47 min
June 17, 2024

Income Beyond 1:1 Therapy Sessions with Dr. Alex Auerbach

Oftentimes, therapists have their sights set on private practice after grad school. But what about going beyond the 1:1 therapy sessions as a business opportunity?

Dr. Alex Auerbach is a powerhouse in sports psychology. He has experience at both the college level with the University of Arizona and the professional level with the Toronto Raptors. He’s a seasoned entrepreneurial therapist who owns multiple companies, including a thriving coaching business. 

With an MBA under his belt, he seamlessly blends psychological insight with business savvy to think outside of the box. 

In this episode, Alex speaks to host Michael Fulwiler about his journey as an entrepreneur and offers advice on how to “level up” your existing practice by going beyond individual therapy sessions. 

In the conversation, they discuss:

  • Confidently setting prices that reflect your true worth while ensuring business sustainability
  • How focusing on a specific market enhances credibility and trustworthiness
  • Embracing experimentation and learning from rejection and failure
  • The importance of self-care, setting boundaries, and finding a community to mitigate feelings of isolation
  • Foundational elements to build a practice that serves others and feels good to you
  • How therapists can expand their scope by offering coaching services

Connect with the guest:

Connect with Michael and Heard:

Jump into the Conversation:

[00:00] Introducing Heard Business School and Dr. Alex Auerbach

[02:41] Getting an MBA and how it affected his future career

[09:12] Shifting from professional sports to private practice and executive coaching

[14:55] Importance of aligning pricing with market and personal worth

[21:32] Translatable skills from being a sports psychologist to coaching

[28:29] Understanding what it takes to build a therapy business 

[35:35] Building trust in a specific market segment

[39:43] Importance of routine, boundaries, and social support

[41:32] Addressing loneliness and building a supportive network 

[42:36] The importance of joining classes and exploring non-professional interests

This episode is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult their own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this episode.

Guest Bio

Dr. Alex Auerbach is performance psychologist with experience working in the NBA, NFL, and with elite military units like the Army Rangers. Most recently, he served as the Toronto Raptors Senior Director of Wellness and Development, where he served as an executive. Dr. Auerbach has worked with NCAA Division-I schools in the SEC, Pac-12, ACC, Big 12, and Conference USA.

Dr. Auerbach earned his doctoral degree in counseling psychology with a specialization in sport and performance psychology from the University of North Texas. He received a Master’s in Business Administration from Salve Regina University and a Bachelor in Business Administration from the University of Arizona.

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Episode Transcript

Alex Auberbach [00:00:00]:

Once I decided like, okay, really where I want to focus is on building my business with executives. And so me that was startup founders, cxos and kind of like fortunate thousand vps and above, like very specific people, very specific set of problems, the right people that I like to work with, you know, all those things my business like almost forexed in 30 days.

Michael Fulwiler [00:00:28]:

This is heard business school, where we sit down with private practice owners and industry experts to learn about the business of therapy together. I'm your host, Michael Fulwiler. Most therapists don't go to business school. Today's guest actually did. Doctor Alex Auerbach is a rock star in the world of sports psychology, having worked with college athletes at the University of Arizona and professional athletes in the MBA. He's also a coach and consultant, proving that his unique blend of psychological expertise and business acumen makes him a powerful force to learn from when building your own business. With a profound understanding of mental performance, an innovative approach to coaching high achievers, Alex has not only shattered conventional boundaries, but also created a unique path that many aspiring professionals can look up to. Alex and I met on social media and he's become a close friend and collaborator.

Michael Fulwiler [00:01:23]:

As you'll see from our conversation, he's the definition of an entrepreneurial therapist. We discuss his thoughts on the evolving landscape of coaching and therapy, the importance of niching down, and the ever important topic of pricing your services. He explains the importance of knowing your value in the market and shares insights on building a sustainable business that supports both your career and personal life. His journey is a testament to the fact that there are more ways to use your passion to generate income beyond one on one therapy sessions. Here's my conversation with Doctor Alex Auerbach. Doctor Alex Auerbach, welcome to the show Michael.

Alex Auberbach [00:02:01]:

Thanks for having me. I'm excited to do this with you.

Michael Fulwiler [00:02:03]:

Let's go. You're a legend in sports psychology. You've worked with college athletes at the University of Arizona. You've worked with professional athletes in the NBA. You've built multiple six figure businesses. We're going to get into all of that, but I'd love to start with your educational background. Most therapists don't go to business school, don't even take a business class in graduate school. It's the entire premise of the show.

Michael Fulwiler [00:02:33]:

You did go to business school. Could you talk about why you decided to get an MBA and how that's impacted your career as a psychologist?

Alex Auberbach [00:02:41]:

Sure. I want to go back and correct the record real quick though. You called me a legend. I don't know that that applies, but I appreciate the kind words. Yeah. So, you know, the, the choice to get a business degree before getting a psychology degree was sort of both conscious and not, to be honest. So, you know, that was pre psychology career. I was still coaching football kind of on my first path.

Alex Auberbach [00:03:02]:

And I had the opportunity to get a degree from a school where I could get either a certificate as a graduate student or I could actually complete a real degree. And so I just picked the real degree that was in continuation of my undergrad degree. That's like the real how it happens. But it's turned out that ever since even graduate school, I've had kind of this competitive advantage or a little bit of an edge in how I think about the work that we do that I've been able to use to help my friends, help people I was in graduate school with kind of think through and build their practice. And I think it changes a few dimensions of the way you think about the work we do. So one is recognizing for pretty early on that ultimately all of this is really about building a career, building a business for yourself. Of course, all of us join this field to help people. We have things that we care about that are deeply personal, that we want to make better, and that's great.

