How to Get Taken Seriously as a Mental Health Professional

Many therapists looking to start or grow their private practice often wonder the same question when they are starting out:  How do I get referrals?  If you can tolerate a mild rant, I may have one answer for you.

Let’s look at this concern through a tried and true mental health paradigm.  First, we take a symptom, and then we look at the underlying conflict that the symptom represents.

So what’s the symptom?  That’s easy, head on over to LinkedIn and take a look at several profile pictures of colleagues.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  What did you see?  When I looked I saw some professional headshots, but more of the following:

  • blank photos
  • top of head/ chin cut off
  • people in front of a car
  • waterfalls
  • tank tops
  • the “I’m holding my phone camera at arm’s length” shot
  • at a party
  • graduation gown
  • flower
  • too dark to see
  • wearing sunglasses
  • skiing


If you want to generate referrals, this may be a problem. Some colleagues may have a different opinion or be too diplomatic to say this, but let me not mince words.  If you don’t have a professional headshot it is doubtful I will refer to you.  I don’t send people to waterfalls for psychotherapy.  I suspect people wearing shades of paranoia or vampirism.  I envy people who can ski much too much to ever want to help them grow their business.  Cars in photos are either nicer than mine or too shabby, triggering too much judgment either way.  And party-goers scare me.  😉

My experience as a consultant has been that these headshots are symptomatic of one of two scenarios:

1.  You don’t take social media seriously.  In this day and age, our potential patients want to see us before they see us.  They often do their research by checking out our online presence.  If you go on LinkedIn for example, you may find that several people viewed your profile this week.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  I have seen great head shots in black and white, or even avatars for online therapists, so it doesn’t have to be a standard color shot.  But the way technology works now, whatever picture you choose will most likely attach to your emails, tweets, blog comments, posts, and feeds of all kinds. There are exceptions to this, like my colleague Social Jerk, who needs to maintain a tight hold on her anonymity to allow for her to create such creative and satiric posts about social work.  But if you are not trying to be a satirist, but rather grow a therapy practice, this will not work for you.  And if you’re on Twitter, please don’t be an egg.  When I need to jettison followers to follow additional people, the eggs are often the first to go.  Accept that social media is the point of professional first contact with your colleagues and customers.  Take it seriously.

2.  You don’t take yourself as a therapist and businessperson seriously.  Anyone that has read this blog or chatted with me at a workshop can probably tell you that I am neither dour nor constantly serious.  I certainly think there is a lot of room in our profession for humanity, play and creativity.

That said, we are in the business of providing treatment for serious concerns, working with people who have a range of predicaments.  We assess for suicidality, psychosis and trauma.  Your patients come to you with vulnerability and hope that you will help them create profound change, recovery and healing in their lives, maybe even help them stay alive.  If you think that therapy is just two people in a room chatting, then by all means keep the beach picture.

To get a professional head shot requires investment of your time and money.  It is a business expense.  If you are unwilling to invest in a professional image to represent your business concern I suspect you are not ready to own and run a business.  If you are unwilling to invest the time to look through your existing photographs and select one (if you have it) that presents a professional demeanor online then I suspect you are not ready to own and run a business.

Now I know that the term “professional” photo is vague and subjective.  I am not saying that you need to be in a suit and tie.  You can be a play therapist and have affect like my colleague Charlotte Reznik.  But slapping up a blurry photo of you near a palm tree sends the message that you can’t be bothered to represent yourself or your brand.  And in business we need to be concerned about our brands, even as therapists.

Look, I’m not saying these things to hurt your feelings.  I really want you to succeed, and I know that there are a lot of people out there who need your help.  That’s why I suggest that the photo is the symptom of an underlying issue, which is the difficulty to take either technology or your business seriously.  If you have taken time and consulted with trusted colleagues and have come to the conclusion that “I want potential patients to see me as someone blurry whom they could go skiing with” is your brand, and that the head shot is a conscious and intentional image to brand yourself online than you have my blessing.

If not, get thee to a photographer.


If you are interested in participating in a small group supervision experience, you may want to check out the Supervision Package I’ll be offering this fall.  You can find out more about it here.

Like this post? There’s more where that came from, for only $2.99 you can buy my book. I can rant in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info.
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Post to a Young Therapist

I’m a big believer in twofers.  When you run your own business, twofers are essential.  So when I get several emails about a topic I try to craft a post in response.  Recently I have been getting emails from many therapists or therapists in training who want advice on how to pursue a career as a gamer therapist.  Many of them grew up playing video games and have a lot more comfort and familiarity with them than their therapists who have been around for a bit.

Take Claire for example, who has graciously allowed me to share an excerpt from her email to me:

For most of my life, both video games and service to others have been passions of mine. I’ve recently been working at a game company in XYZ, and have been immersed in the gaming culture more than ever. The more I see it (and experience it first-hand) the more I see a need for therapists who can address the issues so many gamers face as a result of their passion.

Before today, I had no idea if anyone had pioneered this field of study, of if there was even a place for it. And then I found you. A quick perusal of your website tells me that you and I are very much aligned in our beliefs about how games affect us, and why they matter. Seeing that you have crafted this job for yourself inspires me to look further into the possibility of knitting together these passions of mine.

Note the use of the word “passion” here.  I hear from these younger folks how their interest and curiosity around video games and technology in general is met with skepticism and often hostility.  Supervisors turn into lawyers before their very eyes and begin every conversation about technology with the words “HIPAA” and “liability.”  The only question asked in the exploration of patient’s video game is “how many hours are they on the computer?”

Part of the problem with this disconnect is that many up and coming therapists become inadvertently ashamed of the fact that they are gamers themselves.  The implicit or explicit pathologizing of video games and tech use shapes the behavior and expectations about whether discussing gaming, or even using it as an intervention, stops before it begins.

Those of us who have been in the field for a while can often become set in our ways.  We can act as if education and the workplace haven’t changed much since we started our practice.  Insulated in our office and routine, we stick with the phone, maybe email, and play therapy games that have changed little since the 70s.  With this stance we are not prepared to work with patients in the 21st century, let alone supervise 21st century trainees.

If you are training to be a therapist, here’s what I recommend if you want to be a gamer therapist:

1. Start from Within

Repeat after me, “It is okay to experience excitement and enjoyment when I am working with patients.”  Somewhere along the line our graduate programs have begun to give you the message that you are supposed to be an evidence-based automaton with little emotional investment in treatment.  I have had students who have heard dozens of times in their training ideas like “emotional detachment,” and “inappropriate boundaries;” yet not once has anyone talked to them about feeling excited and enjoyment in their sessions.  Even trainees doing play therapy express guilt or fear about getting “caught up” in the play.  You’d think we were supposed to spend our entire careers with dull, depressing people!  Allowing for a range of emotional experience with patients means the whole range, including excitement and fun.  So if you are going to be a gamer therapist, start building your capacity to enjoy yourself in sessions.

