Adventures In Private Practice

Therapist Turned Entrepreneur: Howard Spector, Founder and CEO of SimplePractice

I'm excited to introduce you to the kick off of a new series: Therapist Turned Entrepreneur and introduce to you a mental health professional who transformed his training into creating mental health related businesses. Howard Spector is a therapist turned entrepreneur and is the creator of and more recently, SimplePractice management system. Here is his story:

Tell us about your background (college experience and degree, career beginnings, etc.). 

Wow, big question. I’ve had a number of careers as I tried to find the one that really fit. I attended USC for undergrad, and then after some years working in the entertainment industry found myself in Palo Alto while my wife was doing her medical residency at Stanford. I was always a bit of a technology geek and really connected with what was happening in Silicon Valley. We eventually ended up back in Los Angeles where I had some success with a number of technology companies. Then one day, I realized how disconnected I felt from the work I was doing and decided that I needed to reconnect with what was important to me, and also that a major career change was part of that. There was a particular school, Pacifica Graduate Institute, that I had always wanted to attend. Pacifica has a unique program where you basically live there for 3 days a month and are immersed in this wonderfully rich world of depth psychology. When I began school there, it felt like coming home. It was one of the most important experiences in my life, and I am very grateful for it.

With your business savvy and drive, you could have gone in many different directions. Why did you decide to apply your expertise to the mental health profession?

After graduating from Pacifica, I was doing my internship in California, and the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) has very confusing rules for how you need to accrue, track, and report your 3000 hours of clinical experience. After fumbling around with a complex spreadsheet, I realized that this whole process would be better served by a web-based product. So I developed a product called TrackYourHours. It had all the BBS rules and forms built in, and it turned into a very sophisticated piece of software that was simple to use. It caught on quickly, and thousands and thousands of pre-license clinicians now use it. So that was where the entrepreneur in me really kicked in - I saw a need and filled it.

How did you come to develop the management system SimplePractice

I was getting close to completing my 3000 hours of training and started to look at practice management products to find one I would want to use. To be honest, I was very unimpressed by what was out there. Products were either outdated and just horrific to look at or too complex for me. I wanted something simple and intuitive. So I decided to build my own.

3bedc89You’ve had tremendous success with your product. Explain some specific things you’ve been able to achieve with SimplePractice.

The most important thing for me is that our customers love our product for the reasons we set out to achieve - it’s simple and intuitive. I am also very proud of our team. We work insane hours to make sure we are adding the necessary features to our product so we can fulfill our promise to our customers. We are able to innovate very efficiently and are able to build out our product in ways that keeps new features well integrated and intuitive, as opposed to just slapping things on top of one another.

One of your main messages is the idea of “counselor as entrepreneur.” Why is it important for solo health practitioners to think of themselves as entrepreneurs? What are some ways that they can get into that mindset?

I don’t think this is limited to solo practitioners; it applies to anyone in any setting. I think the message that “you are an entrepreneur” provides the necessary reframe for this community. Being called to this special work is a gift, but that doesn’t mean this melding of art and science is not a business. It is very much a business, and one cannot survive and thrive by ignoring that. I want these health and wellness practitioners to embrace the business part of their practice and understand that as an entrepreneur/small business owner, there are things they can do to have greater success - and that that's ok.

One of our interests here at Private Practice Toolbox is helping counselors generate income in ways other than seeing clients. We’ve talked about speaking, writing, and teaching, but as of yet haven’t discussed software creation and development. Is there any specific advice or insight you can offer to tech-savvy clinicians thinking of venturing into that realm? 

The first thing that comes to mind is that developing software is a lot harder than it looks. There is so much detail work that has to be attended to, and there is no gray area; software is black and white. There are so many use cases for something as seemingly simple as recovering a lost password. For example, do you click on a ‘forgot password’ link and then send the user to a page to enter some information - what information? What if the user enters it wrong? Is there an error message? Where? What does it say? The list goes on…and on…and on.