Alex Auberbach [00:03:52]:

And to do that really well and for you personally to be in a position where you can deliver at the highest level, like, you also have to be thinking about creating a sustainable life, which does involve setting up and running a business in some way. It also helped me just think through some of the challenges people I think typically face in graduate school and their early career. Like, what's the best path or trajectory to take? If where I want to end up is ultimately running my own practice, what are the experiences I would want to accumulate that would increase my value in the marketplace differently than just staying on the traditional path where. So like, I went to counseling psychology as my PhD with a double major and performance psych and a lot of my peers. The kind of typical path is you graduate, you go work in a counseling center, you go work in a group private practice, and then from there, maybe five or ten years down the line, you kind of open your own shop if that's what you want to do, or you continue down that counseling psychology counseling center path. And for better or worse, you know, the psychology grad student centers, right? They don't pay very well to work on a college, college counseling center. And building your own private practice can be incredibly lucrative. But it's actually quite hard to get to a point where you're charging really what you're worth.

Alex Auberbach [00:05:05]:

And so to have, like, in my mind, okay, I don't necessarily believe this is the way to build my value or that this is the only way I could build my value, allowed me to take a little bit more of a non linear path to get to.

Michael Fulwiler [00:05:16]:

Where I am, definitely. So when you were getting your PhD in, in psychology, was private practice and clinical work, like the way that you were thinking about your career, or because coming in, you had already worked in sports, was that more of the career path that you saw for yourself?

Alex Auberbach [00:05:34]:

Actually, my very first dream job in my career path that I had envisioned for myself, like, after graduate school, was the very first job I had after graduate school. I can tell you, I was sitting on my couch in Durham, North Carolina, on my internship year at University of North Carolina, and I told my wife, like, hey, if I could get a job at Arizona, where I did my undergrad, like, that would be the dream. And that's what I had in my mind. And then as soon as I got to that job was like, all these possibilities opened up around. Around me, and it became a little bit more kind of an internal competitiveness within me to see, like, okay, can I cut it at the pro sports level?

Michael Fulwiler [00:06:08]:

So you get your dream job, you said, at the University of Arizona, right? But then you get this opportunity to go work in the MBA for the Toronto Raptors. So how did you get that opportunity? And then what was that jump like for you, going from working with college athletes to working with professional athletes?

Alex Auberbach [00:06:27]:

The opportunity to join the NBA came about kind of in a roundabout way, through the NBA Players association was starting to build a network of mental health providers. And so the league decided they also wanted to have some mental health providers. And as they were starting to figure out how they wanted to build that, my name happened to come up, having worked at North Carolina and then worked at Arizona, like a couple bigger basketball schools. And so I was just sort of of at the right place at the right time, to be honest, before it really blew up in the NBA. And so I had several different teams contact me. But the Raptors was most interesting because they had a vision that really aligns with how I think of the work that we do. It was about much more than being a therapist behind a closed door and working with players one on one and not being seen at all. It was really about shaping a culture, creating an environment based on evidence based behavioral principles, helping create a culture that people feel good when they come to work, cascading principles of wealth and psychology kind of throughout the organization and an opportunity to lead and manage.

Alex Auberbach [00:07:29]:

And so for me, that was really, really important. But when I first got there, honestly, like, I felt like a total imposter. It was like, I have no idea what I'm doing. These people I'm around are incredibly bright. I joined a team that had just won a championship. They'd had over ten years of working together. And so even like little things, right, I would jump on these meetings and these people were like friends, and so they would just interrupt each other. They'd like, stop each other.

Alex Auberbach [00:07:55]:

They just say like, no immediately to an idea, you know? And as a psychologist, you're like trying to figure out how to tie people's ideas together and you broaden and build and you try to make it warm. And I'm like, whoa, I really better figure it out. And I remember people asking for my opinion in meetings and I'd be like, I don't even know how it would form one right now. You know, like, I was just so unsure how I was going to do this work at a higher level. And my solution, when I feel that way, is often to just like dive into learning, right. Is to figure out, okay, what are the gaps between what I know now and what they're asking me to know. And a lot of that was around things like talent identification and talent development or skill acquisition, or how I wanted to shape the environment. I had some ideas and I had a good sense of how to build a structure around well being in an organization where you could like stand up a team of clinicians or providers to help people.

Alex Auberbach [00:08:43]:

But I didn't know how would I go through the MBA draft and figure out who's the right player from a mental standpoint? And so I started to kind of address those gaps. And as I got some reps and got some feedback, that feeling of being an imposter kind of subsided. And by the time I was two or three years in, I felt pretty grounded in the work that I was doing. Thankful to have like an incredibly great team and gracious group of people around me who were also very supportive in figuring that out. Right. I was lucky to not have to solve all that on an island.

Michael Fulwiler [00:09:12]:

Yeah. And you've alluded to this, but as sports psychologist, getting to professional sports, being one of probably 30 people in the world that's the head of mental wellness for a professional sports team, would be reaching the peak of your career, which you were able to do at a young age. And then you recently stepped away from that. Could you talk a little bit about that decision and why you decided to leave the NBA?

Alex Auberbach [00:09:40]:

Yeah. The decision to leave the NBA was, honestly very hard. And what I'm about to share is going to feel like, man, it really shouldn't be that hard of a decision. But I can tell you, honestly, like, it was a challenge. Right? So I have now a 20 month old daughter. When I was, I guess it would have been four or five months into the season, you know, my wife looked at me and just said, like, I don't. I don't know that I can do this. Like, I don't know that I can raise a kid on my own in a foreign country with no family support.

