Building the Practice of Your Dreams: Selecting the Right Space and Paying For It

Posted by: Doc Warren on July 12, 2019 12:34 pm

Selecting space is one of the most important aspects of a practice, whether it is your first location, an additional location or if you are considering relocating an existing practice. Just as in politics and religion, there are many philosophies and schools of thought on this. This article seeks to explore some, but definitely not all the options and considerations. It should help to provide a good framework to build upon, however, it cannot replace what you could expect from hiring a business professional or consultant that can help you develop a comprehensive business plan.

It’s time to find a location and if you are like most folks, you may be feeling just a bit overwhelmed. Should you buy, should you rent, or should you do a long-term lease? You might ask such questions as, how close do I want the office to be to my house? Could my house be converted into two spaces, one to live in and one to use as my office? Would I be allowed to convert my house by law or would I have issued with the local authorities? How big a space do I need? What is my plan for future expansion? How do I come up with a budget and stick to it? How much remodeling will be needed and will they allow me to do it or do I have to hire trades? What’s my ability handy wise? The lists seems endless and your head begins to spin like a dreidel.

Rent\Lease
While I personally am not big on renting or leasing, I have done it while in the process of buying a property or two. There are many advantages and disadvantages to not owning. I’ll start with the common disadvantages of renting/leasing so we can end on a high note:

  • Lack of control over aesthetics: You don’t own it so you are limited in what you can do to change the office. Depending on the agreement, you may or may not be able to change paint colours, may be limited in how you can decorate and what you can hang on the walls (some owners forbid nails or other mechanical hangers on their walls due to the potential need to fill in the holes and make other repairs once you leave). You may have no control over updating dated flooring, wall colors or other aspects of the office. You cannot make structural changes, change door sizes or door locations. Also, depending on when it was last updated, this property may not comply with accessibility standards. Depending on the owner, they may or may not voluntarily make the upgrades. Some property owners may refuse the upgrades which puts the renter in a tough space, others may refuse to pay for the upgrades but allow the renter to do so. It’s best to explore this before signing contracts. It should be noted that is you purchase the property, it all falls on you to make the improvements.
  • You will not build equity: When you own a property you will typically build equity as in most cases real property such as an office building, home, land etc. will increase in value as time passes. Upgrades, additions and other improvements made to the property typically will increase the appeal and resale price of a property. If you do not own the property though, every cent you pay to the owner is traded for the time you used it, it will not ever have a chance to earn you anything in the future.
  • No control over neighbors: This is most crucial in a larger building with multiple office suites for rent. As a tenant, you have little to no say in who your neighbors are. Over the years I have consulted with folks who have found that competitors rented space in their same building. Other times they found that an influx of new neighbors changed the feel of the building and became a detraction for them. One example was when a wellness and recovery program found themselves sharing space with a bar and microbrewery. While there is nothing wrong with bars or breweries, it proved to be a huge trigger for clients who were trying to stay sober. Had they owned the building, they could have done more to make sure that the renters all complimented one another.
  • Your contract may not be renewed: Many folks have found themselves having to relocate from a spot that they held for years and had grown to love due to changes in the ownership of the building, or changes in the use of the building. Once your agreement expires, neither you nor the owner is compelled to sign a new one. Should the owner have a new plan for the space, you may find yourself looking for a new location at the most inconvenient time.

Advantages of Renting/Leasing:

  • Repairs: depending on your contract you may find that you are not responsible for any repairs to the office. This reduces the need for maintenance staff and repairs (though these are often factored in the rental fees).
  • Mobility: As you do not own the property, you are free to leave when you want, though if you are still in an active contract you may receive some financial penalties.  Whereas if you owned the property, you would need to pay and maintain it until you found a new buyer.
  • Remodeling/renovations: Depending on your contract you may find an owner that is willing to build or remodel the office to your needs for no additional cost (though expect this to be a factor when they consider the monthly rental fee). Should this be the case, expect them to want to have you sign a lengthy agreement than 1 year. There may also be a penalty should you try to leave within the life of the agreement.
  • Size of practice: Many times when starting out or adding a location, you will need a minimal space, far less than an entire building. Renting may allow you to rent as little as a few hundred square feet of space and also allow you to expand in the future. Purchasing a property allows you to own it all or nothing. By renting just what you need as you need it, it can be far cheaper than having to buy much more than you will use.

Disadvantages of Buying:

  • Cost: The initial costs of purchasing a property can be daunting to say the least. Whereas renting may cost you a few thousand per month depending on size, location, etc., purchasing a property unless you are able to pay cash or have a super high down payment, will often cost you thousands a month for decades. This may be more than you can afford at the moment.
  • Repairs/ maintenance/ remodeling: As an owner, you will be responsible for all costs associated with the upkeep and improvements of a property. This may require hiring additional staffing and or having various trades on your speed dial.
  • Lack of mobility: Should you decide to relocate your office, you cannot simply move on once a contract has been completed as you could with a rental. Instead, you will offset need to either sell the property or find someone to lease it from you to help offset the expenses of keeping that property and opening elsewhere.
  • Availability: Depending on the market, it may be difficult to find your ideal property in the area that you wish to be located in. In some markets there is a very low inventory of specialty properties for sale. In our case, it took 4 years for us to find the right property, in the right area for a price we were willing and able to pay. This can sometimes be an issue when renting as well.

