You do want to ask yourself, “Do I want a full-time or part-time practice? What does that mean to me?” If you have a busy family life or if you have a full-time job, you want to make sure that you balance out the hours you dedicate to your practice with those other commitments. Take the time to think about your current life and how you can build a practice from there.
As a part of our interview series with prominent medical professionals called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Private Practice” I had the pleasure of interviewing Karol Ward, LCSW.
Karol Ward, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist, confidence-building coach, professional speaker, and author. Karol helps talented practitioners, business owners and executives find, claim, and express their inner confidence. Her new book, The Confident Practitioner: How to Start, Build and Maintain a Successful Private Practice comes out in June 2021.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/ff4afc08ad6cc27569c8a88fdc44fdc5
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series Karol! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you ended up where you are?
I think on some level I was always a therapist in training. My father was in the military, so when I was younger, I moved around quite a bit. I believe that kind of upbringing made more aware of other people because I had to figure out how to fit in and make new friends. I was also a good listener, and for some reason liked hearing about other people lives.
That ability to listen stayed with me my whole life and even though I had varied careers like being an actor, walking dogs or working in restaurants, it was always the interaction with other people that I liked the most. It was a natural progression for me become a therapist and now a confidence-building coach.
I’m a huge fan of mentorship throughout one’s career. None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Who has been your biggest mentor? What was the most valuable lesson you learned from them?
One of the biggest mentors I had was a therapist named Dr. Bernard Rosenblum. I was in a support group that he facilitated when I was in my twenties and was trying to figure out my life. I found that I was very drawn to the psychological exploration that happened in the group. At some point, I mentioned that I was thinking of becoming a therapist and Dr. Rosenblum told me that he thought I would be a good one. I had not finished college and knew there was some years of schooling ahead. However, his belief in me, before I even taken one psychology class, propelled me forward to finishing my undergraduate degree and then on to get my master’s degree in social work.
I saw Dr. Rosenblum for supervision once my practice got started. One of the most unique lessons I learned from him had to do with assessing who would stay in therapy and who would not. I remember sharing with him about a particular patient I had just started working with who did not seem to like me that much. Dr. Rosenblum said, “The patients who are overly enthusiastic about who you are and how much you are helping them right at the beginning, usually don’t stay. But the ones who are more cautious about you, often are the ones who stay in therapy the longest. Don’t confuse their initial reserve with a lack of determination to feel better because it’s not a predictor about how they will feel about you later in the process”. Over the years, I found that his perspective was very accurate on who would remain in therapy and who would not.
What made you want to start your own practice? Can you tell us the story of how you started it?
Once I decided I wanted to be a therapist, I knew I wanted my own practice. I like the autonomy of private practice and being in business for myself.
Before I started, I was doing an internship at a clinic in New York City, which was a requirement for achieving my master’s degree in social work at Fordham University. While I was attending school, I was also doing a four year post graduate program in somatic therapy, which focuses on the how the body holds trauma and emotional expression. In addition, in order to pay for school, I worked full time as an office manager for a travel agency.
Right after I graduated from Fordham, I studied for my licensing exam and took the test. Once I passed, I started researching where I could rent office space. I was able to find a place that rented to therapists by the hour and decided to rent a three-hour block of time in the evening, once a week. At that point I had no patients but believed that by renting the space I was establishing that I was ready for business. I also felt that I wouldn’t have to scramble to find space once I did have some patients.
I continued to work in the travel agency and then my own therapist referred a patient to me (another person who believed in me). That one patient paid for that three-hour block of time and eventually I got two more patients. Through referrals I began to build a practice, left the travel agency, and went on to establish a full-time practice.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
An interesting part of my journey is that I discovered a love of public speaking. I met someone at a networking event who mentioned that he belonged to a local Toastmasters club and invited me to attend as a guest. I loved being there and became active in the club by attending meetings on a regular basis. I had the opportunity to practice public speaking and started sharing different psychological topics in front of other members who had different professional backgrounds.
One of the members of the club asked me if I was interested in teaching a six-hour workshop on the psychology of good communication skills to a group of college professors At that point, I had never spoken longer than 10 mins in public and that was just in my Toastmaster club. But I was thrilled to be asked, and because I was more excited than scared, I said yes. I put together a program and the workshop went very well. From then on, I have given presentations and workshops on such topics as building confidence, stress reduction, handling worry and the psychology of communication.
Because it is a “helping profession”, some healthcare providers struggle with the idea of “monetization.” How do you address the business aspect of running a medical practice? Can you share a story or example?
I understand the struggle practitioners have with being in a helping profession where the idea of money can feel odd.
But it is so important for practitioners to include themselves in the dynamic of helping others. They need to remember to help themselves and part of that is being paid for their services.