Alex Auberbach [00:10:08]:

And when you put all those vectors together, like, yeah, kind of makes sense, right? But that's your point. You know, I'm in my dream job. Like, I'm in something I've worked so hard to get. And I know I said Arizona was my dream job now that I had this Toronto experience, right? I'm like, oh, my goodness. Like, dynamic people, incredible group of people, really smart in a sport that I'm growing to enjoy, like, in a city that's really cool, right? Like, all these things coming together in a life that I never would have imagined for myself. And I'm like, I'm kind of enjoying it on the professional side, but on the personal side, it was honestly, like, incredibly challenging. You know, it was. We moved during COVID My wife's work closed down.

Alex Auberbach [00:10:46]:

Like, all these things just made it very, very hard for her. And so ultimately, the decision was really, you know, do you want to stay and kind of help raise your kid right and have your family, or do you want to stay in professional sports? And thankfully, my wife wasn't quite that black and white. It wasn't like, you know, it's over. But it was very clear that this wasn't going to be a situation that would allow her to be the best mother that she could be. And I felt that was really more important than anything I was doing professionally. Like, ultimately, I care much more about my kid having a great outcome and a great life than I care about winning, you know, 70 basketball games in a year. But ultimately, it's all about your values that it's all about what you want to stand for in the long term. And so, you know, that was one of the harder conversations I've had professionally.

Alex Auberbach [00:11:31]:

Like, you know, tearing up, telling my boss, like, hey, I think this is what I need to do. And, you know, he was so gracious. He said, I wouldn't think about it as leading sports. I think about it as taking a step back so you can focus on your family and you can always come back. There will always be opportunities for you here. And that helped me really come to a place of peace with it. But it was very, very hard. And then, of course, after that is just as hard as you're trying to figure out, like, what am I doing next?

Michael Fulwiler [00:11:56]:

And so what did you do next? What kind of was the next step that you took?

Alex Auberbach [00:12:00]:

The next step I took after I left was to just start experimenting. I was fortunate to be in a position where, like I said, I felt like my value had increased as a function of working for a pro team. Like you mentioned it, it's a very unique experience. At the time, I was one of four people with a job full time in the NBA, and I was the only person in the NBA with my job that was also part of executive and leadership team. So I had this unique blend of being kind of a psychologist executive. It wasn't just about being a practitioner. And so I just started to see where that could take me. Right.

Alex Auberbach [00:12:30]:

And so I would see things on LinkedIn, like people looking for a psychologist as a consultant to their startup, and I would apply for that, or I'd reach out to the founder. I started to get connected to people to do some executive coaching and performance coaching in the business world. I started to offer presentations to big companies like Google or Amazon. I started to write a little bit more and I just sort of like cast a very wide net. And my theory was if I could just put a bunch of stuff into the top of my personal funnel at the bottom, the stuff that I like the most will probably come out right and I'll see what that's like. And I just don't think you can really learn any of that without that kind of experimenting. And it's very, like, scary to do. It's hard to do.

Alex Auberbach [00:13:13]:

It takes like, persistence and getting rejected a ton and, you know, all these things that are very unpleasant and failing right as you're learning something new. But for me, that was how I felt I was going to be best equipped to figure it out. And so I did exactly what I described. I consulted with three or four startups. I started coaching a handful of executives. I started to write a little bit more and produce some content. I started to give more presentations than I'd give it. I picked up even some therapy clients individually to see what that would look like.

Alex Auberbach [00:13:43]:

And over the course of kind of nine to twelve months I landed on a formula that would at least allow me to, like, maintain my current lifestyle and have a sense of, like, financial security moving into the next phase, which is very important to me as I'm thinking about raising a kid now. But honestly, I still don't have the constellation perfect. Like, I'm still trying to fine tune and figure out what's exactly the right balance for me in this next phase. And I think I'm getting closer, but it's definitely not perfect.

Michael Fulwiler [00:14:11]:

Yeah, I think that's such a really great point. When people are thinking about building out programs or services, they spend a lot of time building a business plan and doing market research and all of that. But you don't really know until you get something out in the market if people are going to pay for it and how much they're going to pay for it. And so I think just experimentation and learning is the best path. I'm curious, how did you think about even practically pricing your services? Because I know that's something that a lot of therapists, when they're considering speaking or consulting or even coaching, which I definitely want to dive into as well. Like, how did you think about, like, putting together an offer that someone would actually pay for?

Alex Auberbach [00:14:55]:

Pricing in our world is very complicated. It depends a little bit on, you know, a bunch of factors you can't control, right? So if you look at, like, consulting with a startup, how much money have they raised? How important is your role? How much of a leader and director are you going to be versus kind of a knowledge partner? You know, those things all kind of dictate a little bit of your value. And you think a little bit about, like, okay, based on the phase and stage, you know, should I take a little bit of equity or should I try to prioritize money here? And some of that's also personal factors like, what do I need to survive? So that one was hard, and I really only refined that through, like, landing three or four and basically having the companies first pitch me their ideas of compensation. So one of, like, my personal negotiating strategies, even in MBA contracts, was like, I'm not gonna tell you what I think I'm worth. I want you to tell me what you think this is worth. And what I often find is that people value it much more than I value it at the first step. I just had this happen with a talk I gave a few weeks ago where I had someone talking to me about coming out and speaking to them. And I said, you know, whatever you feel like is within your budget and you feel despair, you let me know.