Advantages of Buying:

  • Building equity: Equity may help fund other projects or give leverage to better interest rates on a loan should you need funding. Some see equity as a nest egg in case an emergency should arise.
  • Build and remodel to suit your changing needs: As the owner of a building you have the ability to change it to suit your needs so long as you can afford to do so and you stay within government regulations. This can help you to totally transform a location as your practice develops.
  • Control your immediate neighbors: Should you own a larger building than you need and decide to rent out other areas, you can have control over who moves in so that they can complement, not compete with one another. This is not usually possible in a rental situation.

How close do I want the office to be to my house?
One of the most common questions that I am asked is how close is too close to have an office? Again, there is no right answer here. Each has its own pros and cons. Close to home offices are easier to get to in bad weather, offer short commutes and familiarity for sure. They can allow you to tap into a community that you already know, which may help with initial referrals but they also can cost you some much needed privacy and make it harder to keep firmer boundaries. I worked and lived in the same town for years and though overall I loved it, I have had some strange encounters such as when a few clients seemed to know my background better than I did. A few knew exes of mine and attempted to discuss the relationship before I reminded them that this was their session, not mine. I’ve also been “spotted” by clients when I was dressed in my worst outfit and trying to find a key part at the local hardware. Others new of my background and were inspired by it. You really need to explore this fully and decide what works best for you. In the end, I only moved my office because I found my dream location and it happened to be in the next town (about 4 miles from the office I had been using).

Is virtual counseling an option for you?
With the ever changing climate and the advancement of technology, more and more clinicians are considering tele-health and virtual counseling as their mainstay in practice. Though regulations vary depending on the country, state, province etc. that you are located, this area promises to be lucrative to those that decide to take it on. It requires that you have the specialized training in the area (many of these trainings can be had via online courses), equipment with the proper privacy software and a quiet room in which to conduct your sessions. I’ve known some clinicians that did this in a spare room and at least one that did it in their bed room; they put a screen behind them to hide the bed and other “private” items. However, virtual counseling is not for everyone. More and more folks are indeed giving it a go, so it is worth exploring. Here in the states, payment for these types of sessions is an issue with only certain insurance companies being willing to cover such care. Be sure to check in your area.

Could my house be converted into two spaces, one to live in and one to use as my office? Would I be allowed to convert my house by law or would I have issued with the local authorities?
Many people are remodeling their existing homes in order to build an office on site. This offers a very low overhead as it typically results in possibly a bit more insurance and an increase in utilities but little else other than the cost of the remodel. It’s important to work with local government agencies however to make sure that this type of use is allowed in your neighborhood. If it is, a separate entrance, separate bathroom and an office area that is separate from your living space is recommended.  Speaking with a tax specialist may be key here as well as there may be tax considerations that may make it more or less enticing. If you hold a mortgage, be sure to make sure that there are no provisions prohibiting the use of the property on a commercial basis as well. It is best to head into this with eyes fully open. Lastly, be sure to be considerate of your neighbors. Be sure that target population, hours of operation etc. will go well within the exiting neighborhood. For instance, working with violent populations such as sex offenders, those with histories of violent crimes etc. would not set well with most suburban neighborhoods. Should this be your population, much may need to be done in terms of educating and working with the neighborhood prior to opening so that you may avoid vocal and legal opposition. Being open and honest with the neighbors is typically the best policy. Please note however that this does not mean that you would ever disclose information on any particular client, just that if your program is to specialize with the above mentioned clientele, it is best to make sure the local laws and those around you are aware so you can calm things prior to opening. For general practices, this is not needed but it is wise to always properly screen clients for proper placement.

How big a space do I need? What is my plan for future expansion?
These questions will help steer the search for sure. How big do you want your office to get? Do you want to have many clinicians or just yourself? For me, I would like to see that every clinician get an office that is at least 12ft by 12ft. There needs to be a bathroom, waiting area and reception/ medical records area (even if you are all electronic, there will be a need for certain forms and other resources.

How do I come up with a budget and stick to it?
Most of us have not won the mega bucks so we need to make sure that we keep our costs affordable. If you are not great with budgets it may make sense to hire a consultant that can assist you with making a basic budget and teach you how to stick to it. Many places that have failed have done so in large part by spending beyond their means. Be realistic with cost projections as well as with income projections. Personally speaking, I try to be ultra conservative when planning on income to fund a project so that I do not find myself overextended. You can always increase your budget later should you have the ready cash. When doing an expansion, I never count on an increase in income as a result of the new space or programming and only spend what I can afford at that time. Many will disagree with this premise of course and may recommend a more aggressive approach. Their way may indeed bring faster growth but it also brings more risk than I personally care to take on. I’d rather grow slowly and surely than risk overextending and closing down after financial failure.

