Going it Alone: Creating Community in a Solo Private Practice
I expected that a solo private practice as an art therapist could get lonely.
When I completed my internship at a group practice, I was surprised at how little I saw of the other therapists. Most got to work and quickly tucked themselves into their therapy rooms. Between clients, they would shut their doors to quickly write their client notes (most therapists only take 10 minutes between clients).
The therapists seldom took breaks, unless it was to quickly dash to the restroom and scarf down some food. There was no sense of community. We all showed up to do what we were contracted to do and then left.
This made the transition to solo private practice not so jarring. I was used to being alone.
However, I was also aware that I didn’t fully like that experience. So when I looked for an art therapy studio, I was cognizant to not get an office with other therapists. I knew they’d be busy and I’d hardly ever see them. I also knew I wanted to be around people. I wanted the safety and community of others.
I chose to rent space in an artist’s collective. I figured artists might be a little more open to community, as well as the advantage of being surrounded by art.
I started renting my space in May 2020. It was the middle of the pandemic and hardly anyone was there.
So I worked hard to create a community online. I joined some consultation groups, as well formed some of my own. I also had a close friend who ran a non-profit, and we spoke regularly about our respective businesses. I also kept in touch with a fellow intern I had met at my internship site, and it was fun to talk about our next steps together. I also had excellent supervision (I had to have two supervisors since I was pursuing one for art therapy and one for mental health counseling).
As time went on at the artists collective, I had more office neighbors come and go. It did make the space more delightful. I am now close friends with a painter down the hall and we have collectively worked to decorate our shared spaces.
As I grew in my business acumen, I also sought out more communities that could support me where I was at. For instance, I joined a community of other premium fee therapists when I chose to raise my fee (which I write about in my essay “What is Success as an Art Therapist?”). I needed people who understood the unique challenges of running a private practice that honored my own needs.
When I decided to start marketing in line with my values, I also joined a community to support me with that ( Kelly Diel’s Feminist Copywriting).
I also set up virtual coffee dates with local therapists so that I could get to know therapists around me better and build my referral network.
Ironically, one of the most community-enhancing things I did for my life was to adopt my therapy dog, Egon (you read about him in my essay “I Have a Therapy Dog. Sort Of.”) My regular walks with him, both at the art therapy studio and at my home, caused me to meet more people. Egon continues to provide meaningful connections with others, without it being too serious or overly taxing.
While I loved my casual meetings on dog walks, I soon found myself inundated in other meetings - all due to my own efforts of trying to create community. I had more online commitments than I did therapy sessions. I felt a little resentful having to go to some meetings. This was when I knew it was time to edit. My feelings were giving me a clear message.
I looked at which groups and individuals aligned with me and slowly began to remove myself from some. I also started meeting with some people less frequently, just so I could have less on my schedule.
It was a wonderful decision. I never felt more rested in my life. The meetings that I did show up to, I was happy to be there. If I found I needed extra support, I knew I had a network of people to call.
While I’ve never come to a space of “perfect community,” I appreciate how it has evolved over time and will continue to do so.
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