Alex Auberbach [00:16:08]:

They came back with a number that was several thousand dollars higher than I would have ever asked for. I was like, okay, that's cool. Now I understand what my value is, and now I can recalibrate appropriately. And so having that kind of comfort to not put a number out first and to let them share helped. And then once I got a sense of, okay, this is kind of the general range, then I could anchor future conversations in that general range and use those past companies as comparisons, right? So, hey, based on this company I worked with, at this stage, with this money, this is what my compensation looked like for work. That's very similar. This is what I need or more for this to become a priority. So that was how I did it in consulting, in coaching.

Alex Auberbach [00:16:48]:

I would say it's like somewhat similar as far as experimenting with pricing. And in general, I think this is something therapists should do more often, is experiment with pricing. I think we all speaking for myself, too. Like, we graduate, and you're like, still not even sure you're worth anything. You're not sure you can build a practice on your own. And so money at any hourly rate sounds incredible, right? You're like, oh, $100 an hour would be awesome. I remember graduating with people who are like, opening a private practice, and I'm going to start charging $90 an hour. And as I heard that, I'm like, that is way too low.

Alex Auberbach [00:17:23]:

Like, you should not be charging that little. Right you have. You're a doctor, right? And if you look at doctors in the grand scheme of the marketplace, doctors are charging a lot more than $90 an hour. Now, if you're in a rural area or a community, that that's what you can sort of reasonably afford. Like, that makes sense. But oftentimes we set the limitations as a provider on what it is we're actually going to earn. And a lot of that is just based on our own comfort of asking for money versus what the market will actually pay for your set of skills. And so in coaching and even in therapy, that's kind of how I did it.

Alex Auberbach [00:17:55]:

Same kind of thing. What would feel reasonable for you to invest in coaching for yourself? And some people would give me a number that I felt like was way too low, and some people would give me a number that I felt like was quite high. And I just started to get more comfortable having those conversations and sort of centering my value based on who I ended up working with. And again, you're taking in other factors. You know, face up company, your own life, circumstances, whatever, but it allows you to kind of experiment and iterate. And then once I set a price, it became like, okay, I just will not accept lower than this. Like, this is what my value is. I recognize that other people are going to come to me and want to work with me, and they're going to ask for a discount, or they're not going to be in a place where they can afford it.

Alex Auberbach [00:18:35]:

And as much as I want to help everyone that I can help, like, that's not good for me. That doesn't help me run a good business. That doesn't help me feel fully invested and committed. That doesn't help me make this the priority that it needs to be for this work to. To be really successful. And so I kind of established that value. And now basically, every six months for every new group of clients, I just raise my prices by a little bit to sort of continue to test where the threshold is for people signing up and working with me. And so, still a work in progress, but that's been my strategy for doing it.

Michael Fulwiler [00:19:07]:

When it comes to pricing, there's two pieces of advice that I've received. One is that. And this is more so for, like, consulting work or speaking work. If you're pitching to an organization for, like, a larger contract, when you hit send on that proposal, if it doesn't make you feel uncomfortable, you're probably not charging enough. Right. I get you feel like, man, this is a lot. Like, am I even worth that much? Should I be charging? Like, that's what you should be charging. Like, you should definitely be pushing yourself in what you think that you are worth, right? Because you're probably worth more than you when you think it just brings up a lot of money stuff for people.

Michael Fulwiler [00:19:43]:

And then the other one is that when you give someone a price, or if you quote someone or send a proposal and they don't push back on your price, you're probably not charging enough, right? So then the next time, okay, now I know, like, I can push it. Like you said, you know, I'm charging $1,000 for this offer. I'm not getting any pushback. What if I bump it up to 1200 or 15? 1750? Like, every time you do it, you push it and push it. And then when you start to get pushback, you're like, okay, now I know that. All right, that's probably the high end of what I can charge for this.

Alex Auberbach [00:20:16]:

I think those are two great pieces of advice that on the second one, the framework I've heard is like, if you know, ten to 20% of people aren't kind of, like, offended by what you're asking for, right. Or a little upset by your price, like, it's too low. And I think, I think you're delivering great wisdom here. Right? Like, you should feel a bit uncomfortable about what youre asking for. And I think a lot of times that discomfort comes from your own sense that you might not be worth that much or youre not sure what your value is. Theres a great book called Million Dollar Consulting that I think has a really neat framework for understanding value and thinking through value based work versus tying everything back specifically to a number and sort of judging whether or not youre comfortable with it.

Michael Fulwiler [00:20:59]:

I want to talk a little bit about coaching. So for you, as a sports psychologist, it does feel like a natural transition. You're working with professional athletes who are the highest performers in the world at what they do. Now, in your coaching work, you're working with executives and other high performers. What are the translatable skills for you as a psychologist in doing sports psychology then now doing more, you know, coaching with folks who are not necessarily in sports.

Alex Auberbach [00:21:32]:

The skills translated between their being coaching, I actually don't know that they're unique to being a sports psychologist. Like, I think having that experience with high performers, I think it makes for an interesting narrative for the right audience. Right people who love sports, who are highly competitive, who view business as a competition, they're going to latch on to that experience and think, like, that's a guy that I want to work with. And it's true. That's who I want to work with, too. Right? I really gravitate to people who are very competitive like that and deeply intrinsically motivated. But that's not everyone. And not everyone feels like they want to work with people like that, and that's totally okay.