How much remodeling will be needed, and will they allow me to do it or do I have to hire trades? What’s my ability handy wise?
No matter if you rent, lease, own or borrow space, it is helpful to have a solid idea as to what your abilities are remodeling wise. Some projects are expensive to hire out but require little in the way of special tools or advanced skills. Taking these projects on may help you save thousands of dollars. It is imperative however to check with local codes to make sure that you are allowed to do this without a license. Also check with the property owner and get all the permission required. In the case of my program since we owned the buildings and grounds, we were allowed to build a bathroom with a composting toilet system but were not allowed to install our own septic system. We were allowed to do much of the electrical, structural, sheetrock, windows etc. based on our ability. Local codes will vary however.

Case study:
For the first office of the charity I founded, we looked for office space all around our target town. We found that the quality and the price of each rented space varied greatly, with some of the cheaper ones appearing to have better quality. Each office space we looked at however left us saying that we wish it had the feel of the neighborhood where we lived. Eventually, we decided to look into the local laws and found that we could indeed have an office out of our home. Our home offered two floors, each with a bathroom. Instead of paying up to $15 per square foot in rent for 1200 square feet, we elected to remodel our existing space. As we owned the building, we were able to move walls, enlarge the bathroom, paint, and do flooring etc. by ourselves. This enabled us to keep costs low while still being in our target neighborhood. The fact that we still had our own private living area was a real plus.

We kept that space for years, expanding it once to add another office (we remodeled an attached garage into an office) and changing the interior from time to time. The space served us well until finally it became obvious that we needed far more space than the building could offer us. We started looking for a space to purchase as we had grown accustom to having the final say on what we did with our space. After much search and a false start or two (somethings look good on paper or in person but not vice versa) we found what we felt was a diamond in the rough just a few miles up the road from us.

We were able to negotiate a better than prime interest mortgage with only 10% down and to purchase the property well below its estimated value. Thankfully, at closing we had 40-50% equity in the property which gave us a safety net should we ever have to take out a loan for repairs or to help the charity get over a trying time. The building and grounds were rough to say the least and required a ton of work before we could move into it. We started by building a working bathroom, using a composting system, as we did not have access to city sewers and the property lacked a septic system. We then framed the building out for offices and a waiting area and installed basic heating. We opened on a limited basis, a day or two per week at first and made a slow transition with our existing clients. Most made the move without issue though a few were upset with the additional 4 mile commute and were referred elsewhere.

Over time we made more and more improvements to the building and grounds. We added two large greenhouses, added hiking trails, gardens, “pocket areas” that became attractions in their own right, including an interactive animal sanctuary area, meditation spaces, benches, orchard areas and other items of interest. In time the original building which we still owned, became the administrative building and also served as a location that had back up offices should there ever be a catastrophic event the necessitated the short term closure of the main location. The building is currently about 7800 square feet over 3 floors. It contains many offices, a few large community rooms, shop space for occupational training, art based therapy space and several clinical offices. We have elected not to subdivide and to enjoy all the space for ourselves. We initially bought about 24 acres but recently purchased the neighboring 25 acres, this combined with right of way land gives us 50 acres for programming.

Due to careful financial management, we have been able to renovate the property in stages without incurring mountains of additional debt beyond that of the mortgage. The mortgage we took out only covered the purchase price. We elected to pay for the remodeling as we went along in order to keep our monthly payments. Low. As of today, our only outstanding non-mortgage debt is what is left of the HVAC system bill. That amounts to about fifteen thousand US.

In consulting with other programs in the area, we have found that our combined mortgage payments (the main property and the new acreage) are typically far less than some folks are paying for rent on offices that are only a fraction the size of ours and offer little to no outside space.  While our model would not work for everyone, it has enabled us to grow year to year since we were founded. By keeping overhead low but program quality high, we have thrived at a time when many other programs have closed. We have also been able to do so with no formal advertising other than a website and signs for the office.

A dream practice is possible if you are willing and able to put in the effort. I’m rooting for ya.

Be safe, do good

-Doc Warren
“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). He is internationally certified as a Counsellor and Counsellor Supervisor in the USA and Canada (C.C.C., C.C.C.-S, NCC, ACS). He can be contacted at [email protected]




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Building the Practice of Your Dreams

Posted by: Doc Warren on May 6, 2019 11:50 am

Having consulted with folks from around the globe about building a practice of their dreams I have learned many things. First, dream practices vary greatly from person to person, which is great for the dreamer and the client as it allows for such a wide array of options. Second, funding opportunities vary globally, regionally, and locally so it is a sound practice to investigate options that may be unique to your particular area as no one expert can know it all. In some cases, a town may have money available should you qualify. Third, there are people who are willing to spend a great deal of money buying gimmicks and even more people willing to sell them. Please be sure to do your own homework to help you decide before you buy. Much of what is being sold can be found for free with just a little legwork.

A case in point is that of sample documentation. There are tons of places that are happy to charge you upwards of $1500 or more for a set of sample documentation but you can view and print free versions at sites as well. https://www.docwarren.org/clinician-resources happens to be my page but there are many more to be found as well that also have free information and samples.

There are many reasons for starting your own practice, one of the most common is the desire to offer the public something that is lacking in your area. A chance to make your mark while giving back to your area can help give one the drive needed to tackle such a large task. For this writing, the focus is on developing the key framework for the design of the practice. Future writings will cover documentation, selecting the right space, is it better to buy or rent, maintaining safety in small and large practices etc.

What is your dream?

