As some of you know, I recently took some time off to go walking in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. As I was trudging up a hill, I got thinking about how I could use what I was doing as a metaphor for you who are getting going in your private practice. So today, I’m going to talk about what you need and don’t need, how to plan, and how to motivate yourself to continue while all the time taking care of you so that you’re not overwhelmed by the size of the task. 

Let’s start talking about equipment. One of my sisters is a keen cyclist, and she told me once, you have to have the gear, so that when you fall off your bike, you still look like a professional.

It makes it less likely that people will make fun of you. 

And I think the idea of looking good is quite seductive, and it often acts as a way of protecting ourselves from criticism. We tell ourselves that we need to project a professional image, because then it looks like we know what we’re doing. We can be frightened of letting people see us as we really are, because somehow we think that’s not good enough. 

In terms of your private practice, looking good might mean spending a long time thinking about your branding.

This might be the name you’re going to use, what sort of logo you’d like, and the colours you’d like on your website. It might even mean putting off writing a counselling profile, because you want a good photograph, and you don’t like the way you look on camera. 

Now, doing things like designing a logo or website can be good fun, especially if you’re creative. And there’s no doubt that a professional image can be reassuring to clients. But when you’re busy creating your branding, or if creating your brand is holding you up, I’d like to challenge you and ask you, how necessary is it to spend a lot of time in the early stages of starting anything up, trying to look good?

Is it because you’re trying to protect yourself? Starting something new, like opening a private practice, designing a website, or creating a social media feed, can make you feel very vulnerable. You’re telling the world that you’re good enough to have paying clients, and often that can bring up feelings of being an imposter. So looking good can be a way of trying to deflect criticism, but is it really helpful to your aim of a successful private practice? Effectively, what you may end up doing is to allow perfectionism to get in the way of working with clients.

You can be so busy trying to get it right that you don’t actually ever reach out for clients. You tell yourself, you’re not ready yet. You’ll be ready when x, y, or z is finished. But you know what? X, y or z never feels quite right, so you may never get started.

Does that sound familiar? Take a leaf out of the book of one of my Therapy Growth Group members. She has just started to see clients and had her assessment form all drafted out, ready to use in her first session. But what she found, as she began to work through it, was that it didn’t actually work for her. So she put it to one side and allowed the session to flow naturally.

Because a lot of what we’re doing when we’re preparing in advance is trying to feel ready, in inverted commas. We persuade ourselves that we just have to get our T’s crossed and our I’s dotted, and then it will all run smoothly and we’ll feel professional. But let me tell you a story about one of my early walking holidays. It poured with rain all day, And, yes, it did result in the purchase of a better waterproof coat. That discomfort motivated me to make the change.

But we’re so often scared of discomfort that we avoid it in the first place. 

It’s really helpful to be prepared for your clients. For example, you may want to have a contract in place. You probably want to anticipate what’s needed in order to avoid mistakes. But sometimes the fear of discomfort means that you never get started.

You’re so scared of what it would be like to make a mistake, that you spend all your time amassing your equipment, and you never actually get out there on that walk. On that early walking holiday, I met another walker at the bed and breakfast. She was walking the Cotswolds Way, and she told me that she went on a long walk every year. And with each walk, she’d upgrade her equipment. She gradually invested in her kit as she became more committed to the activity.

And the thing is, you can be just like her. You can get started and upgrade as you go. Sometimes it’s only as you experience the walk that you’ll realise what you’ll need, just like my Therapy Growth Group member who realised during the session that her assessment form wasn’t quite right. It’s often through experience that you learn what you’ll need. Beware of getting so weighed down by what you should do that you never get going.

By all means be prepared if that makes you feel better, but don’t let the thought of not being prepared, or not being perfectly prepared, stop you. Because often it all changes anyway, as you work for real with real clients.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that you’ll never be able to feel 100% comfortable. Doing something new is nerve wracking. It is scary. It does make you feel like an imposter. But if you wait until you feel that elusive sense of comfort, you may never get started at all. 

Now, having said all of that, there is one piece of equipment that is really useful when you go walking, and that’s a map, because without it you’re quite likely to get lost. If you’re starting out on private practice, or if you’re looking for more clients, do take a look at the links in the show notes and download the Setting Up a Successful Private Practice ebook, or the checklist on 21 Ways for Counsellors to Attract New Clients. They will actually act like a map and help you plan the direction you’d like to take.

Now before I go on a walk, I’ll read a guidebook to decide where we’re heading, and then I’ll delegate my other half to plan the exact route on his phone. He’s a techie, and I’m a great one for delegating. Once we’re out and about, we’ll keep checking the local landscape against the map and work out where we are. That means we’ll be able to follow the route and it gives us reassurance that we’re not lost. And if you think about it, just saying I’m going to arrive at my final destination without having any route markers along the way means you may wonder where you are going, and whether you’re going in the right direction.

