Six Pillars of a Successful Therapy Practice
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.
The First Pillar – Owning Your Practice
This first pillar is where we take ourselves seriously, not just as therapists, but as self-employed professionals looking to earn a living from our work. This pillar acknowledges that to hold these two places, therapist and business owner, is a stage in a process, which starts with the decision to work for ourselves and continues to evolve throughout our professional lives. You can read more about the first pillar here.
The Second Pillar – Knowing Your Practice
How well do you really know this business of therapy that you are involved in and how do you relate to it? I have no doubt that you could tell me at length about your clients, about their families, their issues, their strengths, their blind spots, and their moods and temperaments. Equally, I have no doubt that your knowledge and skill in dealing with those clients is vast. But do you know as much about the business of your practice?
Knowing your practice involves not just knowledge of your clients and how to work with them, although this is very important, but also a knowledge and understanding of the industry, the locality and the environment in which you operate. It involves knowing the changes that may affect your business, the laws and regulations that must be complied with, the size of the market you’re in. It means knowing what makes a client you and the service you offer, rather than taking an art class or asking their doctor for a course of tablets. The more you know about your business, the better equipped you’ll be to make choices that will work for you. You can read more about the second pillar here.
The Third Pillar – Growing Your Practice
Any business is a changing thing, if it’s not growing, it’s stagnating or declining. You can plant a garden and then sit back to look at it when you feel like it, but the weeds and the grass will grow, the leaves will fall, and the slugs will eat your vegetables, so it doesn’t stay the same for long. Likewise, you can’t create a practice and then leave it to its own devices. You need to put time and energy into helping it grow, and you need to feed and nourish it! It is a constant cycle of death and re-birth. So it requires constant input from you to renew the supply of work. While there will always be some work that will come in of its own accord, there is a lot you can do to ensure that you don’t have to suffer long gaps of lower income and feelings of uncertainty and insecurity. You can read more about the third pillar here.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you only need to promote your practice occasionally. Doing a huge sprint infrequently may do more harm than good. What you’re aiming for is that when someone has a client to refer, or is looking for a therapist or counsellor, it’s you they turn to.
You don’t need to compromise your values in order to promote your services. There are many ways to promote your practice, and what works for you may not work for someone else. There’s no right way to do it. What is important, is that you do do something, and that you keep doing it.
If promoting your work and your practice is an area you struggle with, I suggest you keep it simple. Choose one activity and commit to it for at least three months. One action taken consistently is better than a dozen actions taken randomly and sporadically. If you’d like ideas about how to market your practice, check out some of the articles on my website. For example: Five Ways to make your Marketing More Effective
The Fourth Pillar – Managing Your Practice
Managing any business is very much a mind-set thing. It’s not just a question of knowing what to do when. It’s a question of being willing to take responsibility for deciding what needs to be done, and then ensuring that it gets done. And if there’s no one but you to do it, then you do it, whatever it is.
A business is also an active thing. It requires attention, thinking about, maintenance, and at all times there are little tasks to be done. In a typical therapy or counselling practice, bills need to be paid, insurance needs to be in place, the rooms need to be cleaned, supplies need to bought for the bathroom and the kitchen, the diary or bookings need to be managed, the books need to be written up and tax returns prepared, and that dripping tap needs attention. None of these tasks is overwhelming in itself, but they don’t go away because we don’t want to engage with them. An organised approach helps! You can read more about managing your practice here.
The Fifth Pillar – Minding Your Practice
You wouldn’t leave your front door open at night, or your wallet lying on the roadside, would you? And yet many of us do just that with ourselves and our businesses.
Minding your practice has several facets. The most obvious is making sure that the appropriate insurance is in place to safeguard your clients, ie public liability and professional indemnity. However, have you also considered insurance to protect your income in case you can’t work? And have you made provision for your retirement?
Minding your business also includes making sure that you are conducting it in accordance with the appropriate laws, rules and regulations, that you comply with the bye-laws of your professional body, and ensure that the premises you work from complies with Health and Safety requirements.
An area where many practitioners fall down is in relation to self-care. They put their clients’ needs before their own, until they arrive at a place where they are no longer able to work, either from illness or exhaustion, from burn-out or compassion fatigue. You can read more about minding your practice here.
The Sixth Pillar – Valuing Your Practice
You have invested many hours and probably a small fortune in qualifying and learning your skill. In addition, you have lived your life and learned from your experiences. You have a lot to offer. Are you comfortable owning that?
Valuing your practice means having the confidence to believe in yourself and your abilities. It means respecting what you have to offer your client, and placing a fair value on that in terms of your fee. It means giving importance to your own needs and desires. It means respecting your own values and boundaries, including how you deal with fees, cancellations and no-shows. Valuing yourself also means giving yourself the benefit of the doubt, and being kind and compassionate to yourself when you get it wrong. You can read more about the sixth pillar here.
I’ve introduced you to each of the six pillars of a successful therapy practice. I hope some of the issues I’ve raised have helped you to think more specifically about the business that is your therapy or counselling practice.
Finally, I’d like to talk about what differentiates those who are still in practice years after they start, from those who aren’t. Did you know that more than half of all therapists who set out to run their own practices give up within the first three years, and many of those don’t last that long. What makes the difference? Are those who fail less able at what they do? Are they less competent, skillful or caring therapists? NO!
What differentiates one group from the other is largely the ability to integrate the two perspectives we work from: our mind-set and attitude on the one hand, and our ability to take appropriate action on the other.
Those who succeed tend to be able to move between these two perspectives. Standing back and reflecting when appropriate, and moving into action when action is needed. Where do you need to go from here?
In respect of each of areas we’ve considered, how well do you think you measure up in your practice? Which areas are you an ace at? And in which do you need to do a bit more work? Do you spend more time reflecting and examining your thoughts and feelings, or do you rush into action without due consideration?
You can read about the sixpillars of a successful practice, and a whole lot more in my book, This Business of Therapy: A Practical Guide to Starting, developing and Sustaining a Therapy Practice.
If you finding it hard to think of your practice as business, or to put into action some of the ideas I have talked about here, perhaps I can help? Please contact me here for your free 20 minute consultation.