I don't say this to be discouraging. I say it because based on my experience talking with customers, most don’t realize the work it takes to develop even mediocre software. So my advice is this: If you have an idea, by all means, pursue it. If it’s software-related, then find someone to work with who has experience developing software. And be prepared to spend money on good developers and designers. My mom has this great saying: “Cheap is expensive.” When it comes to developing software, especially software in the health market where there are significant security requirements needed to protect patient health information, don’t be cheap.

To recap: Follow your dreams and passions, and if that happens to be developing software, then understand the costs of time and money it takes to develop something valuable.

Not only do you have an innovative software program, but through your company blog, you are also involved in educating clinicians on how to best run their practice from a business standpoint. Why is it important for you to share your wisdom and skills?

Because I am incredibly passionate about this work. I have some insights into this field because I trained as a clinician, and I want this community to embrace the business side of their practice. The services clinicians provide are invaluable, and they should be well compensated for all the time they put into getting educated and trained. The more they think of themselves as entrepreneurs, and the more they can see the parallel between other industries and theirs, the more it will help them. I think I have more to offer than just a great software product, and if I can help clinicians, even ones that don't use SimplePractice, then that is awesome.

Howard SpectorHoward Spector is the CEO and Founder of SimplePractice. He has years of experience creating and developing technology companies and was the creator of He has a MA in Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute and a BA from he University of Southern California. 
Join my Private Practice Toolbox Facebook group and connect with over 3000 therapists around the globe in 2 simple steps:
1) Click request to join the group &
2) Fill out this brief questionnaire before you’ll be added to the group.

Adventures in Private Practice: Weight Management Counselor Michelle Lewis, LCSW

Screen shot 2015-01-26 at 9.14.14 PMThis series highlights the successful private practitioners' journey in private practice so you can learn from their successes and missteps. One of the unexpected benefits of writing this blog is that I've been able to meet and connect with practitioners around the globe. The therapist featured today actually is not on the other side of the world, but is in the same city, and practices only a few blocks away from my practice. Michelle Lewis, LCSW and I worked together for one consultation and since then, I've been able to watch her really dig in, focus on her niche, and develop a successful practice. She is not only a great practice owner, but is a compassionate person and passionate about her work. Get to know Michelle.

Tell me about your practice…   

I own a group practice called Salt Lake Weight Counseling. We specialize in helping clients identify and overcome emotional barriers to weight management. We specifically target emotional eating, food addiction, body image, and patterns of self-sabotage. Working with these issues, we also treat a significant amount of trauma. By addressing the trauma, we are able to help  clients heal their relationship with food and end the war with their body.

Why did you decide to open a private practice?

I worked in a residential treatment with adolescents for many years, and the stress really started burning me out, so I took a job in a corporate wellness program through an insurance company. They hired me to work with members to identify emotional barriers related to their health goals. I worked with a lot of clients who struggled with self-sabotage in weight loss. They would yo-yo up and down with the same 10, 20, or 50 pounds over and over again and could not figure out why this happened. I started using my training as an addictions counselor and helped those clients experience success that they had never seen prior. During this time, I had started building a part-time private practice. I wasn't sure if full-time private practice was for me, but as I developed my specialty, I found myself more and more drawn to the idea. Once I took the leap, I really looked forward to my time in my own office and loved the passion that came with my work. I also loved having total control over my schedule and the clients I was working with. Since moving from my full-time corporate job to full-time private practice, the passion and excitement around my work has continued to grow. I love the energy that comes with developing an expertise and working with your ideal client every day!

Clients that therapists find to be the most “difficult” are sometimes the ones who can teach them the most. What have you learned from your toughest clients?

My toughest clients challenge me to be a better therapist. It is easy to get stuck in a rut when you find a formula that works well. When I find clients who struggle to heal, it forces me to try new methods and educate myself on new skills. It actually revives the passion I feel about this work!

What’s your biggest pet peeve about private practice?

