Interview with Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC

IMG_6852Today I’m interviewing  Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC. He  is the owner of Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He also helps counselors in private practice to grow their practice through his website www.PracticeofthePractice.com. He is the author of  Practice of the Practice | A start-up guide to launching a private practice and Mental Wellness Parenting | A remarkably simple approach to making parenting easier. Lastly, He loves sailing and has a 22-month-old daughter that he has so much fun with!

Joe, tell us about your practice

Tracy, thank you so much for allowing me to do this interview. I’m really excited about it. I started Mental Wellness Counseling in 2009 in Traverse City, MI. I had been in private practice as a 1099 and then moved to Traverse City.

I’m really glad that I filed as a PLLC while I was at the other practice, because it made opening my own practice much easier.

At Mental Wellness Counseling our tag line is, “We help angry kids, frustrated parents, and distant couples…and just about everyone else.” For me, I try to de-stigmatize counseling when I can. The average people understand what an “angry kid” is, they don’t care as much about clinical labels.

I want my practice to reflect my style, which I hope is to be very approachable, while also on the cutting edge of research and practice.

There are so many aspects of beginning a counseling career that can feel confusing and overwhelming. What would you say should be the top 3 priorities for a beginning counselor?

I actually have several chapters in my book Practice of the Practice | A start-up guide to launching a private practice that goes really in-depth with this question. Tracy, I’ll do my best to cover the basics.

First I think a counselor needs to think about their long-term goals. For example, I always knew I wanted to open my own private practice. I couldn’t do that right out of grad school. I needed some experience.

My daughter is almost two years old. Parents of teens will say to me, “How can you teach about parenting when you only have a two year old?” Because i took time to gain experience I can let them know my experiences in working foster care, residential facilities, as an outdoor counselor, in schools, and in home-based settings. Gaining a diverse experience will almost always help in the long run.

Secondly, if a counselor is moving toward private practice every counselor should work toward developing a niche. In my very first podcast Practice of the Practice with Joe Sanok (available on iTunes) I spoke extensively about why this is vital. In developing a niche, you’re known for something.

Lastly, building a public image is something few counselors will do. This can be done through writing for the local paper, speaking, and networking. Creating a dynamic website with blog content is the next essential step for counselors. Clients want to feel like they know you before they commit. If a counselor can have a fresh looking website and blog, it can also help with SEO. I have an article that can help counselors do that themselves that your readers would find helpful: http://www.practiceofthepractice.com/resources/resources-for-building-your-own-website/

What was your most difficult and valuable lesson you learned as an LPC-Intern?

That’s a very easy question to answer, it is an example I use with every intern I supervise. I inherited a client from another intern that was leaving. I assumed that they had discussed confidentiality with the client and the limits of it.

I was wrong.

The client disclosed that they had been abusing their child. I explained that I was mandated to report it and that I wanted to call together so that they could hear what I said. The man yelled at me, said something about how counseling was supposed to be a place to vent, and stormed out of the session.

Needless to say, I have never forgot to go over confidentiality since, not once.

How did you find your counseling specialty?

What a great question, Tracy! When I was in my undergraduate program I thought to myself, “I want to work with angry kids.” Maybe I saw too many after-school specials or got picked on too much and wanted to stop future bullies. Either way, I figured that I should probably work with that population before I went on for a full Masters or Doctorate.

I got a job at a runaway shelter and absolutely loved the population! They were fun, edgy, and once you had their trust, they really wanted your opinion. The transformations were remarkable. From there, I got into issues around parenting, because these kids would go back home and nothing had changed. They had a glimpse of a different life and then they went back to the old lifestyle.

So I started building my experience in teaching parents.

Lastly, as couples had kid issues and parenting issues they often had marriage issues. So I started learning about how to help couples. So that’s how I started working with “angry kids, frustrated parents, and distant couples.”

If your current self could give one piece of advice to the version of you that started your career, what would that be?

Don’t disregard older counselors just because they are not young or hip or know the most current research. When someone has stuck with such a tough field for so long, there is something deep within their soul that is worth exploring.

What resource (book, person, website, and or blog) helped you the most when establishing your private practice?

