Even though our profession is based on connection, private practice can actually be quite lonely. Early in my career, I was working in a large group practice and I noticed we were all like prairie dogs. We’d poke our heads out of our little offices just long enough to welcome our next client, and then disappear for sixty minutes until it was time to do it again. That experience left me wondering whether clinicians see each other the same way we see our clients.
As private practitioners, we wear a lot of hats. Between seeing clients, writing notes, scheduling, and sitting on hold with insurance companies, there’s not a lot of time left in the day for us to connect with our colleagues before our next appointment. It’s a bit ironic that mental health work can leave us feeling fragmented and drained, which isn’t something any of us would wish on our clients. But when we’re pulled in so many other directions, where do we find the time and space for ourselves? For me, the answer has been joining a professional reading group.
The Benefits of a Professional Reading Group
When a colleague invited me to join a professional reading group, I hesitated at first. Ultimately I did join one—in part to combat that loneliness I was feeling. All my usual anxious voices did their best to keep me out of that group and by myself. What if the reading was too much? What if the group didn’t like me—or worse, what if they thought I was a terrible counselor? Did I really have the time?
I’m relieved to say those anxious voices didn’t triumph. Instead, I said yes to the reading group. As a result, I’ve gained a larger network of supportive colleagues. I’ve nurtured my clinical skills and developed new ones I never would have otherwise. My group has boosted my confidence. And as a result, I’ve begun to dream bigger for myself as a clinician and business owner.
Learning from Diverse Perspectives
My professional reading group spans three states and two countries, which has enriched both the reading and my learning outcomes. Some of us work in rural settings, while others work in more populated cities. Some of the group are just starting out in their careers, while others are much further along in their journey. Each week I have a chance to take home a colleague’s perspective and incorporate it into my work, which means I’m not recycling my same old ideas or making the same tired assumptions.
We all work from varying perspectives, work with a different niche of clients, and all have different training backgrounds and certifications. Because of our variety of experiences and expertise, we’ve developed an informal referral network within our group. When we started referring clients to each other a few months ago, many of us had openings in our schedules. Now, we have waitlists. Because we’ve spent so much time together, I feel extremely confident when I refer clients to my reading group mates, they’re going to receive top-notch care.
Improving Clinical Skills
Aside from the social benefits of my professional reading group, I’ve also noticed improvements in my clinical work. My clients have been making more comments about how helpful our sessions have been. I feel more comfortable with raw and difficult emotions—both my own and my clients’. I’ve seen my clients living more expansive lives outside our sessions and taking healthy risks.
My reading group has also been a source of intellectual stimulation for me. Even if I don’t understand everything I read with the group, it pushes my mind to the edges of my current knowledge and gives me opportunities for personal growth. As an added bonus, most of the reading we do is not necessarily something I would choose on my own, so I encounter perspectives and ideas that I never would have found otherwise.
We learn as much from each other as we do from the text we’re reading together. Sometimes I don’t finish the reading for the week, but I still attend the meeting and always learn something just by listening to the conversation. As our group leader often says, “In the reading group, we live the material we’re reading about.” A professional reading group is like a lab where we can experience new ways of relating to each other and our clients, new ideas, and new interventions—all within the safety net of secure relationships.
If you’re anything like me, there might be days you leave your office and wonder if you did any good work that day. When I have those moments, I’ve started to visualize my professional reading group sitting alongside me during my sessions. When I imagine that they’re in the room to support me, I feel more calm, focused, and assured that I can handle any challenges that may come my way.
A few weeks ago, we took a break from our reading and just spent our time listening to each other’s dreams for our practices. My fellow readers are purchasing homes, building up group practices that focus on holistic wellness, launching their first practice ever, hiring new employees, teaching, and envisioning new intervention methods. Listening to their dreams that afternoon helped me listen more attentively to the dreams I have for myself, and imagine the ways I can put them into practice.
Fighting Professional Burnout
A couple of years ago after a particularly difficult day, a supervisor told me that I care too much. He offered to help me stop caring. The message I took from that offer was if you’re feeling fatigue, you’re doing something wrong. As clinicians, we all know that setting boundaries, creating work-life balance, and practicing self-care strategies are important to protecting our energy levels. But all these strategies have never really resonated with me personally.
The center of my burnout experiences haven’t been compassion fatigue, difficult clients, strained work-life balance, or poor self-care. For me, burnout stems from a lack of authenticity. I feel burnt out when I feel pressure to perform the role of a therapist. I lose touch with myself when I volunteer to perform the caretaker role I’ve inherited from my family and my career. When I feel like I’m simply playing a role, there’s little room for my authentic self—which is life-sapping.
My professional reading group is an open space where I can develop my authenticity and reconnect with my own sense of self before I connect with my clients. After reading group meetings, I’m primed to bring more of my authenticity into the therapy room, which has led to more energy for my clients and myself.
Imagine reading this article alone and going right into your next session. Now, imagine reading this article with four of your colleagues, talking through it together for five minutes, and then going into your next session. In which appointment do you think you’d feel more confident, free, and energized? For me, there’s no question that you can gain invaluable connection and stimulation from a simple five minute conversation with a few trusted colleagues.
My professional reading group has been another addition to my busy week, but it’s been absolutely worth it. In an often-lonely profession, I’ve found new vitality for my work and a vibrant community that allows me to grow my authentic self. My friendships with my reading group have given me the shot of courage I needed to fully pursue my goals.
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Pollen Magazine examines the health and wellness industry through the lens of the professionals that are redefining private practice. Find inspiration, learn from others, and discover insights on how to build the best version of your practice.
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