Wednesday, May 29, 2013

7 Steps To Freedom In Private Practice [Classic Beginning Counselor]

To celebrate the new blog location for Beginning Counselor, I've collected and updated some classic blog posts for you. Enjoy! 
A Guest Post By Dr. Deb Legge, PhD, CRC, LMHC

 7 Steps to Freedom in Private Practice, Beyond Dollars for Hours.

Most beginning counselors feel a bit overwhelmed with all of the responsibilities associated with our profession: Honing clinical skills, getting something out of supervision , finding a job, etc. If you came into this profession with your heart set on private practice, those things can really overtake your focus. You might even find yourself still longing for private practice decades from now, feeling as unprepared for that task as you did when it first crossed your mind in grad school.

Don’t let that happen to you.  No matter what else you are doing to take you to the top of your game as a clinician --  if private practice is your goal, be sure to continually work a plan to bring that goal to fruition.

Here are 7 things you can do to prepare for the day you hang out your shingle and become an entrepreneurial-clinician…

1. Develop healthy relationships with colleagues and potential referral sources.  These are your “customers” of the future.  These are the folks who will be sending clients your way, when you are ready.

2. Develop a niche (or two or three); become an expert; let everyone your know, know about your specialty and why YOU are the go-to person when it comes to that niche.

3. Identify people to call on for supervision when you are out on your own.  You might find a good supervision group of private clinicians, or you might find someone to work with on your own.

4. Start to develop a clear picture of what your practice will look like when you are ready.  Don’t forget the details – furniture, location, your ideal client.  If you can’t picture it, you can’t achieve it.

5. Keep a journal of brainstorming sessions where you write down ideas for groups, workshops, trainings, specialized therapies, etc. that will kick off your practice when it is time. Don’t discount any idea – you’ll have time to zero-in later on.

6. Learn everything you can about private practice and the business of counseling. When you go into private practice, you are starting a small business. You must be prepared and able to run a business if you want to succeed. Being a great clinician will not ensure you will have a thriving practice.  However, those who are not good businesspeople often have practices that struggle or fail.

7. Find a private practice mentor to help guide you along the way.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel.  If you find a good mentor, you’ll see that you’ve made a great investment that will pay off for years to come.

Originally Published 9/2/11

Isn't it time YOU decide how much you make? Click here to take charge of your career, one step at a time.

Watch the free video training, then come back here for the next step:

Ready to Get Paid In Private Practice? 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sliding Scale Secrets [Classic Beginning Counselor]

To celebrate the new blog location for Beginning Counselor, I've collected and updated some classic blog posts for you. Enjoy! 

Have you ever been asked by clients if you could offer them a sliding scale counseling fee...and had no idea what to say? 






There's something about that question that makes us all feel a little wishy-washy. We want to help. But we also know we have to pay our bills, and most of all be fair to all of our clients.

Why is this so hard to do? Well, it's awkward talking to clients about money, especially when you're not used to doing so. And it's rare for other agencies to publish their own formula for creating a sliding scale, so you don't have much to go by. Sometimes your supervisor may have a specific formula for how he/she wants you to do that, but sometimes they won't. And then you're on your own.

So what do you do?  

The only thing TO do - create a system of your own that's fair to the clients but at the same time meets your needs. Sound impossible? Nope, not if you ask yourself these simple questions!
  • What are the minimum and maximum fees you are comfortable charging? You don't want to make the price too low, or risk discouraging the client from taking the session seriously. You also don't want to charge as much as a licensed counselor would if you're not licensed, because you don't have the experience yet to justify it.
  • What fee increments will you be using? One example is starting with a specific fee and taking $10 off per hour for each $10,000/year the client's income drops.
  • What are your special exceptions, if any? Do they get a certain low rate if they are on unemployment, if they are a student, if they are on disability, if they have children they are financially responsible for, etc? 
  • How do you back up their statement of income? One way is to verify self-stated income reports by using the client's check stub or income tax form.

Once you decide your fee structure make sure you steel yourself against being persuaded to reduce it further. When you present any fee with some flexibility to it - like sliding scale - it's a natural human instinct for clients to try to see if they can get an even better deal. (I would be tempted to try to bargain it down in that position, too!) Resist. It does not make you a bad person to stick to the boundaries you've already set, especially if you're going by fair guidelines like the ones above.

To protect yourself against this, I would suggest giving yourself at least 24 hours to think it over before you reduce a fee further than the guidelines you have already established. If you still want to change after 24 hours, than it's probably a situation you should change. I bring this up because new counselors often struggle with guilt over charging a fee for their services. Don't. Can many other people do what you do? No. You deserve to earn a fair wage for your services.

A good sliding scale fee system benefits both the counselor and the client. The client gets the help they need at an affordable rate, and the counselor knows they're helping people but still making a decent living. 

If you use a sliding scale in your counseling practice, what guidelines to you go by? How do you deal with any guilty feelings that come along with it?

Originally Published 7/15/11

Recommended Reading: Building Your Ideal Private Practice: A Guide For Therapists And Other Healing Professionals. I loved it!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Guess What? Nobody Gets You.

At least this is what you might feel like from time to time as you begin to integrate into a graduate or intern community counseling position. (And regardless of what kind of counselor you call yourself, you are a community counselor as long as you work in a community.)

As counselors, we get referrals from doctors, hospitals, schools, law enforcement, churches, and more. Many, if not most of these groups will support us. But if asked, very few of them might be able to understand what it is you do.