2.  Create A Gamer-Affirmative Environment

Did you know that research has suggested that 1 out of 4 comic book readers are age 65 or older?  Yet how many offices have comic books for their adult patients alongside People and Time?  The same is true for video games.  Geeking up your office and waiting room sends the message that you don’t equate video games or technology with “toys.”  In my waiting room I don’t have comic books currently, but I do have Wired magazine and titles devoted to video games.  Many conversations have begun as a result.  I also have a Deathwing statue and other game-related memorabilia.  Recently someone saw a Post-It I had with the word Katamari on it.  I had made a note of the game to remind myself to check it out.  That Post-It was all it took to begin a very excited and meaningful conversation about the game (which has a free App, by the way.)  The smallest changes to your office can convey that you are interested.

3. Try (and I mean play) lots of different video games

This is the fun part, usually.  I have the major game platforms and am always trying one or two new games a week.  If a patient mentions a game in a session, I make a note to try it ASAP if I haven’t already.  Sometimes this requires discipline, because like most people I don’t like every sort of game.  But each game I test out helps me understand the patient better.

4. Have video games in your office

I have always had handheld video game consoles in my office, but in addition I have an XBox 360 as well.  I don’t think you can be doing contemporary play therapy well without it.

5. Disclose that you play video games

The fact that you have game consoles probably implies this a bit, but let’s be explicit. Regardless of age, 64% of Americans play video games, and the percentage is much higher under 40.  So if you have played video games, disclose that you have.  If you have a supervisor who sees that disclosure as more akin to “I smoked pot as a teen” than “Yes, I saw Star Wars” run away.  Video games are an art form not a controlled substance, and there is a big difference between those two conversations.

6. That said, be on the lookout for countertransference.

Whether you like or hate, play or avoid, video games, you need to be mindful of the reasons why and when you talk about aspects of it.  If your patient is telling you that they managed to fish up the giant sea turtle in WoW, it is an empathic failure to say, “Yeah I got that last week, isn’t it cool,” rather than to reflect to them what that says about their persistence and discipline.  Note any feelings of competition you have (or don’t have) and wonder about it.

7. Get good supervision, even if you have to pay for it privately.

One of the downsides of licensure having a (in MA) 2 year post-graduate supervision requirement before you get your independent license is that it inadvertently sends the message to fledgling clinicians that after two years you don’t need it any more.  That is not true.  I encourage new therapists to consider ongoing supervision of some sort to be a business expense to build right into your practice.  I had the opportunity to have weekly supervision for free at my workplace for 12 years.  That sort of job benefit has gone the way of the milkman in many places today.  This means you’ll need to buy some.

If you buy private supervision, remember that it is a different experience from your earlier or agency experiences with it.  This is not your boss, you are hiring them.  Hiring people means interviewing them, and screening them for fit.  If they are technophobic they are not going to be a good fit for a gamer therapist, so it is important to let them know your pro-technology and gaming stance from the beginning.

If you are interested in participating in a small group supervision experience, you may want to check out the Supervision Package I’ll be offering this fall.  You can find out more about it here.

Like this post? There’s more where that came from, for only $2.99 you can buy my book. I can rant in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info.
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The Perilous Price of a Good Living

Recently I had the opportunity to talk with a group of young clinicians, and very bright young clinicians at that.  We were discussing the role of class in psychotherapy, and how to understand it psychodynamically.  I was demonstrating to them how difficult it was for therapists to talk about money, by asking each of them what they would set their fee at.  The majority of them were extremely reluctant to give a dollar amount, and it was striking to me that the dollar amount was almost to a penny what a leading insurance company set their allowed fee at.  But the most troubling response to me was “enough to make a good living.”

I imagine you’ve heard this phrase frequently–like me, maybe you’ve said it yourself from time to time.  It is a throwaway statement, which tells you nothing really about what kind of living a person wants or how much money they need in a capitalist society to make it.  Amongst professionals it is the “Whatever” of salary statements.

Pushing folks, I usually get a comment about “having a good home,” “enough to comfortably support my family,” etc.  These are similarly throwaway statements, but they indicate to me what continues to be considered socially acceptable when talking about money in mental health.  It is ok to want to make money if you only use it to support and shelter your family.  Maybe a vacation, but let’s not push it.  In her 1994 article “Money , Love, and Hate:  Contradiction and Paradox in Countertransference,” Muriel Dimen refers to “Puritanism’s conflict, in which hard work and thrift are valued, but their material rewards may not be enjoyed.”  In other words, what most psychotherapists consider a good living.

Often when working with consultees who are giving everyone a sliding scale fee and often acting out in their countertransference as a result of it, I work with this Puritanism, rather than combat it head on.  I’ll ask them to take a photo of their children, partner, any loved one who depends on them, and keep it visible to them in their office from where they usually set their fees.  These are the people, I tell them, who will go without because you have issues about your fee.  You may think you are being noble by sliding down all the time, but these people are bearing the burden of your nobility.

Am I saying you shouldn’t have a sliding scale fee?  Well yes and no, actually.  I certainly have 2 slots where I slide my fee.  Exactly two, because that is what I have determined in my business plan I can afford.  And if someone is going to be offered one, I always go over with them their financials.  So if you have a business plan, and if you can have a concrete conversation with your patients about how much money they make and expend in their life, you have my blessing, you can have a sliding scale.  But if you have not taken a good look at how much YOU need to make, what your plan is to earn money and have pro bono, and if you can’t bring yourself to talk about a patient’s finances, I don’t think you should have a sliding scale.  In fact, I’d suggest you should really only work in an agency and/or cap your fee at what Insurance Company A tells you are worth.

Because that in fact is how this got started in many ways.  We lament how exploitative insurance and public agencies are, but the reality is they provide us with a buffer from the conflict of having to talk with our patients about money.  Many of us make the third party the “bad guy,” because we don’t want to sully our therapeutic conversations with the topic of money.  Sex, sure.  Incestuous fantasies or homicidal impulses, no problem.  But cash? Forget it, that’s too tough to talk about.

