45 min
June 10, 2024

Why Therapists Are Built for Business with Dr. Melvin Varghese

Therapists are uniquely equipped for business because they value authenticity and relationships.

Dr. Melvin Varghese has a tremendous passion for not only his psychology practice but also helping other therapists build their own business through different streams of incomes, specifically podcasting. Dr. Varghese is an experienced clinical psychologist, accomplished podcaster, and founder of “Selling the Couch.”

In this first episode of Heard Business School, host Michael Fulwiler speaks with Dr. Varghese about his journey into psychology and moving from clinical work to creating an online business that's helped countless therapists find their footing in the business world.

In the conversation, they discuss:

  • The power of authenticity in building your therapy business
  • How to scale your business with intention
  • Resources to things to know about starting your own podcast as an additional form of income
  • Strategies for avoiding burnout 
  • Why long-term thinking, and compounding assets are invaluable for your business

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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

Melvin Varghese, PhD is a licensed psychologist in Philadelphia, PA.

In 2015, Dr. Varghese founded Selling The Couch, a podcast to help therapists move from clinical to online income.

On the podcast, he interviews successful practitioners about how they've built their practices, social media/marketing experts, and shares lessons as he uses our clinical skills to create an online business powered by podcasting and online courses.

The podcast is one of the top Career podcasts in Apple Podcasts, has been downloaded over 1.8 million times, and is heard in over 125 countries.

Dr. Varghese also founded several resources for therapists transitioning from the therapist chair to online income including a podcasting community for therapists that’s supported over 240 therapist podcasters, an online course mastermind for therapists launching their first online course (50+ students), and a mastermind for veteran course creators to find support growing and scaling their course.

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Episode Transcript

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:00:00]:

I think for many therapists we hear the word business or marketing and we think like, it's this thing that we don't know enough about or it's about tactics or funnels or any of these things, particularly because again, most of us have not taken business or marketing classes. So we gravitate and we hear this language and we're like, okay, I guess I should do this or do that. But I actually feel like therapists are one of the best people at business because we value authenticity, relationships and all of these things. Success of a business, it all comes down to one to one relationships.

Michael Fulwiler [00:00:38]:

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 Fulweiler. Therapists wield a profound understanding of the human connection, which is a cornerstone of their healing art. But it's also the essence of a prosperous business. My guest on this episode of Heard Business School is Doctor Melvin Varghese. If you've met him or listened to his podcast selling the couch, you'll know his voice feels like a warm hug. He's kind, generous, and overall just a wonderful human being. Melvin, or as many know him, Mel, is a licensed psychologist, a dedicated father and husband, a podcaster course creator, and the founder and CEO of Selling the Couch.

Michael Fulwiler [00:01:32]:

In his private practice, he excels at helping founders of color, VC backed founders, and founder Dads to manage the anxiety, depression and burnout that often accompany business growth. During our conversation, Melvin delves into several key the intrinsic value therapists bring to business through their focus on authenticity and relationships, his journey from clinical work to creating and scaling selling the couch to over a million downloads, and the evolution of his podcasting program, Healthcasters. He also opens up about the financial struggles and imposter syndrome he faced early on, transitioning from clinical work to online business and the burnout experienced due to over diversification. It's a conversation that balances professional ambition with authenticity and the importance of providing real value to one's community. So without further ado, let's dive into my conversation with Doctor Melvin Varghese. Enjoy.

Michael Fulwiler [00:02:33]:

Melvin, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for being here.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:02:36]:

Mike, thank you. Thank you for inviting me. I'm incredibly honored to be here and excited for you guys and everything that you're doing at heard.

Michael Fulwiler [00:02:45]:

How does it feel to be on the other side of the podcast? Mike?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:02:48]:

A little bit strange. I'm getting used to it since I am doing more guesting on podcasts, but it still feels weird. It gives me an appreciation of what a guest must go through as I think about questions or pause or any of those things.

