Episode Thirteen | Season Three

Own Your Personal “Why”: The Real Way to Get Started

On this Episode of PsychBiz, Howard and I discuss the three main things you need to consider for your private practice business plan. 

Howard shares insights on:

  • The right and wrong reasons for going into private practice
  • The importance of defining yourself as a practitioner and understanding your ‘why’
  • Why regular reflection of whether your practice is aligned with your goals as values is essential
  • And more!

This episode is the first in a mini-series for therapists based on the graduate counseling program curriculum Howard taught for 12 years at the University of Colorado, and can also act as a side-template for his book, Private Practice Essentials.

We hope you find this episode insightful and inspiring. If you do, please consider subscribing, leaving a review or a comment.

Episode 13 Transcript:

Howard: Sarah, hey, how are you doing? 

Sarah: I’m good. How are you? 

Howard: Doing great. I’m really excited because today we’re going to cover some new material that our listeners haven’t heard yet and you know, we just finished listening to Lisa Ibekwe, what a wonderful therapist and group practice owner she is. She really showed us and our listeners some really amazing and bold business ventures that she has going on. And so, if you haven’t listened to that podcast yet, look her up. She’s the first podcast of the year and we’re here today and we’re going to roll on with some new material.

Sarah: Yeah, it’s going to be great. 

Howard: You know, I was just reflecting on last year a little bit. And I know we did that last time too, but we sort of did a hodgepodge of different things. We interviewed some really interesting people and people who have written lots of books and whatnot, but we also talked about compassion, fatigue, awareness, and a topic that I think is still going on for a lot of people. 

Sarah: Oh, 100%. 

Howard: Don’t you agree? 

Sarah: Yeah. 100%. Yeah. 

Howard: And are you finding that that’s true in the people that you’re building websites for – the therapists? 

Sarah: Yeah. I think a lot of people feel stretched thin right now. There’s a lot going on in society and in the world that I think is placing a lot of extra burden on people. So 100%, I think people are feeling that pressure and also just fatigue and, and, and that different issues have been going on for a long time. And everybody’s tired of trying to deal with them and keep real life going at the same time.So it’s a lot, and it affects people in really concrete ways. 

Howard: And we talked about marketing websites early on in the season. And this could be a good time to dial back and as we’re getting more of a handle on this pandemic and understanding the balance of virtual and in-person therapy and managing finances, you might think that maybe you, the listener, are ready to start thinking about redoing your website, for example, and Sarah is definitely the person for that. 

Sarah: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. 

Howard: Of course. Because this whole podcast started because of our relationship and working on my website and you’re constantly looking for ways to be resourceful and having a website is one of the most important ways to resource your ability to be able to market and put yourself out there. And so we talked about that last year, we talked about a number of other things, marketing and networking, and we are really about to kind of move into some very practical material. I think that, for those of you who really like to logic things and get things written out, I think you’re going to like this. 

Today’s episode is about really going internal. And it’s funny that I mentioned just a moment ago, compassion and compassion fatigue, and burnout and compassion because this episode is really going to be about why are you doing private practice in the first place? I almost wished that we would have started off with that, but it’s okay because the reality is that I don’t think that our world has any rhyme or reason to it. Anyway, we often find ourselves walking right into something and you and I were talking about what are we going to do this year? And in our brainstorm session, the idea just really flowed and we thought the curriculum that I taught at the university is so pertinent in a very practical way and I no longer teach it. I know other professors and other programs, counseling programs, teach a curriculum like mine, and many of them use my book, Private Practice Essentials

And so as we were brainstorming, we thought for you the listener, it would be really beneficial to have a condensed version of the course that I developed at the University of Colorado and that that condensed version could serve in a way as a side template for the book, Private Practice Essentials, and maybe even as a portal for helping you and helping support you to take the risks that you need to take in terms of building your practice and that might include engaging Sarah down the road for a website, it might include talking with me individually for some consultation or hopefully it can be also a standalone for you – the podcast itself and or the book. And so we’ve really put together several episodes here today, we’re going to really talk about why are you doing this, why did you get into this?

When I was working at the University of Colorado teaching this program, which maybe I should give a little background to that. Sarah, do you, would you —

Sarah:  Absolutely. Yeah, for sure. 

Howard: Yeah, so after I graduated from the graduate program that I was in, I stayed in touch with several professors at the time. They were very meaningful in my life and I thought it important to maintain contact and they had me come and speak about Private Practice — How is your practice going and what are you doing? — and give little pointers to students. 

One day, I’m having lunch with this professor of mine, who, again, it’s 2, 3, 4, 5 years after I graduate and we’re sitting at this restaurant and I said, “Marsha, have you ever thought about doing this as a class?” And she said, “Well, we did one time, a long time ago. And the professor that we hired, it just didn’t work out. And unfortunately it wasn’t a success.” And I said, “Oh, that’s too bad.”