Alex Auberbach [00:22:07]:

But the skills that kind of, like, matter from the sports psychology training are really the foundational clinical and counseling skills I got training in as a broader psychologist. It's being able to diagnose a problem, understand the context, help people think more effectively about what they're doing, manage their emotions, build healthier relationships. These things are at the core of essentially any business or any workplace, right? Like, I work with a couple of physicians right now. Those physicians are thinking through relationships with attendings, relationships with other people in their department, how they want to get better, how they feel when they're performing surgery, right? So you can see it show up there. Same thing with law, right? Oh, I filmed nervous when I have to pitch in front of the judge. Right. Like, and so you have skills to help with that. Right.

Alex Auberbach [00:22:56]:

You know, how to teach people how to regulate their emotion, you know, how to teach people how to think more effectively, you know, how to ask good questions that get to these kind of, like, root underlying beliefs that are driving behavior now. And I think the main difference here is that a lot of coaching clients, they really center on the context of the coaching more than therapy clients. So they're focused on, like, work as, like, the main thing they want to talk about. And oftentimes they feel a little uncomfortable sort of branching out outside of that. But coaching clients are also a little bit more interested in kind of the future progress where they're going. Versus therapeutic work can often be like, first, let's look at the history a little bit and figure out how that impacts you now. And resolving that'll sort of help set you up for the future. But I think a lot of those skills are very similar.

Alex Auberbach [00:23:45]:

Right. Unpacking the current situation, good Socratic questioning, like I mentioned, like, all these things can set you up to do some great coaching. And there's a totally different market for coaches than there are for therapists. There's a ton of different spaces where people are looking for coaches. It's a really kind of unique place to play that I think more therapists should enter.

Michael Fulwiler [00:24:04]:

What do you think about the lack of regulation in coaching? Because one of the counter arguments that I hear from a lot of therapists is that I'm a licensed mental health professional. I went to graduate school. I invested all of this money and time right into, you know, education and training, and I have ethics that I have to follow. And yet anyone can be a coach. Right. So, like, how do you distinguish that in, in your mind?

Alex Auberbach [00:24:32]:

It's very challenging. It is a hard thing to reconcile. Right. You're spot on. Anyone can call themselves a coach. And there are a couple of things that I look for, right. So one is, I think as coaching has exploded, I think there actually will be some regulation at some point, particularly as we start to uncover some of, like, the more harmful effects of unregulated coaching. Right.

Alex Auberbach [00:24:54]:

And those aren't going to happen the same way. We've seen harmful effects of unregulated therapy or, like, limits to licensure in other countries, for example, where you can call yourself a psychologist after completing your bachelor's degree. Right. So we kind of have parallels where you sort of see what it looks like. Yeah, I think coaching is just at that phase where it's becoming really popular. And as it solidifies as a profession. I think there will start to be more regulations and standards around what training people need. And honestly, sports psychology was very similar.

Alex Auberbach [00:25:25]:

Right. People started practicing sports psychology, you didn't need any specialized training. And then all of a sudden there was a credential for it and there started to be guidelines for it. And I think there are some existing bodies out there, you know, international coaching federation, IPEC, like a couple places that are trying to put this together. And I think that'll become clear. I totally resonate with like the, yes, I trained for a really long time, I got my PhD. I can't believe that, like this is how this goes. But my honest assessment is like, I think coaches have positioned themselves way more effectively than therapists.

Alex Auberbach [00:25:57]:

I think therapists, broadly speaking, have been positioned as like a medical adjacent profession that's really focused on illness, that's really focused on problems that over pathologizes. And we have driven our own value down in the market as a result of that. Both from insurance companies devaluing us, but also from us accepting lower rates than most other professions. And coaches have positioned themselves as like the future of growth. And everything we do is going to help you make more, be more, do more. And people are willing to invest in that in a very different way. And so I think that's what I wrestle with, right? Is like the. Which do I align more with? And if I take the kind of credentialing argument out of it, I really philosophically am much more bought into like, I would much rather help people live more, do more, be more, perform better, whatever, that I would help people resolve problems.

Alex Auberbach [00:26:57]:

And that's not to say problems don't come up at coaching. That's not to say working on those problems isn't important. That's just for me personally where I'm at with it. I do think the larger kind of like narratives about both are really interesting and something we as a field need to work really hard to correct. And I think we're trying. I know there's efforts being made. I know you're one of the people out there arguing, you know, arguing and advocating for therapists to be treated differently, compensated more fairly, all those things. And I 100% believe that our skills are worth it.

Alex Auberbach [00:27:26]:

But I think we have unfortunately, like a lot of damage to undo, to kind of get to that point where therapy is seen as just as important as physical health, that we're compensated the same, and that people view it as a necessity to their daily life. I think we're getting there, but we're not quite there yet.

Michael Fulwiler [00:27:43]:

I think a takeaway here is that as a therapist, you know, coaching is something that you can offer, right? Like if that's something that you want to do, if you say, want to work with people who live in states where you're not licensed, for example, or if you want to do different type of work, that's a way to build your business beyond one on one therapy. I think a lot of the conversations that we have and we're going to have on this show are really about how do you build your therapy business and what does a therapy business look like? A therapy business could include coaching. I think getting out of that mindset of trading my time for money as a therapist in one on one sessions as the only way to grow my business, I think is super important.

