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Why Therapists Don’t Return Your Voicemails

You’d be surprised how often I hear, “You’re the only therapist that called me back,”. Therapist’s voicemails are often full of appointment requests. It’s a common complaint amongst therapy seekers that therapists just are not responsive to calls or emails. There’s a very common reason for this…we’re busy.

Therapist on phone while on laptop. Therapist's voicemails full.

Therapists in private practice are often a single person running an entire business. Unlike typical doctor’s offices, there are no assistants or admins manning the phones and sitting at a front desk. A lot of therapists don’t even have an office (outside of their desk in their home). So they are single-handedly responsible for answering phones, responding to emails, seeing clients, writing notes for sessions, scheduling appointments, building a website, managing their billing/insurance calls, and ultimately keeping their business afloat. Plus, we didn’t even mention the possibility of a crisis arising. So voicemails and emails often get pushed to the end of the to do list for many therapists.

We truly give undivided attention

When working with clients one-on-one for an hour at a time, clients expect our undivided attention. Your therapist wouldn’t answer a phone call during your session, and they won’t answer your call during someone else’s session. They also aren’t answering calls, while writing clinical notes or attending to personal needs between sessions. Many therapists also have untypical “business hours”, so calling at 9am may actually be outside of their scheduled work day. Most therapists see 4-8 clients a day. That’s 4-8 hours out of the day that they will not be answering phone calls or writing emails. They are also most likely not going to respond outside of work hours because that is their personal time.

We aren’t always available 24/7

So you might be thinking, “Shouldn’t my therapist always be available to me if I need them?”. The answer…yes & no. Your therapist will most likely inform you when you begin treatment if they are available for calls in between sessions. Keep in mind that a private practice is the lowest level of care. There are higher levels of care, such as intensive outpatient programs, that provide more frequent, on-call, services. You may be familiar with a medical provider’s voicemail message saying, “Please hang up and call 9-1-1 if this is an emergency or reach out to the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 if you are in crisis.”. This message is there to remind clients that their therapist is NOT who they should be calling in an emergency. Just like a physical emergency, you should head to the ER, not call your PCP. You should do the same if you are in a mental health crisis…seek out immediate care from a 24/7 crisis line or emergency room. If you don’t need immediate care, then you probably aren’t in a severe crisis. You should still go ahead and schedule a time to meet with your therapist in the next week or so. A good coping skill while waiting for an appointment is to reach out to a close confidant. This can help you cope with current emotions until you are able to meet with your therapist. [Side note: If you want to know a little more about various levels of mental health care, check out this blog.]

We try to make scheduling simple

So what’s the solution? Many therapists have tried to mitigate this inconvenience by using technology to attend to scheduling needs. Being able to schedule appointments online means you don’t actually have to speak with anyone to find an appointment that fits both your own and the therapist’s schedule. This makes scheduling super simple and takes the phone tag out of the dynamic. You may also reach out to a larger group practice when seeking treatment. These larger practices may have an administrative assistant available during typical business hours to attend to client’s scheduling needs.

We have policies & procedures for a reason

Please don’t be the person that ignores the procedures for scheduling and calls anyway. This will just lead to more unanswered voicemails. If an appointment isn’t available, it is most likely because a) the therapist is seeing another client at that time, b) the therapist is not scheduled to work at that time, or c) the therapist has already made personal plans and is no longer available on such short notice. Reaching out this way may just lead to a longer delay before your next session. [We aren’t returning from vacation early just because you called.]

We will get back to you…eventually

So, to recap…always plan to schedule your appointment at least a week in advance. This gives the therapist time to get back to your email/call with knowledge of their upcoming openings and during a time they are actually free to speak to you about your needs. Also, read any instructions that may be available about scheduling on a therapist’s website. They often inform you if they are accepting clients, the best way to contact them, or whether to give them a certain amount of time to respond (amongst other helpful information). Another pointer, try to schedule your next appointment at the end of your current session. This secures your spot on the therapist’s calendar and gives you time to save it on yours.

Here at Simplee Therapy, all appointments (for new or current clients), must be scheduled at least 3 days in advance. This allows for therapists to properly prepare for each session. Same day and next day appointments are not available. You can always reach the Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or Text “HOME” to 741741. Remember, if you are in an emergency situation dial 9-1-1 or head straight to your nearest emergency room.

There are a lot of people seeking mental health support right now, and a very limited number of therapists. Therapists want to be available and provide supportive care for your mental health needs. Please have patience when reaching out. If you are looking for a new therapist, check out these resources to find a good fit for your unique needs.

peace, love, happiness, Lee of Simplee Therapy
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Using a Therapy Journal and How to Maximize It

If you are participating in therapy, how are you tracking your progress? Do you have a therapy journal you are using to write down key questions, track your mood, or practice gratitude? If not, how do you even know if therapy is working for you?

healing journal by Analee Phang

Journal therapy is very much a thing, but even if you aren’t working with a therapist that specializes in this form of therapy, you can still use a journal to get more out of your therapy process. Therapy can take time from months to years, and tracking that journey can be a useful way to recognize progress along the way.