The first step for most of us is trying to figure out just what it is that you want your practice to look like. Will it be corporate, will it be rural, will it offer a sterile, stainless steel and concrete environment or more of a down home feel; the options are almost limitless.  For me, I typically ask people to think about the practice that they personally would want to go to. What would it look like? Start sketching things out. Once you know what your dream place to go to treatment would look like, think about the population you prefer to work with. Would the two be compatible? If not, what would you need to do to modify it to work? What would be your dream environment to work in? Would this blend in well with the population you wish to serve and the type of place you would want to go to? The more commonalities you find, chances are the closer you are to your dream practice. Don’t be afraid to go outside your normal comfort zone and do not hesitate to do things differently than you are used to. Innovation often takes risks and so long as you stay within the bounds of laws, ethics and consider best practices you should be fine.

As you continue to build that dream practice and have a general idea of the treatment setting you would prefer it is important to make sure you find an area where there is a need. It will be very difficult or nearly impossible to succeed if you open your practice in an oversaturated area. Do some homework. Consider the population you are targeting, the overall population of the area and the number of providers. Though some very large cities appear to have a provider every few feet, the dense population allows for them all to grow their practices but take a small town and add more clinicians and you may find that covering your costs, let alone excelling may be beyond difficult.

Some folks find that relocating will be the best option for them once they flesh out their dream practice. If this appears to be your best option as well, consider the costs of relocation in your start up projections. You need to remember that, making ends meet during the first several months to the first 5 years of your practice can be problematic. The first five years of any business can be viewed as the “bloodletting” stage as the business will have some of its highest outlays of cash and its lowest influx of funds during the time (some exceptions may apply).

Sadly, we have all likely seen some very talented clinical professionals go out on their own only to run out of funds before they are able to lay the proper foundation. Some of the equipment and supplies that are in use at the programs I run have come from “fire sales” held by other programs that failed to thrive. In most cases it had nothing to do with the quality of care provided but more to do with the financial realities that the founders were ill equipped to deal with.  (I’ll be writing about budgeting a practice in later blogs).

Before opening a practice it is important to look at your credentials to make sure you meet the statutory requirements for private, group or community based programs in your province. Some folks have grown comfortable working for other programs and fail to realize that credential requirements may have changed for independent or other programming and that they may not meet the requirements. Should this happen to you it is important to remember that you have options. You may find that you simply fall a few credits short of the credential needed and can take the classes prior to opening or you may be able to hire someone to join your program that has the credentials needed. Whatever the case, be sure that you only practice in a capacity that is allowed in your area.

One of the biggest issues found in new programming is that you get a dedicated clinical professional that decides to open a practice or that is promoted in an existing one to a supervisory role but they lack any training or education in this area. Being a good clinician does not mean one can be a good administrator. Getting training, education and experience in this area can make the difference between success and failure when supervising others. To this writer, a credential as a supervisor is as important to a clinical supervisor as a credential in counselling is to a clinician.

You have a rough idea of the practice that you want. You are ready to write your business plan when you realize that the initial outlay of your practice greatly outnumbers the available cash that you have for this endeavor. Feeling discouraged at this level often leads folks to abandon their dream practice and either stay where they are or to look for a job at another facility. It’s often far easier to work for someone else than it is to build something from scratch and it often costs far more to try to buy an existing program and to make it your own than most clinicians can afford. Here again is where creativity can lend a hand. Can your dream practice be built in stages? Look to what a bare boned plan would look like for you and your dream practice. What can you do to get started on a shoe string budget and what would you need to do to see it blossom in time? Are you willing and able to make the necessary sacrifices? Can you negotiate rates that you can afford to pay your expenses? Think. What do you absolutely need before you open your doors? What can you get after your practice starts to collect fees? Do you know how to break thins down to manageable pieces? If not, this may be a good time to find a fairly priced consultant to help you flesh things out. Do be careful on how much you pay them however as it will likely be coming out of your already limited war chest.

Case study: Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. – Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm.

I’m writing this as I take a break between cutting wood and doing clinical sessions at the therapeutic farm that I founded and that is owned by the charity that I created in 2005 with a war chest of just seven thousand dollars. From the founding of the charity we knew that we wanted to incorporate nature with our therapeutic work and hoped to one day get land to do it on. For the start however we settled for the first floor of our home which I had remodeled into an office (the house is set up much like a two family home. I removed the kitchen and reconfigured the rest of the first floor to work as an office. We still use it till this day). Years before I built a second floor onto the house so we were lucky enough to have a space at the ready for this endeavor, if we did not, we would have had to be more creative.

We did not select this space at first however, as we looked at several options but found ourselves always comparing it to what we already had. Once decided, we used that seed money to do all the paperwork and pay all the fees required to be a charity. I researched the requirements and with the help of a colleague or two I wrote the bylaws and filled out the legal documents. I had a lawyer review them prior to submission. Thankfully, this lawyer had served on a committee with me previously and reviewed the documents on a pro bono basis.

We started with mostly old furniture and a computer that I had used for school. We lacked a fax machine or a fancy office type phone system and instead used a decent home system that allowed for up to 6 cordless phones. We bought a small sign for the front and sent out some press releases that we had opened. Other than cards and pens, we never did any real advertising: we still don’t actually.

