Psychotherapy training can lead on to a range of different careers. Today we are talking to Emma Pooley, an ECPT graduate about what’s involved in working in psychotherapy and about her private psychotherapy practice in Hull.
Emma, why did you want to train as a psychotherapist?
At the end of 2016, I completely burned out and was signed off work for several weeks. I realised that I needed to make some changes and started working with a therapist to unpick the patterns I’d become stuck in. After about 6 months of working with that therapist, she said that she thought I’d make a good therapist myself. Although people had often commented that they found it easy to talk to me, I’d been adamant for many years that I wasn’t going to work in mental health, and certainly hadn’t considered training to be a therapist. I decided to look into it and came across ECPT, took a chance on the TA 101 and now it’s 5 years later and here we are!
How did you find the process of training to be a psychotherapist?
It’s difficult to explain what this training is like to people who haven’t done it because it’s so different to anything else. I didn’t expect to have to put so much of myself into it, as I had bought into the narrative that therapists are “blank slates” who don’t give anything away; clearly, that isn’t the case! Each training year builds on the previous ones, and I found that more and more layers of my process were uncovered as we went along. It’s the most challenging, demanding, rewarding and wonderful training I’ve ever done, and the support from ECPT, my supervisors, therapists and peers along the way has been invaluable.
Why did you decide to go into private practice instead of into a job for the NHS or a counselling provider?
The freedom and autonomy of working for myself was hugely appealing, and it meant that I could set my own working hours and charge fees that would make my practice financially, practically and emotionally sustainable. As much as clients choose me, I also choose my clients, which means that I feel motivated and engaged with the work. I also prefer working in an open-ended way that is tailored to each client, rather than having to deliver a set number of sessions to every client, so private practice gives me the flexibility to do this. The NHS is amazing and there are lots of fantastic therapy providers, but I felt the private practice suited me and the way I wanted to work best.
What are the pros and cons of being in private practice?
I would say that the biggest pros are the freedom and flexibility of creating a practice that suits you; it’s literally your business, your rules. I’ve found that there are lots of creative opportunities with marketing my practice using social media and blogging, and I love how I’ve been able to figure out how to work with clients in a way that suits me. The personal and professional development and learning is constant as well, so if you’re like me and love learning and opportunities for growth and change, private practice may be a great fit for you.
The biggest cons are that it can be difficult to switch off because there’s always something that you could be doing, and I think it’s easy to focus too much on working “in” the business rather than “on” it, so you can become fixated on a minor issue and lose sight of the bigger picture. There’s also a lot of responsibility to hold, as ultimately the buck stops with you in every area, so it can be stressful.
What does a typical week look like for you?
My regular working week for client sessions is Monday to Thursday and I will usually see between 10 and 16 clients across those days. Although there are daily admin tasks like writing up notes, updating my accounts and responding to emails, as well as marketing tasks like posting to social media and my blog to keep on top of, I keep Fridays clear of client sessions. This means that I can catch up on admin and marketing tasks that haven’t got done during the week, and ideally get ahead on a lot of stuff for the following weeks and months.
Making time for my life outside of work is vital for me to keep doing this job, and I deliberately schedule my client hours around things that help me to remain physically, mentally and emotionally healthy. I go to the gym 2-3 times a week, meet up with friends at least once a week, and have regular therapy and supervision too.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start out in private practice as a psychotherapist?
Supervision and your personal therapy will be essential in working through blocks that come up for you when you work in private practice. For me, these were around being seen, as well as establishing and maintaining boundaries, and taking care of myself. You’re likely to find that your own “stuff” gets hooked by your clients, often in unexpected ways, so having space to explore what’s going on is essential for you to give your clients the best possible service.
If there are areas of your business that are outside your “zone of genius”, it’s worth investing in support with these things. I have worked with an accountant right from the start because numbers are not my strong point, and she sorts out my tax return each year. I also have a Business Support Manager who manages my diary and assists with marketing stuff, which increases my brain bandwidth and makes me a much better therapist because I’m not holding everything by myself.
Book time off as far in advance as you can, and make it a priority as you would any other commitment. As soon as I get my diary for the next year, I work out when I’m going to take time off, and aim to have at least 1 week off after every 8 weeks of client work. I take 3 weeks off in June and December / beginning of January, which helps to ensure that I switch off properly (I don’t book clients in during the first week of January because it’s chaotic and most clients cancel anyway).
Don’t worry about what other therapists are doing; focus on building a practice that actually works for you, rather than one that you think you “should” have. Remember that you are your business, so investing in yourself and your wellbeing is the key that will help your practice to thrive.
Thank you, Emma!
You can find out more about Emma and her psychotherapy practice at: Emma Pooley Therapy
If you’re a trainee or qualified counsellor and you’re interested in learning more about setting up in private practice, take a look at our upcoming one-day workshop with Emma here at ECPT on the 24th September. It’s a full day of learning more about how to get started with your private practice. You can learn more and book a place at: https://www.tickettailor.com/events/theellesmerecentre/720791