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[00:00:00] Dr. Sharp: Hello, everyone. Welcome to The Testing Psychologist podcast, the podcast where we talk all about the business and practice of psychological and neuropsychological assessment. I’m your host, Dr. Jeremy Sharp, licensed psychologist, group practice owner, and private practice coach.

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All right, everyone. Here we are again. Thanks for joining me today for another business episode. Today’s episode is all about answering a question that I get a lot from consulting clients, and something I hear a lot in the Facebook group, which is, how do you find and [00:01:00] establish a consultation group as a post-graduate clinician?

So, I’ve had the good fortune of being in a number of consultation groups both in-person and remote over the past 10 or 12 years. They’ve really been instrumental to my emotional health, and practice health, business, getting referrals, and just having support. It’s really, really valuable. So, I want to talk through some ideas about establishing and running your own consultation group.

A few things that I get into are: why join a consultation group in the first place, the different types of consultation groups, how to find a consultation group, ways to structure the consultation group, and a few other things. So, if any of that sounds interesting, this could be a good episode for you.

[00:02:00] Additionally, if you are an advanced practice owner or a practice owner that would like to move into the advanced stage, my Advanced Practice Mastermind is starting on June 10th for the next cohort.

This is a small group coaching experience where we will provide accountability and support to help you reach goals in your practice. So, this could be things like hiring or hiring more. It could be streamlining your schedule and balancing your time. Cutting back on being overwhelmed. It could be developing additional streams of income. Any number of other things.

So, if you have mastered the initial stage of practice and now really want to dial it in, this could be a great option for you. You can get more information and schedule a pre-group call at thetestingpsychologists.com/advanced.

All right, let’s get to talking about consultation groups.

[00:03:00] Okay, everyone. Let’s just dive right into it. On these business episodes, I don’t beat around the bush too much. I want to just get into the material so that you can learn a little bit and hopefully take away a few things. So, all about a consultation group.

Now, here’s where I started with this. I was fortunate enough early in my career. So I’m talking within a year of going out in private practice, which was within a year of getting licensed. So very early career. I had the good fortune to end up in not just one but [00:04:00] two consultation groups. And both of those groups, even though I eventually stopped attending these groups a few years ago, both of those groups really helped form the foundation of my referral base. And I continue to get a number of referrals from members in both of those groups. And not just that, but I’ve been able to maintain really solid relationships with individuals in both of those groups over the years as well.

So, I think that those things go hand in hand. When you have positive relationships with your peers in town, that tends to relate well to getting referrals from those peers as well.

A consultation group really served a number of purposes for me in the beginning. It was just providing support and collegiality and [00:05:00] helping keep all of us sane while we were building our practices and just bounce ideas off one another. And, of course, the clinical support was fantastic as well.

So, I’m a big believer in the power of consultation groups. And I want to share a little bit about that whole process here with you today.

I’ve touched on this already and maybe this is obvious, but when you think about why you might want to join a consultation group, there are really three components that I think of.

One is the clinical support. I think that clinical support is one of the main reasons that people seek out a consultation group.  Ideally, you would find a group of other testing clinicians because at least from the clinical standpoint, that’s where we need the most support and collaboration.

And ultimately I will say this, [00:06:00] my consultation groups were not specifically focused on testing. The members in the group were not solely testing clinicians. And this was ultimately what led me to leave those groups because as I zeroed in on testing, which happened relatively quickly in private practice, it became more and more obvious that if I needed clinical support, that’s what I wanted to be talking about.

Now, what made it really tough, and I honestly stayed in these groups I think longer than it was clinically relevant was just the relationships.

So, the second reason that a lot of folks will get into a consultation group is for emotional support. When I say emotional support, I just mean a consultation group can help you feel less isolated, help you feel more connected, and it can also really help with just that anxiety of [00:07:00] liability in private practice.

I think a lot of us if we’ve worked in agencies, we get really used to walking down the hall and consulting with people. And when that safety net gets taken away, it does feel quite vulnerable in private practice when you run up against situations that are challenging and you don’t necessarily have someone to turn to. So having that consultation group is great from a clinical perspective, but really just knowing that you have that safety net and that you have some backup if you run into tricky clinical issues can be very helpful.

Now, the third component that I think about that I’ve alluded to already is building relationships not just for marketing, but marketing is a nice byproduct of building relationships with folks. And anyone who has listened to the podcast for a while knows that for me, I don’t really think of these interactions as [00:08:00] networking or marketing. It’s always about building relationships. But the two tend to go hand in hand like I said. 

So this is the third piece that I think really helps with a consultation group or as a way that a consultation group can support you and be beneficial is just to help you build relationships and again develop not just referral sources for your own practice, but referral sources for you to send people to whenever you have that need.

So, those are just a few reasons why you might join a consultation group. Hopefully, we’re all on the same page with that. I think they can be very beneficial.

