This week, we asked Dr. April McDowell what she’s most thankful for. Read through her impressive journey, learn about the cognitive trick she uses to be as productive as possible, and let us know what you think in the comment section below!
Hi April! Tell us about your journey.
My journey as a therapist began in 2000 at the UNC-Greensboro. With the help of my amazing mentor, Dr. Heather Helms, I completed my degree in Human Development & Family Studies and then moved from NC to MD and began grad school at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2005 (Go Terps!). There, I received my clinical training from one of the highest ranking Marriage & Family Therapy programs in the U.S., which I am extremely proud of!
After grad school, I worked in two private therapy practices in Washington, DC before finally opening my own. I’d have to say that one of the most valuable career experiences for me was my nearly 5 years spent working for a private group practice in Silver Spring, MD. This is really what helped me gain a ton of experience and confidence to open my own business.
This is when I went on to launch Decision Point Therapy, LLC in 2014 with one location in Silver Spring, MD. I was walking distance from work, which was awesome! Two years later, in the summer of 2016, I moved from MD to Northern VA with my partner. I gained licensure in Virginia and relaunched my practice with 2 locations in Silver Spring, Maryland and Reston, Virginia.
I love being a therapist and look forward to having many more years in the field. Honestly, I think that even if I won the lottery and didn’t “have” to work, I’d still be taking clients.
What made you decide to pursue starting your own practice?
Honestly, it came out of a bit frustration with the previous experiences I had. After being a part of a group practice for so long, I had the clinical skills, in addition to the management and organizational skills that I needed to run my own practice.
Based on my experience, I saw that it was possible and realized that it wasn’t too expensive to invest in office space, it wasn’t hard to find software that would help with billing… So, that was kind of the final hurdle for me. It was definitely a natural progression of my career.
I see a lot of therapists fresh out of grad school that start their own practice and I don’t necessarily recommend that… especially since there’s such a huge learning curve! You’re fresh and you’re trying to exercise your clinical skills and it’s really hard to balance that with the administrative side of running a practice. I’m really glad I had that prior experience in a group which helped me feel confident in venturing out and running my own.
Why did you choose SimplePractice?
I decided to move to SimplePractice based on recommendations from other colleagues. I had been using another practice management software for a number of years, basically ever since I’ve been in private practice. I was comfortable with it and I wasn’t really open to changing since I knew the system really well, but I kept hearing from colleague after colleague about how much better SimplePractice was compared to other practice management systems. I heard about all the awesome features and realized it had a lot of things that I was looking for- things that weren’t possible with the other system I was using.
That’s so great to hear… Welcome! Which features specifically drew you to SimplePractice?
Definitely the Client Portal. I had been looking for something like that forever! The first question I get from clients after they agree to schedule is “Can I fill out the paperwork before I come in?” So, now it’s really nice that I can say “Yes, of course!” and be able to immediately send that link The fact that I can send my client’s paperwork online is a huge benefit.
Prior to my using SimplePractice, I had my paperwork available to download on my website. It was a very cumbersome process since clients had to do all the work. SimplePractice has created a better experience for my clients.
SimplePractice has also helped my practice by allowing me to go paperless, collect more detailed intake data from clients very easily, and not spend time scheduling clients through back and forth emails and phone calls. Once again… My clients love the portal!
If you could share one productivity tip, what would it be?
I have this cognitive trick that I use pretty often to kickstart my productivity. I call it the “task, not time” rule. Basically, I stay away from giving myself time blocks to complete tasks but instead focus on working “until.” As in, “until it’s done.”
So whether a task takes me 10 minutes to finish, or 2 hours, I prefer pushing myself to keep working until completion (assuming the time is actually there for longer tasks).
I began doing this because I found myself taking much longer on tasks than necessary when I gave myself a time block to complete it. For example, if I gave myself 1 hour to write a new blog article, I’d use that full hour no matter what because I’d spend time procrastinating or distracted by more fun things in the beginning of that time block.
Whereas, when I tell myself “you must complete this blog article today and will work on it UNTIL it’s done, not just for a one hour block” I tend to move much quicker and finish it faster! It’s a way of holding myself accountable for going until I reach the finish line.
Do you have any advice for those just getting started with their private practices?
There are TONS of amazing practice building consultants and tools online. These days, there’s no excuse to say you don’t know where to begin or how to move forward in private practice. Every time I feel stuck, I go to my top resources for private-practice building and the answer is always there. Make the time to learn from the pros, and all will be well!
Check out some more of April’s tips here.
Where do you see your practice going in the future?
My vision is for my practice to be known in my local area as one of the key sources of help for couples struggling with life’s biggest relationship decisions. I want my practice’s name to be synonymous with high-quality, evidence-based couples therapy in the DC area.
I’d also like my practice to have reach beyond the DC area, and become a top provider of informative and engaging content that helps couples keep their relationships healthy. I really enjoy the psycho-educational aspects of my work and hope to share my content as widely as possible!
Since Thanksgiving is right around the corner, tell us 3 things you’re thankful for.
- Family support. Having that stable and steady support from my family has been a tremendous part of my journey. I think that I made the mistake in the beginning of thinking “I can just do it all alone!” which ended up being harder than I expected. Having people to tell about what’s happening, and what I have planned has been really helpful.
- Clients. My clients are amazing! I had so much support when I made the move to open my solo practice from my existing client base. Honestly, their first reaction was worry due to the fact that I was leaving to start my own practice. Amazingly enough, all of my clients followed me to my new practice, and a lot of them also gave me referrals for new clients so that I was able to hit the ground running. They were incredibly supportive.
- I’m really grateful for my training! I was lucky to end up at one of the top MFT programs in the US. I had no idea how great my training was until after I had left the program… It’s a really great foundation for what I do!
You can find April at: