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Private Practice Kickstart
with Miranda Palmer, LMFT
& Kelly Higdon, LMFT

Building a Private Practice- Real Life Stories Featuring Rebecca Wong, LCSW

Here is the interview with Rebecca Wong, LCSW: HappyMother's Day (1)

Kelly: Hey, guys. Welcome to another episode of Real Life Stories, Building a Private Practice. I’m joined today by the amazing Rebecca Wong. She’s an LCSW in New York and the founder of Connectfulness. Welcome.

Rebecca: Thanks, Kelly.

Kelly: Why don’t you share a little bit about where you, what kind practice you have right now and a little bit about Connectfulness so people can know about you?

Rebecca: Sure. So I’m a relationship therapist based in New York’s Hudson Valley, and I work mostly with parenting couples and kind of help them figure out how to make life a little bit easier and more playful, how to reconnect with themselves, with each other, and with their kids.

I keep a pretty small practice intentionally so that I could do a lot of other projects because my brain is a little creative and I go into many different directions. And if I saw too many clients, I wouldn’t be able to do all that.

So Connectfulness is kind of my baby, and I’m growing it into a community-sourced resource kind of like an online magazine for people who want to live more connectful lives, more inspired creative playful meaningful intimate lives.

Kelly: Cool.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Kelly: So how long have you been in practice?

Rebecca: Over a decade. I’m not counting anymore.

Kelly: That’s okay. That’s good. That’s how I feel about my age. I’m not counting anymore. So why practice? I mean, why this route?

Rebecca: Why this route? You know, it’s all really organic. I started off working in oncology. No, I started off in film, photography, and visual arts. Then I went into experiential education. Then I went back to school and got my master’s degree in social work and started working on oncology. And I worked in oncology for a long time, really a long time. I worked at many of the big names like Sloan Kettering and Cancer Care, at the Cancer Institute in New Jersey and while I was there, I started to do sex and relationship therapy. I got post-graduate training in sex and relationship therapy because it was such a big piece of what my patients and clients and families were dealing with, the intimate relationships in their lives.

And so that just kind of naturally found its way into my private practice when I opened up my private practice around the time that I had my children and was growing my own family and studying more about postpartum disorders as well and so the intimate lives of people, relationships and families and parenting, that became my focus.

Kelly: So give me the snapshots of what your practice looked like when you started it.

[cross-talk]

Like the model you had, like how it works versus how it works now.

Rebecca: Oh my gosh. I’ve been through so many different —

Kelly: Yes, good.

Rebecca: So many different, okay. So when I first started, I saw about two clients a week and I rented an office for $10 an hour from some local established psychologist. And it worked out wonderfully. You know, $10 an hour. So that was super fun, but it didn’t really sustain and it didn’t really last and it was only about two clients a week. And so then I moved into a yoga studio and I again, was renting by the hour. I wasn’t committed too much. But I was seeing like five to eight clients and it was slowly growing but I was like using this like flexible chairs and kind of all over the place and I also went into a mother-baby boutique and again, it was like really flexible, the room I was using. It was being used by a masseuse and I was really distracted in my spaces and I found that that was really impacting my practice and my ability to focus.

So I talked to a colleague and at the same yoga studio that I was at, we took over a room and we shared it together. And it was cheap. It was I think like $400 a month and we were splitting it so it was like $200.

Kelly: Wow! That’s nice.

Rebecca: It was nice. It worked really well. We decorated, we found objects in our home and it had no windows and when the yoga studio got super hot, so did our office. Because we also didn’t have thermostat control.

Kelly: Can I just say so when we wrote the office checklist like how to find an office, I always put on there like do you have control over your thermostat?

Rebecca: You just realize how big that is.

Kelly: No.

Rebecca: So you are in it.

Kelly: Exactly. That’s implying turn off at 5:00. And I like had all these, like contraptions of fans and like and the windows didn’t open. They were connected wall windows, you know. Oh my gosh, I was like. You guys need to figure out your thermostat wherever you go. Okay.

Rebecca: Thermostat is a really big deal and windows are too. So this office that I was in had no windows and no thermostat control. And the thermostat was being controlled by the yoga studio like to get really hot.

Kelly: My gosh. 5:45

Rebecca: I kind of was there for about two years and then —

Kelly: Wow!