Handling money. I think the cliché about therapists being allergic to money is so true! The greatest thing about working for someone else is not having to ask anyone for money. I hate having to follow up with people who have overdue bills, so we started keeping a credit card to avoid the hassle. That has made life so much easier!

How did you discover or develop your practice “niche”?

I am passionate about health and wellness in general. I am an avid cyclist and hiker, so when I found my job through the insurance company's wellness program, I jumped at the chance. It felt like it was what I was made to do. For the first time, I really felt connected to my work in a meaningful way.

What resource (book, website, person) helped you the most when setting up your private practice?

Honestly, you helped me the most, Julie. I set up one consultation session, and you helped me clarify my goals and direct my marketing to my ideal client. My practice really took off after that session.

What has surprised you most about being in private practice?

How rewarding it is! I have had jobs that felt rewarding, but this has taken my work to a whole new level. When I started thinking about private practice, I saw it as a way to work less and make more. This is true, but it goes beyond the financial benefits. This isn't just my career, it is my calling. I think having control over what I do and how I do it has helped me expand my horizons beyond what I thought was possible.

Has your private practice helped you grow professionally?

It forces me to stay on top of my game by constantly exploring new skills and techniques. I am always reading and attending trainings beyond the required number of CEUs. I love learning as much as possible to help my clients heal.

Has it helped you grow personally, too?

It helps me live the life I want. It gives me flexibility to travel, hike, bike, and engage in other activities that keep me balanced and energized.

Being a therapist can be emotionally exhausting. What do you do to care for your own emotions and psychological health?

Spending time with friends, my husband, and my dog are key. When I am having a stressful day, my favorite activity is walking my dog while I listen to an audiobook.

How do you cope with the inevitable stressors involved with being your own boss?

Self-care is key. By taking care of my physical and emotional health consistently, the stressors aren't as powerful. I try to be solution-minded. Instead of getting caught up in the stress, I try to come up with a game plan and then identify potential pitfalls in the future.

What personal strengths have helped you succeed in private practice?

Organizational skills are key! You have to know who's on first at all times! Also, dedication and determination are so important. I feel a dedication to my clients and work tirelessly to help them achieve their goals. I am also determined when it comes to my business. I am consistently looking for ways to improve the work we do.

To learn more about Michelle's practice, visit

Get practice tips and blog updates in your inbox. Sign up for the Private Practice Toolbox Newsletter here.

Learn about my private practice consulting

Join my Private Practice Toolbox Facebook group and connect with 3000 therapists around the globe in 2 simple steps: 1) Click request to join the group and 2) Fill out this brief questionnaire before you'll be added to the group.

Adventures In Private Practice: Child Therapist April Forella, LMHC

April Forella Tell me about your practice...

I am a solo practitioner with an office in beautiful Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. I opened my private practice a year ago. As an experienced child, adolescent and family therapist, I understand how difficult it can be to find resources and help for children and adolescents who are suffering from emotional and behavioral issues. In my private practice I specialize in working with children 6+ and adolescents who are experiencing difficulty in their functioning and ability to navigate life’s challenges and relationships. I enjoy seeing children and families learn how to respectfully express their emotions and improve communication. Children and adolescent’s unique situations are addressed with a deep understanding of today’s youth and their specific challenges.

I am an Accredited Standard Triple P Provider (Level 4 & 5).  Triple P is an evidence-based multi-level family intervention and parenting support strategy which is designed to reduce the prevalence of behavioral and emotional problems in children and adolescents.

Why did you decide to open a private practice?

I entered graduate school in mid-life with the goal of opening a private practice. My twenty years of experience working in business (advertising & marketing) prior to entering the field have assisted me in knowing how to reach my target audience. I also wanted the freedom to set my own hours and to foster hope and build relationships with my clients. I knew that having my own practice would allow me to achieve all of these goals.

Clients that therapists find to be the most “difficult” are sometimes the ones who can teach them the most. What have you learned from your toughest clients?

