As therapists, we typically join the mental health field out of a deep desire to help others. We go to graduate school and post-graduate trainings, engage in thousands of hours of supervision and case consultation, all in the service of developing clinical competency and maintaining ethical standards.
Few of us, however, receive specific training in how to run a sustainable practice. We’re encouraged to practice self-care, keep our services accessible, and avoid burnout. But most of us wonder—how are we supposed to do this?
How to Create a Sustainable Practice
In my experience, creating a sustainable therapy practice requires three main value systems. When these three values are in balance, they can help us flourish personally, ensure our clients receive quality care, and benefit our communities.
Honor Your Personal Values
Finding work-life balance is challenging for everyone, but especially for business owners. Our personal values and professional values meet in our therapy practice. Aligning your work with your deeply held values helps you to know where you’re thriving and when you’re stressed.
One way we can run a sustainable practice is by clarifying our core values and ensuring they’re woven into our work. For example, one of my top values is authenticity. From the moment a client makes contact with me, whether it’s online, by phone, my website, or social media, I want them to know how it would feel to work with me. I’m a big sci-fi nerd. I love kitchen-dancing for self-care. I’m also a whole-hearted devotee of attachment science. And that’s how I engage with clients in therapy—by giving them nerdy metaphors about love and loss in relationships, and by caring for myself as a human being—just like I’m asking them to.
I’ve found over the years that healthy and ethical self-disclosure about how I show up in the therapy room has helped my therapeutic relationships with my clients. It also helps potential clients decide if we’re a good mutual fit. When I honor my value by being my authentic self in my work, it has a direct impact on the kind of clinician I can be for my clients. The more values we can weave into our work, the less we’ll be stressed from being out of alignment.
Although your core values may not change much—or at all—it’s helpful to check in periodically to make sure you’re still prioritizing what matters most to you.
Emphasize Direct Client Care
Client care is what we’re here for—to help people. It’s helpful to assess what we love about client care and what’s actually causing us stress. There will always be aspects of running a practice that will be stressful, and that’s to be expected. But I didn’t go to grad school to spend all my time on paperwork. If you can find workflows that save you time and money, that’ll certainly help relieve some of your stress. But another way to reduce emotional exhaustion is to release emotions. As clinicians, one way we can focus on releasing emotion is through expressing our core values in our client care.
Our core values are attached to our emotions—what we care about, what moves us, and what drives us to want to help our clients. Expressing our values helps us stay attuned to our purpose and may help us feel less exhausted and burnt out from pouring out care without it making the impact we hope it will make.
So to create a sustainable practice, focus on who you want to help and how you want to help them. Each of us has varying degrees of privilege and ability to develop and maintain a niche, a schedule, and a specialty. Within that scope, it’s helpful to know how much your direct client care is aligned with your values. That, in turn, will let you know how much more care you’ll need to offset the difference between what’s best for you and what’s possible.
What’s your ideal client population? What lights you up when you look at your schedule? What sort of work do you love to do?
For example, I’m trained in emotionally focused therapy. I love working with couples and individuals on attachment and relationship blocks, and I work primarily with adults. After ten years of experience, I’ve found that holding my boundaries around the kind of work I do and don’t do—and having an excellent referral network for what’s outside my scope of practice—helps me drastically reduce my stress. I also know that clients who aren’t a good fit for me will still get the care they need, and I know clients who are a good fit will find their way to me. All of this knowledge is a huge relief to me as I run my sustainable practice.
Check in with yourself at the end of each day. How do you feel? Any stress or tension? Notice what happens when you engage with your values and shift what you can. Hopefully, you’ll feel some release of pressure and a bit more space to come home to yourself.
Connect to Your Greater Community
The ways we can connect with ourselves and express our values in client care grow when we add in our larger communities. As humans, we thrive when we feel connected to others. Community is one way we get to form those connections. Because of our ethics as clinicians, so much of the work we do goes unseen. That’s essential for many reasons, but at the same time, it can make our work seem invisible. Although we don’t become therapists so we can be seen or focus only on ourselves, that doesn’t mean stop having needs or being human when we take on the mantle of mental health provider. So what do we do?
We can lean into the community as human professionals. We’re more than just our roles as mental health providers. We wouldn’t ask our clients to think of themselves as only one role—yet we do it all the time. We step into our roles as therapists and then it’s hard for us to step back out. But our communities are places where we can be both ourselves and our roles.
We can participate in our communities in so many ways. For instance, if one of my core values is freedom, I may be passionate about increasing the accessibility of client care. I can put my values to work by volunteering for boards or organizations that advocate for mental health services. I may offer psychoeducational workshops to the community I serve on topics of advocacy and mental health. I may offer supervision in my area of expertise to empower clinicians to advance in their work.
We can write, teach, join peer groups with other clinicians, consult, advocate, post on social media to increase awareness about mental health and therapy. The sky’s the limit! Connect with your core values and how you’re caring for your community. What’s missing? Where are the gaps in what you need to feel like you are making a difference? Community care is one place we can make a difference in a different way than we do in our clients’ lives.When all three of your values systems are in play, you’ll feel more aligned with what you do, who you are, and who you serve. That’s the trifecta of creating a sustainable practice. A business that sustains you, your clients, and your community is a gift to the world and one that can stand the test of time.
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