TTE 26: The Importance of Having Mentors & Being Yourself as a Therapist
Imagine being in grad school and listening to a taped session of yourself. You think you’re doing well, and then your teacher says, “That you, John Wayne?”
And what he was getting at is that your tone was just so bland and so impersonal, the exact opposite of how you want to portray yourself as a therapist.
And that lesson has stuck with Dr. Robert Pate. The lesson of being himself as a therapist.
In addition to learning about the importance of being yourself, Dr. Pate shares his Therapist Experience and why having a mentor has been so crucial to helping him learn and grow his private practice.
One of my favorite lessons from this episode: Using psychology when writing your PsychologyToday profile. Use language and word choice that will connect with your ideal clientele.
Best Marketing Move for Business
- Connecting with Ernesto Segismundo from FYLMIT.com to help him create his therapist identity
Links & Resources Mentioned in This Episode
Previous The Therapist Experience Episodes Mentioned
- Using Video & Social Media Marketing to Grow a Group Practice
- How Dr. Heather LaChance Used Diverse Marketing to Skyrocket Her Practice
Thanks to Robert for joining me this week. Until next time!
TranscriptClick here to read the Transcript
Perry: In this episode of The Therapist Experience, I’m speaking with Dr. Robert Pate from California Altura Vista. This is The Therapist Experience episode number 26. Welcome to The Therapist Experience. The podcast where we interview successful therapists about what it’s really like starting and growing a private practice. I’m Perry Rosenbloom, the founder of Brighter Vision, and I’m so excited to introduce our guest today Dr. Robert Pate from California Altura Vista. Robert, are you prepared to share your therapist experience?
Robert: Very much so, let’s do it.
Perry: Alright. Dr. Pate is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Huntington Beach, California. His practice focuses primarily on work with men and couples. Dr. Pate has worked in several treatment settings including schools, community mental health, university counseling center, veterans affairs, children hospital, conditional release program for mentally disordered violent offenders, and for the past year private practice with California Altura Vista Counseling Group. Dr. Pate is also a full-time professor of psychology and counseling. He lives in Orange County with his wife and two children. Robert, I gave a little overview of you there but why don’t you take a minute, fill in the gaps from that introduction and tell us a little bit more about you personally and about your practice?
Robert: Alright, I don’t think I ever realized in graduate school just how much it was important to be myself as a therapist and that is something that I try to bring to my sessions. And when I say be myself I mean I like to be a goofball, I like to have fun with people, and my kind of motto in life for me has often been, take my work seriously but never myself too seriously. And I try to do that in sessions. We’re talking about serious stuff all the time and people’s lives sometimes are in the balance, their mental health, their relationships are on the line. So I figure, let’s be serious about that but it doesn’t have to be– The relationship with me doesn’t have to be a painful thing or an anxious thing. I just want to be a real person with people that I meet with.
Perry: And I’m sure that from the minute someone speaks with you you’re trying to get that across to them. Because getting your personality across when someone’s deciding on a therapist is so key. They want to work with somebody that they can know, like, and trust. How do you go about that if somebody calls you? How do you make sure that your personality is coming across right away?
Robert: You know, I got some feedback in a– Gosh, maybe my second year in graduate school. I went to Rosemead School of Psychology. I was there for six years so kind of early on, so maybe that second year I got feedback from a teaching assistant who was listening to one of my tapes of a session. And I’ll never forget that he said, that you John Wayne? And what he was getting at was that my tone was just so bland and so impersonal. It felt like I was a robot talking to this person. I’ll never forget that. So when I get on a phone with people, especially if it’s a first contact and just trying to let them know that I’m a real person, I want to hear it, I want to hear what’s going on for you and I’ll take your life seriously but I want you to know that I’m a real person in the room and I’m going to have some vocal inflection. I’ll probably laugh with you in that first consult about something. I try to be mindful of they’re not in front of me but they can hear me smiling or not.
Perry: Do you actively try to smile when you’re on the phone with somebody for the first time?
Robert: I think I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t try to smile but I try to be enthusiastic and the smile usually kind of comes out with that. So just, I’m here with you and yeah. So tell me about what’s going on? So putting a little pitch in tonnation, flipping it up into a different octave there kind of helps sometimes.
Perry: It really does, and for me personally I have a pretty deep voice and if I’m not on a podcast sometimes I can talk in a bit of a monotone voice, and even on the podcast I think I do sometimes too. And the smiling thing is actually something I do on the podcast all the time on the other end of this mic. But I’m also happy person so it makes it easier. But when I’m communicating with people sometimes, my in-laws, my parents, my wife, my family, I’m speaking at a pretty dry tone a lot of times and very monotone, and my tone can be misinterpreted in ways that I really don’t want it to be. And again, as a therapist, if you’re speaking to somebody on the phone for the first time, I think John Wayne is probably the opposite of what you want to take there. But what a great analogy and a great teaching lesson for you.
Robert: Oh my gosh, one of my favorite takeaways from graduate school. Just being me, I’m a happy person, don’t become this downer of a person when I’m trying to help people with their lives.