When you decide to bring a journal to your therapy sessions there are some key points to write down and keep track of…

Therapy Plan

example of treatment plan from Healing Journal

Keep track of your therapy plan. That includes who your therapist is, how to contact them, and their license. (You would be surprised how many times clients forget their therapist’s phone number.) It also includes what you want your treatment to look like. Therapist’s will often call this a “treatment plan” and note your diagnosis and therapy goals on their end. You should also know what you are working on and what your end goal is. Make note of little steps to your goals and check off progress you have made!

Safety Plan

Safety is a therapist’s number one priority in the therapy room, and ultimately it should be yours as well. If you have struggled with unsafe thinking in the past, it can be crucial to have a safety plan readily available as you navigate your mental health journey, so keeping one in your therapy journal can be super useful. Safety plans usually contain 4 key components:

Example of safety plan from healing Journal
  1. Warning Signs
  2. Coping Skills
  3. Support People
  4. Crisis Resources

Calendar

Example of calendar from healing journal

The most basic component of a good journal is a way to keep track of time. Having a calendar or at least a place to date your entries is essential. You will most likely be meeting with your therapist on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis, so keeping track of upcoming events that may interfere with that regularity can be important. It can also save you from playing “phone tag” with your therapist to figure out a good time to reschedule or cancel. (Nobody likes getting charged a late cancellation fee.)

Mood & Self Care Trackers

Example of mood and self care trackers from Healing Journal

There are a couple universal things that therapists usually want to know about, and keeping track of them throughout therapy can be a clear indicator of how well you are taking care of yourself. Those things are your sleep, your eating habits, and your exercise routine. These are the basic, foundational components of our self care, so if these are not in a good place, all the other self care isn’t going to be as helpful as you may like it to be. In addition to tracking the self care in your life, tracking your mood can give you some sound data on what triggers certain emotions and how your sleep and other self care activities affect how you feel.

Additionally, making notes in a journal during or after a therapy session can help you remember homework assigned, important questions asked, and highlights from the progress you have made since the last session. You can also use a therapy journal to practice daily gratitude or write down affirmations that speak to your current journey. Making full use of a therapy journal can make your mental health journey that much more meaningful.

If you are looking for a journal that helps outline these key components (like the pages above) check out the Healing Journal! Here’s to hoping your therapy journey leads to peace, love, and happiness in your life!

peace, love, happiness, Lee
how to maximize your therapy journal
Healing Journal

Purchase the 90-Day therapy journal on Amazon!

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The Cost of Therapy: How to Find Affordable Services

One of the the biggest deterrents from attending therapy is the expense of it. The cost of therapy doesn’t have to be a barrier to care though. There are multiple ways to pay for therapy and get adequate care without breaking the bank.

Key Topics

money under laptop cost of therapy

Insurance

Utilizing your insurance is one of the most common ways to pay for therapy. In California, it is reported that approximately 58% of therapists accept insurance in some form. Your medical insurance provider should be able to give you a list of therapists in your area that accept your insurance, what the copay may be (or if you will be reimbursed), and if there are any restrictions on services (i.e. a diagnosis is needed, limit on amount of sessions, etc.). If you have a HSA or FSA account attached to your insurance, this could be a way to put money away to cover the cost of therapy as well.

As of January 1st, 2022, if you are interested in working with an “Out-of-Network” provider, they should also provide you with a “Good Faith Estimate” of services. Learn a little more about GFEs here.

EAP Services

Looking into additional mental health coverage through an employer is another great way to access mental health treatment. Some employers will provide additional EAP services that cover counseling. While others may provide wellness treatment reimbursement, meaning they will reimburse you for certain wellness related services you paid for out-of-pocket. Check in with your human resources department to see if they have additional services you can tap into.

Private Pay

Now as noted above, about 58% of therapists in California accept insurance, which means about 42% do not. This is common due to the fact that not long ago health insurance did not cover the cost of behavioral health services. This often is a preferred method for covering the cost of therapy amongst consumers for various reasons. One being the paper trail of their diagnosis that is left behind when they are treated through an insurance provider. One may not want a diagnosis attached to their medical record. In other cases, many people attend therapy to prevent reaching a point of having a clinically diagnos-able disorder. Preventative therapy treatment is often times not covered by insurance providers.

On the therapist’s end, it is also very likely that an insurance provider would reimburse a therapist at a much lower rate than their out-of-pocket fee. This often is a barrier for therapists paneling with an insurance carrier, while also trying to make a living.

