Networking. This seems like a term from the 80’s or Wall Street. Maybe today we think of forming connections. Partnering. Collaborating. “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a family; whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” (Jane Howard) And whatever you call it counselors still need to do this- and many still have no idea how in a business sense. Our profession can be isolating- especially in private practice as a sole proprietor. Even in my office which I share with several colleagues, we all are working and seeing clients so rarely spend time just seeing each other. And we know each other- we don’t really need to partner and collaborate because we already have. But how do we form new relationships, referral connections, and gain professional growth opportunities?
Continuing Education workshops or trainings are one way. Yes, we all go and sometimes stay isolated even there- sitting alone in our own thoughts or note-taking or leaving on breaks to call a client or take care of some business. But those settings, if approached with an intention of connection, do yield great results. Chat up someone you really have no idea who they are or where they work. Ask things beyond the weather or the traffic, such as “What is your best source of referrals?” or better yet “what is your agency paying for contract work?” I find asking about money is taboo in our culture- yet everyone wonders what pay rates are or contracts are paying. Why not ask? I always say, “if you don’t mind discussing it” and never yet has anyone minded, in fact they welcome the dialogue. Similarly, at a workshop don’t just stick with your known colleagues; make it a point to meet and get a card from someone outside your normal circle, and to think about how you might collaborate with them in the future.
It seems very business oriented, and I know many counselors have a natural aversion to the world of commerce and business, but I think this is something we have to get over. I believe there is some cultural and gender basis at work here too, as I have noticed that my male colleagues seem more comfortable with billing or talking about money overall. Girls are still raised to be “helpers” in our society, and it’s not okay for helpers to expect something in return in many instances. I think that is why some counselors never approach private practice, because they are uncomfortable with the idea of a client paying them directly for services. It’s easier to get a salary and somehow imagine that you are “giving” your services rather than being paid for them. Of course someone pays somewhere- Medicaid, insurance, client, agency, etc. And yes we all do need to donate our services and time in many situations, but we are better at talking about and doing that than in addressing our need to reach out in a business relationship way.
Another networking opportunity I find useful is to collaborate far outside the typical realm of my work. I have brainstormed a presentation co-presented with an architect (about the psychological meaning of doors), partnered with a CPA to present a workshop on record keeping for independent practice, worked with health professionals that deal with chronic illness like diabetes, and partnered with many arts organizations (in my role as an art therapist) to bring counseling, art therapy and the arts into dialogue. All these accomplish many positive goals, but one of the most meaningful to me is to reduce my isolation and keep me connected and thinking outside the box of private practice. I welcome your thoughts on how to not get boxed in and to form creative collaborations.
This blog began with a quote from Jane Howard, a favorite author of mine. Interestingly I got interested in her after hearing her as an undergraduate- and I asked her to sign a book for me. She was so genuine and personal that I felt this power of the clan, the connection, and have always pursued that. I had no idea in writing on this topic that the first quotation I might find in my search on Google would be none other than Jane Howard…. And this just comes full circle for me. Reach out. Have that book signed, open a conversation with a peer and colleague or someone in a disparate profession or situation. Read outside your own comfort zone. The connections you create will far outlast your expectations.
[Jane Howard wrote an acclaimed biography of Margaret Mead as well as the book that brought me in contact with her A Different Woman, a history of the feminist movement published in 1973. She also authored Families and was an astute observer and writer about relationships and people.]
Joan Phillips is a counselor, art therapist, and marriage and family
therapist. She maintains a private practice and teaches at the University of Oklahoma.