Michael Fulwiler [00:03:02]:

Well, we have so much to cover to dig into your entrepreneurial journey as a therapist. I'm really excited for this conversation. I'd love to start at the beginning. So your parents, they immigrated with your family to the US in the eighties. What was that experience like for you, and how did it ultimately put you on a path to becoming a therapist?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:03:26]:

Man, that's a really great question. This might be a. Maybe it's a multi episode, but I'll keep it short. Yeah. So, you know, I was born in the early eighties and my parents had the opportunity to come to the US a couple of times and they decided to stay in India, mainly because my dad is an attorney, my mom was a nurse. You know, we're in their late twenties, early thirties at that point, and had family around and careers and all of that. And basically in the late eighties, you know, the US immigration department was basically like, this is your last opportunity to get a green card if you want to come to the US. So that was one factor.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:04:06]:

And then the other factor is I have a younger brother and my parents, I think they saw something, and namely in the realm of education, that there might be more educational opportunities and career opportunities. And I translate to that almost like stability at a different level if they did immigrate. So we immigrated. I grew up in various suburbs of Dallas, so we immigrated to Texas because we had most of our family there. And English is actually my second language, so I didn't speak it at all. I mean, in fact, in second grade when we came, that whole first year, I spent in English as a second language classes, just trying to adjust what drove me ultimately to become a therapist. One thing I realized is, especially as a south asian immigrant, you know, there's often this stereotype, which is kind of true and not true, but, you know, it's basically like our career options are doctor, lawyer, engineer, or failure. Right? That's the four kind of options.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:05:09]:

And so I was very set on going into medicine to go into pediatrics because I love kids. And then I hit undergrad, went to a great liberal arts school that was a feeder for a lot of the medical schools in Texas and, and Oklahoma and all of that. Really struggled academically and went through a bout of intense depression, had very intense suicidal thoughts. And I told my parents they had the foresight to, for me to see a psychologist at that point. I was also basically went on academic probation, was going to lose like 90% of my scholarship at this liberal arts school that in 2000 was like 30 grand a year. I looked the other day and it was like 45 grand now. And I saw this psychologist, and just over the course of months, just these conversations, the depression seemed to lift, and I thought to myself, oh, my gosh, this is a career. And I also began to wonder how many people, especially immigrants of color, struggle with this aspect of it.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:06:24]:

Right. The pressure of leaving a country, of having to achieve. And what if you don't follow the prescribed path?

Michael Fulwiler [00:06:33]:

Did you major in psychology as an undergrad?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:06:36]:

I did. I did, yeah. I initially went in pre med and was a psychology major, and then after second semester of ochem, I dropped ochem, like, halfway through my second semester, and then I just went full psychology all the way through.

Michael Fulwiler [00:06:51]:

And then did you go straight into grad school after undergrad?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:06:55]:

Yeah, right after undergrad. I think something clicked from that second semester, sophomore year to junior to senior year. And so I was very fortunate to do well academically and then got directly into a PhD program right out of undergrad. So, yeah, so that was. That was the path.

Michael Fulwiler [00:07:13]:

Oh, wow. So you did your masters, masters, and PhD as part of the same program?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:07:17]:

Yeah. So they call it, like, a master's in passing. So I did, like, a master's. I forgot they called it, like, a thesis, but it was like, an abbreviated thesis. And so, yeah.

Michael Fulwiler [00:07:27]:

Did you do clinical work while you were in school? Like, did you have an internship as part of your part of your PhD program?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:07:34]:

Yeah, yeah. So, I mean, I went to a PhD program that was, you know, APA accredited. So I think even from, I want to say, second year on and possibly third year, you know, I did basically practicums throughout the rest of, like, that time. So I primarily worked in university counseling centers. I also worked at a community mental health agency where they, like, specialized in. I did assessments there. I worked at another agency that did family therapy. So.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:08:05]:

But they had, like, one way mirrors and that whole, like, all of that stuff, which was incredibly awesome from a training perspective, then. Yeah. And then eventually for internship and postdoc, I, you know, matched at bandy, and that was a kind of a joint internship and postdoc. So basically, my primary rotation was at the university counseling center, the Vanderbilt campus, and which. That was a phenomenal experience because it's one of the most stressful campuses in the nation just because of the number of high achievers, and just, I learned so much there. And then my secondary rotation was at the VA, so I worked in the polytrauma clinic. So TBIs and PTSD was private practice.

Michael Fulwiler [00:08:48]:

On your mind when you were in graduate school? Was that kind of the end goal, or were you still just exploring your options and, you know, seeing in, like, in what setting you wanted to work in?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:08:59]:

Yeah. Private practice full time was actually never the goal. The plan was actually to become a university counseling center director and then do part time teaching and part time private practice.

