Selling the Couch: The Business of Psychotherapy

An interview with Melvin Varghese, PhD

Posted Apr 09, 2015

The business side of private practice is something that eludes many, if not most, mental health professionals. As an outgrowth of his practice, Philadelphia-area psychologist Melvin Varghese has created an iTunes podcast called Selling the Couch, which is an on-going series of interviews with thought leaders in practice building, marketing and social media like Keri Nola, Becky DeGrossa and Cory Bank, among others. I interviewed Dr. Varghese about his experience developing the project, and his perspective on the therapist as solopreneur. A full list of current interviews is available at the end of the interview.

MJF: The name “Selling the Couch” is intriguing and really ripe with possibility. How did you come up with it?

MV: To be completely honest, I came up with the name in the shower. I wanted to have the word “couch” in the title. I also wanted something that communicated business. Then the word “selling” popped into my head. I remember jumping out of the shower, throwing on clothes and sprinting to my laptop. I typed in “,” and it was available. I don’t think I’ve ever typed a credit card number in as fast as when I registered that website!

MJF: The Selling the Couch podcast has been downloaded more than 3,000 times since its launch just a few weeks ago, and was ranked one of the top 20 new podcasts on iTunes. That’s quite a success. What encouragement would you give to someone who wants to take the leap into small business, but is apprehensive?

MV: We’re all more courageous than we give ourselves credit for. For so long, I listened to the voice of fear. Launching a podcast terrified me. I didn’t know how it was going to be received, or whether anyone would listen. In fact, there were nights I would actually cry myself to sleep in frustration. What I’ve learned from this whole process is that it’s not whether something succeeds or fails that matters—it’s being willing to take the risk, and taking it. I’m convinced more than ever that the hardest thing to bear is not failure, but regret.

MJF: What’s been the most challenging part of launching a small business?

MV: Without a doubt, it’s balancing my work, my family and developing the podcast. During the months before launch, I was working 14 hour days, 6-7 days a week; but I have a very supportive spouse, family and friends. They understood I needed the time, and that I wouldn’t be able to hang out with them for a while. I honestly wouldn’t be doing this without them.

MJF: What’s one online business tip you would give to someone?

MV: Build an email list. I love social media, but the reality is that not everyone sees your social media posts. Email is still the one medium where everyone you contact will see it. For private practitioners, the key is to give something away—what’s called an opt-in gift—that’s a “pain point” for people, or makes people want to get what you have to offer. For example, if you work with couples, you could create a one-page sheet of “50 Couple-Friendly Activities” in your local town, or something of that nature.

MJF: What’s an emerging social media platform that therapists in private practice should be on?

MV: I’ll share two: Pinterest and Instagram. Both are visual platforms, and visual content tends to get much more engagement across all social media. In fact, I believe there is some research on how we are moving more toward visual engagement, which accounts for the rising popularity of infographics. You can use a free program like Canva to create shareable visual content like inspirational quotes. By tactfully placing your brand, like a website address or Facebook page, on what you create, people will know where to go to learn more about you.

MJF: In your opinion, where are the best places on social media to network with colleagues in the mental health field, especially those in private practice?

MV: There are several wonderful communities on Facebook, including the Selling the Couch community page. I know there are some large communities on LinkedIn, but I’ve noticed our colleagues seem to be more active on Facebook. The easiest way to find Facebook groups is to use the Search box on the top of your Facebook page, then look for “therapy” or “private practice.”

MJF: What’s the one piece of advice you keep hearing from successful practitioners when starting a private practice?

MV: Research your market before making any commitments, financial or otherwise. That means looking into the needs of the community, figuring out how many practitioners are in your area, what the going rates for various services are and in what areas other professionals specialize. You can get this information by visiting area office buildings, as well as checking out the various online directories. This way, you're not entering a saturated market and you’re not either pricing yourself out of that market, or undercutting yourself. Even if you do make a misstep, you can always figure out how to stand out from the rest of the crowd; that is something essential to ongoing success.

MJF: You often ask your guests about their daily habits. What’s a daily habit that contributes to your success?

MV: I take a 25 minute power nap in the early afternoon, most days. I’m not a coffee, tea, or soda drinker, so a nap helps me rest, clears my mind and helps me be as productive in the afternoon as I am in the morning.

MJF: What's the most important aspect of your daily routine?

MV: I give equal time to dreaming, planning and executing. As much as is possible, I feel the key is to spend equal time on each. If you send too much time dreaming or planning, you’ll never get started, and too much execution without a vision or concrete steps is a formula for burnout.

MJF: What makes having undertaking this project ultimately rewarding for you?

MV: When someone takes the time to write a note saying the podcast and blog have helped her in taking the small business leap, or provided him with new insight into further developing his existing practice. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing you're using your talents and abilities to help someone else.

MJF: What’s your short- and long-term vision for Selling the Couch?

MV: For now, my goal is to produce the best podcast possible; helping aspiring and new private practitioners become better business owners, as well as inspiring established practitioners to think about the bigger picture. Long term, I want to use the blog as a platform to help private practitioners develop an online presence through their social media platforms, blogging and engagement. Social justice and advocacy are also things that are very important to me, and I’m exploring some ways to make that vision a reality, as well.

Selling the Coach podcasts

Introduction and What to Expect – Melvin Varghese

Lessons from 15 Years in Private Practice – Cory Bank

5 Years and a Thriving Private Practice – Camille McDaniel

How to Stand Out on Twitter – Bud Hennekes

How to Build a Private Practice (Without Relying on Insurance – Keri Nola

Great Audio Made Easy – Matt Maszkzac

On Being a Counselor and Professional Blogger – Michael J. Formica

How to (Really) Build Trust on Your Website – Becky DeGrossa

From Successful Paralegal to Blossoming Therapist – Laura Reagan

Balancing Life and Private Practice – Mari A. Lee

Landing Local Media Interviews – Betsy Fitzpatrick

Private Practice Taking Flight – Deb Owens

© 2015 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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