Perry: So Robert, one thing we really love exploring with therapists is their history. And if you can take us back to a point in your career where you could have called it quits. You were just as low as you could go in your professional journey in private practice and you were ready to throw in the towel. And if you can share with our audience that moment and how you overcame that adversity?
Robert: Yeah, couple things come to mind in terms of when would I want to throw in the towel. And the first was in graduate school and we had this thing called pre-practicum which was before you even go to a practicum site they have you meet with one client who’s a student volunteer from one of the intro sight classes. You see him for 13 sessions and you’re not allowed to ask any questions.
Perry: Oh my God.
Robert: Which is amazingly difficult for your first client. And I mean, we do ask questions sometimes but they’re trying to get you to be in the moment with the person, exploring, reflecting, but not asking questions. You’re not interrogating. And I failed that class the first time I took it. It was just a pass/fail thing and I was upset, I was mad at myself. I didn’t fail a lot of things in life and this was a big one for me. So I retook it and in retaking that it really solidified the value for me of that relationship, of empathy, and not just being a problem solver which I think– I work a lot with men and I see that a lot of their relationship that they want to solve problems and not be present. So for me that was a big deal to realize as a therapist it’s more than just solving problems but I have to be– I have this human interaction with people. So that’s one thing. Another was when I first got started, and I’ve been doing private practice a little over a year here now. Just the first couple of months really slow and it picked up soon after that but just those first couple of months I remember thinking, has anybody going to come in? What do I have to do here? Do I need to go do more networking? Is my Psychology Today profile awful? By the way, I listened to, forgot which episode it was, something on selling account podcast about the Psychology Today profile and it was really about finding out who am I as a therapist and who am I trying to market to. And that was just something I had fear about at the beginning, where I thought I just need to market to everybody and I just really wanted everyone to be my client. Even though I’m probably not the best fit for everybody out there. So I just really had to wrestle with this idea of who am I as a private practice therapist trying to select for my kind of client as opposed to the clinic work I’ve done before where they just handed me people and medical sent people down our way. So it was really that, can I cut it and are people going to want to come see me and not specific clinics or wherever I was working at the time?
Perry: You know, and overarching theme that we’ve noticed in 26 episodes of the Therapist Experience is when people first get started they want to work with everyone. They think they can help everyone, they don’t want to exclude anyone from knocking on their door and becoming a client. But once people start focusing in, narrowing in on their target market and who they really want to work with and really just niche down, that’s when their practice begins to explode. So you said you worked primarily with men, how did that come about and what age groups and what kind of issues you really focus on with them?
Robert: Yes, it’s something I kind of just naturally fell into and I think being a male therapist which is kind of an unusual thing these days it seems like– Also you mentioned in bio there I teach psychology and I teach counseling to master’s level clinicians and I’m almost like, oh my goodness, there are two guys in my class and 12 women. So I’m thinking, okay, you guys are going to be hot commodity, you’re going to get hired somewhere. Somebody is going to want to see you. So I kind of naturally fell into it partly because just the clinics I worked at, not always a lot of therapists. So when we had boys or men come in that need a therapist often I would just kind of naturally fit. Almost like you might match people on ethnicity sometimes because of that kind of shared cultural history that we don’t want to fully assume but there’s maybe a better statistical chance if you matched based on some of that, and there’s some research to support that. So kind of the same idea with men. But then in terms of my personal interests, my doctoral work was around how men express intimacy in different cultures, so that’s just always been an interest of mine. So I enjoy to work with men and so it was kind of a natural fit for private practice to say, okay, well if I really enjoy this work and people seem to do well when they come and see me, these men, it seems to be helpful for them, then maybe that’s a logical fit to continue pursuing men and to kind of change my language sometimes on my marketing or blogs et cetera to target men. So instead of talking about feelings saying something like, my experience of this, as opposed to, how did you feel about this. So just trying to tailor those little details that my grab a man’s attention more than a woman’s if we’re going kind of into stereotypes here.
Perry: That’s really fascinating, the change in language, I can really see how effective something like that would be. Obviously whenever you’re trying to market you want to change your language but the example you gave there really struck a nerve with me, it is being very effective. Did you do any research into this when you were figuring out how to rewrite your copy and rewrite your marketing approach and messaging?
Robert: You know, I didn’t do the research at that point but my research prior to that, just in terms of how men do talk about feelings versus how they don’t, and then being kind of action-oriented doers rather than kind of expressive feelers. I mean, everybody has feelings but how do we show that? So I have done that research before and so for me it was more of a shift of, okay, so in that mentality of oh my gosh, I need to get more clients, I need to appeal to everyone. I hadn’t applied the knowledge that I already had. So it wasn’t that I didn’t have the knowledge. It was this fear of not getting people to come in so that I was trying to apply too broadly and not capturing anybody in my net because the holes were too big in the net.
Perry: That makes sense. And even though you were fishing?
Robert: Yeah, I just thrown it somewhere on the end of the world and maybe it’s a pond with no fish in it, I don’t know, but I certainly had to find a different net. So in finding a different net, oh my goodness, I know these things about men, why don’t I actually use that in my language? I mean, I’m constantly refining that.
Perry: Once you made that awareness and that recognition how soon of an impact did you see it have on your private practice?
Robert: I make those changes every couple of months. I kind of go back and look at my online profiles and how many hits our blog’s getting, where is that kind of coming, and on social media who’s interacting with my posts and stuff. So as I look at those things I change them as I go. So maybe a good example would be that I just– Two or three weeks ago I updated my Psychology Today profile and within just, I think it was two days of doing that, I got three new referrals. A male and two couples. So just changing the language– And I wish I knew whether that was exactly why. You know, they don’t say, hey, because you changed your profile we’re going to give you this but some people speculate that just changing something some people would obviously say that it’s more of what you change. But there was an immediate result that time so I’d like to believe that it had something to do with being a little smarter about what I put on there.
Perry: You know, I’ve even heard on one of our podcast episodes, I believe it was session three with Dr. Heather LaChance, it’s been speculated that if you change your Psychology Today profile you automatically get bumped up higher in the rankings for a brief period of time. Who knows if that’s actually true or not? It would be really fascinating to dig into that, and maybe I can get them on the phone one time and ask them, but it would be really fascinating– Yeah, unfortunately I doubt they’d reveal that because that would– It’s precious algorithmic data.
Robert: Maybe they’ll give you a ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge’ kind of answer.
Perry: Hahaha. Yeah, but don’t broadcast it too loudly! Hahaha. So Robert, you work for California Altura Vista in the group practice and Ernesto Segismundo who was actually our first guest on the Therapist Experience on Brightervision.com/session1. He’s the owner of California Altura Vista. Can you share with us what your experience has been working in a group practice? When you joined were you automatically been fed clients or have you sort of been just under that umbrella and having to strike out on your own without that umbrella supporting you?
Robert: You know, I think of the referrals that I’ve had since starting here last spring, I’ve had maybe one or two that came through our website, kind of as a general, hey I need a counselor. Can you give me to someone? And everything else has been either word of mouth specifically to me or from some kind of online profile directly to me or a word of mouth from a previous client directly to me. So it’s really more of a private practice mentality and we just have– Ernesto is a fantastic mentor if nothing else, but he’s also a great business owner and he lets us behind the scenes to how is the practice growing and how can we be a part of that. So it’s really more of a private practice modality and he makes that very clear when he takes on either new licensed or intern level therapists that this is to help you grow your practice. And it’s actually even built into our contract that if at any time we’d like to leave the clients are ours to take, there’s no ill will toward people for taking clients. He wants the therapists to become independent therapists whether that means I stay with CAV forever or whether they venture out on their own and put up a shingle with their own name on it. So yeah, it’s not being fed to us.
Perry: Why is it that you decided to start off in private practice under the CAV umbrella as opposed to putting your own name on the shingle and hanging it outside your door?
Robert: Well for one thing, for me it’s a much better fit as a full-time professor because I have unlimited number of hours I can dedicate to the private practice each week and still get to see my family once in a while which is important to me too. So in having essentially two jobs it was really useful for me to have someone managing some of those behind the scenes business aspects of things and I’m aware of them. So for instance we’re currently looking at moving offices within the same city but we get to be part of that conversation, and where would you guys like to work and where are we going to get the best return on investment for our rent versus the clients that are going to be coming in. So we get to have those discussions. You mentioned Ernesto and he’s just a wonderful, not only clinical mentor in the sense of who are you as therapist and just kind of drawing out the best in people, but also just as a business perspective. You know, if you were doing this on your own what would you do? And kind of making us think of those types of things.
Perry: That’s really fascinating because I don’t know if many group practices are setup in such a fair way. The way Ernest has set California Altura Vista up, it’s like you signup and you’re working there, and correct me if I’m wrong here, but you get all the benefits of being an entrepreneur. Plus you get the educational aspect of things but you’re able to mitigate risk a little bit while simultaneously– What was I going to say? Lost my train of thought. But there’s a lot of great advantages to being– Oh, it can feel pretty lonely as an entrepreneur. Working at a group practice setting like that where you’re basically your own entrepreneur but have this umbrella over you, I would imagine, sort of takes away that loneliness that someone in private practice that just has their office might experience. Do you find that as being accurate?
Robert: Oh absolutely, it gives us a lot of benefits, takes away a lot of headaches. We even cross-refer to each other and it’s separate enough that it doesn’t feel like we’re taking advantage of something. We meet often enough, once a quarter or so, just as a staff and more talk marketing than anything else because the interns have their own supervisor and that’s all taken care of for them as well. But we get to send each other referrals and we get to know each other enough that we can trust the referrals that we’re handing out and it’s not to a random person that we’ve maybe just read a blog from them, which is useful but we get to know each other and trust our referrals as well. So it takes away the headaches and there’s a lot of benefits with it.
Perry: That’s great. You just mentioned a word there that I haven’t heard too often yet and that was marketing. And over the years we found that therapists really struggle with marketing their practice or that it’s something that just has to be done. I guess I’ll go market, I guess I’ll have to get a website, guess I’ll have to do this networking event. But really there’s no way anybody can grow a thriving private practice without marketing. So what I’d love to hear from you Robert is what was the single best marketing move that you made for your practice and why do you feel like it worked so well?
