This article has been written by Jude Fay who is an experienced psychotherapist practising in Co Kildare. She also supports other practitioners to establish and develop their practices. You can view more information here
When I started talking to therapists about the business aspects of their practices, I discovered that many of them had no idea what it means to be self-employed. Newly qualified therapists are often completely unprepared for the challenges they’ll face.
In my book, I identify six business aspects of therapy practice. Each of those pillars, as I call them, has three essential parts to it. They are:
- Information that we need to know
- Skills that we need to learn
- The internal aspects – our emotional responses and how they impact us.
The First Pillar – Owning Your Practice
This is about being willing to take responsibility for your practice as a business. If you have a car, you know that there are certain privileges and responsibilities that go along with being a car owner. You know you need to have tax and insurance for it, to put fuel in it, and keep it serviced, and you’ll need somewhere to park when you go home at night. In the same way, there are things that go along with being a self-employed therapist that you will have to take care of.
The Second Pillar – Knowing Your Practice
You need to form an idea of what sort of practice is right for you. There are lots of therapists, but each of them is different and so are their practices. Each has different values, experience and skills that shape their practice. The type of questions we must wrestle with include; the name, location and values of the practice, and the clients and work you are drawn to.
Finding the identity of your practice is a fluid process which evolves over time. As the practice grows your needs for it and from it will change. For example, you might start out working from a spare room in your home, but later you might decide you want your own place in town. Finding answers to these questions creates support for you.
The Third Pillar – Growing Your Practice
This is about attracting the clients you want. It’s about creating a flow of clients and of income. This is challenging for anyone who doesn’t come from a business background.
In psychotherapy, even though the turnover of clients is relatively slow, a flow of work is still important. Marketing your practice costs time, energy and money and you will need to think about how you can spend those resources in a way that will produce good results. I encourage you to try and find a niche or speciality, as this helps you to find both a firmer identity in your practice and to bring focus to your marketing.
It’s also helpful to think about the clients you like to work with. Knowing this will help you to market yourself too. While you might not specifically say, “I like to work with people who are engaged in the work,” or “I like to work with people who take responsibility for themselves,” clarifying this for yourself before you set out to write content for a website or brochure will support you in describing your practice in a way that enhances the likelihood of attracting clients that are a good fit for you. Becoming aware of and exercising your personal preferences will help you to avoid burnout.
The fourth pillar – Managing Your Practice
Here, we need to put in place procedures and processes to support us, such as appropriate financial and client records. We also need a practice structure that supports us; working on our own or in partnership with other people. Just as a baby has certain needs, so too does a practice. We need to ask what does our infant practice need? Then plan and act accordingly.
At the fifth pillar – Minding Our Practice
Here we look at managing business risks by creating appropriate boundaries. We need to support our risk-taking, by ensuring that we have appropriate supervision, insurance, and self-care. We also need a network of people who can speak our language and support us, and to pay attention to taking sufficient breaks and making sure we’ve got adequate financial reserves to afford them.
The sixth pillar – Valuing Our Practice
This reminds us that while we are in our job to serve the needs of our clients, we can’t ignore our own needs as well. This is about self-worth and translating that self-worth into action. This may be attending to our clients, taking time off or charging an appropriate fee for our services.
Starting a practice is a challenge for most. It’s worth taking the time and space to find out what works for you. Break it down into manageable steps. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, then something is being triggered and needs to be addressed. Commit yourself to the process and surround yourself with people who will remind you to be kind to yourself and who will love you and support you in your journey.
I’m a practising psychotherapist in County Kildare in Ireland and a chartered accountant. I bring my business background to the support of my fellow therapists to help them with the business side of establishing their practices. I’m the author of “This Business of Therapy: A Practical Guide to Starting, Developing and Sustaining A Therapy Practice,” available from Amazon. You can view my website here, and I offer a free 20-minute consultation as well as coaching and workshops.