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Celebrate Your Successful PracticeCelebrate Your Successful Practice and Please, No Apologies!

I recently met with an MFT intern regarding marketing, and how to set up his private practice once he becomes licensed. He is unusual in several ways.

First, because he was taking the initiative to talk to as many successful people in this field as he could prior to licensure. Most people in the business world who are planning to open a business do just that. They talk to other business owners in their field – whether restaurant owners, retailers, or dentists. They collect information, ask a lot of questions, and learn what they can – even without an MBA. But I’ve rarely experienced that in the mental health profession.

However, this intern was unusual in another, even more important, way…

He expected to be successful. To build a thriving practice and to make a good income. Now, he was coming from years in the high-tech world, where success is what it’s all about. But he saw no reason that success – helping a lot of people and making a very good income – had to be at odds in the mental health world.

Is this because of his corporate background? Because he was male?

Perhaps both factors play a part in how he thinks about success in this work. Maybe there’s more to it…

I also come from the corporate world – initially as an admin (or “secretary” as it was termed then) in a large corporation, and then later as a journalist for a major metro daily newspaper. Neither of those worlds apologized for making money, for doing well. Success was a sign of getting it right – offering consumers something that they wanted.

And then I fell in love with psychology. I envisioned one day having my own practice, my own office, setting my own hours – all while doing work that I loved. Plus, I would no longer have to struggle financially. And I had been doing that for years, after leaving a high-paying job as a newspaper editor and signing up for grad school debt, while only working part time so I could get my master’s and cross off those 3000 intern hours. But I knew that one day it would be worth those dues.

What I hadn’t expected was that, in my new profession, celebrating success – even acknowledging it – was looked down upon. Woah? Say what?

When colleagues asked how many clients I saw per week and I (naively then) proudly said 35-40, sometimes more, the majority of the responses were some form of shock. “Really? How can you do good work for that many people?” would even be asked outright.

At first I thought I WAS doing something wrong. I felt guilty! And so I learned to not respond directly to that question or change the subject. I wanted to be accepted, of course, by my peers. I also wanted to help as many people as I could. And determine what that meant for me.

So, I stepped back and watched – myself. Was I doing good work? Obviously, or clients wouldn’t stay with me, nor refer their contacts to me. And they did. I typically have a waiting list. I also heard clients tell me they have learned more from me in a short period of time than they did from other therapists with whom they worked a lot longer.

Was I giving the best of me that I could to my clients? I see five clients in the morning from 9:00am to 2:00pm and then take a two-hour break before seeing the other five, beginning at 4:00pm. I make sure to get out of my office for lunch and to return in time for a 20-30 minute nap, which powers me up for the second set of clients. I also realized that I do better with momentum. If I have a few holes in my day – which tends to be more the case around the holidays or when I return from a vacation – the stops and starts are harder for me to accommodate.

I know that I am a high-energy person and so don’t feel drained at the end of the day. Just the opposite. Most of the time when I leave my office at 9:00pm, I feel charged and filled with gratitude for the work that I’m doing.

Bottom line, 35-40 clients per week works for me. Does it work for you? Only you can answer that question.

If I had small kids at home or wanted to teach or be involved in other activities that were as important to me, I might not have set up my practice the way that I have.

And before you think that my life isn’t balanced with work AND social, sorry… that’s not the case. I work four days a week. That gives me three others to do life maintenance tasks (shopping, doctor appointments, laundry, etc.) and get together with friends to share interests. I also travel at least two to three times a year. This year I’ve been to Chile, Russia, and the Grand Canyon on vacation. Plus I attended conferences in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. So far!

It’s a wonderful life. I’ve made it happen… AND I no longer apologize for it. In fact, I celebrate it.

I’ve come to learn several things in this journey from being silent about my success to celebrating it:

  1. How can I help my clients live happy and successful lives if I feel squeamish or ashamed of that?
  2. What’s “too much” success, money, or happiness? Shouldn’t each of us determine that for ourselves? To realize when our lives might be out of balance in one direction or another and take responsibility to realign?
  3. That if someone has a problem with my success, that is their problem. Not mine. And I truly have compassion for their limited approach to life.
  4. That I must be doing good work since my clients get better and move on, AND they constantly refer others to me.
  5. That my practice is always full because I do good work. Nobody patronizes a business if they don’t get what they want or need – at least not for long.

And drum roll, please, for number…

  1. That the world is an abundant place with more than enough clients who need help to fill the practices of all called to do this work.

I think I’m starting to get referred to in my local professional world as “the abundance lady” and that’s fine by me. What a great modifier!

The intern that I referred to at the beginning of this article comes from a similar belief system. He said that he’d been appalled by other clinicians, licensed or not, who felt that if someone were making a really good income, somehow they were benefiting from people’s distress and problems. So, does that mean it would be better to let them just struggle? Or to not show them what else is possible? I think that would be the real travesty.

Whether we like it or not, clients look to us for role modeling a better life. They often give us way too much credit – i.e., that we don’t have any problems! But we can do reality checking there as needed.

So… back to abundance. What does that mean? What do you want it to mean? I’ve described what it means for me.

One approach (but only one) is to use numbers to quantify abundance. What are your numbers?

How many clients do you want to see per week? What’s your energy level? Do you want to do other professional activities besides seeing clients?

How much do you want to make per year? Do the math. If you charge $150/session (an easy multiplier, although I charge more) and you see 40 clients per week, that’s $6000 per week. If you work 48 weeks per year (take four weeks of vacation), that’s an annual gross of $288,000. Yes, you can attain that!

I hope you aren’t thinking what a lot of others have also accused me of – that I’m just in it for the money, whereas they are in the profession to primarily help others. There is no conflict here! I do get my buttons pushed by people who think I can’t possibly be generous if I also take care of me. The truth is that I can be even more generous because I make a good living.

I see a client pro bono and have for years. I also see four to five others at a sliding rate. And I contribute to many charities and political organizations.

Many corporations also know this – whether it’s the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation that contributes billions or Apple, Intel, HP, or others who do the same. Their success makes large giving possible.

No one has a monopoly on generosity and those who see the Universe as having limited resources are the ones, in my experience, who are more likely to feel pinched by giving. Whereas those who come from an abundance mentality see giving as a win-win, a natural expression of that belief.

I’ve heard colleagues who lament our approach to making a good living call it “the poverty mentality.” I prefer to talk about a belief in abundance. To shift people’s mindset to a positive.

This is about celebrating when we do well. No one has become a success in this profession without a lot of hard work, study, long hours, and passion.

There are no legacies here. It’s not a profession where a father or mother who’s an attorney passes along her client list to her daughter. Yes, that can happen in this profession, but by the time someone is ready to retire and are looking for therapists to “bequeath” their clients to, they aren’t likely to choose a newbie clinician. Their current clients are going to expect a high level of experience and expertise. And you only get there by paying your dues.

So when you do get there – and I do mean WHEN – celebrate your success proudly, as well as that of your colleagues. We are helping people live better lives… including ourselves. What’s not to celebrate?

What do you think? Are you ready to create the abundant practice and lifestyle you deserve? Let us know by leaving a comment below. We look forward to hearing from you!

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