Alex Auberbach [00:28:29]:

I do, too, and I appreciate you sharing that. And I think one final point on this is just because other coaches are unregulated, don't have standards, whatever, does not mean that you cannot uphold standards in your practice as a coach, right? Sure, you might be dealing with different, like inter jurisdictional practice issues, and so you need to call yourself a coach in some situation or you're truly doing that, like future facing, almost executive coaching work that involves uncovering like, hidden beliefs and biases around business. Like, there are places where like a traditional therapy kind of approach might not be the exact right fit, but it doesn't mean don't have ethical standards. It doesn't mean throw everything out the window. Right. You can totally be a competent practitioner and leverage your training as coach as.

Michael Fulwiler [00:29:15]:

You'Ve been building your businesses. Are there mistakes that you've made or lessons that you've learned?

Alex Auberbach [00:29:22]:

Lots of mistakes and kind of lessons learned along the way. I think probably my biggest mistake, honestly, was not being more intentional at the beginning about really thinking through the mixture of the way I wanted to spend my time. I think for people in private practice or building a coaching business, it's very easy to end up in this place where you're just taking on more while I would work. Right. Hey, my friend wants to come see you. You've been doing a great job. Can I refer someone to you? Oh, you know, someone reaches out on your website and next thing you know, you've got like 30 clients in a week. Right.

Alex Auberbach [00:29:58]:

Great problem to have. But if that's not exactly how you want to spend your time or if that burns you out or if that's emotionally taxing, you know, not being really intentional about that can set you up to be in a position where you're kind of like, you're making good money, right? You're surviving, you're paying your bills, but you're not fulfilled. And that was probably the biggest mistake I made. Was I solved for how do I, you know, just get to a point of financial stability as quickly as possible after leaving versus solving for I have an incredible opportunity in front of me. How exactly do I want to spend my time, and how do I make sure I build a business that's aligned with those things? And so I've had to undo a lot of that. Right. I've had to, like, fight the urge to take on another client because there's money right there. But I know that's not really what I want to be doing.

Alex Auberbach [00:30:49]:

That's time spent away from something I really care about. I've had to fight the urge to put out requests for, you know, like in my newsletter, hey, I've got an opening or whatever, even when I do, because I have to just trust that that's going to get filled. And I don't want to just all of a sudden have ten things that I'm going to feel, like, obligated in some ways to say yes to. Right. And so I think that was probably my biggest mistake. And as, like I said, taking a good bit of time to undo and recalibrate what the right mixture is to really feel fulfilled at work.

Michael Fulwiler [00:31:19]:

Yeah. The way ive heard it explained is that if its not a hell yes, then its a no, right. And that can be really hard, especially in the beginning when youre building your business, when theres people who are reaching out to you that want to hire you, that might not be the right fit or its going to be a lot of work, or maybe the money isnt as much as you want to charge to turn that down because you may feel like, well, I just need the business. I need the money. But I think what people don't think about is by taking on those clients or taking on those projects. Now you don't have time if something else that's better comes along. Now you're busy and you're full and you might miss opportunities because you've taken on things that maybe weren't the right fit for you. So I think being intentional about what you say yes to is just as important as what you say no to.

Alex Auberbach [00:32:07]:

It's hard. I mean, like, I felt some of these things you're saying, right? Oh, man, I don't have a business. I better just say yes to this and then you're exactly right. Your two options are you miss the opportunity or you take on more and you burn yourself out so you can have that experience as other things get let go of. Right. And neither one is the optimal path.

Michael Fulwiler [00:32:26]:

It's really a scarcity versus abundance mindset, right? A scarcity mindset says, like, oh, I need this project because I don't know what else is coming versus an abundance mindset. Being like, this isn't the right thing for me. I'm going to wait and see, right?

Alex Auberbach [00:32:41]:


Michael Fulwiler [00:32:42]:

So I'm also curious, as you've been building your business, is there anything that has surprised you, maybe that you weren't expecting?

Alex Auberbach [00:32:50]:

Also here, lots of surprises and things I wasn't expecting. But I think probably the main one that for me personally was hard to fight against was how much better it was for me to niche down. So I know in my training, I was trained as a generalist, right? I went to counseling psychology, PhD, very strengths based, person centered program. And the idea was like, when you graduate, you're going to really be able to treat everything except for, you know, a handful of things that maybe you just didn't see in your training or you didn't have direct supervision over or required more specialty care, right. Or require medication or whatever might be. And so I left thinking, like, you know, what? If I'm a generalist, like, I can see everything. Everyone should come to me, and there's nothing I should turn down, right? You come to me and you've got something that seems like it's in my wheelhouse. Like, I'll do it, right? And so when I started my business, that was how I began.

Alex Auberbach [00:33:42]:

It was like, you know, a young athlete coming in that wanted a particular thing, and then a lawyer and a doctor and then a person in the community, I was like, yes, I'm a generalist. I can do all this. What I found was, as I was doing that, I was spending a lot of time working with clients that didn't make me feel maximally fulfilled. And then I had a couple that I'm like this. I really like, how do I do more of this? But I was like, no, I'm a generalist. Whatever comes in, comes in. And this is just how it goes. And then I had talked to people like you, and a couple of people were like, I really think you should focus.

Alex Auberbach [00:34:17]:

And I didn't realize. And of course, now looking back, it makes total sense. Sports psychology is a niche. You know, performance psychology is a niche. I just was sort of, I picked it in advance without thinking about it in the context of building a business. And then once I decided, like, okay, really where I want to focus is on building my business with executives. And so to me that was startup founders, cxos, and kind of like fortunate thousand, BPS and above, like very specific people, very specific set of problems, the right people that I like to work with. You know, all those things my business, like, almost forexed in 30 days.