Michael Fulwiler [00:09:12]:

Was there something about going into private practice full time that felt intimidating, or were there certain barriers to kind of taking that jump?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:09:23]:

Yeah. So I think, like, even before the private practice side of it, the thing that intimidated me the most is I had never taken a business or marketing class in undergrad, high school. Like, nothing. Grad school, nothing. Again, I think part of it was, I do feel like it's my natural gifting, but I just didn't know it, you know, at the time, because I was, like, very much on this, like, pre med and then psychology track. Right. And so I think what definitely that thought that, I don't know, stuff definitely put a lot of fear in me. And even as I now go back into private practice, it doesn't feel as big now because I've done something on the couch for nine years now, but it definitely that fear of, like, what if I mess this up? What if there's some marketing or some method that I don't know about because I didn't, like, learn it? That's going to impact my ability to be successful as a business owner.

Michael Fulwiler [00:10:22]:

I'm so glad you said that. I think that's such a common experience for therapists, right? That you go to graduate school to become a therapist. You don't take a business class, and then if you want to start your own practice, now you're a business owner.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:10:38]:


Michael Fulwiler [00:10:39]:

And it is really scary, and it's really the entire thesis for this show, right. Is that most therapists don't go to business school. And so our goal with this show is really talking to folks like yourself and helping to share what you've learned over the years. You said a couple of things there that I definitely want to unpack. You mentioned you started selling the couch. So that happened around 2015. Can you talk about that? And I know we've talked about. You were sitting down, you were talking with a lot of therapists.

Michael Fulwiler [00:11:10]:

You were interviewing them. You were trying to learn as much as you can. At one point, you were like, I should be sharing this information with. With other people.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:11:18]:

Yeah. Yeah. That's the condensed version of it. So I got licensed as a psychologist. In 2012, after I finished up my postdoc, we moved to Philadelphia. My partner and I got married. We moved to Philadelphia just to be closer to family. I had zero social, like, or professional network, anything like that at all.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:11:36]:

I started in a group practice, and then I was working at a community mental health agency doing testing and assessment. And then at the group practice, I was also doing therapy and bariatric surgery. And so when I had two friends that were at that group practice, and we just connected, had, you know, notice we had a lot of common interests. We all had this desire to start a small business at some level, whether that was private practice, I mean, I think for all of us at some point was it was private practice. But we would meet at my friend Mike's apartment in Manioc, which is like this section of Philly, and we would watch a YouTube video, or we would read out of, you know, like, one of those, like, private practice books, right? Like Lingratsky's book, right? And read out of it and then, like, talk about it. And then we would go get, like, barbecue or something. You know, it's just, like a fun learn thing. And over time, I just started noticing inside of me, like, I was like, oh, I'm really interested in this, like, business stuff.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:12:40]:

I'm also interested in how we can use, like, our clinical skills beyond just doing therapy or testing. Like, what would that look like, for example, if you wrote a book or created a course or launched a podcast or something like that? And the other question, which is what you alluded to, I had this thought. I wonder if there are other therapists that would love to be in on these conversations. And this was again in 2015. Like, a lot of podcasts were like, I don't even think most people knew what a podcast was. And I reached out to some local therapists just out of the blue, and I was like, hey, my name is Melvin. I'm a licensed psychologist. I'm doing this thing called a podcast.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:13:26]:

I want to interview you because it seems like you built a successful practice or a successful business. Can we, like, talk? And so, pretty sure the first conversations were over Zoom. And one of my friends who's a sports psychologist, Corey, I remember reaching out to Cory, and he was like, to me, it felt like a celebrity because he had been, like, on, like, fox and a couple of these, like, you know, tv kind of things. He was, like, doing sports psychology and teaching and all this stuff. And he's like, why don't I just come over to your house? And I was like, oh, okay. So he comes over, and he's like, maybe we can just record the podcast there. And he later told me he had walking pneumonia that day, but he just, like, still wanted to show up. I literally took an ironing board.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:14:15]:

I put my $60 podcast mic right in the middle of this ironing board, and I told Corey, hey, I'm going to record this, but I only have one mic, so I'm just going to prompt you. So when I prompt you, you speak into the mic, and then I'll pull back, and then I'll ask the question and then prompt you. So that's how we recorded that episode.

Michael Fulwiler [00:14:37]:

That's amazing. And what a gift. You know, you could have had these conversations. You could have kept them to yourselves, to yourself, but, you know, you decided to record them and share them with other people. And it's been almost ten years now, right, that you've been doing this podcast. And I remember I was working at the Gottman Institute at the time. I started there in 2012, and, like, selling the couch. That was, like, the podcast at the time for a therapist.

Michael Fulwiler [00:15:03]:

And so you've really been doing this for a while now.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:15:06]:

Wow. I didn't know that part. I didn't even know. Wow, that's. Yeah, that's incredibly humbling. You know, the thing I've most enjoyed about it is just getting to meet amazing people. And for therapists, I mean, there's just something so empowering when we can share our own stories about the things that worked and didn't work for us. And I don't know.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:15:28]:

I'm a big believer in this. That concept of a rising tide lifts all boats, you know? And I feel like podcasting is, like, one of the best ways to do that.

Michael Fulwiler [00:15:36]:

Absolutely. So you start this podcast on an ironing board with. With one microphone. At some point, you make the decision, I'm gonna go all in on this. This is gonna be, you know, my full time thing. I'm going to leave clinical work. I'm going to build this business online. Can you talk about that process and what that was like?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:16:00]:

Yeah, of course. Well, I call that my overnight process. That actually took five and a half years.

Michael Fulwiler [00:16:06]:

Right, your overnight success, right?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:16:09]:

Yes, yes. So, yeah, from 2015 to just when. Right before the pandemic, actually, that march of when the pandemic started selling the couch was essentially from 2015 to about 2017. I was recording episodes basically around clinical work. So, I mean, to be completely honest, Mike, the first several months, I got up at, like, 350 in the morning to record solo episodes. And then I would take the train to Center City, Philadelphia, I'd take the 730 train, and then I would go see, like a day of clients and then come back and then, like, write up show notes or anything else I needed to tweak. And then over time, I knew in the first, like three and a half weeks, the podcast became like an Apple new and noteworthy podcast. And I was like, oh, that's so interesting.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:17:01]:

There's like a need for this in a way that I didn't imagine. And then I started thinking, like, what would this look like if it became a full time thing, right? And I didn't have sponsors or anything, so I had to figure out a way to, like, make money from it. So I launched a podcasting course for therapists because colleagues were reaching out to me, basically asking, like, how did you do this podcasting thing? I was doing one on one consults, and I was like, I gotta figure out a better way to, like, deliver this and scale it. In 2015, going to 2016, there was a nor Easter that hit the northeast. I dumped like, almost 30 inches of snow. I'm sure you remember this. I ended up having to, like, telehealth was not a thing. And even then, like, there were down power lines and all this stuff in this area.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:17:46]:

So I ended up having to cancel 22 fee for service clients, and it was about $950 in income that week, and we were saving up for the down payment on our first home, so. And I was like, oh my gosh, like, I cant build an entire business where its dependent on me or clients showing up. Like, I love the work, but from a business perspective, it just didnt seem wise. And then in 2018, our daughter was born two months early. We had gone through a year of infertility the year before, and every test and everything was perfectly normal. And then she came two months early, and I realized she was three pounds 12oz, barely the size of a football. And I realized in that moment I had to make this thing work because she ended up needing almost a year and a half of early childhood intervention due to low muscle tone in her back. So she wasn't sitting up at the age she was supposed to.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:18:47]:

And so that's what really prompted me to make this, like, a full time thing. What would it look like? And essentially what I wanted to do was I wanted clinical work, to go from clinical work being my main source of income to more scalable income sources, and then to go back into clinical work, but then pick and choose how many clients I wanted to see, what I wanted to charge all of that kind of stuff.

Michael Fulwiler [00:19:12]:

What were some of the challenges early on as you were forming and trying to build this business to be something sustainable that you could live on?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:19:23]:

The biggest one, I think, was I had a lot of money stuff. Money stuff that I just had to work through. I think, as a person of color, I think one, as an immigrant, I literally, there were stories that I had to work through. I had a undergrad experimental psych professor who I sort of saw as like, a pseudo mentor. When I had approached them about going into psychology versus not medicine anymore, they basically said, you know, you're never going to make any money as a psychologist, and when you're 18 or 19 years old, right. It just derailed me, and I had to work through a lot of that narratives because in the back of my mind, it's like, you're going to mess it up. You're going to, you know, you're not going to make any money on any of that kind of stuff. So that was definitely a big one.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:20:10]:

I mean, we call it imposter syndrome, but, like, I feel like it's. There's so many nuances to that term. And for me, it was. I was an early career psychologist, like, interviewing people that were 15, 2025, 30 years into the field, and, like, I'm kind of starstruck while simultaneously, like, interviewing them and try to, like, keep a straight face. So I think that was definitely the other side of it. And, I mean, the final one, I think, was focus. And I actually made mistakes, which is I kept thinking, you know, if you're going to go from this, like, clinical realm to this online business, like, you have to have a large reach online. The piece I didn't understand was, it doesn't mean you go and diversify, like, yesterday, right? So I went podcasts.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:21:04]:

I created a Facebook group. I tried Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, like, all simultaneously. And as a solopreneur, like, I had no help. Right? And so that was a formula for burnout. So that's something I always tell our colleagues, like, when you're starting anything new, like, year one is learning, year two is like, earning, and year three and beyond is scaling. That's a phrase from Ramit Sethi. So I want to give him credit for that. But I just thought that's such a good framework because I think a lot of therapists want to go into, like, year two mindset or year three, but we're often just at year one.

Michael Fulwiler [00:21:41]:

There's a couple points there that I think are important. I want to reiterate, you mentioned you launched the podcast, and within two weeks, it was a featured podcast on Apple Podcasts. And so Seth Godin talks about this idea of the dip where when you launch something new, there's some initial success. You haven't put in a lot of effort yet, but you're seeing good results. And then there's this dip back down. And in that dip, that's when a lot of people quit. They're like, this isn't working. But it's really about continuing to invest effort over time.

Michael Fulwiler [00:22:18]:

And this idea of compounding effort, could you talk about that a little bit and thinking about the long term versus the short term?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:22:29]:

This is generally, I think, probably the best example is how I approach social media. And so what I'm often trying to think about is not male of 2024, but I'm really thinking of male of 2035, right. And what are the assets that I can create online where the effort right now, it's like slow moving, but because I'm going to be creating it over ten to 15 to 20 years, over time, it starts to compound. So an example of this is like podcasting, right? And we can go into other examples as well. But the thing with podcasting is like, the discoverability of podcasts. They're still, it's not all the way there, right? Because it's an audio medium. Google really likes text. And so sometimes it's really hard to figure out, like, you know, to translate that over unless you have really good show notes, transcript, those are some options, right? But the thing with podcasts is, and, you know, I would say 92, 93% of people that have ever bought something from us say, mel, I listen to your podcast.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:23:38]:

I loved hearing your voice. I felt like I trusted you. Then I joined your email list. I loved what you shared there. And then when you said you had something to offer, like I was in because I trusted you, because I had built a relationship with you, right? And so in terms of compounding assets, that's what I think about. So my biggest, my most favorite ones are podcasting YouTube. And I think blogging is probably the third one, again, because they're slow, but because they can be discovered over time and the traffic just builds up over time.

Michael Fulwiler [00:24:14]:

You said that you've heard from people that they heard you on a podcast and they trusted you, right? I think something that I appreciate about you so much is your authenticity, right? Like, the way that you show up on your podcast is the same way that you show up on social media, right? Like, social media can be so negative and toxic. And, like, we all know about the therapist Facebook groups, right? And, like, the arguments that people get in. And, like, you know, I'm such a believer in, like, you get back what you put out into the world, right? And if, like, you're putting out positive energy, like, that's what you're gonna receive in return. And I think that's, like, a great takeaway for anyone that's listening to this or watching on YouTube is. Social media can be such a great way to develop relationships. You and I met on social media, and now we've developed this great friendship. Can you talk a little bit about this idea of business really being about relationships, which is something you and I have spent a lot of time talking about?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:25:22]:

Yeah, it's a wonderful question. I think for many therapists, we hear the word business or marketing, and we think, like, it's this thing that we don't know enough about, or it's about tactics or funnels or any of these things particularly, because, again, most of us have not taken business or marketing classes. So we gravitate and we hear this language and we're like, okay, I guess I should do this or do that. But I actually feel like therapists are one of the best people at business because we value authenticity, relationships, and all of these things. Actually, just recently, even this morning, my friend Jay Klaus had a LinkedIn post talking about how ultimately, like, success of a business, it all comes down to one to one relationships. It's something that I like I have to constantly remind myself, because, yes, you can do a podcast like this and you can sort of build at scale, I guess. But ultimately, it does come down to these one on one relationships. And this is something that I know you feel like.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:26:25]:

I feel the immense privilege, but the power that comes when you are in a position of influence, right. Because you could say something really bad about a company or about a person. I mean, there's a decent chance it could have a significant effect on that company or that person, right, because you said it, but realizing you have the power to do that and yet not doing it, because you care about the company or the person, even though you may disagree. I think that's the thing. I'm still learning, and I don't think I'm great at it, but, like, it's just something I've been thinking a lot about. But ultimately, you're right. Like, it comes down to these relationships and especially among therapists. Like, I mean, people, it's word of mouth, right? Like, people know and people tell each other.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:27:17]:

So that's the other piece I think often we have to think about is not the conversations that are happening when we're present, but the conversations happening in rooms when we're absent.

Michael Fulwiler [00:27:26]:

I totally agree. Therapists are inherently relational people. Right? Like, that's why they get into the work. And building a referral network as a therapist is all about building relationships. Building a community online is all about building relationships. I think there's a reason that you don't just sell courses, you have built communities that people can join. And I want to spend just a few minutes here talking about healthcasters, which I think is such an amazing program that you offer. Can you talk about kind of the evolution of healthcasters to, you know, people asking you, hey, can you teach me, like, how to launch a podcast? And you're having these one on one conversations to what it is today?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:28:17]:

Yeah, of course. That was. I call this my, like, failing moment product. Right? So we just passed 240 therapists in this community.

Michael Fulwiler [00:28:27]:


Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:28:29]:

Yeah, thank you. It's been incredible. So I've definitely. The idea was, again, what Mike, you alluded to, there were therapists in 2015 that were reaching out, asking, Mel, how are you doing this podcasting thing? And I just thought, what would it be like if we all came together and to help and support each other? Because there's stuff that I know, but there's a ton of stuff, I don't know. There's probably a ton of stuff, you know, probably stuff I can help you with. And what would that look like? Healthcares initially, and I'll share some of, like, the mistakes along the way. I was so scared to niche down into a podcasting community for therapists that I was like, okay, we're going to call it healthcasters because we want every healthcare provider that is vaguely interested in a podcast to be interested in this. So it doesn't matter if you're like an orthopedic surgeon or a therapist or a pharmacist, whatever it is, the idea was kind of there because it would be cool to build up these, like, networks, but 98% of the people that bought the course were therapists.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:29:38]:

And I, like, resisted this idea because I was like, why are more non therapists not buying this? Well, because probably in hindsight, I had a podcast that was speaking mainly to therapists, right? And there was a trust in all of that. So we initially started that as a 297 course. I had eight colleagues. We did. We ran a beta test and it was $297. I was going to do it like, a live teaching. That's definitely something I recommend if you are thinking about a course is you should do some sort of a beta round with paying students. Those eight students.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:30:12]:

When I was at the group practice, again, there were like, I think I was getting significantly like underpaid there, but I think I was getting like 40 something a session typically, right. And I just thought like 297 core sale, like that is, what is that? Six client sessions, right. And especially had, you know, eight students. I was like, oh my gosh, this is kind of crazy. The evolution of it is, you know, went from 297 to like 497. We slowly kept kind of growing. A lot of it was like word of mouth. It wasn't doing like active marketing.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:30:46]:

We had the Facebook group and, you know, definitely back then the reach of Facebook groups were amazing. So people were seeing what I was posting about, my podcasting journey, all of that. At some point I decided to turn it into a membership site because I kept hearing like, you need to have recurring income, recurring income. And it was a community model, so it kind of didn't make sense that, you know, that there was, and we were doing like regular coaching calls and all of this stuff. So fast forward to today. A little bit before, when our daughter was born, I had to take a pause from the community and the coaching calls because it was just too much to manage. So for the past like two, two and a half years, we've had actually probably a little longer than that. We've had only the course option.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:31:32]:

And recently, in the last like three months, we reopened the community and the coaching calls back up. And I am so grateful we did that because, one, it makes me want to work harder and create even a better course when I'm seeing like colleagues on these calls and being like, Melissa, like, how are you thinking about this? Like, why did you do this? Or, you know, it gives me data, but then it just makes me, when I see their faces, right, versus them just buying a course and going off, I never have those interactions. I think that's been wonderful. And so where is it evolving to? Honestly, right now I'm trying to figure that out. Do I keep it just like a one off course model, continue the, you know, the community, the coaching calls? Or does it make sense of more like a premium membership model that is focused more on building an intimate community, being able to join together, all of that kind of stuff.

Michael Fulwiler [00:32:26]:

For therapists who are thinking about starting a podcast, or maybe they've started a podcast. Is there one or maybe even two things that come up in the course? A lot, you know, whether it's like a question that folks have or there's just like, a point that you really drive, drive home for people, you know, that could be helpful to share with people who are listening.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:32:50]:

I think the one big one is, don't obsess so much about gear. In the first, like, three to four years, we used, my setup was like, $108. I was a dollar 60 mic, a mic arm that, like, creaked if I, like, just didn't, like, adjust it properly, or if I, like, hit it on accident. And I did that for the first five years when we hit a million downloads on the podcast. Beyond that, I think the first couple of years, the things that you should really be working on is one, learning to ask questions, right? And I think this is sometimes therapists forget, like, podcasts are the perfect place to practice, you know, to be a better therapist. The second thing is learning how to tell better stories online. And I feel like getting to storytelling. I feel like such a valuable skill.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:33:43]:

And that's the other, the piece that I would say, focus on. We have a free workshop as well, that you can just sign up for editing time. That's over@sellingthecountch.com. podcastingworkshop. But basically, when I do those webinars, I was like, you know what? I'm just going to try to give as much helpful information as possible. So it's 90 minutes of just tips and strategies and all this stuff we've learned along the way.