Over the years we have changed some of our focus client wise but overall we are true to the day when the plan was first drafted. As income came in we upgraded furniture, bought a fax machine which was required to have by some of our insurance plans and spruced up the office as needed. We always kept costs low and did most all of the construction and remodeling work ourselves.

As time went on we tried to lease or buy land but were often too late. Developers often bought the land before we could get the financing in place. Cash can be king as they say. Still, we were undaunted.  In time we had outgrown our space even though we had added to the original floor plan. We needed a second, larger location.

A family farmer had been thinking of making his farm a nonprofit and we attempted to help him make it happen. After a time he approached us with an offer to sell us his farm one deed at a time. He was more interested in seeing the farm that had been in the same family since 1860 go to the right buyer than to the buyer with the deepest pockets. The farm was overgrown due to a lack of available hands but it had good bones. We bought the first section that was about 25 acres, give or take and it also had a large shell of a building that had been started in the 1990’s but never finished.  That would one day become our main space, offering about 7800 square feet of space. We began by cleaning it out, framing the offices, building a bathroom, fixing the electrical that was there and adding a great deal of new as needed. In time we insulated, sheet rocked, painted and did flooring. We started off with electric heat and then added a pellet stove while finding funding for our HVAC system.  We added a well, two seasonal high tunnels (greenhouses) and some equipment.

We opened the offices when we had just one small section ready and we’ve added areas as they were completed. We now have 6 clinical offices including one that also doubles as an art based therapy area (about 900 square ft). We have two large shop areas and a community hall that is awaiting insulation and sheet rock as we speak.

The program has much left to do before we call it complete, the list actually grows as we check off items. Plans for a large pavilion and additional hiking trails are in the works as our plans to add additional fruit groves and Christmas tree fields. As of today, our attorneys are working out the final details for the purchase of 25 additional acres that are part of the farm. The original farm house and 2 acres of land will be the final purchase that we make from the original owners. Who knows what we may add in the future.

There have been many steps and several setbacks but we are as close to our original plans as we could possibly be.  One of the best parts is that we are not mired in debt. In fact, other than our mortgage, we have less than fifteen thousand dollars of debt and that is due to the fact that we recently purchased 4 new furnaces, ac units and ductwork.

Never let the reality of low funds prevent you from building your dream practice…

Be safe, do good

-Doc Warren
”Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). He is internationally certified as a Counsellor and Counsellor Supervisor in the USA and Canada (C.C.C., C.C.C.-S, NCC, ACS). He can be contacted at [email protected]




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

The life of a therapeutic farm director

Posted by: Doc Warren on June 6, 2018 3:33 pm

From writing in the United States and in Canada I get email after email on such topics as founding a charity to counselling supervision and related topics. My favorites though are those that focus on therapeutic farm programs.  Now I am far from the first to have a therapeutic farm and hopefully far from the last. It was once a very common type of program but with the increase in land prices, decreases in crop prices and the insane amount of developments that were being build decades ago more and more farms, including therapeutic farms, disappeared from the map, replaced by subdivisions. Therapeutic programs have trended smaller and the connection with nature was often lost.

A handful of years ago the charity I founded was offered a great price on a nearby farm that had long ago seen its prime fade into decay. It had no running water and spotty utilities at best but we saw so much potential that we went into debt to buy the first of three sections and have spent a fortune in cash and sweat equity transforming it into a real therapeutic program with hiking trails, fields, Christmas Trees, gardens, green houses (the USA government makes us call them Seasonal High Tunnels if we want a chance at a grant), running water, a bathroom, art based programming and of course formal therapeutic programs etc. We have gone from about 850 square feet of office space to just under 4000 with more currently under construction. Eventually the main building will be about 7800 square feet including the metal\ automotive and wood shops.

As a director of such a program there really is no such thing as a “typical” day unless you simply say that a typical day is anything but typical. While I carry a full caseload of clients that I see for hour long sessions, my days also include many, many non-clinical and non-administrative duties. If you are planning on taking on such a project there are things you will want to consider unless of course you are simply stepping into a program that is fully staffed and fully operational.

In the past few weeks alone I have worked on the following projects beyond clinical and admin.

  • Replaced brakes, rotors and at least one caliper on an agency used vehicle as well as a water pump and rear wheel hub assemblies.
  • Repaired a water valve that helped supply water to the buildings and grounds.
  • Repaired the snow plow, changed a tire in the snow and also replaced a starter where the plow had died. Think slush, snow, cold and so, so dirty.
  • Repaired chicken coops after snow damage.
  • Buried some farm animals after a predator attack.
  • Ran electrical wires for new offices.
  • Repaired a 50 year old tractor that was having transmission issues.
  • Helped with grant writing.
  • Continued to conduct individual and group supervision.
  • Prepared countless planning beds and fields for planting and planted many of them. Some were plated with plants that I raised from seeds, a few were done with store bought plants and some with seeds.
  • Repaired the composting toilet system.

You get the idea. When you are not in clinical sessions there is always something to do and you do it 6 to 7 days per week. This is meant as a rough sketch of what a clinical director in this type of setting may expect. Your experiences will vary by setting, infrastructure and personal ability. I would not advocate a person with no background in electrical, mechanical or construction attempt much of what I do and I would not had I too lacked any background in this area but for those that have it, it will get put to use in this type of setting.