Alex Auberbach [00:34:56]:

Like, after just figuring that out, because I stopped taking on all of this stuff, that was not what I wanted to do. I started putting more out there and looking for what was what I wanted to do. I started to have room for those referrals that I was otherwise not going to have room for. And so it was fighting that, like, oh, but I should take this on this inner city mindset you mentioned and really focusing in on my niche and what moved me the most that allowed me to ultimately be most successful. But that was a big surprise for me because I, like I said, I had gone through five years of school where I was like, told that the best thing I could be was a generalist.

Michael Fulwiler [00:35:35]:

Yeah, that's one of the topics that I talked to therapists about probably the most is niching down, like how to navigate that. Because I think a lot of therapists are concerned, like, if I niche down and specialize, I am, from a business sense, reducing my addressable market, right? Like, am I not making it more difficult for myself to find clients, whether it's therapy clients or coaching clients, when in reality, like, the more focused you get, the larger your addressable market becomes. Because people who are looking for a therapist or looking for a coach are looking for someone who can help them with the specific thing that they're struggling with. If you're doing coaching for everyone, a founder may see your website and think like, I don't know if this guy can really help me, but if you are the guy that does coaching with startup founders, then it's like, oh, okay, yeah, this guy can help me, right? And so there's that, like inherent trust too, and credibility. I think that comes with, like, that specialization and niching down and just trusting that process.

Alex Auberbach [00:36:48]:

It's really hard. But I think what you're saying is so important because it's like you start speaking directly to the client that you want and then people read it and they're like, yes, that's me. Like this guy or this gal. They get me and I want someone who gets me. It creates some of that almost like early therapeutic connection. Right? Like, I've understood. I'm seeing in what I'm seeing from this person, and I want that. And honestly, like, I've been amazed at the number of people who are looking for coaching but want a psychologist to do that or want a therapist to do that, and who are looking specifically for people who want experience in their own world.

Alex Auberbach [00:37:24]:

So, like, one of my advantages in the startup world is having been parts of companies that have raised money before, having started a couple things on my own, and having a sense of what that feels like. But everybody has that, right? Everyone has unique experiences to them that they could apply in their specific area and really create this really neat niche and intersection of skills, like between being a therapist and coach, for example, and caring a lot about working with creatives. So, like, okay, maybe you become the therapist or artist. That is a huge, huge opportunity. That's much, much better than just being a therapist. And the other thing that I think is really neat about this, that it took me a little while to learn, is when you get really kind of narrow, like, you trust other people, start reasoning by analogy, right? So they're like, oh, I'm not a founder yet, but I want to be, oh, I'm not a founder yet, but I really like how startup founders think. I wonder what it would be like to work with a coach who works with founders. And all of a sudden I start working with other people who are like, maybe a little bit outside of that very specific niche, but they're close and it creates another interesting opportunity or an interesting space to explore.

Alex Auberbach [00:38:27]:

Again, therapists or coaches who pick that path, like, there's a ton of opportunity out there narrowing down.

Michael Fulwiler [00:38:32]:

I'm glad you made that point as well. Just because you have a niche or specialization, that doesn't mean that you can't work with people who don't fit that profile, right? Like, to your point, you're probably going to attract maybe like minded people or people who see themselves, like, ultimately, you know, becoming a founder.

Alex Auberbach [00:38:50]:

Yeah, 100%.

Michael Fulwiler [00:38:51]:

How do you manage your own burnout? Like, is that something that you're aware of and monitoring?

Alex Auberbach [00:38:59]:

You must have been in my head this morning when I was at the gym. I'm like, on the road trying to figure out, like, what am I feeling right now, you know? And I am like, I've become, you know, increasingly attuned to probably the biggest gap for me right now is social support. You know, I work by myself every day. I get to hang out with my friends like you sometimes, but I don't always get that experience. And obviously coaching or therapy clients are not really your friends, they're people you like and people you connect with, but it's a very different relationship. And so I'm trying to be really intentional about making adjustments in those spaces because I think of myself as a high performer. I want to be the best that I can be, to take care of my clients the best that I can. And so I'm constantly trying to figure out that balance.

Alex Auberbach [00:39:43]:

So right now I'm going to go try to address the social support and see if I can figure that out. But I'm also pretty conscientious about trying to, you know, put my phone away pre work and post work, for example, like, while I have a chance to hang out with my daughter, you know, not being dialed into technology, trying to do a better job of setting boundaries around, like, how quickly I respond to things or how urgent things feel. I really try my best to be, like, fully present with everything going on. I'm sure you've had this experience working where you work, but, like, I struggle with, like, you get a text or a slack or an email or something, like in the middle of something, and it distracts you that you just feel kind of crappy. And so I'm very sensitive to that. So I've had, like, a self care routine that I've kind of stuck with for some time. That seems to work pretty well for me. I'm a daily meditator, exerciser, time outside, read, like, just kind of foundational practices for me, that helped me stay well.

Alex Auberbach [00:40:37]:

But like I mentioned, I mean, it's still not perfect. Now I gotta go figure out how to build my community here.

Michael Fulwiler [00:40:43]:

I'm sure that's something that a lot of people listening can resonate with the isolation, you know, of working by yourself, especially for therapists, right, who are coming out of a graduate school program, or maybe they were working in a group practice or an agency with, like, a lot of people, and they go into private practice, especially if they're working remotely and doing therapy from home. It's like now they're just by themselves all day. And we hear from a lot of therapists at heard that there's just a lot of loneliness to private practice. So I'm curious, how are you thinking about that? Are you looking for community? Are you joining any sort of organizations or groups? How are you thinking about building more of a network? Does feel less isolated.

