This Q&A is part of a new Psycom Pro series on what young professionals and clinical psychology graduate students, interns, and fellows may want to keep in mind as they look to shaping careers – and conversation – in clinical practice. Listen to the full conversation in the playlist below, titled “Psycom Pro: What I Wish…” or read the transcript.* Part 2 of this series dives into building a client base and marketing your practice and Part 3 examines digital mental health care models and their impact on private practice.

Setting a Course for Perseverance

Drakulich: The focus of our conversation today is what you wish your younger therapist self knew before entering clinical practice. Thinking back to your doctoral and fellowship days, what major themes come to mind? What were you perhaps most nervous about – and most excited about?

Dr. Kolzet: As far as themes go, one word sticks out: perseverance. I was not particularly nervous to start a practice – and maybe I should have been, but I was more excited about what was ahead. What helped minimize any case of nerves I did have was that I did not set unrealistic expectations for success. I planned as best as I could to manage those expectations by speaking to my mentors, asking to join to certain professional organizations, and reading books about how to logistically set up a practice – which they don’t teach you in graduate school. I was also lucky to train in a group private practice and several patients followed me when I started my own practice.

Also, I think knowing early on that I wanted private practice work was incredibly helpful because I started connecting with people early on in my doctoral career who I admired and who had successful practices of their own. You really have to seek out that support.

Lastly, I believe my undergraduate degree in advertising and marketing set me up for success because similar to psychology, in advertising, you have to appeal to people’s rationale and emotions. So my earlier career, if you will, gave me an edge.

Grappling with Practice Administrative Duties

Drakulich: So it sounds like you had a good handle on what to expect and what questions to ask. Once you started your own practice and then consulting later on, what challenges emerged?

Dr. Kolzet: For me, the administrative piece has always been a challenge. Before I advanced in my career enough to hire administrative help, I was doing everything on my own – and honestly, sometimes I still take on too many admin roles because it can be hard to switch gears.

But the marketing of the practice, the networking, the continued education, the billing – that all adds up.

The Crucial Role of Mentors

Drakulich: Right. It sounds like you have to be going in 360 different directions to tackle all those fronts. You mentioned mentors – how did your mentors guide you through this phase, and why do you think they are so important for new practitioners?

Dr. Kolzet: I had a wonderful mentor – a psychiatrist who is still practicing today. I found her just before I went into my doctoral program while doing a master’s in counseling and psychology. I actually found her in a phone book! I was in the Barbizon Hotel on East 63rd Street in Manhattan, which some may not know had been a female-only residence from the 1920s to 1960s for young women who came to New York for professional opportunities but still wanted a place that felt like home.

Having good mentors sets the stage for one’s career and I think it’s good to seek out several– maybe somebody that you admire in terms of how they’ve grown their practice and another one you can turn to for collaborative patient care or educational opportunities.

When you seek a mentor, you never know who is going to stick, so to speak, but my mentor and I are still very close to this day. In fact, I like to think of our early connection in a historical location of leadership growth among professional women as symbolic and meaningful. (More from Dr. Kolzet on finding meaning for yourself and your clients.)

Drakulich: Have you had the opportunity to shift roles and become a mentor yourself?

Dr. Kolzet:  Yes, I have – and it’s been one of my favorite parts of my career. I have an externship practice where I have mentored about 12 people over 10 years – advanced doctoral students mostly – many of whom were from my alma mater. I created the program because I noticed there was a dearth of private practice opportunities for doctoral students. Most doctoral students get trained in hospital settings or community agencies. The externship is essentially an internship where you get the opportunity to work directly with patients. There’s also a didactic component to the program that I created.

When to Choose a Specialty

 Drakulich: That sounds like quite the opportunity! While students are finishing their training, and taking advantage of things like externships and internships, what’s your take on specialization? Is it important to have that specialty in mind, say, even when still in grad school?

Dr. Kolzet: It takes time to develop one’s professional self. Certainly, one can begin formulating ideas for specialization during graduate school but I encourage people not to limit themselves too early because interests evolve, people evolve.

I would suggest that when it comes to research,  choose a topic that you know aligns with an area of passion or area of interest for you, and perhaps where you see yourself working in the future.

But that doesn’t mean that you have to be wedded to that topic.

Networking, Networking, Networking

 Drakulich: You mentioned networking, which is important in any career, but especially for mental health professionals who may find themselves feeling isolated if they are not in a group practice or a hospital practice. How can rising clinicians create a supportive professional environment for themselves, especially in today’s pandemic environment?

Dr. Kolzet: Networking is very important. It helps you professionally and personally because, yes,  private practice can be isolating. Networking can keep you in the know about what’s happening in various fields of psychology as well as what’s happening outside of your own circle.

It also serves as a personal support system. Talking with colleagues has helped me numerous, to feel validated, for example, and has helped me see that some of my experiences are universal.

In terms of the pandemic, people have gotten used to Zoom, and there’s certainly the old-fashioned phone call. Either one can be an efficient way to catch up.

Joining webinars and conferences can also help you to virtually meet new people. And today, there may be access to conferences as so many have gone online, so you don’t have to travel and may see lower rates to attend.

A Word about Personal Therapists

Drakulich: You hinted at personal support, and I’d like to know whether you feel therapists should have their own therapists?  Certainly, we all know that clinicians are people, too, and face their own stress, depression, anxiety, sleep issues, etc.

Dr. Kolzet: The short answer is Yes. Some programs even require students to engage in therapy. It all goes back to really working on one’s social support network. It’s all connected.

I think it’s important to highlight that mental health takes work, not just for therapists, but for everyone – especially now. It’s not a passive process. It’s an active process and part of that active process is asking for help, reaching out, and really, sometimes, fighting for yourself.

Final Words of Wisdom

Drakulich: Any last advice to offer to those entering the field of clinical psychology?

Dr. Kolzet: You don’t have to do everything all at once. And this may be more relevant to those thinking of private practice – but you learn by doing. Certainly you don’t want to practice outside your scope at any point, but it’s OK not to have all the answers.

Be open to mistakes. Keep learning. Stay current. Don’t over-commit yourself. Be creative.

Finally, seek out positive mentors and relationships that will motivate you to give back.

 

*Edited for clarity and style.

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Last Updated: Jun 15, 2021