We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Melanie Storrusten. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Melanie below.
Melanie , thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today We’d love to hear the backstory of how you established your own practice.
Prior to starting my own practice, I had a really great job as Director of a high-end treatment program for a well-respected company. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was time for me to go when they got acquired by a publicly traded healthcare corporation (which is a whole ‘nother story for another time!) But a lot of people couldn’t understand why I would ever take a risk in leaving when I had kinda hit the job jackpot for a therapist. I think a common misconception is that you’ll have some kind of unshakable faith before you should take a leap like this. No way! I was still very doubtful and scared, but I believed in myself *enough* to take those first steps. So I’d say the first step is to know that you don’t have to believe all the way, you just have to believe enough to tentatively step out.
The six months of my business was pretty smooth sailing. I had started out small, and had a part-time consulting job on the side as a safety net. But it quickly became clear that if I wanted my business to grow, I had to put all my energy eggs in that one basket. So, way before it was financially “right,” I quit my consulting job and moved from subleasing a part-time office from a colleague to renting an office full time for me. The next year was ROUGH. Like, existential crisis level rough. In the end, I cashed out my retirement account to invest in the business and get me through that year. I also had to shift some of my ideas of what success meant to me.
One of the major challenges was that I moved my office from a wealthier area of town to a suburb. When I was in Buckhead, and running only a part-time practice, it was pretty easy to get new clients who could afford to pay out of pocket to see a therapist. Once I moved out to Tucker, folks needed to use their insurance. Now, in the private practice world of therapy, many therapists don’t take insurance, for many reasons. One – you make a lot less money per session if you go in network with insurance companies. Two – therapists don’t want to argue with your insurance company about what type or how much treatment they’ll pay for. So basically, the perception in our field can be that if you’re a well established, quality therapist – you don’t take insurance. My initial idea of “success” did not include being an in-network provider. But that was not gonna be a sustainable business model in Tucker, at least not yet. It was a powerful moment for me and my existential crisis, and a turning point for my business when I realized that this was a self-imposed limitation, and that expanding my definition of “success” to include whatever it took to be successful was entirely up to me. Within months, my business was thriving, and I’m much more successful now than I imagined I’d be, even beyond the success of that “jackpot” job I left behind. So, another key is to be open to redefining what “success” means to you.
I definitely don’t want all of my advice to be pie-in-the-sky optimism, though starting your own business does take some of that! But you also have to very accurately assess your skills, and have a solid financial and logistical plan. For many of us in creative or wellness environments, running a business takes an entirely different skill set than doing what we do requires. If you don’t have the admin skills, hire help! Find a coach!
Align Wellness hires clinicians who don’t yet have the skills and/or desire to handle the running-the-business side of things, and also provides coaching for our contractors who do eventually want to go out on their own. I also provide career coaching for folks in any wellness-related field who want to start their own practice.
Melanie , before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
I’m a therapist and owner of Align Wellness. As a practice, we provide integrative mental health treatment locally in Atlanta, GA. We utilize traditional and alternative techniques to help clients move beneath the over-analyzing thought realm, and into the body and subconscious where deeper healing can occur.
My personal work in my practice is focused on providing clinical training in these methods and business coaching to other therapists and wellness professionals.
What do you think helped you build your reputation within your market?
In the mental health field, especially among larger organizations, which are often publicly traded, there is an unspoken belief that quality clinical services and financial success are mutually exclusive. If we define financial success as publicly traded companies do – ever increasing profit margins ad infinitum, then yes, at some point you have to start making expense cuts that impact the quality of care and also negatively impact your staff’s quality of life. In our field, we sometimes accept these conditions as unchangeable.
I reject the stigma in our profession that counselors and social workers have to sacrifice work-life balance in order to barely make a living.
It is my strong belief, and I hope is evident in everything I do, that taking excellent care of your staff will allow them to provide the highest quality clinical care, and will result in substantial profit for your business. I think that my reputation is based on my commitment to making every business decision a win-win-win situation – when the people who work for me win, then clients win, and I win.
Training and knowledge matter of course, but beyond that what do you think matters most in terms of succeeding in your field?
Therapists have to have done their own work. It crucially important for a therapist to have a well-nourished nervous system that does not get thrown out of balance based on what a client brings into the room. So much of the benefits of therapy are happening beneath what’s being said in a therapy office. My being able to keep a calm, balanced nervous system sends a signal to your nervous system that helps it learn that it’s safe. If I allow my own anxieties, trauma triggers, codependency, etc. to take up space in the room, then I am limiting the healing that can happen.
A nice perk related to this fact is that everything a therapist does to provide support to their own nervous system, imho, should be a tax write-off as a business expense. *disclaimer – check with your own tax professional, I am not a tax expert.
- Website: http://www.alignwellnessatl.com
- Instagram: @alignwellnessatl
- Facebook: @alignwellnessatl
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/melanie-storrusten-lcsw-36766536/
- Twitter: @bewellatl