The Story of Why I Left Agency Work for Private Practice and How I Did It
Hi! I’m Allison Puryear (rhymes with “career”). If you’ve been within 10 feet of me, you may know that I’m as passionate about practice-building as I am about helping my clients change their lives. However, you should know that I did not come into private practice easily.
I came from a fear-based place with money. I couldn’t not work during my MSW program. It wasn’t an option financially or emotionally because I was so terrified of being broke. So I took on a job as a bartender because the hours worked with my school and practicum schedules. I was young and didn’t think I really needed all that much sleep.
I had a dream practicum my second year and the non-profit I was working with was hiring a position in February. I graduated in May. But because I loved this non-profit and couldn’t imagine not having a job lined up before graduation, I took on a full time job in February—on top of my school, my bartending gig and my internship.
I was also building a house (back in 2004 when they were giving them away) and planning a wedding that didn’t end up happening. Happy spring semester! Overall though, I was happy. Busy but feeling accomplished and doing what I loved.
So let’s fast-forward. I’d been working at the awesome non-profit for 2 years. It only paid $25K a year so I had to maintain a second job which shifted from bartending to working part-time at a private mental health agency.
That Time I Lost My Job
This second job required a 1 hour commute and I was really not sure I agreed with their ethics, but as a new grad I didn’t know if I was experienced enough to have that opinion. Meanwhile, the non-profit hired a new director who yelled and pounded her fists in staff meetings—a huge departure from the supportive, loving environment our previous Executive Director had created.
Everyone started to keep their office doors closed. A close friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I thought, “What am I doing?”
So I made a drastic change, one that was totally uncharacteristic.
That Time I Took Good Care of Myself And It Hurt
I started moving from a place of scarcity to a space abundance. I quit the part-time job. I lodged a complaint with the board about the director’s behavior. I used money I saved to go on a three-week vacation in Europe with my best friend, which was as amazing as it sounds.
The day I returned to work, the therapists on staff found out the new director did not apply for funding to maintain our positions. She did not believe therapy was pertinent to the mission of a Sexual Assault Center. We were all laid off the following month.
That Time I Sued My Boss
I started an extremely small private practice at this time but didn’t have any direction or marketing experience. I had some referral sources, but I was too intimidated to consider getting on insurance panels or networking and basically had no clue what I was doing. Luckily, entry level social work jobs weren’t that hard to find as long as you didn’t have any standards. I worked for another private agency for a year and witnessed so many ethical breaches I wasn’t sure what to do. To make matters worse, they were also not ethical with the payment of their employees and seven of us successfully sued them to get the money we were owed. Again, not an awesome experience.
That Time I Thought I’d “Made It”
I then started working with an agency that I considered a real benchmark workplace. I was surrounded by intelligent, engaging colleagues, had motivated clients and I didn’t have to clean a single work bathroom. I felt like I’d “made it” and was so invested in the agency that I convinced my then-long-distance-fiancé that moving to my town was a much better choice than me moving to his town. Things really were wonderful for years and I looked forward to coming to work.
Over time and through dynamics I don’t have all the information about, the place started to become toxic. People were crying in their coworker’s offices, there were raised voices, morale tanked. Trust was lost, people who once laughed together in the halls said bad things about one another behind closed doors. Turnover soared. I hated my job. Thankfully, I still had the small but growing private practice to remind me that I didn’t hate therapy.
At the time, my husband, Joel, and I were planning to move so he could go to Physician Assistant school and it didn’t make sense to jump ship right before we left. So I stayed at the job until we moved to Seattle.
We had decided that I wouldn’t get a job. I’d use the knowledge I was gaining by reading marketing books and picking the brains of private practice therapists I knew, to bite the bullet and build a practice—In a city where I knew no one and that was considered “saturated” with therapists. Good luck!
That Time I Couldn’t Fail Even Though I Was Scared
Because Joel’s program took up at least 80 hours per week, there was no hope for him bringing in money aside from student loans that mostly went toward tuition. But I was committed.
I met 90 potential referral sources in 90 days.
I wrangled my way on to a Board of Directors.
I learned about insurance companies and billing.
I meditated daily.
I took really long walks with my dog to help eat up the empty hours.
I consulted business advisors.
And I tried hard not to freak out.
I’ll share a list of my fears at the time (not from memory, I wrote a list of these suckers):
“I’m going to fail. We’re going to be broke. This fear is going to ruin everything. I’m going to get depressed. I’ll be too forward or too different.”
“I’m not as good as the Seattle clinicians. I won’t do what it takes to succeed. People won’t like me or refer to me. I’ll be out of the game so long, I’ll suck.”
Now, as I work with others who are starting practices, I’ve learned that most people have the same exact fears I did. Fears of failure, incompetence in therapy and/or business, not being liked.
That Time I Kicked Ass
There were moments of panic and I practiced all those skills we encourage our clients to use. But within six months I was fully booked and effortlessly maintained a full practice for three years.
I tweaked my systems as I went so I could be more efficient. I made more money in five months in private practice than I’d ever made in a year working two agency jobs. Along the way I helped other healers and therapists build their practices.
That Time I Realized I Had More To Give
One of my friends may actually tell you I bullied her into private practice long before I was even thinking about a practice building business. My husband lovingly(?) calls this “the hard sell.” See, I’m SO passionate about people being in private practice, I don’t care if I’m the one that helps them get there. It’s freedom that I’m pushing, not necessarily my services.
That Time I Practiced What I Preached
Family illness brought us back across the country to Asheville, where I started the process over again with more experience to guide me and a toddler to distract me. My caseload grew faster in Asheville than it did in Seattle despite its reputation as yet another “saturated” market. This reminded me that it’s not rocket science when you have clarity, confidence, and have figured out a formula.
So I started Abundance Asheville. The closer the therapists I work with get to their goals, the more excited I am about sharing the practice-building curriculum I’ve developed.
In the spirit of vulnerability, that thing that I cherish and squirm in the face of, I believe helping others build their practices is my calling and I’m giddy to share it with you.