Like many of you, I am very pleased that we have passed the Affordable Care Act this year, but I am equally happy that I don’t have to be limited to seeing patients via insurance.  This is the difficult paradox many of us try to keep secret:  We want everyone to have access to health care, but we don’t want our incomes capped by those rates.  Not everything our patients come to see us for is medically necessary treatment.  Some of it is quality of life and personal insight, and maybe our patients should pay for that themselves.  This may sound like a two-tiered system, and that’s because it is, and in my opinion you will see this two-tiered system get acted out as soon as we switch to a medical home, global payment model.

For me a good living is not having a home and enough to support my family.  I want an XBox, and an iPad, and someone to help me clean my house, and vacations and my Starbucks as well as some other things that even I am reluctant to admit.  I want things that exceed a comfortable lifestyle.  Maybe you want these things as well, or a yoga retreat, a summer home or a pony, I dunno.  Take a look at cable TV sometime, and ask yourself why there is such a proliferation of reality TV surrounding making/winning/wheeling/dealing so much money.  Our voyeurism betrays our fantasies.  But Priscilla or Myles, our inner Pilgrim, still trips us up, and we are afraid to admit exactly what we want as a good life.

In case you think that I have exorcised Myles from my psyche, let me assure you I still struggle with wanting, having and making money.  In a way, my evangelizing on this could be a reaction formation.  But it is a feeling, and I can’t let a feeling get in the way of understanding myself and being ethical.

You see, I’m with Plato and Socrates on this one. Socrates defined the good life.  The good life is the examined one, the life lived in pursuit of knowledge and consciousness.  Socrates doesn’t really talk about money when he talks about the good life, but he does make some interesting points about virtue and how knowledge leads our virtuous behavior.  Not what you feel, but what you know.

Sounds simple, but it isn’t.  In Meno Socrates describes how important perplexity is in the process of attaining knowledge, and hence ethics.  Perplexity is struggling with the contradictions to try to make sense of them, like “I want to help people,” and “I want the iPad 3.”

Periodically I re-evaluate what I want in my life, because my wants, my needs and my financials change.  My financial limits are clear to me, and not always in accordance with those of others.  For example, my billing company thinks that I shouldn’t allow balances higher than $200 to be carried.  I consider $400 to be my limit.  It is up to me to struggle with and get clarity on these things if I want to own and run a business.  And money runs through and beneath my business.  If I want to take a day off, my boss is pretty stingy.  I rarely take sick days.  I have a 48 hour cancellation policy that is much more rigid than many colleagues, but not as rigid as the week cancellation policy of some.  I can live with all of that, I’ve thought it through.  I don’t hide behind the vague salve of “making a good living,” I struggle with the perplexity of my needs and wants, the moral implications of them, and how to live ethically in the context of that struggle.

In many ways, that’s what I call a good life.

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Thinking, and Just Thinking

Originally I was going to title this post, “How to Make A Million Dollars as a Therapist Without Ever Having to Talk About Money.”  And if I was just concerned about driving traffic to my blog and business, that would be the title.  Because there are a lot of our colleagues out there who  want to have a very successful business without having to deal with the sordid matter of coin.  I used to think this was the number one reason that psychotherapists have a hard time being successful as entrepreneurs.  I used to read, and agree with, several psychodynamic articles that have been written by colleagues which talk about how we feel shame around money, project our devaluation of ourselves by refusing to spend money on coaching or supervision, and have difficulty set fees and enforcing missed appointment charges with our patients because we feel that we don’t deserve to make money for our work.

I still think those are big hangups a lot of us have, but recently I’ve started to suspect that an even bigger one is our fuzzy thinking about thinking.

Therapists as a whole love to think.  We like thinking deeply about our patients.  Many of us love working with emergent adults in a large part because their neurology has finally blossomed and they are starting to reflect on their thinking.  We often enjoy studying and debating the thoughts of major theorists.  We even see the value of self-reflection in our work with patients.  We like to think about others, the thoughts of others, our thoughts about the thoughts of others, and what great thinkers have thought about the thoughts of others and our thoughts about them.  Boy, do we like to think about thinking.

Now I am no exception to this.  I see an immense value to thinking, in fact I schedule time during my daily work week where I walk around the Charles and think.  During this time I don’t take calls, I don’t check email, I don’t make appointments.  I think.  I intentionally schedule it during the day to remind myself that thinking has a critical place in my work, and has as much if not more value than a billable hour.  And I will often lament to colleagues in academic settings about the need for more critical thinking skills.  I’ve had colleagues critique my wanting more theory classes at BC by saying, “these students want classes that give them practical tools that they can use,” to which I respond, “how about thinking?  That seems like a pretty good tool to me, when did we stop considering it practical?”

So I am not intending to come across as anti-thinking here.  But I have noticed over the past several years who succeeds in getting their private practices off the ground and thriving, and who doesn’t.  And the ones who fail are usually the ones who come to consult with me, or then need to “think about it.”  I’m very concrete when I talk with consultees, and if they are in job crisis I call it that.  I’ve worked with people whose incomes have shrunk by halves over the past several years.  I tell them what has worked for me, and offer suggestions, and the suggestions require things like calling people to network or EAPs or insurance providers every day or write a business plan, or any number of other things.

They listen and say they’ll think about it.

Some people will make a lot of money off of those folks.  There are dozens of people out there who can tell you how to “visualize” your ideal client, “ideate” abundance, or give you a 5 point plan to success.  I’m not one of those people, and so sooner rather than later the conversation peeters out.  Because they have a hard time moving into doing something other than thinking and talking.  Maybe they’ll write a blog post or tweet a few times, but they get discouraged, because I’m not going to waste their time.  This isn’t therapy.  I’ll tell you what I think you ought to do.  You don’t have to do it, but I don’t have a second set of things I think you ought to succeed in your business.  So if you don’t want to do them, we really don’t have a lot more to talk about.

A lot of therapists, myself included, like to try to think and talk our way out of everything.  And many things can be significantly impacted by strategic thinking, and thoughtful process.  But eventually you have to do some other form of work if you want to be in private practice.  We have more autonomy as sole proprietors, but we also can’t just sit in an office hour after hour “just helping people.”  This is actually the fantasy I often hear expressed by colleagues, “I just want to help people,” as if the nobility of that entitles one to not have to exert any other effort.

One of my friends has a mentor who frequently says, “don’t confuse worry with effort.”  Much of the time I think we confuse worrying with deep thinking, and even more so with taking other forms of action.  We think if we worry about a problem either alone or with another that somehow that “counts” as having done something.  The idea of sustained effort truly alarms us.  I’m talking about me too here.  One of the reasons I have a set time in my week to think about things is so that I contain that urge to think fretfully and know that there is a time and a place for me to think about stuff.  And then I go on to other activities that are required of me during the day.