Alex Auberbach [00:41:32]:

Yeah, I appreciate that. We're getting to have this conversation too, by the way, because this is like a very real challenge, I think, for any entrepreneur that's doing something on their own. But I think uniquely so for therapists who are, like, also spending, you know, 80% of their day directly helping somebody else, like, pouring into someone else, which is very taxing. I mean, I'm trying to think through it practically. Right. Which is like, let's start with the simplest steps. So, yeah, for example, like, I tend to go work out at 06:00 a.m. but there's a class that starts at 530.

Alex Auberbach [00:42:02]:

Like, okay, I should just try to get to that 530 class, right. And build the connection with the people who I see there every day, but I'm not doing the same thing that they're doing. And so I'm kind of like an outsider looking in. I'm thinking about, like, what are my interests and the things I care a lot about? And I'm particularly trying to do that outside of coaching and therapy, because, for me, I find that, like, the more conversations I have with other coaches and the more conversations I have with other therapists, the more it kind of makes me, like, hyper aware of what I'm not doing or where I don't feel less comfortable. And that's just my own wiring around.

Michael Fulwiler [00:42:35]:

Get more competitive. Yeah.

Alex Auberbach [00:42:36]:

Yeah. So I'm looking for places where I'm, like, interested in other things. Right. So one of the other places and spaces I'm super interested is climate change. And so I'm figuring out, like, okay, how do I get involved in that space, and what does that look like to build a community around that? And I've made some progress, but there's always, like, more to go. So that's how I'm kind of trying to solve it. And I know there's more I could do, too, to reconnect with the people on the campus where I used to work. I'm trying to take a couple opportunities to do things in person, like teach a class just so I have some of that and try to be really mindful about keeping that kind of front and center.

Michael Fulwiler [00:43:11]:

We're coming to the end of our conversation, unfortunately, so I want to wrap this up. We have a segment here called the footnote. And so the footnote is, like, one takeaway that you want therapists to have who are listening to this conversation. I know you've already shared a ton of knowledge, information, but if there's one thing that you want people to take away from this conversation, what would that be?

Alex Auberbach [00:43:38]:

My footnote for? This conversation would double back to our conversation about experimenting with price. I think that if you're really trying to build a business, one of the things that people often feel like they have to set and forget, essentially, is the price. Right? Now, some therapists do this intuitively. As they get full, they kind of raise their rates or they spend more time and so they raise their rates. But I realize just raising your rate is what I mean. Right. It's really about trying to push to a higher place or to a place that makes you feel uncomfortable and experimenting with how people respond to that to determine your current value in the market. That's not your long term value.

Alex Auberbach [00:44:16]:

That's not where you're going to be forever. But you do need to experiment a bit to understand. You should have people tell you no or try to negotiate with you or feel uncomfortable or feel like it's being stretched. And that's not you doing anything wrong. You're not preventing someone from getting services. You're not preventing someone from getting the help that they need. Of course, we all want to help the people that come to us and reach out. Right.

Alex Auberbach [00:44:39]:

But we can't be all things to all people. And usually those first conversations when you're having that negotiation, you don't even know, you don't even know if you could be the right person for this person. And so that would be, my footnote is continue to experiment with that, whether you're experimenting with price and consulting, coaching, therapy, speaking, whatever, like, all those things are things to test that'll help you figure out where you should land and then build from there versus starting at what feels comfortable and then trying to raise from there.

Michael Fulwiler [00:45:08]:

This has been an incredible conversation. I feel like we could talk for hours. Maybe we'll do an extended version for therapists who are interested in getting into coaching. That's something that you also offer. You have a program for therapists and other mental health professionals. Could you talk a little bit about that and share some information on how people can work with you?

Alex Auberbach [00:45:29]:

Well, sure. Well, thank you for the opportunity to join you, and I'll come back and talk to you anytime. Michael, you know that we could do extended edition, three hour marathon, whatever you want. Yeah. So I've, you know, this is something I'm passionate about. And really, for me, the passion is actually how do you help therapists and other behavioral health professionals, like, build a business that feels good to them? And so I've built, and I'm currently still building a self based course you can find on my website, alexhourbach.com, that walks you through some of the foundational elements of getting started with your business, but then also figuring out, like, the different paths you could experiment with, helps you design some of those experiments for yourself and think about your marketing and your messaging and works through some of the difficulties that I know I had and I think other behavioral health professionals have with things like sales. If you're interested in that, you could, like I said, find it on my website. It's at the Fort Practitioners tab at the top.

Alex Auberbach [00:46:20]:

I appreciate the opportunity to share a.

Michael Fulwiler [00:46:22]:

Little bit about that. Alex, I know you're on LinkedIn and Twitter as well, which is how we connected. And you've been so gracious with me giving your time. I know I've referred folks to you as well, and you've just been down to jump on a call with them. So I wanted to say thank you for. For doing that.

Alex Auberbach [00:46:40]:

Of course, man. Of course. I think this is really important. So I don't know if I should advertise this on the podcast or not, but I literally take every request that I get. Yeah, I think it's really important to, like, give back to the community and help however I can. So I just appreciate you acknowledging that and again, appreciate the opportunity.

Michael Fulwiler [00:46:58]:

Great. Thanks, Alex. Thanks for listening to this episode of Heard Business School brought to you by Heard, the financial back office. For therapists, visit the Herd Resource Hub at joinherd.com to support you in your journey as a private practice owner. And don't forget to subscribe on YouTube, Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. We'll see you in the next class.