TTE 22: Networking with Religious Leaders to Grow a Private Practice
Networking with religious & spiritual leaders can be an overlooked way of growing a successful private practice. For Douglas Shoaff, it was the most natural way. Here is Doug’s advice on how he uses technology to help grow his practice, and grow his referral source network through his connections to church leaders in his community.
Best Marketing Move for Business
- Increasing his email list
Links & Resources Mentioned in This Episode
- Amy Porterfield
- Constant Contact
- Platform University by Michael Hyatt
- Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Resources to Devote to Our Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson
Thanks to Douglas for joining me this week. Until next time!
TranscriptClick here to read the Transcript
Douglas: You bet. I Sure am.
Perry: Alright. Well, Douglas describes himself as being called to two professions, ministry and counseling. He was ordained as a pastor at the young age of 19. Since that time he has been a preacher, Hebrew professor, navy chaplain and professor, and professional counselor. Besides his master of divinity, Doug has a master’s in pastoral counseling from Loyola College in Maryland. His extensive training and experience in trauma therapy, critical incidents, stress debriefing, and mindfulness. Doug’s private practice is called Doug’s Place: A Sanctuary On The Way and he describes his practice specialty as creating order out of chaos. His niche is working with church leaders to create safe and healthy churches. He provides ministers with training and conflict management, working with difficult people, or personality disorders in their congregation. He offers referral source for ministers and parishioners who need professional counseling. Doug lives in Wheeling, West Virginia with his wife Carol and four furry kids. Doug, I gave a little overview of you there but why don’t you take a minute and fill in the gaps from that introduction and tell us a little bit more about you personally and about your private practice?
Douglas: Well, I guess from the very start, Perry, it’s like I had a word tattooed on my forehead and it said, talk, and then, to me. And my mother even said, jeez Doug, if anybody’s going to be a preacher or a counselor, or anything like that I guess you are because you just talk all the time, man. One of my early experiences when I was learning to counsel and I was under supervision, I love this, I was in a group supervision time and my supervisor was talking about the different ways of counseling and psychotherapy. So it came to psychoanalysis and I said, you know, I don’t see how that’s very difficult. You just have somebody lay down on a couch and sit behind him or beside him and you take notes, and they talk all the time. And you don’t say anything. He said, Doug, when was the last time you were silent for a whole hour?
Perry: Oh man, besides sleeping? Hahaha.
Douglas: Yes. Well, even sleeping, I talk in my sleep sometimes. So I said, well, you got me there. And all of a sudden, that was a turning point for me. I realized, holy macro, counseling is not about giving out my wisdom as much as it is me really listening to and connecting with people. So another thing out of my personal life is that my son Chris, when he was about 25 he said he was going to be a counselor. And I said, well, that’s great Chris, what do you want to be a counselor for? And he says, well, because I’m pretty smart and I really know what to tell people. I give good advice. And I said, Oh jeez Chris, you’ve got a long way to go but good luck! So those two things. One thing about me I think that oddly enough I’ve used in many ways, I love to teach. When I was a navy chaplain on Guam and Okinawa I actually taught scuba, and it was very interesting because I learned how to deal with life under stress. I mean, it was really cool. And I would tell to people, I would ask them, what are you afraid of? And they’d say, well, sharks. I said, don’t be afraid of sharks, just carry a knife. And they said, well, these knives are so small. They’re six inches. I said, oh, it’s not to kill the shark. It’s to cut your buddy and then you swim away. Hahahahaha.
Douglas: And they said, you’re a chaplain? I said, yeah, yeah, I also do counseling. So it was really cool.
Perry: So Doug, how did you go from being a navy chaplain, starting off as navy chaplain, to opening your own private practice? Tell us about your private practice as well, you know? what kind of work do you do in your practice? In your introduction you worked primarily with church leaders, you said, to give them advice, but then you also worked with some of the parishioners if they have conflict and need professional counseling. So tell us about your private practice?
Douglas: Yeah, it’s really in its second or third rebirth because it’s kind of like I can’t figure out what I want to do when I grow up. And I’m 67 years old. That’s bad.
Perry: We’re always learning, right? We’re always trying to evolve.
Douglas: Yeah. So what led me out of the chaplaincy and into private practice? Well, I love the chaplaincy in the idea that I got a lot of travel. I’ve lived all over Asia and traveled as far south as Australia, and I loved it. It’s a pluralistic multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-racial community.
