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Putting Yourself First To Become A Better Therapist With Nick Bognar

Putting Yourself First to Become a Better Therapist

“We didn’t get taught in school to take care of ourselves first. So many of us joined the field because we want to help. We sign up, we get the degree, we do the tremendous amount of sacrifice financially, making all of these sacrifices to learn so that we can help other people. The result is you get newly licensed clinicians who don’t really know how to care for themselves, and they get burned out or they go deeper into debt or they learn to resent their clients, or they hate the field! There are just so many pitfalls that they do not discuss at all, and it all starts with taking care of yourself first.”

~Nick Bognar

Meet Nick Bognar

Nick Bognar is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist practicing in Pasadena, California. Although Nick’s clinical focuses are men’s issues and codependency, his mission is to help people become who they wish they could be – both in self-acceptance and in leading a more exemplary life. Nick also offers Action Practice Building to clinicians who want to take matters into their own hands and fill their caseloads. Nick is looking forward to meeting you, and is pretty sure that he already likes you.

In This Episode…

Do you struggle with figuring out the balance between setting fees that help you live a full life and your desire to help other people? Do you have trouble putting yourself first? Listen in to hear Nick Bognar share his thoughts about setting fees and taking care of ourselves first. Nick shares about how setting appropriate fees can help us have more time to also serve in meaningful ways through volunteering and pro bono work. He also talks about the problematic nature of sliding scales and about the importance of discussing rate increases with clients.

Don’t miss this episode full of tips and perspectives that you might not have considered when it comes to your rates and your work helping others. 

Connect with Nick Bognar

Here’s how you can connect with Nick:

@nickbognarmft on Instagram



Want to work with Linzy?

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Episode Transcript

Nick [00:00:00] We didn’t get taught in school to take care of ourselves first. So many of us join because we want to help. We sign up, we get the degree we do the tremendous amount of sacrifice financially and making all these sacrifices to learn so that we can help other people. The result is you get newly licensed clinicians who don’t really know how to care for themselves, and they get burned out when they go deeper into debt or they learn to resent their clients or they hate the field. There’s just so many pitfalls that they don’t discuss at all, and it all starts with taking care of yourself first. 

Linzy [00:00:29] Welcome to the Money Skills For Therapists podcast, where we answer this question. How can therapists and health practitioners go from money, shame and confusion to feeling calm and confident about their finances and get money really working for them in both their private practice and their lives? I’m your host, Linzy Bonham therapist turned money coach and creator of the course Money Skills For Therapists. Hello, and welcome back to the podcast. So today’s guest is Nick Bognar. Nick is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He’s in Pasadena, California. His clinical focus is men’s issues and codependency, but he also has this broader mission of helping people become who they wish to be, both in terms of self-acceptance and leading a more exemplary life. Nick, in addition to the clinical work that he does, he’s going to tell us more at the end of this interview today about the work that he’s doing with supporting therapists and filling up their practice through Action Practice Building, which helps therapists take matters into their own hands with filling their caseload. So if you’re someone who is waiting for your caseload to fill and you feel like everybody’s telling you to just like, wait and it will come or do these little things, but nothing’s really working, stick around till the end. I think Nick is doing some cool work in this area and bringing in some knowledge from outside of our field, which is always a good thing. Today, in our conversation, we get into money and the therapeutic relationship. We get into how to set yourself up to be able to actually really give back in your community. And ultimately, we dig into this idea that kind of made my brain a little twingey, of separating our private practices in our businesses from the idea of helping, which was a little bit of a mindfuck for me. You’ll hear that. If you are looking to get a new perspective on how to be effective in our practices and think about money, Nick’s got some interesting stuff to say. Here he is. All right, Nick, welcome. 

Nick [00:02:35] Thank you. Thank you for having me on. 

Linzy [00:02:37] I’m very excited to have you here. We were just talking off-mic about all of the various connections we have in the therapist’s consultant universe, but we have not actually met until just now.

Nick [00:02:47] Isn’t that something? You know, some of my very, very favorite people in the world and I was listening to your episode with Tiffany. Anything Tiffany, you know, if she was on – anything she talks about, I want to hear it. It could be on any topic. So it’s so nice to finally close the loop.

Linzy [00:03:01] Yes, absolutely. Starting off, Nick, we wanted to start by getting into kind of like, where we start as therapist with our education, right? We all start by going through these various educational programs, you know, regardless of like what type of designation – and people listening to this podcast, Nick. Just so you know, we have mental health therapists, but we also have like nutritionists and massage therapists. 

Nick [00:03:19] Oh, right on.

Linzy [00:03:20] Yeah, and acupuncturist, we run the gamut. So, you know, but I think that this probably equally applies in so many fields. So I’m curious from your perspective, what is the main thing, the number one thing about money that we didn’t get taught in our professional licensing degrees, that you think that we should have?