For me there have been a few amazing resources. I actually require new counselors in my practice and interns to read most of them:

The Start-up Guide to Guerrilla Marketing

Why Johnny Can’t Brand

Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income Blog www.smartpassiveincome.com

My blog aimed at helping counselors in private practice www.PracticeofthePractice.com, especially my member newsletter that helps counselors go from having no private practice to launching and growing one over 52 weeks. Here’s a link for your readers, they’ll get a free copy of my ebook as part of signing up! Link for the Member’s E-newsletter, with free book! I’ve focused on putting together content that I wish I had in my first year of private practice, it’s meant to save time, frustration, and mistakes.

From what source do you receive the majority of your referrals?

A year ago it used to be doctors and referrals sources that I had developed relationships with. About this time last year, I redesigned my website and learned a lot about SEO. I went from the bottom of page three in Google for the search term “counseling Traverse City” to the top of page one in six weeks. Now I get most referrals from web searches or from Psychology Today’s website.

How long did it take before you had a steady flow of clients on a regular basis?

This is hard to answer, Tracy. I am very open about how I still have a full time job with our local community college. My wife stays home with our daughter, so the health insurance, steady income, and retirement make the mixture perfect for where we are at. With that said, my practice has so many clients coming in that I brought on one clinician and I’m bringing on two more in the coming months. If I wanted to be full time in private practice, I have no doubt that I could do it.

I have now opened practices in two cities. Each time it took about three months to get my first client. I spent that time networking and getting speaking and writing gigs. Then both times it was about another month before I got another client. Then around the six month mark a flood of clients started coming.

One reason that I launched the 52-week Private Practice Creation E-newsletter was because I learned a lot over that time that I think made me waste time, money, and made me want to quit. There are some very simple tips that can get clients in the door, without the headaches that we give ourselves.

What is your opinion of sliding scale fees?

I love them, when done correctly. I would say that of the counselors that hire me to consult with them and review their marketing approaches, 95% of them are undercharging their clients. When I first started in Traverse City, the market rate for private pay counseling was $80. I charged $70. Then, about a year and half in I raised my rates to $100. Now I am at $150.

I actually started posting my monthly income reports on my blog starting last September to inspire other counselors and for accountability in showing that my principles actually work to help me make more money and work less. http://www.practiceofthepractice.com/category/business/cash/

What’s great about figuring out how to optimize income is that you can give away whatever you want. I now make almost twice the market rate and people pay it! I could give away a free session for every session that I have at full price.

I have a business consultant friend who told me, “People would rather get a discount, so even if you charge $150 and tell everyone that you will charge $120, they emotionally will feel better about it.”

As we explore business and counseling topics, each counselor has to think about what they feel comfortable with. We can’t all do that, but we should explore how we can charge a fair rate, while also helping needy clients.

Our clients don’t blink at paying computer people or auto mechanics these rates and we’re dealing with their lives.

We appreciate you sharing what you have learned about business via your website, podcast, and e-book, Practice of the Practice. What business information have you found to be the most and least beneficial to your practice?

These would actually be the same as the ones I listed earlier:

The Start-up Guide to Guerrilla Marketing

Why Johnny Can’t Brand

Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income Blog www.smartpassiveincome.com

My blog aimed at helping counselors in private practice www.PracticeofthePractice.com, especially my member newsletter that helps counselors go from having no private practice to launching and growing one over 52 weeks. Here’s a link for your readers, they’ll get a free copy of my ebook as part of signing up! Link for the Member’s E-newsletter, with free book! I’ve focused on putting together content that I wish I had in my first year of private practice, it’s meant to save time, frustration, and mistakes.

Tell us about your books…

Tracy, thanks for asking about the books. My first book Practice of the Practice | A start-up guide to launching a private practice has really been my notes and ideas of what it takes to get a private practice off the ground. There’s something about taking all these lessons and helping other counselors to experience less pain and grief that is very satisfying. My hope is that it will help guide counselors in a step-by-step manner through the stages of a private practice.

My second book, Mental Wellness Parenting | A remarkably simple approach to making parenting easier came out of something different. I was on this call-in show every other week for a while called “The Mary in the Morning Show.” Every time I was on the show she said, “Joe, you have to write a book. I interview people all the time and you are so much better than them!” It was really inspiring for me. I didn’t do it right away, I had to outline, think, and plan. Then one day it hit me that I had to do it, I took all my notes and wrote, edited, and completed it within a few months.