Another reason the Charles river is such an important place for me around this is that it is where I run.  During the week I walk along it and think, and on the weekends at least once I run along it.  But, and this is key, I don’t go to the Charles and think about running.

I can really only tell you what works for me, and incessant and indiscriminate thinking does not work for me, or my business.  If someone tells you that there is an easy, simple way to succeed in creating and growing your practice, I encourage you to be skeptical.  Creating and growing your business involves taking risks, trial and error, and most importantly sustained effort that is not entirely cerebral.  My experience has taught me that you won’t think your way into a successful practice, but you may succeed in thinking yourself into a bankrupt one.

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How To Get An Epic Supervisor

Education shapes our expectations of life and work, and education as it stands currently always involves giving up some degree of personal power.  When we’re in elementary school we need to ask permission to leave to use the bathroom.  In high school we need to show up at times diametrically opposed to our circadian rhythms.  At college we have required course to complete our degree.  And in graduate programs for clinical psychotherapy we often have limited to no control over who our supervisor is going to be.

And then when we graduate, we take our cue from licensure boards to a large extent.  Sadly, license requirements shape our expectations of supervision.  We see it as something we have to have in order to get our license in X number of years.  I have noticed that there is a sharp decline in people buying supervision after they get their independent licensure, which does not mean that there is a correlative decline in our people needing it.

So today I want to talk about how to pick a good supervisor for you to have ongoing clinical supervision.  If you are still in pre-independent licensure this can be an especially daunting experience, but also an incredibly freeing one.  To be clear, you don’t have to purchase private supervision from anyone you don’t want to work with!  Read on for some tips:

1. You often get (or don’t get) what you pay for (or don’t pay for.)

If your agency offers you a good supervisory package for free that is great.  One place I supervise at provides employees and interns with a free secondary supervisor.  Secondary supervisors are the ones who can usually help you most with integrating theory and practice and discussing difficult cases.  Most primary supervisors I know may have good skills and an interest in doing the same, but they don’t have the time.  Their role has become reduced in the age of managed care to helping you learn the ropes about paperwork, facilitating your first emergency room or child protective referrals, and being held responsible for holding you responsible for productivity.  So although these hours count towards your licensure they don’t necessarily deepen your practice for lack of time, not skill.

So now you have some choices.  You can take a fellowship or position at an agency that provides secondary supervision, or you can buy it privately.  Don’t get caught in thinking it is an entitlement, because those days are gone.  Yes, we’re underpaid as a profession, but I suggest you think of good supervision as a benefit valued at between $7200-$9600.  If Agency A offers that, but pays less $5,000 less than Agency B, which doesn’t, you are getting a better deal at Agency A.

2. You may already have met your supervisor, but don’t know it yet

If you are one of the many folks who decides to buy supervision privately, take some time to think about the people you’ve worked with already.  Did you enjoyworking with your first year placement’s supervisor?  Call and ask her if she offers private supervision.  Did you love a certain course in grad school?  Call and ask him if he does supervision.  If they don’t, ask if there are any people they can suggest.  Think back to guest lecturers, colleagues you enjoyed working with, that alum you met at an event.

3. Do your research

In this day and age, everyone should have a LinkedIn profile (more on that in a bit.)  Mine includes several recommendations from past or present supervisees.  Make sure you Google your potential supervisor prior to making an appointment.  Yes, Ms. Jones may have her licensure, but if you are interested in providing LGBT-affirmative therapy and she works at the local conversion treatment center, wouldn’t you like to know that before wasting both of your time?

When you contact a potential supervisor, hopefully they will offer to provide you with a reference of another past or present supervisee.  If they don’t, ask.

Some of the old guard psychodynamic folks may object, saying that that contaminates your supervisory experience.  To which I say, there will be plenty of transference that comes up regardless, and that the focus of supervisors should be on practicing radical transparency, not generating a absolutely blank screen.  Supervision often resonates with therapy, but it is NOT therapy.  If a supervisor comes off as seeming like a Freudbot, this may indicate a difficulty shifting cognitive frame sets from supervisor to therapist.

4. Know what is important to you

You can learn something from everyone, I truly believe that.  However, when I look for a supervisor, I look for someone who provides psychodynamic-oriented supervision.  That’s what I do, what I like, and why I became a therapist.  If you are a solution-focused or CBT practitioner, get someone who is expert and experienced in that.

If someone says they are “eclectic,” run away.  Far far away.  If they can’t describe some of the several areas of their interest or competence to you, chances are they are being either vague or seductive.  Yes, I said seductive.  Supervision is a business prospect, and many people focus on landing a new supervisee to the detriment of both of them.

5. Beware of freebies, private supervision starts with the fee

I’m going out on a limb here, but I strongly discourage freebies.  My Contact page warns away the brainpickers.  These are the people who want to get something for nothing, and say, can “I just pick your brain for a second?”

No, you may not.

There is a lot of free content I’ve put out there that people have access to, but this is also my work and I need to be paid for it.  So if you have done your research, hopefully potential supervisors will have papers published, posts online, lectures, recommendations.  If not, please see item 6.

I have strong opinions about this, because I think it shows potential supervisees how to have professional boundaries and value their work.  If you are doing supervision to “give back” at a reduced fee, that’s fine, as long as you let the supervisee know that you are reducing your fee and let them know the full fee.  But be honest with yourself about this, are you doing it to gratify your self-ideal of social justice, or because you secretly believe that you aren’t worth the full fee, or some other reason?

If you are a potential supervisee, consider this:  Do you need someone to help you learn to be a more noble person, a better clinician, and/or a more savvy businessperson?  Will having a reduced fee lower your expectations of yourself and the supervisor?  And would you like to charge no higher than the reduced fee you are being offered?

If the answer to the last is no, be careful, because this may be a set-up for resentment on your supervisor’s part, and you may both suffer from unconscious false pretenses.

Speaking of fee, I walk this walk, and when I negotiated my fee with my supervisor I negotiated to pay more, because I knew that I would have a harder time later if I didn’t.  We then had a great conversation about the limits of this, because obviously she gets to set her fee not I.  But it caused her to re-evaluate and raise her fee somewhat, and modeled for me her integrity, flexibility, and willingness to listen and learn.  And each time I raise my fee, I bring this up again, and each time the supervision is the richer for it.

6. If you want supervision around private practice, stay away from technophobes.

I strongly maintain that to have a practice in the 21st century you will need to have an online presence, some technological savvy and the willingness to learn about it to work with people from the 21st century.  This is even more true in a private practice, where marketing is moving more online every day.

