How I Practice… with Dr. DodiniThe following interview has been lightly edited for clarity. The How I Practice series asks therapists, counselors, psychiatrists, and other mental health practitioners to share their successes, shortcuts, routines, and more. Have someone you want to see featured or questions you think we should ask? Let us know here!
1. First of all, tell me a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.I had a bit of a longer journey than most. I originally started my education in marriage and family therapy, but about two-thirds of the way through the program I decided I wanted to get a bigger piece of the whole mental health puzzle. So I started a Ph D. in Clinical Psychology as well. I was doing those two programs concurrently and I was also working in a few university counseling centers and a group home for juvenile delinquents. I started my private practice while finishing my Ph.D.–I had my license in marriage and family therapy at that point. My first practice was a little dinky thing that I was doing on the side with all of my coursework, internships, externships, and clinical hours that I was trying to shoehorn in whenever I could (six in the morning wasn’t at all uncommon for me then). But it was right around the time when my wife and I started having children, so I needed to have another way to supplement my income. For the first three years, I was subletting from my co-therapist and just catching what I could. When I finished my Ph D., I took a full-time job working in a college counseling center. But I continued to ramp up my private practice in the meantime. In about a year a half I had a thriving full-time practice of about 40 to 50 hours a week. I had slowly cut back from doing the work at the college counseling center and was transitioning to fully just private practice. About six years ago. I decided that I wanted to bring in some associates. I started with one associate and it was a crazy situation–he was commuting all the way from Philadelphia to Arlington. We were also still in the space I was subletting from co-therapist. He did eventually move himself and his family down to Virginia when he started seeing enough clients. Since then, we have continued to slowly add additional associates–we’re up to six associates now. In January, we made a massive shift from a 1099 contractor model to a W2 employee model. We’re all really excited for the transition, even though it has been incredibly challenging, but it is worth it for legal and tax reasons. My practice has had its growing pains and challenges. We’ve gone through tremendous change and tumult from having one person to now having six associates and a practice manager. We have worked really hard to survive it all together and have really thrived in the midst of it. Now I feel like we’re on stable ground. We offer exclusively adult, long term psychotherapy. We do a lot of couple and group psychotherapy. I love doing deeper longer-term work. I love working in the co-therapy model. We do all of our groups and our couples as a co-therapy tandem. This allows us to give a lot of support to our clients who are often doing individual and couples and group therapy. We are able to surround both them and ourselves as clinicians, with a lot of support. That community, where we are all working hard together, has been a huge part of our success and the reason that we love what we do.
What has been your favorite part about being in private practice?I have loved developing longer-term relationships with my clients, as well as building strong referral networks with the people who trust us enough to send their patients to us. The ability to select the right fit. There is a mutual selection process that goes on between a therapist and a client to ensure we are the right fit and that It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. At a counseling center, you see who is in front of you. You have very little control over whether you can see them long term or not, there are a lot of limitations. With private practice, I really like being in a setting where I have some control to be able to establish long term relationships and to do the deeper level work–that was really life-affirming. I had a chance to not just deal with symptoms but, to really get at the core of helping people live richer, fuller lives. This has made all the difference for. It’s the reason I get up every morning.
2. What apps, software, or tools can’t you practice without?TheraNest. We can’t do anything without it. We were one of the early adopters of TheraNest and it has been fun. I had a lot of conversations with Shegun (CEO of TheraNest) about what we needed. I really loved working with him. Even as the company has grown, it has been exciting to be a part of a community that is really interested in knowing what our needs are as a specific private practice. The group functions TheraNest has now didn’t exist when we first started using the software. We were one of the first practices that did group psychotherapy on the platform and we got to have a lot of input on what we needed to get going. Even today, we are able to have the same conversations around the features that we need and we feel like we are really being listened to. We don’t always get what we want when we want, but it’s really cool to have a relationship that is so collaborative with our software provider. That’s all to say, TheraNest has been huge for us. We also use a third party payer program to deal with the financial side of things as well. But that is about it. I can’t think of any other apps we use. TheraNest really does do so much, so we don’t have a need for many other things.
