How to Start a Consultation Group

We're finishing up this "How To" series with something that can help you for the life of your career, starting a consultation group. 

Now, obviously I'm going to put a documentation spin on things (because that's why you're reading my blog!) but I've also got tips that apply to any clinical consultation group.

Not only am I the Documentation Diva but I'm also a supervisor and trainer. So I've collected some pretty awesome strategies for stretching your clinical muscles over the years. 

Getting the Group Started

There are two main ways to get your group started from scratch. The method you choose will likely depend on the purpose of your group and your particular clinical needs. First, identify what those are by answering these questions:

"What is our main purpose and our long-term vision?"

"Would various levels of experience work well with this group?"

"Are we focused on similar clientele, modalities or are we open to all types of treatment and specialties?"

"How many people would work well in this group and what is the limit?"

Now you have a place to start and can focus on one of the two main options below. But remember, a consultation group doesn't have to be limited geographically. You have many options for doing this group with others across the country (or the world!). Don't limit yourself.

  1. Start with a group of people you trust. Maybe you have a few colleagues that are already in the back of your mind as awesome people you trust and would love to meet with more officially. Easy, just shoot them an email or give them a call with your idea and bam! Consult group started!!
  2. Start with a topic of interest. Perhaps you don't have clear people in mind or are interested in focusing on something specific. In this case, you can reach out to a listserv, Facebook group or LinkedIn group to see who is also interested in your topic. If you go this route you'll want to have clear guidelines set up already so you can gauge who will be a good fit and try things out for a time. 

Now that your group is ready to go, I've got some ideas for what to actually do when you meet.  

Activities for Your Group

Below are 10 different activities for your new (or existing) consultation group. So if you decide to meet once a month you've got almost a year covered!

Identify the purpose of the group and the format. Your first meeting should clearly outline what is expected of everyone. You want to think about things like confidentiality, handling conflict, attendance expectations, method for accepting new members, who will take the lead and for how long, and how often you'll check in to see if the group is still meeting everyone's needs.

Do mock therapy sessions with one another, especially if you're focused on a particular modality or clientele. Remember how terrifying this was in grad school? Because we didn't know what the heck we were doing! It's just as important to do as we become more experienced. And it's a great way to get feedback on your own clinical style as well as pick up some new tips.

Write notes as a group. You can either do a mock therapy session and write notes based on that or someone in the group can describe a situation about which to write notes. I recommend you take 5-10 minutes for everyone to write individually and then (be brave) and share together. It's awesome to see the different styles but I guarantee you'll also be surprised to hear how similar the notes are... you just don't know because you never read anyone else's notes!

Present ethical dilemmas... like, your absolute scariest scenarios (or even the boring ones that happen all the time, like clients texting even when you told them not to). Maybe it's a story you read or heard from a colleague, maybe it's something that actually happened to you. The cool thing about ethical dilemmas is there's no black and white answer. And that's often where we find ourselves, walking in the grey areas. So bring it up and see what your colleagues are thinking!

Have an "intake day" where everyone brings in their intake forms and shares strategies with one another. You can pass the paper forms around and make comments for others while also taking some notes for yourself on ways to improve your own forms.

Train one another. Did someone just attend a really great conference? Maybe they can summarize some of the greater points in a handout or presentation. Have a topic you'd love to learn more about? Put something together and share it with the group.

Identify your clinical week. Have everyone share what their week looks like. You'd be amazed to hear the variety in schedules we all have. Perhaps you'll get an awesome tip from a colleague like Mari Lee, who takes every fifth week off from sessions.

Write a business plan. Many therapists have heard about business plans but feel intimidated actually writing one up. So do it together! Download a sample online and help one another through it. Share ideas and explain your plans to one another to get feedback. (You can read a great article on creating a business plan here)

Practice initial client phone calls. Similar to the mock therapy sessions, pretend to be an interested client and see how everyone does their initial screening calls. 

Watch a webinar or other training together and then discuss how it applies to you. I do monthly webinars and also have tons of trainings available if you're on my email list but you can also check out other things on topics of interest to your specific group.

Now the only thing left to do is to get out there and get started! Make sure you drop back over here to let us know how it's going. 

Looking for a little more structure and need help with your documentation? Check out my Meaningful Documentation program! This is the only time we're open for enrollment in 2016.