Robert: Such a great point there and it’s the kind of thing that I didn’t hear a word about in graduate school. I was in graduate school for six years and nobody said the word marketing ever to me. I heard a little bit about if you’re on an insurance panel which is its own nightmare and I’ve heard so many nightmares about that kind of interaction from a lot of therapists who just say, just don’t do it. Now, some make a thriving practice out of it and especially if they have help to manage paperwork, that’s great. But for me that was not an option. I just don’t have the time for that with so few hours available for the private practice world for me. So it was just not an option so in graduate school we heard a little bit about that, there was a course at my graduate school called fee for service that’s no longer taught because unfortunately the faculty member teaching it passed away right before I got there. And I don’t know that it’s been picked up since. But man, I just that so much from people that that’s the thing that was missing from their graduate training is, here’s how to help people, but if you can’t get them in the door to help them what good are you?
Perry: Right. It doesn’t matter how good of a therapist you are, you actually have to market your practice to see clients.
Robert: Yeah, and if there are terrible therapists out there who are great marketers, they are going to get their clients. It doesn’t matter how good you are if you can’t get them in the door. So to me that marketing piece is huge. So in terms of marketing, what’s the best thing I ever did? I think honestly hooking up with Ernesto was probably the best thing and the reasons for that– There’s several reasons but first off he has helped me to define my identity as a therapist, as a private practice marketable therapist, rather than just, I work at this general clinic and have to be generally decent at everything saying, what are you awesome at and what do you really enjoy? Because if you’re going to do this day in and day out then you’re going to have to market it. You got to believe in it and you got to believe in you.
Perry: How did you do that?
Robert: Honestly, part of it I did a video shoot with him and he has a company called Fylmit.com and does a lot of videos for therapists. One of the things– I watch a lot of his videos, he posts them on social media so I get to see what other people are doing. And what I noticed is that he really brings out a good side of whoever is on the other side of the camera and he makes it really comfortable. And part of that video shoot process is, tell me what are you passionate about? Tell me what it is that gets you excited when you work with people? So what I had to kind of grip was that’s not every client that I see but I tell you what, whenever I get a man in the room and whatever his issue is if he feels safe talking about it with me I get excited about that. Let’s talk about something real that maybe you don’t get to talk about with anybody else.
Perry: So a big lesson here, if I might interject, if you’re not sure what your niche is hire Ernest of Fylmit.com. I had to throw a little commercial in there. But no, really, Ernesto is a great way. Filmit is fantastic and truly it is a good strategy if you’re having trouble figuring out what your niche is. Some people hire business consultants, I never thought about the idea of you could hire a company like Filmit where Ernesto will come out and work with you on your video and that can help you identify your voice. And with Brighter Vision, we had so many clients, the first step is they fill out an online questionnaire and we dive deep into that online questionnaire. And some people just give us the bare bones but the people who really dive into it, especially if they are new practice, and really give us a lot to work with, they find it to be a very therapeutic experience I guess, in terms of helping them identify how they want to work and how they want to brand themselves. And that’s just so important if you’re going to stand out in this market.
Robert: Absolutely, again mine was Ernesto and he obviously has pretty broad skill set there business-wise and he’s just a great business guy, but in addition to that I would just say if you can get somebody that’s personable and can shoot a great video for you, awesome, but some things that I took away from that mentoring relationship, also just leveraging his contacts. I mean, once he got to know me and trust me as a therapist he was happy to say, you know what, I’m full but there’s this referral that came my way, I’m going to give them to your name. So just having that mentor, someone I was connected with, I could kind of leverage his connections and soak up his business strategy mentality. And just the general things you get from a mentor, just encouragement. So I would say one of the best things I ever did start in private practice was just having a mentor to just kind of be next to me as I was doing this sort of on my own, but also sort of with someone else’s template out there already that I could fill in my blanks.
Perry: I wonder if there would be a way, that would be such a fascinating idea, to create some sort of mentorship national program for therapists. That was like a mentorship program that you could for very low fee, just for admin and overhead, get something creative like that to help newer therapists get into door and get their practice started, and have somebody to work with and have ideas off of. Because you look at– This is actual getting really excited, it would be a really cool thing for us to be able to launch one day. But you look at like tech incubators for example, there’s all these business training incubators in a tech community, where you have something like Y Combinator, you have all these startup groups where basically if you get accepted you have very successful business owners mentoring you. You’re thrown into a bootcamp essentially for six weeks or whatever it is, and these successful– I mean some of the most successful business people in the world are mentoring you and guiding you. And that helps increase the likelihood of success. And I wonder if something like that could be so fascinating in the private practice world to get some sort of mentorship started because it will help people succeed at a much higher rate, as opposed to I just graduate school, I’m ready to put my shingle outside my door here. I’m fully licensed now, here’s my shingle, I’m open for business, now what?
Robert: Exactly. I’m a great therapist but who can I therapise?
Perry: Right, and I don’t know. That just got me excited, like, I’m going to write that idea down, file away for whenever there’s some more time in my life again to be able to get something else off the ground here. But I think it would be so much fun to be able to do something like that for the community as a whole.