Nick [00:03:38] Well, I hope this doesn’t apply to acupuncturist and nutritionists, but if it does, I’m hoping they’re hearing this. We didn’t get taught in school to take care of ourselves first. So many of us join because we want to help. We sign up, we get the degree, we do the tremendous amount of sacrifice financially in terms of time. Some of us are working jobs at the same time as we’re getting this education, you know, making all of these sacrifices to learn so that we can help other people. And then I think without a little bit of sort of up guidance on taking care of ourselves or do a job meeting our own needs before we try to meet other people’s needs. And then just the fact that a lot of the sort of pre licensed hours that you can get are hours that are not paid. The result is, you get newly licensed clinicians who don’t really know how to care for themselves and they get burned out or they go deeper into debt or they learn to resent their clients or they hate the field. There’s just so many pitfalls that they don’t discuss at all, and it all starts with taking care of yourself first.

Linzy [00:04:32] Absolutely. Yeah. And I think, you know, you make a very fair point that even in doing that education, most – the vast majority of the time, we’re incurring debt.

Nick [00:04:40] Yeah.

Linzy [00:04:41] Depending on where you are, it might be a large amount of debt, it might be a humungous amount of debt, depending on where you go to school and when you go to school for. So we’re kind of starting in this financial loss position. We start off our careers, before we even get to practice, we are putting ourselves into financial debt. And yet at the same time, we’re not being taught to actually take care of ourselves. You know, I would say financially or in general, out of the gate, like we kind of start behind and then we are set up to fail, burnout.

Nick [00:05:11] Yeah. Well, at least, you know, to be operating from that place of deep debt, which I think is psychologically taxing to people, you know, to emerge. And I remember feeling this, you know, to emerge feeling like, Oh my God, I am starting this with a $50000 debt. I attended a talk from a, you know, very notable, very smart speaker who said, you know, I used to work in the admissions part of a grad school, and one of the things that I’m kind of ashamed of was that for years, people would ask me about the cost of it, and I would say, you know, those are just at the bottom of the page. And I don’t think that came from a place of dishonesty from that person. But I think that they hadn’t really put into their mind or really gained an understanding of what it means for somebody to gather $50000, $100000 in debt. And especially, you know, I don’t know if this is true for you, some of the people that I went to school with didn’t become therapists. So what does that mean for them that they’re $50000 in debt and they’re not even going to partake of the thing that is supposed to pay that debt off, you know? So I hope that we see some change in terms of people being told sort of the real ramifications of that debt and then also people being set up to emerge in the field, to take care of themselves so that they can just feel great and do great work.

Linzy [00:06:22] Yes, absolutely. Yeah. And with that too, I mean something that I notice, the word that comes to mind for me when I often talk to therapists about their student debt is like, defeat. There’s this defeat about it from the beginning because it’s like this inconceivable amount of debt. You know, it’s an amount of money you’ve certainly never held in your hands in the positive. And now you owe it in the negative with interest. And I do have to say too, like the way – I’m a Canadian, and so I have this like a bit of more like distance on some of the American policies and the way that American loans are set up are shocking. The way that you can make a payment so small that you’re actually not even paying down principal, you’re just accumulating more and more interest, like the machine that grows your debt while you’re trying to get your footing professionally and doing a job that is about taking care of others, it seems crushing to me.

Nick [00:07:12] I mean, I think it is crushing. I think it does crush people. And I think that one of the most important things we can do as stewards, or sort of elder class people of the field is to teach the people who are coming up after us to take care of themselves and not offering, you know, I think there are supervisors that do predatory practices in terms of how much they pay their associates. And I think we kind of owe it to the field, ourselves, our community is not to perpetuate that system. Well, whether or not you and I fix that, whether or not therapists fix that, that thing will still very much be in place in the United States and there will be a few people getting very, very wealthy off of the debt of other people. And that’s a shame. So we really need to talk about it.

Linzy [00:07:53] Yeah. And with that Nick, I’d be curious, like your thoughts on specifics, like what are the things that you think we should actually have been taught? Like, what are the specifics of taking care of ourselves financially that you think would be a game changer for anybody who’s new and just starting their practice?

Nick [00:08:06] Well, one thing that I learned from painful experience was that my first sort of business model, when I was pre licensed and really looking to build up clients that didn’t know how that worked, was that I was the inexpensive guy. Which is a terrible business model – people, if you’re out there and you hear me, don’t be the inexpensive guy. There are more inexpensive guys out there than, you know, and you don’t want to be them. It’s a miserable way. And I remember, you know, seeing clients for like, you know, I, you know, 20, 40 dollars, you know that I was splitting with my supervisor, then they’d cancel, chasing them around, you know, and then only getting referrals for really, you know, people who couldn’t afford anything else because I was the inexpensive guy. And that was such a painful lesson, but I didn’t have it in my mind that I could charge more. I didn’t have it in my mind that people would pay me more. And honestly, I really only had one person in my life that was kind of, you know, I had the benefit of a great mentor who told me really not to believe the bullshit and that you really can charge more. You can make more, you can take care of yourself. And I’m glad that eventually I believed her. But it took years of practicing, taking Tiffany McLain’s excellent course and really working to build up that kind of a thing. So I wish that I had gotten a lot more like, Hey, listen, I don’t want to clap because there’s a microphone here, but somebody clapping my face and going like, hey, hey, listen, seriously, you got to take yourself really seriously here. I know you’re happy to pay your therapist X amount ever having to pay your couples therapist x amount. You go out there and you charge that much.

Linzy [00:09:30] Well, that’s interesting. So you were happy to pay other people a higher fee, but you were not charging that yourself.

Nick [00:09:37] Linzy, I was waiting tables and I was – I used to have this joke for ages that I needed to wait tables to pay for my therapy, but then I needed therapy because of the waiting tables, and it was like kind of one of those jokes, that’s not really a joke.

Linzy [00:09:51] Yeah, like, LOL, LOL, this is terrible.

Linzy [00:09:55] Laughs in pain.

Nick [00:09:56] Oh my god. Exactly. Yeah, parentheses, right? And so, no, I was happy to, and I still see that therapist. You know, my therapist is invaluable to me, she does incredible work. We’ve worked through so much stuff. I notice it, you know, if one of us has to cancel, I notice it. I notice the difference in my mood that week. It’s an important punctuation mark to my week, so I have never had qualms about paying her, her fee, which is lower than mine now, as it happens.

Linzy [00:10:20] Yes, that happens.

Nick [00:10:22] But I never believed for a minute – and you know, maybe this is some of my own stuff that I sort of came into the field equipped with in a negative way. But like, I just didn’t believe that anybody else would think I was as helpful as she was to me, which is bullshit. Plenty of people don’t, but plenty of people do.

Linzy [00:10:36] Yes. And there’s that mindset piece there, like those deep beliefs about yourself, you know, articulated or not, are you know, underpinning that. And then the other piece that I think of Nick, like I’m big on thinking about kind of the emotional piece of money. So there’s that story that like, well, nobody would pay me that much, even though I pay other people that much, I couldn’t possibly be as helpful as my therapist. But that on the other side of that, I think about the actual practical, like the math, like, I’m sure the math was not mathing, right. Like, it’s easy to build a practice where just the structure of your fees, the amount of hours that you would need to work a week to make you know the money that you need to make – it’s not a workable model. Right. If your people are paying you $40, but you’re getting paid $20 because half goes to your supervisor, you would probably have to be working 50 hours, 50 client sessions a week to be able to pay your rent and like get some groceries and still waiting tables, right? It’s not a workable model, but those stories are so profound that I think it keeps us from like actually being able to sit and do the math and be like, Wait a second, even when I do have a full week, does the money work for me?

Nick [00:11:36] 100 percent and that – and forgive me, I’m probably just saying something that you know, and I’m probably frankly saying something that you teach and forgive me if I’m stepping on your toes here. But like the big thing that I find myself thinking about all the time and telling other clinicians all the time is that it doesn’t have anything to do with you, what people will pay. There’s not a thing of I am an x number of dollars therapist. I’m a I’m a $200 therapist and my clients know that, and that’s why they’re willing to pay me. It’s like the client is going to pay based on their own finances. You know, there are people who love you and will never pay you $200 because it’s never going to be in their width to do that. There are going to be other people that are going to pay you way more than that, or people are paying terrible therapists way more than that because they have that amount of money and it doesn’t mean anything to them. You know, they have the money, they want the change. And so we get so caught up in making my fee about me, making my money about me when really what it is is it should be calculated on the basis of what I want or need to make. And then you find people who can pay it.

Linzy [00:12:29] Yes. Right. For people listening then, if somebody is listening and they’re like, Oh, God, that’s me, this is my situation. I think many of us realize that at a certain point where we realize, OK, these numbers are not working either because they never worked or because they used to work. But now, like, I have a kid, like this is true. I have a kid now, his child care is $1300 a month. What used to be a livable income for me is no longer a level income because just that expense alone drastically changes our family’s financial picture, right? So for people listening who maybe have had a change like that happen or are realizing like, OK, my fee is too low, I think there’s this temptation when we raise fees to send an email, send a letter, like just kind of like just slide it over. But we’re scared to talk about that in the clinical relationship. I’m curious, what is your opinion on this? Why is it important to actually talk about it?

Nick [00:13:16] Yeah, I do. You guessed my stance on this, I hate the letter. I actually received the letter from a clinician that I work with, a day after I had the session with my nutritionist. And they’re terrific, they do great work. But it was just like, Why the fuck are you sending me this? Why didn’t you tell me this yesterday and not even because I wanted to discuss it, I was happy. Their fees are still too low, frankly, and I did tell them that. Maybe that’s battery failure on my part, but I feel like if I say it once, it’s not battery failure. But I got that letter and just thought, like, why in the world? It feels almost a little bit like a sniping, like, I turned my back and then they sent me this thing, which to me feels like and I know it’s not, but it feels slightly adversarial. And I think it does come from a place of like, I don’t know how you will take it. And so I want to send this to you. And if you flee, you know, if you get mad, you can do it via email and then I won’t have to deal with it, right? When the truth is, there’s a really, really rich and wonderful and therapeutic conversation to be had around our fees. We want to be able, just in this one place to be wanting and needing in front of our clients, right? That’s the only thing that we really can ask them for. Every other need in the relationship needs to be us, you know, transferring the energy to them, needs to be taking care of them. But this is the one thing that they have to do for us. So we have to get it right because otherwise we’ll build resentment and all this other stuff. But even beyond that, when you start that conversation with clients, there’s so much material, you get into the clients beliefs about money, you get into the clients beliefs about worth. Maybe they’re under charging at their job and they don’t know how to get out of it. And then also, you model the ability to advocate for yourself and to say, Yeah, I need a raise and this is how much it’s going to be. And if you can’t make that work, I’ll respect it and I’ll understand it, but you and I will have to terminate together. And people have never had that conversation, they’ve never seen that conversation, they don’t know how it works. They think you either send – if you’re in a position of power, you send a letter to somebody or they think you have to go in on your knees and beg, Please, would you please give me a raise? And neither of those things needs to be true, especially not in this relationship. So I think when people send the letter, it’s fine. But I think it’s missing several enormous opportunities.

