The Path to Becoming An Entrepreneurial Therapist

Earlier this year, the Heard team sat down for an interview with Dr. Marie Fang, the therapist and entrepreneur behind Private Practice Skills. In addition to running her own private practice, Marie uses the Private Practice Skills site and blog to focus on teaching therapists how to grow their own businesses and practices. In the below interview, she shares her expertise with us, along with the many valuable lessons she has learned throughout her career journey.

HEARD: Who are you and what do you do?

DR. MARIE FANG: I'm Dr. Marie Fang. I'm a mom, wife, and therapist. I have a solo private practice in San Jose, California and I also have a second business, Private Practice Skills, where I teach therapists the tools needed to start and grow their own private practice.

H: What was your journey to becoming an entrepreneurial therapist?

M: It found me! While I was still in grad school, I assumed I would work full-time at an agency or nonprofit job for the rest of my life, and hopefully teach grad classes on the side. I never thought private practice or any other businesses were in my future.

Some of this was accidental. I found a postdoc in private practice and accepted it. It wasn't what I was looking for, but once I was there, I fell in love with working for myself.

Private Practice Skills was another surprise, and was born out of wanting to align my value of staying at home with my daughter with my passion for teaching. If I can earn a good income doing what I love while my daughter is napping, sign me up!

H: What were some of the biggest lessons that have impacted the way that you work? What was the lesson, and what was it like before and after?

M: Importance of authenticity (for any entrepreneur, but especially therapists!). You have to believe in what you're doing, both to sustain a dedication to the work and also to sell whatever offering you have. As part of that: knowing what you're good at (and what's best not to try to tackle)!

Before learning this lesson, I was anxiously either trying to mimic whatever I saw successful people around me doing, or me anxiously trying to do ALL the things, rather than leveraging a few things that I'm both good at and passionate about. After learning this lesson, my work has not only been more joyful and meaningful, but I put out much better work! I'm a better therapist because I work with the clients I'm best suited for. Private Practice Skills is successful because I'm only focusing on putting out content that I am good at creating and that I love. I'm a happier person and my work is better for it.

H: What mindsets helped make you successful on your path? What habits helped make you successful?

M: There are two mindsets that were super important to address:

1. I had to accept that everyone is awesome at something, and therefore I have to be awesome at something too.
2. I had to accept that if I wanted to achieve my goals, there would always be a feeling of imposter syndrome following me every step of the way (and that this is a normal part of human experience, rather than something to be avoided).

Some helpful habits contributing to my success:

1. Say no to almost everything ("if it's not a 'hell yes' it's a no").
2. Spend almost all my productive hours on 1-2 top priorities, and let everything else live on the back burner.
3. If something's not working, don't keep investing time on a bad investment. I cut my losses and start something new rather than burning out on a dead end.
4. When available: create a separate work space. When we moved this past May, I prioritized creating my own dedicated office space in our house. When I'm sitting at this desk, I'm immediately transported into a state of flow. When I log off of my desktop, I'm back to wearing my mom hat again, cooking dinner in my sweatpants.

H: What was the biggest mistake you made on your journey? How did you overcome that challenge?

M: Um...all of them?? But I'd say the biggest mistake I made was trying to be all things to all people. As an enneagram 4 with a 3 wing, when I'm not in a healthy place my "3" can take over and I can start to simply become whatever I think someone wants me to become, rather than truly advocating for my own opinions, values, beliefs, and personality.

In business, this created an environment where I felt I needed to do everything. In private practice I believed I needed to work with kids, teens, adults, and couples, and I needed to offer group therapy and basically say yes to any potential client who called, regardless of presenting issues and how well equipped I was to help them.

With Private Practice Skills, the temptation was to try to tackle every platform to grow my audience AND to say nothing that could possibly ever offend anyone. But if no one is offended by what you're doing, you're probably not making much of an impact. That was a hard truth to swallow.

H: What would you have done differently if you were to go back and do it all again?

M: Above all, I wish I could go back to Marie 10 years ago and tell her she doesn't need to be so flippin' worried about every little thing. Ultimately, this would require a lot of reflection work on my end in order to be more accepting of who I am - including my strengths, quirks, and imperfections. Related to that, I would have spent more time focusing on what I wanted to do rather than trying to replicate what I thought other people wanted me to do. Rookie mistake. Making this change would have saved me both time and stress.

H: How do you think society views clinicians operating independently? How do you think society should view clinicians who operate independently?

M: You'd think I'd have a better grasp on this, but I think because I'm so entrenched in the private practice world, I'm in a bit of a bubble or - dare I say - echo chamber of folks who think working for yourself is the bee's knees. I mean, it's kind of what I do. All. Day. Long.

With that said, I'd love if society saw independent clinicians as no different than clinicians in any other setting. We have the freedom to choose how we work - whether for ourselves or someone else. It's a beauty that we have that freedom! I admire and respect those who work in agency settings and nonprofits, and I believe the same respect is deserved all around.

H: What would you say to a new clinician who is just finishing their internship or post-doc?

M: First: You DID it! Please throw yourself a massive celebration! You deserve it!

Second: There is life on the other side! You're free now and you don't have to keep hustling based on someone else's expectations. I remember when I finished my postdoc hours and passed my last licensure exam, I was legitimately shell-shocked. This was the culmination of 10 years of work between undergrad, grad, and postdoc work, and I was waiting for someone to say, "just kidding, we'd like to have your license back." It was hard to accept that I didn't have to keep hustling for low or no-pay anymore because it was all I had known for so very long.

H: What do you want colleagues / society to know about becoming an entrepreneurial therapist?

M: I want folks to know that "entrepreneurial" is NOT synonymous with "slimy”. Our skillset as therapists is inherently entrepreneurial in nature. In theory, we can help people identify their stuck points and we have the tools available to help them move through them and come out the other side. Whether you're running a solo practice or you're selling a product, if you truly believe your product or service is going to help people, then you are doing a good for society while also being an entrepreneur. It's something to be proud of!

Dr. Marie Fang started in private practice in 2012 and made just about every mistake in the book. In 2018, she launched Private Practice Skills, posting weekly YouTube videos making it easy for therapists to start and grow their practices. In her spare time, Marie loves gardening and diving into a good DIY project.

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