and I’m not very techie.

Ari Iny: So one thing that you mentioned, the vast majority of your courses, it sounds like, are train the trainers. So you teach people to be instructors?

Kay Adams: I do teach people to be instructors, but now my community, Journalverse has morph, which was again like an audio-based thing. I did interviews and then had uploads of recorded interviews and a lot of text-based stuff prompts every week and yada yada. But since I moved to Journalversity, I have been doing text based evergreen courses mostly. But there is a continuing education division of Journalversity just for therapists who need continuing education units. But for the most part, it’s public facing. It’s people who just want to learn how to use writing for healing, growth and change.

So we are developing a much, much broader and more diverse audience. Well, we have a broad and diverse audience in our professional training programs too, but this is just people from all over the world who are hungry for connection and community and information that is reasonably priced and very accessible and easy to consume.

Ari Iny: Very cool. And so it sounds like this has been a shift. It was mainly working with practitioners, so therapists providing content to support them in using journal therapy in their own practices. And now it’s morphing into kind of that too. But also the public facing courses that are for individuals who are coming to you.

Kay Adams: Yes, and we also have, between our two primary training programs for professionals, about a third of each of them, both the instructor certification training and the much deeper dive, the master’s equivalent. It isn’t the master’s program, but I designed it to be master’s equivalent three-year training program at the Therapeutic Writing Institute. About a third of each of those audiences are therapists and the rest are not therapists. So we have two tracks.

Ari Iny: Very interesting.

Kay Adams: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s because people are looking for, I mean, educators, writers, poets, community facilitators, coaches, these are all people. One of the most frequent things I hear is I really am kind of torn between going to graduate school and counseling because it’s the only way I can learn what I want to learn or not going because I don’t know if I really want to be a therapist.

But they are looking at us because we offer an alternative for non-therapist that doesn’t put them out of their scope of practice. I mean, we’re very specific about that, but it’s an alternative. We didn’t intend it to be an alternative to a master’s program in counseling, but that’s what our audience is telling us. So when they end up with us, it’s often because they decided they could get more of what they wanted faster and less expensively without going to graduate school.

Ari Iny: Very interesting. How do you think that came about? So were there any specific ways that you were talking about it, marketing it, anything like that, that created that comparison, or was it really, they happened to be looking at your program and happened to be looking in graduate school at the same time, and that just started coming up again and again.

Kay Adams: That’s an interesting question. I think, because we’ve been around a really long time, and my first website under the domain name was created in, I think, 1997, we are the 600-pound canary. We have a lot of presence on Google. We’re just really the only organization that is doing this work at the depth that we are doing it and with the consistency that we are doing it.

I mean, you put one foot in front of the other for 39 years and you learn some stuff. And unbeknownst to me, I hear a lot of people saying, well, I’ve had your book since the 1990s and I’ve written a lot more books since then. So my introversion and my shyness continues to be manifest when I am not even aware that I have name recognition around the world, which I don’t. I mean, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that, really.

Ari Iny: I really appreciate how this kind of highlights the value of choosing a niche and then owning it and kind of really owning a category, and it’s not easy to do. I mean, there is a certain element of being the first person in and then really owning it, but I think it is something interesting for people to think about for themselves what part of their niche can they potentially own might be harder now, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to do.

Kay Adams: Yeah, I think the work chose me. I didn’t set out to do this. It just happened. And I am eternally grateful that I followed the trail of breadcrumbs and that I recognized it when it happened. You know, this is really, I have to pay attention to this, but I think you’re right. I mean, I don’t know what it would be like to start out now. It’s kind of noisy out there and crowded, but I think there’s ways to rise above. I mean, the core values of authenticity and integrity have guided me the whole way. I feel very fortunate that I was an early adapter.

Ari Iny: Well, I think it’s partially that and partially, as you said, your authenticity, your integrity, it’s what people resonate with. And so it is what they’re attracted to and also kind of the depth of knowledge that you have and the depth of the content and resources that you provide. It’s not I’m jumping into this niche and slapping something up onto the internet and hoping that everyone will suddenly flock to me. It’s having deep expertise in a very specific area and owning that and establishing yourself as that expert.

So changing direction a little bit. There is something that I feel is unique about the way that you’ve marketed at least part of the programs that you deliver that other course providers out there may not be thinking about or may not be aware of as a potential option, which is the continuing education units, which I know it has been, at least at point, a large part of your business. I don’t know if it still is, but could you tell us a little bit about that?

Kay Adams: Yeah. It’s not for the faint hearted. Depending on a person’s licensure, I’m a licensed professional counselor. That’s one bucket, the counseling track. Another bucket is the social work track, the licensed clinical social workers. And a third bucket is the PhD or PSYD track, which is people who have doctorates. I have a master’s, and so do social workers. At least in the United States, you have to be one of those people to offer CEs. You have to have a license, and you have to be qualified in your license to be a subject matter expert sufficiently that you have credibility and you can offer something that is ethical and responsible and that you know something about.

