What are some ways to effectively market group therapy? How can practices help their clients overcome anxieties about joining group therapy? What goes into structuring the layout of group therapy sessions?
In this podcast episode, Alison Pidgeon speaks with Shannon Heers about How to Incorporate Group Therapy in Your Practice.
Meet Shannon Heers
Shannon Heers is a licensed therapist, clinical supervisor, blogger, and owner of the group practice Catalyss Counseling, located in the Denver-metro area of Colorado. Shannon is passionate about working with professionals, parents, and postpartum moms to manage stress, tame anxiety, and process grief.
Connect with Shannon on LinkedIn.
In This Podcast
- Marketing for group therapy
- Common objections to group therapy
- Figuring out group logistics
Marketing for group therapy
Some of the things that we do for group marketing is we … look at marketing [group therapy] as different than from marketing individual services. We separate groups from individuals. (Shannon Heers)
Group therapy is completely different from individual therapy. Market them in different ways.
On the website consider having separate pages; one for individual and one for the group.
We have a specialty page for each one of our different groups, and that really helps identify and list what our groups are, who they’re for, and how they will help people. (Shannon Heers)
Drive traffic to these separate pages via other media streams, such as:
- Writing about these groups in blogs
- Discussing them in newsletters
- Publishing blogs about the efficiency of group therapy
Print different flyers for each group and drop them off at various doctors’ offices or places where your ideal client may be spending their time.
Common objections to group therapy
Most people have anxiety about going to group therapy and discussing their problems in a room with others.
The best way to help clients overcome this fear is to provide them with good information. That way they feel better equipped to understand what it is, and how it can help them.
What really helps with the anxiety is linking back to how group therapy … is going to help them meet their treatment goals. (Shannon Heers)
For some issues that people struggle with, such as building relationships with other people, group therapy is one of the better options of therapy that clients can partake in.
What is also integral to offering successful group therapy in your practice is that you get your therapists on board with facilitating it. This will help you to fill your group sessions.
Figuring out group logistics
Group therapy is multifaceted and can look different. You can structure the group therapy that your practice offers in many ways. It depends on your and your therapist’s personal preferences.
Groups can be:
- One hour-long, or more, or less
- Be open or closed
- Specific to a certain topic
Structure your group depending on the capacity and desires of your practice.
Group therapy topics:
- Grief support
- Post-partum depression
- Mens’ support groups
- Women’s support groups
- Anxiety and depression support groups for young adults
Useful links mentioned in this episode:
- Visit the Catalyss Counselling website
- Connect with Catalyss Counselling on Facebook and Instagram
- Read their blog and schedule a free 20-minute phone appointment
- Connect with Shannon on LinkedIn
Carrie Haynes with Art of Groups www.artofgroups.com– Training on how to set up group processes within your practice– Clinical training on how to lead/facilitate therapy, process, and support groups
Katie Keates May with Become a Group Guru www.becomeagroupguru.com– Training on marketing groups through social media, your website, with other therapists, and with referral sources
Check out these additional resources:
- Should I Open Multiple Locations? | GP 89
- Group Practice Launch
- Group Practice Boss: www.practiceofthepractice.com/grouppracticeboss $149 a month
- Email Alison: firstname.lastname@example.org
- PoP Group Practice Owners Facebook Group
- Free resources to help you start, grow, and scale
- Work with us
- Consult With Alison
- Alison Pidgeon on Therapy for Your Money Podcast
- Practice of the Practice Network
Meet Alison Pidgeon, Group Practice Owner
Alison Pidgeon, LPC is the owner of Move Forward Counseling, a group practice in Lancaster, PA and she runs a virtual assistant company, Move Forward Virtual Assistants.
Alison has been working with Practice of the Practice since 2016. She has helped over 70 therapist entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses, through mastermind groups and individual consulting.
Transformation From A Private Practice To Group Practice
In addition, she is a private practice consultant for Practice of the Practice. Allison’s private practice ‘grew up.’ What started out as a solo private practice in early 2015 quickly grew into a group practice and has been expanding ever since.
Thanks For Listening!
Feel free to leave a comment below or share this podcast on social media by clicking on one of the social media links below! Alternatively, leave a review on iTunes and subscribe!
