There was a time when a freshly licensed psychotherapist could put up a shingle, send out some tasteful, raised-type announcements telling family, friends and colleagues that they were now in private practice, buy an appointment book and wait for business to come to them, just like Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip putting up a sign on a booth: Psychiatric Help 5 Cents.
Those days are gone. Today, most therapists can no longer survive on private practice alone. While in some areas of the country there’s a shortage of mental health professionals, in other places the competition for patients is fierce, especially where I live (Los Angeles). Here, there are neighborhoods teeming with therapists, whole buildings full of them. Throw a tissue box and you’ll hit one. Obviously, no therapist can live on a caseload of only five or ten patients.
As things have gotten tighter over the years, therapists have had to get creative and start spinning like crazy when it comes to pepping up their practices. Many learned long ago to specialize in niche markets, becoming the go-to experts on bi-polar disorder, acting-out teens, or postpartum depression. Others have jobs in mental health facilities, or are teaching, doing workshops and seminars, or are working part-time, sometimes at jobs unrelated to their profession, just to bring in money. The nice woman who serves you your blended coffee caramel frappuccino at Starbucks might just be an off-duty shrink.
Many mental health professionals who had jumped on the managed care bandwagon back in the ‘90s started jumping off again when the ride got too bumpy (for example, paltry payments from the managed care providers that often arrived years after the therapy sessions had taken place). Off on their own again, therapists built personal websites, got themselves professionally branded like soap products, and started (some reluctantly) to blog, tweet, twitter and rock ‘n roll along with Facebook and dozens of other social networking sites just to stay afloat. Pretty exhausting.
So with all this in mind, is there something better a therapist could be doing that might be more effective, more efficient and more profitable? Yes, there is — publish a book. Getting a book published (which includes self-publishing) is the quickest way for a mental health professional to become known as an expert, which soon translates into more attention, more referrals, more business and more money. While the idea of writing a book might seem daunting, it’s doable. I did it. Other therapists have done. You can do it.