I now coach practitioners on building private practices and a crucial part to that coaching is helping them remember the value they offer their clients. Many of them start out over-giving and under-earning because giving to others is built into this career choice. And to be honest, practice building is not really taught in school beyond the basics of how to do initial intakes and establishing goals with the client. The focus in school is all about acquiring the clinical skills needed to be an effective social worker and that makes perfect sense.
However, that leaves practitioner to figure out how to manage a practice while helping others. When I work with practitioners, I help them remember that their passion for helping others heal needs to be balanced with financial self-care. That balance helps them stay engaged in their practice and financially fulfilled in their careers.
Managing being a provider and a business owner is a constant balancing act. How do you manage both roles?
I manage that balance by keeping my eye on how much I am giving and how well my practice is thriving. I sent aside time each week to work on my practice. That doesn’t mean I’m sitting at my computer all day, working on billing, notes and marketing though I do that as part of my business. What I also do is schedule time to just think creatively or dream about what I want to do next in my business. I carve out time to talk with friends, take walks, read, or watch something light so that my brain has the space to imagine what’s my next action steps will be.
From completing your degree to opening a practice and becoming a business owner, your path was most likely challenging. Can you share a story about one of your greatest struggles? Can you share what you did to overcome it?
I think my biggest struggle was believing that I could actually be a good therapist. I remember when I got my first client, I cried, not from joy, but from fear. I was scared about my lack of experience and worried I would turn out to be less helpful than I wanted. But I reached out to my supervisor who assured me that I could do this. From then on, whenever I have doubt or concern about anything regarding my practice, I make sure to reach out to someone I trust to get support and perspective.
Ok, thank you. Here is the main question of our interview. What are the 5 things you need to know to create a thriving practice, and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Practice Building Mindset: How you view the process of building your practice depends on your belief in your ability and right to have a practice. Make the conscious choice to replace thoughts of how hard it’s going to be with more realistic thoughts of how consistent effort will build the practice you want.
Scope of Practice: Thinking about who you want to work, and why, will help you define the parameters of your practice.The more clearly you understand who your ideal client is, the better you can shape your practice to fit your expertise and the needs of that population. You may have to be flexible when you first start your practice but working with a variety of people will help you clarify future choices.
Hours of Operation: You do want to ask yourself, “Do I want a full-time or part-time practice? What does that mean to me?” If you have a busy family life or if you have a full-time job, you want to make sure that you balance out the hours you dedicate to your practice with those other commitments. Take the time to think about your current life and how you can build a practice from there.
Different Referral Streams: Establishing referral pipelines is crucial because they allow for a continuous flow of patients into your practice. Even the most robust practices will ebb and flow. A successful private practitioner needs to pay attention to, and cultivate, referral sources whether that’s from other practitioners, networking, or sharing their expertise with the public.
Policies and Procedures: This is the structure of how your practice runs. The cardinal rule for establishing structure is that everyone is on the same page. You want to discuss policies such as fees, scheduling, and cancellation procedures. You have this conversation to eliminate confusion and it will set you on a solid business foundation.
As a business owner you spend most of your time working IN your practice, seeing patients. When and how do you shift to working ON your practice? (Marketing, upgrading systems, growing your practice, etc.) How much time do you spend on the business elements?
I have carved out a full day, where I don’t’ see any clients and that’s when I work on my business. I break up the day and work on different areas such as answering emails, writing for newsletter, posting on specific social media sites, and doing research on different psychological topics. If you don’t have a full day, you can set aside two hours each weekend or evening to focus on practice building activities.
I understand that the healthcare industry has unique stresses and hazards that other industries don’t have. What specific practices would you recommend to other healthcare leaders to improve their physical or mental wellness? Can you share a story or example?
Personal time is the one that comes to mind. When you work in the helping professions, you expend a lot of energy on supporting other people through different issues in their lives. While the work is gratifying, it’s important to have downtime where you do things that are pleasurable and fun.
Also making sure there are enough breaks between clients will help you stay in balance. I try to schedule a walk when it’s nice or eat my lunch outside of the office (pre-pandemic). Now I still try to get out once a day and then after my day is done, do things that allow my mind to unwind.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant in your own life?
I really like this quote by Leonard Bernstein, “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time”.
I have used this quote whenever I have to face change, planned or otherwise in my life. When I wrote my first book, I had a deadline for when I had to turn it into the publisher. I created a plan of how many words I would need to write daily in order to make that deadline. Having a specific timeline and a plan of action, allowed me to finish the book on time and created a good rapport with the publisher.
You can use the same motivation to build a practice. Set the date of when you want to get it started and then create a step-by-step plan to make it happen. You will be glad you did.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success and good health!