You’re The Reason Building Your Business Is So Hard


Recently I was asked by a student to take some time and talk with her about her career options. She was trying to plan for her career post-graduate school, and struggling some with the vicissitudes of a graduate program in mental health. Such vicissitudes, once you commit to studying in the field of your choice, are out of your control. Students are often told what to learn, how to learn it, where to intern, and what kind of internship they can have. Want to learn psychodynamic theory? Sorry, school X doesn’t believe in it, so if you go there there may be one or no mention of it in your foundation work. Want to work at a leading hospital? Sure, you and 100 other students from the schools in your area; so apply, but don’t count on it. So, in graduate school, students like my student often have to like it or leave it.

This disempowers the budding therapist in many ways, not the least of which is that it conditions her to take her cues from others even beyond graduate school. It is hard to learn that you have the power to build your career and business after having been taught that the schools, placements and agencies are the ones who make the rules.

If you are out of school, you have more power than you think, and therefore more responsibility than you may want.

Many therapists want to avoid taking responsibility for their businesses. No sooner do we get out of a school or agency then we start to recreate an agency of our own devising. We create our own set of disempowering expectations, and there are usually plenty of people around to collude with us in this. I call them disempowermentors.

Disempowermentors in the mental health field are the ones that tell you all sorts of rules about how things work. They’ll tell you you can’t build a practice without being on insurance panels. They’ll tell you you need to work in our field for 10 years to build up a reputation before you can open a practice. They’ll tell you you should sublet a few hours and not jump in to a full-time practice. None of these things are true, but most of them are usually fear-based. They are usually the way the disempowermentors did things, either because they recreated their own inner agency and/or because they listened to disempowermentors themselves. If my student isn’t careful, she’ll end up listening to one of these folks, and set herself and her future business back a few years. She’ll have a structure, but it will be one that restricts her choices rather than increases them.

Take a look at who you are listening to: Are they disempowermentors? (One sure clue is that disempowermentors almost always look more tired than happy, more miserable than inspirational.)

One example of someone whom the disempowermentors would say is doing everything wrong is my consultee Lindsey Walker. Lindsey is going right into private practice after finishing graduate school. Lindsey is working on building a full-time practice. Lindsey isn’t in any insurance networks. And things are starting to happen for her. This is largely because Lindsey is very creative and responsible. She has started a blog, Waking The Image, which combines photography and essays on psychodynamic theory. She also just finished writing her first e-book Love Over Trauma: Healing With Your Partner on helping couples recover when one or both of them has trauma in their past.

None of these projects occur in a separate pocket universe: Lindsey works daily on these projects and other tasks that we come up with in the course of our work together. I send her a list of things she’s committed to, and within the next several days she does them. That is why her work is slowly but surely getting noticed and her practice growing. She isn’t waiting passively in her office sublet for the phone to ring. She isn’t waiting passively for insurance panels to accept her, or accepting the fee they want to pay her. Lindsey knows that she is responsible for the success of her business. She is investing time and money into building it, not subletting 2 hours somewhere cheap and hoping she’ll get a client or two after her “day job.” Lindsey made the decision to make building her business her day job. I should also mention that she is not independently wealthy, and that this venture has been a risky and courageous one.

So take a look at your career. Are you happy with it? Is being safe worth it? Are you investing time and money into building your business? Are you taking risks?

If you answered no to those questions, then you are the reason building your business is so hard. You aren’t in grad school any more. You choose to apply for a job, accept it, or strike out on your own. You choose whether to make building your business your day job and make whatever sacrifices you need to make to do that. You decide whether or not to invest in an office, a consultant, or other business expenses. You decide to wait passively for someone to pay you a fraction of your fee, or actively market and network for hours and days and weeks. You decide whether to contribute a blog, book, talk or idea to the world like Lindsey; or not to contribute anything without permission from somebody else. You decide whether to confuse worry with effort and wishing with doing.

Lots of things are possible for you. Owning your own business is neither easy or safe, but it is possible. It takes lots of effort and doing. It’s risky, but no one is making you do it or holding you back. It’s up to you to decide.


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  1. This is spot on Mike! It frustrates me to hear the disempowerment of even seasoned therapists coming from a fear based mind set.

  2. Very true! We can create a practice that wraps around our lives, however we want them to be structured, rather than the other way around.

  3. Yep! Truth.happy to be able to say a resounding Yes! To The questions here. Encouraging writing Mike! Hope all is great in your life and practice.

  4. WOW! That’s exactly what I needed to hear today! I’m inspired! Thanks again, Mike!

  5. Yes, this was terrific. So much of the advice we are given out of graduate school is just awful. If I had to do it all over again, I would have avoided a lot of crappy jobs & misery. But also a lot of advice we get is simply outdated. The practice advice I gave 6 years ago, I’d never give now because the market has changed so much and the way people seek information and providers has changed. But the one constant is, you have to take charge of your life, career and business and not wait to “get picked” or ask for permission. Cutting corners and treating your business as anything less than your full-time job will not get you where you need to go.

  6. Well put, Mike. Made me blush a little bit. Mike

  7. Have you been walking with others around the Charles? Thank you for all of the help and encouragement. Boston Professionals Counseling wouldn’t exist without you and your advice.

  8. John Brolley says

    Mike: Loved your post… Well timed. I am in the process of building my practice–left a decent job to do so (thank God for my patient and stable wife!). Trying hard to get things going. Liked the idea of a blog. I am “into” humor and athletics, so that’s where I’ll start…
    I’ll continue to follow your thoughts with interest…

  9. Hi Mike,

    Those were the same negative arguments when I arrived in town a couple years ago. Most of the advice I got was pretty sad and hopeless. However, thanks to good coaching  @MikeLanglois. Now, I have the practice that I want, with the amount of hours that I can handle and the kind of clients that I enjoyed. Plus other things in the works that came out of investing in my career. This may be true in many fields, but especially in social work, career is something that you create not something that you wait for it to happen.


    • Mike Langlois, LICSW says

      Araceli, how nice to hear from you! I recall the hard work you have done the past few years, and those negative messages you were hearing. I am not surprised that things have turned out this well for you. You worked at it!

  10. Samantha Alves says

    Thank you Mike! This was a great way to start my work day! I recently graduated as a macro MSW and was have a very self-disempowering day yesterday- feeling very lost and frustrated. It stemmed immediately from a conversation I had yesterday early in the day with a disempowermentor!

    As a social worker, you are often told by disempowermentors around you to stay in the box of case manager or community organizer- but I know that social workers have a responsibility to be at the big table of public policy. This article was a great call to action and a reminder to keep pushing for my aspirations.

  11. Kathy Heeg says

    There Is No Reward Without Risk

  12. Mike,

    It’s great to see you inspiring so many people. When I moved to Philadelphia from NYC in 2007 I found myself in a new place with no contacts or sources of referrals. It forced me to play the technology game in order to generate business while I developed the professional and social connections I needed to thrive. The biggest challenge I face is balancing the different roles I play, and accepting that it’s never okay not to be generating content. Writing has to be a built in part of every workday.

    Thanks for your inspiring words.

  13. It’s so comforting and inspiring to know that there is a supportive network of like-minded therapists out there!

  14. Why I say this: Not only is an MBA more useful to a student after some bonafide work experience (duh), but in my experience it’s often the lower achievers (or financially endowed, which sometimes goes hand-in-hand but I won’t get into that)who go to straight to business school after their undergrad. I wouldn’t want to be confused with one of those students.

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