Michael Fulwiler [00:34:08]:

Yeah, I want to dig into that a little bit. I think that that is such an effective marketing strategy. And some people may think, like, why would I give away this information for free? Shouldn't I be charging? But I think it goes back to the trust that you mentioned earlier. Can you talk about the strategy and thinking behind offering these free webinars and free workshops as a way to promote the either courses or, you know, masterminds that you offer?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:34:37]:

To be completely honest, I didn't think deeply. Like you just said at the beginning, you know, I come from, my grandparents were teachers. My dad was a law, a law school professor, and then my mom was a nurse who taught at the nursing school. So it's like I come from two generations of teachers and my parents themselves, right? We moved here for education. And so I think I love teaching. I feel like it's in my, in my veins, and I feel like there's something about when you just genuinely help someone without any sort of expectation that's just so powerful, regardless of the marketing side of it. Right. And so I just oriented that way.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:35:15]:

And also, when I came here to this country, because I didn't speak the language. I mean, I remember my cousin, like, one of the first conversations he asked me, like, do I want cheese pizza? I remember the word cheese pizza. I didn't even know what cheese was like. Cheese is not something that we eat in South India, right? It's common in north India, but we don't really eat cheese in south India. I didn't know what pizza was. And so, like. And even, like, I just said, like, this, right? And this actually in. In South India means no, and this means yes.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:35:49]:

So he just gives you a slice of pizza. That's what I want. But I had so many people in my life who believed in me and saw something before I saw it, you know? And so I think when I, like, create this stuff, it's not just, like, let me think about the product down the line. Okay? Now, I definitely think about that stuff, but I think about, you know, if they're. Somebody's gonna watch a 90 minutes webinar, like, they're taking time away from their family, or maybe they. There's, like, two client hours they could have seen, right. I want them to walk away being like, oh, my gosh, I didn't waste my time. And so that's the general orientation.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:36:24]:

My thing is I want to surprise and delight people in the content that we create.

Michael Fulwiler [00:36:28]:

If people are going to invest their time, invest their money that they've worked hard to earn.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:36:37]:


Michael Fulwiler [00:36:37]:

Like, for me, I want to give it back tenfold. Right. If someone is spending an hour listening to the show, like, I want them to walk away with a ton of value, and they're like, wow, that was so worth it.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:36:51]:

Right, right.

Michael Fulwiler [00:36:52]:

Cause it's such a gift. Like, time is a gift, right? And people. And attention is a gift, too. And if someone's investing that in you, it's almost a responsibility. Like you talked about. You alluded to this earlier. You are going back into private practice, which I wanna talk about. So can you talk about that decision and that pull back into clinical work and also, like, just how you're thinking about building your private practice intentionally?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:37:20]:

Yeah, it's a great question. So I knew some part of me, like, always wanted to go back to clinical work, and I found myself, especially once we got away from, like, the throes of the pandemic, like, really missing the work. The other thing I realized is I looked at myself in the mirror, right? I'm an indian male psychologist living in the US. I think there has to be single digit of that, right? And the demand for mental health just generally is really high. And I just thought especially as like a psychologist of color, there's so many needs. And so the thing I was trying to figure out was like, who do I want to work with? I think the most logical was like, founders and CEO's of businesses. Because that stuff that I live and breathe, you know, with STC, I know what it's like to bootstrap. I know what it's like to build something successful.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:38:18]:

The piece that I didn't anticipate. And this is like my real full circle moment, there's been this demand of particularly, like, basically high achieving parents, raising high achieving kids, particularly of like, south asian origin. So a lot of like, high school seniors, juniors, college students, and the parents that are navigating and struggling with, you know, helping their kid who is struggling with anxiety and depression and all of these things. And that's the niche that's. I've been really surprised, and I'm still so early. I mean, I haven't honestly, like, officially my official start date is like June, but I've done two workshops in the last five weeks specifically toward this population. So first one was with a foundation in this community. There were basically two suicides of indian students in the last year and a half.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:39:13]:

And it was an incredible opportunity to talk to, you know, 67 parents showed up on a Saturday at 11:00 a.m. and I. And not a single person left at the end of the hour. I shared my own story for about 15 to 20 minutes, shared a couple of tips, and then I fielded 40 straight minutes of questions, and I just thought, oh, my gosh. And then one of the 67 members that were in that organization is part of a larger organization. It's an indian cultural organization. It's the largest and the oldest in North America. So 60,000 members.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:39:49]:

And I had the incredible opportunity about three weeks ago to do a second workshop for them. So it's. I don't know, Mike. Like, a lot of this is like, I'm trying to remember what's selling the couch. You know, we plan these things, and yet unexpected things happen. I'm trying to take that same approach to private practice. You know, I want to see honestly between just one and three clients, because right now I want to keep SDC the main thing. But I also realize there's a tremendous need and I have a tremendous passion for this intersection of high achievement and mental health because I am that kid who could have ended their life you know, but I didn't.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:40:29]:

And somehow, but I still stuff I navigate, you know? I mean, as an entrepreneur, I struggle with depression, anxiety, and how do I both bring a clinical lens to it as well as inform it through my personal experience as well?

Michael Fulwiler [00:40:44]:

How has the business side of therapy changed since pre pandemic? You know, I imagine a lot of therapists now are seeing clients online. Clients want to see therapists online. There's more software tools that are available. You know, if you want to take insurance, there's startups that help you take insurance. If you want to outsource your accounting and bookkeeping, there's companies like her that help you do that. So I'm curious, how do you think about that process of deciding, you know, services to use or software to use as you're setting up your business?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:41:26]:

This is one of the other big reasons why I went back into private practice, because there are so many options out there. I felt like having a clinical arm to be able to test and test some of these products before I recommend them because I realized the trust is such an important thing. How do I think about each of these products and services? So one thing is I created an informal, like, roundtable of friends, colleagues that I sort of lean on if I haven't heard of a product or service, I also asked them questions like, you know, what are sort of like, what do you use and what do you not use? What do you think? Like, I try to ask those questions just to get a better idea of how to approach it.

Michael Fulwiler [00:42:09]:

So I really appreciate that. We talked months ago about herd being a sponsor of selling the couch, and ultimately, you told me, Mike, I don't use hert, so I don't know that I can recommend it. That ethical position that you have of, I don't want to endorse a product or a service that I haven't used and vetted myself. I really respect that. And now you are right, like, using, you know, heard for your book. So we're grateful for that as well.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:42:45]:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, again, it goes back to that trust. I mean, to be honest, like, I think with so much money now getting thrown into Silicon Valley and mental health startups, it's becoming so much harder for me just to rely on a board of advisors. Right. To be, because it's just, there's so many things happening, and a lot of these companies have capital, right. And that's a real thing I'm navigating, right. Because they're saying, like, hey, we want to give you five or ten or 15, or I turned down a sponsor last year that was 50,000 plus. And the reason was because I saw in our Facebook community, like, colleagues talking about, like, the experience they were having.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:43:29]:

And I was like, I can't in good conscience, like, all money's not good money, you know, and I can't, like, recommend something if it's, like, profitable to me, but then hurts, you know, hurts a colleague.

Michael Fulwiler [00:43:42]:

Well, we're getting to the end of our show, unfortunately. We have a segment that we call the footnote. And what we do is we ask you to share one key takeaway. Think about someone scribbling something in the margins of their notebook. Right. What is one thing that you'd like therapists to take away from this conversation?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:44:08]:

I would say lean into your fears, because ultimately, when we're on our deathbeds, I think we'll regret the things that we didn't do versus the stuff we did do and didn't work out.

Michael Fulwiler [00:44:21]:

I love that. Where can folks connect with you if they're interested in learning more about healthcasters or the other services that you offer, even to potentially hire you as a therapist? One of your first two to three clients?

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:44:37]:

Yeah, absolutely. So the main website is over@sellingthecalge.com. and my private practice website is@melvinbarghesphd.com dot. Great.

Michael Fulwiler [00:44:49]:

Thank you. And we'll put that in the show notes as well. Melvin, thank you so much. This has been such an amazing conversation. I really appreciate your time today.

Dr. Melvin Varghese [00:44:57]:

Mike, thank you so much for, I'm grateful for you and thankful for our friendship.

Michael Fulwiler [00:45:03]:

Thanks for listening to this episode of Herd Business School, brought to you by Herd, the financial back office. For therapists, visit the Herd resource hub@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.