I said, “I think it would be a really good program for students to be able to academically examine, building a business if they had an interest in private practice and that it could be an elective. And it would be a really interesting thing.” 

And she turns to me and she says, “Will you take teach it?” 

Sarah: Wow. That’s great.

Howard: And so of course, I sat there with her and on a napkin, I think I still have the napkin. We were brainstorming ideas and writing up different things that we could do and it really became the template for what was the design of – I later perfected this curriculum that I taught really for about 12 years and it was a joy, I had a wonderful time. It was probably the first of its kind housed in a graduate counseling program, so I feel very much proud of my efforts to pioneer some kind of legitimate curriculum revolving around business. And so, now there are programs, counseling programs, that have private practice development courses at universities, such as Pepperdine and Loma Linda University. And I know that for a fact because I’ve spoken, been invited by the distinguished professors that teach that course because they’re using my book as a textbook for that course.

So that’s where the curriculum started and today’s installment is one of the most, sort of like kick-starting installments. I would do this with my students where we would all gathered together and I would ask them, “Why are you taking this class? And why are you even in graduate school and in the counseling program to begin with?

And my students would ask me, “Well, I’ve never really thought about that. This is sort of, I only thought about it to write for my application or I’ve thought about it in my own therapist’s office before I went into graduate school.” 

But this was more of a let’s think about it now. And so the reason that I emphasize the why and the reason that I emphasize it in the beginning before we get into really planning and structuring business in private practice is you really want to be able to stick to your values and you want to have your own unit definition. So,  defining who you are as a practictioner and why you’re going into private practice are two essential keys to building your business. 

Sarah: Well, and that’s kind of the idea on the very popular TedTalk, start with why, right, which is that no matter what undertaking you’re doing, whether it’s being a therapist or any sort of business venture or whatever, a long-term goal, you kind of have to start with and be rooted in a real understanding of what’s motivating you, why you care about this, why you’re dedicating your time and your resources in a lot of ways yourself to achieving this goal and that by really understanding the reasons behind it, it really changes the way you pursue your goal, it really changes the way you think about things and it keeps you centered and focused with this central understanding and commitment to, this is why I’m doing this and then that means that when you’re making decisions, should I do things A, B or C, going back to that kind of core understanding makes a big difference in getting that clarity that you need.

Howard: Well, yeah. And for example, I bet you do this with your initial appointment when you’re starting to get somebody on board for their website. Do you talk to them a little bit about what are your goals for the website? 

Sarah: Well, for sure. Yeah and I mean, part of that too is, right, some people want more clients and so that’s going to kind of change and inform a lot of the strategy and the structure that we use moving forward, because we’re in the mode of trying to get clients. Other people have all the clients they can handle, but they’re going to be writing a book and they want a platform where they’re going to have their, you know, their kind of scholarly and — establish their authority or they’re trying to do more public speaking and they want to kind of work on that or they’re going to start offering workshops. So, those goals really are central to what we do and the kind of strategy that we use moving forward. 

Howard: That’s great. Yeah, so really the why and the values come into play in almost everything we do and so to have that information written out is really important. So what I would do with my students is, they had to write a three page paper, just they had to condense it into three pages and it was due like the following week but I really wanted them to imagine, you know, why am I doing this? at a deep level and the other reason that I asked for that is so that they had an understanding of, am I going into this field for the right reasons? So this was another one of those points. 

Sarah: So I’m just curious, when you say for the right reasons that implies that there are wrong reasons, so I’m just interested, what does that mean and how does a person discover them? Like, if you don’t really know — if it’s unclear to you, how do you work through that process of figuring that out? 

Howard: I love that question. Well, first of all, the aspiration paper is partly a vehicle for that itself, right? So in other words, they’re writing about it, it’s an indicator also of, for example, if a student says “I’m going into this because of my own trauma and I want to be able to teach other clients about what trauma is all about, because I’ve learned so much about trauma.” That sounds pretty healthy, right? 

But what doesn’t sound very healthy is “I was really traumatized and I really feel like I want to help people through trauma because it makes my trauma feel better when I —”. 

Sarah: Oh, I see. That’s interesting. Yeah, no, I can see the difference between this. 

Howard: Right, and so when I see that, when I see a student that comes back with something like that — and it’s rare that I did, a lot of — the course, it becomes an extra set of eyes for screening — that doesn’t mean that the student or the person who’s going into private practice, shouldn’t go in. It just means that maybe they need to look at that a little bit deeper and say, wow, you’re going to have a lot of transference and countertransference, and you’ve got to work some of that out because you’re out there on your own in private practice and you’ve got some issues that may not be quite differentiated enough. 

