Investing valuable resources in a family business without attending to the emotional health of the family is like building a priceless empire upon a bedrock of sand. Over time, the business won’t have the necessary strength to support itself.

– Suzanne St. John Smith

Meet Suzanne

Suzanne St. John Smith, M.A. (Comms.), M.A. (Psych.), CCC, FEA has had the privilege of helping families, couples, and individuals resolve their relationship challenges for over 15 years. She’s built two successful private practices: first, in Ottawa; and then, since 2010, in Vancouver. She is the author of two books: a children’s book (but equally relevant for adults), “Willy Earns His Wings”; and, “Shedding the Myths We Grew Up With.”

Suzanne is a designated FAMILY ENTERPRISE ADVISOR™ (FEA), and, as such, she works directly with business families, or in collaboration with multidisciplinary teams, to address issues associated with communications; family relationships; inherited wealth; governance; succession; and continuity. She is also a member of the Family Enterprise Xchange (FEX), which is the national organization for Family Enterprises and their advisors.

Suzanne has facilitated a number of workshops and presentations throughout her professional career, which includes topics such as relationships; conflict avoidance; parenting; addictions; eating disorders; mid-life issues; and has facilitated workshops based on her book, “Shedding the Myths We Grew Up With”.

Prior to her career in advising, coaching, counselling, and speaking, Suzanne worked as a management consultant in the Vancouver office of the ARA Consulting Group (now part of KPMG).







    • FAMILY ENTERPRISE ADVISOR™ (FEA), post-graduate program developed through a partnership between UBC’s Sauder School of Business and the Family Enterprise Xchange (FEX).
    • M.A. in Counseling Psychology, the Adler School of Professional Psychology, Chicago, Il.
    • M.A. in Communications, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ont.
    • B.A. in Arts, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C.


     Professional Memberships

    • The Family Enterprise Exchange (FEX)
    • The Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI)
    • The Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (Certified member)




    “The most critical issues facing business-owning families are family-based more than they are business-based issues.” – John Ward

    When working with business families, Suzanne’s goal is to help them deal with the unique, complex, and, at times, stressful dynamics associated with being a member of a business family. She remains aware that, unlike non-business families, members of business families are required to juggle several different roles simultaneously: family member; business owner, and, often an employee of the family business. She also understands that the ways in which these complex roles are navigated by individual members of business families can have long-term consequences for the future generations of the family, and also for their family

    Her work includes facilitating insightful and meaningful dialogue between family members for the purpose of building stronger connections; to deepen trust; and to create an atmosphere of mutual respect, honesty, and support among family members, all of which are aimed to increase the emotional health of the entire family.

    She offers family member’s effective tools to deal with inevitable periods of conflict and/or relational stress in order to ensure that the foundation of their family business – the family itself – remains strong over time.

    When Suzanne is invited to work with a business family, she works with the entire family. However, sometimes one-to-one consultations with individuals within the family are both necessary and useful. But, even under these circumstances, Suzanne maintains her commitment to the larger unit, the family, to avoid offering advice that might prove detrimental to the short and long-term goals of the business families with whom she works.

    Guiding Principles

    The work Suzanne conducts with families is guided, in part, by Family Systems Theory, a concept of families originally developed by Dr. Murray Bowen. The following are some of the key principles that underscore his theory:

    Families are viewed as ‘systems’ and, much like other systems, individual parts (members of the family) are
    intended to work together to create an efficient and effective ‘whole’.

    When one or more persons within the system experience stress, the entire system is inevitably affected (consider how a mobile is affected when only one part is touched).

    Families work together to resist change in order to maintain the original system, even when the system is unhealthy.

    Individual members of the family cannot be understood in isolation, but only within the context of their entire family.

    Members in a family system are interconnected and are “a cohesive emotional unit’.

    There are typically ‘over-functioners’ and ‘under-functioners’ within a family system.

    The level of differentiation among family members affects the degree to which members can recognize and express their own emotions, beliefs, and thoughts separately from other individuals in the family system, especially when this might cause conflict within the family.

    Family members develop ‘triangles’, or coalitions, with other members in the family system in order to manage the stress they experience when they choose not to deal with conflicts directly.

    The ways individual family members cope with the stress they experience within the system can have detrimental impacts on the emotional well-being of the entire family (i.e., cutting off from one or more members of the family, either emotionally or geographically).

    Family Issues

    Examples of issues that business families often confront:

    • A lack of agreement among family members regarding principles or values established for the family business, for example, regarding the terms for the succession of the business to the next generation.
    • A resistance to committing to regular, structured, family meetings.
    • Communication between family members is inhibited due to a fear of conflict.
    • A lack of boundaries separating family roles from business roles (i.e., is he acting as my brother or my boss?).
    • Family dialogues are restricted due to one, or more, dominant personalities among family members.
    • Long-term, and unresolved, resentments among certain family members cause them to distance themselves from the family, or one or more of the members of the family.
    • Marital discord limits the ability of one or more members of the family to address issues that involve the entire family.
    • The behaviour of children in the family is entitled, disrespectful, and irresponsible both within the family system, and elsewhere.
    • Addiction or other mental health issues inhibit open dialogue among family members.
    • Rivalry among siblings undermine open dialogue between them.
    • The family is divided into ‘coalitions’ or ‘triangles’ due to current, or long-term, unresolved issues.


    Examples of strategies to address some of the issues listed above:

    • Assist families to develop a pattern of regular and structured family meetings with pre-set agendas (a shared responsibility among family members). The purpose of the initial meeting is to develop a ‘Code of Conduct’ that will address issues that have, up until this time, caused family members to be unwilling to participate in family meetings, including the need for creating an environment that encourages emotional safety for all participants.
    • Educate family members about healthy communication methods (i.e., active listening, paraphrasing, asking questions) that can build a foundation of openness, honesty, respect, and trust over time.
    • Facilitate open dialogue about potentially contentious topics that have been previously avoided due to fears of conflict, rejection, humiliation, or financial retribution.
    • Encourage and facilitate dialogues between ‘triangulated’ members of the family so they can deal with their conflicts directly with one another, as opposed to with a ‘mediating’ member of the family.
    • Provide education to the family about the negative impact conflict avoidance can have on family relationships, as well as on other areas of their lives.
    • Provide family members with methods they can draw upon when their fear of conflict arises, so they can begin to trust their own, and their family member’s, ability to handle the conflict.
    • Facilitate a family meeting that addresses concerns siblings may have about the succession plan for the family business, for example, about assumptions regarding their current, or future roles in the family business, or about the financial (and ownership) implications of their participation, or non-participation, in the business.
    • Consult with parents about setting age-appropriate boundaries, expectations, and financial limits for their children.


    For further information or to book a consultation, please contact me:

    Telephone: 778.990.0823

    Office Address:
    #200-1497 Marine Drive
    West Vancouver, B.C. V7T 1B8

    Click here for map.

    For individual and couples counselling click here.