I had the pleasure of sitting down with Bill Ward a few weeks ago and learn more about the personal experiences that lead him to be a Bay Area couples therapist. Bill is warm, engaging, and has a charm that can only originate from the deep South.
He is tall with bright blue eyes that are full of empathy and kindness, with a presence that makes you feel comfortable and safe as soon as he says hello.
Bill truly embodies love, and despite his struggles as a young man growing up in Mississippi during the Jim Crow era – a time many of us cannot begin to understand – Bill found himself desperate “to understand others” and wanting to know more.
He knew love was beyond what he was being taught, and he knew he “wasn’t fit for the box” that everyone else seemed to be okay with.
Although he was raised in a part of the country that is still often painted with discrimination, Bill knew “that each of us has a right to a clear voice, empathy, and self-understanding.”
He knew he wanted to work in the field of service, and he found himself volunteering any way he could – even standing on Skid Row in Los Angeles handing out sandwiches to those in need.
His career as a couples therapist seemingly started before he went back to school to pursue his masters in Counseling Psychology. He had been working in oil fields from the Gulf of Mexico and the Carribean to South America for about 8 years; oddly enough, during his time in the oil industry, he took the time to unknowingly read over 50% of the psychology books students are required to read throughout the entirety of his master’s program!
His passion lies in couples therapy, he finds it remarkable, motivating and exciting. Bill states that “[he] love[s] helping couples feel safe in expressing emotions; when couples feel safe, they grow their emotional bond so deeply.”
During his sessions, Bill sets the tone of authenticity and safety – just like he did while speaking to me like a lifelong friend and allowing me to look into the diverse and intimate history of his life.
Interviewer: Bill, this is such a pleasure for me. I am so excited to speak learn more about you! Tell me about yourself. Where are you from? How did you end up in the Bay Area?
Bill: My goodness [Chuckles]. I grew up in Mississippi and ended up in Los Angeles for many years. About 7 years ago, my spouse decided he wanted to move to the Bay Area, and so we did it!
I’m from the South, too! Did you have a culture shock when arriving in California?
B: I was so shocked by the South that I left, because of the lifestyle I subscribe to. I left 30 years ago and never looked back. It wasn’t a shock to move here, it was the best decision of my life. I finally learned acceptance.
Before therapy became your career, what did you do?
B: I’ve had a very varied career. I have a degree in music… that did not work out. [Laughs] I went to work in the oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico, South America and Carribean. For about 8 years, I worked my way to the top from the bottom – reading psychology books all the while. I still felt like I needed something more meaningful, so when I moved to LA, I started volunteering on skid row; I’ve handed out hundreds of sandwiches to those in need.
What pushed you to dive into therapy practice?
B: I had always wanted to be in a field of service. It kept calling me, so much that I volunteered as much as I could – anywhere I could, and finally, I decided to go back to school and get my master’s degree in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis on Depth Psychology. The whole time I worked my other careers, I had a calling to be a therapist. By the time I reached my graduate program, I had already read 50% of the required reading for the program. [Laughs]
Do you think your childhood shaped you to be the therapist you are today? Coming from the South, I know how discrimination affects us.
B: Absolutely! I have a twin brother; we couldn’t be more different. Even as a young man, even with everything I was raised around, I embraced the spiritual realm of love. In the South, you are taught that love is one thing, and that just wasn’t enough for me. Because I wasn’t a fit for the box, I desperately had to understand others… I just wanted to know more.
I grew up in the era of Jim Crow in Mississippi, and it [the discrimination] made absolutely no sense to me. It shaped what I believe – that each of us has a right to a clear voice, empathy, and self-understanding. It really has supported my ability to accept a broad range of patients.
What excites you most about working with couples?
B: Couples therapy takes a moment in time and helps a couple understand a pattern. As a couples therapist, I love helping couples feel safe in expressing emotions; when couples feel safe, they grow their emotional bond so deeply. It’s remarkable to me. I’ve done so much training, but I keep learning because I know how effective this work is – it’s exciting to me.
What drives me is sitting across from two people that have clear logic about why they feel the way they do, just sitting and hearing to two different stories, being able to tune in and listen, as well as help, is remarkable. I work on my skills to be a better therapist every day.
If you could pick one piece of advice to tell every couple in the world, what would it be?
B: When you find yourself in distress, slow down. Really try to have a feeling and understanding of your partner’s experience – whether you agree with it or not.
To every individual?
B: Relationships matter – they help us function and live our lives from a grounded place. The best hope I have for individuals is that they grow up with the love and support they need – and it’s not too late as an adult to find this from your own relationships.
We know healing and helping others is a passion of yours, but what drive’s Bill on the daily?
B: [Laughs] My work! I’m trying to change that, but I’m a bit of a work-a-holic, and I am personally driven by my passion for couples work. It probably comes from my own longing to have a secure and safe relationship with my family and friends.
What practices do you offer yourself to stay present and in the moment?
B: Meditation is, of course, a big part of staying present. I specifically follow the teaching of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj I love to workout and am avid about exercising. I really focus on my health and nutrition, because those things give me pleasure and leave me feeling nurtured.
If you could spend one day anywhere in the world, where would it be?
B: Montana! I’ve never been to Montana. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to go. I’ve been so fascinated, think it is absolutely beautiful, and it’s the one place I have always wanted to visit. [Laughs] I’ve been to Greece and England and Canada and Mexico, but not Montana!
If you could be one person of a day, who would it be? Why?
B: I just have to say… Obama or Michelle [Obama]. [Laughs] I would do it in a second. It would be incredible to understand them and be in their world for just a moment. I love them both. I love their charismatic empathy for others.
Do you have anything else you’d like people to know about you?
B: Oh, I don’t know. I would say that my heart remains open, accepting and respectful of people I agree with and disagree with.
Thank you, Bill. It’s always fun getting to chat with you. I look forward to our next conversation!
B: Thank you, Miranda. Hopefully, next time, I’ll be the one doing the interviewing! [Laughs]
Bill has been a TCC Couples Therapist since mid-2018. Before joining our team, Bill worked at Lincoln Families with middle school students and their families, and he was certified in Multidimensional Family Therapy. The program focused on attachment within families, as well as adolescents. Bill also worked with their programs supporting criminal justice for substance use, successful parenting, and family unification. Bill also assisted at The Boys and Girls Club of Pasadena working with patients suffering from depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Today, Bill still feels passionate about working with substance abuse, as well as recovery from depression and anxiety.