Balancing Act: Bronwyn Penhaligon on Life, Work, and Mental Health

In this interview, we sit down with Bronwyn Penhaligon, the founder of Penhaligons Applied Psychology. Bronwyn’s journey from a career in financial services to becoming a strategic psychotherapist is both inspiring and transformative.

Motivated by a desire to make a meaningful difference, Bronwyn has dedicated herself to helping professionals navigate the high-stress environments of their careers. Balancing her roles as a mother and a mental health advocate, she has made significant strides in supporting individuals with anxiety and burnout.

Bronwyn, can you share what inspired you to shift from financial services to becoming a strategic psychotherapist focusing on mental health?

My career change was driven by a deep need to genuinely make a difference in the world. When the COVID epidemic had us all locked up in our houses and we were terrified that catching it meant certain death, I started thinking about what I’d be remembered for if I too became a statistic. I clearly had a lot of time on my hands!

I reflected on what I cared about and saw learning about personality types, psychology and consumer behaviour had always been my ‘go to’ reading. However, I’d been in marketing my entire adult life and the idea of spending months in a room digging through someone’s childhood trauma to try and find ‘the root of their problem’ didn’t appeal. The strategic psychotherapeutic approach is action-orientated, solution focused and the fastest way people can get out of problem space.  

It made sense to start in the financial services industry as I’d had a front-row seat to observe the supreme amounts of pressure prevalent. I’d worked with brokers, business owners, lenders and aggregators – I genuinely understood the issues and challenges that came with the territory. 

You’ve made significant strides in your new role. Could you tell us about a particularly rewarding experience you’ve had while supporting industry professionals with anxiety?

It may seem cliché, but I firmly believe the success I’m having is driven by the fact I absolutely love what I do. I’ve supported people to change careers, embark on new relationships, discover a love for public speaking and level up in their workplaces. I’ve even had the privilege of making life-saving interventions. Every interaction with every client who entrusts me with their ‘bucket of crap’ is rewarding. 

What are some of the common challenges you encounter when working with professionals in high-stress environments, and how do you address these?

Sometimes when we think we have a mental health problem it’s actually a valid response to environmental factors. It doesn’t make sense to blame a plant for not growing well if it’s in toxic soil… Context is important, so the first place I start working is with the individual’s degree of influence – ie, what’s their situation like now and what levers can we move?

However, the bulk of issues that I see in the clinic are the result of poor boundaries, communication breakdowns and ineffective coping strategies. My clients are usually on the verge of burnout, having relationship issues and/or using food, drugs and alcohol to placate discomfort. I spend time with my clients exploring their priority matrix, their ability to assert their needs and support them to make sustainable changes. 

In your journey to support others, what have been some of your key learning moments that have shaped your approach?

Being in a service business like this means I’ve had to really prioritise taking care of myself. The days I skip my morning dog walk or yoga session are more difficult than they need to be. If my diet is crap or I don’t get enough sleep because I chose to binge watch Grey’s Anatomy, my energy is low and my ability to be focused and effective in the clinic is compromised. Looking after the basics ensures I’m able to engage in the way I need to.

From a business perspective, I’ve discovered first-hand the value of coaching. Like a lot of people, my initial business plan was ambitious and totally unrealistic. Each month I’d look at the targets vs the actuals and feel like I was failing. My business coach helped me recalibrate my goals, and now holds me accountable to the strategy I set for myself. When you’re in business for yourself, by yourself, I think having someone like this is a must.

Being shortlisted for the Better Business Awards as a Mental Health Advocate must have been an exciting moment. How has this recognition influenced your work and visibility in the field?

I was four kinds of excited to be shortlisted for that award. Having my efforts recognised in this way showed me that the industry is ready to move from talking about mental health problems to taking action to support them. Putting on a cupcake day in September and offering a gym subscription to staff is a good start, but actually facilitating access to therapeutic interventions is what really changes lives.

Being shortlisted also provided me with more opportunities for speaking events – which really help to elevate and amplify the message that mental health matters. It’s enabled me to speak with people who are motivated to implement programs to support their staff, and the industry at large. 

Looking forward, what are some of the exciting projects you are developing, and what impacts do you hope they will have?

A lot of people still hold onto the stigma and I’m doing as much as I can to shift that. I’ve added a few passion projects to my worklist that will further extend my reach and add weight to the importance of taking care of your mental health. I’m fortunate to have connected with some incredible people in the industry who are equally invested in this area.

The collaborations we’re working on are set to advance the way we approach mental wellness – normalising how we all struggle from time to time, and providing a clear, actionable path to doing better. I’m incredibly excited to see the effect it will have in the industry.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.