Robert: Yeah, and Perry you brought up this idea of kind of a low-fee, just for the startup cost or whatever, the overhead to have this available. And that got me thinking about the idea of pro bono work and most of our ethics code says something about providing the portion of our services for low fee or no fee. And I hate it when therapists think that all of their clients have to be on a sliding scale. I mean, you could in the past year have one client that was not full-fee. It’s possible to do full-fee work.
Perry: We skipped over this question Robert, what is your current fee for seeing a client?
Robert: My fee is 175 for 45 to 50 minute session, and that’s the same for an intake session, a couples session, regular individual therapy session. It’s just for the time.
Perry: And have you ever had more clients on the sliding scale or has it always been just really one, maybe two, at a time?
Robert: I’ve only had one ever that was not my full. I’ve been doing this for a little over a year here and have one non-full fee and it was at 150. I didn’t drop him down to a charity, it was just he was a school teacher and I grew up in a family of school teachers so I understand it that things are tight, but at the same time I don’t hear a lot of medical doctors sliding the scale down for people. If you’re going to give me a new hearth I’m going to trust you to give me a new hearth, and I’ll pay whatever it takes because I need it. So if I value my service I’m not going to drop my fee down all the time just because.
Perry: What would you say to somebody who has maybe 50% full case load right now, and a new client comes in and they say, I can only pay 80% of what your session fee is. What would you say to them if they are already seeing people on a sliding scale? Would you recommend them, no, don’t take that client. Instead, try and find somebody that will pay you your full fee. What would you give in terms of a recommendation?
Robert: Tell you what, I’ll give you the therapist experience here. What I would want them to do is I would want them to take a look at what portion of their fees are full fee right now and are they okay with that, and really what I’d want them to think through is, if I keep taking people just to fill my practice, if I’m super busy all the time but I’m only getting 80% of the fee and then take off whatever percentage for taxes or overhead or rent, whatever it is, and I’m okay with that, am I going to feel good at the end of the month looking at what I made for the amount of work I put in? And you know what, if they’re okay with it and they have more of a, I don’t know, a non-profit mindset is the way to think about here, but if they don’t mind that, then great. But for me, I don’t have that many hours in my week set aside to see clients and that’s really important to me that I value my time very highly.
Perry: So how many clients do you see a week Robert?
Robert: Maximum of 8 clients a week.
Perry: Okay. So you’re fortunate in the fact that you have another full time job. I think it can be a lot more challenging for somebody who doesn’t have that other full time job and transitioned to private practice and might have eight to ten clients at a time, but in order to really pay their bills, they need much more than that.
Robert: They need 20.
Perry: Exactly, they need 20, maybe 30. 30 would be pushing.
Robert: That’s where that 20, maybe 30, what if there are 20 that are full fee instead of 30 at 75% fee. They’re doing 50% more work for a lot less money. I know it’s a hard thing to say but I would just want them to be thinking through what if all of a sudden I got more clients and I’m stuck with these lower fee clients. Am I going to resent that at all? Am I going to feel differently toward them than other people? So I kind of get into countertransference aspect of things here.
Perry: Certainly, this is a great conversation, I’m loving it.
Robert: Yeah, so I just want them to think through all of that, and if they came down to it and they said, you know what? I’d rather be full and feel good about that and just have the practice and slowly transition as I get more consistent referrals and I’m full, and then raise your fee and maybe the fee would be more than it is now at that point. So I just want them to think through it. In fact, Ernesto has been pushing me to raise my own fee lately and so that’s been on my mind. I’m thinking, okay, if I raise it what do I want to raise it to and what do I feel my time is worth now and how might this impact the number of clients I see. So I’m going through that kind of internal discussion right now too. So yeah, it’s just something I think we should always be thinking about, and once you set your fee, that doesn’t always have to be your fee and it shouldn’t be because if it is you’re losing money even just due to inflation. So you’re basically saying each year I don’t raise my fee I’m devaluing my service.
Perry: That’s a great point. One thing also to jump on that, I’m sort of just playing devil’s advocate here with you in some respects, and some though I do think that setting aside a set– I think the best would be set aside percentage of clients that you would be willing to see on a reduced rate. So for you that’s one eight. Let’s say you’re seeing 10 clients, that’s 10%. So if you say, hey, a full caseload for me is 25 clients a week. I only want 10% to be on a sliding scale, well, don’t take two maybe three to push it a little bit on a sliding scale. But one advantage I would think if you’re just getting started of taking on a higher percentage at a lower rate is that provides you with an influx of cash. Yes, you’re going to be working harder but business is hard, you’re always going to be working hard. And what that influx of cash can do then is you have more money to spend on marketing and that’s the key. You have to be spending your money wisely. I really, really encourage therapists to spend money on marketing. Okay, I have four clients on a sliding scale and I’m going to make sure that every single client that I see on a sliding scale, I’m dedicating 100% of that revenue to marketing this month.
Robert: I like that, yeah.
