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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Comments

  1. Mike, great post! I’m passing it along to my contacts. I especially like this: “The idea of sustained effort truly alarms us.” I’ve noticed that in my coaching of therapists, too, and have wondered where that alarm, that fear of risk and experimentation and learning about business comes from. Is it an occupational hazard when such a large focus of clinical work deals with clients trying avoid anxiety-provoking or disillusion-making situations? Whatever the source, it seems to propel an incessantly insecure and fickle search for a magic wand.

    While the steps to success aren’t really rocket science, there is a learning curve before they are easy for most. The resistance to learning the skills for business growth is a curious form of professional sabotage. Brings to mind that Yoda could have been speaking to the healing arts solopreneur community with his line: “Do or not do. There is no try.”

  2. Mike great post. Worry disguised as thinking. Great insight. It made me reflect on how much I do the same and how this has led to procrastination. Thanks.

  3. Hi Mike,
    what an excellent article! I have been through the same thoughts as you, so it was good to see in print what I have finally realised, I have to go out there and get the work…
    It would be good if we as therapists can just hone our skills with our clients and get on with I guess what most of us all feel, that our therapy room is were the important things happen.
    BUT ask yourself one important thing….
    If we have clients who put themselves out there and do what may be very uncomfortable, when they change, say an old behaviour, don’t we as therapists deserve to make ourselves important and get everyone to know how good we are?
    I am starting the process finally myself. I start with a website that is in process, I have contacted several places to network, I have started to get my name spread around by clients and providers of mental health where I work. So who knows, this is the start of action that is and will become part of me. Take care Alisonx and thanks again.

  4. This is a great post Mike. You really named something I see when I work with therapists about marketing. Well done.

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