A large established program may not require half the skills or interaction from a director but for those that will be starting from scratch or nearly scratch, there is no shortage of challenges. Taking on a program like this is not all challenges however. There are within these programs things that cannot be found in most settings. There is the therapeutic value of being able to be in a large area with free roaming animals and being able to feed them by hand or pick them up and pet/ cuddle with them. There is the feeling of connectedness that one can feel while conducting a session while walking in a field, along a brook or on woodland trails.  The ability to watch a community grow where once overgrown land was present is a feeling that is hard to put into words. Watching crops grow and knowing that they will feed the needy while also providing therapeutic opportunities to the community is something that I had never experienced in “corporate” counseling programs. The feeling of accomplishment when you see a new wall go up or lights light up for the first time can be hard to beat as is the feeling of accomplishment when a long dormant machine fires to life.

For those of you that have not lost the love of our profession but that may be growing tired of the corporate or urban environment, consider a change of pace and a change of space. Community therapeutic farming may just be what is missing for you. It just may be what is missing in your community as well.

 

”Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). He is internationally certified as a Counsellor and Counsellor Supervisor in the USA and Canada (C.C.C., C.C.C.-S, NCC, ACS). He can be contacted at [email protected]




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

6 Books Every New Therapist Should Read: As Recommended by Other Therapists

Posted by: Natasha Minor on August 30, 2016 3:03 pm

Recently, I’ve been exploring various books that might give new therapists some of what they didn’t get in graduate school – less theory and more insight into what it’s really like to be a practicing therapist.

Below are a few of the books that have been recommended to counsellors and psychotherapists by other therapists in the profession.

The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients by Irvin D. YalomBooks

This book offers 85 chapters and each consists of no more than a few pages. Based on his 45 years of clinical experience, Yalom addressed many practical issues that all therapists have encountered and struggled with, providing readers with profound insight into the therapeutic process.

On Being a Therapist by Jeffrey A. Kottler

“Kottler talks about situations therapists encounter that I found very relatable” says Samantha Greene, a LCSW in private practice from Plano, TX. Being able to relate to the same situations with clients in her own practice, Samantha feels the book “normalizes the experiences therapists may have while treating clients and really encouraged me to continue my professional and personal growth,” she said.

Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom

Another book by Yalom, Love’s Executioner is an account of real interactions he had with clients (edited for confidentiality of course). Many of the therapists I asked recommended this book, feeling that it speaks to the insights and relational moments that are at the core of our profession.

The Healing Path: How the Hurts in Your Past Can Lead You to a More Abundant Life by Dan B. Allender

Although not written specifically for therapists, Tamara Lynn-Hanna Feightner, LPC, says that it shaped her framework for counselling. The Healing Path “normalized the wounded heart, acknowledged the ramifications of betrayal, and talked about hope as risky, brave, and not a simple Hallmark card with a bow on it” The content in this book “confirmed for me the beauty in the resiliency of the human spirit and grace for being a glorious mess – the goal is the journey, not perfection or destination of having arrived,” she said.

Creativity as Co-Therapist: The Practitioner’s Guide to the Art of Psychotherapy by Lisa Mitchell

Joy Elizabeth recommends this book as she says it “speaks to training your brain to get outside the box and be a more present, effective therapist.” Viewing therapy as an art form, this book helps therapists to become more authentic, flexible and to trust in the therapeutic process.

Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky and Connie Burk

Lauren Gourley, LCSW, believes that Trauma Stewardship should be “mandatory reading” for anyone who has experienced trauma or works with people who have experienced trauma. The author offers readers practical ways to help prevent secondary trauma, paths for healing and discusses the importance of self-care.

The titles listed above are just a starting point. I invite you to explore the many books that are specifically written to normalize and speak to the unique experiences of therapists.

I’d love to hear what your favorite books are in the comments below.

Natasha Minor, MA, CCC, RP provides counselling and psychotherapy in London Ontario where she specializes in helping overwhelmed women find their voice and believe in their worth so they can create a more authentic, satisfying life.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

6 Easy Steps to Optimize your LinkedIn Profile: Tell your Story and Own your Brand

Posted by: Mark Franklin on August 23, 2016 12:29 pm

Listen to this episode of CareerBuzz at CareerCycles.com

“LinkedIn is the site where we’re investing time, not wasting time,” Leslie Hughes, LinkedIn optimization specialist and owner of PunchMedia, told Career Buzz listeners. “Linkedin is not the sexy social media site, it’s not the one everyone goes to gleefully every morning,” said Leslie, but it is the business network, so it pays to make it good. How?

