Nicolette Sweeney, a Brooklyn native, is as passionate as she is creative. Though she is now a successful and sought-after couples therapist, the once-upon-a-time hip-hop dance teacher got her start in the South Bronx as a student mentor. Her purpose? [She] “wanted to give kids a reason to show up.”
On the outside, her bright personality shines through her big smile and curly hair. She will quickly grab your attention with her energy which is witty and funny. Frankly, she has a heart so welcoming that it’s almost impossible not to smile around her.
She uses these strengths to nurture the relationships of her couples, and she describes couples therapy as a success “whether or not things work out, [because] the personal reflection you are forced to do while in a relationship – and in couples therapy – is profound with a high likelihood for rapid growth.”
Her goal for you as your individual and couples therapist? She wants you to make sure you are “feeling and expressing moment-to-moment curiosity, acceptance, and validation… that [you] are really seeing how important the experience is for you and your partner.”
Ultimately, Nicolette wants her patients to learn through her experiences, so she teaches what she knows – and she continues to fuel her passion for couples therapy with curiosity, education and growth through life’s daily lessons.
While interviewing Nicolette, the energy immediately goes from business to belly laughs, nostalgic feelings, and an overall sense of deep connection. Her energy quickly sets the tone – making you want to be more positive, more engaging and more eager to learn.
Interviewer: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me, Nicolette! I am excited to get to know more about you, so if you don’t mind, let’s jump right in.
Nicolette: Thank you for doing this! Ready when you are.
Interviewer: So, where are you originally from?
N: I’m from Brooklyn, New York!
That’s a long way away. How did you end up in the Bay Area?
N: Originally, I moved to the Bay Area to get my master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and Expressive Arts Therapy, but the real reason may have had something to do with love… [Laughs]
Did you always know you wanted to help people?
N: The way I lived my whole life, even when trying to become a designer, was through altruistic practice. I was originally in fashion, and I went to undergrad [the first time] for fine arts and fashion design. As I pursued fashion design, I found it less fulfilling than I had hoped. I saw less kindness, and I felt like I was only using one part of myself – the achiever part – and I had no outlet of who I am at the core – a peacemaker.
Sounds like you needed more meaning and connection…
N: I was born and raised in a Buddhist community, and from a very young age, I was involved in community building and peer support. My family had me very engaged in peace activities, so this [peacemaking] is my core.
What led you to become a therapist?
N: I decided to drop fashion altogether. I dropped art, too. I needed a break from it all, and I sort of accidentally fell into my chosen field.
That’s a big accidental life and career change. [Laughs] How did it happen?
N: I ended up getting a job with a company, The Leadership Program, in New York City that hires teaching artists to go into schools with the highest levels of violence and lowest grades. The goal was to connect children to education through the Arts. I wanted to give kids a reason to show up.
Do you think your passion for teaching led you to your passion for couples therapy?
N: Absolutely. I started teaching early. When I was a kid, I would teach hip-hop dance to kids within the Buddhist community. It came into play when I started working with The Leadership Program in the South Bronx. I ended up becoming an amateur therapist. When teachers and principals would both send their students to receive counseling from me, I realized I had a passion for this. I decided to go back to school – even with no interest in doing so [laughs] – with courage attained from my counseling experience with my students. Fast forward, I ended up in the Bay Area at CIIS, and the rest is history.
So, how long have you been a therapist?
N: Besides my unofficial experience in New York, I have only been a therapist for 6 years! In fact, I have only been licensed since 2017, but I was an associate therapist for 5 years prior to that.
Was there a point where you realized that your therapy practice fuels you just as much as it does your patients?
N: While in practicum at California Institute of Integral Studies, I was part of a team that created a social-emotional learning program and therapy groups for elementary school students at Glide’s FYCC; I expanded into individual, family and group therapy with children. It led me to spend a year at The Homeless Children’s Network; I really loved my work there. Though it could be tough, the thing about child therapy is, no matter how traumatized children are, they still want to play all the time. There is so much hope in children that I really get inspiration from to be more in the moment and resilient, as a person and a therapist.
What made you shift into couples therapy?
