5 Tips for how to be a Successful Psychotherapist During a Pandemic

“An unknown percentage of people will be physically affected by COVID-19, 100% will be affected mentally by COVID-19. How can you help yourself be mentally affected in a positive way by COVID-19?”

–Greta Pankratz, LCSW

Requests from interested patients have never been higher. First time therapy clients, former therapy clients, current therapy clients…the demand for my psychotherapy and crisis debriefing services has sky-rocketed. I had about 2 weeks on the lower end (not below) my minimum-preferred number of weekly sessions. Those were the last two weeks of March. But, since then, I have seen more clients/week than normal and received so many requests for intakes. My demand for services is always higher than I can manage, but since COVD, it has been unbelievable. One thing is clear, people are suffering. Not all therapists are having an explosion of growth in their practice right now. Here are a few tips for how to make your business more desirable to meet the high demand for mental health services.

The Hard Thing is Sometimes the Right Thing

I was the first psychotherapist in Santa Maria, that I know of, to move to 100% Telehealth. I was strictly Telehealth from March 17, 2020 until last week. I felt this was the only ethical option given the current unknowns. Our profession is considered essential, but to be effective at my job, it is not essential to meet in-person. I encountered a lot of challenges like: my neck hurt, video didn’t always work and had to switch to phone, some patients don’t know how to use technology, I couldn’t use my EMDR equipment anymore, I miss the connection that comes from in-person, I lost sleep worrying about whether I could be effective, did I mention my neck hurt, like hundreds of dollars on chiropractic care? But I rose to each of those challenges, my clients did too and my resilience was contagious to them and theirs was to me. It was hard, but I know it was right. My advise to other therapists: Keep doing hard things in your practice, it keeps you fresh and attractive to new clients.

Abundance Mentality

If you have ever had someone say they didn’t hear back from me, its because their voicemail was full and I couldn’t leave a message. I ALWAYS call or email new referrals back, even when my practice is bursting and the seams and I don’t have a spare minute. My line to everyone of them, “If I can’t help you, I will try to refer you to someone who can. My passion is to see everyone find effective therapy, whether that’s with me or not”. I believe that there is enough work to go around and I refer to other therapists all the time. We know that what we believe can start to manifest in our lives. My advise to other therapists: There is enough work to go around. Refer and you will be referred to.

Diversify Your Referral Sources

Invest your energies in more than just your fee-for-service private practice. If you want to grow or are just starting out, contract with some insurance companies. This is a great way to get new referrals and get a “name for yourself”. I’ve been contracted with most at some point in my 10 years in private practice and an still contracted with two of them. Also, do free groups or trainings, contract with local agencies like At Ease (gives free counseling to First Responders), become a Subject Matter Expert with the Board of Behavioral Sciences or a Clinical Supervisor. I currently have seven contracts/connections that produce referrals for me. My advise to other therapists: Get yourself connected to several referral sources that are within your expertise.

Be Effective

This may seem obvious. Of course, if you do a good job with your current clients, odds are others will notice and new clients will come your way. But I’m talking about more than just being effective with the client sitting across from you in session. I’m talking about collaboration, making good referrals, connecting with other supports in the client’s life (having them come to sessions) to enhance therapeutic gains, hire consultation for yourself, pay for high-quality training and refer when you are working with someone outside your scope. The one I want to highlight here is paying for consultation. I regularly hire other therapists from all over California who are better at a particular skill or treatment focus than I am. I pay for their time and expertise so I can more effectively help my clients. My advise to other therapists: Don’t just stop at you, your books and your recent trainings; find an expert on the current client-issue that has you stumped and get some high-quality feedback.

Practice What You Preach

I am constantly reminding my clients, “we’re in a pandemic…you’ve lost so much…this is hard–of course you’re depressed!” And yet, I’m asking them to use that mental health challenge as an opportunity for growth. I’m telling my anxious clients to practice meditation and exercise MORE than normal. I’m tell my depressed clients to practice more self-compassion and other CBT coping skills. Let’s use my “Cup Analogy” here. Grab your coffee mug, that represents you. Put some coffee in it, about a half cup. That coffee represents stress. I mean psychological stress, like “your nervous system is working well” stress. Our cortisol levels should be at their highest upon waking; this is the good stress (eustress) that gets us out of bed and motivated to earn a living and succeed at work. Now, pour a little more coffee in, this represents our sink over-flowing with dishes. A little more coffee please, this represents home-schooling the kids. More coffee? This represents running out of toilet paper. My point? A pandemic fills our cup with a lot more coffee than its meant for. If we don’t, A) find new creative ways to empty our cup or B) figure out how to get a bigger cup, we will be over-flowing with coffee soon. So, practice what you preach by developing some new, creative coping skills that you can share with your clients and welcome the tension of suffering that results in growth (i.e. a bigger coffee mug). You will find new ways to cope and new resilience that will be contagious to your clients. My advise to other therapists: If you aren’t willing to do it yourself, don’t expect your clients to. Lead by example.

There is work to be done, no doubt, for us psychotherapists. I hope that you find some of this useful and the advise here mobilizes you to grow yourself and your business into a place where the hurting get help.

Greta Pankratz, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice in Santa Maria, CA. She runs a successful practice named Santa Maria Counseling. Although Santa Maria is a small town, Greta has big-city expertise. She trains other therapists all over the state in EMDR Psychotherapy, writes the CA State Law and Ethics Exam for the all LCSW-hopefuls in CA and provides consultation on a national level to other therapists. She is available for business and other consultation. Contact her here.