Welcome to the Grow a Group Practice podcast. I’m Alison Pidgeon, your host. I am excited to be interviewing Shannon Heers today. She is actually a consulting client of mine, and she has built up quite a nice, mostly self-pay practice in the Denver Metro area of Colorado called Catalyss Counseling. She is a licensed therapist, a supervisor, and she is just an awesome business owner. She’s been working really hard over the past year and a half to build up group therapy in her practice. So that is what we are talking about today, all of the ins and outs of how she got these groups started. So she started out with one group. Now she has seven groups and we talk about all the things related to how she had to market groups differently to how she had to help her therapists get on board with doing group therapy, all the different aspects of it. So if you’ve been thinking about adding group therapy to your practice you definitely need to listen to this interview and I hope you enjoy my conversation with Shannon Heers. Hi, Shannon. Welcome to the podcast.
[SHANNON HEERS] Hi Alison, thanks for having me. I’m an avid listener to your podcast, so it’s so fun to be here.
[ALISON] Oh, awesome. Let’s start out by having you introduce yourself in your practice.
[SHANNON] I’m Shannon Heers. I’m the owner of a small group practice located in Colorado in the Denver Metro area, now online. We’re serving the whole state. We serve primarily adults and our focuses are the more general things, I would say, anxiety, depression, grief and loss, trauma, perinatal mental health and then of course, group counseling. We also have a supervision component to our practice also.
[ALISON] Awesome. And I know that you are all self-pay.
[SHANNON] Not all self-pay. We do have one group contract with an insurance company, but I would say primarily self-pay, probably 75% self-pay.
[ALISON] Okay, nice. The reason that I wanted to have you come on the podcast is because I know you’ve done a lot of work to get group therapy up and running in your practice. And that sounds like it’s really starting to flourish and become a big part of what you’re offering. So was hoping to kind of get into some of the details around how you got it started and what it looks like and how you price it and how you pay your clinicians and all of the questions. So maybe we could just start out with kind of where you started with group therapy.
[SHANNON] So I started about a year and a half ago, which is right when COVID hit and we all had to transition to online. I was just noticing with a lot of my clients that they were feeling so isolated and I had a lot of working moms and you know how challenging that time was. It’s kind of like a, I try to block it out in my mind, at least. You’re trying to work from home, which is completely new, you’re trying to help your kids through remote schooling, which they have no idea how to do, the schools didn’t have no idea to do it. It was just such a stressful time for everyone. So I started a support group, a women’s support group, and it was online of course, because everything was online then and that was really successful and people really got a lot out of it.
The women who were in that original group probably on average, stayed for six to seven months in the group which is a fairly long time. It’s not a year but it’s definitely more than just a few months. So I was like, oh, okay, we’re probably onto something here. This is definitely a need in our community. So I just kept my ear to the ground with our local community to try to see what were the needs that people were asking for, other therapists were asking for, for their clients in terms of groups? Was it really specific on a specific group topic or was it more generalized, they just want to support group.
So with kind of some of that background information in mind, we decided over the last year to really flush out our group’s offerings. Part of that came from realizing that you can, as a group practice owner, make more income from groups with less time than you can with individual sessions. So certainly that was a good business decision as well as kind of meeting the needs community. So that’s probably how it started, just with one group and now we’re running several different groups and we have duplicates of a few of those that we’re offering because the need is so high.
[ALISON] Nice. So when you look at putting a therapy group together, I know you said you kind of listened to what folks or other therapists in the community are asking for, but are you thinking you’re going to fill the groups with already existing individual clients? Are you trying to recruit clients who may have never heard of your practice before or come to therapy before? What does that look for you?
[SHANNON] We’re actually trying to do both. If we start a group in an area we don’t have any expertise in or any current clients in, it’s probably not going to work because we don’t have kind of the marketing already set up for that. So I would say we always try to fill our groups with at least half of our current clientele. Because if you can get half of a group filled, well, you can start the group at that point. It’s not a full group then you just kind of do ongoing enrollment until it’s full. So we always try to start with at least half of people from our own caseloads. Each of our therapists says this many group practices has a little bit of a different niche or specialization or interest area that they like. So when we’re looking at new group offerings, I say, look at your caseload. Who do you have on your caseload that have very similar issues that could really benefit from coming together in a group and sharing and supporting each other so they’re not feeling so alone? So that’s probably how we start looking at needs for groups.