Perry: So that must have really enriched your life and allowed you to see all these different things. And I’m sure it allowed you to become a better counselor?
Douglas: Oh it did. And I’ve always said, even in spite of my work in Loyola, that probably the best training and counseling that I got was a year’s residency in hospital chaplaincy.
Perry: So tell us about your private practice today and what it looks like?
Douglas: Alright. Well, I have two things that I’m really involved in deeply. One is I still am a minister of a church. And then on top of that I am really trying to kick-start my practice as well. And what the practice looks like is that I have a lot of networking with preachers. I understand preachers. Preachers seem to be able to relate to me and they’re perfectly willing to really be open with me. It’s like even when I was on shift the catholic priest that would come aboard, this is odd, they would use me as a confessor. They would be sitting in my office confessing and I’d go, is this what you do with your people? Am I being your confessor? And they would say, yeah, I guess you are. So it just hit me that we, that is preachers, as a profession, and this is odd, are very closed. Very not open to share vulnerabilities. I don’t know what it is about my personality or about my training or whatever it is, my demeanor. But preachers feel like they can become comfortable with me. So I do a lot of consulting with ministers.
Perry: So I would imagine that, I’ve heard this a few times in our interviews here, that places of worship, ministers, and rabbis, any sort of spiritual leader could be a really great referral source for a private practice. But considering you have this background as a preacher you know how to speak their language really well.
Douglas: I do, I do.
Perry: How would you recommend somebody who might be starting out in private practice and is spiritual but not very religious? How would you recommend that they could begin going to their place of worship and networking with their leader there to help them grow their practice in a way?
Douglas: Perry, that’s an excellent question. Excellent question. First of all, you’ve got to become comfort– The preacher has to become comfortable with you as a person. They have to trust you. Trusting you to take care of their sheep, so to speak, that’s a profound honor when they do trust you like that. There’s a, I don’t know what it is, some kind of misconception, I think, that counselors are going to not honor somebody’s faith. And the counselors that I know that honor somebody’s faith and religion, and use that in counseling them, these are the counselors that preachers feel like they can refer people to. And a lot of it depends on how theologically conservative the preacher is, or the church is. There are some conservative churches that they think that counselors are going to lead their people astray. So they won’t refer to them at all. So you have to really let the leaders know what you believe and that you would honor your belief. And the other thing is, and this is one thing that I found, is that some people that go to preachers for counseling won’t go to therapists even if they’re referred.
Perry: Why do you think that is?
Douglas: I don’t know. I think the reasons vary, I guess. From what I can understand– Haha. Okay. Their picture, that is the church members, sometimes their picture of a counselor is that of Sigmund Freud. Okay, so they anticipate going into the office and seeing this bearded German guy with cigar on his mouth and worse yet if it’s a woman. That’s what they anticipate, and this is the fear. The fear is that the counselor is going to psychoanalyze them.
Perry: But I mean, if someone’s going to therapy isn’t that what they’re looking for? They’re looking for somebody to help them analyze what they’re going through. Analyze the root cause of something and help them move past that. I mean, it might depend on what kind of therapy you’re seeking but if I’m having anger management issues and I’m seeking help to deal with this, I would imagine that, hey, I want to find what the root cause is so I can figure out what these triggers are and I can figure out how to best deal with these issues and be able to live a more fulfilled life. Isn’t that–?
Douglas: It is. But again, it’s a matter of trust. If that person feels like the counselor is going to be invasive–
Perry: Right. But if your religious leader is referring someone to a counselor– If my rabbi referred me to go to seek counseling for this issue and referred me to a few counselors, I would naturally trust who my rabbi referred me to.
Douglas: Well, I think that’s true too.
Perry: And I’m sure it depends on the individual of course, but I think in this day and age a lot of people don’t really picture that Freudian person. I guess it depends on what type of therapy you’re seeking. But I think it really varies and depends on what you’re wanting to get out of it. If somebody’s open to speaking with their religious leader and their religious leader refers them to a counsel for more professional guidance–
Douglas: Right, and the trust is there to a certain degree but there’s a fear. For instance, I’ll tell you among senior citizens. I have an awful lot of seniors in my carnegation as do other ministers, and rabbis, and priests, and this is typical. This is not atypical of this group, at least from my observation. There was an 89 year old widow who went to the doctor. The doctor said, I think you’re depressed and the medicine is not working. I would like to refer you to a counselor. And so this lady knew me and she called me on the phone and she said, I don’t know if I should go to that counselor or not. My sister said that all counselors don’t believe in God and stuff like that. And I said, oh, that’s not the case here.