Rebecca: Yeah and I went on insurance panels and I hired a billing company to help me with all that stuff and it cost me a ton. I moved into, I got really, really busy and I moved into the office I’m in right now.  

And it’s about a hundred square feet. And paid off my rent, but I took it on full time by myself and my practice grew and I contacted you and Miranda and I joined the Business School Bootcamp and I left I left the insurance and went to the most Awesome Conference and came back and raised my rates and went through some clients attrition and got my case load back down to a more manageable level and I’m moving offices again next month to a space that’s about four or five times the size of my current space and will let me do more workshops and events in my space.

Kelly: Let’s talk about the insurance piece a little bit.

Rebecca: Yeah. Okay.

Kelly: You know that I feel it just depends on you and your goals and your plans and not necessarily is more clients better. That’s not what we’re working at.

Rebecca: It’s what fits. It’s what fits, for each individual clinician and your case load.

Kelly: So how did you determine insurance is fit for you at that time?

Rebecca: I looked at the rates I was getting and the amount of clients I had to see to make my bottom line, and how much energy that took for me and just how burnt out I was feeling.

And at the same time I was getting clients fee for service who weren’t in the networks that I was in who were paying on my full rate and the work felt different, both for me and for my clients. And I started to slowly realize I can have a practice that feels really different and not be so burnt out and not have to see as many clients and be able to give the client, I am seeing something different.

Kelly: Let’s talk about how the work was different. Because I think you’re one of the first people to talk about that on this part of the blog. How, what is that clinical impactfulness when it was a private pay versus an insurance?

Rebecca: Yeah. I’ve had insurance clients who don’t even have co-pay and I have insurance clients who have co-pays.

Kelly: Right.

Rebecca: And it’s not so much about what I earn from the sessions. It’s way more about the movement that happens clinically in the sessions. And I have found that when people are paying out of pocket, their investment in the work and in like the take-aways and in paying attention to the things we talk about is integrated on a deeper level. They feel responsible for their investment.  

Kelly: Yeah. I remember, you know, every transaction in the room is part of the work. Even if it’s scheduling the appointments, like how that’s all done, it’s all greased for the most.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Kelly: It’s so, even this aspect of investing financially into our emotional health and stuff and it’s got an impact. Having moved out of insurance and into cash pay, are you making less?

Rebecca: No, I’m working less, but I’m not making less.

Kelly: Was that scary to do it?

Rebecca: It is. It’s still scary, because I think now, that the place where I get scared is, so I work with a lot of couples who are on the brink. And they don’t totally know if they’re staying together or not. And so it’s really natural and normal in my work that they’re going to decide not to be together and they’re going to leave therapy.

And every time they leave I go through this times of huh, what am I doing wrong? I can’t keep them in, and you know, but, that’s not the clinical piece.

Kelly: Right.

Rebecca: Yeah, it’s the stuff that triggers me and you know I have I have a smaller case load now, so I could feel the impact of one client leaving in a different way than I used to feel it.

Kelly: How do you deal with that?

Rebecca: More marketing, you know. I find at that same anxiety is my best marketing tool. It’s the stuff that helps me get my message out and do more work to make sure that people see me or motivates me to do something like take discernment counseling training and network with local divorce lawyers, because those are the clients that are finding me anyway.  

Kelly: Yeah. Exactly. So in your journey, what’s been some of the lessons that you, like if you’re talking to someone who’s starting like that you want them to know, like you’ve got to know this before you start.

Rebecca: I think, that there’s a whole journey here that you’re taught in school. And it’s very much a journey into what marketing is and what – well, it’s more about relationships. It’s like taking everything that you know that you do anyway

Right? Like how can you go out and network and meet people like every engagement you have with every person you come across is an opportunity to connect and for people to remember who you are.  

Like now I go to yoga class and people, and my instructor’s talking about some kind of breathing thing and how it’s part of a relationship and then they look at me and they’re like right Rebecca? Any relationship, and so now I’m in yoga class and people are referring to me as a relationship expert.

Kelly: I like that. You’re like, “I’m just trying to hold this post, people.” That’s cool.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Kelly: It is, and I think, you know, that’s when you can let fear be there but not drive the car. It’s like Elizabeth Gilbert says, you know and understand that as a therapist, you have skills that other marketers don’t. It’s an advantage.  