[ALISON] Okay. Awesome. Then switching gears a little bit to the marketing, so obviously then you’re doing some form of marketing to get folks who aren’t already a part of the practice to join the group. So what does that look like and what maybe has been successful in terms of marketing for groups specifically or not successful.
[SHANNON] Groups are hard because you can offer, you can have a great idea, a great group facilitator, but the biggest challenge is getting the groups full. That’s where the marketing piece comes in Alison. You’re right. So we have a lot of different, I would say strategies and I’ve gotten a lot of consulting on how to do marketing for groups, as well as how to get some clinical consultation on running groups itself. All of that has certainly helped kind of refine our process and how we do that. So some of the things that we do initially for groups marketing is that we look at that as different than marketing for our individual services. So we separate out the groups versus individuals.
So on our website page, we have a separate, you might have a separate landing or specialty page on your website page for anxiety, but we have a specialty page for each one of our different groups. That really helps list and identify what our groups are, who they’re for and how they will help people. So that’s the first thing. So then we drive, try to drive a lot of traffic to those website pages. We include them in our every other week blogs. We send them out in our newsletters. We write blogs that are specific to why you should do or what not you should do, but why group therapy is so effective or maybe the difference between group therapy and individual therapy. So, and then also on the content specific for the group, like I offer a grief support group. Then we write some blogs on grief and how grief support groups can really help process and help with the healing after a loss. So that’s part of what we do. We also have developed flyers specific for each of our groups. Those are what we send out to maybe doctor’s offices or other therapists or using our local Facebook networking groups or whatever else. So we have a lot of marketing specific tools for the groups.
[ALISON] Okay, nice. So it sounds like you figured out you can’t necessarily do the exact same things that you do to get individual clients in order to fill up the groups?
[SHANNON] I would say so. Most people when they’re coming into counseling, they think of traditional individual counseling and in the past they’ve always thought of in-person counseling. So when we all moved to online, we had to change our marketing to make it more specific to online. So this is just one more marketing strategy that you’re changing to. The other thing is when people call in at their initial inquiry, we offer free phone consultations with our VA, our virtual assistant. We talk about groups from the get go. We say, we offer a lot of groups here. Here’s some things that we think, based on what you told me that might be applicable for you. Here’s the information on it. And then when they do their, if they still want to do individual that’s, that’s great and that’s usually what they come for. But at the intake session we also start talking to them about groups and then kind of ongoing. So it’s really kind of an expectation that we’re getting most of our clients into groups. There are some people that aren’t appropriate for groups quite yet but most of who we work with could all, everyone could benefit from a group.
[ALISON] Yes, I think that’s great that you start mentioning it right off the bat because I feel like just having them, having that awareness, even if it’s not the right time for them to start right then at least they know it’s there and then they can decide later if they want to join a group or maybe they’re sort of graduating individual therapy and then they’ll continue going to a group. Do you find that people like, if for some reason folks maybe can’t afford the self-pay rate, then the group becomes appealing to them because it’s a more affordable price?
[SHANNON] For sure. Actually I forgot about that, but that is one of the reasons why I originally wanted to offer that because while our of pay rates, aren’t incredibly high, they’re still around the average or low average for our area, for the Denver, Colorado area. It’s still out of pocket that you’re paying a lot of money per session and groups are definitely much more affordable for that.
[ALISON] So if you don’t mind me asking, what is an example of what you charge for a group and do you do like sort of time limited groups or ongoing, or how do you structure that?
[SHANNON] Most of our groups are ongoing and we do have one that is time limited and it’s designed where we are teaching a skill, a certain CBT, or DBT skill every session. And that goes for eight to 10 weeks. So that’s really our only time limited group right now. All the rest of our groups are ongoing open ended. I mean, certainly people can kind of graduate from the group or occasionally we have people drop out and then another spot opens up and then we just fill. In terms of our process, what it looks like is for people who are external to our counseling center, who haven’t, aren’t already a client with us. We do have them come in and do a full intake. The group intake, we charge a little bit less for than we do an individual intake because we don’t have to go as deep into the assessment of their symptoms, providing a diagnosis.
