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Do you want to start, grow or scale your practice from a faith-based perspective? What does it take to start and build a faith-based practice? What are your thoughts around money in faith-based practices?
In This Podcast
In this podcast episode, Whitney Owens speaks with Gordon Brewer about his journey and how to build a faith-based practice.
Gordon Brewer is a podcaster, trainer, speaker, writer, a licensed marital and family therapist and an AAMFT Approved Supervisor. Gordon is the person behind The Practice of Therapy Podcast and Blog. The Practice of Therapy provides information and resources for clinicians starting, growing or scaling private practices.
Gordon has worked in the human services and mental health fields for over 30 years, has previously worked in agency settings and is currently in private practice as a therapist. He is the owner of a group therapy practice, Kingsport Counseling Associates and also served as an adjunct instructor and internship supervisor at East Tennessee State University. Visit his website, or contact Gordon at [email protected]
How do you start to build a faith-based practice?
After Gordon worked with underprivileged youth, he knew he wanted to go into private practice. So the starting place was to approach the church and use their space. A lot of churches have spaces that are empty during the week. For church members, Gordon gave the first three sessions free of charge. He then started renting from the church and giving them a contribution for the space, as it felt ethical to do so. The church was happy for exposure and they worked off a sliding scale fee.
How did you manage the dual relationship?
That’s a conversation that you have to have with the client during the first session. Although you see each other at church, outside of church they need to know that you won’t be talking about these issues to preserve their confidentiality. You have to measure the closeness of the people you’re working with.
Did you get people that weren’t faith-based? Yes. Gordon’s job as a therapist is not to cross the lines. He believes that his faith comes out in his actions by treating people with kindness and compassion. Because of his background, faith usually does come up anyway. It’s not about trying to convince people about anything, if you’re doing that, you’re not doing good clinical work.
What happened next in your private practice journey?
The church decided to get rid of the space they were in which pushed Gordon into making decisions about where he wanted to be and what he wanted to do with his practice, so he went out and got office space. After 3 years, he started to turn it into a group practice and it really took off from there. In 2017, he grew so much that he needed a new space, and so he bought the building he’s in now. Today, he also works in the consulting arena too.
How do you make faith a part of your decisions?
Gordon decided really early on that he wasn’t going to rack up a lot of debt. His philosophy has been slow, steady growth, a lot of prayers, and finding the right community of people to talk to. You really want to be able to bounce ideas off of people with a community of people to support and cheer you along as you go.
What kind of consulting and masterminds do you do?
If you want to build a faith-based practice, Gordon offers individual consulting to help other private practice owners be successful. He learnt the hard way and doesn’t want anyone else to make the mistakes he did. He has a podcast which has grown incredibly, as well as a few e-courses as he loves teaching and sharing knowledge. It’s geared for people who are looking for the next step and guidance of where they want to go. It’s a huge support for people.
What are your thoughts around money in faith-based practices?
There is a lot of money shame in faith-based practices. If we do the right thing, charge a fair price and treat people with kindness and respect, the money kind of falls in place. We’ve invested a lot of time and money going to school, and you need to be paid for that. We pay our pasters a fair salary, the same is true for us. You’re worth your time and expertise. But always make space for those who are struggling or pro-bono work.
Be geniune and real with people. If we try too hard to be somebody that we’re not, it shows. Do what feels right for you and your practice.
- How to Add Clinicians to a Faith-based Practice | 5 of 5 | 06
- Email Whitney for consulting
- G-Suite for Therapists
- Money Matters in Private Practice (Basic Course)
- Session Note Helper
- Money Matters and G-Suite for Therapists
- Free resources to help you start, grow and scale
- Join Next Level Practice
- Apply to work with Whitney
- Consult With Whitney
Meet Whitney Owens
Whitney is a licensed professional counsellor and owns a growing group practice in Savannah, Georgia. Along with a wealth of experience managing a practice, she also has an extensive history working in a variety of clinical and religious settings, allowing her to specialize in consulting for faith-based practices and those wanting to connect with religious organizations.
Knowing the pains and difficulties surrounding building a private practice, she started this podcast to help clinicians start, grow, and scale a faith-based practice. She has learnt how to start and grow a successful practice that adheres to her own faith and values. And as a private practice consultant, she has helped many clinicians do the same.
