Are you sitting with an overflowing waiting list? How do you properly screen new clinicians that you want to hire? What are the benefits of joining a Masterclass?
In this podcast episode, Alison Pidgeon speaks about starting a group practice with Melissa Spaulding.
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Meet Melissa Spaulding
Melissa Spaulding is a licensed counselor and the owner of Guided Wellness, a group practice in the red rock desert of southern Utah. She was inspired to transition from her successful solo practice to a group model after seeing clients being neglected by over-booked clinicians who were providing lackluster services.
Melissa has been trained in EMDR since 2011 and Post Induction Therapy (a method to assist those who grew up in dysfunctional families) since 2009. She also has training in Sand Tray therapy, a wonderful alternative for those who prefer a hands-on approach to personal insight.
In This Podcast
- Melissa’s decision to start a group practice
- Joining Group Practice Launch
- The process of hiring
- Melissa’s advice to new practice owners
Melissa’s decision to start a group practice
I always thought that having a waitlist would be this marker of success for my practice, that I was so full that people had to wait [but] it was a horrible, awful feeling. (Melissa Spaulding)
At a point, Melissa’s practice became so full that she had multiple clients on a waitlist.
This prompted her to start making changes towards opening a group practice and making her first clinician hire.
Melissa started on her own, looking at free resources and listening to podcasts, but then decided that she wanted to do it right and signed up to join Group Practice Launch.
Joining Group Practice Launch
Melissa was excited to follow expert advice and knew that she was investing in the success of her practice.
Becoming a part of the wider Group Practice Launch community was welcoming and inspiring for Melissa.
Sharing the excitement of growing a business alongside other like-minded business owners is a big plus for group practitioners.
The process of hiring
The process of hiring opened my eyes to who could best serve my clients. (Melissa Spaulding)
Learning about hiring new clinicians – for both the sake of the practice and for the sake of clients’ recovery – was a new phenomenon for Melissa.
Group Practice Launch helped me get comfortable with how I [could] interview this applicant to make sure that they have good energy around [the clients]. (Melissa Spaulding)
It is important to learn the necessary screening questions that you have to ask potential clinicians in the hiring process.
You as the owner now need to make sure how to hire the best clinicians for the success of the practice as well as for the recovery of the clients.
Melissa’s advice to new practice owners
Creating a group practice is an ethical decision as well as a financial one. When you decide to start a group practice, you are creating more space for more people to receive and experience therapy, which is something that is desperately needed.
Useful Links mentioned in this episode:
- Use promo code ‘JOE’ to get three free months to try out TherapyNotes, no strings attached!
- Check out the How to Make Bank Free Webinar on March 2nd 2022
- Visit the Guided Wellness website and connect with Melissa on Instagram and LinkedIn
- Check out the Group Practice Launch
Check out these additional resources:
- Should I start a Group Practice with Christie Jacobson | PoP 675
- Apply to work together
- Next Level Practice – next cohort opens in March 2022
- Events – click on the event’s dropdown
- Sign up to join the free webinars and events here
- Podcast Launch School
- Practice of the Practice Podcast Network
- Free resources to help you start, grow, and scale
- Apply to work with us — decision-making matrix for your next steps
Meet Joe Sanok
Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.
Thanks For Listening!
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This is the Practice of the Practice podcast with Joe Sanok, session number 676.
I am so excited about this series that Alison and Whitney are doing. Session 672, why to start a group practice in 2022. 673, we’re going to be talking about how it’s easy to start a group practice, a step by step guide. In 674, Alison is going to be interviewing someone from Group Practice Launch and getting some real behind the scenes look. 675, same thing, except it’s Whitney. They’re going to be doing all sorts of interviews with people from Group Practice Launch to give some real life stories of people that have launched group practices. Then session six 80, which is going to be on the 3rd of March, group practice story time where Alison and Whitney are going to talk all about different things that have gone on in group practice.
I’m just really excited that the two of them are putting on this series because leveling up oftentimes means going beyond starting a practice where you only make money when you show up and having a group practice is one of those great ways to add another stream of income. There’s lots of other ways; it can be doing a podcast, can be doing e-courses, offering other sorts of consulting. But a group practice really is that low-hanging fruit for most people. So without any further ado here is that series with Alison and Whitney all about starting a group practice.
Hi, Melissa, welcome to the podcast.
Hi Alison. Good morning.
It’s great to talk with you today. So before we get started, can you introduce yourself and your practice?
Sure. So I’m Melissa Spaulding and I am a clinician and owner of Guided Wellness Counseling in St. George. We are a small group practice and specialize in supporting women with depression, anxiety, and trauma.
Awesome. So you decided to start a group practice last year. Tell us a little bit about what helped you to make that decision.
Yes, I remember it was the middle of July and in one day I had six people call to schedule intakes. It was one of those things where maybe it was a full moon or the stars were aligned and all of the lines were ringing. But I always thought that having a wait list would be this marker of success for my practice, that I was so full people had to wait and it was a horrible, awful feeling to not be able to help people. It felt horrible that they were willing to wait on me instead of getting the care that they need and deserve right away. So I knew in July that a group practice was coming and it just made sense to wait until Group Practice Launch. I think I made a small effort to hire later that month but I had no idea what I was doing.
That’s a common refrain for most people. I wanted to validate what you were saying too, about that horrible feeling of having to turn people away or having a waiting list. I always feel that acutely as well when that happens in our practice. Then what was your next steps. You’re like, okay, I know there’s enough clients here that I could start a group. I could hire other people. Did you try to do some research on your own or what was your next step?
Yes, I tried to do some research on my own. I remember listening to a lot of podcasts and trying to figure out the difference between contractors versus employees and just feeling lost and overwhelmed. I wanted to do it right the first time around. I take very seriously that when I am employ someone I’m in part responsible for their wellbeing. They’re depending on me for a paycheck and for a healthy caseload that inspires them and for work that inspires them. So I didn’t want to hire just anyone. I didn’t want to hire them in a sort of patchwork process that we were making up together. So after my initial attempt to put out some feelers and not finding anyone right away, I found out that Group Practice Launch was coming up in the fall and I decided to wait until then to make my next move.
Nice. So what was appealing about Group Practice Launch?
Well, so much; so I was familiar with Practice of the Practice. Joe’s podcast was instrumental in me setting myself up as a solo practitioner four years ago. I was familiar with your work and Whitney’s work and so I knew that I could trust you guys, that you had enough experience and success under your belt, that I was going to follow your lead. That was a big part of, I think, what has made Group Practice Launch successful to me is whenever I’ve been afraid, I just tell myself like in a very practical way, I’m not paying for this advice to not follow it.
So no matter how scared I feel, I’m just going to do what they tell me to do. Because all I have on my side right now is fear. It’s just fear because I don’t know sometimes that it’s all going to work out. But we just have to trust. I also liked the idea of going through it as a community and being able to celebrate our wins. I’m constantly in the group doing little posts about like, guess what I did today. Guess who I hired today. It’s really fun to share in that excitement.
Awesome. I’m really glad that you mentioned that about really the biggest barrier for a lot of people is just fear. And sometimes, and lack of knowledge, but obviously people join the group to learn what they need to do. Then it’s really just working through that mindset shift of this could actually work instead of our little negative thoughts in our head saying, oh, there’s a million reasons why it can’t work.
Yes. So just to explain Group Practice Launch for a second, for people who may not be familiar, it is a membership community for people who want to start a group practice. We lead people step by step through the process over a period of six months. So Melissa joined in September of 2021. You’re about four months into it now. We’re getting into the final stretch of the final two months. You’re pretty far into the process enough that I think you have a good idea of what’s been helpful or not helpful. So tell us a little bit about what you’ve accomplished in the first four months of the group.
Oh my gosh. So much. The biggest, most obvious thing is that I’ve made two hires. I now have a full-time therapist and her caseload will be 20 to 25 clients a week and a part-time therapist. Her goal is 10 to 15 clients a week. I see 10 to 12 and we all are operating out of one office space. We’re doing an office share situation because really with my 10 to 12 clients, the office is sitting empty the rest of the week, which is just silly. I don’t like working evenings and I hired a therapist that loves working evenings. So I have two hires and I also have, I had a virtual assistant before Group Practice Launch, but now she’s up to speed and she’s really helped me walk through this process of hiring people. She did all of the initial screenings before I hired people.
Something that Group Practice Launch taught me is to do hiring in a two-step process. So my virtual assistant, who, I’m in Utah, she’s in California, she would do a 15-minute screening with everyone and record it on Zoom. Then she’d give me like a feel for just their attitude and their energy, if she thought they were going to be a good fit, if she would want to put clients with them and trust them. Then I could watch that recording as well and move on to a second, like hour long interview to get to know them. So that was super helpful and it’s made everything so much easier to have an assistant that’s also a partner with me as I grow into having new clinicians.
It’s amazing how much an assistant can be a game changer when you have a good one and you trust them to do these things that really help you speed up the process, because like you said she can do a lot of the legwork for weeding out people who may not be appropriate for you to interview and that frees up a lot of your time.
Absolutely. One of the other things that it helped me get really clear on is that when I hired, I wanted to hire clinicians that practice within my niche. So both of my hires also are passionate about women’s health issues. They’re both passionate about depression, anxiety, and trauma. I’ve been trained in EMDR. I’ve been certified in EMDR since 2011 and they’re not, but they have a desire to be. So that’s up and coming. That was something that Group Practice Launch helped me get really clear on, is I didn’t want to spend the time right now to rebrand myself and add on something like hiring a therapist that works with kids or hiring a therapist that works with addictions and going through all of the remarketing that specialty. That’s not something I wanted on my plate right now. That felt good to decide.
I’m glad that you brought that up because I feel like for as Group Practice Launch can really be a step by step process, there’s also a lot of these big decisions that you have to make along the way that aren’t really a good versus bad decision. It’s just a preference or what works for you. So I think that’s a good example of you have to grapple with like, well what is our brand going to be as a group practice now that it’s not just me anymore? It sounds like thinking through that was helpful in figuring out what the right answer was for you and obviously for somebody else that could be different.
I think that in the interview process is I was screening for that. Because I know in the future I’ll want to expand outside my niche. Like I have a lot of clinicians, not clinicians, I have a lot of clients right now that eventually ask, could you work with my husband as well? Could we do couple sessions? I’m just like, no, I don’t. I wouldn’t serve you best. You should really go to an LMFT for that. So in a year or two, probably a year, because this has taught me everything happens much faster than I think, probably by the end of the year, I’ll have an LMFT on staff to do the couple’s piece. But it just made sense to keep it simple for now and to not have to —-
I think that’s the other thing too, that I’ve learned having done this now for over six years. It’s like, you sort of know what you want to grow into, but you don’t have to do it all right now. It’s probably better that you don’t do it all right now, because that would be too overwhelming. You’ve learned this first hand, right?
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What were some of the other things that you learned so far in the group that maybe surprised you or you didn’t know or didn’t think about before you started this process about building a group practice?
I think that the process of hiring it really opened my eyes to who could best serve my clients. I remember having a moment when I first put my ad out to hire, I just unconsciously assumed that women would apply for the position. The first couple of people to apply for the position were men. I was really taken aback and immediately caught myself because I was like, oh no, I don’t want to discriminate, but I hadn’t even considered this. How would a female client recovering from, let’s say a sexual assault feel about working with a male therapist? Group Practice Launch really helped me get comfortable with how can I interview this applicant to make sure that they have good energy around that? Why would a male therapist feel passionately about working with women’s issues?
Which is a fair question even for a female applicant or a non-binary applicant, just asking them, this is who we serve. What makes you passionate about working with them and realizing that like these are important screening questions for everyone, not just the people that I didn’t expect to apply. The men that I interviewed were fantastic and I would’ve hired them in a heartbeat, an absolute heartbeat if it had been the right time in their lives to join a team. It just wasn’t. So we mutually moved on but it’s also been, I spent a lot of time thinking about, I think from that moment on how to intentionally add diversity to my team; not a only screening for what makes this potential team member a good fit because they’re like me and people are calling to see me because they only know, I’m sort of the face of Guided Wellness.
So I have to make sure clients are comfortable working with someone that they expect to have the same brand and attitude about mental help, but also wanting to hire clinicians that have something to offer that I don’t; if it’s a life experience or if it’s a certain twist on how they work with clients or a different stage of life that they’re passionate about. It’s just been really, it’s been a lot of fun to get to know these applicants and to get to know my therapists, not just for our similarities and our passions, but for our differences too.
Yes. I’m glad that you mentioned that because I feel like as there are many different types of people in the world. There are many different types of therapists and different clients are going to relate to different therapists better than others and it’s actually a good thing. So I think, yes, it’s good to think about diversity and how do we, yes we always tend to think about the therapist personality as being like really warm and calm and all of that. Like I have some therapists who are very ADHD and have lots of energy and they work with kids and it’s perfect. You know what I mean? But it’s like not the therapist I would want to see, but it works for some people.
Yes. I think that was a really humbling moment for me to feel some of that, to realize that I had a block, that there was something I hadn’t seen about myself in terms of having my eyes closed to a certain type of therapist. The Group Practice Launch environment and you and Whitney were just so gentle with me and being like, that’s okay. You didn’t expect this person to apply. That’s fine. Notice your feelings. I was just like, okay. Because as we become more socially aware, we face these things about ourselves.
I think now moving up to the next level of starting a group practice, it’s like, you’re learning about yourself all over again because now you’re moving into this role of being a boss. I think there’s a lot more legitimacy around you as a business owner when you start to hire employees. So that’s a shift as well. So tell us what are a couple other things that you learned or you put into place that you had to change or work on because you were starting the group?
I think there’s two other things that stand out to me. One is that I really sort of did and about face in terms of my marketing. When it was just me as a solo practice people were calling for me and they wanted to work with me and now I have this totally new person now two people just in this last week that I need to get their names out into the community. So really quickly I started creating new rack cards that I could get out to doctors’ offices and little infographics about postpartum depression that I could take to the OPs offices and having coffee with people and just really doubling, almost tripling my efforts to network and get in front of people because I want my clinicians to be full as fast as they can be without overwhelming them. It’s a bit of a dance. It’s a bit of a mind game to on one hand, I don’t want a wait list. I can’t have a wait list and be like, well I’m hiring someone soon. They might be here any day. That doesn’t feel responsible. But on the other hand it feels scary to bring someone on and then be like, oh shoot, I don’t have a single client for them. I hope the phone rings.
Yep. It’s always such a delicate balance.
Yes. Always it comes and goes in waves. Like for my new clinician, my full-time clinician, I didn’t have a new client for her for a couple of weeks and then I booked three in one day. There’s no telling how it’s going to flow, at least right now, for me. I’m hoping that it’ll be more steady in the future.
I think that’s very common when you’re first starting out. It feels like there’s very much just feast or famine. You get a bunch of calls and then it’s like crickets for days and days. I found that once we got more established and once my therapist had their own clients who then graduated because they got better and they started telling their family and friends, like there was more word of mouth that happened. So that definitely well smoothed itself out. It’s just right now it’s going to feel very up and down.
Yes, yes. I think the other thing that I got is remembering that I don’t have to do this all myself, that I can outsource and be curious about other ways to complete some of these tasks. So now that my full-time clinician is seeing clients, I am reporting her payroll to my tax person who issues the checks for her direct deposit. I am learning so far. I am not great about remembering to email on time what her hours are. So I’m questioning, okay, can I have my virtual assistant do that? Or can I make my clinician responsible for communicating it directly to the payroll company? Or do I want to quit that completely and sign up for a program like Gusto where she can self-report and it will calculate and I can be a little bit more hands off? But it’s been fun figuring that out.
Another one besides payroll that came up is to up my SEO game. I’ve been blogging more consistently. I mentioned to my virtual assistant that I was blogging and I asked her if she ever had before and it turns out she has training in that. I didn’t know. She’s been on my team for six months and I didn’t know she had all of this amazing training and subscriptions to find all the right keywords. So now I’ve got her on board blogging a couple times a month as well, but I didn’t know, because I didn’t ask.
Yes, that’s so important because I feel like everybody has their own set of strengths and weaknesses and we really have to hone in on, okay, what are your strengths? Let’s give you those tasks to do versus what are your weaknesses? We’ll give those tasks to somebody else. But same thing happened to me. One assistant was a professional writer in a previous career and she was answering my phones and doing my scheduling. Then I was trying to write all these blog posts and of course you’re always short on time as the owner. I was like, oh wait, you want to write these blog posts? She was like, sure. She can whip them out in like 20 minutes because she was a professional writer. So she still does them.
So let’s talk a little bit about just the whole experience of being in the group. You’re in the group with about 30 people. We have weekly webinars that you can either show up live to, or you can catch the replay where we go through all of the training modules. You have access to Teachable where there’s tons of videos and resources and things that you can work through and then you come to webinars with me or Whitney and we can answer questions and you can talk to your peers who are all going through the same thing. So tell us about what was that experience for you just being in that large of a group and having to go through those things. It’s almost like a self-guided training in a way, right?
Yes. I like that the course is on Teachable because I can work through it at my own pace. So the way that it’s set up to go just another layer deeper is let’s say within like one month we’re covering eight lessons and then that the first week of the month we’re doing a live on just the first two. Then the second week of the month, we’re doing lessons three and four. It’s paced. The live calls help you keep a rhythm to it, but then I can work privately through the course as fast as I like, if that makes sense. I love that within Teachable, the little lessons, they’re super bite sized. Most of them are just five to eight minutes long and so even if I’m home with my kids and I put on Klon for them or something, I can be in the kitchen and do a quick six-minute video to do something for my group practice.
That was intentional. I’m glad that you liked that.
Yes. I can honestly say at no point, have I felt overwhelmed with the coursework because everything has been so bite-sized. With the paperwork that comes along with the group practice like writing the job description and all of that, there are so many templates within Teachable that you guys gave us that I could almost at times go in and just change out the names and fill in the blanks and put my spin on it without having to start from scratch. So that was a huge time saver as well.
Nice. How has it been to be in a group with other people going through the same thing at the same time?
It’s been so fun because we’re all, it’s surprising sometimes how different we are. We have a member that’s not even in the US. So he’s got a whole other healthcare system that he’s working with and then just, we all work with different clients in different states and are at different points in our life. I know we have a member or two that are even questioning now if this is the road they want to go down at this exact moment. But I can still empathize with what they’re going through. There’s very much a we’re all in this together feel.
Being in the group also has taken some of the leg work out of it as well. So for example, I signed up for a phone system for my group practice and I think I was one of the first people to get that set up and then other people were posting, oh, how’s that going? Are you liking it? I could give them a real time review of what it was like to sync my phone and carry over the phone numbers. So I feel like that helped them. Then there’s been things that they set up before me and I could rely on their guidance. So it wasn’t just you and the other group leaders teaching us. We also were supporting each other.
That’s the beauty of the group. It’s you can all help each other in different areas. Even though you’re all doing the same thing, you might have done something a little quicker than somebody else and then you can teach that person about it. It’s cool. It’s cool for me and I’m sure Whitney as well to see you all helping each other and supporting each other. I think, especially to go back to what you were saying about the fear factor, for lack of a better term.
That’s something we’ve talked about in the group as well. That’s a common feeling everybody’s having, like this feels like a big risk that I’m taking. How am I going to know this is going to work? What if I do all this work and I end up wasting a bunch of money or whatever your fear is, but I think that’s another really important piece that comes up and that you can feel, okay, everybody in the group is experiencing this on some level and we can all commiserate together and hopefully help each other, not to be so afraid.
It’s been so responsive. Like I’ve jumped on Facebook Messenger with some of the group members just to send them like a personal message or encouragement or to say, “Hey, would you want to have a phone call with me outside the group because we’re both going through this exact same, like very similar thing together.” Like one of the group members is really into profit first and that’s how I manage my finances. We’re going to do a call just to make sure that we’re both up to speed with our profit first practices.
Oh, that’s awesome.
The responsiveness within the group too, like it’s so helpful to have other people. But even you and Whitney, when I have those moments where I’m freaking out and I know I’ve posted in the group like, oh my gosh, I’m about to make an offer and this feels like a huge mistake, like what am I doing; in less than 24 hours I usually have a message from one of you guys being like, “Nope, this is right. You’re doing the right thing. You’ve checked all the boxes. Hire them.” Then I’m like, okay. You just have to jump in with both feet.
Yes. I’m really glad that you have been using the group in that way because I think that’s one of the great things about it. You’re trying to figure this out, obviously with our help, but at the end of the day, it’s not a cookie cutter process. So you’ve been really good about reaching out for help and just saying like, am I thinking about this correctly? Or is this a mistake or am I on track? I think that’s one of the great things about the group. I wish I had that when I was building my group practice.
Any tips or advice for people who might be thinking about joining Group Practice Launch, or just thinking about starting a group practice at some point this year?
I think that, for me it felt like not just the next step for me because I like being a leader and I like managing and teaching. So the idea of having a group practice was always exciting, but it also felt like the responsible, ethical thing to do for my clients. I’m sure this happens in other cities and all over the world, but there’s this really nasty practice I feel within mental health, where, when we get full with clients, we just stop answering the phones. I’ve had so many friends tell me I’ve called six therapists and none of them have called me back. I’m just like, that’s so cruel that when someone calls and they’re in that moment of need, that we don’t even call them back because we’re full and we don’t need the client. So we just don’t pick up.
And having a group for me, felt like that step in terms of creating some social change in mental health and being like, we are going to be responsive. I have a team so that no one who calls my office ever has to wait more than two weeks. I’m not having it. I refuse. I’m not having it. I refuse to create this culture of mental healthcare, where people have excessive weights and they’re just not getting responses from the professionals in their community. It’s just not responsible. So for me, like there’s been this, I just light up about it when I think about being able to provide this for my community. It’s so exciting.
In terms of Group Practice Launch, there’s a lot of comfort in knowing that I’m doing this right the first time. So for, and I know that I will make it adjustments along the way, but for example, we talked about paying the clinicians like a 40, 60 split, for example if they’re W2s. And I mentioned this to a group practice owner that I really admire in my local community. She’s had her group practice for years and her eyes just got huge. She’s like, what are you talking about? I’ve never heard that before. Really? I was just like, whoa, to me, this is like standard foundational stuff that I’m learning and she’d never even heard of it. So it gives me a lot of confidence knowing that I’m up to speed and I have a rhythm and a routine and an arithmetic for making this work for myself.
Yes. That’s awesome. I love how you talk about feeling responsible for serving the mental health needs of the community because I am also very passionate about that and I think that’s one reason why we keep growing. We continue to grow 32 plus therapists later, because I think if everybody could do that in their city or town, what a huge difference it would make. So yes, that’s very cool.
Well, Melissa, if folks want to get ahold of you or check out your practice website, how can they do that?
So online they can find me at www.guidedwellnesscounselingut.com. The UT is for Utah. Then I’m on Instagram Guided Wellness Counseling, and also the EMDR consultant for my consulting work.
Nice. Well, thank you so much for talking with us today. It’s been great to hear about your experience and I’m so excited. I feel like the proud mom who’s like look at what my kid has done. Because you’ve done a lot in a short amount of time, so congratulations.
Thanks so much, Alison.
Wow. So much we covered today on the podcast. Go take some. Don’t just listen. Go do something with what you’re learning.
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Thank you so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Have a great day. I’ll talk to you soon.
Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music. We really like it. And 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, the publisher, or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical, or other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.