Perry: And I just came up with that now. I think it’s a pretty good idea though. Let’s say my sliding scale rate is 125 dollars a session, so that means I have 500 dollars to spend on marketing. Take that 500 dollars and setup an adverse campaign, start paying for traffic to your website, because then you’re going to be able to see that 500 dollars come back and generate more money for you as opposed to just paying your salary which is important as well. But if you can dedicate a certain percentage, whether it’s 50% or 100% of your sliding scale fee, and take all of that money and dedicate it towards marketing you’re going to see your practice grow faster and you’re going to be able to stop taking clients on a sliding scale and start taking your full rate or even a higher rate than what your expected full rate is.
Robert: Yeah, and I love that idea. And it’s just being smarter about how we use our income. For those that have kind of the ethical thing of I’m supposed to have sliding scale clients. Well if you’re full and you have a lot of people that want to see you, that’s one thing you can go is to say, you know what, ethically speaking I should see a couple of these people free or low fee. But I heard something cool, gosh, I’m trying to remember where it came from. Kelly Hickton I think. Anyway, therapist bootcamp, one of those kinds of things. They brought up this idea that your pro bono and low fee work doesn’t necessarily have to be in your office. It can be volunteering the supervised interns at a low-fee clinic for free a couple times a month. Or you could do kind of having low-fee clinic hours at a different clinic. Like for me, I do a yearly visit now to Honduras to do couples therapy for missionary couples. Because of the good work they’re trying to do in the world, they can’t do it if their marriage falls apart because their churches won’t renew their contract. So they’re trying to be a good example there. So I go down with a group of therapists and we meet at this couples retreat for missionary couples and do kind of crisis oriented couples therapy for a three day conference. But that’s one thing where I’m actually paying to go do that and I’m getting nothing in return other than just that it feels great to be contributing to people trying to make a difference in the world. So in that sense I’m still doing some of that low-fee work but without having to take away one of my very few slots that I have.
Perry: So Robert, you seem to have a really great business sense here and business structure, and you’ve learned a lot through your mentorships and just from jumping into the water and learning to swim or sink. You went to school to become a therapist, not to get your MBA, what’s the one thing that you wish you would have learned in school about starting your own business?
Robert: I think the customer service aspect of private practice therapy is huge and this idea of boundaries versus business sense. And I came from Rosemead and Rosemead is predominantly psycho-dynamic school and in psycho-dynamic therapy we don’t tend to put out as much of our own self into the room where this kind of idea of the blank slate and projecting the client projects things on to us, and we use that and the transference and all of that therapy mumbo-jumbo stuff that we all know. But within that there’s got to be some kind of business relationship and it can’t just be that if they have a hard time paying their fee for a couple of weeks then I have to interpret that as they’re being resistant to therapy. So kind of balancing business versus kind of the boundaries and the traditional therapy model because ultimately, again, if they get turned off by my being this indifferent blank screen and not a real human with them, then I can’t help them anymore because they don’t come. So I’d say this idea of customer service was a big thing that I didn’t really learn much about because like you said, we didn’t get an MBA in therapy.
Perry: Do you feel like you ever lost clients due to a lack of customer service experience?
Robert: I don’t think I have but I think part of that is because when I first started with CAV I got a really good kind of training in that and we were given kind of a script of sorts, not exactly what you would get with like a cold call, I want to sell you this new racquetball racket kind of thing, but more of a how can I be a personal with you and help you feel heard, and just really pushing that customer service aspect on the phone before you ever say anything about your fee, basically get them on board with, this person cares about me and can be helpful. And you know what, once I’ve decided that then if they say my fee is 175 versus 135 that 40 bucks a month, if it’s going to be helpful to me, I’m not going to worry about it as much.
Perry: Right, because they already know, like, and trust you at that point.
Robert: Exactly, they bought it.
Perry: Yeah, that’s a great point. Robert, we’re going to move into our final part of the interview now. The part we like to refer to as Brighter Insights. And I really love this part because we had a really great conversation that has touched on so many different elements and aspects. But what we get to do here is really dive into your experiences and pull out some quick little sound bites that our listeners can use to motivate and excite them in growing their own practice. Are you ready?
Robert: Let’s do it.
Perry: What or whom inspired you to become a mental health professional?
Robert: I had a great mentor in undergrad. His name was Dr. Miles Groth, he’s an instructor at Wagner College. And I don’t know what it was but before I really ever saw myself as being a professional helper he was kind of pushing me in that direction. So I have to say, when I entered graduate training to be a clinical psychologist I did not have full grasp on what that really meant. And I kind of had to do some self-discovery along the way, but I was so grateful and continue to keep in contact with Dr. Groth because he has been just an instrumental figure in my life getting me to where I am because he saw something in me that I haven’t seen in myself. So listening to a mentor, and again you hear these mentors coming up in my life. Mentors are really important.
Perry: They most certainly are and I can point to a number of mentors that I’ve had in my own life that have helped shape my trajectory as an adult. And I bet all of our listeners can think of at least one of their own mentors that have helped shape their trajectory. Unfortunately as you get older it’s harder to get those mentors. You know, they’re all there for you when you are younger, but why can’t I get a mentor when I’m in my forties? But I guess maybe that’s who a therapist is for in some ways as well, right?