You don’t know how you’re doing, or how long you’ve got to go. When we’re going on a long hike, I find it reassuring to count down the miles, and it also helps me to know when to take a rest so that I can pace myself. So I’d recommend thinking to yourself, what does your final destination look like? And what are the route markers along the way that will show you how you’re doing? How will you know you’re travelling towards where you want to go?

Let’s think about this in the context of your private practice. For a start, you might like to think about what you want it to look like in the long term. How many clients will you be seeing? How many hours would you like to be working? And what will your days look like?

Will you be working full time with a full time income, or do you want a smaller commitment? Will you have developed a specialism, or perhaps be mixing in different types of work, such as supervision, training, or carrying on an existing part time job. You may like to take some time to journal on what you’d like to do, and where you’d like to be 3 to 5 years in the future. 

However, that final destination can feel overwhelming. It can feel like you’re overreaching yourself.

You may tell yourself that that sort of success is not meant for someone like you. Quite simply, it can feel like too big a task to complete. It can be helpful to have some milestones that seem more achievable to aim at first. These can show you how you’re doing, and that you’re heading towards your ultimate goal. Those milestones might be getting a profile published, a website created, getting in a new client, and later, handing in your notice in your existing job, or hiring your own room full time.

Each milestone is a chance to take stock, and also to congratulate yourself on your progress. And remember, if you need some ideas of the sorts of milestones you set for your private practice, there’s a couple of downloads listed in the show notes. 

Now, when I’m out walking, I’ll be looking for the next stile to cross, but I won’t be exactly sure where it is, or how big the field is I’ll have to cross to get there. So I know the general direction, but not each step. And it’s not always clear exactly how you’re going to reach each milestone along the way to your destination.

But when you’re looking at the overall plan, you don’t need to worry about not knowing each step in detail. Don’t let the thought of not knowing stop you. You’ll work it out at the time. 

Let me tell you what it’s like when I’m walking up a very steep hill. It’s pretty exhausting, and if I look up too much I can feel demoralized.

It instantly feels harder to focus on how far I still have to climb. So often what I’ll do is just focus on the steps that I’m taking right now. I don’t look too far ahead because it’s daunting. I know that if I keep going, I will get there, but looking at the height of the climb can be very off putting. And another thing to mention at this point, is that I normally walk with my husband.

He’s almost a foot taller than me, and his legs are a lot longer than mine. He gets up hills faster than me. If I compared myself to him, I’d find that pretty demoralizing too. He’s got an innate advantage. And when you’re developing your business, you may be walking alongside peers who have other advantages to you.

They may have helpful connections to others who can make referrals, they may have previous business skills, or they may be more techie than you. But if you focus on what they’re doing, and what they’ve got, not only will you end up doubting yourself, but you may miss something important that’s right in front of you. I could easily trip over a tussock that’s in front of me if I’m looking at how my husband is further ahead, rather than using said tussock to elevate me higher in my own climb. 

So coming back to hills, they can be very misleading. You think you can see the top, but when you reach the crest, you discover there’s a further height beyond it.

Just when you thought you were getting there, you discover there’s another challenge. Yikes. So what I’ll do, if I start feeling put off by the climb, is I turn around and I take in the view. I’ll look at how far I’ve already climbed, and that will give me the strength to carry on. I can take a breath and have a rest.

It’s really helpful to take stock of how far you’ve come. Really enjoy drinking in that view. Look at how far you’ve climbed. I bet 5 years ago you wouldn’t have expected to be where you are now. And someone who’s accomplished the journey that you’ve been on, has enough resilience to continue and reach the top.

Now, please indulge me for a moment or 2 longer while I tell you why I go walking in the first place. I really love to connect with the countryside, to see beautiful scenery, trees in blossom, buttercups, fields, stone walls, rivers, and sheep. It’s not really about the destination, it’s about the opportunity to experience the things that I love. So in closing, let’s remember the whole point of the walk is not about the final destination. It’s all about the experience.

It’s about the joy of living in this moment, of connecting to that part of yourself that loves your work, of meeting people along the way, and of discovering your ability to do the things that you never imagined were possible of little old you. So, wherever you are in your journey of private practice, why not take this moment to enjoy the view? Take a moment to drink in how far you’ve come, and take a look around you to appreciate what you’re experiencing. And then, with the knowledge that you’ve already climbed a mountain to get this far, have the courage to know that you can continue. You can meet the challenges that lie ahead, if you keep taking it step by step.

Thanks for listening. Do come and join my Facebook community, Good Enough Counsellors, and for more information about how I can help you develop your private practice, please visit my website, If you found this episode helpful, I’d love it if you could share it with a fellow therapist or leave a review on your podcast app. And in closing, I’d love to remind you that every single step you make gets you closer to your dream. I really believe you can do it.