And we use, so we use half of that time for kind of the intake, getting their story, making the connection between the client and the group facilitator, and then the other half to go over kind of the details of the group, the participation agreement, expectations for the group and stuff like that. So that’s the initial thing. So they do the intake, the group intake with the group facilitator of the group that they want to do if they’re coming in just to do group and then once they’re in with us, they can certainly jump to another group or go to individual counseling or whatever they want. I think you had another part of your question that I forgot to answer.
[ALISON] Yes, I was just wondering, yes, what’s kind of like the going rate for group therapy per session?
[SHANNON] The going rate, I would say in the Denver area is probably $50 to $60, maybe even up to $75 a group, because we’re just getting our groups up and going. We’re a little bit lower than that. I do anticipate raising our prices to get up a little bit closer to that average rate probably in 2022. Right now, like I said, we’re still getting a lot of consultation and figuring out our systems and process. So right now we’re charging $40 a group. I thought that was high, but I didn’t realize that that’s actually fairly low in terms of market value.
[ALISON] Okay. So it’s maybe almost like a third or a quarter of what it would cost to do an individual session, it sounds like.
[SHANNON] Absolutely. And for some people group therapy can actually be kind of their primary mode of therapy. Individual therapy doesn’t always need to be kind of the first go-to for people.
[ALISON] Right. Do you get any kind of objections from people when you bring up group therapy? Do they say, “Oh, I wouldn’t want to talk about my issues in front of a bunch of other people.” Or like, what are those common objections that you hear and do you have any kind of way of explaining to them why it’s actually really beneficial?
[SHANNON] One of the most common objections we get is just the anxiety, like even talking about going to group, just like anxiety rises in people. So that is a common kind of objection as you say that we need to kind of process with them. So we found that the more information they have about a group, the less the anxiety goes down. So we probably try to give as many details as possible. We always have them meet with a group facilitator before going into the group. So even for internal clients, if they’re seeing an individual therapist that is not the group facilitator, they’ll set up a free meeting between the client and the group facilitator. So there can be some of that connection ahead of time. We’ll go over as many details of the group as possible and we just try to normalize that anxiety.
What really helps with addressing the anxiety is linking back how group treatment or group therapy or support groups or whatever they’re doing is going to help them meet their treatment goals. So you say you’re coming in to work on relationships with other people and group is actually the perfect place to work on relationships with other people and practice it in a really safe space. Then you can apply what you’re learning in group and take it to the outside world. So once we’re identifying really what their treatment goals are and linking how group counseling fits into that, that seems to help getting over the hump a little bit.
[ALISON] Okay, nice. So it sounds like you’re doing some psychoeducation there, but also just giving them as much information as possible so there’s not sort of that uncertainty of what if this happens or what if it’s like that or something like that?
[ALISON] That’s great. I think that can be such an important piece of actually getting people into the group, because I know we’ve tried to run groups in the past and everybody would say, oh, that’s so great. That’s so needed. And like, oh, I’d definitely be interested but then when push came to shove, nobody signed up. So I think that’s what you’re talking about. When you do all that pre-work before the group starts, that’s like such an important piece to actually having people show up to the group.
[SHANNON] Exactly. The other biggest barrier to getting clients in groups is actually probably your own therapists. So unless your therapists at your group practice are really on board with understanding and really getting how helpful group therapy could be, like, why would they refer a client of theirs and lose an individual client, possibly, though a lot of our people’s still continue with individuals, they’re doing groups; to a group with another facilitator, like what’s their motivation to do that? So it’s a lot of work with your current therapists. Once you get them on board, that’s when you’ll start seeing the number of your clients in your groups increasing and your groups filling up. That is not just a one conversation type thing. This is a big process. It can take months. It can have, maybe you have some of your therapists shadow your group or co-facilitate a group with you. So they can really start to understand what it’s really like, rather than just kind of this big idea that’s often the distance.
[ALISON] Yes. That’s such a great point because you have to have buy-in from the staff or else they’re not going to do the work it requires to get the group up and going. So if they’re not passionate about it, or if they feel like, oh the boss is making us do it, it’s probably not going to work.
[SHANNON] And so many therapists just don’t get the group training, group counseling training that they, I would say need, but to where they feel comfortable, really understanding group and referring clients to group much less running groups itself.
[ALISON] Yes, absolutely. So just switching gears a little bit and talking me be more about the business side of things. I know you mentioned obviously if you have a group up and going and you have enough people attending, it is more financially advantageous. You’re making more money in that hour. What are some other kind of business considerations that you had to think through and how do you pay your staff or do you pay your staff any differently to run a group? What does that look like?
