Here comes summer, and we all know what that means. Our practices take a downturn as people focus on vacations, time with the kids, their gardens, etc., etc.
Before I entered this profession several decades ago, I remember reading the book August by Judith Rossner and getting the message that August was when psychotherapists usually were gone a lot, even took the whole month off, because so many of their clients were also gone.
So, I kind of expected the same once I launched my own private practice.
Boy… was I ever off base!
August turned out, and still is, one of my busiest months. (I’ve sometimes wondered if that’s explainable because so many other therapists are gone that I’m one of the few available to call?) And, actually, the whole summer is a happening time professionally for me.
Expecting a summer slump thus seems like another example of a myth that we can buy into. And then even create that reality. The good news is that when my reality challenged that myth, I paid attention to that reality instead. You’ve probably read and/or heard me talk about the importance of a belief in the world being an abundant place.
Sometimes we can get surprised by where and how Abundance shows up, and, if we’re not careful, discount it, and even insist on our scarcity belief. And then the Universe will comply.
I encourage you to welcome Abundance however and whenever it shows up in your life. Give it a big hug and adjust your beliefs accordingly.
Now I’m not saying that there isn’t an ebb and flow in our client base over time. I think that’s true of any business. It’s where we got the cultural expression and label “Black Friday” for example – that day after Thanksgiving (when we’ve spent a day being grateful!) when retailers cheer that their profit and loss statements are finally in the black, thanks to holiday shoppers.
But the timing of that ebb and flow will be different across businesses and professions, and even across the same profession for different people.
My slow time is in January. And that’s been the case for more than 20 years. I annually take the last two weeks of December off. I learned early in my practice that I might as well be on vacation then because my daily schedule looked like swiss cheese, it had so many holes in it. Clients were just too busy with holiday purchasing and partying to keep their appointments, except for those who found the holidays especially difficult emotionally. Someone was on call for them.
And then in January, the clients who were near completing their work with me would often find that they did well or well enough over the holiday break to call a halt to our work together. It had been like a trial time for them, and if it went well, we would do our termination session or sessions. And by the end of January, I would often have several openings.
Now this is where learning to trust Abundance really gets tested.
During the first few years of being a therapist, if my voicemail didn’t start to have new client messages on it pretty quickly, I would wonder if it ever would again. I love having the pace of a full practice (i.e, 30+ clients) and these gaps were minimally disconcerting, if not downright anxiety provoking.
Learning to soothe those fears, remind myself that I was doing the work I was meant to do, and that I was good at it, became my coping mantras and required practice. After a few years, this January pattern became so repetitive that I learned to expect it, and I would even make plans for that quieter time.
These down times happen for everyone. Baseball players who are great hitters don’t hit .300+ every time they are at bat. That’s why it’s called an average! And even that game has learned that an on base percentage (OBP) is more meaningful overall. How often a hitter gets on base – via walks, hits, hit by pitches – counts. He only has a chance to score once on base.
And when a batter hits a slump – i.e., can’t get a hit if he could buy one – he doesn’t give up on himself or the game. Unlike rookies, once you’ve played the game long enough, you know that you will get back on track again. Meanwhile, you work at it. You use the time to sharpen your game.
Hitters work with batting coaches to improve their techniques, they watch videos of themselves and others to see what they might be doing wrong, they take more batting practice – and – they spend time relaxing with friends and family.
I encourage you to notice over a year the ebbs and flows of your practice – and expect them. The ebbs aren’t an anomaly. They give us a chance to regroup, to sharpen some of our skills, to learn something new. Make plans to use that time on your practice, just as baseball players do on their game.
Since we don’t typically know how long that quieter time will be – days, weeks, or even a month or two – I think it’s best to have a list (actual or mental) of things that you want to do “when I have the time.”
For me, this includes the following:
- Cleaning out client files – Moving the files of clients who have completed therapy to the “former clients” file drawers or cabinets; setting up new files for clients whose files have become huge over time and unwieldy;
- Check on and update bios, profiles on Psychology Today, LinkedIn, etc. – Over the life of our profession, the areas or populations we work with change. It’s important to be speaking to prospective clients in ways that reflect those changes;
- Rework our website(s) – Make sure they are also speaking our current professional truth and doing so in a way that talks well to prospective clients;
- Launch a new web site if we are ready to focus on a new niche; (By the way, it was during these down times that the Therapy Marketing Institute was born.)
- Check how well our marketing is doing – Where are our clients coming from? Are our current approaches working? Do we want to pay someone to analyze this for us?
- Network in new ways – Attend organizations or meetings that you haven’t had time for in the past. Make sure you take those business cards with you and aren’t shy about telling people you meet what you do. Remember they, or someone they know, need your help!
- Attend, and/or give, workshops, classes – Launch that group you’ve been thinking about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put plans together for a group – what the focus would be, even written a flyer about it, and talked to people to promote it – and then before I knew it, I was too busy again with new clients to make that group happen;
- Write articles that you can “syndicate” – I.e., submit to a number of blogs, websites, etc. It’s a great way to synthesize the work you do, and attract people to your website as well;
- And then there’s that book idea that’s been on the back burner so long, it’s getting crusty – Take another look at it. Can you make the time this year to really get into it – or do you just want to add some new thoughts or flesh out a chapter or two?
- Catch up on some of your reading – Most therapists are avid readers and our lists of books, articles, newsletters, etc., are long.
All of the above ideas are for the one or two longer gaps that you might have regularly in your practice. But most therapists also know that it’s practically a truism that the week you return from a vacation – especially if you’ve been gone at least a week – that your schedule of clients will have more holes. Consciously or not, clients let us know they weren’t happy with our absence and they want us to feel how it was for them. Expect this. It truly isn’t about you.
And there’s one last caveat. My experience has been that whenever I get really into some of the above items – like the group planning I mentioned – that’s exactly when the new clients start to cascade in and those former openings become a memory.
Let us know your questions, when your typical down times are, and what you do when you experience them by leaving a comment below. We look forward to hearing from you!