How a Jane community member found a niche for helping other practitioners through starting her own private practice.
Julia Smith is a counsellor who has been helping teens and adults since 2015. She has a Master of Education in Counselling (MEd), is a Registered Counselling Therapist (RCT), and a Certified Canadian Counsellor (CCC). She recently sat down with Destin from the Jane Community Team for a virtual chat about her journey as a mental health practitioner that took her across Canada and back again and what she has learned along the way.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your practice?
I did my undergrad - a Double Honours B.A. in Health Studies and Psychology - at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. After graduating, I took three years away from academics and research and worked for a fashion company in Toronto as a Distribution Manager.
I loved that job. It was high-end fashion, and part of my role was being in charge of quality control, so I was getting to touch all these beautiful pieces from fashion houses like Dior and Vera Wang. However, after about three years, I found that something was missing for me despite how much I enjoyed the position. It wasn’t fulfilling me in all the ways I needed and wanted from my work.
It was after that realization that I applied to do a Master of Education in Counselling. I applied to schools all over Canada, and the first place I was accepted was Acadia University in Nova Scotia. I didn’t know much about the school or the town before applying. As I looked into it, it seemed exciting, and I decided that was where I wanted to do my masters. It was a wonderful experience. The people were so great, the place was beautiful, and my master’s thesis, researching mental illness and identity, was nominated for a Governor General’s Award.
After completing my MEd in Counselling, the first job I got was for the British Columbia government as a Child and Youth Mental Health Clinician. I worked in Fort Nelson, up in Northern BC, for a year as my first professional job as a counsellor. I was the counsellor for anyone under the age of 19, so I worked with four schools that included the independent First Nations school. It was a great job; but, it was a maternity leave cover, so I had to decide what to do next at the end of the year. There were opportunities to continue to work for the BC government, but a colleague suggested that I try private practice. I felt I had a choice; either stay in a secure job that was limiting in certain ways or take the risk of private practice while I was young in my career.
🌿 I decided to dive in and try private practice. When I thought about where I’d want to do that, it was Halifax in Nova Scotia. Back across the country I went to open my private practice, Insight Mental Health Counselling.
That was four years ago, and over that time, I have slowly built up my private practice. I also worked at Dalhousie University for two and a half years doing ongoing and walk-in counselling. Right before COVID, I left the university to focus on my private practice - not knowing what was about to happen in the world. Had I known, I might not have made that choice; however, it has worked out surprisingly well during such an uncertain time. It has also allowed me to focus more on my consulting business, Fearless Practice.
How did the idea for your consulting business come about?
When I started my private practice, I hired a consultant who is based in the United States. It was so beneficial to have a consultant when starting (and they still are my consultant).
Launching a business is an adventure. It’s scary, and it can be lonely and cause anxiety. You have so many questions about what you should be doing, and the articles out there tell you a different “right” way in each one. Too many options make me feel very stressed and overwhelmed. That has always been a challenge for me. That is where I found consulting with another practitioner to be helpful. They helped ground me and helped me focus so that I could make the right decisions for my business.
🌿 Working with a consultant was great. It was so helpful to have somebody tell me yes and no to my questions. To say to me, no, you need to do this, don’t do that, focus here and guide me through what is ultimately a stressful process.
As I started my private practice and worked with my consultant, I just kept thinking how it would be nice if there were a consultant in Canada for Canadian mental health professionals. It would be nice to pay Canadian dollars and prices for the services. Plus, there are differences between opening up a practice in Canada and the US. Specific platforms that you can and cannot use, regulations you need to follow, and so on. Having a Canadian consultant who can speak to that and work with other Canadian mental health practitioners would be a huge help.
🌿 As a therapist, it can be refreshing to step into the world of consulting and be able to tell people exactly what to do.
I love being a therapist but adding the consulting work is such a nice balance. Working with my clients and helping them explore their lives and figure out things for themselves is nicely balanced with hopping on a call with another practitioner and saying no, do not do that, you need to do this.
How have you seen COVID impact your private practice over the past year?
When launching my practice four years ago, it was too expensive to rent my own space, so I rented rooms at other clinics. I had great experiences and met wonderful people at those clinics. Yet, I had so many ideas for my own business but was constrained by the amount of money needed to rent and maintain a physical space.
When COVID happened, I shifted my entire private practice online and grew it from a solo private practice to a group private practice.
Initially, I was so scared when I switched to online counselling. I honestly thought that my practice might fail and was preparing for all my in-person clients to leave.
But thankfully, that didn’t happen.
Yes, some clients decided not to continue, not everyone wants to do online therapy, and you know what? That’s okay. I realized I didn’t have to appeal to everyone.
When I switched my practice online, I started to get new clients who didn’t want to drive to an office and felt more comfortable sitting in their own homes. The most important thing I learned was that most people didn’t care whether it was in-person or online - they wanted me as their therapist.
🌿 Moving my practice online has taught me that my value is based on my skills, experience, training, outcomes, and the unique qualities I have as a therapist. Not where the therapy happens.
Seeing how my online private practice has grown over the past year and how easy it was to set up with Jane led me to think that every therapist should consider having an online private practice. Even just once a week with a couple of clients. Why not niche in an area you are incredibly passionate about and see where it goes? It might fulfil you in ways you are not getting in your current role. It could open avenues you hadn’t even thought about or lay the groundwork for when you retire from full-time work but may still want to continue seeing a few clients.
🌿 There are just so many online practice options, and I am very excited to see where this all goes. I’m excited to see where the counsellors I consult with and the counsellors that do the e-course, or buy my workbook, take their private practice!
How do you see your private practice and consulting business evolving from here?
In my consulting work, I want to have fun. I want to help counsellors and give them options for accessing the information at a pace, commitment level, and price point that works for them. I might expand what I offer down the road, but I am happy with where it is right now and the flexibility I have with it.
I think I am going to keep my group practice entirely online for the foreseeable future. I have a dream of having a more mobile version of my practice that would allow me to travel across Canada while still having my online private practice.
I am also just starting the planning for a podcast about private practice in Canada! Hopefully, I can have that launched in the next couple of months. I have a passion for creating and doing new things, so I work best when I always have the option to start new projects or jump into something new and figure it out.
Are there any Jane features that you find to be especially helpful to you as a mental health practitioner?
I actually found out about Jane from a clinic that I used to rent from. I then learned from a colleague how you cannot store your information and data on a US server in certain provinces in Canada.
I looked into that and realized Nova Scotia, where my practice is located, was one of those provinces. I needed to switch from the platform I was using and find a new one. I decided to choose the Canadian platform that the clinic I rented from was using, which was Jane.
I love Jane because it is easy to use and is an all-in-one platform, especially with one-to-one telehealth being included at no charge! I don’t need any other platforms. Everything is there for me. I use Jane Payments, and with that, my clients automatically get sent invoices. The reports are detailed, and you can adjust and personalize them to see the data you want. The online booking looks very professional, and it is easy to use for clients as well.
One of the best things about Jane is the customer support. The detailed emails that the Support Team sends are absolutely incredible. The videos, GIFs, text explanations - it is so thorough! You don’t get that from many other companies in their customer support, that personalized approach.
Some Resources from Julia
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