Why Private Practice Skills?
by Marie Fang
To understand how I dreamt up Private Practice Skills, let’s go back, WAY back…
When I was 14, it was the year 2000. I was rockin’ frizzy hair, braces, and a face full of zits. Freshman year of high school was rough on many levels. Several factors collided and I developed severe panic disorder with agoraphobia. I’ll spare you the details, but two years of systematic desensitization did the trick. I was free of panic.
I was also hooked on the field of psychology. And thus, a fledgling therapist was born.
Grad School: Anxiety Breeding Ground
Fast forward to 2008 and I was starting my doctorate program. I was so excited! I thought it would be an opportunity to meet all these wonderful people who want to change the world like me! We could meditate and sing kumbaya together (okay, I’m exaggerating a bit).
Fantasies aside, grad school was NOTHING like I thought it would be. From my experience, it was somehow more anxiety-provoking than both middle school and high school combined. And I completely fell into it. Instead of experiencing panic attacks, I channeled my anxiety into a flurry of overextending myself. Whatever I was doing was never enough – all-nighters with my dissertation, extra internships as a research assistant, picking up more nanny shifts to pay the bills – I always felt like I was behind, not good enough, and failing.
Eventually I got out the other side. After graduating, I had thought maybe my grad school experience was just a reflection of my own anxious tendencies, or maybe my specific grad program was just particularly unhealthy. But as I met other therapists within the field, I realized my experience was not unique at all.
Over time, I started seeing more psychology grad students for therapy on my private practice caseload, even though this was never a specialty that I advertised or had realized was an interest of mine. With that said, I’ve been through seasons in private practice where half my caseload was clinical psychology graduate students or pre-licensed trainees. And I LOVE working with them! Go figure.
Across my interactions with friends, colleagues, and clients within the field of psychology, I began to realize how pervasive anxiety and depression are in our therapist culture. How ironic and sad! Here we are trying to help others overcome life’s hurdles, but we have done so within a system that sets up more hurdles for us to overcome. *facepalm*
Shifting Grad School Culture
The main reason I went for a doctorate-level degree is because I thought it would give me leverage to be able to teach at the university level someday. I love teaching almost as much as I love being a therapist. And honestly, teaching just feels like a variation of group therapy with some lecture sprinkled throughout.
In 2018, my dream came true and I was hired to teach a course with first year grad students at a local MFT program. *dance dance*
Ya’ll. Talk about inspirational. These students were absolutely incredible: managing a group home, parenting 3 kids, and attending grad school full-time to boot. What?? My life doesn’t look like that. Heck, I spend at least one weekday every week hanging out on the beach. For a second, I felt a little intimidated by my students.
But then I remembered what my life was like in grad school: I worked 6 jobs simultaneously, got married, lived on a tiny budget, and effectively abandoned my friendships for 4 years. I completed a program that normally takes 5+ years in only 4 years, but I didn’t feel proud of myself at the end of it. I just felt exhausted.
Here these amazing students were in front of me, but behind all of their accomplishments I saw the exhaustion on their faces. So I made it my mission to share as vulnerably as I could while teaching the material so I could do my part in my little corner of influence to shift the culture away from the anxious culture I experienced in grad school.
Wait, you mean I can be in private practice too?
I loved teaching this class for so many reasons. But there was one moment in particular that stood out the most to me:
During one lecture I managed to finish the material early and I asked the students if they had any questions. One student asked me how I got started in private practice. I gave a quick answer, assuming that most of his classmates were eager to head home at the end of the day. To my surprise, one after the other started to ask questions about private practice:
- I thought you had to be further along in your career before starting a private practice. How did you do it?
- How did you work in private practice before you got your license? I thought you couldn’t do that.
- I really want to start a private practice someday, but none of our professors talk about it. Where do I learn?
At first I was caught off guard by this symphony of questions, but then I remembered that none of my grad school professors talked about private practice either. I knew that some of them worked in private practice, but they seemed to keep it hush-hush, like it would be taboo to even bring it up.
So when the time came for me to dive into private practice, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing – because I didn’t! No one taught me. I learned through trial and error. I was too broke to sign up for the really cool resources available out there to kick start your private practice.
I also didn’t jive well with the communities of private practice therapists I was finding at the time. People seemed stressed out about their practice, or like they were unwilling to share their knowledge because they saw me as competition. People told me their ideas of “it HAS to be this way” or “it HAS to be that way.” I didn’t like it. So I did it my own way.
Private Practice Skills was Born
One month after that class ended my husband and I went on a beach vacation for 5 days. The goal was to do nothing. Literally nothing but to sleep in, drink coffee, rest on the beach, and enjoy a cocktail. But there was a problem: every night during our trip I had trouble sleeping. There was something about that class I taught that stuck in my mind and it wouldn’t leave me alone. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Then after about 4 days in I woke up one morning with the entire idea for Private Practice Skills downloaded into my brain. I really wanted to teach people about private practice. I want to give people the skills that aren’t taught in grad school, and I want to empower people to do private practice their way, not using some cookie-cutter system. I jumped out of bed, bought the domain name, and designed the logo.
So here we are. Private Practice Skills is born! You can get more information about Private Practice Skills in my About page. Stay tuned for more weekly content to help you get your practice rollin’ and growin’! I’m looking forward to the journey with you.
Want great content now? Check out my YouTube series. You can start by watching my playlist “Starting a Private Practice.” Check it out!