This conversation is part of an ongoing Psycom Pro podcast series. Part 1 focuses on the importance of mentorship and networking when starting a career in clinical psychology. Part 2 focuses on how to start a private practice. Listen to the full conversation in the Psycast playlist, titled “How to Get Your Private Practice Started” or read the transcript below.*

Julie Kolzet, PhD

Julie Kolzet, PhD

Private Practice: Building a Client Base

Drakulich: You previously shared that you trained in a group practice and were able to bring some clients with you when you started your own practice. Is that a common experience?

Dr. Kolzet: I believe it’s fairly common, however, these days, it may be easier to hang a shingle sans any boots on the ground, so to speak. One reason being the advent of concierge services and other digital health platforms that are designed to help match patients with mental health professionals for a fee.

But there are some benefits to these new care platforms. Professionals can make their availability known in a way that, previously, they weren’t able to do. I believe these new one-stop shops will continue to translate into more early career psychologists filling up their schedule sooner than they would have otherwise and, thereby, perhaps bypassing the group practice training. (Editor’s Note: Look for our next conversation on the changes taking place in mental and behavioral health practice and read more about meeting high client demand.)

Drakulich:  To go a bit deeper into your own experience, how did you make the transition from group to private practice? Any key lessons learned?

Dr. Kolzet: Yes, that was a pivotal point in my career and when I was ready to go out on my own, meaning I had an office ready and was available to start seeing patients,  it was important that I let my patients know the facts before I moved, such as my planned office location, hours, the fee structure, etc.

Many patients in the group practice chose to follow me to private practice – we had bonded therapeutically and, logistically, it made sense for them. I think this shows how rapport building and personalized care are essential. And it’s always important to instill the message that it’s the patient’s right to choose what is best for him or her, as far as the continuation of care is concerned.

Drakulich: I think that’s a good point. So let’s say that you have a handful of first clients – how do you grow that client base? Are there any industry expectations as to how many clients you might have after Year 1 or Year 2 as you grow your practice?

Dr. Kolzet: As far as the first question goes, I would say marketing, networking, and experience over time help to grow a client base. In addition, you can grow a caseload by participating in lectures, presentations, and workshops; volunteering at clinics; publishing; and sending thank you notes to those you’ve worked with along the way.

It’s important to have reasonable expectations for the growth process of your practice. It may also depend on whether private practice work is your exclusive focus. For instance, when I started my practice, it was not uncommon for people fresh out of postdoc to work in an agency or hospital part-time while building up a caseload.

Balancing Administrative Tasks and Time with Clients

Drakulich: You mentioned quite a few tasks in building a practice and I’d like to talk about time management. What advice would you give in terms of new therapists dividing time between administrative tasks and sessions with clients, and trying to find balance in between?

Dr. Kolzet: Balance should definitely be considered. I’d highlight that you have to take into account the administrative piece –   you don’t want to fall behind on patient notes, billing, or insurance work. Streamlining your systems is important.

COVID has changed a lot of this, one negative consequence being that it has posed challenges to creating and maintaining regular hours and keeping to a schedule. Both of these are necessary components of balance.

Drakulich: At what point would you say it’s safe to hire an assistant or add another staff member to your practice to help with these things?

Dr. Kolzet: I’ll answer this question with a quote that my father used to say, “Those who know do, those that understand teach.” I think this quote is relevant here because you have to understand how you want your business to be run before you can hire help. There’s something to be said for “learning the ropes.”

It takes time before you understand what type of administrative help you really need. Yet, it’s important to ask for help when you need it –  you certainly don’t want to compromise patient care or your own wellbeing in any way.

Drakulich: It seems that, just as patients are handled on a case-by-case basis, it’s important also for practitioners to run their practice based on their individual circumstances.

Dr. Kolzet: That’s exactly right.

See also, how to set your practice environment to deliver trauma-informed care.

Marketing Your New Practice: From Directory Listings to Finding that Social Media Sweetspot

Drakulich: Let’s talk about marketing your practice. There are a wide range of ways that psychologists can list themselves online so that potential clients can find them – whether it’s a professional society directory or having a website – and yet some practitioners can only be found via word of mouth. What marketing strategies have worked for you?

Dr. Kolzet: Well, in short, all the above. Sometimes, I’m amazed by what approach sticks and for early career practitioners, I want to stress that the space is changing.

Drakulich: How, then, would you advise that new practitioners approach social media in a way that shows their expertise without giving away personal information?

Dr. Kolzet: I recommend people keep professional accounts – personal accounts should be kept private and you may want to ask family and friends not to tag you, and so on.

As a general rule of thumb, if you would hesitate to put it on a postcard that you’d mail to a client, don’t put it online. You can also run posts by colleagues or mentors if you have any questions about potential helpfulness or relevance.

The American Psychological Association provides guidelines on this and I would encourage people to familiarize themselves with these recommendations.

Drakulich: How would you describe your style on social media? In other words, how do you integrate what you’re posting with your professional goals?

Dr. Kolzet: As with many things in life, it can take time to “find” or arrive at one’s social media presence. I try to err on the side of caution. I also identified early on some social media role models in the field whose values seemed to be in line with mine and whose voices spoke to me.

I think it’s important to strive for balance when posting – the balance of professionalism, authenticity, humor, relatability, warmth, motivation, humility, and of course, there’s fallibility. I have gone back and looked at some of my posts and noticed spelling errors, for instance. We are all human. But above all else, I think it’s helpful to consider your client base and how they will be helped or harmed by any social media presence –that’s what I keep in mind when using any social platform.

To this end, it could be helpful to consider the Hippocratic Oath. Your social media actions should not do harm or cause injustice. But also keep in mind that harm or injustice can be linked to inaction. I think that many individuals, especially younger people, who are tech-savvy appreciate a modicum of a patient-sensitive online presence. This is one way the field has evolved positively over the past decade.

Professional Development: Keep an Eye on Evolving Practice Models

Drakulich: In terms of professional development, what’s your take on continued education such as attending conferences or adjunct teaching, for new practitioners?

Dr. Kolzet:  Opportunities abound in today’s mental and behavioral health space – it’s an exciting time to teach, to learn virtually, and certainly to be an industry expert, advisor, or consultant – and even to mental health startups (more on this in Part 3, coming soon!).

But in brief, when it comes to success, we must strive to “move with the cheese” (for those who know the book), adapt to the times, and evolve as the healthcare landscape evolves. This can mean getting involved in a myriad of things, including the integration of new technologies into one’s practice, along with the thoughtful consideration as to whether the traditional ways of conducting a practice still make sense. I think attending conferences and networking will always matter but it’s important to follow evolving business strategies, trends, and growth prospects in the mental health and behavioral health field.

 

Next Up: Dr. Kolzet talks about the evolving landscape of private practice in mental and behavioral health care – how it’s defined today, what new patient access and client matching models look like, and how to stay ahead of the game.

*Transcript edited for clarity and style.

Last Updated: Mar 31, 2021