I’ve talked with you about Meetup groups as a resource for getting connected with your colleagues in North Carolina, Illinois, Arizona, Maryland, Colorado, and New York. But, what I haven’t talked to you about is how to set up your own Meetup group in your own backyard. Here’s an interview with my colleague, Valerie Montgomery, MA, LPC, NCC talking about how she took the initiative to set up her own Meetup group called Mental Health Professionals of Southern Colorado located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA.
Valerie: I started the Meetup group because of my interest in building community within and among providers of mental health services, students, educators, and allied professionals. Getting to know other professionals would naturally create helpful referral partnerships and create an understanding of what our community provides. I think of it as building friendly bridges which support the clients, the professionals, and the community in general organically. One of my friends happens to organize three Meetup groups and I asked her to assist me in setting mine up.
Tamara: How did you let therapists know about your group?
Valerie: I already had many networking colleagues and friends from the local area. As I work with counseling programs in the southern half of Colorado I invite them as well. When I am in a professional setting Meetup just happens to come up. :o) Once I got my Meetup set up, I planned the first meeting. Then I sent emails with the link to folks in my area of influence. I also posted the first one on Facebook, though I haven’t done that with any subsequent ones.
Tamara: What else did you do to publicize your group?
Valerie: I printed business cards for our group for members to pass out to others in the field. My Twitter feed is set up to go to my Facebook page. This helps when I post information about the group.
I also have a photo of our Meetup group sitting in my office so other mental health professionals s who haven’t come to the group yet can see my office. I want to be familiar with many mental health professionals so they feel comfortable using me as a resource and a referral source in the community. On the Meetup site I was able to “tag” the subjects in the photo for identification. Again, that is to help members familiarize themselves with those they have not yet met.
Tamara: How often do you meet?
Valerie: We meet most of the months of the calendar year. My group alternates months of having our Meetup in the daytime and the next month in the evening. That way Mental Health Professionals in agencies may be able to attend after they get off work. I also tell colleagues about the group whenever I can and add value at the meetings.
Tamara: That’s a really creative way to do your scheduling to accommodate the maximum number of people! I’ve not heard anyone else do that. So what happens at your meetings?
Valerie: We have a networking time when we mill about and introduce ourselves to those we do not yet know. We also warm up other established relationships. I tend toward the organic approach toward group function. I want the group to meet the needs of the members. So, I offer open-ended questions and suggestions for what the members would like to see happen in their group.
At one of our meetings we all made a Bridge drawing to demonstrate how a counselor may easily assess a young (or not) client’s feelings of attachment. I read an exercise to the group as they used crayons to create their bridges. I had the exercise typed up for them to take with them. Afterwards, I took a photo of the group members with their pictures and posted it on the Meetup group website. I also posted it in the “File” section of our Meetup website. It turned out very well.
Tamara: Do you ever have speakers come to your meetings?
Valerie: Yes! At another one of our meetings, I had the Executive Director of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance [in Colorado Springs] come to speak about their organization. We can give his organization as a resource for clients as non-professional support.
We recently had a medical biller create and present a two-part meeting on first, To Take Insurance or Not (the pros and cons), and the next month she talked about the actual Billing and Coding portion. What valuable information! She even made a credentialling notebook for sale which is something she had never put together before we asked her to come.
Tamara: And, what’s next in your plans for Mental Health Professionals of Southern Colorado?
My next goal is to integrate the Counselor Education professionals. I have some contacts at the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, my alma mater, but would like to expand the reach toward the four plus programs in our area.
Tamara: I love the idea of bringing in community resources that both educate about their particular focus and also afford an opportunity for resourcing / networking!
What is the hardest part of hosting a Meetup group?
Valerie: Part of the struggle with reaching people is that some people are unaware of Meetup itself as a resource. I educate as I go and hope to expand organically, too.
Tamara: Are there other ways that a Meetup group can be of use to someone in private practice?
Valerie: Absolutely! I encourage members to post information / resources as a file under the “More” tab on our Meetup page. Those who are members can see what is available as local resources. We are our own Marketing group!
Even a recipe is in there by popular demand after our February meeting. (At that meeting Karen Teel from Cedar Springs Hospital catered most of the potluck. Jak Keeran brought ham and I made crockpot potatoes that were well received.)
I plan to upload to our File category a flyer that another therapist and I are putting together for later this year. We are calling it the Walking Wounded: Flourishing in Spite of Yourself. It will address Co-Dependency. This as an example of how Meetup can be used. After I drop the flyer in there, I can email members through Meetup and ask their help in distributing it.
Sometimes flyers with photos are too big for people’s computers to download or emails with attachments may go to Spam. This is a way members can help spread the word for each other like a marketing team.
Tamara: What advice can you offer to other therapists who are interested in setting up Meetup groups in their own area?
Valerie: One mistake I made at the beginning was scheduling my group to meet at the same time as the Denver Meetup. What I’ve discovered is to celebrate my uniqueness and those of my group. Hence, the alternating day/evening time of day.
Tamara: I can see how your willingness to think outside of the box to problem solve has really worked well for you and your group.
Valerie: A second challenge has been educating about the Meetup resource at all. Some people have not ever heard of Meetup. When that happens I share with them that it is an online resource for finding others who share interests with you with the ultimate goal of meeting in person. For example, I am in personal Meetup groups (ballroom dancing and singles’ groups) and business-related groups such as networking. I tell people if you like to play board games you could probably find others who might like to play board games too. Does that make sense?
Tamara: Yes, it does! And, I remember when I thought that Meetup was only about keg parties and finding dates! In the beginning, I hadn’t given any thought at all to the possibilities. Now, I not only see it as a resource for my business, but also a resource for my clients. I have referred clients to Yorkie and small dog meetups, artists’ meetups, engineers’ meetups, religious meetups, etc. It’s an amazing resource for communities around the globe!
Valerie: Some of the folks who come to my group have not joined Meetup. I email or invite on Facebook, too.
Tamara: Oh, that’s really smart . . . to advertise it in other social media and face-to-face venues, too. Until it gets well-known in a particular area, a therapist may need to advertise in lots of different places!
I hear you talking about all the work you have put into this Meetup for your colleagues’ benefits and I’m wondering . . . how has this Meetup benefitted you?
Valerie: Getting to know others in my field helps me to feel supported and surrounded with like-minded, healing professionals. I have natural referrals sources which supports my ethical practice with my clients. Recently one of my clients had a family member with a counseling need. It was simple for me to refer to a best-fit counselor because I knew several who would be a great therapist for this particular family member. And, I have found that this has worked out this way.
Tamara: And, is there anything else that you can think of that might be of use to another therapist setting up his / her first meetup?
Valerie: Try not to make it more work than you want or can support. Try to keep it reasonable so you don’t burn out with setting it up. Being excited about it is good, and you want it to be sustainable, too. Realize that members may not know how to use the Meetup website or cannot keep up with their profile. If a counselor is tech-interested and a face-to-face type person they will make it a priority to attend.
Tamara: Thank you, Valerie for sharing your time and your efforts to help connect and support counselors in southern Colorado!
If you are interested in finding a Meetup group near you, click here. And, if you are interested starting your own Meetup group, click here. And, either way, make sure you let us know about any of the Meetups that you know of that would benefit mental health professionals in private practice!