The Counselor in the Room: Attending a Conference Outside Your Field

The Counselor in the Room: Attending a Conference Outside Your Field

In my previous articleThe Unplanned Day of Networking” I recounted a day I took advantage of random encounters as opposed to actively overextending myself to network. It’s important for mental health professionals to network and connect with others. That goes doubly so for those who want to start their own practice. Successful networking can lead to potential referrals, speaking engagements, and other opportunities.

Setting Up Meetings

I don’t think I’m good at networking by conventional means due to the fact that I haven’t had a lot of success. For example, last year I moved from Atlanta to a small rural town in South Georgia in order to join a private practice. Upon arriving I sent LinkedIn messages and emails to multiple private practice clinicians in the area. A few clinicians responded and I scheduled a call with one clinician who never answered the phone. I visited a hospice agency, sent cold emails, and participated in what seemed like endless health fairs without yielding any return on investment. It was very discouraging. I’ve made minimal attempts to meet other clinicians or network with other local organizations since. Now that I’m on the verge of launching my own practice, networking is more important. I decided to make it my point of emphasis and execute it a different way.

Exploring New Territories

Recently I decided to attend a conference that was not mental health related. Instead, I attended a conference focused in a potential niche for me. The conference was in Minneapolis, Minnesota; a region I’m definitely not used to (being from South Carolina and currently living in Georgia). Participating in this conference allowed me to visit a new place and have opportunities to interact with others I most likely would not have met otherwise. I traveled to the conference with minimal expectations except to reconnect with one specific person I met from an earlier conference in the spring.

Never Underestimate

That person happened to be one of the keynote speakers. We met at the beginning of the conference, engaged in some one-on-one discussions, and grew closer as a result. Those conversations led to us making plans to collaborate in the future. I met a lot of great people who are doing some dope things. I underestimated how interested people were about me and my career. They were very curious about my career and my aspirations to incorporate mental health into their profession.

Some attendees shared mental health issues within their field and worked in professions that had minimal diversity and limited opportunities for minorities to advance. I heard multiple discussions about work-related stress and burnout. I felt right at home in an unfamiliar setting. Hearing those struggles helped persuade me to provide services and support within that population. It definitely confirmed an area of need that has not been met.

Being The Only Expert

The conference had multiple keynote speakers, a speed networking event, and various breakout sessions. One session in particular was on mental health. Of course, I had to attend. Ironically the session was not held by a mental health professional. It was a pair of women who wanted to share their personal struggles with mental health and how they advocate and work towards improving the prognosis for those who share their challenges. There was a lot of great dialogue from those in attendance. Some asked questions while others shared their own battles with maintaining optimal mental health. One person in particular asked for resources because she could find any.

That was when I entered the fray and provided some general resources to the best of my ability. Those in attendance were grateful for my knowledge and feedback. At that point I was the only “expert” in the room. I felt valued and appreciated.  

That day I had so many great conversations. I exchanged business cards, shared phone numbers, and connected on LinkedIn with many inspiring professionals. I’m already putting those contacts to good use. One person is assisting me with designing my website. Another person and I have some projects we want to collaborate on next spring.

My Challenge To You

As a result of this experience I now want to challenge you. Find some conferences that relate to your niche and see if you can attend at least one of them. Practice of the Practice has some great posts on finding your niche. I recommend starting with this one. Click here to learn more. If you want to overachieve, see if you can secure a speaking opportunity. I made some great friends and contacts from attending this event. I was constantly asked if I was the one who held the mental health session I attended. After hearing that a number of times, I asked myself “why didn’t I consider speaking?”.

Part of the reason was being unaware of the conference until a month beforehand. I’m not sure if that would have allowed me enough time to secure a speaking role. However, we’ll never know because I didn’t try. I mention this to empower and motivate you all to try and create opportunities for yourselves. Plus, if you get to speak you may be able to have your travel expenses paid for. Let’s continue to connect, build, and develop meaningful relationships. Feel free to add me on LinkedIn if you’d like to discuss further or share your own experiences.

Michael Gilliard was born and raised in Charleston, SC. He a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC) in Georgia. He is in the final stages of planning his private practice named Ujima Counseling, Coaching, and Consulting. It is based off the Kwanzaa principle of Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) which means “to build and maintain our community together and to make our brother’s and sister’s problems, our problems and to solve them together.” He can be reached via LinkedIn.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.