Perry: That’s quite a– Yeah.
Douglas: I mean, really. I googled the counselor and here the counselor had experience as a pastoral counselor, and I called this lady back and I said, you don’t have to worry. I trust this person. What am I going to tell them? Are they going to want to know all about my childhood? And I said, you know, just start out with, I feel depressed. Hahaha.
Perry: Gosh, how challenging must that be to be of that age and seeking counseling for depression and never having experienced it before.
Douglas: She had never.
Perry: It must be such an adjustment and so hard to deal with. And so challenging for the counselor at hand as well.
Douglas: Well, it is. And the role that I play was that this lady knew that I was both counselor and a pastor. So she trusted me when I told her that this person is there for you. She’s there for your best interest and she’s not going to probe where you don’t want probed. She just is going to try to help you think differently. And so that satisfied her and she was okay with that.
Perry: One thing we found over the years in all of our conversations with therapists is that they really struggle with marketing their business. Would you mind sharing with our audience what you feel the single best marketing move you made for your practice was and why do you feel like it worked so well?
Douglas: I think the single best is increasing my email list.
Perry: Tell us about that.
Douglas: Well, I’m still dealing with that. I got on with Constant Contact, an email server, and I did a lot of training through webcasts and podcasts. I took one of Amy Porterfield’s courses.
Perry: She’s great.
Douglas: Yeah, oh my goodness she’s great. And John Lee Dumas. I’ve taken his podcast course and his webcast course, or webinar course. And then I’m also a member of Platform University with Michael Hyatt.
Perry: So how have you used your email list to help you market your practice better?
Douglas: Okay. What I’ve done is that, like, if I’m going to– Let’s just say I’m going to launch a course. Well, I will start it by going through the email, just punching up an email to all of the people that I think would be interested at all. And working through that, doing some videos with them and so forth and then trying to launch a product. But again, Perry, all of this is real new to me. For me, it’s a whole new way of running a business. Before, when I was in private practice I just depended on the preachers as referrals, the churches as referrals, and counsel just in an office.
Perry: And did that provide like a strong foundation for a private practice for you?
Douglas: Well, not as strong as I really needed it to be, and I’ll tell you why. I don’t know if this is my fault as much as is anybody else’s. A lot of times preachers counsel for free and people they refer to you, they want to do it as close to free as possible. So I would get requests for a lot of pro bono and I would do insurance but I have gotten out of the insurance business. So it didn’t work as well as I wanted it to. I mean, I would charge ridiculously low fees. I would charge like 50 dollars an hour and almost being apologetic.
Perry: What are you currently charging for a session?
Douglas: I’ll tell you right now. I’m charging 150 dollars an hour for a session, and if I counsel a couple it’s 200 dollars an hour. And one of the thing I’ve learned is that when people want counseling for free, they’re not committed to it, they don’t always show up, and they don’t listen to what you tell them.
Perry: You know, I think that’s a really interesting point there. Because we see the same thing in Brighter Vision. When we first got started– Right now our payment process is we have a hundred dollar setup fee if you’re paying monthly, so it’s a 100 dollars plus your first month. Or if you pay upfront for an entire year we wave the setup fee and give you one month free. So either way someone has to pay either a 159 dollars or 649 dollars. When we first got started we did not have a setup fee and what we saw was people were cancelling more in the first few months. They wouldn’t be communicating with their developer. We also didn’t offer an annual plan at that time. They didn’t communicate with their developer, so we struggled to actually get them a website. When we would give them a first draft of a website they would drop off the face of the Earth. And we’re like, what’s going on here? And we saw a really high cancellation rate. This was in the very, very early days. Before we had– I think we had maybe 30-40 clients max at that time. When we switched and when we put a setup fee so that someone had to either pay a 159 dollars to get started and we had an annual plan, or they paid 649 to get started, all of a sudden people were more committed. Our cancellations went down. They had more skin in the game.
Douglas: I think that’s right.
