Black Owned: Marilyn Devonish, life coach and founder of TranceFormations™

Welcome to Black Owned, a series that celebrates the brilliant Black entrepreneurs doing bits in the UK.

Despite the challenges, the community continues to create important and brilliant work – and we’re here to make sure that you know about it.

This week, we’ve got Marilyn Devonish, founder of TranceFormations™ – a company specialising in different types of life coaching. At a time when wellness and success have never been more important, it’s so important to have Black professionals offering services in these alternative spaces. Whether it’s relationship coaching, tarot reading or hypnosis, representation matters.

What made you set up TranceFormations™?

It came about as the result of an unbelievable transformation in my life. I was studying to be a Chartered Accountant while at the same time going through both severe health challenges and a messy relationship break up after a partner had an affair- I was contemplating suicide. 

I ‘accidentally’ signed myself up for a personal development course, thinking that it’d help improve my communication skills as I was painfully quiet, shy, and lacking in confidence. As it turns out, I had signed up for what I called ‘weird stuff’ – so immediately tried to get a refund.

The company told me to come to the training and that if I didn’t get ‘massive value’ from it, they would issue a refund at the end. At this point, not only was I down several thousand pounds, but I was also hopping mad at wasting a week of my time. However, the rest as they say is history. I went in one end a complete skeptic and emerged the other side completely TranceFormed – hence the name.

Can you describe the kinds of work you do as a therapist and coach?

I used to be a relationship coach, public speaking consultant and magazine agony aunt, but in recent times, my focus has shifted more to working with business owners, entrepreneurs and executives who have hit a plateau and want help to level-up their performance. 

To do this, I run ‘Breakthrough Sessions’, which involve a four-stage process:

Stage 1 is about identifying the main problem/root cause and limiting beliefs; without doing that, the work can be surface-level and people can find themselves living Groundhog Day where the same old problems, patterns and cycles keep recurring. 

Stage 2 resolves the problem using techniques such as neuro-linguistic programming, hypnosis, emotional freedom techniques, past life regression and more. 

Stage 3 then installs new strategies and beliefs – what I call retraining the neurology.

Stage 4 sets the future pace where we set up new habits, beliefs, strategies, and behaviours. Typically for this, I use a combination of timeline therapy, future life progression, and maybe a soul plan reading. A Breakthrough Session takes approximately eight hours from start to finish.

When I first launched TranceFormations™ in 2001, I would do all the stages as one complete life-changing day. Now we often block the time and break it down into three-to-five sessions, depending upon how quickly the client wants to work.  Because the majority of my work has been online since 2005, the shorter timeslots also work will with transatlantic international sessions and provide what I call ‘incubation time’ in between.

Do you think there’s a need specifically for Black therapists?

A good therapist is a good therapist regardless of colour. In the training I’ve done, part of the process of becoming a therapist is working through your own stuff before you’re let loose on others.  If a therapist has fully embraced that process and done the work, they will have faced some of their own shadows, biases and prejudices.  It, of course, comes down to how willing people are to do that.  There is also something to be said for working with someone who isn’t ‘like you’ because when done correctly, it can provide a new perspective.

That said, the black experience is unique; just look at what we are seeing now in terms of the shock, horror, and utter dismay from many in the white community as their friends or peers speak out about their experiences of racism. It is clear from the reaction that many had no idea what being Black in a system not designed with you in mind means.  If there’s that much disbelief regarding everyday micro-aggressions, you might wonder how a therapist from a different background could empathise with and fully grasp the nuances of a Black client. 

When choosing a therapist, I always advise people to listen, feel, and trust their intuition. After checking their skills, qualifications and results, make sure that they demonstrate what I call the ’emotional and spiritual dexterity’ to handle the depth of work. You usually have an immediate sense after speaking to someone whether they ‘get you’ and have a proven track record in providing the results and outcomes you are looking for.

Is Black mental health something that’s addressed enough?

No! There are reports about the way Black women are treated in the healthcare system, with the assumption they have a different and higher pain threshold. There is also something similar happening to the Black community in regards to mental and emotional health and wellbeing. 

Many of us have had to ‘suck it up’ and get on with things because if you allowed every oversight or racist remark, every display of less than favourable treatment, you would literally be a nervous wreck. The resilience required to withstand what many people go through regularly is enormous and becomes part of daily life. Then, of course, you have the ‘strong Black woman’ stereotype which can lead us to believe that we have to do it all ourselves.

Before stumbling into that training room in October 2000, I didn’t know that it was possible to make such dramatic and lasting changes to the way I and others felt.  It was like stepping into a whole other realm or parallel universe. 

