The following is a guest blog post by Rachel Bédard, Ph.D.
In a recent blog post Mallory Griffith and I outlined the benefits of collaboration with other professionals. Collaboration offers a wealth of treasure: better clinical offerings, beneficial referrals for your clients, new perspectives, a connection to your community, and sometimes even friendships!
Collaboration begins with contact. You may feel uncomfortable making that first phone call or sending that first email to other professionals, particularly those you don’t know, or who are viewed as the top experts in town. But from your psychology courses you also know the basics of behavioral reinforcement and shaping! Use these tools to build rewarding collaborative relationships. For example:
Invite another professional to meet for coffee or ???
Leaving the office may "cost" you a billable hour, but gain you untold referrals.
Know what you companion will be drinking. My favorite coffee date: I was with a well-known doc in town. We went to Starbucks. Ends up neither of us drink coffee but assumed that the other did. Discovering this while in line for coffee, we changed course and went to (brace yourself!) Burger King and slurped down huge diet Cokes. For every subsequent meeting with this doc I brought her a diet Coke. She then hired me to teach a graduate level course. Worth the missed billable hour and occasional diet Coke? Yeah!
Your companion may have a different drink preference. Find out what it is, and buy it for him or her whenever you have the opportunity.
Connect with professionals you know
You already know some professionals in town, right? Ask them to meet you for a drink and to discuss (insert any relevant topic here: healthcare in America? Who does the best psych evals? The amazing referrals they recently sent you?)
My favorite colleague recently met with a colleague at a BAR and had a BEER while watching basketball. Be creative. Start with other professionals you know, which will boost your confidence to branch out.
Connect with those you don’t know yet
Unless you are a natural people person, this might be a touch more challenging. Get your reward ready, and then dive in!
Find someone in town with a great reputation who does not yet know you, and send an email. Start with a compliment. Aim to connect, not to derive immediate benefit.
I am on several professional listservs. During one exchange an OCD expert in my town wrote a great post. I emailed her and indicated that some of my clients belonged in her office, and could we please meet. Naturally, she is an excellent clinician and person, and we now connect on a regular basis.
My favorite connection: Several of my clients were seeing a speech language pathologist in town. (I work with folks with autism, and finding a great SLP has been a challenge.) I called this SLP and said, “I see the difference in my clients after they meet with you. Will you please meet me for coffee so I can meet the woman with the magic wand?” Great coffee date! She invited me to be on the board of her non-profit, we now co-lead groups, co-wrote a book, and are working on creating a social learning center together!
Connect with organizations
Connect with online forums, local groups, charities, and school organizations. While no specific person is your “coffee date,” you want to know what others are offering, and you want them to think of you when they refer people for mental health services.
Consider non-people, too! If you work with children with autism, you may be aware of Julia, the new Sesame Street muppet with autism. Julia has already been the star of books and other media platforms, but formally joined Sesame Street in April (Autism Awareness Month). While you can’t invite Julia to a coffee (milk and cookie?) date, you can let your clients know that she is there as an educational resource.
Similarly, you can recommend digital resources, apps, books, and informational websites. I sometimes contact the geniuses behind these resources (authors, website authors) and let them know how valuable their services are to my clients.
Keep an open mind
Your goal is to connect. As a mental health professional you have a natural curiosity about the experiences of others. Let your coffee date be an opportunity to explore the professional life of others.
As noted clearly by Dave Verhaagen and Frank Gaskill, co-authors of How we Built our Dream Practice, your goal is to connect and share, not to promote yourself, your business, or your bottom line.
You got this! Use your psych skills, write some achievable goals about connecting with others, add a timeline, get some rewards, and get connected!
Rachel Bédard, PhD lives and works in Fort Collins, CO. She is co-author of the new book, Raising a Child on the Autism Spectrum: Insights From Parents to Parents. You can track her down for some collaboration, milk and cookies, and support at www.DrRachelBedard.com