Sliding Scale Services

Sliding scale services are often times a way therapists make services more accessible. A therapist may offer a lower fee per session for a certain amount of time in order to provide services to clients that have financial barriers to accessing therapy. If you currently work with a therapist and are experiencing financial hardship, a therapist will often implement a sliding scale rate so your therapy treatment is not interrupted. Associate therapists often also provide sliding scale services because they are still in training to become a licensed provider. Therapy directories like Open Path Collective also provide a list of providers who offer sliding scale services.

Community Based Agencies

Due to the type of work therapists do, there is an abundance of non-profits and community based agencies that provide mental health services to various degrees. Often times these agencies partner with local schools, universities, or county governments to provide specific types of services to the community. Services range from school-based services for students to agencies focused on specific types of diagnoses. These agencies do amazing work supporting local communities and making mental health treatment more accessible.

Ideally, the cost of therapy would not be a barrier to treatment. When considering whether to seek out therapy services consider the benefits that you are getting from that experience. The improvement in your overall health & wellness is hard to put a price on. Making some adjustments to your budget temporarily to gain the tools and peace of mind needed to show up in your life as your best self may just be worth it.

If you are hoping to start therapy services and are a California resident feel free to schedule a free consultation here.

Purchase the Healing Journal

A 90-day journal made to assist throughout your therapy process. Document your goals, growth, and successes on your healing journey!

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How to Be an Associate in Private Practice on Day One

Private practice isn’t a “reward” for years of struggling. Being an associate in private practice is an attainable goal for new therapists. So why don’t we learn more about this career path in grad school?

We’ve all heard a fellow therapist say, “They didn’t teach us this in grad school!” And it’s true. Graduate programs for MFTs (or any clinical license) focus on making you a good therapist, NOT a good business owner. Why don’t they throw this in? Because running your own practice isn’t for everyone, and when you look around at fellow cohort mates only a few will end up being successful business owners.

Key Topics

man and woman sitting in opposite chairs speaking with each other

Finding Purpose

If you are a “baby therapist” just learning the skills needed to be effective in the therapy room, it may feel intimidating to think about being completely solo in a private practice setting. This is a valid concern, which is why it is so important to get into that space while you still have the luxuries of supervision and mentorship. Finding your purpose for being in this mental health setting will be core to your work and business. Being an associate in private practice means being able to learn from a seasoned therapist, gain more experience working with aligned clients, and build your brand from day one.

Networking

Getting to know colleagues and peers may seem like an obvious skill needed to be successful in a business, but it is even more important for new therapists. Networking won’t just get you your first clients, but it will get you your first job. There is no private practice as an associate (at least in California) without a supervisor who is willing to hire and train you. Networking prior to the transcript being finalized or the associate number coming in the mail means more likelihood of hitting the ground running when you are able to start seeing that first client.

Business Finances

A huge part of a successful business is actually keeping your finances “in the black”. Associates in private practice often have little control over the cash flow they experience, but once you get that certificate of licensure that may change quickly. Setting yourself up with a plan to make ends meet, as well as a plan to save for that initial transition can make the process of becoming a successful business owner that much easier.

Time Management

When deciding to go into private practice as an associate, you have to consider the time commitment you are making. Collecting hours towards licensure is often the only thing on a new associate’s mind, but being in private practice can make this process quicker or much longer depending on your time management skills. Learning how to set up a schedule that fosters growth and supports your goals, as well as having an employer who supports your goals is critical.

Marketing

You learn ZERO helpful things about marketing in grad school, but if you know anything about running a business, you know that marketing is at the center of bringing in paying customers. As a therapist marketing looks a little different from the traditional business model, so having support with learning which marketing strategy is going to produce a steady stream of referrals for your business is essential.

If you are still pumped about starting your own practice and know you have what it takes to be a successful CEO, take the leap. Get started today to find the key components of your journey to private practitioner. All of these points are highlighted and taught in depth in the “Associates in Private Practice” course being held this summer. Sign up below to get a head start on the skills you need to make a dream a reality!

Associates in Private Practice

This group cohort class teaches the fundamentals of getting a head start on your ideal practice, while still collecting hours as an associate therapist. Sign up now!

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7 Steps to Owning a Private Practice

For many therapists, owning a private practice is the ultimate dream. Being your own boss, creating your own brand, and serving the population that speaks to you can be such a rewarding experience. Getting to that place however, often feels like a fantasy. My journey to owning a private practice was definitely a stressful one, but I knew that at the end the reward would be sweet. If I had known about these steps to private practice sooner, it may have saved a few headaches.

