At a recent workshop, I was surprised to hear so many speak of the desire to step out of the frantic energy that seems to be around this time of year in the run up to Christmas. My surprise was not just that so many named it, but that I too was feeling it, and I too was glad of the pause.
For some reason this time of year seems to bring out an urgency in us, to buy presents, food and drink, to clean our houses, to redecorate, to lose weight, to complete projects, as if it were not just the end of the calendar year, and a holiday period, but the end of our existence as we know it. A death. And indeed, the winter and its solstice is a form of death, the shortest day, more dark than light.
It can be a lonely enough profession, this business of therapy, can’t it? Where friends who work for banks, or semi state organisations, or the corner shop can moan and groan about their work, we can’t reciprocate can we? And even if we did, there’s that sense that nobody except another therapist really gets it, so they probably would have no idea what we’re talking about, even if we told them!
For many of us, there are few opportunities to interact with colleagues unless we make a point of doing so, but it seems to me that that interaction is hugely important.
One of the first things we are taught in training to be a counsellor or therapist, is about contracting. One of the tasks of the first session with a client is to set out and agree the terms of the contract. Do you commit your contract to writing? It’s not essential, but certainly something you might think about.
So you have a therapy or counselling practice, and you’d like it to be more successful? Or you’re thinking of starting a practice and not really sure where to start?
Since most people who set out to do something do so with an attitude of wanting it to go well, I am assuming that you want your practice to be successful. In this article, I’ll introduce you to the six pillars that support a successful, thriving practice.
But first, what would tell you that your practice is successful? (Check out my blog post on this subject here.) The point is, you need to have some idea of what success means for you, in order to have some chance of achieving it. If you haven’t done this before, it may take some time to get a bit clearer, but doing so will reward you greatly.
Six Pillars of a Successful Practice
Whatever your vision of a successful counselling or therapy practice, there are six essential pillars that you need to consider. These are:
Owning Your Practice, Knowing Your Practice: Growing Your Practice: Valuing Your Practice: Managing Your Practice and Minding Your Practice.
Most occupations have their stress points, and therapy and counselling are no exception. Sitting with clients while they talk about their lives, particularly if you find yourself tired and drained at the end of the day, can take its toll. The financial climate at present is causing huge stress for many people. Many people find that the pace of life is overwhelming, the rate of change too fast. Stress can grow unnoticed, and its effect can be highly detrimental to health.
And of course, stress at work doesn’t exist in isolation. Elsewhere in our lives, students are facing exam pressures, parents are juggling work and family, most of us encounter traffic and commuting stress and the run of the mill everyday challenges of living.
To be effective in the work, we need to be sufficiently well. Our stress levels shouldn’t be allowed to grow to such an extent where we are unable to be present to our clients.
I’d like to suggest 10 ways in which to help keep the stress at bay:
Breathe, and check in with your body. How are you feeling right now?
Exercise regularly. Take regular breaks, and relax. Go outside, look at the sky.
Find some daily practice that encourages you to breathe more, relax, and connect with your body, eg meditation or yoga.
Take the conflicts and dramas out of your relationships. Give yourself and others the benefit of the doubt before rushing to judgement.
Count your blessings. In every challenge there is an opportunity. Be alert to the silver lining in every cloud.
Stop fighting with things or situations that are outside your control (this includes other people, you can‘t change them no matter how much you might want to.)
Take responsibility for your part in every situation. It reminds us of where we have power and choice to make changes and move forward.
Recognise and acknowledge your inner conflict. Accepting a situation is not the same as giving in.
Talk about what’s bothering you with a colleague, family member or friend. Even if you don’t see how they might help you, talking helps to relieve stress and can change the way you see things.
If a situation persists and is causing you distress, remember you always have a choice. There are no medals for enduring a situation that is painful to you. Consult a professional before your health starts to suffer.
In short, look after yourself, and you’ll have more left to give to others.
If you are finding it hard to keep the stress of therapy practice at bay, maybe I can help? I offer a range of services including a free 20 minute consultation. Click here for more details.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “competition”? For many people, it conjures up a sense of threat. But I wonder if you have ever thought of the competition as an asset?
