Every therapist has heard about the summer slump. That period, mid-year, when kids are out of school, families are on vacation, and nobody is depressed or has any problems at all—and therefore, not in need of counseling. This month, we’re going to talk about how to survive those “slow summer months.”
1) It’s Mostly a Myth
You know how people say that x-disorder is a myth perpetuated by big pharma companies to peddle meds? Well, maybe the “summer slump” is a myth perpetuated by small counseling practices that want to be closed while the swimming pool is open. Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating (just a little) but before I get a pile of angry emails, hear me out:
1) The idea that people aren’t depressed in the summer is just plain wrong.
2) Yes, kids are out of school, but they’re still alive. Meaning, there are still issues to be addressed.
3) While people do go on summer vacation, most aren’t summering in the south of France.
In fact, according to the US DOT Bureau of Transportation Statistics, long-distance (50 miles+) recreational summer trips are brief! Roughly half are same-day trips. For multi-day trips, the average stay away is 2.1 nights. Which means, most people are, in fact, still in town!
The summer might present some volume or case management challenges for your practice, but don’t let a self-fulfilling prophecy turn what could be a very productive summer into a drought.
2) Diversify Referral Sources
If a school district is your primary referral source, then—of course—your incoming leads will drop this season. They key for summer (and, in fact, year-long) survival is having diversified referral sources. Possible referral sources are limitless (see previous columns), but consider company HR departments, medical practices, or court systems. Remember, there are 50,000 people in your city. You can counsel about 50. Instead of thinking “How will I keep myself full?” Consider, instead, that you need to help people find you before you’re overbooked.
3) Diversify Your Services
You think counseling is seasonal? Unless you run a Seasonal Affective Disorder clinic, not really. Here are some businesses that are really seasonal:
1. Ice cream stands
2. Lawn care companies
3. Christmas shops
Or are they? Even these businesses can run yearlong.
First, the owners of your local ice cream stand might migrate to Florida in the winter, but people do eat ice cream all year. Also, that stand could churn out loaded french fries and hot cocoa in the winter (image a world where every November ice cream stands began selling loaded fries? That’s a world I want to live in).
Second, the smart lawn care companies plow driveways in the winter—it’s an ideal transition, lawn care to driveway care.
Third, is there really Christmas in July? Well, the biggest Christmas shop brand of its kind, “Christmas Tree Shops ®” is thriving year-round, and their new logo actually reads, “Christmas Tree Shops ® and That!”
Counseling isn’t seasonal; anxiety, eating disorders, addictions, bipolar depression, schizophrenia, sleep disorders, relationship issues, grief, loneliness—there’s nothing about the summer that reduces the incidence of these issues. However, maybe there are some services that you can only provide in the summer. For example, I once worked with a counselor who ran a group that would start with a run across town, and have group therapy after. She found people were more open, and more in-tune with themselves, after the run. Can’t do that during a snowstorm!
4) Research and Development
When a business is busy, you’re running just to keep up with the demands of your customers or clients. Slow times can be a blessing in disguise as they offer you the ability to review feedback and to improve your product or service in ways you didn’t have the time for when business was booming. Perhaps there’s something about your practice you want to improve? Summer could be an ideal time to do just that.
5) Catch Your Breath
Running a business is no easy task. If your client load is lighter this season, maybe that’s a good thing. Perhaps it’s the perfect time for you to finally take a break. I hear the south of France is beautiful this time of year.
The threat of a summer slowdown can feel unnerving. Don’t panic. With preparation, your practice can still be busy—even grow—during the summer months.