[SHANNON] Yes, we pay our staff differently to run the group because we want them to be motivated to fill their groups and to do more groups. It’s also a different specialization than doing kind of individual therapy. So it does require a little bit more training and expertise in a different way. So our group prices, what we pay our therapists are not quite twice what we pay for an individual session, but close to it. And I can’t answer that question directly because we’re actually in the middle of transitioning from a 1099 contractor model to a W2 model and it just looks a little bit different. Now we have a set hourly rate for groups whereas before I had a percentage. We were paying them 50% of the income received from the group.
[ALISON] Okay. Got it.
[SHANNON] Then in terms of other business considerations, we really had to work out a process that worked for us without spending a lot of free time consulting with clients about groups. So originally we weren’t charging for an intake and then we decided to start charging for maybe a 25-minute intake. Then we found out we just can’t get everything we need in that 25 minutes. So we extended it to an hour and while that may put up another barrier for people looking for more affordable services to get into groups, it also really solidifies their commitment to the group. Now we don’t have drop offs between kind of the intake now and the first group session, because once they pay for the intake, they’re definitely in. That’s an investment of their time and money. So that’s a business consideration and then figuring out how much it really costs you to market for the groups. So having that full intake fee really helps offset the cost of marketing, whether it’s time or if you’re running any different kind of paid ads, Google ads, or social media ads or whatever.
[ALISON] Okay, nice. That’s helpful to hear how you kind of structure that. I’m sure there’s probably many different ways to do it, but it’s always good to hear examples from people who are actually doing it in their practice.
[SHANNON] Yes, it definitely takes a while to figure out the process that will work best for you as well as again, making money for the practice, because it is a big time investment to figure out how to do this and do it well.
[ALISON] Yes. That’s the other question that I had for you. Like obviously this isn’t an overnight process you probably start out and maybe aren’t able to fill up a group or it just takes longer than you think or whatever. Like if you had to give people a timeframe of, obviously you went from one group to now you have seven going, what is a good amount of time to expect that it’ll take to kind of build it up and then it’ll maybe start to generate its own kind of word of mouth marketing.
[SHANNON] That’s a great question. I think it can definitely, so for us it took about a year and a half. If it could definitely take less time than that. I would say probably a minimum of six months though, because you have to, there’s so much learning involved. I had to learn how to market for groups and then I had to get our staff on board and give them the clinical training that they needed to facilitate those groups. And had I done that a little bit kind of either simultaneously or a bit closer in time than it certainly would’ve decreased my timeline for doing that. If you have a lot of connections in the community with other therapists or local doctor’s offices, or if you really plugged into the community, that will help also because they already know you, they already know your reputation. If you have a newsletter that you send out or an email that you send out or blogs that you publish and send out to people that’s also really going to help. So it depends on how much marketing you already have set up and how you can use that to be specific for the group counseling that you’re offering.
[ALISON] So in terms of the types of groups that you offer, I know you said you kind of just listened to what the community wanted, but when you think about the details of the group, like, are we going to run it for an hour, an hour and a half? Are we going to have 10 people in the group? Are we going to have six people in the group? Are we going to have a be open or closed? What is the considerations that you thought through? I’m sure it was probably some clinical, but maybe also some just sort of logistical or business kind of considerations too.
[SHANNON] Sure. A lot of it honestly was based on my personal preference because I was the one who started running the groups and I don’t like being in meetings or groups longer than an hour. So that for me was the max. Now that’s not to say people can’t benefit from hour and a half or two hour groups. That’s certainly a model out there that a lot of people would use. I just don’t prefer that and it didn’t fit into my schedule. So that was more of a logistics decision and then when we’re running online groups, we really want to max out at small groups, six people per group and make sure everyone got a really good chance to participate each time. And again, that’s because I can see six people on my screen pretty well but you get any more than that and it just gets really challenging to be in touch with everyone’s reactions and stay in the rhythm of the group.