Leslie highlighted 6 steps to start optimizing your online presence and improving your LinkedIn profile:

  1. Do a digital audit. Find out your “online first impression,” Leslie recommended. Conduct a search on yourself to see how you are being perceived by potential hiring managers or clients. Make changes to remove unflattering content.
  2. Get a professional head shot. “If you do nothing else, focus on a really good head shot so you appear confident, smiling and approachable.”
  3. Craft a strong headline that’s not your job title. Bypass LinkedIn’s default headline which is your most recent job title, and go for this formula: _[descriptive title]_ helping _[these clients]_ deliver _[these results]_, for example, Career management leader helping individuals and employees manage their careers for the future
  4. Understand the Summary is the most important content. “You have 2000 characters to effectively tell your story.” Need ideas? Leslie recommended watching Simon Senik’s TEDTalk, Start with Why.
  5. Go long on copy. In your Experience and Volunteer and other sections, “long copy outperforms short copy,” Leslie said.
  6. “Put the ‘social’ in social media.” Don’t just rely on a static profile, engage with others through Shares, Posts, and interactions in Groups.

Leslie Hughes recommended listeners use these social media tools and steps “to own their brand and to become their own digital media agency.”

Also in the show Denise Raposa discusses the careers of older adults in our changing work environment.

CareerBuzz is hosted by Mark Franklin, president and practice leader of CareerCycles.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Benefits to Starting a Private Practice

Posted by: Natasha Minor on July 8, 2016 3:49 pm

I’d like to challenge the widely held perception that it is not easy for therapists, and especially recent graduates, to find success in private practice. Most of the existing negative opinions on private practice come from a place of fear. An example of this is when I heard a colleague say they didn’t think that the market could sustain another person in private practice. If I hadn’t done my research, I might have believed what I heard and been drawn into their place of fear – believing that I wouldn’t be successful if I started a private practice.

Well, I do not want to live in fear! I choose to operate my practice from an abundance mindset. I truly believe there are enough clients for those who are able to help them – and I believe these clients can be ideal clients you love to work with. Doesn’t that sound great?!

I’ve put together a few reasons that I feel have made my decision to start a private practice worth all of the hard work.

Freedom and FlexibilityPrivatePracticeWoman

Running your own business is a lot of work. This is especially true in regards to a private practice as you have to market yourself to the world so they notice you and the amazing service you provide. However, being your own boss means that you get to set your own hours, choose the message you are sending and choose the population you want to work with.

It was so exciting to pick my own office space and decorate it the way I wanted. I was the one who decided what my practice policies would be. I continue to make decisions for my business that I am comfortable with as a therapist. Yes, there is a learning curve with this (like if and how you should charge for a late cancel or no show) but once you do it a few times it becomes a lot easier to stick to your policies.

Less Chance of Burnout

Sometimes, working for agencies or other clinicians can be challenging and exhausting. They may require that you work long hours, give you little control over who you see and you might not agree with all of their policies. This can lead to burnout or compassion fatigue and your clients might not get the best care you are able to give them. Since running your own private practice gives you the freedom to choose who you work with and how often, going into the office can be quite enjoyable. In addition, your work week will likely be less than 30 hours which leaves a lot of time for family, friends and self-care activities.

The Money

I know – we didn’t get into this profession to get rich. However, we also didn’t put all that time and effort into grad school so that we could live paycheck to paycheck either. Working for an agency means you may be salaried which limits your earning potential.

In private practice you have the ability to set your own fees and choose the number of hours you wish to work. You can also take on a speaking gig or run a workshop to increase your income. Working for an agency may limit your ability to develop additional streams of income if a non-compete clause is in place. In addition, you might not have the time or energy to put into such things if you are working 40 hours a week at an agency.

I’m not saying starting and running a private practice is an easy endeavor. I’m saying if it is what you have dreamed of then you should not let fear hold you back. I encourage you to take the leap and start living your dream sooner rather than later.

If you have any questions or would like to connect, I’d love to hear from you!


Natasha Minor, MA, CCC, RP runs a private practice in London Ontario where she specializes in helping overwhelmed women find their voice and believe in their worth so they can create a more authentic and satisfying life.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Making Contact Inside the Computer

Posted by: Sherry Law on June 29, 2016 11:49 am

Over the last 2 years as I have delved deeper into virtual reality (VR) I have learned things I never expected to experience. The fact that VR is programmable means that the experience is solely dependent on ones imagination (and perhaps a little aptitude for software development). VR transports you immediately into a new reality and this holds many implications. The truth is that the physical body, or meat space, does not go anywhere. It is the mind or the psyche that is convincingly transported and the focus of my exploration. This is the true potential for the impact of VR.

I recently received a consumer version VR device. This device not only allows you to glimpse into another world, but also provides you the ability to manipulate the world around you with your hands. In addition, the technology provides the freedom of movement throughout a play area where you can walk around, sit, dance, pivot, the full range of bodily motions as long as it is within the bounds of a play area. This transforms ones understanding of the lived experiences almost 100% from the meat space into a digital realm. When you can train your aim inside an archery simulation and the fidelity nearly reflects reality, it is a strange experience indeed. I have never done archery myself, but being able to have some measure of behavioural mimicry to archery was not only a fun experience, but immersive and tiring! Having to duck and dodge enemy fire, destroying enemies with accurate aim, and spinning around at a second’s notice to ensure no one was attacking you from behind was thrilling. To imagine that this is the new world of the gamer, no longer bound to a computer chair, but sweating instead in a dimly lit room, practicing proper aim that can maybe be carrieblogphotosherryd into the real world. On the score board, your abilities are compared against the best in the world and usernames compete in a never ending battle to the top rank.