Linzy [00:15:23] Yeah, I would agree with that. I think it is rich therapeutic material. And even even if you say with your nutritionist, even there was a little element and you’re – that’s not a therapeutic relationship on an emotional sense. But even still, there’s a little bit of like, I just saw you yesterday – like, this is a little funny and probably not a good analogy, but it makes me think of like having a great time with somebody, having a great day. And then the next day, they’re like, I actually don’t want to hang out with you that much. And you’re like, what? I just saw you yesterday, I thought we were good? I don’t think it’s a good analogy, but it does like, there is an emotional component that feels a little bit like that, where you’re like, Oh, this other thing that we probably should’ve talk about in person, but instead, I’m emailing you about later.

Nick [00:16:00] I actually think that’s brilliant because I think that’s exactly what it’s like. On some level, it forces you to just sort of recontextualize the past bit of relationship. It’s almost like, it’s not exactly like, but you know, when people cheat, then the person who’s been cheated on has to go back and they have to re-understand the relationship in the context of the person cheating on them. This is why it always blows my mind when people are like, Well, listen, I want to break up with him, but it’s his birthday next week, so we’re going to go to Six Flags. I’m going to take him out to his favourite dinner and then the next week, I’m going to lower the knife and finish him off. And it’s just like, Oh my God, I mean, like, there’s just not – like you’re either going to ruin, maybe ruin his birthday a little bit or at least give him an opportunity to drink irresponsibly. Or you’re going to give him a great birthday and then you’re going to snatch it away from him right afterwards.

Linzy [00:16:45] Yeah. And as you say, it does make them wonder what was going on in your head when we were having those interactions. Was this sitting there? Whereas I think when you bring it up with a client, whether it’s a mental health therapy client or, you know, other kinds of caring work that you’re doing, it does give you the opportunity to receive their response, answer their questions, let them see like, I love working with you, this is my fee, let them have that response. And that’s always what I advocate, right? Say your piece and then like, let your client do whatever they’re going to do and half the time, they’re like, OK, when is that again, November, OK? Good. Anyways, like my mom called me yesterday and she said this thing, right? Like so often it’s a non reaction. But we’re not letting them have that reaction with us if we’re not actually communicating it face to face, as much as possible. Obviously, there’s going to be circumstances where you haven’t seeing a client for a while. There’s always exceptions to every rule, but I think it’s like putting faith in the relationship by actually communicating in person.

Nick [00:17:39] One hundred percent and one of the best things that my therapist ever modeled for me was that, you know, when she would bring up tough stuff, she’d say, I want to know, does that bring anything up for you? And I think clinicians don’t often ask that question, either, whether it’s because we worry that we’re going to invite something that’s painful for us, or maybe we’re worried about the client going, No, I don’t give a fuck how much you charge. Why are we not talking about my marriage or something like that? It really – it’s clinicians are afraid to open up the space. And again, I just think like there’s no time wasted in asking a client for their response to this stuff, and it can be so healing.

Linzy [00:18:08] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And there is an opportunity there for modeling, as you say, like, it makes me think about the closest thing I can relate it to, which is even more extreme is like, I’ve shut down my therapy practice twice, just like fully closed the doors. And it’s not a fun thing to talk about. It brings up a lot of feelings, let me tell you, I have a book of feelings that I’ve talked through with clients, that run the whole gamut. But what it ultimately is, is it’s an opportunity to model to your client, this is what healthy closure looks like. This is me giving you lots of notice, this is us talking about all the different stages of grief that are coming up in the next few months as we work together, knowing that our work is ending. This is us getting to like, look back and summarize the work that we’ve done and this is me transferring information to somebody else so they can support you and supporting you and thinking through who’s the right next person for you? Like, that’s an opportunity we so rarely get in life to have healthy closure, and we have the opportunity to model that. I’m talking about mental health therapy specifically right now, obviously, but I think it’s the same with fee raises, as you say, is it’s this rare opportunity to show somebody, this is what I’m charging now. You don’t even have to explain your reasons, but obviously for your own life and your needs, and because you have a kid and you know, outdoor preschool. And you get to just be in that and let them respond and be open to it and just own the fact that you also have needs.

Nick [00:19:26] Yeah, and that it’s actually really OK, if they don’t like it, it doesn’t have to be adversarial. They can be mad or sad or upset or resentful, and it’s all OK. I have room for all that stuff. It doesn’t change the fact that I’m going to be raising my fees, doesn’t change the fact that this is what it’s going to do. But how often do you get to have a really negative response to something in the moment as opposed to having to sit on it and smile and go, oh I’m very happy for you and then going home to your partner or your parents or somebody else and going this mother fucker, I can’t believe they did this thing. You know it’s so healing.

Linzy [00:19:56] Yes, absolutely. So for people who have identified that they do want to be building up their fee, that they do need to actually be making money and want to be making money in their practice; there is the story out there that by doing that, by saying like, OK, I need to make this much or I want to make this much, that by building that into our practice, we’re like neglecting and rejecting, you know, the helping element of the work that we do, which is usually the reason we got into the work in the first place. So I’m curious from your perspective, like how is it possible to build up a lucrative practice that does support you and your family and your needs and your wants, but still also provide help and services to people who legitimately can’t afford the fee that you’re charging to make that happen?

Nick [00:20:35] I’ve tried it both ways, Linzy. And what I have found is that setting up a lucrative practice that supports me and meets my needs is actually the better, easier and more effective way to give back, and I will clarify. I did plenty of giving back when I was in the inexpensive guy. Plenty of people got clinical services from a boundaried, educated person who was an associate and sometimes a licensed professional for pennies on the dollar. And that was plenty nice, but it was rough on me, and I think I was still so desperate enough that it still created a power imbalance in the relationship that wasn’t necessarily great in terms of like me kind of really needing them. What I did eventually, was once my practice started to build up a little bit, I actually took some time off from giving back and I just finally said, You know what? I just have to build something for me. And so I spent a little time and I built this beautiful, thriving practice where I charge real money to get my needs met, work with the clients I like, and that’s great. And now I don’t have to haggle over 40 dollars for somebody, I can actually volunteer. I do volunteer supervise. I’ve done volunteer pro-bono work for organizations. Like, you can do so much and you don’t have to worry about leaving stuff on the table, right? Like you can give so freely once your needs are met. And so many times have I seen – this is one of my least favorite things that clinicians do, and I get it, but we need to stop doing it, is the sort of like using the sliding scale as the name for something that is actually negotiating, and then negotiating when we don’t need to negotiate. So how many times have I heard a client say, Well, you know, my fee is a buck 75, but I slid down to 150 for this person, and I want to say, who the fuck are you helping? Right? Like, if they can afford one hundred and fifty, they can for sure afford 175. Maybe they don’t want to, and that’s fine. But like, really, you’re helping somebody who can afford low-fee retail therapy, you’re giving them a discount. So you’re supporting that person and then you’re sort of helping yourself make money, and that’s all fine. But let’s not pretend like that’s charity, and let’s not pretend like that’s something that you’re doing, that’s really making the world a better place, that’s you negotiating with somebody, to find a fee that you can arrive on. Right? I like the sliding scale where I don’t slide for people, you know, rarely do I. I have a very few clients that I do that for, and it’s only when I’m really, really certain that it makes sense, right? And then I go find other places where I can virtually give it away. And I’m very comfortable with that because the people that receive my pro bono services really, really need pro-bono services and can’t afford stuff. You know, the 5, 10, 20, 50 dollars or whatever is is dear to them and they show up for the work and they’re excited about it. They know they’re getting something incredible, they know they’re getting an incredible value and they take it really seriously. As opposed to the person who’s paying a buck 50 instead of a buck 75. And they’re resenting paying a buck 50 anyway, which is why they talk to you down there to begin with, right?

Linzy [00:23:23] Yeah. I mean, it sounds like you’re actually making a bigger impact by holding to your fee.

Nick [00:23:29] I think so. 

Linzy [00:23:29] Because that $25 difference actually is not going to make – hugely change that person’s financial picture. I’m sure about $100 a month that they’re saving by negotiating with you is not changing their financial life, if they’re able to pay 150 or 175. Whereas for someone who truly does not have the money, you giving them that service, is immensely valuable to them.

Nick [00:23:51] I think so. And I mean, I think that’s a way for us to, you know, ultimately we wanted to get in, we wanted to help people who really needed it. And I think we get so caught up in our own stuff and we get so caught up in the not enoughness and the, you know, wanting to help but also wanting to make money that we confuse those things. And I’m always very clear with myself that the therapy works that I do is commerce, and I never lose sight of that. I don’t love the like narrative that were such wonderful people and were saints for giving back to people. I charge money for that. I do, right. And I mean, I think I do a good job of it and I’m proud of what I do and I’m happy. But, it is commerce. And then I have this other side of myself that I do as charity and it’s actual charity, and I feel really good about it.

Linzy [00:24:30] That’s interesting. That’s making my brain a little niggly. 


Nick [00:24:33] Oh, tell me.