And so, for you to be able to not only treat clients, but manage the business itself right and so it became a sort of a secondary process of making sure that I, or you, are at the right place to be able to go on this journey, right, and if you’re not, it doesn’t mean you don’t go on the journey. It means maybe you need a resource yourself, get into some therapy, wait you know, maybe you’re the person who’s going to go and work in an agency for a couple of years, because you need to grow your wings a little bit more rather than go right into private practice depending on where you are in your life and so that aspiration or personal assessment of your values and why you’re doing this becomes really important. 

Sarah: And I can imagine, yeah, I can imagine that it would also be similarly super important for someone who’s been doing this for a long time in part, because of the compassion fatigue, and other issues and the burnout that we’ve talked about.

So sometimes after you’ve been doing this for a very long time, I imagine it’s easy to kind of lose some of those really foundational thoughts and ideals that you came into things with and it gets a little bit lost in the day to day work and everything and so, taking some time to really go back and think, why did I get into this? Why do I keep doing it? It would be really helpful. 

Howard: Sorry to talk over you, but I got to tell you that is a great point you just made. Doing an aspirations assessment or a Y assessment or values assessment, however you want to look at it, is not just something you do at the beginning of starting your practice. I do it all the time, I’ll step back and reflect, Why did I get into this? Am I aligned with my goals and am I aligned with my values? And that brings me right back into my business plan. After I do that process — we’ll be talking about business plans in the next episode, but this is really important so I’m really glad you brought up the point, okay — so, so far I’ve talked about two things. One is why it’s important to do the why, right, and the aspirations. Two is, it’s a gut check, right, am I ready? And can I really, you know, is this the right time and is this the right decision to go into private practice or to change something in my existing practice, if I’m doing an evaluation halfway through my practice, let’s say. And the third point, what goes into this type of work, like, what goes into this paper that I have the students write? And this is just a guide post sort of, or a guideline for people who are like, I don’t really know where to start.

So what I always say in this third point is, we’re going to break it into three objectives, okay. Objective number one, what am I passionate about, right now? What are my passions, right? Like, my passion might be trauma work, you know, I really want to work with people — I was just talking about trauma a moment ago — my passion might be trauma work, my passion might be helping troubled teens, right. It could be a number of things. So you write about the, you know, that’s part of the aspiration, right? What are my passions? 

The second thing is what experience do I already have that backup my passions, that hold a space for my passions, right? So for example, before I went into graduate school, I was working at an adolescent treatment center and so you know, it supported my passions for working with kids and adolescents, right. 

And so I was able to write the passion part of it and then to write what skill set do I already have? And then part B of part two is what skill set do I need, right — 

Sarah: Oh, so you notice and the places where you need to stretch yourself, get more support, more education, right?

Howard: Yeah and what other trainings do I need to go to? What if I’m still in graduate school? What courses do I want to take? I wanted to learn more about family couples and family therapy so I did the couples and family track because I knew as a systems thinker, I’m passionate about systems, that I wanted to learn more about both working with couples and families and individuals. 

The third and final part is where — and this is a little bit different from skills and passion — where are my intellectual interests pointing, right now? What do I want to learn? For example, I love neuroscience, I love brain stuff. Back in the day, when I was first doing my own aspirations, it was all about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I was like, man, I’m really fascinated about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and I want to learn about that. And I was totally into Albert Ellis, who probably many of you listeners remember, but think is might be outdated, but still very foundational. I love his work actually. I loved Victor Frankel and the existential movement and Irvin Yalom and these folks and so your intellectual interest will shift and change over time, but this is a snapshot of where am I right now?

So, the challenge that I want you, the listener to do, is to write a paper, maybe two or three pages, do some journaling — however you envision this — and maybe write about your current skills, what kind of skills you need in the future, to support your passions, of course, what are your passions — I meant to say that first — and then where are your intellectual interests right now? What are you interested in learning about, just for the sake of learning in the field, okay. That’s going to shape your business plan. 

So, there you have it, the three main things about getting started with moving toward a business plan and even revamping it if you’re already in practice. 

Sarah: Sounds like such a great activity. We hope you guys take some time and work on that. We’d love to have comments. If you find it helpful, tell us about how it helped in the kind of difference that it made, if there are other activities like this that you think that would be great, leave us a comment about those too. 

Howard: Sounds great. And we’ll have all this key points in the show notes as well. 

Sarah: Okay, great. 

Howard: Good to see us, Sarah. 

Sarah: Good to see you, too. Bye. 

You're on a mission to make a difference.

We're on a mission to help you reach your goals. . . without burning out.

Howard Baumgarten

Licensed professional counselor, author of PRIVATE PRACTICE ESSENTIALS, international speaker and small business consultant. Learn more at Howard’s website.



Sarah Gershone

Web designer and digital marketer specializing in therapist private practice growth. Owner of Strong Roots Web Design.