I’m currently working on a book, the working title (it may change) is The Ten-minute Toddler Turnaround | Transforming Your Toddler from Battles to Bedtime in 10 minutes. In talking with our friends, we have realized that what is common knowledge to counselors and many parents, actually is not. There are really simple techniques that help parent’s lives to significantly easier. They feel like “magic secrets” but once parents learn these concepts they really change everything. I’ll be announcing the release on our Facebook group www.facebook.com/mentalwellnessparenting.

What led you to the decision to write a book on how to launch a counseling private practice?

You’re just full of great questions, Tracy! It actually all started out of a presentation I gave in a graduate class. I was invited to speak about private practice issues and marketing. Maybe you’ve heard of the stages of professional development: you don’t know what you don’t know, you know what you don’t know, you don’t know what you know, and then you know what you know.

It was one of those moments where I didn’t realize how much I knew and how valuable it was to new counselors. The students overwhelmingly said to me, “I can’t believe this stuff isn’t being taught in grad school!”

It was inspiring to hear from students, new counselors, and even those who had been in the field for a while. I started by launching my blog, www.PracticeofthePractice.com. I figured that launching a book with no audience would make all the hard work for nothing. So from April of 2012 through August 2012, I really focused on writing great content, building an audience, and developing my skills. My first version of the book was ready in the summer. I wrote it in a format that looked more like a magazine and sold it through my website.

I got some great feedback on what people liked and what they didn’t like. The most important feedback was how it was not very easy to read on the Kindle and iPad. That’s when I decided to launch it on Amazon. I found out that my “cool” formatting looked really crazy on most devices when purchased through Amazon, so I spent a month going through and reformatting the book. I looked at it page-by-page on every device to make sure it looked good and didn’t format funny.

I then relaunched it.

What I love about having it on Amazon, is that as I learn new things or find out about additional resources, I can upload a new version and folks can download it immediately.

I’ve been amazed at the response from people. I did a free giveaway for listeners on my podcast and people that follow my blog/twitter/facebook. It was great, 164 people downloaded it in one day!

What led you to the decision to write a book for parents?

I sort of touched on that earlier, but I’ll tell you a bit more.

Hearing from people that liked what i was saying was definitely really encouraging. But what made it significantly easier was that I had kept my typed notes for every radio show, presentation, and article I had written.

As a result, the outline was really easy to put together. When you hear that people are connecting with your teachings, it makes it hard to not use those gifts and talents with the world. It feels kind of selfish. I don’t feel like I am some brilliant parenting guru, but people seem to be learning and connecting with what I’m saying.

There’s also a secondary benefit to writing. When you write articles and books, people seem to value your private practice more. As a result, I attract an audience that can help me continue to do the work I love. I can grow to help more people, increase my overall financial health, and have opportunities to speak and share at a level that I couldn’t, hard I not written a few books.

Where can we purchase your books?

They are both available on Amazon. Here are a few resources I recommend:

My books:

Practice of the Practice | A start-up guide to launching a private practice

Mental Wellness Parenting | A remarkably simple approach to making parenting easier

My podcast The Practice of the Practice Podcast with Joe Sanok available on iTunes.

The online community for parents, counselors, and educators: www.facebook.com/mentalwellnessparenting

Twitter: Parenting Issues www.twitter.com/JosephSanok Private Practice Issues: www.twitter.com/OfThePractice

Member’s Newsletter for Building and growing a counseling private practice

Joe’s consulting-blog-resource website www.PracticeofthePractice.com

Networking Event

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Its that time again…time for our next networking event!

After receiving feedback from our members it was decided that our next event will focus on brief therapy approaches.  We are hoping to get a turnout of 10 members to this event. The format of this event will be discussion group. This means that each person attending should be prepared to contribute their thoughts and experience regarding brief therapy approaches.

These events are designed to provide both support and opportunities to network yourself in our field. Don’t miss out on this chance to connect with others, increase your support system, and build your name in the counseling field!

This event will be held on Saturday 4/27/13 from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM at Novian Counseling & Neuroeducation Center.  Please email us at SACounselors@gmail.com to register for this event.

[Photo found here.]