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My Journey from Graduate Student to Owner of Simplee Therapy

It ultimately took six, long years to reach my goal. For some the steps to a private practice are easier, and for others it is a long, stressful process. That is the thing about building a business. It will always be unique to you and will happen when you are ready to put in the work necessary to build it.

My process looked a little something like this…

  • Summer 2015: Started my graduate program at San Diego State University.

  • Summer 2016: *Found out I was having a baby!*

    Owning a private practice & creating my own schedule became even more of a priority.

  • Winter 2017: *Had my darling, daughter!*

    Summer 2017: Spoke with my clinical supervisor about my desire to own a private practice as soon as possible. My supervisor gave me the number of a colleague (also an alumni of my program) who was thinking of hiring an associate.

    Fall 2017: I blindly called this alumni to ask if she was hiring associates in her practice. She said she was considering it, but wasn’t actively hiring.

    Started my blog “Simplee Therapy” when I realized the information I was looking for wasn’t readily available. So I began writing down what I learned. (This blog was created alongside my Instagram page, and my therapist community quickly started to grow.)

    Graduated with my Masters in Counseling!

  • Winter 2018: Waited (forever) for my associate number to be processed.

    Got a call from the alumni of my program expressing that she was interested in bringing on an associate therapist and to let her know when my AMFT # was finalized.

    Spring 2018: Signed an agreement to start working in her private practice as a Supervised Associate.

    A few weeks later I also got offered a job at a school based mental health program (also thanks to a referral from another alumni from my program). The power of networking!

  • Summer 2019: Due to working two jobs, I was about 80% of the way to the 3000 hours needed to apply for my license.

    Fall 2019: *Side note: I got married!*

    I started setting aside more time for building out my therapist community via social media & my website. This proved to be very beneficial in the long run.

  • Spring 2020: I reached my 3000 hours for licensure!

    *The world shut down.*

    I finalized my 3000 hours and sent them to the BBS with hopes to have them approved fairly quickly (surprise, surprise…it wasn’t quick).

    Summer 2020: Got notified that I could take my licensing Exam!

    Passed my MFT Exam and received my licensing number!

    Simplee Therapy officially opened for business!!! My blog was easily transitioned into a site for hosting information about my business.

    Fall 2020: Due to the pandemic, I had to let go of the office space I used up until that point for seeing clients. Teletherapy was going to have to work.

    I had a little extra time during quarantine, so I created and published a journal for clients to use during therapy.

  • Summer 2021: I officially transitioned to Full Time private practice owner!

    Plus, I hosted the first “Associates in Private Practice” online course!

The Steps to Building Your Private Practice

1. Identify Your “Why?”

From my undergraduate days, I knew that private practice was my long term goal. I valued autonomy and being able to decide what my work environment & schedule would be. When I realized having a flexible schedule would be much easier to manage with a little one at home, I decided to push up my original goal of starting a practice 7years after graduating, to starting a practice as soon as I got my license. My “why?” never changed, just the timeline did. Deciding your “why?” is what will ultimately fuel your passion.

2. Identify People in Your Support Network that can Provide Mentorship

Mentorship is so important when running a business. Whether you find a mentor who is just super business savvy or a therapist who has successfully built a practice, doesn’t really matter. What matters is they have information and tools that can help keep you on track towards your goals and educate you along the way.

3. Talk about Your Goals

You don’t have to keep it a secret that you want to start a business. Talking about it with friends, family, or colleagues from day one means having people that will start associating you with that business. Ultimately, they will start sending referrals, resources, and opportunities your way that may help that business idea grow into a thriving practice.

4. Make a Plan for Reaching those Goals

You can’t have a business without a business plan. There are key elements of any good business plan: partnerships, marketing, research, resources, costs, revenue streams, and opportunities for growth. Creating a clear plan helps keep you on track, and allows you to make small edits along the way to maximize your time.

5. Follow Through on Said Plans

This should be a no brainer. If you make a plan, follow it. If you feel that something isn’t working it may actually be because you have strayed from the plan. Re-access along the way, and see where you strayed so you can get back on track.

6. Stick with it Through the Tough Times

Bumps in the road are inevitable. Life happens and sometimes we have to make significant changes to the plan. Don’t give up during those trying times. Stick it out and make tweaks as needed.

7. Bask in the Sun!

Once you set goals, create a plan, and follow through you will begin to reap all the rewards. It is bliss being able to work your desired hours, take breaks when you want to, expand and reach goals that maybe you never knew were possible.

As a therapist, I know that we learn very little (if anything) about starting a business and creating the career you dreamed of. That’s why I wanted to help other new therapists understand the steps to building a private practice. If you can dream it, you can build it. Private practice is for those determined to create their own lane, and I’m here for it!

Analee Phang, LMFT Owner of the private practice, Simplee Therapy
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Associates in Private Practice


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