My first year of private practice
I set up my private practice in late Spring 2016, full of hope and optimism, and ended my first year with the same positivity. The months in between, however, were an emotional rollercoaster.
It was tough. I was wracked with self-doubt, wondering if I was good enough to ‘go it alone’. I was disappointed if clients cancelled or, even worse, didn’t turn up. I worried (a lot) about whether I could make a decent living from being a counsellor. It was also brilliant. I felt elated when a client had even the tiniest breakthrough, and proud when they ended therapy in a much better place than when they first walked into my room.
In 12 months I think I learnt as much as I was taught in four years. On reflection, these were my top five lessons:
1. Be patient and trust in the process
I was always cynical when my tutor used to say this, but it’s true. When I set up my practice I was in the process of moving house and working part-time in a corporate job I didn’t enjoy – I was stressed and tired. I only had a handful of enquiries in those first few months and saw just three clients. As soon as I moved and resigned from my job the clients came, and they’ve not stopped since!
2. You get the clients you need
Another teaching I used to metaphorically roll my eyes at when I was training. But this is true too. When I’d had a good run of positive outcomes, I’d get a really challenging client. When I needed clients with a certain presentation (I’m now studying to be a psychosexual therapist), as soon as I stopped worrying and trusted in the process, they came through the door. In the months after my father died, I didn’t have a single enquiry from someone going through bereavement; instead I had lots of enquiries from young people who wanted to improve their mental health so that they could live life to the full.
3. Self-belief is vital
You will feel vulnerable, and that's ok. I lost count of how many times I changed my online profiles and my website in the first few months. Why weren’t clients queuing up to see me? “Maybe they can tell I’m newly qualified and want someone with more experience?” “Maybe I’m not cut out to be a counsellor?”“Maybe I’m not worth what I’m charging?” My peers told me not to be daft but I wondered if I needed to go back into therapy myself.
Many a time I had to remind myself of all the hard work I’d put into my training, the hundreds of hours I’d worked in placements, and the changes I’d seen in clients during that time. I hadn’t suddenly become a less competent counsellor just because I’d started charging clients instead of working as a volunteer.
4. Self-care is vital too
It's exciting setting up your private practice but it can also be exhausting. When clients did start emailing and calling, I was terrified to say no. “What if I say no now and no one ever contacts me again?” Having been able to rely on a regular income for 33 years, not knowing how much I would earn from month to month was scary; so the more clients I saw, the more I earnt.
About nine months into my first year, I was exhausted. I took a long hard look at myself. I’d left the corporate world because of stress and here I was creating more. I became a counsellor to achieve a greater sense of personal fulfilment and support others through difficult times, not to make lots of money.
So I started to say no, and when clients ended I stopped panicking. I’ve reduced the number of clients I see to a manageable level and I now have a waiting list. I also have time to practice yoga, walk the dog and spend time with my husband! Having too many clients is not only detrimental to their wellbeing; it’s detrimental to yours too.
5. You need to be a first-rate PA
I learnt this lesson the hard way. Not only are diary management skills essential – including scheduling in downtime – you also have to be on top of cancellations and changes.
One Friday morning I had a leisurely shower and took my time getting ready – I didn’t have my first client until 10.30. At 9.00 there was a knock at the door. Assuming it was a delivery, I opened the door in my dressing gown (it’s a long one!), with a towel on my head – much to the shock of a new client who had emailed a few days previously to say that she wasn’t sure if she would she was ready to start counselling. So I took her appointment out of my diary, but failed to confirm the cancellation with her – schoolgirl error. Apologising profusely, I popped her in the living room with a cup of tea while I quickly got ready. Needless to say, she didn’t return after that first session.
Would I change anything? No, I don’t think so. I needed those lessons. I didn’t go back into therapy – my peers and my supervisor challenged my self-doubt and reminded me of the importance of self-care. The rest of the time, I hung on in there and kept my fingers crossed that what my tutor had taught me was true. Trust in the process, and believe in yourself. You are a good enough counsellor.
Diane qualified as an integrative counsellor in 2015, and will qualify as a psychosexual and relationship therapist later this year. In addition to working in private practice, she currently has two placements for her current diploma course and also works with Mind, as a ‘counselling buddy’ – they’re running a pilot programme in Croydon to support hoarders in de-cluttering their homes.
You can contact Diane via her website here