Robert: Right, and you know that’s actually– We bring up the idea of younger and as an instructor on an MFT program we have a lot of people who come in at second or third career degree seekers because they found that human resources or business or whatever it is wasn’t a good fit for them, so we have a lot of people in our program that are 40, 50, 60 years old just starting out. And it’s not about how young they are, it’s about how young their career is. And I think that idea of networking is really important in graduate school, it’s networking with your professors and your supervisors, and kind of your fellow trainees. And I’m going to start teaching at a new university this fall largely because of a connection that I had with a student, we were on an internship together, and through Facebook she kind of kept up with me and she said, hey Robert, we’ve got this spot open in our department, check it out and flag your application. I would have no idea that was coming up without networking and just keeping up relationship. So I don’t think it’s as much about age as it is about how new am I to a career and whom can I leverage? Whom can I get in touch with that cares about my success?
Perry: Your network, it’s so key. What is it that you do to clear your head and get a fresh start in your day?
Robert: Haha. Little cheesy here, I listen to Clive Cussler novels on tape.
Perry: Nothing wrong with that, gosh.
Robert: Action-adventure books.
Perry: Do you use Audible for that or a different service?
Robert: Actually, I’m old schooled. I go with a CD.
Perry: Oh man, that’s way old school there. What about when you’re traveling then? Do you put it on to your phone or do you have an old walkman with you too?
Robert: Actually, yes. If I’m not going to be in my car– Because I have about a half-hour commute to my office so that gives me about one CD worth of books. So I’ll go through a book every couple of weeks. If I’m going somewhere that doesn’t have– If I’m not going to have a CD player available I’ll just go on my local library and they usually have audio books available for download for free or just borrow it for a month or whatever it is. And for a nickle and late fees you can keep it for another month so it’s not a big deal. So it’s like basically free resource for people that like audio books.
Perry: What are some tools that you’ve used to leverage the power of technology in your practice so that technology is no longer a hurdle, but instead an asset for you?
Robert: Well, one of the things that we’re doing at CAV is we’re going to pretty soon adopt the Brighter Vision digital practice management software. So doing digital notes. And I am very much looking forward to that, I can tell you. I’ve been hoping for that for a long time because I can’t tell you how many times my hand starts cramping writing notes and I complain about writing, and it takes forever. So I’m looking forward to that.
Perry: I guess you meant Simple Practice there probably?
Robert: Sure, yeah.
Perry: Haha, yeah. Brighter Vision, we got your guys’s website Simple Practice just launched their group.
Robert: Yeah, you guys did our website and it was fantastic so I’m just so excited about all the tech that we’re getting to use here because it’s going to make life easier.
Perry: Simple Practice’s new group features and functionality is really top notch and going to make running and being in a group practice so much easier.
Robert: Yeah, I’m definitely looking forward to how much that will simplify things, and sharing notes, electronic charting, it’s just… Oh… And scheduling, I’m looking forward to scheduling too because right now we’re doing a kind of a Google Calendar kind of thing and it’s a little bit of a headache because we see appointments that we don’t need to see because we’re at different locations. So yeah, I’m looking forward to that simplification. But certainly having a better website is helpful because I think it makes us more visible and I’m proud now to look at our website and I feel like if someone saw, they’re not going to think, wow, this hasn’t been updated in a decade. Was this the first website, did Al Gore make this when he made the internet? And it’s not that anymore. It’s like, oh, there are pretty colors and I can see the pictures of the people that I’m going to work with and hear their stories. So just the much better visual kind of first catch for people.
Perry: And I think that’s so key because when someone gets a word of mouth referral they’ve gotten at least two or three different referrals they’re going to check them out. They’re not just going to contact one person. They’re going to compare and contrast.
Robert: I would.
Perry: Yeah, exactly. Having a professional presence is necessary to make yourself look better and the people who you are competing against.
Robert: Yeah, I was in therapy several years ago and I just had to pull people out of the book. And I went to three therapists before I picked one and I had to sit through a 45 minute session with them, basically in the first few minutes knowing, I don’t think this is the guy. So I’m wasting their time and mine and now through– You mention technology that we can leverage here. Through not only our website but links to our blogs and video blogs, and social media, people get a sense of who we are and we’re saving our time and their time. So it’s nice to get a referral and nice for somebody to come in for a session but if it’s not a great fit why waste that session and why not keep that open for somebody who is going to be good fit? So I just like the idea that they can decide before they even meet me if there maybe is a chance that it’s going to work out.
Perry: And once they do meet you they’ll know for sure. Chatting on the phone, within the first 45 seconds they’re going to know their mind’s made up.
Robert: Yup, instead of 45 minutes.
Perry: Right. What’s a quote that you hold near and dear, something that has helped formulate your perspective on life or has motivated, inspired, or provided guidance for you?