I once had a couple of sessions with a supervisor I was considering starting work with.  This was a world reknowned clinician, whose work I respect immensely.  In the time between our first and second appointment I included her on my newsletter.  Our next appointment she expressed how “astonished” she was that I would contact her that way, and wondered if I was sabotaging the supervision.  Fortunately I have been in many supervisions and have a strong ego.  That was our last appointment.

I suppose I could have chosen to stay and explore this, but that seems more her issue than mine.  I want to have a practice that focuses on Web 2.0 and psychodynamic therapy, i.e. integrating, not pathologizing them.  And if those were her boundaries, fair enough.  But I’m paying for a service, and I’ll take my business to my current supervisor, who is very professional, very grounded in psychodynamic theory, and subscribes to my newsletter, remarking on every issue.

7. Kick the tires

Having read this, you may be thinking, “I don’t agree,” or “that’s not what I want,” or “what a pill he is!”  If so, that’s great!  Because that means you have some idea what you are or aren’t looking for.   Or you may be thinking, “right on!”  One thing my supervisees can probably tell you is that what you read here and what you get in supervision with me are pretty much the same thing.  And it seems to be working well for all concerned.  You aren’t in grad school anymore, you get to pick and choose your supervisor.

It is okay to try out a few supervisors before deciding.  Pay attention to those first few appointments, when you and your supervisor “relax” into the supervision a bit.  Do you notice drastic changes from the first week(s)?  Do you look forward to supervision, dread it, or find yourself not caring either way?  Ask yourself, and your supervisor, how the supervision is starting off.  If your supervisor does not bring up how to get the most value out of your supervision in the first few months, bring it up yourself.

If you are having mixed feelings about a supervisor, don’t be afraid to bring that up.  But if you can’t bring it up, or choose not to, don’t feel obliged to stay.   Supervision is a long, intense and valuable process.  No less than your professional development is at stake.  Choosing wisely begins with remembering that you have a choice.


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A Tale of Two Conferences

Many consultees ask me how to get speaking engagements, and certainly that’s an important question.  But this is also not the most important question.  It is akin in many ways to the conversations around the question, “How do I get a job?”  The focus is often too much on how to make a good impression on the interviewer, how to present as a good fit for the workplace in question.  If you are only asking those questions and wanting to be a successful entrepreneur, I suggest you are barking up the wrong tree.

Because the questions that are equally important, if not more important, are the on the surface the less humble and self-effacing ones:  Do I want to work for this person interviewing me?  Would I enjoy this work environment?  Are these people making a good impression on me?  These are the questions which come from the perspective that you are a valuable commodity, and that perspective to a large extent needs to come from within.  And let me be clear, not all workplaces, even those who purport to be empowering, want you to approach them from that perspective, because it lowers their bargaining potential when money (there he goes again with the money!) questions arise.

So too with public speaking engagements.  There needs to be at least a sense of mutual value, mutual ROI that has to come from the speaker and the speaking engagement.  Let me give you an example:

I am doing in the next year an engagement with conference A and conference B.  Conference A approached me with a request, because they had had a personal referral to me.  I will be speaking to a group of several hundred people at an event where I am one of several presenters.

Conference B sent out a general call for presenters and ideas.  Several years running I have been nudged by some of the folks in charge to apply to present, so this year I did.  Again, the conference will have an attendance of several hundred people and I will be one of several presenters.

Neither conference A nor conference B have an honorarium, but that is acceptable to me for a couple of reasons at this point in my career.  One reason is that I now allot one pro bono presentation per month.  But the other reason is that there is some clear ROI in both conference A and B:  I will get exposure which leads to more paid speaking engagements; I will have a venue to make my book available for sale; and I will get my pro-gaming, pro-tech message out.

So far, so good.  I should add here how both Conference A and B frequently include language in their letters to me about how valuable my contribution is and how much they appreciate me.  But over the past few months I have received communications from both conferences that show how different they are in their attitudinal stance towards speakers.

Conference A sends me a paper letter with the details of registration for the conference.  I am given the name of a specific person who handles presenter registration, told I am welcome to attend the entire conference for free and invited to a special luncheon for presenters on the day.

Conference B sends me a registration form, offers me a discount, and lets me know that they can only “give” me free admission to my presentation.


I am being given free admission to my presentation?  I’m confused.  Is the implication that normally I should be paying for the privilege of presenting my expertise, but as a special gift I get to work for free?  And are they really asking me to pay to attend a conference that I am donating my time and expertise to?

Guess which conference I will continue to work with in upcoming years?

If you guessed Conference A, bingo!  Because they have the right attitude in my opinion.  Their behavior is as valuing as their words.  It costs them virtually nothing to get the group of us presenters in a smaller room for lunch and call it a special lunch, and it costs them virtually nothing for them to give me free attendance to the larger conference.  And by assigning a specific person to handle my registration, they have made things even easier for me.  What’s more they have in a few gestures given me what Chris Brogan calls that VIP Feeling.

Conference B has done none of that for their presenters.  And think of all the value they are losing!  They could have all of us experts in the field adding to the conference beyond our sessions.  Asking questions or making comments at other presentations, networking with others, and being a free resource to other attendees at lunch, breaks and other down times.

Here is where word and deed don’t connect.  What message are you sending when you ask people to work for free and then charge them?  The irony is that Conference B will probably have some organizers who don’t understand why they end up getting a bunch of “hit and run” presenters and resent our not signing up for the conference.  It’s a lose-lose situation for everyone, and it comes from a poverty perspective, not an abundance one.

So if you want to be a presenter, please remember this:  You’re an expert in your field, act like one.  Your time is valuable and limited, and you need to set the tone for that.  Finally, pay attention to how potential presenting clients treat you.  After talking with them, do you feel like a VIP, or do you feel like Oliver Twist?

Some of the old guard have told me that this is the industry standard.  To which I say two things:

1. If that is true, the standard is wrong and needs to be changed.

2. This is one big reason why our profession is consistently undervalued and under-appreciated: Other people take our cue.

Also, someone should tell Conference A that they aren’t keeping lockstep with the industry standard by giving speakers the VIP treatment.

Oh, never mind, I’ll tell Conference A myself: Because they’ve earned my loyalty and I hope to be a presenter and attendee for years to come.


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Money: The Post You Don’t Want To Read But Should

First off, not only am I not a financial advisor, an economist or an accountant, I have never been the poster-boy for “financial whiz.”  I say this out of neither pride or shame, but for two other reasons.  First, as a caveat to the reader that all of this is based on personal learned experience and therefore as limited as it is true for me.  And second, because if I can do this, I think you can too.