3. What’s your best time-saving shortcut?We use the batch invoicing in TheraNest religiously. The ability to run all of our invoices on a monthly or weekly basis (even though we tend to it monthly), is a huge time saver for us. Before this feature was released, we had to run and send each one individually–so it’s been huge for me.
4. What is your morning and/or evening routine?I’ll give you my morning office routine first. I usually have a client right off the bat when I get into the office in the mornings. If I don’t have an individual client then we’re typically starting our first group session around 7 AM. After my session, I go and finish up the client’s work, which means I open up TheraNest on my laptop. After that, I go through my email and make sure the day is organized the way I need it to be. I like to have a lot of diversity in my day. I’ll have group therapy with a few individuals and couple sessions, mixed in with some staff meetings or my own therapy or consultation group for supervision. I like having it be mixed, a lot of variety.
5. Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?I’m not a gadget guy. My kids are obsessed with Alexa, but I recently ended up disconnecting Alexa from my office. I used to use it to play music, but I got worried about the possibility of it recording sessions so I decided to get rid of it.
6. What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?That’s a great question. I am the oldest of ten children and as you can imagine, with so many people in a house there was always a lot of chaos. I think I am pretty darn good at managing and being in a lot of chaos. Sometimes, I would say. it’s not even chaos. It’s just being able to be in a lot of activity and energy and being able to work in that. I feel really at home when there is a lot going on. Which is a good skill when you have a caseload of 60+ clients and a thriving group practice. Also, I don’t know if I would say I do this better than anybody else, but I am really proud of the way I have surrounded myself with really excellent people. My therapists, clients, and co-therapists are all amazing. I have been able to create this really awesome, big extended family out of my job.
7. What do you listen to while you work? If nothing, what about when you exercise or commute?I don’t have any music in the office anymore because of the whole Alexa thing, so when I am seeing clients I don’t listen to anything. When I workout, I listen to podcasts. I’m an entrepreneur as well as a clinician, so I’m constantly listening to entrepreneurial podcasts. I’m always interested in learning and growing and podcasts are a great way to do that. I listen to The Harvard Business Review podcast called HBR IdeaCast a lot. Some others include Stanford eCorner, The Art of Charm, Masters of Scale, and School of Greatness.
8. What are you currently reading/listening to? Or what might you recommend?A great book I am reading right now is a memoir by Tara Westover called Educated. It’s a really powerful story about a woman who was homeschooled in rural Idaho and ends up ultimately getting a degree from the University of Oxford. She talks about her journey and her experiences of trauma and abuse growing up and how she got to where she is today.
9. How do you recharge? What do you do when you’re not working?I love working out. We also take a lot of vacations. I’m heading to Iceland for spring break with my wife and kids. We have four children and my wife and I are always very busy. Honestly, just being at home with them is a really big recharge for me
10. If you could spend 15 minutes with anyone in the world, who would it be and what would you ask him/her?I’m not really sure about this one. I probably wouldn’t want to hang out with just one person. I’m a group guy. I’d want to throw a party and sit together with four or five people that changed the world and ask them about how they felt while they were doing it.
11. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?You really should marry that girl.
12. Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to the readers?I have been obsessed with finding mentors. One of the things I forgot to tell you in my story is that in both my psychology and marriage and family therapy programs, I was one of the only men. There were very few men in the field in general, but especially in terms of my professors, there really was only one or two of them. So I really worked hard to find other professionals, particularly men, who I could talk to. I owe the success of my career to the collection of mentors that I’ve gotten to know, those people whom I have been in constant contact with throughout my career. Surrounding yourself early on with people who know more than you know, who have gone down the path you’re going down, is the biggest advantage you can have when you’re starting out.
13. Here’s a favorite question that I’ve stolen from Tim Ferriss’ podcast. What is one thing you’ve purchased recently under $100 that has significantly improved your life?Moviepass. I’ve recently bought it and I highly recommend it, it has been awesome. I’ve seen more movies with my wife–more date nights with her. I’ve seen more movies with my kids. I’m even going by myself on occasion–it’s been great.
Dr. Aaron Dodini is the owner of Dodini Behavioral Health in Arlington, Virginia. Check out his website here!