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Do you need control over your work schedule and environment? Private practice might be the answer. It was for me.
Why I Started Private Practice Years Ahead of Schedule
In late 2013, I took a break from work. I quit my new job, of only four months, at a local non-profit hospice for multiple personal reasons. After a year of considering my options alongside the reasons I needed that break, I started my private practice in my birth month (seems apropos now!), November 2014. The primary reason for pivoting away from employer-based social work is why private practice is still ideal. Control.
Because life is complex and flexibility matters a great deal to me, control over my schedule was a primary factor in pursuing private practice. That seems fairly simple, right? We all want control over when and how much we work. As you might’ve already guessed, it goes deeper than that. Much deeper.
The decision to quit hospice was difficult to make because that job had been on my career bucket list for years. At California State University, Sacramento (CSUS MSW ‘98), I’d put hospice on the list of job experiences I intended to obtain. I’d go to work for a hospice agency near the end of my hospital career, then pivot to private practice when I was a gray-haired social worker, with a nice retirement package, ready to rest my feet in a comfortable therapist chair. In 2002, after my brother died on hospice service, I modified my goal to include the hospice agency that had taken care of him.
It turned out that after several years at the hospital, my feet got tired long before I had planned (a story for another time), and genetics graced me with a shocking amount of gray hair early on.
Seriously, thank you, unknown ancestor! For making me get the question of dying my hair vs. going a-la-naturale out of the way permanently while my kids were still young!
Plus, I was sick of the commute. I wanted to work locally and move on with my career.
In May 2013, I applied to the hospice agency on my bucket list. Boom! They hired me on the day of my interview. Check! A career on track. Do you recognize that feeling?
The two main events that led to quitting my on-call hospice position years before my original plan were personal. Complex, but simple and perhaps familiar to you depending on where you are in life.
Main Event #1 At the end of my month-long training period, my mother was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. It was the “sooner or later you will die from it” type. I knew she’d eventually be on the rolls of the agency I was working for.
Two things happened in my mind: a) I wanted to be able to help when needed without jeopardizing my employment and b) I wondered how effective I’d be as a hospice social worker over the coming months, years, whatever time we had while she endured traditional treatment trying to buy more time with us. And, I really didn’t know how I’d be able to work while losing my mind over my mother’s death and seeing her name AT work when the time came. Then, there was the patient who was dying of breast cancer…
Main Event #2 During my third and four months with hospice, my husband’s job started taking him out of town for weeks at a time. From the beginning of parenting, we’d agreed that he was the primary breadwinner. I was uber happy to be a stay-at-home-mom working per-diem on the weekends. For several years, our twins had great fun with their dad with no hovering mama, and I got to be a social worker interacting with adults at the hospital. It had been perfect. The hospice job schedule was weekends only, too.
Because of his job change and unpredictability, our weekend plan wouldn’t work anymore. Our kids were not old enough to be left alone, day or night. Childcare was a problem, especially at a moment’s notice with my on-call status.
With all of life’s happenings (not in my plans!), I needed 100% control over my schedule. And for my health, I needed to have more control of my caseload while finding a way for maximum compassion satisfaction.
When the Going Got Hard
Private practice was and still is the answer. My mom passed in February 2018 and because I had flexibility and control, I was able to take the time off I needed to help her and be with her.
I still need control over my schedule for other family reasons. I need time for professional development to maximize efficacy with my clients e.g., grow skills while managing things that can lead to burnout (yes, the risk exists in private practice) and compassion fatigue (yep, that too).
I have control over my schedule which means I have a better chance of keeping life in balance. Well, the things I have control over anyway. I’m sure you know what I mean.
Through private practice, I’ve found a highly satisfying way of achieving one of my primary purposes in life: to help ease suffering. I get to help clients from the seat of my burgundy wingback chair with my coffee cup in hand. Feet resting and grounded. Whether in person or via telehealth, I can adjust according to life’s planned and unplanned events (and the random pandemic).
UPDATE February 2023 (not in the recorded version): Last summer (2022) I saw my last therapy client. After eight awesome years in the best. job. ever., I closed my therapy practice due to life demands. A family member needed me. I was able to close my practice on my terms, on my timeline, with careful planning and consideration.
Because I had control of the situation, I was able to transfer my clients to other therapists with confidence that they’d be well cared for.
I continued my consulting business on a limited basis. Freedom. I like it.
Are You Wondering How to Start Private Practice?
If this sounds like something you’d like to pursue, but you are unsure what the steps are for starting private practice, take a look at the table of contents in The 14 Concrete (but not so hard!) Steps to Private Practice. This is how I did it. I wrote it down, and year after year I kept notes on the things I learned along the way. Then I transformed what I learned into a book.
How I achieved a full practice far ahead of schedule is in the details.
The Guide includes much of what I’ve learned along the way related to the steps. It doesn’t include every last piece of minutia though, because to be honest, that book would be too long and you’d give up the idea before even starting. I couldn’t even write it. Besides that, I learn something new every time I turn around. That’s part of what keeps me on my toes and is a natural part of private practice.
Private practice is one way you can gain control of your work life and experience deep compassion satisfaction at the same time. Can’t see yourself as a business owner? I can relate. I started with the goal of five clients. Within months, I’d achieved that goal and was ready for more. Being a business owner is just a matter of a learning curve. Like everything else you’ve learned along the way.
If you need help, I am here. Get the Guide (read more about it at the link) first, though. It will answer a ton of questions along the way. You might not even need me. That’s my goal: to help you as efficiently as possible and work myself out of a job.
That’s why I wrote it. For you and for me.
Thank you for joining me today and don’t forget to follow my blog for the occasional post about private practice.