Money is the Achilles heel of many therapists.  We are averse to think about or speak aloud about it, and we come by this aversion honestly.  At least in the US, we are raised and educated without a single class or course in financial planning or money management.  Ask yourself, what subject have I ever learned about in life that I avoided thinking or talking about?  But in the case of finances, many of us emerge into adulthood with huge blind spots about how to function in a capitalist economy and society.

In my coaching and clinical supervision with therapists, and in my talk with colleagues, I have heard some amazing examples of these blind spots.  I once heard a colleague justify not charging a patient for a missed appointment because if she has to miss an appointment the patient doesn’t charge her!  These statements bely an ambivalent and confused statement about money.  Patients are hiring us, we aren’t hiring them.  As uncomfortable as this assymmetry is, the fact is that we don’t pay patients to help us and they do pay us to help them.

I have launched into general diatribes before, but today I want to be really specific and concrete.  I want to share with you one pointer I share with all my coaching clients about how to make more money and how to manage it better.  I’m even going to give you a specific vendor link.

The pointer is this, if you want to make more money, take a look at the bank you’re using.  Making money isn’t just about your fee or caseload, but the fees you may be paying out.  (I know, some of you who’ve made it this far are already getting ready to click away, hang in there.)  One of the things large banks have is large overhead.  They are, for reasons too numerous and obvious, in a lot of distress these days.  For example, Consumer Reports estimates that the government legislature that required them to cap their fee each time you use your debit card at 24 cents a transaction is going to cost banks 6 billion dollars in revenue lost.  So to recoup their losses, they are finding other fees to levy on you that are legal.

What banks are banking on is that we’re afraid of change.  And let’s face it colleagues, most of us want to find a place to “park” when it comes to money management.  We want to find the fee we can set and not look at again rather than adjust it over time.  We want to program our billing into computers or contract it out to services so we can not deal with it.  And we don’t want to compare interest rates and fees, but rather find a bank and stick with it.

And the larger banks don’t just gouge you with fees, they use you in another way.  Maybe you’ve noticed that when you do use your ATM or the bank website advertisements come up that are eerily resonant with what you spend your money on.  This is because banks value your patronage for data mining purposes as well.  Many of them are selling this data to big business.  I am often struck by the irony that a profession which values privacy and confidentiality for our patients turns a blind eye or accepts the violation of their own financial privacy.  So if nothing else, do a little research about whether your bank sells your debit transaction or other data, and if they do, move.

Since 2009 I don’t think I have set foot in a bank to do actual banking.  The last time I went in the building was to have something notarized.  By the same token, my deposits have become much more quick and efficient in my business, and my fees have been minor.  Why is this?

It is because I use an online credit union, Digital Federal Credit Union in fact.  DCU is a completely full-service credit union with the emphasis on online banking.  This is not surprising since it began in 1979 as a charted credit Union for Digital Equipment Corporation.  The eligibility requirements are not at all onerous, in fact your interest in social justice can make you eligible.  I say this because my eligibility came from being a disability rights ally.  I joined the American Association of People with Disabilities.  That was it:  Fifteen bucks to a great cause and I was eligible to join DCU.

As an online credit union, DCU is actually more portable than my licensure!  I can move to any state, bank from any state, online.  Their technology and website are in my opinion excellent.  I can transfer funds easily from my account to other family members’ accounts at DCU, and interbank exchanges are almost as easy.

They have a great bill-paying feature that allows me to schedule payments electronically, either one-time or recurring.  The bill-pay feature has also been a lifesaver for me when I need to dispute something with a vendor or track how much I have spent on utilities for my practice or home in a given amount of time.

And at tax time, house closing, or any other time you need financial documentation quick, DCU allows me to download check images, statements, etc. into PC files.  Or if I am trying to sort my expense deductions for the year I can import the entire tax year into an Excel or other software spreadsheet to sort, locate, and calculate expenses.

But the thing about DCU that makes me go absolutely blissful is their iPad and iPhone app, because it allows me to take photos of checks and deposit them from my office, living room, wherever there is, well, the internet.  No more hoarding checks to make a trip to the bank, no more waiting in lines at the bank.  In fact, I often do my deposits late at night or on weekends, because banking hours aren’t really an issue.

Think about all the time you are spending, which is money you’re spending, on your banking.  Do you spend 30 minutes running to the bank each week?  That’s time you could see a patient.  Is your income stream stuttering because you avoid depositing check until you have to?  And clinically, what message(s) may you be sending your patient that you haven’t cashed their check yet?  If you want to be a better therapist, get better with your money.  And if you want to get better with your money, use an online credit union.

Oh, I have lots of thoughts and opinions on how to use technology to improve your therapy practice clinically and financially, maybe you want to work with me online or in person?



Epic Guest Post: Newbie Therapist Esther Dale on Staying Determined

Every once in a while I receive an email that reminds me that the work I am doing is making a difference.  Today I received this from a new colleague to our field, and with her permission I share it in its entirety.  I hope that you will comment on it and show her that she’s not alone:

Hello Mike,

I am a newbie therapist, having entered the licensed profession less than a year ago. Though despite my newbie status, despite the fact that I currently have no clients, no office, no firm job prospects, with a website and business plan that are both still in the initial stages, I still feel that I am an Epic Therapist. Or, at the very least, I am in training to be one!

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know how truly, truly, refreshing I found your blog. In the past, I have spent many, many, many hours skimming one random psychotherapist website after another. More often than not, I get so bored to tears reading the same drivel. I can’t understand how so many of them stay in business. From their websites, I feel that often there is no real spark or passion for their profession, and that they are all trying so hard to play it so safe, that so many psychotherapists end up sounding so cookie cutter. Not to mention the rather pretentious attitude that comes with, “I specialize, well, in the whole DSM-IV. What is your disorder? How may I help you in your disordered state?” Or my personal favorite, “Are you anxious? Depressed? Do you find yourself worrying a lot? Do you sometimes find yourself feeling lonely?” My thinking after reading that is always, “Yeah, I am depressed and anxious just from reading that!” After exhaustive online research, I felt rather alone in feeling like a therapist could dare to have their personality shine online. And then I found your site, and I was like, “Someone who dares to break the mold!” YAY! 🙂

So I have basically spent my free time the past couple of days reading as many of your blogs as possible. I know that you must get many, many e-mails. And I am trying my very best to have my e-mail be worth your time. I am hoping at the very least that what I have to say might spark a possible interest for a blog response.