Perry: It’s amazing how business rules, business ideas can translate. If you’re charging a lower fee for counseling or doing pro bono work, people you might be seeing might not be as committed. Generally, it’s not 100% but–
Douglas: Well, generally they’re not. When I worked in community and mental health it was almost depressing. Sometimes it was depressing.
Perry: Was it depressing because of what you were witnessing in terms of what you had to work with or more in terms of the people you were trying to help you were just not able to help because of them just not being committed to change.
Douglas: Well, I think it’s both but the major thing is that people were getting really good counseling, and let’s just say they had a medical card. I mean, they were getting good counseling but they weren’t paying anything for it. And a lot of times, oh shoot, I worked an agency one time that because I’m an LPC I couldn’t do medic aid on my own. I had to have psychiatrist sign off on all the treatment plans and things. Well, our psychiatrist had a temporary license. And so here I was seeing like 10 or 15 people and I wasn’t getting paid for any of it. I ended up losing about 10,000 dollars on that.
Perry: Man, oh man.
Douglas: But now I still think– What I found is that if people call me and they say, I’m in crisis and I want to talk to somebody. And I said, okay, let’s do that. So they talk and they’ll talk for maybe an hour and I’ll say, well, let’s try to set something up. And they say, well, maybe later. Maybe they’ll call back five or six times and if I’ll talk to them for free we’ll talk. Hahahaha.
Perry: Hahaha. Yeah. Amazing how that can work, right?
Douglas: It is amazing. And so what I found is that if I have a couple that comes in and they are willing to pay 200 dolllars for an hour session, then that couple I know that they are committed to change the kind of change that actually transforms their relationship. So instead of working with that couple for months, and months, and months I may only work with that couple for three or four sessions, five sessions. But in that amount of time they take what we’ve gone over and they apply it. I mean, they’re happy. They’re okay. Then I’m happy too because I get paid 200 dollars a session. Hahahaha.
Perry: And you help them what they’re coming for and they’ve become a former client but they’ve accomplished their goals through therapy.
Douglas: Yeah. And they’re happy to refer others to me. Now, honestly where I run into boundary issues and things is that I’m also a pastor and for my parishioners no matter what the counseling is I don’t charge them. So I’m still wrestling with that.
Perry: That’s a tough thing to deal with.
Douglas: It really is. It really, really is. Because I have an automatic dual relationship with them with dual roles and I counsel preachers even including myself not to get into anything too deep with their parishioners because as soon as you say something from the pulpy that touches a nerve, then sometimes they think that you’re talking about them. That’s not a good thing.
Perry: Well, when a relationship with your parishioner might reach a point of it becoming an actual counseling, is that when you would refer someone to a counselor?
Douglas: I do. And I have two or three counselors that I know I trust. The counselors and I have a relationship. And the person may not want to go but I would tell them, I’d try to explain to them that my major role with you is that of a pastor. A spiritual leader. And then normally they really understand that. I would say I can only take so far, and that’s all the further I can go.
Perry: Doug, that was some really great advice there. I hope that some of our listeners out there who might be in that same balancing situation unsure of how to balance those things, whether it’s them being a religious leader and a counselor, or a friend and a counselor. It’s a challenging path to walk and knowing when it’s time to refer out your friend or your parishioner or a loved one to seek professional help and guidance. Something that everyone listening to the show has to balance and has to work with to figure out the way that best works for them, works for the person that they’re referring out, and does so in a ethical manner.
Douglas: That’s correct. And all of us have the potential for those dual relationships. I had a stepdaughter that she would come to me and she would say, okay now Doug, this is counselor client confidentiality. Hahahahaha. In other words, don’t tell mom.
Perry: Hahaha. My mother-in-law is a counselor and when my wife would be growing up they’d lay these stories quite fondly. And my wife as a teenager would go and seek guidance from her mom, and her mom would say, okay, do you want me to give you a response as your mother or as a counselor? And walking that path and figuring out the right way to respond based off of what the person wanted worked really well for them.
Douglas: Yeah. And I had to go that way. I’ve had to go that way with my stepdaughters. And it’s generally worked out very well. I’ve explained to them that I really can’t keep the fact that you wrecked the car confidential. Hahahaha. That’s not what confidentiality is all about. It’s kind of strange. And even in religious realm, Perry, my mother-in-law is a devout catholic, well was, she’s passed away. But she was in her 90s and couldn’t go to church all the time. Well, she couldn’t go to confession and so she asked me if I’d hear her confession. Now, can you imagine the dual relationship that that would be? And my wife Carol said, are you going to do that? I said, well, I’m not a priest for one thing and for another thing I don’t want to know what sins my 93 year old mother-in-law has done. Hahaha. We all have those dual relationship possibilities and we have to manage them.