Linzy [00:24:34] Well, I like, I mean, niggly in a good way, niggly is not the right word. But it’s like, I think for so many people in the field and mostly like myself and the folks around me, we tend to be kind of like the sensitive therapist types like I’ve been a therapist since I was like, 12, Nick. Like, that’s the first time I had somebody be like, You’re my therapist and I remember my 12 year old brain being, That’s bad. This is not friendship. So it’s like such a part of – for me, it was such a part of my identity long before I was a therapist that this is how that I help people and like – and I have these abilities and I’m the person at the party who’s like talking to somebody quietly, you know, while everybody else is partying like and they’re pouring their heart out to me. And this is how, this is how I support it and this is how I give back. Like such an identity piece there right, which obviously has been unpacked in therapy and more unpacking, you know, will happen in the decades to come. But I think for so many of us, there is that identity piece coming into the work that I am a helper. I am, you know, they’ve usually been the therapist in their family for years and years. So it’s interesting to me, just the clarity that you have between like, this is my business, this is commerce, this is how I make money, and that’s what this is. And then over here is where I’m just like, truly just giving. And I think for most therapists, and I’m going to guess, like most therapists listening right now and practitioners, those things are very blurry. It’s not so clear cut in their hearts.

Nick [00:25:50] Yeah. And that was what was making me uncomfortable, for me. I mean, if it works for somebody else, God bless, that’s great. But for me, it was really making me uncomfortable to have those two things overlap. So, so very much. And again, I haven’t given up the notion that I’m a helper, but I think it’s for me, it’s clearer. It just makes everything clearer and cleaner to me, and it makes me feel better about the work, the pro bono work, or the charity work, or the helping work that I do, makes me feel better about that. And it really takes away a lot of the static that I think we get or the white noise about, if a client, you know, wants to negotiate, or if a client doesn’t feel like a great fit, but they still really want to work with me. Or all of the other stuff that keeps us from just really getting the clients that are great for us and enjoying our work and helping in ways where we’re really effective and then also not working with people that we’re not terribly effective with, right?

Linzy [00:26:42] Because if it’s a business, I’m thinking through this out loud, I’m thinking through your framing here. So because if it’s a business and somebody is not a right fit, you’re like, Well, my services aren’t really a fit for them. There’s someone else who could be of more benefit, I’m going to move them along. Right. I’m going to help them find the right person who will serve them and then I can be better serving somebody who is a fit. They’ll have more success with my model because ultimately what my business is trying to do is generate money by helping people achieve x y z, whatever, you know, our focus is, as a therapist. Yeah, taking that kind of like, I’m a helper and I’m helping them out of the equation seems like it would help you think much clearer about, Does this make sense?

Nick [00:27:16] Yes, and it does. I mean, that’s the clarity that I wanted. And just for me, I got rid of a sort of icky feeling that I was having where I felt like my ethical wires were a little crossed, prior to that, doing that kind of thing. I want to say as emphatic as I speak about these things, I’m emphatic about them, for me. If somebody else has a great way to do it, I’m not trying to like crap on somebody else’s wonderful model that they have for themselves. But for me, this felt really important and for me, it really used to bum me out when I or somebody else would say I slid for this person and the fee would still be very high. That really bugged me because in my mind, sliding scale is something that we really put in place, I think the only reason it exists was at some point fifty years ago, somebody said, Wow, poor people really can’t afford this. We really need to make this accessible for them, and this is how we will do it, we’ll have a sliding scale. And then that became the norm for us. It became a thing where we go – it makes me crazy when I see people’s Psychology Today profiles and they say how much you charge? Oh, one hundred or three hundred dollars. That means one hundred, that’s what it means. Nobody looks at that and says, Well, maybe I can pay them two hundred. Everybody says, maybe I can pay them one hundred. It’s just gotten so perverted over the years into something that just doesn’t mean at all what it used to mean or what the stated purpose of it means and that kind of incongruence, like makes me feel icky.

Linzy [00:28:27] Interesting. Yeah. And something that occurs to me, I mean with that, is that in many cases, it probably impacts the clinician more than it impacts the clients, that financial hit, right? Like you taking a hit where now every month you’re making, you know, 100, 200, 300 dollars less on the spot of time, which is finite, you only have so many spots in the week that you have energy to see people. You losing that money is probably having a greater negative impact on you and your business because if you’re running your business too, with any kind of budgeting, actually only half that money is going home to your paycheck. The rest of it is going back into like growing the business, making sure money is there for taxes. So like, that’s actually significantly reducing what you are getting paid more than it’s probably impacting your clients quality of life. That two or three hundred dollars.

Nick [00:29:07] Yes. And I was listening to one of your episodes, I think it was the six figure student loan debt one, so maybe that’s why this is on my mind. But the thing that is in the room and we we think we can handle it and we can, but it’s not a good idea; is that when you slide for somebody, then every vacation they take, every raise they get, every sort of little step forward that they get becomes something that lodges in your mind and affects your part of the relationship. Hopefully, you hide it and the client doesn’t have to deal with it, unless you’re really willing to have one of those hard conversations with them about it. But I’ve had that situation where, I had a situation years ago where a client, their partner wanted to go do something different with their life that wasn’t going to make any money and so the client was going to be the sole income earner. And could we please lower our fees? And I said yes. And then afterward I thought, why in the world did I do that? I’m subsidizing somebody’s career who I haven’t even met. And then I stayed in that relationship and the client – and they weren’t messing with me, I know this, you know, without sharing history. They weren’t messing with me, but their career continued to improve and they continued to have, you know, financial windfalls and wonderful things happening and taking vacations. And it never occurred to them that, in fact, that actually should also translate into them raising the fees back up. So unless you’re the type of person that gets off on having that conversation with them, don’t put yourself in a position to have that conversation with them. 

