Opening up your private practice or “Hanging your shingle” is a moment of real accomplishment in the life of a behavioral health professional. You have completed your education, your internships, your licensure and even done the work required to strike out as an entrepreneur. Hanging Your Shingle can represent the freedom that a seasoned professional earns through experience and training. Did you know that just when you finally reach this pinnacle moment, you may find yourself having to manage a sense of isolation?
I so clearly remember the early days in my private practice. I had planned for many things but I had not developed a plan to manage the isolation that so many in solo practitioners face. With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to provide you with five common reasons why private practice owners feel a sense of isolation and five options for what you can do about it:
Why the Isolation?
1. Making all the decisions on your own. If you have come from a team environment, it requires some adjustment when you have to make all of the decisions on your own without anyone else to run things by or collaborate with. If you are in a solo-practice, you will soon begin to realize that every decision to be made in your practice is made solely by you.
2. Only conversations are with clients. Depending on how you structure your day, it may be that the only conversations you have during business hours are with the people who are your clients. Talking to clients is not the same as social interaction or support, in fact, it can feel like the exact opposite. It is almost as if you are there in the room, but only a part of you is welcome to the conversation.
3. No one to talk to between clients. If you are in an office setting by yourself, think about how it will feel in those moments after a client leaves and the new client has yet to arrive. It makes sense to plan desk work and business calls during the lull between clients and therapists often benefit from a few quiet moments to gather their thoughts. Over time, however, when no one else is physically present, many therapist can begin to feel a sense of isolation.
4. There is no supervisor. Having a supervisor to provide feedback, direction and encouragement is one of the invisible benefits of working in a larger environment. If you have ever had a wonderful supervisor, you know what a huge difference this can make in the development of one’s career. Once you are in practice it can sometimes feel as if your work is being done in a vacuum. Consider that there is no supervisor to provide structure and accountability and you are on your own to manage your time and work flow.
5. Invisibile successes- So when you have had an awesome session where your client experienced a transformational breakthrough or insight, who are you going to tell? Peer supervision is great, but it is not as in the moment as working alongside a colleague can be. If you have back to back sessions, you may not even be able to allow the good feeling of validation sink in before you are on to the next client with a brand new set of issues.
What to do about it:
1. Be sure to access peer supervision to discuss clinical cases. If you are reading this before hanging your shingle, start now with developing a network of clinicians. Having a space to discuss your cases and receive good feedback is essential to taking good care of yourself. Even the most seasoned of clinicians can benefit from the perspective of others in the field. Use this time to not only think through your cases, but to process your thoughts and feelings about your work as well.
2. Work outside of the office when you are not with clients. Find a way to remove yourself from these four walls. Working in a coffee shop, at home or in any environment other than a small office is important when you are a single practitioner in a space on your own.
3. Network with other private practitioners that can relate to what you are experiencing. This is a bit different than supervision. These conversations are about what being in private practice is like, not so much about the work you are doing. This works beautifully when solo practitioners share a larger office space. You can use that environment to connect between sessions, pool resources and work together for creative solutions that benefit everyone’s practice.
4. Stay connected with online groups in social media that discuss issues relevant to you. LinkedIn and Facebook groups that are focused on the work that behavioral health professionals do is a goldmine of support and interaction. Setting up your own profile and then joining groups discussing issues that are relevant to the work you do is a huge source of resources, networking and positive perspective. Join the conversation online but be careful to maintain confidentiality in all your interactions.
5. Connect with consultants: When it comes to making good choices for your business, you are not going to always know everything. The important part is to acknowledge that and be self aware about the areas where you will need support. Once you have identified those areas, invest in working with consultants that offer the expertise that you need. If you can afford to do so, this will help you to stay in your unique strength by focusing on what yo do best and let others support you with the rest. In addition to people like accountants, billers and web designers, it is helpful to have a mentor or coach that has experience with what you are dealing with. This will not only combat isolation but help you develop a strategic approach to help you get good results in your business.
Combating isolation one of the unexpected challenges of hanging your shingle. Once you know that it is a concern, you can be proactive in developing a plan for addressing it. I would love to know what else you think will work. Feel free to connect with me on Facebook or linkedin and let me know what other options you can think of? Perhaps an idea you have can inspire and support someone else.