“A big thank you to Dr. Traci Lowenthal for sharing her private practice story. Too many therapists feel alone on the journey of starting a private practice. Share your favorite part of Traci’s story in the comments section!.” -Kelly and Miranda
I still remember sitting in one of my first graduate school classes. You know the one: “Let’s go around and introduce ourselves, tell each other how we came to enroll in the program, and a potential long-term goal we have.” I was the only one to say I wanted to work in private practice.
Though I vacillated in my vision a bit over the years, ultimately I couldn’t imagine doing anything else, and I knew I’d find a way to make it happen. I had so far done a pretty good job of planning my life path, and didn’t see any reason I couldn’t plan a successful private practice as well!
As with most programs, my Psy.D program provided zero training or education related to life after internship and postdoctoral fellowships. Being a planner, I began planning for private practice early. Year 3, of a 5-year program to be exact.
During this time, my husband’s job was based in Southern California, and I had a new baby daughter, so I knew I would not be applying for out of area internships. I realized that I could apply for internships that would allow me to create relationships that I could use to build a referral network following licensure.
Where do you want to build a private practice?
My one piece of advice for students interested in private practice is this: Figure out early on where you want to live and work, if possible. Base some of your decisions (practicum, pre doc, and post doc) on that choice. If you see yourself living in Boston, consider doing an internship or other placement in Boston. Start to connect with the members of the community in which you want to work.
When I was in school, social media wasn’t a resource. Had it been, I probably would have begun getting in touch with groups and professionals in that way too. Find therapists online that emulate what your goals are. Get in touch with them. Offer to assist them and actually do it.
Create REAL relationships
Remember, you’re not just trying to get temporarily connected, you’re seeking to create long-term, professionally supportive relationships; a network you can reach out to, and who can reach out to you to consult, support and refer.
I ultimately only applied for one internship (not a decision I would recommend). I had done a practicum training at the same site and felt solid clinically, and I knew the staff felt the same way about me based on feedback they had given. I was awarded the internship and continued to build those strong relationships.
I had a chance to work with skilled professionals and received terrific training. For my first post doc, I switched to another college counseling center, then later returned to the first one to receive a second post doc. By this time, it was clear I was a trusted part of the community. Once licensed, I was able to immediately begin receiving referrals. This was the best thing I did to establish my practice. I continue to receive a large number of referrals from the same counseling center, 5 years later.
Moving closer to your private practice vision
The town I began my practice in was a 30 to 45 minute drive from my home. I knew I didn’t want to do that several days a week and worked toward being closer to home. Because I had extensive college counseling center experience, I called and inquired about getting on the University of Redlands’ referral list. That single phone call led to a lunch, which led to many teaching opportunities, referrals, and a strong relationship with some wonderful clinicians. I have no doubt those relationships will continue to serve the students of our community for years to come.
Though I never received formal practice building guidance, I feel fortunate that I felt courageous enough to ask for what I wanted. I encourage you to tap into that skill and use it as you plan and visualize your future.
The miracle question
We ask clients the miracle question: how can you do it for yourself? We need to ask ourselves that question. Imagine your best version of private practice and create a to-do list of things that will lead you there. Try to view the idea of running a successful private practice as attainable (instead of overwhelming).
My practice has grown in ways I never imagined: I now have two interns and love supervising and watching their professional growth. When I started out, I would have never had the confidence or know-how to take on two trainees. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to employ them and am really enjoying stretching professionally in this way. I work with them to create their own dream career, but always reminding them that it really is the relationships that help us build our practices.
So remember, if you want to create your own private practice:
1. Plan early! It’s never too early in your academic or professional career to visualize and begin working toward your private practice. Planning and thinking ahead was crucial for the success of my practice.
2. Reach out! Connect to professionals in your specialty area and/or city you’d like to work in. They are invaluable resources for you. Ask to meet with them or assist them in some way. Soak in the learning!
3. Observe and Learn: Look at professionals you hope to emulate and examine what they are doing. What’s worked for them is likely to inform you and help you with your goal setting.
Dr. Traci Lowenthal is a clinical psychologist in Southern California specializing in working the LGBQ and Trans* Communities. Her passion is helping individuals and families find their way through the socially constructed binary.
She is the founder of Creative Insights Counseling http://creativeinsightscounseling.com and is a member of WPATH. Dr. Lowenthal is a consultant, columnist and blog writer. She also provides supervision for MFT Interns. Dr.Lowenthal is adjunct faculty at the University of Redlands and University of La Verne.