Linzy [00:30:24] Yeah. Oh gosh, yes. It makes me think of what you said earlier about what happens when you actually build a practice that works. And I think you use the word like prosperous and people can’t see Nick because it’s a podcast, but he’s kind of made these expansive motions when you were talking about that version of your practice, right, which is when you have now. It occurs to me that when you are in that place, then you could actually, you know, have those pro bono spots and you’re not impacted because you are actually fine. Your needs are actually covered. You can go on vacation, right? You can save for your life goals. And so you can genuinely give just from a place of like wanting to help and support somebody or a place of justice without the resentment because you’re actually OK. Right, but when we slide for someone and it actually is not OK on some level, then that is going to be coming up and there’s going to be static there for you in the relationship.

Nick [00:31:10] Yes, 100 percent. And for me personally, the other added benefit was that it allowed me to help the people that I actually wanted to help.

Linzy [00:31:17] Right, right. And can you say more about that?

Nick [00:31:19] Yeah. Well, so I mean, I love the clients that I see for money and that’s meaningful to me and I enjoy them and I’ve curated that population. I’m happy to send people out that I don’t think are a good fit, and I keep the ones that I think are good fit and I’m really pleased with that. And then on the other side of it, there are clients who I would love to work with and who need help, who cannot afford me. And this allows me to help them and feel really good about it. That is the thing for me is, I do, you know, we talked about sort of the American economic problems that, you know, the many of them and how some people get crushed under it. You know, there are millions of people in this country who desperately need services and can’t get them at all. And I think that by saving our sliding scale spots for people who can pay one hundred and fifty instead of hundred and seventy five, we’re tricking ourselves into thinking that we’re helping those people and we’re not. I can’t help a ton of those people, but I can help a few of those people and I’m able to do it and I’m delighted to do it.

Linzy [00:32:10] Yeah, because I mean, functionally, what we’re doing is we’re subsidizing the middle class, who have like luxury spending that they can do, rather than just fully giving to people who legitimately are living hand-to-mouth.

Nick [00:32:23] Yes. A thousand percent.

Linzy [00:32:24] All right. I feel like we could keep talking for a long time, but we should start to wrap this up. So I know that you do therapy work and you also do some work as a consultant for therapists. So can you tell me a little bit about that work?

Nick [00:32:34] Yes. Thank you for bringing that up. OK, so I have a new thing. I’m really excited about it. It’s called Action Practice Building. It’s a sort of a response. As all things we know, we become therapists to live out our own traumas in a healthy way, right? Like we ultimately are going to do to work on the stuff, that worked for ourselves. So one of the traumas that I am working through actively as a consultant is the one where I emerged into the field and no one could tell me how to build my practice. I had – my first supervisor really wanted me to get out there and build a case load. She didn’t know how to build a case load. She took all insurance clients, but she had this notion that I was going to find all these clients, and then I was going to make her rich. And she would even say stuff like, other clinicians will never send you cash for your business. They will keep it all for themselves. So that is where this person was functioning from. That is what she knew, right? So I got out of that and I got into another private practice where the supervisor said, I will never bother you, but I also have no referrals for you. So I moved over there, and that was when I had to start learning how to build up my caseload. And to do that, I actually had to build on networking skills that I learned from a previous career, and I’m happy to report that it was very, very effective. And as I’ve maybe overstated it during this podcast, I have this really wonderful practice that’s full and that has clients that pay a lot of money and are happy for the work and happy to work with me. And I love sending our business to other people, which I do all the time. So I kind of achieved the dream that I didn’t think was possible and that somebody told me was possible. But then they told me like, Oh, it just takes time. I’m here to tell people, Yeah, it takes time. And the truth is, if you don’t do anything, your practice will fill up no matter what, because there are not enough therapists. But if you’re sitting there, you have your degree, you have your $50000 in debt, you have the student loan goons breathing down your neck and you’re sitting there in your office going, Oh my God, I want to work. Then you can use Action Practice Building because it’s finite skills to tell you how to use your time, this week, next week, next month, to be able to get out there and find people who can send you the clients that you want. And this is the hidden part, that you can send them the clients that they want because a huge part of this is helping other people. So that’s sort of the main thing. It’s a daylong intensive. It’s individual attention. It’s not a group thing. People who join this are going to get to sit with me all day. And then there’s 20 days of accountability via Voxer and the closing thing. My goal is to get people in a place where they don’t ever have to sit there and think, I’m sitting on my hands today. Where they can say, I know what I’m doing today to build my practice, and then they’re seeing results.

