Despite our best efforts, it’s virtually impossible to be in private practice for 20 years without making a mistake or two and occasionally having regrets concerning your choices at work.
Therapists are human.
Recently, I stumbled across Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche‘s teaching on “the mishap lineage,” the practice of using misfortune as steppingstones toward spiritual growth . . . .
This teaching reminds me of what I learned a long time ago . . . that imperfection is not a failure . . . but failing to learn from your mistakes is a failure.
I’ve had more than one opportunity to learn from my mistakes over the last 20 years and I’m betting you have, too.
Here are the first (and biggest) 3 mistakes I made starting out in private practice . . . .
- Not setting up systems with my future busy practice in mind,
- Not realizing that clinical skills would not be enough to build and sustain a private practice, and
- Not investing in me and my business from the very beginning.
Habits and Systems in Private Practice
It was simple when I started out in private practice with only 1 client to spend oodles of unstructured time on the phone with potential clients.
I had all the time in the world to write up a handout or think about how I wanted to follow up with a referral source when I had just 3 or 4 clients.
But, as my practice continued to grow, one day I woke up and realized just how many times I was reinventing the wheel, duplicating my efforts, and wasting my increasingly valuable time.
It’s harder then . . . a year or ten down the road to erase old habits and implement new systems .
It’s like learning to write with your non-dominant hand at 50 years of age!
But that’s exactly what I had to do because I didn’t think and plan out far enough ahead.
Even if you have only 1 client, now is the time to establish the habits and create the systems you are going to need once your practice is ridiculously full.
More Than Just Clinical Skills
It also never occurred to me when I hung my shingle out that I needed to know much of anything beyond clinical skills.
My naive assumption was that as a new therapist I would hang out my shingle and the clients would come.
As I’ve mentioned before, if you have no training in entrepreneurial businesses and no one modeled the entrepreneurial way, there’s a strong possibility that you may be making that very same mistake as you begin your practice.
I waited and waited far too long but the clients never did show up . . . until I learned what I needed to learn about the business of private practice.
If your clinical skills are sufficient and you’ve hung your shingle out in the wind only to watch it get more action than your telephone, it’s time to take a look at what it is you don’t know . . . and make the commitment to learn it.
You need a plan to get that phone ringing.
You need to know how to start and grow a business – just like every other entrepreneur out there.
Just because you have placed yourself out in the world to do good doesn’t mean anyone else knows about you or your business.
And, it doesn’t mean anyone else really cares.
You can learn about the business of private practice and how to get potential referral sources to care in lots of different ways.
There are books to read, blogs to subscribe to, people to interview, podcasts to listen to, videos to watch, classes to take, and mentor-coaches to hire.
Decide what combination is going to work best for you.
If slow and steady is your game plan, then you can absolutely learn on your own.
And, if your plan is to grow your practice more quickly, then enlist the support you can afford as you are able.
But, what you cannot do is rely on your amazing clinical skills and training and forego the business skills if private practice is your calling.
Self-of-the Therapist – Invest in You
And, certainly, this is the mistake that embarrasses me the most – refusing to invest in me and my business.
I say “refusing” because although I didn’t feel like I had the time / money to invest in my business, I always had money to buy books, time to take trips to see family and friends, pick up a Starbucks whenever I wanted, and buy a new scarf or new plant to pot up.
What I seemingly “never” had time or money to invest in during the early years of private practice was the physical and personal infrastructures for my business.i.e. proper telephone systems, software, etc. or in my own personal and professional support i.e. legal and clinical consultations, my own therapy, business coaching and classes, etc.
The truth is that not making those investments cost me time in ramping up to a full-time practice.
That, in turn, made me question often what I was doing wrong.
And, all of that cost me money, time, and confidence that, in turn, affected my effectiveness as a clinician and a business woman.
I’m wondering . . . what were your first mistakes that, in turn, have impacted your clinical or business practice . . . and what lessons can you pass on to mental health professionals that are coming behind you?