Creating a healthy, positive culture in your group practice can significantly improve the way your counselors feel and act at work. However, building a new culture for your practice won't happen overnight. Many factors can affect the culture of your practice, so you'll have many considerations and changes to make. Though it takes deep thinking, collaboration and dedication, creating a healthy culture in your counseling practice will be beneficial for your staff and their clients.
Table of Contents
- The Importance of a Positive Counseling Practice Culture
- Benefits of a Group Counseling Practice Over Single Practices
- Common Culture Problems in Counseling Practices
- How to Create a Healthy Culture for Your Counseling Practice
The Importance of a Positive Counseling Practice Culture
The culture of any workplace has a direct impact on the quality of work the employees do and what their attitudes towards each other and customers or clients look like. For example, your counseling practice culture will seep into your clinicians' work and their relationships with their clients. If your counseling practice culture is positive, the clinicians will tend to have more positive connections with clients and coworkers. They'll also feel more motivated to come to work and be productive.
Positive work culture is also important because of the reputation it will bring to your counseling practice. When your work culture is positive, you'll have a positive impact on the community, and people will be more likely to want to work with you. Work culture is so impactful that it can directly affect the overall health and success of your business. With a positive counseling culture, your practice will become a desirable place to work and receive treatment.
Benefits of a Group Counseling Practice Over Single Practices
As a counselor, you're likely no stranger to how isolating the counseling profession can be. In a job that focuses so heavily on clients, it can be difficult to connect with colleagues. Isolation can feel even more prevalent when working in single practices. Group counseling practices help combat the feelings of isolation often associated with the counseling profession. Working closely with other clinicians encourages collaboration and connection that you wouldn't get in a single practice.
While group counseling practices can feel less isolating, it's extra important to cultivate a positive counseling environment to ensure the group practice is beneficial for clinicians. If you don't work at making a positive culture within your practice, clinicians can feel just as isolated as if they were working in a single practice. While creating a positive work environment takes work, it will be beneficial for your clinicians and your practice as a whole.
Common Culture Problems in Counseling Practices
Numerous factors can lead to problems with workplace culture. For example, poor communication leads to misunderstanding and confusion, among other things. Whether employees are uncomfortable communicating with supervisors or are unable to communicate effectively with each other, it will surely affect the overall culture of the company. Another common problem with workplace culture is poor leadership. Weak, inconsistent or a lack of leadership results in a lack of respect and refusal to listen to someone in charge.
When a company's culture is negative, hostile or ambiguous, employees won't feel connected to each other, supervisors or their work. While some general things can throw the company culture off, here are a few common problems specific to counseling practices:
- Clinicians have other obligations: Some counselors who work for group practices may have their own professional obligations on the side. For example, they may have their own practices, work as independent contractors or have other jobs. When clinicians have their own obligations, their focus will likely be on other things and they won't be as present when it comes to your group practice.
- Experienced clinicians run the show: It's common for experienced clinicians to abide by their own rules and want to do their own thing. This can lead to an unwillingness to cooperate with group practice policies or initiatives, and they may try to run your show.
- The practice owner or manager has a full caseload: In group practice settings, it's common for the owner or manager to have a caseload of their own. While this is manageable for some, many will quickly feel overwhelmed at trying to handle their cases while also juggling operations. In this case, building positive practice culture can quickly get pushed to the back burner, affecting all the counselors involved.
- Clinicians stick to themselves: When practice culture is less than great, you may notice that clinicians tend to mind their business and stick to themselves. They'll load their schedule, see their patients and go home as soon as possible. Clinicians like this may avoid company meetings and counselors won't connect with each other at work.
How to Create a Healthy Culture for Your Counseling Practice
If your practice is lacking a positive culture, you'll need to work on building one. You can do many things to foster a more positive work environment, and if you're unsure of where to start, here are some ways to create and foster a positive work environment.
Set a Vision for Your Practice
To begin creating the culture you want for your practice, you need to understand what you want your staff to feel at work. In other words, what will the vibe around the office be? To help you envision this culture, try listing adjectives to describe what you want your practice to feel like. Other questions you can ask yourself might include:
- How do you want your counselors and clinicians to see the practice?
- What do you want your group practice to be known for?
- How will you create a team-based, positive culture?
When defining a vision for your practice, be sure to consider patient care objectives and workflow. This stage is where you can plan how you want everything to operate.
Make Expectations and Responsibilities Clear
Once you have a clear vision for your culture, you need to make sure everyone is on the same page so you can make your vision a reality. To avoid being ambiguous and leaving your culture up to interpretation, make your expectations for your counselors clear. Outline their workflow responsibilities and what you expect from them day-to-day.
If you're making big changes to your practice, be sure to share your vision in detail so everyone is aware of what you have planned and what will be changing. It may be helpful to create a task force or team that is invested in your culture and can help enforce the changes among the entire staff. Big changes may take some time to adjust to, though, with the help of your team, you'll see positive improvements.
