I'm sitting in a large, noisy conference room with 425 people at a hotel near LAX. It's May 1996. I'm at a seminar led by a man named Jay Abraham, who's touted as the world's most brilliant—and expensive—small-business marketing guru. I've paid $3,500 to attend a three-day seminar called the Ultimate Live Marketing Laboratory, and I'm too embarrassed to tell anyone I've spent this much on it. I'm told Jay charges $5,000 an hour for private consultations, so this is supposed to be a bargain. But for someone who's used to weekend seminars costing one-tenth that amount, I feel like a sucker before the seminar even starts. I get up and walk around the room, scanning the fancy nametags we all got at the door, and to my horror, I quickly discover I may be the only mental health professional in the room. I see accountants, dentists, cell phone salesmen, weight loss clinic owners, a professional clown, a man who sells 200 varieties of fortune cookies, and a few vitamin-marketing hopefuls. I feel incredibly alone, as I look around at all the smug, smiling, yapping faces. They all look so . . . confident and smartly dressed in their upscale casual attire. It's all so L.A.—no neckties, but plenty of expensive sportcoats and chic hairstyles. In a flash, my worst stereotypes of businesspeople come to mind.
I remind myself that we therapists are the good people of the world, providing help and service to those in need. But these attendees? I'm fairly certain they're selfish, greedy, and manipulative—not working selflessly for humanity, as I am, but simply to out make the Big Bucks. Slightly ashamed of my prejudice, I flip into conscious self-talk: be open; don't be so judgmental. But when no one talks to me, my negative assumptions are confirmed. Yup, they don't care about anyone but themselves. They don't care about helping people as we do. All they think about is profit, and ripping people off.
What am I doing here? I want to run out of the room. Then I remember: what I'm doing here is trying to save my career as a private practitioner. After leaving a job as clinical director of an outpatient mental health and substance abuse clinic run by a megalomaniac psychiatrist, I've gone into private practice. I'm 42 years old, I've been on my own for two years, and it's going okay, but not great: feast or famine, 27 sessions one week, 16 the next. I made $57,000 last year. My immediate goal is to learn how to grow my practice so I can average a steady 35 clients a week, every week. But the real kicker is that two months ago I found out that my family of three is suddenly zooming to five: my wife and I are having twins in eight months. How can I support five people on a roller-coaster caseload? I try to tell everyone I'm excited about the twins, but the honest truth is that I'm far more scared than excited. I lie awake at night worrying about money.