How I Practice... with Sarah Buino
The 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.
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1. First of all, tell me a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I actually majored in music education in undergrad. After I graduated I ended up doing arts administration work until I came to a realization: I had always wanted to be a therapist. In the past, I didn’t really know how. I didn’t know what the steps were to get there. Once I figured out a plan, I followed through: I went straight to school and got my Masters in Social Work.
Therapy is a second career for me. I think coming to a second career, there is a little more seriousness than just coming out of school. I will say I think my administrative background really helped me in starting my private practice–it gave me the experience I needed to tackle the administrative side of private practice.
2. What apps, software, or tools can’t you practice without?
Obviously TheraNest. Honestly, TheraNest has saved my life. Originally, we were using a different service that will go unnamed and it was just really not user-friendly. It was difficult to get what I needed out of that system and as my practice grew it wasn’t cutting it at all. It didn’t grow with me. So TheraNest definitely saved my life there.
In terms of other apps, I use Google everything–the G-suite. I do everything on Google Drive and even our emails are through the Google business emails.
We also use Phone.com for communicating (I also just found out they have an app so that’s also a game-changer).
3. How did you start your practice?
How did I start my practice, honestly very poorly, I feel. When I started the clinical stuff was easy, I had plenty of clients coming with me from the intensive outpatient clinic I worked at before.
However, what was difficult to figure out was all of the behind-the-scenes stuff, for example, how do you get paneled with insurance? I was doing everything out of an Excel document before I learned about electronic health records for private practices. I didn’t even know that was a thing.
When I started, it was just me doing everything by myself. But as I grew, I began to recognize that there were people out there who could help me do things I need. There were systems in place that could help me work better–I just had to find them. That’s when I ended up hiring an administrator and then as my clinical practice crew I ended up hiring more staff and now I’m just about to make an offer to our eleventh therapist!
4. What’s your best time-saving shortcut?
That’s a really good question. I don’t know honestly. I can’t wait to read your blog and find out what other people have written down for this. Because I don’t have any, there is honestly just a lot of stuff to do in a day.
5. What is your morning and/or evening routine?
I start my day with meditation first thing. I’ve been meditating for about six years now and for the past two and a half years I have been meditating regularly for 20 minutes twice a day. The first thing I do (after I brush my teeth, of course) is meditate for 20 minutes. I then spend a little time going over a few daily readers I have–just little things that have positive messages. So I start my day with a little bit of peace and calm.
My evening routine is not that organized. Honestly, I usually just pass out because I’m so tired. Especially with how busy I have been during the day recently. But if I do have any energy left, I try to read something. I can’t read fiction, I have never ever been able to read fiction. I hate it. I just don’t care about the story. But I read a lot of self-help kind of improvement books. Recently, I have been reading a lot of Buddhist based stuff. I typically try to read something that fills my soul before I go to sleep.
6. Besides your phone and computer what gadget can’t you live without, and why? If any.
I don’t think there is any. I think it’s just my phone. And my computer–that’s about it.
7. What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
That’s another really good question. I don’t like to think of myself as better than everyone, but I’m a really kick-ass multi-tasker. I can do twenty things at the same time and do them well. I know there are a million things out there that say that you can’t but I really can. I have a group of friends who own practices as well and we always joke about that.
But it is a blessing and a curse to be really good at multitasking because then you end up doing it all the time.
My secret is that it’s my business and I care. And it’s not that I care because it’s my business, but I care because I love what I do. I love being a therapist and I love being able to help a lot of people. I’ve whittled my caseload down to be pretty small, and the way I think about my contribution to the world is that I have 10 therapists that practice under me. That means I’m able to help way more people through them than I would be able to help individually. That’s my secret: I care.
8. What do you listen to while you work? If nothing, what about when you exercise or commute?
When I’m working, I listen to whatever comes up on my Spotify. But, when I commute, I listen to podcasts. Right now, that’s mostly been murder podcasts. I think there’s a psychological piece to murder podcasts that’s so fascinating. It’s thinking about how could a person get to the point where they kill someone. It’s silly, but I also find it stress-relieving to listen to something that’s so filled with disaster without having to do anything about it.
9. What are you currently reading/listening to? Or what might you recommend?
10. How do you recharge? What do you do when you’re not working?
I need me time for sure in order to recharge–total alone time. Meditation helps a lot with that, but also just finding a space with peace and quiet is really beneficial for me.
At the same time, I am also an extrovert and so connecting with other people is also important to me. I have to have time to connect with my peeps. I’ve been using this awesome app lately (it has nothing to do with practicing) called Marco Polo. It’s a video chatting app where you leave a video message for your friends. It’s been a really nice way for me to connect with a few friends that I don’t see very often. It’s great for a little love bump.
11. If you could spend 15 minutes with anyone in the world, who would it be and what would you ask him/her?
That is a great question. I’d have to say Prince–he’s my favorite. I wouldn’t ask him anything, I would just let him talk. There is something about artists that are so skilled, Prince, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, they seem to be on a different plane than other people. I would just want to be around Prince’s energy and just hear him talk about whatever he wants.
12. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My dad told me when I first started my private practice: Congratulations, you now have the worst and best boss you’ll ever have. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I definitely do now.
13. Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to the readers?
For people who are just starting out in private practice or thinking about expanding: just remember you have to be really good at the administrative stuff. It’s not something we’re trained to do. For some therapist, it’s not an inherent skill–and that’s okay. You have to be really honest with yourself about what you’re good at and what you’re not. From there, learn to outsource the things that you’re not great at. I outsource everything that has to do with numbers because know I’m terrible at it and I am okay with that.
Don’t try to be Superwoman and do it all. And that’s the other piece: there’s already so much involved in running a private practice, don’t try to be a hero. Ask for help because we can’t do it alone.
One of the coolest things that has come out of owning my own practice is the connections I have made. Like I mentioned earlier, I have a bunch of friends that also run private practices and we get together once a month to talk about what it’s like to have employees, billing and insurance processes, and all of the other things that come along with running a practice.
My last piece of advice is: find your tribe. Or if there’s not one that’s already created, create your tribe.
14. 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?
I’m looking around my house thinking about what I have bought recently. It’s such a good question that I don’t even have an answer. Actually, I am super into crystals (which, I know is witchy and weird), but every time I buy a crystal, it makes my life better. Even though people probably won’t believe it, a crystal is something that I’ve purchased under $100 that has improved my life significantly recently.
Sarah Buino is the owner of Head/Heart Therapy in Chicago, Illinois.
Check out her website here!