Model Your Culture Values
One of the most important things to remember when creating your culture is that you can't just say something needs to be a certain way and then expect it to stay that way. The clinicians working at your group practice will be much more likely to accept and help build your culture if they see you modeling the values you established. You must model your desired culture every day, especially because your team will be expecting your guidance to achieve a positive culture.
To help get other counselors to demonstrate the culture, start modeling positive interactions with them as their leader. Your positive interactions can impact your clinicians and start a ripple effect. They'll look to you to see how things should happen. By modeling the culture you want to see around the office, you're more likely to get others to do the same.
You're responsible for more than setting the expectations — you must also meet them. Be a model for the type of behavior and collaboration you want to see, especially if you find yourself wanting to slip back to old ways. If your staff doesn't see you modeling the desired culture, they'll wonder why they should if you're not.
Listen to Employees
To create a work environment that your counselors want to be part of, listen to what they have to say. They may notice things that you miss or don't pick up on. Your employees are valued members of the team, and if you want them to feel as such, you'll need their input on your culture change. Bringing everyone together to create your culture vision can give each person a chance to express how they want their work environment to feel.
Additionally, while you may think you know what your counselors want their work environment to be like, you won't know for certain unless you talk to them. Keep in mind, too, that everyone has different values when it comes to workplace culture. For example, you might think offering unlimited paid time off will generate a positive culture. While some of your staff may agree and take lots of time off, others may feel cheated that some people are always out of office.
When this is the case, productivity and morale won't improve. Instead, listen to what your staff wants and consider how you can make it happen to help foster a positive culture.
Find Ways to Show You Care
Genuinely caring about your staff is one of the best ways to create a positive work culture in counseling. Whether they need help at home or work, make yourself available in any way you can. When staff members offer to help each other, they'll begin to build a sense of loyalty to each other. Showing your employees that you care about their well-being can build rapport and help you connect with each other.
Look for reasons to celebrate your staff. Whether it be birthdays, work accomplishments, personal achievements or various life milestones, acknowledging their hard work and honoring them will make them feel special and noticed. Another way to show your counselors that you respect and value the work they do is by giving credit where credit is due. For example, if a staff member made significant progress with a long-term client, give the clinician the recognition they deserve.
Caring about your staff members makes them feel valued as part of your group practice. Employees will also be more likely to bring problems to your attention when they know you care. This gives you a better chance at solving problems quickly and having positive relationships with your counselors.
Another way to create positive culture is by giving your counselors a way to progress their careers. If your clinicians feel stuck in the same spot and have no opportunities for professional growth, they won't have anything to work towards or motivate them. Your counselors should have a way to measure their progress, and you should encourage them to grow as mental health professionals.
Progression can take many forms, including education and promotions. However you choose to measure and track progress, be sure to compensate your clinicians when they reach new levels. Common ways of doing so include pay raises and upgraded perks.
Have Regular Meetings
Consider how regularly scheduled meetings can improve communication and overall company culture. Regular meetings ensure everyone stays on the same page and offers a time for everyone to check in with each other. Evaluate what's going well and what still needs work. Encourage staff members to offer solutions and work through problems together to create a sense of teamwork and collaboration. You may think one area needs improvement while they might notice something completely different.
Open communication with your staff shows that you care about their input. Giving your employees time and space to bring things to your attention or simply converse with each other between their client appointments can help create a positive environment full of communication.
Hire People Who Fit Your Culture
After you've established your culture and get everyone on the same page, you'll want to think about your hiring process. Your practice is likely to grow and counselors will inevitably come and go. To keep the culture of your practice alive, discussing your group practice's culture during the hiring process will be crucial. When considering candidates, think about whether they would fit the culture you've worked hard to build.
Of course, you're likely already looking for clinicians that are qualified professionals, among other things, though the ideal candidate will also portray your culture's values. You should want any counselors who join your practice to be able to model and improve upon the culture. Be sure to consider how potential hires would fit in with existing staff and how they could help your staff in continuing to build the practice's culture.
Create a Positive Culture for Your Counseling Practice
As you build a workflow that accompanies your group practice culture, consider how behavioral health electronic health records (EHR) could improve your clinicians' workflow. With software like ICANotes, your counselors will have a simplified yet effective way to take their notes and organize their schedules. Additionally, using a structured EHR like ICANotes ensures that each clinician in your group practice uses a similar format for their documents. From billing and note-writing to scheduling and messaging, ICANotes can quickly become a useful, intuitive asset for your practice's culture.
Clinical Director October has been a Registered Nurse for over 15 years. She is board certified in Mental Health and Psychiatric Nursing. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She also graduated with bachelor and master degrees in Nursing from Western Governors University.