Robert: You know what, there’s one and this may seem a little weird, but coming out of a psycho-dynamic school there’s a quote I held on to and share with my students a lot, and it’s therapy oriented but it’s had some life lessons for me as well, and it comes definitely out of psycho-dynamic therapy and it’s two rules about self-disclosure. “Rule number one is never self-disclose, and rule number two is self-disclose but learn rule number one first.” And that’s great as a psycho-dynamic therapist, right? Let them project et cetera. But really what I’ve taken from this personally is to be intentional about whatever I’m doing. So the idea of a self-disclosure there as the therapist is if I say too much about me it becomes about me and not my client, so be careful about that. But really the basic lesson behind it is just be intentional, if you’re saying something or not saying something do that for a reason. And so if I’m marketing for incentives, we’ve talked a lot about that, and my marketing is specifically to sum what I’m just saying is, hey, I’m a therapist. Come see me, I might be able to help you but you don’t know that because I haven’t told you who I helped.
Perry: Or who I am or what I do, or what my back– Here’s a list of my credentials and that’s about it.
Robert: Yeah. I have a degree and a license, that makes me a good fit for you. No, it doesn’t. So just trying to be more specific and intentional even about something like marketing, but then even as a father, as a husband, it’s nice to be intentional there as well, right? So it’s just a good life lesson there, I think. So when you do something do it for a reason.
Perry: If you could recommend one book to our audience what would that book be?
Robert: You know, I think with kind of the way that marketing is going, just being a good writer is important but at the same time if you are so meticulously picky about what you write has to be perfect that you just don’t write very much, that’s not going to be very helpful for you. You’re not going to get any content out there, you’ll put off doing your website because you can’t figure out how to write your blurb about your bio. So there’s a book I enjoyed. It’s a little book, it’s an APA book. It’s called How to write a lot by a guy named Paul J. Sylvia. How to write a lot. And it’s part inspiration, motivation, and part just kind of some practical kind of life-coaching, writing-coaching kind of stuff to get you to sit down and just do some writing, dedicate some time every day to getting some content out there. And if you go back and look at the first blog that you ever wrote it’s probably not going to be as good as the 30th blog that you wrote but you got something out there and that’s the only way to get to blog number 30 if I write in one through 29. So I like that because it’s just kind of the way that it seems marketing is going for a lot of therapists, just getting content out there.
Perry: And to jump on that point. From my background is an SEO, or search engine optimization. So everyone listening to this, definitely write, but write with intention. If you’re concerned about writing, the last thing you want to do is start blogging. Instead, focus on what services, who you work with. So Robert, you work with men. Write some articles specifically about your services and how you can help men in different stages of their lives and what issues they might be dealing with. That’s going to help you so much more from the SEO perspective than just blogging for the sake of blogging. Anyways, little blurb there but I hope people take some value from that. And I could have sworn you were going to say a Clive Cussler novel there, by the way. Last question, Robert. If you could move to a new city tomorrow, knew nobody and all that you had with you was your computer and 100 bucks to start a new private practice, what is that you would do on your very first day?
Robert: Oh goodness, as I’m sitting alone in my office hoping someone would call, the number that I haven’t setup yet, right? I think kind of getting back to some of the things we’ve talked about before about leveraging connections that are already there. I think things like tapping into my alumni network would be an important thing. So just getting on the Facebook group for my graduate school and say, hey everybody, just want to let you know. I just moved to XYZ city. If you have any referrals in this area I’d love to hear about it. Here’s who I tend to work with. So jumping on your Facebook groups and any other social media. And I’d say to make sure to update any online profile type information. To be a little more specific to where my new place is, making sure that the kinds of clients I’m used to seeing are there. And then maybe just trying to get a sense for is there someone I can take out to lunch. I got that 100 bucks maybe I spend it making one or two good connections. Go to lunch with one therapist, then go to dinner with another and just try and make a connection that might actually end up getting me a foot in the door with somebody.
Perry: Fantastic, Robert where can our listeners find you to connect and learn more about you?
Robert: Awesome. My blog is Drpatesays.com and you can check out our group practice website Californiaalturavista.org. And you can see all of our therapists there. I’m listed there specifically as well. So you can learn some information about our practice and we’re kind of all over the Orange County area, we’ve got several offices so I’m at the Huntington Beach office. So if you have a male– And you asked about ages before. I tend to see kind of mid to late teens, all the way up to end of life issues with men. A lot of professional men coming in and then couples as well. So yeah, check those out and look at the blogs and video blogs and all that, and I hope that people got a little value from our conversation today.
Perry: I’m sure they did, Robert. This was a great one. And to all of our listeners out there, you can learn more about Robert and all the great resources that we mentioned on this week’s show at Brightervision.com/session26. Robert, thank you much for being generous with your time, your expertise, and your knowledge. I know everybody listening to this show appreciates the great advice you provided and the therapist experience that you have shared. Thank you again.
Robert: Thanks Perry.
Perry: And thank you so much for tuning in today. If you have a question for us email it to us at [email protected] and, of course, if you’re interested in launching a website, to make yourself stand out from the crowd, reach out Brighter Vision. We are the worldwide leader in custom therapist website design. For less than 2 dollars a day you’ll get a website that’s as unique as your practice, unlimited technical support, and complementary SEO so people who are looking for you will actually find you online. To learn more head on over to Brightervision.com and drop us a note through one of our contact forms. That does it for today, thanksagain for listening and we will see you next week.