Linzy [00:34:47] So there’s this group thing or just a one on one?

Nick [00:34:49] One on one. It’s all one on one.

[00:34:50] Ok so this is like an intensive VIP day model. Got it. With support afterwards. I really like this model. Nick, I’ll say in general, I’ve done a little bit of this for some of my grads, although I’m now building on my level two, so I’ll be doing different programing for them. But there is something so focused about, like really doing that intensive work together and then being like, OK, here we go. We know your plan. So now I’m going to actually help you have the accountability and the support to do it, right. Because how often do we know what we need to do, but we just don’t get to it because other things are being prioritized or because the things we have to do are scary and hard sometimes.

Nick [00:35:22] And the plan is different, for different people. We really want to take into account when we’re doing this kind of thing, where a person comes from, what their expertise is, you know, how comfortable they are talking to other people. I have this thing about the three different reasons that somebody sends you a referral. One of them is location, one of them is expertise and the other one is I just saw them, right. It’s one of those things where I want to find – location, maybe not so much, but I want to find whether it’s expertise or whether it’s your ability to relate to people and have them like you, that we’re going to build off of and then create a plan that really works for people individually. So, yeah, I really believe in the individual sort of model.

Linzy [00:35:52] Perfect. So that’s action practice building?

Nick [00:35:54] Yes, actionpracticebuilding.com.

Linzy [00:35:56] Okay, perfect. And that’s where they find you. So go over to actionpracticebuilding.com to check out Nick, and I’m sure you’ve got some other stuff on there that they can dig around.

Nick [00:36:05] Absolutely.

Linzy [00:36:06] Yeah. And I think this is really, I think, filling a gap, Nick, because I think your approach to like networking, relationship building, bringing in some of these like business skills you acquired before, I think our skills that we tend to really lack in the therapy field even though we are professional relationship havers, it can still be hard and scary. And I think also a lot of therapists are actually introverts, so that makes it even harder. So I love that you’re giving this very focused support around this way to solve this problem that so many of us have.

Nick [00:36:35] Oh, thank you so much.

Linzy [00:36:36] So, check out Nick. We’ll put the link for that in the show notes. Thank you so much Nick, for hanging out with us today. Oh, and one more question if people want to hang out in your world, your social media world, where should they go?

Nick [00:36:44] Yes, so I’m on Instagram @nickbognarmft. It is a fine mix of contemporary issues that matter to me, clinical issues and then also a lot of stuff about, you know, little freebies and little things about how to build your practice.

Linzy [00:36:56] Beautiful. Awesome. Thank you, Nick. It was great talking to you.

Nick [00:36:58] Thank you. It was a pleasure.

Linzy [00:37:14] Something that stuck out to me while I was talking to Nick and then I commented on a little bit during our conversation was when he was talking about, you know, the version of his practice that he has now and what happens when you do actually set up your practice to support you and to allow you to thrive? He was making these like big, expansive arm motions. And it makes me think about what it feels like in our body. You know, when either our practice and the practices that we have within it are working for us or not, right? And how it feels when we aren’t charging enough and we don’t think that what we do is valuable and we’re financially stressed because the debt that we have or because the fee that we’re charging is not actually supporting our life. That feeling in our body and that like heaviness or collapse or anxiety and how that’s showing up in our daily life and also probably in our clinical work vs. what happens in our bodies when we do take these steps to align our practice with the needs in our life. Whatever that is, that’s very personal, right? That doesn’t look the same for all of us at all. But just by owning our needs and building a practice that helps to sustain us and nurture us and allow us to thrive. How much more embodied we be and how we are taking up space financially, which allows us also, as Nick was saying, to have these impacts in other areas of the world and just be able to actually genuinely volunteer or do pure pro bono work for people who couldn’t even pay us $15 an hour. What that makes possible by allowing yourself to take up space, you’re also able to impact your world in all of these other ways. Very interesting, very cool conversation with Nick. If you are curious about his approach to building your practice, which is all about networking and building relationships, check him out. I think that what he’s offering is really filling a gap, and him and I had talked before we started recording today just about how networking can be so hard for us as therapists. Even though we’re professional relationship people or professional healers that are all about connecting with other people on these profound ways, how scary and hard and counter to our nature it can be to reach out and build relationships. But how ultimately, so often people refer to us because we’re top of mind, right? Because they’ve recently had a pleasant contact with us that makes them think of us when they’re looking to send out a referral and how valuable that is when you’re building a practice. So you can check out the link in the show notes to get over to Nick’s website and his Instagram. Thank you so much for joining me today. If you want to hear for more from us, you can follow me on Instagram @moneynutsandbolts. We are always putting out free money content there, both on mindset and practical pieces of money. And of course, if you’re enjoying the podcast, I know I always say this, but please jump over to Apple to leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. That is the best way for other therapists and health practitioners to find the podcast. Thanks for listening today!


Picture of Hi, I'm Linzy

Hi, I'm Linzy

I’m a therapist in private practice, and a the creator of Money Skills for Therapists. I help therapists and health practitioners in private practice feel calm and in control of their finances.

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