N: I had my first couple as an associate at Marina Counseling Center in 2014. After that session, I was hooked. I love how dynamic and active and fast-paced couples work is.
It sounds like you have taken a lot of time to focus on your personal journey and growth. How do you think this strengthens your ability as a couples therapist?
N: I have done my own attachment work in difficult relationships. Through these experiences, I have really learned how to regulate my own emotions, communicate and be with myself during the stressful moments of disconnection and conflict. All of my self-care and personal development has made my relationship with myself more secure. It has allowed me to successfully manifest a secure and joyful intimate partnership. Because of this, I look at couples counseling as a sacred, spiritual journey when two people can really transform as individuals and as a couple.
Do you think couples therapy is self-care along with relationship-care?
N: What I love most about couples therapy is that – whether or not things work out – the personal reflection you are forced to do while in a relationship and in couples therapy is profound with a high likelihood for rapid growth. It is beautiful to watch partners be each other’s puzzle piece; they hold up mirrors and reflect the weaknesses and strengths in one another. It helps the individual look at their own self and know who they are.
If you could pick one piece of advice to tell every couple in the world, what would it be?
N: Try to find some kind of practice, some kind of activity, something that helps strengthen your ability to be with your own experience (emotionally, cognitively, somatically, etc.). It’s common for us to either act out emotionally or rationalize our way out of a distressing emotion, bottling it up until it bursts out at the most inopportune times. This is usually at work in a couple’s negative interaction cycle. The more awareness we have around our own emotions, the more we can slow things down in the moment and be less reactive and more considerate of our partners. This gives us the best chance of getting our own needs met.
What would you say to each individual?
N: The same thing! This is the path to showing up and being there for ourselves. Ultimately, I believe this manifests, in our environment, others who are capable of loving and supporting us the way we need.
We know therapy is your passion, but what really drives you? Are there other activities or hobbies you have that speak to your heart and motivate you?
N: When I’m not working a million hours [Laughs], I love to dance. I love to spend time with my sweetie; we’ve recently started cooking more together which has been really nice. I try to go on hikes or camp when the weather permits. To be honest, with owning my own business, I often find it hard to make time for my own self-care routine. I want to take the time to do more art and practice another language – currently brushing up my Italian!
What practices do you offer yourself to stay present and in the moment?
N: I have a Buddhist practice with chanting meditation that I practice daily and do Pilates to stay connected to my body and feel strong. This is very important for my ability to stay present. In my counseling sessions, I offer brief guided meditation at the start, as a way to transition from our busy fast-paced lives into the therapy room. That practice really helps me stay present throughout the day and connect more deeply with my clients.
If you could spend one day anywhere in the world, where would it be?
N: [Laughs] Rome! This is the thing, there are so many other places I want to go! But, if I had one day, it has to be Rome – or maybe Bora Bora. I mean one day? That’s a tough one.
Cats or dogs?!
N: Cats, because of how clean and self-sufficient they are. I’m an only child, so I appreciate independence.
Your favorite food? Why?
N: Pizza. I’m from New York! [Laughs]
You finish your last session of the day, and you step outside the office and find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
N: Well, I would – 10 million? – I’d take off traveling for about 6 months. I’d go for longer, but I’d not want that big of a break from my patients – I really love what I do! What would I do? What can you get for $10 million? I could buy a home? No, I would just travel the world. That’s the only thing I want to do.
Do you have anything else you’d like people to know about you?
N: I want people to know that I have worked very hard on my own issues. I have experienced firsthand the security and acceptance you can develop within yourself and relationships, even if you’ve never had that experience before. You can change your relationship karma. I can relate to the emotional pain that can come with conflict within relationships, but I can also feel and hold the hope. I firmly believe that our efforts for healing, personal growth and exploration are never wasted.
Nicolette has been a TCC Couples Therapist since mid-2017. Before joining our team, she held her practicum hours at Glide Family Youth and Child Center, and she held associateships at the Homeless Children’s Network, the Edgewood Center for Children and Families, as well as the Marina Counseling Center.
If you would like to read more about Nicolette, you can find her bio here. If you would like a consultation with Nicolette, please fill out a form on our Contact Us page and specifically request that you wish to work with her in the “Other Comments” section.