Now, there are a number of types of consultation groups. And I’m really just going to be talking about clinical consultation. Business can often come up, but really I’m thinking more from a clinical perspective.

There are a number of types of groups that [00:09:00] might be out there. You might look for a group that is comprised solely of testing clinicians. You might look for a group that is solely therapists. The groups that I was in were mixed. Some folks doing testing, some folks doing therapy, eventually got to the point where I was the only one doing testing and that got a little tougher.

There are certainly other factors that you can take into account when you’re looking for a group. So, it could be gender-specific. It could be culturally specific. You can look at the frequency. There are groups out there that meet weekly, bi-monthly, monthly, quarterly. They might last an hour, an hour and a half, two hours.

There are a ton of options when you’re thinking about the type of [00:10:00] consultation group that you are looking for. So, just know that there is really something to fit everyone. And one piece that I haven’t mentioned here is that you can find one that’s in person or remote especially these days.

So the question that comes up a lot around consultation groups is just where to find them, especially for testing folks. And so, I’ll start with the in-person options and then move to the more remote options which have cropped up certainly over the last year or so during the pandemic, which has been amazing to see people come together like that. But there are a bunch of in-person options too.

Now, if you’re in a bigger community, this is going to be easier, of course, especially if you’re only looking for testing clinicians. You’re going to have a bigger pool to draw from in a larger community or a city. So, if you live in a place where there are [00:11:00] enough testing clinicians to form a consultation group, then you can email those members directly. You can post on your local Facebook group. You can post on a local listserv if you’re in a bigger Metro area where there are likely to be a number of listserv members who live near you.

So, there are several options for trying to reach out and find potential members for your consultation group. And I always recommend, if you’re really looking for the consultation group to be a primary source of marketing or referrals for you, then staying local is the way to go. And it might take a little bit longer especially if you’re in a smaller area or less populated area, but it can be really helpful for again, referrals and relationships.

Now, if you’re open to the [00:12:00] remote option, then things open up quite a bit. And this is one place that The Testing Psychologist Community on Facebook, I think has really stepped up and become a resource for folks. I’ve seen several consultation groups form in the Facebook community. These individuals meet remotely. And I’ve seen all sorts of formats. And it’s frankly been pretty humbling and just impressive to see how many consultation groups have formed and folks have connected through the Facebook community and continue to meet regularly.

So, if you’re not a member of The Testing Psychologist Community on Facebook, I would certainly invite you to join and search for a consultation group there.

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All right, let’s get back to the podcast.

There are also national listservs. So [00:14:00] something like the PED-NPSY listserv or division-specific listservs. I’m sure you can put messages on the listservs and try to solicit members for a consultation group or see if you can join an existing consultation group.

And there are plenty of other practice-oriented groups on Facebook. I think that as far as testing clinicians, there are really only two groups that that might be relevant. There are certainly some school psychology groups, but The Testing Psychologist Community has quite a few assessment clinicians who might be open to a remote consultation group. So, lots of options. And deciding whether you want to do it in-person or remote is one of your first choices to make.

Now, let’s say that you have decided you want to do a consultation group [00:15:00] and you still need to develop some structure and some guidelines and some guard rails or a framework for this consultation group.

Now, if you’re the one that is starting the group, this becomes a lot more important.

So, thinking about running a consultation group, that was really where we’re at now. So one of the first things that you want to think about is the membership of the group- not just what kind of clinicians will be in the group, whether it’s testing or therapy or both, but what level of experience do you want? Do you want people who are all at the same level of experience or do you want some combination of mentoring and learning between the members? I personally have seen it work in both in both cases.

It really just depends on what you want because [00:16:00] I think we know that as far as learning new material or learning a skill, there’s some information out there to suggest that you do best when there are three levels of learning. You basically need a peer who is at your same level, you need a teacher or someone who is better than you, and you need a student or someone who is maybe less skilled than yourself. And when you have all three of those individuals, that really maximizes personal growth and development. So if you’re able to craft a group with all three levels where each member is getting at least two of those three levels, that can be a really magical situation.

Now, the downside of that is [00:17:00] if everyone is not kind of invested in that model, then you can end up with folks feeling resentful. This often goes in the direction of the more experienced folks can feel resentful that they are kind of volunteering time and energy and not necessarily taking much away from the group. So that’s something to watch out for. But on the flip side, if you have folks that are all at the same level of experience, it can sometimes make it hard to feel challenged or feel like you are contributing to the group or mentoring someone. So, it’s really just about what you prefer, what you want in this group. You get to be the architect of the group. Both can work, but you need to think through it before you start reaching out for members.

On the flip side, if you are finding groups, this is a good question to ask. What level of experience are people at? [00:18:00] And this might be just years in the field or certain specialties, things like that.