For the past 20 years, I’ve been talking about the need for ancestral and genealogical clearing and healing work because the impact of hundreds of years of slavery and oppression can get into our psyche. Many of the feelings people are experiencing now – the heaviness, hopelessness, frustration, anger, anxiety, turmoil, tiredness, overwhelm, rage, sense of injustice – can pre-date us. Now more than ever, I hope those being triggered recognise the importance of addressing any potential ancestral trauma.

Do you think that being a Black business owner has impacted your success in any way?

When I first got started, I was just excited because I was and still am passionate about helping people breakthrough and transform themselves to live a more limitless life. But I also realised that I was judged much of the time on how I looked rather than the content and quality of my work. As a result, I decided not to put a picture of me on my website because I wanted clients to decide whether to book a session or attend a workshop based on my results and qualifications.  

My suspicions were born out in glorious technicolour a year or so later.  A client arrived and was very uncomfortable at the start of the breakthrough session day. That’s not 100% unusual because people are often revealing and unburdening for the very first time, however, I could tell there was something more going on. About 30 minutes in, I asked if there was anything she wanted or needed to say before we got started. 

Her response was this: My dad is racist. My mum is racist, and I guess I am racist, and if I knew you were bBack, I wouldn’t have booked to come and see you.

At this late stage in the game – having blocked out the entire day and hired the therapy room – it would usually have been too late for a refund, however, after thanking her for sharing and being so honest, I offered two options and choices:

She went for door number two. This was in the summer. That December, a card arrived in the post. I didn’t recognise the handwriting but opened it and looked at the name in the bottom right corner. I still wasn’t sure who it was from. The left side of the card contained a letter. It was from the aforementioned client. She was no longer anorexic, bulimic, had stopped self-harming, given up drinking, and was back at university and achieving good grades. She closed with thanking me for helping to save her life. In that moment, I knew anything was possible and that belief and experience has underpinned the mindset I take into the mediation, diversity awareness, and conflict resolution work I do with corporations, the police, and gangs. 

I have achieved 360-degree turnarounds in standoff situations in as little as three hours and that client Christmas card experience is part of the process of how I achieve such results in record time.

Do you think that the Black Lives Matter movement making it easier for Black businesses to thrive? 

On the face of it, possibly – but it’s early days. Black people of a certain age were aware of the struggle long before the BLM movement and of the treatment that we’ve endured from the days of Windrush and before. Decades later, variations of the same issues and cycles still exist. 

The day I watched the George Floyd video, I felt this time would be different. I wrote a blog post back in 2014 called ‘I Can’t Breathe -The Racial Evolution That Needs to Be Heard’, in which I described the ‘next wave of evolution’.

I believe there is something pivotal about this moment in time. Will posting the black squares and talking about supporting Black business owners to help redress the balance magically change everything overnight?  No. Has the raising of consciousness among people who previously might have switched channels when racism was being discussed? I think so. When I saw the Amish out with their Black Lives Matter signs, I knew we had hit some kind of global turning point because they don’t come out for anyone -aside from the young people doing a reality TV swap.  Let’s be clear: we have come a long way in my lifetime but the world still has a very long way to go.

When I see myself and other Black business owners being hired and getting assignments that we have previously been overlooked or considered for, I will know it is easier for Black businesses to thrive.

What advice do you have for other women looking to set up their own business?

You don’t immediately need to give up your day job. Also, entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. Sometimes it’s better to start from where you are so that you can work out whether you are suited to running your own business while having the safety net of employment.

For those who are certain and have done their research and due diligence, go for it – but don’t try to do it all alone. Get a mentor or coach. Speak to those who have walked the path before you so that you can learn from their mistakes. Plan, read and research to ensure the market wants what you are offering, rather than creating something and hoping people will like it. 

Then, follow up. Chase contacts, offers and opportunities, and when a great opportunity is offered and you possess the skills to fulfill it, don’t second guess yourself – just go for it. 

What plans do you have for your business going forwards?

World domination! I already work globally because my coaching and therapy and training sessions have been available online since 2005. I feel as though now is also the time to physically travel with my work so Australia, America, and Dubai are on my radar – those are the countries who have most embraced services like my PhotoReading™ Accelerated Learning Workshops and more in-depth 3-6 TranceFormation™ Programs.

As a response to the ‘new normal’, I also plan to put more focus back on designing and delivering corporate training and workshops; I’ve been a Flexible Working Implementation Consultant for 17 years, which sees me going into organisations to design and implement flexible and remote working best practice and strategy

I’ve also got years of experience as a Leadership Development Trainer – working on resolving race and diversity issues, which the world is now calling out for.

One of my clients and friends recently asked what I needed and how she could support me. My response was to ask that if she saw opportunities for which I’d be a good fit, she could recommend me.

I am forever optimistic about the human potential for change and transformation, even though it often comes in a messy wrapping.

You can find out more about TranceFormations™ here and Marilyn’s flexible working site here.

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