Part of that is our own fault. In counseling, we tend to like the mystical and abstruse (ten points if you can define the word without looking it up) nature of our profession. It makes us feel special. But it's no good feeling special if no one really understands what you do.

When your community doesn't understand what you do, they might refer other people to you. But they can't SELL other people on what you do. I'm not talking about selling in the purely monetary sense, although that's nice too. I'm talking about turning referrals into bona fide converts. If they get can have that.

So, how do you get people to get you?

Know what you do.
Have you ever tried to define your work? Just because you can do a lot doesn't mean that that's what people want to hear when they ask you, "so, what do you do?" If you don't prepare, you'll be faced with a lot of "hrm...umm..." moments while trying to form a response. Not inspiring.

Break down what you know. What do you do best? What's the most important part of the counseling process to you? What's unique to your area? Take the whole, and look at the parts.

Prioritize what you broke down.
Say you're a play therapist answering the previous question. Maybe you say to potential referral sources: "My favorite thing about play therapy is first, giving the kids a voice to share what happened to them. After that, I enjoy helping give them words for their feelings." Simple and effective.

Find out what others do, and they will find out what you do. Alison Cohn of Brazos Valley Counseling Services was the only counselor to respond to my hello and take a meeting with me when I moved into the area and began looking to connect with other counselors. And because of that, I've been sending her agency referrals monthly (and some months, weekly) for over two years. Though the market for online counselors is somewhat smaller, when she finds someone who needs it, she does the same for me.

You are not only a counselor, you're also an ambassador for the counseling field. And you are well-equipped for the job!

What's one way you could explain your field to someone else (a potential referral source, a client, a newspaper reporter)? Write it down below, and we can learn from each other!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Who Moved My Blog?

It was over there....and now it's over here!

What the...??

Shift happens. :) 

While you will still be able to find your favorite social networking site, Beginning Counselor, at the same friendly address as before, I decided that you guys deserved more out of your Beginning Counselor Blog than the original site can now offer.

By moving the blog to Google Blogger, I can now offer you so much more:
  • Regular weekly posting because I can schedule posts ahead of time, even if I'm out of town or at work. 
  • Quicker responses to comments because I will actually be notified when somebody posts instead of relying on the trial and error of checking in every couple days. 
  • A dedicated email address just for Beginning Counselors:
  • The ability to follow my blog through Google Reader and share on Google Plus the blog posts you like.
  • The option to add me to your circles...if you so choose! 
IMHO, it's just better. 

What do you think? Your first new blog post should be coming in the next few days. In the meantime, look around, and let me know what you think! 

Can't wait to hear from you!

P.S. If you are already subscribed to the mailing list, the blog posts in your inbox will continue to arrive just as before. (If you're not subscribed to the email list, why not? Sign up here.)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

I Can't Find A Site! [Classic Beginning Counselor]

To celebrate the new blog location for Beginning Counselor, I've collected and updated some classic blog posts for you. Enjoy!

Ever lost any sleep over the possibility that, despite your best efforts, you won't be able to find a practicum site to earn your hours? If so, you're not alone. 

We all went through worry about finding our prac site. Or, we all will. Finding a site is just so fundamental, it kind of takes over everything else.  

Don't be discouraged, though. Most people will find a place to begin their training. But it will be because they work hard at it.  Here’s some tips to make sure you get the best situation possible.

(1) You cannot start too early. Seriously. Many sites have to make decisions by committee, which for busy agencies or groups could meet only once a month. Many also only “hire” at certain stages of the business cycle, or in certain months. Also, the good sites are going to be on the top of everybody’s lists.

(2) Compile a list. A master list, which will allow you to be the master of your future. Write down names and numbers, as well as names of facilities. Make notes as you go along, to make sure you’re not calling the same people twice and that you’re not missing up on a chance to follow-up on a call that hasn’t been returned.

For help creating a master list, check out The Beginning Counselor's Survival Guide Workbook. 

(3) Get the names on the list from three major sources. The internet is a great resource: try searching “counseling” and your zip code. has a specialized search engine for therapists in group or private practice, as well as selected counseling facilities. For the third option, use your own brain to get creative about what other places might offer therapy: a hospital? A parenting center? Your church?

(4) Have an “elevator pitch” ready. I’ve called to ask to speak to the counseling director and ended up giving a preliminary phone interview with the receptionist, who happened to be the director’s wife. You have to be prepared that whenever you make that call, you might be asked who you are and why you want to be there.

(5) Know your terminology. If you’re looking for a practicum site, you’re a “practicum student”. This tells whoever you’re speaking with that you need less hours and less supervision, as you are still being monitored by your school. If you’re looking for an internship, you say you are an intern.* Then the place knows you will want significant hours and likely be there a long period of time.

(6) Interview the site while you’re allowing them to interview you. It won’t do any good to get a place that cannot provide you the right number of hours, or if you think you’re getting a supervisor on-site and later find out that person is not qualified to do the job.

(7) Network! Who do you know that is a counselor, or social worker, or nonprofit center director? Have you worked previously at a place that would be willing to recommend you? Do you know a person you could name-drop while you’re placing those calls?

This part of the process can be discouraging. Some areas are glutted with counseling students, and some places aren’t willing to nurture a new counselor. Don’t give up. It only takes one place to say yes. I firmly believe there are clients that need something that only you can bring. You have a purpose in this field. Go for it! 

*Some states and some graduate programs do also have a separate PRE-graduation internship in addition to a practicum. If this is the case for you, just specify "internship for licensure" or "supervised post-graduate internship" and that will hopefully clear up any lingering confusion.

Originally Published 12/10/10