Young children and adolescents with challenging behavior problems try the patience of parents and caregivers and can be challenging for therapists. I have learned from the most “difficult” clients the importance of meeting them where they are, along with being patient and finding ways to connect and build rapport. By being with a child and engaging them in art, play or games I gain an understanding of what the child’s interests and needs are. Once a child is heard and understood we can begin implementing strategies to meet the child’s needs and overcome challenging behaviors. Understanding the child from the child’s perspective is the key to the process.

What’s your biggest pet peeve about private practice?

The fluctuating streams of income. There are cycles when I’m busy and when I’m not.  I continue to learn and expand my knowledge of marketing utilizing social media and networking to grow my practice. I supplement my income with offering trainings to schools, other professionals, and coaching.

How did you discover or develop your practice “niche”?

My passion in working with children and adolescents has been important to me before enrolling in graduate school. I took course work related to counseling children, completed an internship at an agency specializing in working with at-risk children. Once I was licensed and opened my practice I already had a solid skill base as a child, adolescent and family therapist. I also had the skills necessary to work collaboratively with parents. It was a natural fit.

What resource (book, website, person) helped you the most when setting up your private practice?

I attended a training by Lyn Kelley, Ph.D., LMFT, CPC “Promote Your Practice Exclusively to a Well-Pay, Fee-for-Service Clientele”, consulted with other professionals and utilize the internet to find other successful private practice clinicians, including Julie Hanks, LCSW's “Private Practice Toolbox”, Tamara G. Suttle, M.Ed., LPC “Private Practice from the Inside Out—All Things Private Practice”. The book The Paper Office by Edward L. Zuckerman, Ph.D has been helpful in getting organized and developing good professional habits. The book provides forms, guidelines, and resources to make your practice work ethically, legally and profitably.

What has surprised you most about being in private practice?

I have found my life’s purpose in helping others. I am truly passionate about coming along side my clients and find it rewarding in so many ways.  The hard work in building my practice is all worth it when I see clients grow.

Has your private practice helped you grow professionally?

I have gained self-confidence not only in my ability to provide quality therapeutic services but in my ability to manage the business side of my practice. I continue to set goals to challenge myself personally and professionally. I plan to present at conferences and seminars to develop public speaking skills, and begin blogging and continuing to utilize social media to develop my practice.

Has it helped you grow personally, too?

On a personal level it has made me aware of the importance of pursuing my passion and the fulfillment that it brings me.  It’s a privilege to come along side the amazing people that I work with and the things they teach me about life.

Being a therapist can be emotionally exhausting. What do you do to care for your own emotions and psychological health?

I make it a priority to have time alone to relax, pray, read the Bible and recharge myself. My support system is an amazing loving family and lots of great friends. I enjoy spending time at the beach, listening to music, regular massage to release stress and tension in the body, and going on walks.

How do you cope with the inevitable stressors involved with being your own boss?

I handle all of the day to day details of my practice myself. I am an organized person and rely on to-do lists. It can be overwhelming at times! However, the rewards of having flexibility and freedom to make my own schedule out way the stressors.

What personal strengths have helped you succeed in private practice?

My social skills are strong and connecting with people is natural for me. I like to network and build relationships. My business experience has helped me to understand marketing. I also understand that growing and maintaining a private practice is a process that takes a lot of work, perseverance and the need to reach out to my peers for support and encouragement.

To learn more about April Forella’s private practice visit


Adventures In Private Practice: Psychotherapist and Art Therapist Amy Tatsumi, LPC

Tell me a little about your practice... I am a board certified art therapist, licensed professional counselor and psychotherapist in Washington, DC. I see clients across the lifespan and specialize in working with Women Who Do Too Much.  I also see therapists in training and provide post graduate and post license supervision.  Through the creative process and talking, clients learn to connect their hearts and minds to live more wholeheartedly.

Amy TatsumiWhy did you decide to open a private practice? 