When I am in my Secret Headquarters, well, ummm, Head(corner) more like it, I feel like anything is possible. I feel the passion and excitement and knowledge for my blossoming niche, Sandplay/Play Therapy. I feel my passion and excitement for my professional focus on the more non-verbal approaches to psychotherapy, for the times when individuals just can’t seem to find the right words to truly express everything that is going on inside of them. Even right now, I feel myself fumbling around for words, and wish I didn’t have to rely solely on words at this moment in time to captivate my Epic Therapist passion. So when I am in my Secret Head(corner) I feel rather invincible. I feel like I can make it. I feel like I have the ability to design the website I want, and set up shop the way that I want. Though the moment I step out of my Secret Head(corner) I am immediately flooded with all these scripts of why I can’t do this. I feel like there are so many “voices” telling me I can’t succeed on my own terms quite yet because I haven’t paid my dues to the system. The current system that exists between many CMH, Non-Profit establishments and insurance companies, make it near impossible for newbie therapists to get a traditional job. From my own experience, I didn’t even qualify to apply for the clinical position for which I interned. When this happened to me, I acknowledged to myself that the current system is way out of joint, and that deep down inside, I have no real desire to associate with that kind of business structure. Though still I feel so many professionals trying to taint my passion for a private practice with their venom of, “Well, you need to walk, crawl, climb your way through Mordor, in order to finally be able to sever your newbie status ring into the fiery pits.” Though I tend to see another option rather than the traditional route:  (I love this video, two minutes of LoTR epic-parody goodness.)

In their eyes, I am trying to take a short-cut. Though I am not trying to take a short-cut, merely a different path. I have checked the policies and procedures regarding private practice, and even with my Limited License Professional Counselor (LLPC) status, I am able to set up shop. I have a qualified supervisor and seek out as many mentors as possible; I am constantly researching to gain as much knowledge as possible; I spent much time and effort in receiving professional training in Sandplay/Play Therapy. I feel like I am a blossoming professional in my field. I am determined to have an ethically driven, professional private practice, with a strong niche, and a strong professional voice. Though, every time I think of my “Limited License” status, or I think of all the things I still need to learn, I sometimes feel myself retreat into this defeated status. So I guess my question is this, how does one continue to build up and defend their Epic Therapist status, when so many naysayers want to tear you down because you are forging your own path?

If this sparks a possible blog/e-mail response that would be awesome. If it doesn’t, that is okay too. I know your time is valuable. I am just grateful if you took the time to make it to the end of my letter. Best of luck in all your efforts!


Esther Dale, MA, LLPC


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Why Ursula the Sea-Witch is My Guru

Ok, so first, let’s be honest, there’s a lot to take issue with in terms of Ursula the Sea-Witch.  She definitely carries on Disney’s longstanding history of portraying evil as black, single, independent women, adding to that list women who are considered “overweight” by Western standards of health and beauty.  Oh, and she’s sexually aggressive, in that she flirts with King Triton and likes to move in a way that shows she enjoys her body.  So yes, I get that Ursula embodies a lot of the negative stereotypes that women and people of color have had to put up with in media.

But if we can look beyond that, I think Ursula has a lot to say that will help you with your business plan as a private practice therapist, and maybe beyond.

I also must admit that Ariel annoys me, especially at the beginning of the movie, which is where one of my favorite scenes is when she makes a deal with Ursula in “Poor Unfortunate Souls:

Ariel is reluctant to make a deal, because she’ll risk losing contact with her family forever.  And Ursula acknowledges this, and says, “Life’s full of tough choices, innit?”

The number one thing I hear from people who want to have a full-time private practice is, “where do you find the self-pay patients?”  There are dozens of posts titled that on the Psychology Today forums, and right next to them are the posts saying how much many therapists hate Managed Care and having to take health insurances, with all the rules and restrictions, and low fees.

Yet, when I talk about building your practice to people, I also hear from many people how much they hate promoting their work, and how critical they are of others when they catch a whiff of self-promotion about them.  I can’t tell you how many times my blog posts and book blurbs have been pointed at and I have been “accused” of self-promotion.  Accused, as if somehow promoting your work and your business is a bad thing.

It’s not.

Look Ariels of the therapy world, life is full of tough choices.  You can have a private practice that relies on insurance only, and that isn’t a bad thing.  You’ll get to see a range of people who have worked hard to earn health benefits that they want to use, and you’ll have instant diversity of economic status in your practice, the more plans you accept.  And the insurance company will list you for free, and you’ll probably build up your practice more quickly.  The downside?  You’ll make less money, have more complicated paperwork, and time will be spent doing it.  And your income will be capped.

Or you can have a private practice where you focus on self-pay, and that isn’t a bad thing either.  You’ll have the ability to set and raise your rates, less paperwork and reviews, and have more time to do other things.  You’ll still be able to have a diverse practice, using my PB+5 model, and more independence in many ways.  The downside?  You’ll need to promote your work.  You’ll need to give potential patients and colleagues some good reasons why they should forgo their insurance benefits and pay you more money.

To do this you’ll need to spend time working on networking, generating content for your website, speaking, writing a book or making a DVD.  And you’ll need to keep doing it.  That’s right, you’ll need to consistently promote yourself and your work.  The time I used to spend on billing and reviews I now spend on self-promotion, and I do some of it every single week.  Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t, but nevertheless I do it.  Even though I have a wait-list I still do it.  And I have watched as several colleagues, who have been in the field for a long time, have stopped doing it.  And their practices have begun to dry up, because the phone doesn’t ring as much any more.

You can also try mixing and matching the above a bit, taking some insurances, and doing less promo.  Charging more for some patients, and doing more pro bono.  All of that is up to you.

But I’m here to tell you you can’t have it all.  That’s right, I’m not going to pitch to the starry-eyed that everything is possible.  A lot is possible, but everything is not.  That’s right, somebody finally said it, there are limits, and you have to make tough choices.

When people work with me, they end up making those choices, and I don’t judge whichever they choose, because I don’t think there is a right answer to this.  But I also am pretty outspoken that they are going to have to fish or cut bait.  If you don’t like the idea of tooting your own horn, I’m not going to push you to do it, but then don’t complain to me about having to take health insurance.  But if you want a predominantly self-pay practice, don’t get self-righteous about self-promotion.  First off, self-promotion takes many forms: blogs, advertisements, peer-reviewed journals, telling someone what you do at a party.  Everyone in our field does some of that, at least everyone I have ever met.  But you’ll need to get off whatever train trip you’re on about how self-promotion is wrong.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with working in an agency full-time.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a self-pay practice.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking or not taking health insurance.  There are plenty of therapists who are going to take the options that you don’t.  But you need to choose something or you can’t have a business plan.  And if you don’t have a business plan, don’t try to be self-employed.