I went through a process in, I think, 1998 to not just be approved for a particular class, but anything I offer, including anything I offer that other people are teaching underneath me, I can offer continuing education for. And that has been a tremendous incentive for the therapists. So it’s kind of A, as a target market, it’s well niched. I taught more than 8,000 therapists when I was on the road for six years, doing a one-day intro to journal therapy course that had standards-based practice and evidence-based theory in it, and that was a lucrative source of income for me. It helps to have a product that is pretty durable, that is core concepts that they can’t get anywhere else.

That’s the other thing. Continuing education is oftentimes boring, and so people are looking for something fresh. There’s lots and lots and lots of people teaching quality continuing educational courses, but not that many people are teaching journal therapy and poetry therapy.

Ari Iny: I think that goes again to the idea of if you are a part of some kind of profession that has special licensing, this can be an interesting way for you to, A, if you are drilling down on a very specific niche within it, you can have that focus and create good content. There are a lot of continuing education courses out there that are just not very good. And so you can stand out in that way and there’s a certain level of marketing built in there that’s worth exploring at least.

Kay Adams: It is worth exploring. And I think coaches are also just a great audience for this because the coaching field has very specific niches that one can go into. I mean, you can specialize as a coach in just about anything you decide you want to specialize in. And if that can be treated as not ancillary but central to practice, find your passion and teach that, find what really lights you up from the inside out and then develop material around that that is infused with every bit of starry-eyed love that you have for whatever that one thing is. And just do it. Do it over and over. Expand on it.

Ari Iny: Yeah, that’s the key. Don’t stop.

Kay Adams: Yeah.

Ari Iny: So is there anything else you would like to leave our audience with?

Kay Adams: Yeah, I want to share that Journalversity was on its beat by 2019, and we were doing really well. We had a lot of classes; we had a lot of faculty. I was on the university level. A lot of my graduates were writing their own books about journal writing and clearing clutter. Journal writing and neuroplasticity. All these things. I invited them all to pile in with me and do these workshops. And then COVID hit.

And the first thing I did in COVID because I didn’t know what else to do was, I started a little class at Journalversity called Love in the Time of Corona after Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book Love in the Time of Cholera. And I don’t know how people found it. I sent out a notice to my mailing list, which is about 5,000 at the time. It was a little easy and about how do we respond to COVID? And I had invited people to offer free classes and so it was maybe eight or so different topic areas per time, and how to stay safe. We were all trying not to die, but it ended up having 1231 people. Yeah.

Ari Iny: Oh, wow.

Kay Adams: And I put up J is for Journal as a short course, a drip course that took seven days. And as of now, that has had 2,198.

Ari Iny: Oh, wow.

Kay Adams: And our total enrollment at Journalversity as of now, 7037 people on the Journalversity mailing list.

Ari Iny: That’s amazing. And it sounds like you just took content that you already had and repurposed it into a short course that you could.

Kay Adams: Yeah. The J is for Journal was content I already had, but Love in the Time of Corona was all original material because it was all corona focused.

Ari Iny: That’s awesome. And a good reminder what people can do with a course. So the last question I have for you is where can our audience go to learn more about you and your work?

Kay Adams: Oh, lovely. Thank you. is our primary website, and from there you can get to either the Therapeutic Writing Institute, which is our long program, or Journalversity will also show up there. So, you know, is the primary resource.

Ari Iny: Kay, Thank you so, so, so much for this conversation. I really enjoyed it.

Kay Adams: Thank you.

Danny Iny: Now stick around for my favorite part of the show where Abe and Ari will pull out the best takeaways for you to apply to your course.

Abe Crystal: All right, Ari. So probably one of the deepest, the most grounded, one of the most experienced teachers that we’ve interviewed, Kay Adams. And she had a wealth of experiences to share with other course creators. What were some of your big takeaways from her?

Ari Iny: So one of the things that really stood out to me, and I also called it out during the interview, but I think is worth repeating, is how aware she was about how uncomfortable some of the work that she was going to, that she needed to do was making her. And she was very consciously making the decision, I’m going to do it anyway, which I feel like a lot of course, creators out there know that they need to do marketing, know that they need to do all sorts of different things related to putting their course out there. And it makes them feel uncomfortable and they don’t really acknowledge it and ignore it and they procrastinate and then nothing ever happens. And so I really appreciated her calling it out and doing it anyway.