Thanks For Listening!
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Welcome to the Faith in Practice podcast. I’m Whitney Owens. In this podcast, we help you start, grow, and scale your private practice from a faith-based perspective. Glad you’re joining us today. If you haven’t already, please go on iTunes or whatever you’re listening to and rate the podcast and let people know about what you’re learning through the podcast. But today I’m super excited about a guest that’s a longtime friend, I consider mine. It’s Gordon brewer and I want to tell you his bio here and then I can kind of share a little bit about how we met. So, Gordon is an LMFT, therapist, podcaster, trainer, speaker and writer. He’s a licensed marriage and family therapist and an AAMFT-approved supervisor. He is the person behind the Practice of Therapy podcast and blog. The Practice of Therapy provides information and resources for clinicians starting and growing and scaling a private practice.
Gordon has worked in the human services and mental health field for over 30 years. He’s previously worked in agency settings and is currently in private practice as a therapist. He’s the owner of the group therapy practice Kingsport Counseling Associates located in Kingsport, Tennessee. He has served as an adjunct instructor and internship supervisor at the East Tennessee State university. He’s married to Mary “Sister” Brewer and they have one daughter, Rebecca, who is an environmental educator. Gordon is also a clergy person at the Episcopal church as a vocational deacon. So, I also want to let you know that Gordon and I, we met about two years ago through the Joe Sanok world of Practice of the Practice. We went to Joe’s house together for a conference that he did there. It was a nice group of about 12, 15 different therapists but it was really cool because we immediately connected not only on building a practice, but on a faith-based perspective and how we integrate that into our counseling. So, we’d love for Gordon to kind of share a little bit with you about starting his practice and you know, Gordon, if you could kind of talk about your faith journey within that, that’d be awesome. [GORDON]: You’re right, great. It’s great to be here Whitney. It’s, I’m so excited that you have invited me to be on your podcast. So, Whitney and I, like she said met at Joe’s next level living room. I think it was, but yes, so my faith well my practice journey and my faith journey have kind of parallel a little bit. Back in probably about 2005, 2006, it was really when I decided to go into private practice really in earnest. I was working for an agency at the time, a nonprofit organization, and we’d work mainly with at-risk children and youth. I knew that then that I wanted to go into private practice and so my starting place was to approach my church about using some of the church space for seeing clients. And so, it kind of grew from there. And so, I kind of, it wasn’t really a hard sale, if you want to call it that to the church. I think they were very open to the using their space. And I always recommend to people that, you know, if you are in a faith-based community and you’re getting started in private practice, that’s a good place to start because most churches, synagogues, houses of worship will have a lot of space that remains empty during the week. And so, yes. [WHITNEY]: I love that. Can you share a little bit about how did you do the financial part to that? Did you rent from the church or did you offer a sliding scale for their parishioners? How did it work? [GORDON]: Yes. So, I did a kind of a combination of, one of the things I said I would do is for church members, for our parish members I would do like the first three sessions at no charge for them. and then later as the practice grew, I went ahead and said, “I’d like to pay you for the use of the space, which in many ways, well, you know, you rent for four practices, you know, tax deductible, anyway. But anyway, I just paid them a small fee for the use of the space as I grew, just because I just felt like ethically that was the thing to do because I was actually, you know, I was at that point, I was not paid by the church in any form or fashion, but they welcomed that.
And, plus it just, you know, I think a lot of times churches are just glad to give exposure to their church just by people coming there. And then I think with, you know, with the warm feelings that people get through counselors and therapists in general, is that that’s going to also make them feel good about the church or the house of worship or faith organization that you’re involved with. So yes, that’s kind of how it worked. When I first started, I offered a sliding scale fee for people that were using less services and then just kind of grew from there. I eventually did add, gone onto some insurance panels and at the point which I went on insurance panels is really the point at which I said, “Okay, it really just ethically and morally and all that sort of thing, I need to be paying the church for the use of the space.” But eventually, I kind of outgrew the space. Plus the office building that I was using, the church, it was an older house and so the church decided that they were going to move their office space and so I moved out on my own and that’s really when I really kind of cut the ties with the church and in an official way with my practice. So, and just kind of grew from there. [WHITNEY]: Yes. So, I get lots of questions about dual relationships and being at a church saying, “Boy, you’re like working right there at the church.” So how did you kind of make the separation there and how did you choose which people to see and not see or was that a challenge? [GORDON]: Yes, that is something, and I know Whitney, you and I’ve had that conversation before. I think it’s really, you have to really kind of be not cautious about that, but I think that’s a conversation you have with the client immediately on the front end in your first session. It’s just to be able to say, “Yes, we see each other, church, but outside of here, I’m not going to talk to you about the issues that we had. In fact, if you come up to me after church or whatever, I’m going to, not that I don’t care, it’s just, I’m going to quickly shut you down on trying to talk about those issues just to preserve your confidentiality.” And so, so far, knock on wood, I’ve had pretty good success with that. And then, you know, also the other thing about dual relationship, you know you have to kind of measure your closeness to the people that you’re working with.
