3 Habits that Solo Private Practitioners Need to Overcome
By Shannon Heers
If you’re a therapist in private practice, there are so many things that you need to focus on and do to become successful. Don’t let bad habits that you may develop curb your path forward. You are in private practice for many reasons, among those is to make a difference in people’s lives but on your own terms. Here are three habits that solo private practitioners need to overcome to help you ensure longevity and meaning in your career:
Habit #1: Poor Boundaries
Developing boundaries within your private practice is actually a developmental process. It takes time and experimentation for you to identify which boundaries you want or need to further develop. This is one of the biggest mistakes that I see private practice therapists make, which is not working to develop their boundaries.
Having boundaries as a therapist can be important for many reasons. First, it can impact your clients if you don’t have strong boundaries in different areas. We are modeling for our clients what it looks like to have good boundaries, and if they see us not setting the example that we are asking them to follow with boundaries, it can also impact your client-therapist relationship.
Boundaries in private practice can include many different things, including:
- Agreeing to see clients outside your regular hours
- Offering to slide your scale for everyone
- Responding to emails and inquiries after-hours
- Seeing 7+ clients in one day regularly
- Not charging for no-shows/late cancellations
I have seen private practice therapists, in particular those who are new to private practice, do all of these things. And eventually what happens is that you as the therapist start to feel resentful, frustrated, even exhausted because you are working so hard and are not respecting your boundaries.
Here are some suggestions on how to improve and develop your boundaries in the above areas:
- Stick to your set hours 90% of the time
- Create a sliding scale policy and follow it
- Implement an after-hours email responder
- Put your expected response time on your voicemail for new inquiries
- Develop a no-show/cancellation policy and follow it
- Limit the number of clinical sessions per day to 6 or less most of the time
If you make these small changes in your practice, you are well on your way to developing a good habit of setting and sticking to healthy boundaries!
Habit #2: Practicing Outside Your “Scope of Expertise”
If you are a therapist, you know the term “scope of practice”. But this is a very large, all-encompassing term that basically means those activities that a therapist is licensed and permitted to perform. It is within my scope of practice to provide couples therapy because that is allowed per my licensure as a professional counselor. However, I don’t have the training or experience to provide couples therapy, so it’s not something that ethically I should do.
So what “scope of expertise” means is the area(s) of practice in which you have advanced training and experience to provide. I have formal training in CBT, Motivational Interviewing, substance abuse/addictions, and perinatal mental health, among others. So if that is my training and experience, my scope of expertise is working with adults who have presenting concerns such as anxiety, depression, and substance use, or who are pregnant or postpartum women.
And working with those clients within my scope of expertise is where I show up as my best self doing therapy. I have the confidence that I can help those clients who walk through my door or join my telehealth session. I can instill hope that my clients can get better and I know the evidence-based practices and therapeutic interventions that I will use to help my clients reach their treatment goals.
So I encourage you to develop your own scope of expertise, and make this a good habit. Find out what you are interested in, what clients you do your best work with, and what you enjoy passionately learning more about. That is a good start, then start saying “yes” to those clients who fall within your scope of expertise and “no” to those clients that don’t. And you will continue to enjoy your work more and more.
Habit #3: Not Investing In Your Professional Growth
This is a bad habit that I see lots of more experienced therapists fall into. When it comes time to renew our independent licenses with the state, I see so many therapists scrambling around to meet their CE (continuing education) requirements without much investment into what they are getting trained in. They are just trying to meet their license renewal requirements, not pursue their own professional growth.
Going for 1 or 2 years, or even longer, without doing any professional growth for yourself as a therapist, counselor or social worker can have some dire consequences. Our field is updating and changing constantly. New therapeutic modalities are coming out, more studies are being done about evidence-based practices, and new clinical specializations are arising every day.
If you aren’t on top of your professional development, your clients can suffer. Maybe you didn’t know that ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention) is the gold-standard treatment for adults with OCD, and you have a client with OCD that you are trying to treat.
Or maybe you are not feeling confident with a particular type of client that is seeking you out for treatment, and Imposter Syndrome rears its head. The more tools you have in your toolbox and the more training you have in different specializations, the better you can help your clients. You can also develop into a better, more rounded therapist.
Here are some ways that you can pursue your professional development on a regular basis:
- Read journal articles, books, or listen to podcasts on clinical topics you are interested in
- Explore a variety of therapeutic modalities and techniques
- Attend monthly workshops, clinical trainings, or webinars
- Invest in a “big ticket” training such as EMDR, IFS, perinatal mental health, etc.
- Join a clinical consultation group and learn from others
There are so many ways for you to invest in your professional development, some of which cost money and some just take your time and effort. But if you make investing in your professional development a good habit, you won’t regret it.
And there you have it – 3 bad habits that you as a solo private practitioner need to overcome. Which of these habits resonated most with you? What I’d most love to see as a result of this blog is that you tackle at least one of these bad habits and change it into a good habit. Then see what happens to yourself and your clinical practice as a result!
Stay tuned for the next blog in this series coming soon! I can’t wait to share more ideas on creating good habits in private practice.
How we can help
If you are seeking clinical consultation for the tough work that you do everyday as a therapist or counselor, check us out at Firelight Supervision – we’d love to connect and see how we can work together to support you in your work!
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Shannon Heers is a psychotherapist, approved clinical supervisor, guest blogger, and the owner of a group psychotherapy practice in the Denver area. Shannon helps adults in professional careers manage anxiety, depression, work-life balance, and grief and loss. Follow Firelight Supervision on Instagram.