Finally, I’d encourage you to get a clock and keep track of how many hours you spend griping about managed care, criticizing your colleagues who market themselves, or asking how to find those self-pay patients online.  Because all of that time is time you could be spending on billing, filling out paperwork, writing a book, promoting a talk, in other words building your practice.  Complaining to peers is not networking.  Worrying about your business is not the same as effort.  Don’t confuse the two.

Life’s full of tough choices, go make one.


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Fun & Failure

Early in the summer I had the opportunity to give a workshop at the University of Buffalo.  The evening before I gave it I had the opportunity to sit down and have dinner with Nancy Smyth, the Dean of the School for Social Work.  Although we’d never met before in person, the time sped by with good conversation and laughter.  Fortunately I had finished my prep for the workshop, because I was quick to crash that night.

The next day I spoke in front of a group of clinicians, caseworkers, and administrators.  The age ranged from 20s to 60s, and the discussion was so lively that the day sped by, and before I knew it, I was being ushered out of the classroom and into the car to the airport.  The workshop participants did not agree with each other (or me) on all points, but everyone said that they were walking away with me having changed their thinking about technology, video games, social media and healthcare.

Sometimes I take for granted how much fun my work is.  There is enough diversity in who I work with to keep me invigorated most days, and the balance of a portfolio career really suits me.  Being my own boss suits me as well, and this year I mixed it up a little.  I dropped one class I was teaching and took this semester off so I could focus on writing and promoting my new book.

Promoting Reset is not something I enjoy doing.  Although I coach and blog about the importance of self-promotion and what hold us back from doing it, that doesn’t mean that I enjoy doing it all the time.  But one thing I have been learning is that writing the book was the eas(ier) part.  I need to keep getting the word out about it, and sometimes I feel like I am overtaxing the patience of my Twitter followers, Google+ circles and Facebookies.  Some of these people are in multiple groups, and I can imagine that they get irritated with another post about the book.  “Enough already!” I imagine them saying.

Speaking up is not easy, and many of us actually have a much easier time speaking up for others than for ourselves.  We speak up for our clients, our kids at school, our pets when they depend on us for care.  It’s ironic that we get so good at striking blows for freedom, blogging against oppression, picketing, and political advocacy; and yet we cringe at the idea of promoting ourselves.  Perhaps that is because the former makes us feel righteous, and the latter makes us feel guilty.  I definitely enjoy advocating for technology and the people who use it with my colleagues, but I wonder if I would have promoted my book at Buffalo if it had been published then.

I’d better get used to it, because now there are more speaking engagements coming up, and having an eBook means I can’t just lug a pile of them to the the hotel and have them sit on a table.  I need to be speaking up about Reset, because no one else will.  And one thing I have also learned to do at talks is to let people in them know I enjoy speaking engagements and am available to do more.  And each time I have done that, I have gotten a lead.  Hopefully out of all of you reading this I’ll get hired to do another few.

This is such a contrast to my clinical work, where I am required to be more quiet, reflective, and other-focussed.  I am not alone in this, psychotherapy tends to require us to listen more and talk less much of the time.  It is also a safe place to “hide out” if we aren’t careful.

One of the most unfortunate lessons our current educational system teaches us is that we should hurry up and find out what we are good at, what comes easily for us, and then stick with that.  In school settings, not-knowing is considered a bad thing rather than the predecessor to curiosity.  By college we have learned to speed through any unpleasant “requirements,” and major in something that interests us.  The problem with this is that by then we have learned to take an active disinterest in things that we struggle with.  So we arrive in adulthood having learned to play to our strengths, and avoid the rest.  And whereas children are fairly powerless to avoid what they struggle with in school, adults can often construct a life that cocoons them from learning unfamiliar things.

Therapists in particular, have pushed themselves through grad school and internships, licensing tests and boards, and by the time we get licensed to do private practice we feel entitled to close the office door on outside influences.  Several times when I have been hired as a coach or consultant, I still find my clients reluctant to “come clean” about things they aren’t good at.  Some haven’t billed insurers for months because they don’t know how to do the paperwork, or a claim has been denied and they are letting the appeal sit on their desk.  Websites lie around half developed, brochures printed up but not mailed, and all of this is nothing compared to the disarray and avoidance of work/life balance.  Office hours are whenever the patient can make it, their specialty is “anxiety and depression,” and they are running themselves ragged.  And all the time, they suspect that they are really frauds awaiting discovery, and why?  Because they learned that you aren’t supposed to admit you are confused or don’t know something, let alone ask for help.

Fortunately I play video games.

As Jesper Juul points out in Fear of Failing? The Many Meanings of Difficulty in Video Games failure is more than just about not winning.  It forces gamers to readjust their perceptions.  In fact, players prefer games where they feel responsible for failing.  What’s more failure adds content to the game.  Think about what a powerful paradigm shift that is.  Failure adds content that wouldn’t be there.  What might happen if we were able to see failure in our lives as adding content?

Actually, therapists often have a lead in understanding this.  We know that empathic failures are often inevitable, and that when we successfully navigate them with our patients the relationship deepens.  The failure adds content.

So think about your life, your practice, your business or your relationship.  And look straight at where you are failing in it.  I know, it’s tough, but try it for 5 minutes, and then ask yourself, “what content is this failure adding to it?”

This is much easier to do in hindsight, which is why we need to try to practice it in the now.  Because if we don’t avoid seeing the failures, we can readjust our perceptions and progress farther.  Maybe just a small progression, but anyone who works with kids knows the importance of proximal goals.

To go back to the Buffalo speaking engagement, this began as a failure and the setting of a proximal goal.  The failure was this:  I wasn’t getting enough paid speaking engagements.  How did that add content to my life?  Well, it added the mission, should I choose to accept it, of getting more paid speaking engagements.  So I set the proximal goal of starting to let people know I was looking for them.  One night on Twitter Nancy said something complimentary about a blog post, and I quipped that she’d better hire me as a speaker before my rates went up.  A few months later I was invited to speak.  And in addition I deepened a connection, met some really cool students, and saw Niagara Falls for the first time in my life:  How’s that for added content?

So much is possible for you, your business and your life.  None of what I have described above was achieved because I have some special gene.  It took what Pema Chodron calls going to “the places that scare you.”  We are all failures at something–come out of the closet!  Over 6 billion people around you are failing and trying and failing and trying again every day.  Those that aren’t are hiding inside an ever more rigid and constricted life.  That doesn’t have to be you, and it sure as hell isn’t going to be me.

Oh, and I hope you buy my book, and I’m available for speaking engagements, so call me.  😉


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