The other thing too, for me, since I am a clergy person, I have to kind of delineate what we’re talking about and what we’re working on. Because a lot of times I kind of, within the church setting, I really wear more of the hat of kind of a pastoral counseling, pastoral advisor kind of thing where people are kind of working on, you know, issues of spirituality and that sort of thing. And so, what I have to do, I think in those cases you have to really kind of define that on the front end. And then if somebody has a therapeutic issue that you really see that they would be better addressed through therapy, it’s probably a good idea to refer out in that. [WHITNEY]: Yes, I’m sure over the years, you’ve kind of figured out how to do that dance, you know, and I think a lot of people when they start private practice, they’re trying to figure out how do I manage being in a church but also having a practice and, and yes, I do talk to people who have that past world. Maybe they are a vocational deacon or maybe they’re actually ordained in a certain denomination and then they go into counseling and they’re doing that same dance there. [GORDON]: Right. Yes. And I think it’s just something, and I think it’s a good idea to consult with others around those things and just kind of follow, to some degree your gut instinct, but also drawing your code of ethics and that sort of thing to really kind of delineate what you’re doing there. But yes, I think it is a common problem. [WHITNEY]: Well, I know that you’re sharing your story and I kind of jumped on this one because it’s such a hot topic, I think for people in private practice. Here’s another question I had and I thought about this a lot at the beginning, especially when I moved to Savannah and I was unsure about space. My husband’s a minister, I could easily have snacked an office at the church we attend. I think my big concern was I would only get faith-based clients and I was wanting to get both, faith-based and some not faith-based or I really enjoy working with people jaded by the church. So, I’m curious, did you get people that weren’t faith-based come in? [GORDON]: Oh yes, absolutely. And I think, you know, one of the things that I’m very upfront about with people, and again, this is something I’ve talked with them about in my, in the first session, is that you know, kind of my standard line is that, you know, one of the things about me as a therapist and I think the, you know, again, it’s just thinking about the clinical side of things and the effectiveness of what we do as therapists, the person of the therapy is a very important component. And so, I’m very transparent and on the front end just about the fact that, you know, in addition to my work as a therapist, I also happen to be a clergy person in the Episcopal church. And I say, you know, sometimes I wear a funny collar and don’t like to catch people off guard by that.
But the other thing that I want them to know is that I don’t have a religious agenda with my counseling. I really consider myself more of a faith informed counselor rather than a faith-based counselor because the type of therapy that I do is traditional marriage and family therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy and all of those things that we’re trained to do. And so that’s my focus and that’s my approach. But I tell them also, I say, “If there’s ever any of those religion things you want to talk about, I love talking about those things and I have a lot of fun talking about those things, but you’re not going to hear it from me first. And so that’s the way I approach it with folks. And it’s amazing, you know, once I tell people that, it comes up a lot in the conversation. And I’ve got clients that are upfront and just say, “Well, I’m an atheist and that’s what I believe in.” I say, “That’s great. I’m still here for you. And so, you know, that’s yes, just my approach. I just feel like that’s, my job is, as a therapist, and this is my personal belief is not to proselytize people.
So, you know, and I think my faith, you know, my, but again, my personal beliefs are, is that my faith comes out of just my actions and I don’t have to try to convince people to see it my way or practice it the way that I practice it. You know, I’m just going to treat them with kindness and compassion, which is what, you know, as a Christian, I feel like that’s the core of what Jesus taught. [WHITNEY]: I love that. A friend of mine, just recently, we were talking about this idea and he said, “I show the gospel through my actions and use words when I have to.” [GORDON]: Right, right. [WHITNEY]: Yes. But I take a very similar approach in the way I view counseling and the way that my practice runs, exactly what you’re saying. And we always have to consider the ethics within our profession too. And the ethics does say that we don’t proselytize to our clients. That’s not what we’re here for. We’re for their best interests, whatever that is. [GORDON]: Yes, correct. Correct. And you know, it’s not about trying to convince people of anything. I mean, that’s just sound clinical practice. You know, you’re not trying to convince people of anything. If you’re doing that, you’re probably not doing good clinical work anyway. [WHITNEY]: Yes. Well, continue on the journey here for us. So, you had the church and then you went and got your own space. [GORDON]: Yes. So the church decided to get rid of the office building we ran, which was really you know, in retrospect it was really a great thing because it really kind of pushed me to really make some decisions about where I wanted to be and how I wanted to do my practice. And so, when they tried to accommodate and find another place in the church for me to meet, but it really wasn’t going to be conducive. So I just went out and found an office space and after, it was after about three years in that office space was really when I decided to form a group practice and just really had realized my practice had filled up and I was starting to have to refer people out because I was having to put them on a waiting list , and it just made sense that the next step was to form a group practice.
And so that’s when I formed my LLC and the group practices and LSE and all of that. And so, and it just really took off from there, and then in 2017 I had really grown to the point where I really needed a new space and low and behold, I found a building that I was able to buy. And so, it was an old dentist office here in town and it was centrally located and it was just really kind of a perfect opportunity. So, I bought the building that I’m in now; never really imagined that that would happen. But here it is and so I’m continuing to grow. And then I also just jumped into the whole consulting arena in 2016 and so, that’s a whole other tangent besides my practice that I’ve started in on. [WHITNEY]: Yes. That’s awesome. So, you are taking like, just to be cliché here, of course, leaps of faith right over and over again? [GORDON]: Right. [WHITNEY]: So how do you make God or faith a part of your decisions? Like, those are some big decisions, especially buying an office building, because let me tell you, I’m scared that that’s going to happen one day. I got to be ready for it. So how do you kind of make those choices? [GORDON]: Yes, so, I’ve always been, you know, with my practice, I really decided early on that I was not going to rack up a lot of debt in running my practice. And that’s just good business practice to begin with. Of course, buying a building is a different kind of debt. I mean, that’s more of a mortgage debt, which, you know, when it comes to debt, that’s probably the better account of debt to have because you’re increasing an asset with that. Not to get too far into the financial stuff. But I think my philosophy has been just slow, steady growth and certainly in my own faith journey, a lot of prayer with that, but also finding the right community of people to talk about those things. I think you know, private practice, particularly as a solo provider can be kind of a lovely place and say you really want to be able to bounce ideas off of people and have that sense of community. And that’s, you know, if you think about it, for those of us that are churchgoers, that’s the whole reason we go; is because we’ve got a community of people to support us and be there for us as we’re moving along. So, I think that’s been the way that I’ve approached all of this. [WHITNEY]: Yes. I love that you’re saying that too. And when I think about us meeting for the first time, that was when I actually had my first desire to do this Faith in Practice idea, that I would make faith a part of helping people grow a private practice. So, exactly what you’re saying, it’s like we’re lonely and then we are a practice owner. So that’s also a little lonely. But then when you add in this component of how do I do it from a faith perspective, it becomes a smaller group of people. So being able to have people that are like minded in our decisions, because sometimes our decisions may not look the way that other decisions look for people because we’re kind of making a different thought choice and considering other things when we make choices. So, having that community is so important. [GORDON]: Yes, it is. And I think it’s, you know, you and I both have been involved in mastermind groups and I’ve got one that I lead now. But I know every time I’ve been part of a group like that I have actually, it’s absolutely been worth the investment I put into it and I just really saw a lot of growth out of that. And it was because it was, you really learn, we, you know, we can only see things from our own perspective and where we start getting other perspectives, psych the world, the whole world widens up and we’re able to see new ideas and new ways of approaching things. [WHITNEY]: Yes, definitely. Well, talk a little bit about the consulting. What kind of consulting do you do and some of the masterminds that you’re running? [GORDON]: Yes. So yes, so when I, you know, I think consulting is kind of a term that we’ve kind of coined for those of us in this space where we’re trying to help other private practice owners be successful in their practices. And so, when I started the Practice of Therapy in 2016, you know, really it was with the idea, “Okay, I’ve learned a lot of stuff the hard way and I don’t want anybody else to have to do that.” And so, I really wanted to share what I had learned. And really I was, you know, again, our friend Joe Sanok was a person that kind of inspired me with that and realized, “Okay, Joe is doing it his way, but I’d like to do it as well and put my own spin on it.”
So really with the Practice of Therapy, I’ve got the podcast which has just grown incredibly over the last a couple of years. Just unbelievable. just still, just kind of look at the numbers and just can’t believe that it’s grown like an [inaudible 00:20:08] but the other part with my consulting side of my business at the Practice of Therapy is that I’ve got some e-courses that I’ve put together because I love teaching. I love to be able to share knowledge in that way. And so, I’ve got G Suite for therapists, which you’ve known about, Whitney. I’ve also developed some digital products. There’s one called the Session Note Helper, which is really, uses the tools of G Suite, Google, Forms, and Google Docs along with again, I’m getting a little techie here, something called an App Script that allows Google Forms to talk to Google Docs.
So, you fill out these checkoff boxes to complete a Session Note and it produces a narrative of the note based on what you’ve checked off. So, it really saves just a whole lot of time in writing Session Notes. And so, then I’ve got the whole course G Suite for Therapists, which just teaches people how to use the different tools of Google G Suite in their practice and make it all HIPAA-compliant. So that was something that I learned along the way how to do all that. So, I’ll put it in a course format. The other course that I’ve got is called Money Matters in Private Practice where I teach the whole financial side of private practice, which is something none of us learned in graduate school and just the business side of things. And so, learning how to navigate that whole thing.
So those are my, you know, that’s kind of the core side of my consulting. Like I mentioned, I did have some mastermind groups and this is really geared towards people that are really, tried to figure out, “Okay, what do I do next? I’ve started my practice, it’s going, but I’m not sure what is the next step I want to take and that sort of thing.” So, it’s really a focus group and where we talk about those things and I just kind of share what I’ve learned and plus we share with each other and it’s just a huge support to the people I think, when being part of those, that type of a community. And then of course like you do with, I do some individual, one-on-one consulting with people as well and working on specifics they want to do in their practice. [WHITNEY]: I love it. I love that what you offer is so applicable. You know, I feel like there’s so many people out there, they’re like, “Oh, here’s all these things that I can give,” because they’re trying to make a buck. But all the stuff you offer is really thoughtful and you’ve put so much time into. It’s so useful for therapists. So, I just want to give a shout out to Gordon for that because I took the G Suite course, it was right before I really got going in my group practice and it has been extremely helpful with my clinicians. In the course you have all the notes that are included and there’s videos kind of showing you how to navigate and so I’ve been able to use all that material and teach my therapists how to use G Suite. We function completely on G Suite here. So that’s been really, really helpful. And the podcast is awesome and I love the interviews that he does and it just always puts me honestly in a good mood after I listen to the podcast. Sometimes I hear podcasts and I’m overwhelmed like, “Oh my gosh, I have so much to do.” But when you hear Gordon, you’re just like, “Everything’s going to be okay, and I can do this.” [GORDON]: That’s kind of you to say. Yes. So, I enjoy doing the podcast. As you know, Whitney, I get to talk to a lot of wonderful people. So, it’s just a, you know, many ways kind of the podcast is maybe a little bit selfish and then I get to learn from a lot of other people. [WHITNEY]: Yes. I’m enjoying that as well. It is a lot of fun. [GORDON]: Yes. [WHITNEY]: Yes. [GORDON]: So, [WHITNEY]: Well, great. Well, we will have all this information in the show notes. If you want to get in touch with Gordon or you want to sign up for his mastermind, individual consulting, we’ll have that. Also, for all the products that he’s offering, we’ll have that as well. You know, a question I get a lot and I’d love to hear what you have to think of or say about this is just the whole money management from faith-based perspective and like churches that are asking counselors, “Oh, well you shouldn’t charge so much because you’re faith-based.” You know, making people feel guilty for making money or is it okay to make money in private practice? But counseling is a ministry, but it’s a job. Like, I know I’m kind of saying a lot of things, but what do you have to say about that? [GORDON]: Yes, I think one of the things that gets handed to us along the way is just some money shame and, you know, from a Biblical perspective, you know, Jesus was pretty harsh on people that were greedy and were in it just for the money. But I think if, you know, my thoughts are, is that if we do the right thing, if we charge a fair price and we treat people with kindness and compassion and dignity and all of that, the money just kind of falls in place. I mean, not just, I mean I’m not trying to say, not trying to use any kind of sort of magical thinking here because I think you’ve really got to understand the financial side of things. But you know, if you think about it, we’ve invested a lot of time and money into going to school and to be able to learn this part of things, and I think you need to be paid for that.
I mean, just like we pay our pastors, our rabbis or people that are within the church, we pay them hopefully a fair salary and a fair stipend or whatever. And so, I think it’s the same as true for us. I think you need to be able to be your worth, what you’re worth, your time, and expertise. And so, I think certainly there, we should always make concession, not concessions, but make room for those people that are struggling, that might need to pay a lower fee or might need, you know, even pro bono work. But I think the majority of people I think really want to pay us for our services. I mean even I can think of times when I’ve met with church members and said, “This is part of my ministry. There’s no charge for this session.” And there’s almost like they’re taking back and that they really expect to pay for things. And so, I think it’s, again, it’s our own mindset that gets in the way of all that. [WHITNEY]: Yes, I think you said that well, and I’ve even found clients that paid for the service, tend to get more involved and more invested. They don’t miss their sessions when there’s a cancellation fee. I think about early on I had a very low fee because I was just getting clients and didn’t know what I was doing and the clients just were not very invested in the treatment. And as my fees have gone up, I’m finding the clients seem to be more and more focused on what they’re doing. So, I do think charging does kind of honestly help the client. And even having the group practice, it’s been really great because I can have people that are just starting out and hire them and offer lower fees for people in need. But then I also think I’ve got to make money as a practice if I’m going to care for my clinicians and if we’re going to keep doing this work. And so, thinking beyond ourselves that we make the money so that we can do a service and if our business fails, then we’re going to fail offering the service to the community. [GORDON]: Exactly. If you, don’t charge and if you’re not making a living from what you’re doing, you’re not going to be able to keep the doors open. And so, I think that’s something that we, everybody needs to take into consideration. [WHITNEY]: Yes. Well I ask everyone this on the show. If you could say anything to a Christian counselor or if something you think they need to know, what would you want to tell them? [GORDON]: Well, I think, this is true for anybody, whether they’re faith-based or not; is just to be genuine with people. Just to be real. I think our clients can pick up on the fact that we’re not being genuine and if we try too hard to be somebody that we’re not it comes across. And I think also your practice is your practice and do it the way that you feel works best for you. There’s no exact right way to do any of this and I think you have to find the right fit for you. You know, whether you’re deciding to be just strictly a cash pay kind of practice or whether you want to be on insurance panels even down to whether you prefer to just be, not just be, but be a solo practitioner or whether you decide to be a group practitioner and bring on other people with your practice. I think finding what fits for you is important and to really to use kind of a church in turn to really discern where you want to be with your practice and with your life. And then just follow that. And I think when you do that, it has a way of just kind opening things up for you and gives you a lot of freedom. [WHITNEY]: Well, thank you Gordon. We appreciate you coming and being on the show and want to encourage you guys to please check out the show notes and definitely check out the podcast that Gordon is doing and you can get all of that information on the Practice of the Practice website. So, thanks for being a part of the show today. [GORDON]: Thanks Whitney. It was great being here. [WHITNEY]: Thank you for listening to the Faith in Practice podcast. If you love this podcast, please rate and review on iTunes or your favorite podcast player. If you liked this episode and want to know more, check out the Practice of the Practice website. Also, there you can learn more about me, options for working together, such as individual and group consulting or just shoot me an email, [email protected] Would love to hear from you.
This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. This is given with the understanding that neither the host, Practice of the Practice, or the guests are providing legal, mental health or other professional information. If you need a professional, you should find one.