I had a small private practice for a number of years while also working a full time job in public mental health.  After having my daughter and living in Japan for some time last year, I new that I needed a better work life balance.  In the summer of 2012, I decided to take the leap and step into the arena.  My mantra continues to be that things are happening in the right time and right way for my business.

Clients that therapists find to be the most “difficult” are sometimes the ones who can teach them the most. What have you learned from your toughest clients?

Some of the most challenging clients that I worked with were very angry and rightly so.  Underneath the anger was deep shame and fear.  This story  from Pema Chodron is one of the most special gifts those clients taught me: How To Defeat Fear: Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?” Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.” Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”

What's your biggest pet peeve about private practice?

As with any new business, I would say mine is the growing pains.  I work in a heavily saturated mental health provider community.  I believe that there are enough clients for every provider.  Focusing on  building relationships in the community has been helpful to counterbalance the growing pains.

How did you discover or develop your practice “niche”?

I know that many women are caught in many double binds and in the never enough culture.  Whether you a 20 something, single woman, a divorced working mother, a stay at home mother, a widow, or another woman in transition, I know that many women use people pleasing, perfectionism, numbing, and performing as a means of connecting, navigating relationships and settings, and as a guidepost for self worth.  In my practice, women learn to use their own heart~body~mind wisdom to meet and respond to destructive covert messages and to life's patterns and challenges, as well as value themselves and their thoughts, feelings and opinions.

In 2012, I started Dr. Brene Brown's Connections Certification process and provide a variety of related offerings.  The offering are especially supportive for adults and teenagers who feel stuck, unworthy, and never good enough and those who struggle with perfectionism.

What resource (book, website, person) helped you the most when setting up your private practice?

Relationships with individuals and communities have really been the foundation for this start up phase of my private practice.  In Washington, DC, Jennifer Kogan started a network "DC Therapists Moms" for parents and people who would like to have children who are in the mental health profession.  It is truly a supportive and thoughtful community with over 400 members.  On Facebook, Julie Hanks's group, "Private Practice Toolbox" has be helpful for national and international brainstorming and information sharing.  Lynn Grodzki's book, 12 Months to Your Ideal Private Practice: A Workbook is a book that I cannot recommend enough.  It has practical and creative strategies to strengthen your practice from all perspectives.  Derek Halpern's blog : Social Triggers is direct and effective too.

What has surprised you most about being in private practice?

In the public mental health community, I had strong relationships, but my area of expertise for almost 10 years was in trauma and attachment.  In private practice, I have had start the relationship building process again, especially with securing referral sources. I have been filled with gratitude for my initial referral and cross referral sources.

Has your private practice helped you grow professionally?

Being a small business owner has reconnected me with parts of myself that I never knew.  At each point of developing my practice, I am having to acquire new skills from social media marketing to the business side of the practice to going through Dr. Brene Brown's Connections Certification process.

Has it helped you grow personally, too?

Finding the work life balance has been really been wonderful.  I am more present in my relationships and have more time for myself.  It takes work, but it is well worth it.

Being a therapist can be emotionally exhausting. What do you do to care for your own emotional and psychological health?

Finding time to just be is really restorative for me. Being an art therapist, I do try to make art regularly.  The creative process is centering for me.  Yoga Nidra is a form of meditation that I use.  I also love to be in nature, cook, practice yoga, and enjoy time with my family and friends.

How do you cope with the inevitable stressors involved with being your own boss? 

I remember that failure is a necessary part of the creative and learning processes.  I see the failures as bumps in the road and try not to get stuck there.  People rarely get it right on the first try.  To find the best solution, one must keep trying with new approaches and strategies.

What personal strengths have helped you succeed in private practice? 

I believe in this work from a very core place.  I have witnessed so many lives changed, perspectives shift and relationships repaired and healed.  Staying grounded in the why I do this work keeps me in focused.

For more information on Amy's practice visit Join my Toolbox 2013 Therapist Blog Challenge and strengthen your online presence!