Rebecca: It is. And I think you know, as a therapist we know pretty well how to sit and contain.

Right? And so when our fear hops in how can we flip that switch too and go back into that container mode? Like, okay, so here’s the fear. I can see it, I can process it, I can see what it’s about, how is it information? Like how can I turn this into something that can work for me?

Kelly: All right. Well, let’s switch it up a little bit. I want to talk about the aspect of you that I do love, which is your creativity. You hold like a ton of ideas.

Rebecca: Too many.

Kelly: And I think, for people that come into practice and like they love just individual work and that’s good. And then there’s others of us that are like, I like that and I like this and I like this and what about this idea and how could it you know, how do you balance, so that you stay focused and you maintain your income, while you explore other options like what has that been like for you?  

Rebecca: It’s been a journey and I have made my share of mistakes which have been formed how I do things and how I will continue to do things, moving forward. Because I have let my income drop a little bit at times, when I’ve lost focus and that’s just, I mean that’s another you know going back to the anxiety and being a motivator. Because it’s so easy to get wrapped up in this creative projects that you’re dreaming about and you want to manifest them and you want to make them into something and then they’re not paying the bills, at least not yet. So for me something that I found that works really well is collaborating. It keeps me more focused and accountable, and it also means that I don’t have to do one 100% of the work.

And I like co-collaborating where things are mutually beneficial. For example, I have a retreat that I’m planning. I think we’re planning it for August. It’s going to be a four-day couple’s retreat, and I’m collaborating with a couple’s yoga instructor. So we are going to be putting this together, mutually and creating all the content and a copy and there’s funnels creating — that are being created around us, so it’s fun and I don’t have to do it all.

Kelly: It’s nice to point out though that you’re collaborating with someone that has something that you don’t have.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Kelly: And you know that’s really important, because it’s really easy to go and collaborate with your friends in all sorts of things.

But if there’s not a clear plan as to why you need that other person and why they need you and how it’s going to generate income then it’s – those are some flags to pay attention to. That while it’s fun, is this what you need to be doing right now, you know.

Rebecca: Right. Kind of like relationship R&R, which was super fun. Robyn and I collaborated on this beautiful webinar stuff that was so much fun. We did some great list building from it. But it didn’t generate income, in a direct way for either of us. And so, I think we took that as an investment of like an educational investment, you know.

Kelly: Yes, totally.

Rebecca: And it really made sense in that capacity.

Kelly: Yeah, oh, everything is educational. I have many educational investments. I’m probably involved in a few right now, you know.  Yeah.

In learning of the, like marketing and your journey with this because I’ve seen you explode over the time, I’ve known you from kind of traditional marketing to doing blogs and podcasts and periscope – well, you know all sorts of different things. What have you found that is stuff that you love?

Rebecca: I’m still trying to figure that out. I think for me, putting my voice, like I have all these ideas and I’m really creative, but putting my voice out there and I think the webinars are the easiest for me to do, when I’m actually just talking to a colleague and I’m having an engagement . I’m not over thinking it. It’s on the spot and it’s happening and so it flows and it’s really easy. I’m thinking about exploring podcasting for a similar reason.

I’ve done some blogs and I find that that there’s just so much insecurity that comes up in me around doing them. They’re not really my thing. I have been writing a lot and I love writing, but I always feel like I write too much. I have a hard time getting it into something small so I think something live is really my best thing that’s also collaborative. That’s where I feel like I do the best.

Kelly: But here’s the thing is like I’ve seen you do a lot and sometimes you have to try to figure it out, you know to get to that place, you know. So I think it’s good that you just keep trying until you settle in on something, you know.

Rebecca: Yeah. I have a feeling it’s probably going to end up being podcasting for me but I also am really intimidated about learning all the technology and so I’m taking my time to dive in.

Kelly: Okay, all right, all right. I understand that. So what do you see coming up for you and Connectfulness and all of that?

Rebecca: So I have a small little Facebook tribe of clinicians that are like sharing some amazing ideas and really all being super intimate just about our own journeys about being clinicians and therapists and where we struggle both with marketing and getting our messages out and what we want our messages to be. I’m growing that really slowly and I’m also looking to build Connectfulness into this, this thing.