Now, continuing on with structure that you want to think about with a group like this, the biggest one I think is, well, actually, there are a lot of “biggest” things to think about when you’re developing a group. One is how to spend group time. So, do you divide it up evenly? Do you use a timer? I’ve been in groups that use timers, which feels a little too rigid for me, but that was born from some difficulty allocating time appropriately. Do you use a hot seat model, which is what I do in my own mastermind groups where certain people get spots each week, and it’s [00:19:00] a prescribed amount of time for each of those individuals. Do you set an agenda at the beginning and just roll with it and see where it ends up?

I would recommend even if you have a pretty loose structure that you set an agenda and have someone who’s in charge of moving the agenda along. And to me, this really also plays into the group norms.

So, I found that it can be really helpful if you just say at the beginning, “Hey, we’re all responsible for keeping one another on track and in check. And we’re also personally responsible for letting others know when we’ve gotten what we needed” because what I found is, clinicians get together, they can talk about cases really forever. And unless the speaker says, “Hey, I’ve gotten what I’ve needed. I’m [00:20:00] good. We can move on.” It’s really hard to cut off that discussion and make space for other people.

So, my recommendation is to set an agenda of some sort and set some group norms that when the individual gets their question answered or gets the support they need that they are also responsible for saying, “Okay, I’m good.” So how to spend group time is important.

Another important piece to consider is commitment. So are you going to run this group as a cohort model where people join the group and then the group is closed and those members are expected to come every time, or are you doing more of a drop-in group where people can come and go, it’s a little looser? I think the trade-off there is safety and security in the group, right? If people are dropping in and out, it I think makes it a lot tougher to be [00:21:00] vulnerable and really go deep in a consultation group. And that’s fine, but it depends on what you want.

The groups that I’ve seen that have felt just most personally valuable for me have been closed groups where membership was set pretty early on and everyone was expected to be there each week. And we showed up and we supported one another and it created an environment of safety and a place where we could be vulnerable.

Now, another component that you want to think about is, is there an identified leader for the group or is it peer-led? Most of the time, I think these groups are peer-led. However, at the same time, I think you do need someone, like I said, in each group, it might not be the same person every time, but you need someone who is in charge of keeping things on the rails.

Another piece you want to talk about is safety and confidentiality [00:22:00] in a consultation group.

It might go without saying that everything stays confidential, but you don’t know. You want to make that explicit.

And another factor that you want to keep in mind when you’re forming a group like this is how big of a group you want. I think that, again, this relates back to what kind of environment and what kind of relationships are you trying to create. I think it is tougher with a larger group to really guarantee safety and security and closeness.

And so for me, the ideal size for a group like that is 6 to 8 people. Where, especially if you’re just meeting for an hour, 6 to 8 is plenty in terms of people getting their needs met and having time to talk about what they want to talk about, and also small enough that [00:23:00] people can trust one another, but yet not large enough that there are cliques that necessarily formed within the group which might not be a bad thing that can happen. But yeah, I have enough training in group dynamics to be very conscious of sub-grouping and cohesion and things like that. So, a 6 to 8 person consultation group has worked really well in the past.

So, those are just a few components of a consultation group that you want to consider when you are certainly forming the group. And then, on the other side, if you’re looking for a group, you definitely want to ask these questions to have a good idea of what you’re getting into.

All right. So this was just a little primer on consultation groups. I hope you’re walking away with the idea that a [00:24:00] consultation group could be helpful for you. Like I said, I’ve found them incredibly helpful, and have heard many stories from colleagues about how helpful they can be.

So there will be some resources in the show notes. If you want to look up anything that I mentioned, any of those listservs or communities, particularly in terms of searching for a remote consultation group, but give it some thought. Consultation is super helpful. And most of the time these groups are all since there’s no leader and they’re kind of peer-led, there’s no charge. And that’s amazing. In a world where we can often pay for clinical consultation, a peer-led group can be a real asset.

Okay, thanks for listening. As always, like I said at the beginning, if this has gotten you fired up about joining a group and you would like a structured group with some coaching and true accountability, [00:25:00] you might check out The Testing Psychologist Advanced Practice Mastermind. You can get more information about that at thetestingpsychologists.com/advanced. You can schedule a pre-group call and we’ll figure out if it’s a good fit for you. Our next cohort starts June 10th. It is a closed group. And I would love to talk with you to see if it would be a good fit for you.

Okay, take care. I’ll be back with you next Monday.

The information contained in this podcast and on The Testing Psychologist website are intended for informational and educational purposes only. Nothing in this podcast or on the website is intended to be a substitute for professional, [00:26:00] psychological, psychiatric, or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Please note that no doctor-patient relationship is formed here. And similarly, no supervisory or consultative relationship is formed between the host or guests of this podcast and listeners of this podcast. If you need the qualified advice of any mental health practitioner or medical provider, please seek one in your area. Similarly, if you need supervision on clinical matters, please find a supervisor with an expertise that fits your needs.

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