Perry: Well, Doug. We’re going to move into the final part of our interview now. The part we like to refer to as Brighter Insights. I really love this part because this allows us to really focus in on quick little sound bites and advice that people listening to this show can use to motivate and inspire them through their week to help them grow their practice. So Doug, are you ready?
Douglas: I am ready, Perry.
Perry: What or whom inspired you to become a mental health professional?
Douglas: Well. I believe it was my pastoral counseling supervisor. I had not made up my mind whether I really want to be a counselor and this guy was so compassionate and gentle and yet truthful to a fault. I mean, he really, really helped me more that I think any counselor that I’ve been to to deal with my issues so that I could help my counselee. So I believe it was this supervisor.
Perry: What is it that you do to clear your head and get a fresh start in your day?
Douglas: Well, walk, I meditate, I breathe, and what I would love to do and what I used to do all the time was scuba dive. But there’s no ocean around West Virginia. So when I’m meditating I place myself 80 feet under the water in my mind. And it’s an absolutely safe and calming experience. So that’s what I do.
Perry: What are some tools that you’ve used to leverage the power of technology in your private practice, so technology is no longer a hurdle for you but instead an asset?
Douglas: Well, I feel like a newbie here and I can tell you that I’m learning these things but the email server that helps automate stuff–
Perry: Using Constant Contact, like that?
Douglas: I use Constant Contact and I’m still searching and I search for these things. And another things that I’ve just discovered is a service that helps you setup online courses.
Perry: Are you using Zippy Courses for that or a different service?
Douglas: Actually it’s Teachable.
Perry: Teachable? Okay.
Douglas: Yeah. I just got on to that. Pat Flynn who is the passive income guru, he recommended that and so I looked at that and I think I’m going to be really, really happy with that because they walk you through everything. I feel like I have this message to get out and I just have been stymied because of the technology. So I’m hoping that that would help.
Perry: So what’s a quote that you hold near and dear? Something that has helped formulate your perspective on life or has inspired, motivated, or provided guidance for you?
Douglas: Well, one that has really helped me deal with difficult people in any of my professional life roles is from Yung and he said, I think this is exact quote, “The level of a person’s defensiveness is equal to the level of their pain.”
Perry: I like that.
Douglas: And that really has helped me deal with people.
Perry: If you could recommend one book to our audience what would that book be?
Douglas: Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Resources to Devote to Our Overloaded Lives. And it’s by Richard Swenson. And I recommend that because it’s a tough read for those of us who have school loans and all these other things. I mean, when I read that I think, yes, this is my goal, is to have margin in my life. And it is a powerful book.
Perry: Alright Doug, last question for you. If you moved to a new city tomorrow, knew nobody and all that you had with you was your computer and 100 dollars to start a new private practice, what is it that you would do on your very first day?
Douglas: My very first day, I would go get a cup of coffee, I would take my laptop and I would identify about five or six churches in the area, I would visit the preachers, I would get referrals, I would let them know through their questioning me that I am a person that they can trust with their people. And I would begin my practice that way.
Perry: Fantastic. Well Doug, where can our listeners find you to connect and learn more about you?
Douglas: Well they can contact me through the website, Brighter Vision website, Douglasshoaff.com I believe it is. Or they could find me on Facebook, my Facebook page is Doug’s Place: A sanctuary along the way.
Perry: Fantastic. Well Doug, thank you so much for being so generous with your time, your expertise, and your knowledge. We appreciate all the great advice you’ve provided and the therapist experience that you have shared. Thank you again.
Douglas: Thank you, Perry.
Perry: Thank you so much for tuning in today. If you have a question for us please email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And of course, if you’re interested in launching a website reach out to us. We are the worldwide leader in custom therapist website design. For just 59 dollars a month Brighter Vision will build you a website that’s as unique as your practice is, provide you with unlimited tech support and do your SEO so people will find you on Google. To learn more head on over to Brightervision.com and drop us a line through one of our contact forms. That does it for today, thank you so much for listening, have a great week and we will see you next week.