I don’t know what we’d like to call it yet. But it’s this thing where this tribe is contributing to the content and it also promotes the events and each member of the tribe has their own practice and it is this living, breathing kind of connectful thing, that is available for both the tribe members, the clinicians but also for all of the people that are just doing the content that we’re producing. So that is my current project and that’s what I’m trying to grow and I’m looking to separate my individual practice from my current website. Again, because I know I started with two and we merged them and now I’m separating them.

Kelly: Okay, so let’s talk about that. What is that like to come full circle?

Rebecca: It’s perfect. It’s perfect.

Kelly: I love that.

Rebecca: I only have so much energy. I know you and Miranda used to talk to me about you know you can only ride one horse. And i think there’s a lot of truth in that. I think one – I’m not looking to build my individual practice site into something that enormous. I live in a really small town. I don’t want to have a lot of clients like I know what I want but I just want it to —

Kelly: Sustain.

Rebecca: — to be like my business card.

Kelly: Yeah.

Rebecca: You know, I don’t even know if I want my blog to be there. I think I want to keep my blog over at Connectfulness. But I just feel like I need to have it, because I don’t feel like it can live on Connectfulness anymore. So, uhmm and it needs to be a little bit more flashed out. It needs to really talk about what my specialties are and kind of be a little bit more of me. So, that’s in process and I couldn’t have done that from the start. I had to learn as I went, and it all had to be really organic, because the stuff changes all the time.

Kelly: It does. We were talking about this one earlier today, both Miranda and I about like how we can get really attached to stuff we’ve created and then it’s time just to change.

Rebecca: Six months later.

Kelly: Yeah, I mean it’s like I got to let go. But I worked so hard for it. This and this is static and those kinds of things and but that’s all part of this. So I love your attitude about it like, it’s perfect. This happening perfectly the way it needs to. Like I had to go through this to get this point and then you’ll be saying that 10 years down the road. You’ll be like oh I see why I made these changes so that I could get to this other stuff, you know.

Rebecca: Yeah, well my copy keeps changing, my message keeps shifting, you know like we’re sitting here today and like what is it about?  Well, I know what it’s about but I can’t verbalize just right today. But I know that by the time my copy is ready it’ll be changing again.

Kelly: That’s a nice thing though about websites. They’re not like you’re etching on stone. This is not —

Rebecca: You don’t have to be perfect. You know like we just have to get ourselves out there and make ourselves findable and have something of value and that’s all they’re really about.

Kelly: So, if someone wants to connect with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Rebecca: To find me over at connectifulness.com, because I’m still there. And even when my secondary site is up it’ll still it’ll link to me through there.

Kelly: And is your tribe currently open or is it a closed tribe right now?

Rebecca: The invitation list is open.

Kelly: Okay.

Rebecca: So if people go over top connectfulness.com and go under, I think it’s professionals or for therapists or something like that, they can find what’s called the practice of being seen. So they can find that page and sign up if they’re interested.

Kelly: Very cool.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Kelly: Well, thanks for sharing a bit about your story. I think there’s lots of nuggets of wisdom in there for people to take and apply and if anything, what I love is that your journey has been very creative.

Rebecca: Oh, thanks, Kelly.

Kelly: Yeah. And just like watching you, it’s been really fun. I’m honored to know you and I think you’re someone to really watch out for, in a good way. Oh, it’s not right. You know what I meant.

Rebecca: I think 22:58. Thank you so much. I’ve learned so much from you and Miranda. Thank you for your support.

Kelly: Oh, of course. So if you guys want to check out Rebecca, go to Connectfulness go to the link down below and you can learn about connectfulness there. Lots of awesome content. Rebecca’s writing some – she may say it’s lengthy but spend some really quality narratives that are up there so check them out. All right you guys share the love below. Share this with someone that you know could use this and if you have any questions for Rebecca fill free to comment below if you’re on the blog or shoot an email over over to connectfulness. Thanks you guys.

Rebecca: Take care.

Watch the interview here! 

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Building a Private Practice- Real Life Stories Featuring Rebecca Wong, LCSW

 


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APA Reference
Higdon, K. (2019). Building a Private Practice- Real Life Stories Featuring Rebecca Wong, LCSW. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2019, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/kickstart/2016/03/building-a-private-practice-real-life-stories-featuring-rebecca-wong-lcsw/