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Don't network for referrals!

Grow community instead.

There was a fire in my office building a few weeks ago. It’s an old Julia Morgan style building, where I had my first full-time office and where I grew my practice, eventually moving into a larger space so I could run groups. I was out and about, running errands on a typical Saturday morning when I got a call from the woman who sublets the office on the weekend, saying that there had been a fire in one of the suites and the fire captain wouldn’t let her in the building. An hour later I got an email from the landlord with news that the power would be out to the whole building for at least a week, and that my suite wouldn’t be accessible for several weeks.  Suddenly there were lots of therapists without a place to work. 

Fortunately no one was hurt and no one was in the building at the time. And I was incredibly lucky for two reasons. One, that the contents of my office were not damaged, and two, that I had spent the last decade building a strong network of colleagues.

After a few emails and phone calls, I was able to find alternate spaces to see my clients and for my intern to see hers. Some colleagues offered their available office time at no cost, some sent out emails to help me find additional times for those evening hours when space is in high demand. The training institute where I supervise and volunteer helped out. Pretty soon our building's email group (which we formed when the building was undergoing construction earlier in the year) had lots of posts offering space to use or sublet. Someone even offered to loan furniture to quickly furnish temporary offices.

Therapists are benevolent people. I'm pretty sure I would have found alternate space even if I didn't know many people, but having strong connections certainly helped. Because I had nurtured relationships over the years, when I needed to call on the support of community, there was community there on which to call.

Rather that be stressed about where I would be seeing people or trying to find and furnish a new space on the fly, I was able to keep my focus on holding a strong internal frame to hold the clinical work during a time of disruption- listening for my client’s fantasies and what may have been evoked by the sudden displacement.

networking builds community, private practice development

Networking isn’t just about finding people who can send you referrals. It’s about fully taking your place in your community and being a part of an interconnected web. The therapist coffee dates and lunches aren’t just about practicing your “elevator speech” about your ideal client. They are opportunities to strengthen the web of connection rather than practice in isolation. When you focus on the community building aspect of networking and don't relate to it as something you have to do to sell your services, it can be much easier to reach out to new contacts. Each new connection adds a thread to the web of support. This is really what networking is all about anyway- getting to know other people in your community and letting them get to know you. Of course, part of getting to know one another can be finding out how you can support each other's businesses.

Networking is really about building community, not about trying to sell people your services.  ​

If you are wanting to grow your community, consider doing some of the following:

  • Join a local consultation group or study group (for East Bay area folks, my next Launching and Growing a Relational Practice group starts in July).
  • Commit to at least one coffee date a week with another local therapist.   Don't know anyone in practice in your area?  Start with Psychology Today and reach out there. 
  • Join listservs.  Your graduate school, the local chapter of your professional organization, and training cohorts likely have one.  Be part of the discussion.
  • Join LinkedIn groups or Facebook groups.
  • Go to events sponsored by your professional organizations and alumni groups.
  • Volunteer on a committee at a local training clinic.
  • Start a reading group or on a clinical topic that interests you.
  • Start a meetup.
  • Follow up with people you meet at events and invite them to lunch so you can learn more about each other.
  • Do your CEU classes in person and stay in contact with people you meet there.  Longer trainings are great opportunities to form deeper connections with colleagues.

Remember that building relationships takes time- and it is time well worth investing.  Whether it is offering space to someone who needs it, learning together, matching people with the perfect referral, or sharing the joys and challenges of life and practice, everyone benefits from a strong community.

Deb Lyman helps therapists take care of themselves while serving others, by taking them though a process of practice development that is based on the pillars of a sustainable and nourishing practice- mindset, clarity, integrity, sustainability, and community. She works with people in person at her office in Berkeley, CA, and remotely via phone and videoconferencing.

There are two spaces left in the next Launching and Growing a Relational Practice group starts in mid-July.  Click below to schedule a pre-group interview.