A common topic of discussion among therapists is the challenge of isolation. Perhaps surprisingly, this is not just a feature of our profession, but of any profession where practitioners practice as sole entities. It’s appropriate to look to our professional bodies to support us in this and provide opportunities for us to meet and network. Both IAHIP and IACP are currently doing this, through networking meetings and CPD courses. However, the level of support that can be given from the bodies is limited, especially in organisations that have a small executive staff and rely heavily on volunteer support. Read more
I wrote sometime ago about ways you could make your accounting easier. See my post at “paperwork-blues”
Many people struggle with the whole accounting thing, and I can see their eyes glaze over at the mention of it, but at its essence it is no more than a version of that child’s toy that I call Posting Bricks where you have to put the correctly coloured brick into its matching hole. While getting someone else to do your accounts for you can ease the work load, it’s useful to have even a basic understanding of what the figures are trying to tell you.
Accounting is a process of taking financial transactions (a fee you receive or an expense you incur) for a period (usually one year) and sorting them into bundles with other similar items. So, you take all the blue bricks and put them together, and then all the red bricks and put them together and so on with the green and orange and all the other ones.
You’ve heard the saying about the cobbler’s children haven’t you?
So many therapists tell me they enjoy what they do. They speak warmly of the growth they see in clients, the tiny surge of excitement when something changes, and the joy of seeing someone move on to better things.
However, sometimes after that first rush of enthusiasm I hear, “but…” Sometimes they go on to talk about the challenge of earning enough, or of getting clients, or of balancing their work and home lives, or the challenge of working with one or more clients. Or maybe some or all of the above.
If you enjoy your work, great. Good for you. If not, do something about it. The impact of doing work we don’t enjoy is highly stressful and leads to burn out and compassion fatigue.
Often a small change in the short term can have a big result. Take some time off, change the balance of your client portfolio, do a workshop or take up a new hobby. Take more exercise, eat less sugar and fat, drink less alcohol, have more sex and laugh more.
If these don’t work, or you’ve been feeling like this for a while, you may need to get help. And before you tell me you’re a therapist and know about these things, it might interest you to know that I wouldn’t be the first to suggest that mental health professionals are at least as likely as their clients (if not more so) to suffer the issues they work with. (Don’t believe me? Check out some of the articles below.) And like many other professionals, we also suffer from being unable to take our own advice.
You are your practice’s most precious asset. Self-care is probably the most important discipline you can practice. In my view, it should be a core part of CPD. And while supervision might give you some support around client issues, it is not a substitute for getting appropriate medical or psychological support if the situation calls for it.
There’s a reason why they tell you on airplanes to put on your own air mask before attending to children or other passengers. The reason is that if you can’t breathe yourself, you’re not going to be much help to anyone else.
If you’re wondering why I’m being so dogmatic about this, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. In fact I’ve learnt it several times over, until I got it drummed in to my head, and will probably need to learn it again. Last time it happened, struggling with the impact of working with a certain client, I found myself overwhelmed emotionally and did nothing about it. However, my body stepped in and took charge of the situation. I put my back out, and it took weeks to recover. I’m glad it did, because bloody minded as I am, I would probably have gone on ignoring the obvious.
So, if you’re feeling low, don’t keep it to yourself. Do yourself, your family and friends, and your clients a favour, and tell someone. Just Ask!
A small sample of articles suggesting that as a profession we’re not immune from mental health issues:
A couple of years ago, my therapist had to drop out of the work at short notice due to a sudden illness. I can still remember the shock of learning that she was going to be absent for several months, and the difficulty I had in dealing with it at the time. As therapists we are often good at dealing with our client’s crises, but sometimes we aren’t so hot at looking after our own shop! In my case, she had enough notice of her absence to be able to tell me herself, and to arrange for another therapist to provide emergency cover, but not every emergency will give us that luxury.
Many therapists work on their own, and very few have administrative or secretarial support. If you were unable to see your clients, through a sudden illness, or family crisis, the last thing you might feel like doing is ringing clients and supporting them, possibly dealing with their distress when you have an issue of your own going on. And yes, I know, we’re trained to do that sort of thing. But really, wouldn’t it be nice if there was someone in your life who could make those calls to your clients, and offer them the emergency support they might need to weather your absence? Read more