Adventures In Private Practice: Trauma Specialist Leticia Reed, LCSW

Less than one year ago Leticia Reed, LCSW opened her private practice in Long Beach, CA. Find out what resources and tools have helped Ms. Reed muster the courage to open her own practice, what she's learned from clients, and how she manages her roles as "therapist" and "business owner".

Tell me about your private practice...

I opened Reed Behavioral Solution in March of 2012. My practice mission is: "Helping individuals, couples and families achieve hope, healing, wellness and freedom. Empowering my clients to leave better than they arrived is what drives me to provide the best and most effective services. I specialize in women's empowerment and trauma, although I provide a wide range of services to other populations in my practice. I also offer Christian counseling for those seeking spiritual connectedness as a means of coping and regaining a sense of purpose and hope.

Why did you decide to open a private practice?

I began my practice after leaving employment with the County of Los Angeles and feeling like individuals were being failed by the system as they were only treated as a number that became lost in a revolving door. I felt like opening my practice provided me with an opportunity to make a significant impact, one with real rehabilitation and healing.

Clients that therapists find to be the most “difficult” are sometimes the ones who can teach them the most. What have you learned from your toughest clients?

I agree that "difficult" clients provide the most meaningful learning experiences. Through my more challenging cases, I have learned the importance of patience, tolerance, unconditional positive regard as well as the real importance of "starting where the client is" to guide them towards healing. The technique- Motivational interviewing has been the principle that I have incorporated to achieve this while increasing motivation.

What’s your biggest pet peeve about private practice?

One of my biggest pet peeve would be the amount of documentation required as it takes away from my time spent in direct contact with my clients. However, it's necessary as it also provides me with a blueprint and framework that guides my treatment and goals.

How did you discover or develop your practice “niche”?

My niche sort of evolved as the majority of my clientele seeking services has been women with self-esteem and trauma related issues.

What resource (book, website, person) helped you the most when setting up your private practice?

The various resources that have aided me in starting my private practice has been the following: Nakeya Fields of Fields Family Counseling who offers a workshop geared towards assisting individuals starts their private practice, while providing lifelong networking and consultation with other group members. I also used and received a wealth of information from Ofer Zur Institute Practice Handbook for HIPAA friendly forms and regulations. My mentor Cynthia G. Langely, my prior clinical supervisor who has many years in the field serving in various positions, including on the CA BBS panel when the Oral examinations were required, has continued to provide me with a wealth of information and support. Lastly, The various Facebook groups I am currently in, including Julie Hanks’s Private Practice Facebook group have also increased my knowledge that has been instrumental in keeping me current in the field.

What has surprised you most about being in private practice?

The things that have surprised me the most about building a private practice has to be the amount of work it takes to stay afloat and monetary resources needed to build and maintain operation. Another surprise has to do with the number of people hurting and in search of HOPE, some of which are fellow colleagues.

Has your private practice helped you grow professionally?

My private has influenced my growth professionally in the sense that it has taught me the importance of being organized, detailed oriented, punctual, and the importance of networking/collaboration.

Has it helped you grow personally, too?

On a personal level it has made me to be more grateful and attuned to the world and my purpose in it, helping me to not take anything for granted.

Being a therapist can be emotionally exhausting. What do you do to care for your own emotional and psychological health?  

Self-care is extremely important to me. I love pampering myself, traveling and engaging in church activities, reading my bible and praying. I also make it a point to surround myself with positive people that are encouraging and uplifting.

How do you cope with the inevitable stressors involved with being your own boss?

I cope with the stressors of being my own boss by consulting with colleagues in practice and digging my heels in the sand and "just doing it". My tenacious spirit and optimistic personality as well as my strong Faith in God has assisted me in my success in this short amount of time I have been practice. Colleagues that know when I began have commented on my rapid success. I am a very blessed woman and I am looking forward to even more expansion in 2013 and beyond.

Find out more about Leticia Reed's private practice at