So that was another personal preference and that’s just how all of our groups are structured. In terms of whether the groups are open or sorry, are ongoing or time limited, that’s more of a for facilitator preference, what works with the style of the group that they’re providing? If you’re teaching skills each time, it’s hard to do an ongoing group and come up with an unlimited number of skills. If you’re doing, we’re starting our first interpersonal processing group next week, which I’m very excited about, and that is, you can make those either ongoing or time limited. We’re going to make ours ongoing in part, because I don’t have a full group as of the day, we’re going to start the group. We’re going to do, we do ongoing enrollment until the group gets full and sometimes that can take three or four weeks. And then if you have a time limit in a group, then some people only get the extra four or six weeks as opposed to everyone, people who are in the group in the beginning get the whole time. So we found out logistically that’s what works best for most of our groups also.
[ALISON] Okay, nice. So it sounds like there’s just like a number of factors to consider, including your own preferences.
[SHANNON] Yes. I don’t think there’s any rights or wrongs.
[ALISON] Right. Can you tell us what some of the group topics are that you’re running this fall? Because I think that also would be helpful for people to get an idea of what is something that the community might find that’s needed in terms of group therapy.
[SHANNON] One of our most popular groups is our grief support group. This is a group that is run weekly and it is for anyone who’s experienced a loss of a loved one over the past year. We do have some people that maybe join right at the year mark, or stay a little bit longer. But that’s kind of the general inclusion criteria. That one is really popular because when you’re in your grief process, so many people just feel so alone and not understood, and they don’t have anyone to talk to who maybe six months after the loss, everyone else has gotten past it, but you’re still like, that’s still the most important thing in your life. So that group has been really powerful. We’re opening a second option for that group now.
So that is probably our most popular group. Some of the other groups that we offer that are more specific, a postpartum support group is also great. So that’s becoming more popular. We have some general support groups, like we offer a men’s support group and women’s support group. Both of those are pretty popular. We also have a group that’s designed, our time limited group is for young adults who have anxiety or depression, so really targeted for people in their twenties, maybe their early thirties, but more likely their twenties. They’re experiencing some of these symptoms and they really want to learn better how to cope with it, but also connect with other people. So that’s one of our groups that we actually have been running the longest. We are now on our fourth version of that. So we usually run it fall, spring, summer, winter.
[ALISON] Nice. Those are great topics.
[SHANNON] Yes. We’re starting, the other one that I’m excited about we’re starting a recovering perfection group, which probably most of your listeners could join Alison, including us.
[ALISON] I know of practice owners who are perfectionists
[SHANNON] I’ll let you know how that goes.
[ALISON] Yes, that’s awesome. Any kind of last tips about running groups that we haven’t covered yet, or start getting groups started in your practice?
[SHANNON] I would just say, if you want to do it great, there’s such a need probably in every single community to do it, but it’s not something as an afterthought. You really need to put a lot of time and energy in to doing it. Once you do it, you’ll really start seeing the benefits both and clinically I think. So I guess I would just encourage everyone to kind of think how would groups fit into my practice model or is there a need in my community and can I fill that gap?
[ALISON] Excellent. So if folks want to get a hold of you Shannon, or if they want to check out your practice website, what’s the best way for them to connect with you?
[SHANNON] So our website, our group practice name is Catalyss Counseling. That’s C-A-T-A-L-Y-S-S Counseling. So it’s a play on the word catalyst and it’s just catalysscounseling.com. We have a group counseling page. So if you wanted to check out how we organize our group offerings and our different website pages for that, definitely check us out.
[ALISON] Thank you so much, Shannon. It’s been great talking with you and I really appreciate you sharing all your experience.
[SHANNON] Thanks, Alison. It was so fun.
[ALISON] Thanks so much for listening today. I hope was helpful. Shannon is such a lovely person. I always enjoy talking to her and working with her. It’s been such a joy to see her building up her practice. And I wanted to let you know if you are a group practice owner and you have at least two other therapists hired, please consider joining us over in Group Practice Boss. It is a membership community for established group practice owners. We talk about all things related to group practice. We have a different theme every month. Shannon is one of our members in Group Practice Boss who adds a lot to our community. So you can check that out at practiceofthepractice.com/grouppracticeboss. I will talk to you all next time.
If you love this podcast, will you please rate and review on iTunes or your favorite podcast player?
This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regards to the subject matter covered. This is given with the understanding that neither the host, Practice of the Practice, or the guests are providing legal, mental health, or other professional information. If you need a professional, you should find one.