I also experienced an amazing level of intimacy in VR. Coming headset to headset with other people around the world, playing games and chatting with them through mics was absolutely astounding. I could see their heads move about as they thought about the ideas I shared with them. People witnessed my hands held on my hips as I wait for them to take the next shot at pool. We giggled together as we threw chairs all around a digital bar and made a mess with beer bottles and books. I high fived someone from Germany, we chatted about what a strange experience VR was, we looked at each other’s computer screens to check time zone differences between me and someone from Illinois, and goofed around with the interface as we learned and tinkered with our new toys. I was approached by a Frenchman from Austria that even wanted to show me around the digital space while I practiced my French. We spent time with phantom others in our minds, while our bodies remained alone and without company, yet I felt connected online for the very first time. I have made several friends already from around the world.

Does the mind care that you are not physically next to a person? No. I can say for myself that my mind was thoroughly convinced that I was properly socializing with others beside me, sharing and laughing together in a room. Meeting with strangers was no more jarring than in person, and in earnest, less so because all my fears of judgment vanished with the replacement of my body as an avatar. However, my expression, who “I” was did not vanish, and was perhaps enhanced by the removal of my distracting physical self.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

You Can’t Turn Off Your Cell Phone in Private Practice

Posted by: Shelley Skelton on December 9, 2015 3:59 pm

cellphoneblogThe latest rule I have learned in private practice is that putting your cell phone on silent for an evening might mean losing out on a new client.

In the past, I used to enjoy having a cell phone-free evening at home or an internet-free weekend; sadly, those times are gone. No longer do I have a specific time that represents the end of my work day when I can ‘unplug’ and ‘disconnect’ from technology. This may change as I build up a practice, but for right now when one of my main goals is to build my client list, I cannot afford to miss a call or ignore my emails for a day or so.

So far, I have missed out on three potential clients who likely contacted a few counsellors at the same time and chose the one who called back first because I turned my phone to silent in order to enjoy an evening. Now, I check my cell phone three to four times a day to see if a new client has tried to contact me. I struggle with this because I have become ‘one of them.’ You know – one of those people who are never without their phone.

I know that it is the judgmental part of me who finds it odd when I see others who seem to focus more on their phone than on the people around them that is causing me my discomfort. Part of what we encourage in counselling is how to be more present and I see regular cell phone checks taking away from this once-healthy boundary that I used to protect. I knew that there would be adjustments when I became a business owner and the benefits greatly outweigh anything else – I am simply grieving my freedom from my cell phone.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Counselling in Private Practice and Using Social Media

Posted by: Shelley Skelton on November 3, 2015 12:17 pm

socialmediablogpostAre you thinking about opening a private practice sometime down the road? Are you wondering about what you can be doing in advance? If so, I have a great suggestion for you. Let me back up and tell you about how I arrived at this great idea.

I had a timeline to open my private practice and there were many things that I put on hold until everything was in place, such as designing a website and getting business cards. Those two choices served me well, but I missed out on some preparatory work that would have sped up my process. Once I had everything in place and opened my practice, I began catching on to ways in which I can bring more people to my website. Now let me say that many of you may already know about what I am talking about, but for those of you like me who are not as online savvy, this information may sound new.

One way to draw people to your website is by having a strong online presence in social media, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. On Twitter, you can build a following of people by posting ideas, reposting other people’s tweets, and responding to others’ ideas. This following can become very useful for two reasons. The first is that from time to time, you can post about a blog that you have written on your website and you can direct people to read more. The second reason is that the more you connect your website to other links online, the more people visit your site and then your ranking in a search engine will increase. By that I mean when people search for counselling in your city, your website is closer to the top of the list. This is referred to as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and this takes TIME.

No doubt you see where I am going with this … before you even get your private practice opened, if you invest some time in building your online presence in social media, you will be better equipped to direct people to your website when you are open for business.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

The Online Presence of You and Your Private Practice

Posted by: Shelley Skelton on October 27, 2015 5:00 am

 

I heard some good advice in the business class that I took last spring and that is to maximize your online presence so that potential clients can learn more about you. I do not tweet, nor am I a fan of Facebook, however, even someone like me (and maybe you) can establish an online presence .

This is what I’ve done so far: I have a website that I built through Wix, I am on LinkedIn, and I am in three online directories. Also, one of the reasons I chose to do this blog was to increase my presence. In the near future, I plan to create an additional website with other therapists that have links to our individual websites. One common suggestion that I have heard is that having numerous links to your website increases its standing on Google searches.

These are the fees that I have encountered for professional online directories:

  • $ 94…/year (pro-rated) – my provincial association referral list
  • $40.00 / month – Psychology Today Directory
  • $25. 00 /month – my city directory
  • $50.00 / month – Yellow Pages

My plan is to use the first three directories for a year or so, monitor how my clients found me to determine which referral sites I will continue to use.

I know that there are companies that can audit your website and improve its visibility on Google searches. In fact, one tracked me down within weeks of launching my website. Out of curiosity, I researched two such companies: one costs close to $600.00 and the other’s fees were approximately $400.00. It is good to know that this service exists, but I hope that I won’t need it.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA