A Lifeline for Career Counselors in Private Practice
By Dave Gallison
Five years ago I ventured into setting up a private practice. Though I was an experienced career counselor, it felt like uncharted waters.
All the ins and outs of “freelancing” and learning how to start a private practice was one thing, but there was a deeper worry: I was used to working on or leading teams, or even being part of a larger mental health practitioners group at an HMO. How would I deal with the isolation of solo private practice?
A Solo Finds His Groove with a Group
Without coworkers and the sense of group solidarity an employer provides, this new solopreneur would have to take extra steps to build collegial interaction into my private practice week. In the past, I had occasionally attended Career Counselors in Private Practice (CCPP), a local ad hoc association of career counselors and coaches in Portland, Oregon who met off and on over the last few decades. Now it was time to re-engage with this group.
In renewing my connection with CCPP, I learned that a subset of the members had recently started a cooperatively-written blog, Career Transition: The Inside Job – Insights from Portland, Oregon Career Counselors. When I was invited to join as a new writer, I remembered previously resisting a business advisor’s suggestion to start blogging to gain exposure and build a practice. This time I took it as a sign and said “Yes” to the commitments to:
- Meet in person with the 8 person group every two months
- Write a career related article once a quarter
- Have my articles edited by one group member and perform edits for others
- Contribute nominal dues to fund the website.
Saying “yes” also thrust me into closer contact with other independent practitioners, aged 38 – 65, who were my competitors for potential clients. At the bimonthly meetings in each other’s homes, I had to face my issues of envy of others who were established and successful since self-interest made me a little tense about how joint work and competition could exist side by side.
Humor definitely lightens things as evidenced by giving the title to the member who reminds us of deadlines as Writer Inciter! Additionally, the encouragement and modeling of other aspiring writers has led this once reluctant blogger to enjoy writing and publishing.
Surprising Advantages of Collaboration
This closer connection with colleagues also brought a totally unexpected benefit to my practice: I started receiving occasional referrals from the same blog-writing colleagues who were overtly my competitors. Further, after prospective clients had reviewed all of our bios and photos on the blog’s group listing, some chose me in particular.
As a freelancer, I suddenly became more visible. Of course it didn’t hurt that Career Transition: The Inside Job happened to have the #1 Google ranking for searches on “career counselor Portland.”
A New Group Paradigm for Private Practitioners?
Increasingly our group has realized that we may have stumbled onto a viable paradigm for private practice career counselors supporting each other as well as advancing the field. We share best practices, conference notes and books, and consult on difficult cases. We get personal too, and empathize with one another’s financial or relationship stresses brought on by working in solo private practice. All the while we have also built a considerable body of work that offers readily accessible advice and tips to job seekers and career changers.
What were occasional client referrals to one another have now become more frequent and formalized, and we utilize a detailed spreadsheet listing each counselor’s specialties, client population, etc. to cross refer. Since our blog website and group listing causes us to stand out among area career counselors, we have volunteered on speaker panels to benefit job-seeking clients of social service organizations and spoken to fledgling counselors about specializing in career work. In this way, for the CCPP blog writers, collaboration has become a competitive advantage—all parties win and benefit each other.
Models for Collaboration
Models for this kind of ad hoc professional association range from:
- the ancient guilds,
- to cooperatives,
- to more contemporary “communities of practice.”
It should be noted that, unlike a guild, we do not collude on fees we charge nor do we take a uniform theoretical approach to assisting clients. Of course our CCPP model is not the first or only ad hoc collaboration of career counselors. In speaking about the CCPP blog writers with Sue Aiken, former long-time NCDA Associate Editor, she fondly recalled a group in San Francisco that was similar to Portland’s and met faithfully for years, while learning from each other through brainstorming, problem solving, and networking.
Benefits of our CCPP blog group:
- positive interdependence
- referral sources
- confidence in writing
- increased web visibility
- professional development
- reduced isolation
- inestimable help
- modeling and support
Being in this group has brought richness and vibrancy to my professional and personal life, and has proved integral in launching and growing my private career counseling practice.
Ready to Reach Out in Your Area?
Given the significant challenges of setting up and making it in private practice, it would make sense to create such cooperative groups and endeavors in your community. While you need not start a blog, it helps to have a galvanizing, external focus. Here are some proactive suggestions to ameliorate the solitary nature of private practice and initiate professional peer support:
- Start with one: Reach out to known fellow career counselors/coaches in your area and invite one to a coffee shop or your office.
- Find more: Consult the publicly-available NCDA list of members willing to provide career help, or the member’s private directory (login first), or meet kindred spirits at the annual national and state conferences.
- Online option: Develop relationships in the social media NCDA sites, including the NCDA Linkedin group.
Forming a group around an advice blog was uncharted water for my fellow solo practitioners and myself. We hope it raises visibility and awareness of the important work of career counseling. If you decide to build a cooperative effort within your community, share your group’s story in the Comments below or in future publications, so others may similarly benefit. As Karen Chopra (2008) says, “Dream, then Act.”
Peacock, J. (2016). Ten Tips for Starting Your Private Practice. Retrieved from: http://ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/120094/_self/CC_layout_details/false
Chopra, K. J. (2008). Launching a Successful Private Practice: Part 1: Clearing the Decks. Retrieved from: http://www.careerconvergence.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/5500/_self/CC_layout_details/true
Dave Gallison, MS, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and has a practice in Portland, Oregon that emphasizes career and personal development to help clients find rewarding work. He collaborates with a guild of career counselors in Portland that also publishes a biweekly blog, Career Transition: The Inside Job. Dave obtained a Master’s Degree from University of Oregon. His website is www.gallisonconsulting.com and he can be reached through e-mail at email@example.com.