A Glimpse into a Private Practice Career with Kathleen Wenger, LMFT

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Kathleen Wenger, LMFT, held a Private Practice Visit at her practice in Laguna Beach earlier this month. Our next Private Practice Visit will be with Chris Hoff, LMFT, at his practice, California Family Institute, on March 24. Here are some insights from Kathleen into building a private practice provided by two of the attendees at her event!
Kays Professional Photo

 

Intro by Ryan Heapy
Ever since I saw my first therapist at the age of 13, I’ve always felt a sense of privilege when walking into a therapists domain.The thought that always arises when taking that first step beyond those doors is, “So this is where the magic happens!” Not only did Kathleen’s office portray that sense of magic, it epitomized it. I can’t entirely recall if I was able to see the ocean from her office window, which really didn’t matter, because it was her office’s ambiance that gave you the feeling you might as well be having a therapeutic session right there on the sand. Although, instead of worrying about sand in your shoes and clothes, you were in a pristine, serene, office with three to four incredibly comfortable Lazy Boy chairs well placed between them. Now I can’t speak for everyone, but I can imagine this is an office that most of us can only dream of having, no matter what the profession.

 

Because of the intimacy, warmth, and serenity that her office provides, we students were put right at ease to ask many questions about the nuts and bolts of starting, managing, and maintaining a private practice such as this. We were also able to discuss other business aspects such as marketing tools, networking, and even google analytics to ensure that we will have enough clients to keep our businesses afloat, yet not so many that we ourselves start to drown and lose our effectiveness.

 

In a previous career of mine, which feels like a lifetime ago, I had a boss who is still to this day, one of the greatest marketing professionals to walk the planet. His motto for himself and us, his staff, was always “GET INVOLVED!! Make Friends! And then GET EVEN MORE INVOLVED!!” Not only did that motto work well for our career then, but I believe it is the perfect credo for all of us that one day wish to excel in this incredible field of clinical psychology. If you or anyone you know ever get to partake in an opportunity like this in the future, I can not stress enough the importance of attending to help further your dream of establishing such a successful private practice. 

 

Notes from Ryan Heapy and Kalina Preston
A group of 7 students were in attendance at Kathleen Wenger’s private practice visit in Laguna Beach. Kathleen gave a lot of great insight, helpful tips, useful advice and shared some mistakes made along the way of creating her private practice. Here are some of the main and helpful points discussed by Kathleen:

The Office

  • Location, location, location! Where your practice is located, the accessibility, parking, potential neighbors, how many therapists are located in that area, how close you are to other towns, handicapped accessible, were discussed, and Kathleen shared some of her personal experiences and tips with these points. For example: While Laguna Beach is a beautiful location, it is not as easily accessible for clients to drive to.
  • Find an office space that is highly accessible and comfortable! It’s never good to start sessions late because your clients are consistently getting lost looking for your office. Is there ample parking for your clients? Will they have to feed a meter every time they see you? Will they have to take a toll road?
  • Pay attention to the little things when signing your lease. Is there A/C? (Are you and your clients going to be sweating during the summer months in your sessions?) Is there a cleaning service included for your office or for the building? (Your office is a direct reflection of yourself!)
  • Starting up your practice and expenses along the way: Kathleen discussed the pro’s and con’s of either renting or subletting a space, and shed light that subletting is a cheaper option especially for a new therapist. In terms of expenses, rent is going to be the most expensive. Other expenses to consider are whether or not to have an accountant, or a web manger for your website. Another major expense- furnishing your new space. The group was all in agreement with how comfortable and relaxing the space was. The walls were painted a relaxing, faint green, new furniture, and the comfortable chairs! Kathleen shared that the set of rocking, reclining chairs she purchased were expensive, but a “worth-it” expense so that both herself and clients are sitting comfortably during sessions. A remark I heard in the group that I feel is a great representation of Kathleen’s practice was something to the effect of the space not looking like a “typical therapist’s office ”and that it looked and felt comfortable along with being non-intimidating.
  • Decor – Make it comfortable for not only your clients, but for yourself. Think about the lighting, during the day and at night. The artwork. And of course the furniture. Ask yourself, “Is there enough room to have a comfortable family session here?” (I can’t put into to words how incredibly comfortable Kathleen’s Lazy Boy Chairs were. They were a perfect balance in having the controls to sit upright and attentive during a session, and to also stretch out as the therapist in between sessions and get some much needed relaxation.)
  • Make sure your office space isn’t smack dab in the middle of hundreds of other LMFTs — separate yourself from the crowd.
  • WIFI, Computer Access – Unless we partner up with a large coalition of other therapists, we will have to be resourceful in finding inexpensive ways to obtain such services.A good laptop can be our best friend. Most cell phone companies offer “hot spots” (small boxes/routers) that provide internet access for around $20.00 a month. 
  • Billing and Scheduling – For quick billing there is a service called Square, which works directly with your cell phone or tablet and charges a fee of around $3-$5 dollars per session (depending on how much you bill your sessions). Simplepractice.com has a great layout that tracks your billing, your schedule, and even process notes. Paypal is another alternative that accepts credit cards and checks at just slightly smaller fees. 

Marketing

  • Kathleen shared the importance of getting your name out there and strategies in doing so. Kathleen showed the group her website she created specifically for her practice. Having a website is a really useful tool for getting people to know about you, and for getting clients. In this day and age, about 60-70% of clients found their therapist online. Along with creating a website, having Social Media pages, joining registries, creating business cards, advertisements and attending conferences, have all been useful and successful tools for Kathleen in marketing her practice and gaining clients.
  • There are a few companies that specialize in building great websites for therapists for very reasonable prices (approx. $100.) Therapysites.com has great ease of use to customize a highly professional site, with do it your self capability. Accompany your website with a program called Wufoo.com and you’ll be at the top of your game. Wufoo.com allows you to create forms, blogs, surveys, and data management to ensure client satisfaction and the latest up-to-date information for you clients.
  • Keep your website current! Add blogs, posts, newspaper articles, etc… Just like our ever-changing technological advances, our clients want a therapist who is forward-thinking as well. We all know to well how quickly we click another link if we stumble on to a webpage that hasn’t been updated in years, so try to keep your clients engage and let them know you’re just as cutting edge as they are.
  • SEO / Google Analytics – For those of you that don’t know, SEO means Search Engine Optimization. In plain English, that means doing all the things necessary to get your website at the very top of the list when someone googles anything about therapy. Once again, the more exposure the better.
  • Get your name out there! – Sites like Theravive.com, Marriagefriendlytherapists.com, Psychologytoday.com, AAMFT.org, and CAMFT.org are all great places we should be advertising ourselves. There are even more out there and we should be getting ourselves on each and every one of them. 
  • Kathleen strongly encouraged becoming a member of CAMFT- A great resource for upcoming, and current MFT’s. CAMFT not only has a referral page, they also offer useful forms (HIPPA, other clinical forms) for you to use in your practice, great resources and information on upcoming conferences. All are ways to not only stay informed, but again to get yourself and name out there.
  • Speak! Contribute! Write! Volunteer! – There are plenty of different avenues available to contribute to the field which in turn only adds exposure to ourselves. Get involved in different organizations. Write columns for magazines and journals. Speak at panels and conferences. The more exposure the better! Whether on social media sites, church newsletters, or the local neighborhood paper, all of these help. If there is a niche market you specialize in, reach out to the many organizations that already exist, or even better, start your own organizations! 

The students reported this discussion to be really helpful, and a lot of light was shed on all of the nuances there are in creating a private practice and marketing yourself. Keep your eye out for the next practice/agency visit- a valuable resource for those interested in creating a practice!

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