Abe Crystal: Yeah, I think there are a lot of people that feel that right there, nervous or worried about sharing their unique perspective of the world, but that’s the only way that happens. None of these journaling courses that have helped thousands of people would exist if Kay hadn’t taken that step. But it ties in the idea, too, of it’s not just about spouting off your opinion, right? The reason that Kay ultimately felt motivated and empowered to share your perspective is because it was also grounded in a depth of expertise. So she talked about how she conducted research to validate her approaches in graduate school. She tested these courses as well with hundreds of people through live workshops and developed them over the years.

It’s not about overcoming hesitation to just, again, spout off an idea on Twitter. It was about really developing insights that are going to help other people and then making sure that you’re taking steps to share those insights with the world so that they are not just locked up in your academic thesis or in a niche book that only a few people hear about.

Ari Iny: And continuing to develop that expertise over time. She’s been doing this for, if she said 35 years or so, and she’s continuing to do all of it and learn. And every course that she develops, she’s digging deeper and developing her expertise and owning the niche further.

Abe Crystal: Yeah. And just to make that sort of practical, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go get a PhD or do original research to have expertise or sharing or to create a course. It’s about validating that what you teach and how you help people is effective. And that validation could come through coaching people one on one and seeing what problems and challenges they have and then updating your techniques until they get more and more effective. It could come from doing live workshops and interacting with your participants and refining based on their results.

It could come from doing a pilot of a course and then really interviewing those participants in depth to understand how to make the course better for them. It’s just having a results orientation and continuing to refine your techniques and you’re teaching until you see that you’re consistently getting results for people. A couple other things that jumped out at me from the business side, some maybe not as obvious aspects of why Kay’s approach has been so successful that people may commonly overlook. They all fall under the category of understanding who is your customer? What do they actually need? And in her case, that played out in two ways.

One is that she actually has two different audience. That is right. Yes. She has individuals that want to learn to journal because of all of its benefits. But she also has an audience of professionals who need continuing education credit. They need things to be certified and professionalized in a certain way. So those are different groups of people with different needs, and she has to create different courses to serve each of those needs appropriately. So it’s, first of all, identifying those different audiences, and then it’s really understanding the customer’s need in each audience.

So, for example, she talked about how for many of her professional clients, they see her courses as actually an alternative to getting a master’s in counseling. Now, that’s really interesting because that opens up a big pool of people to go after as customers, but it also means that her job is to provide something that’s faster and less expensive than a traditional degree. And if she does that well, then she’s going to be successful. And so taking that same framework and looking at for people listening, what is your customers need that’s analogous to that, as you need to ask that question, what are my customers looking at my core set as an alternative to what? And are you providing that alternative effectively?

Ari Iny: Another aspect of that is, of course, just this piece around CEU. So for the professionals, for course creators out there who happen to be in a niche where there is some regulating body that requires people of a certain profession to get credits and so on, it is an interesting marketing path for them. So it’s absolutely not for everybody. And you need to be yourself, probably certified with whatever regulating body that is. But it could be really interesting and just something to keep in mind if you happen to be serving that kind of niche.

Abe Crystal: Yeah. She also described as like, following the trail of breadcrumbs to discover course ideas that work. And it just highlights the importance of going back to your customers or clients, even if that’s a small group initially, to really understand how do they get to you and what are they looking for, right? So those are deep conversations that you’d be having with anyone who’s in your current sphere of clients or people you work with to really talk to them in depth about, how did you hear about me? What were you looking for when you came to my website, or you came to my event, or however you heard about me? And then where is that leading to? Where do they want to go from there?

Ari Iny: One last thing at the end of what she was mentioning is just the idea, and it’s a reminder to everyone that, yes, absolutely, you can build your flagship course and create something big that you’re selling, and that’s a main portion of your business. But you can also use courses as lead magnets. She talked about how she was using a couple of her courses as a way to grow her list and basically grew it by increased her list size by 50% or more using these really powerful courses that are short didn’t take her a long time to put together, but were really timely for the people who were looking for them. And so it can be valuable to be on the lookout for opportunities for you to use courses just as a way to grow your list. Not necessarily even a way to make sales, but just to engage people.

Abe Crystal: Yeah, absolutely.

Ari Iny: And that’s all I had.

Abe Crystal: Great. Kathleen Adams is the director of the Center for Journal Therapy, which offers professional and personal development through live workshops, online courses, and live online conferences. You can find out more about her work That’s

Thank you for listening to Course Lab. I’m Abe Crystal, co-founder and CEO of Ruzuku, here with my co-host Ari Iny. Course Lab is part of the Mirasee FM podcast network, which also includes such shows as Once Upon a Business and Making It. This episode of Course Lab was produced by Cynthia Lamb. Post production was by Marvin del Rosario. Danny Iny is our executive producer.

If you don’t want to miss the excellent episodes coming up on Course Lab, follow us on YouTube or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. And if you’re enjoying our show, please go ahead and leave us a starred review. It really does make a difference. Thank you, and we’ll see you next time.