I know the title says there are only two ways to get out of debt, but really, there is only one way.
Let me explain.
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The only two ways to get out of debt are:
To earn more and take the extra to pay down debt.
To spend less than you earn. Then take the extra to pay down your debt.
You can either go into a period of deprivation where you don't spend any money (other than sustenance) and throw everything else to paying down the debt, or you can build a business that makes you more money.
How to earn more so you can get out of debt.
For most therapists, the best way to make more money is to go into solo private practice or see more clients.
For example I know a guy who worked in a group practice and made $91 per hour. He wasn't getting many clients from his group practice and struggled to keep clients longer than 5 sessions. He ended up making about $69,888 per year.
He then started a solo practice and instantly got a 30% raise. His yearly revenue jumped to $99,840.
There are only two ways to make more money. See more clients or go into solo practice. He chose solo practice.
I occasionally see therapists online promoting the idea that therapists should make more money by having multiple streams of income.
Don't do that.
The reason you shouldn't have multiple streams of income is, you're diverting your attention away from the most profitable thing you can do - seeing clients.
Don't get distracted. The more distracted you get, the worse your therapy business will be.
In fact, hot take coming, there are only two reasons you should diversify away from seeing clients:
You're burnt out on therapy. Totally fair. Therapy is hard and most of us can't only see clients for forever.
You've maxed out on how many clients you can see. Maybe your comfortable caseload number is 20 per week. You don't want to take on more clients, so you need another way to make money.
If you're in either of those situations, well it makes sense why you want to make more money outside of seeing clients. In that case you should start a business.
Why a side gig is the worst way to get out of debt.
Say you start coaching new therapists on passing their licensure exam. You run a 10 week course for $100 per hour. And say you get 4 people to sign up. That's $4,000 for an hour of your time per week.
If you do that 5 times a year that's $20,000 for 1 hour a week of work. Now, of course it's work to find people and get the test materials, but it also scales. You could double the class size from 4 to 8 as more people become interested. Or you could hire someone else to teach the course later and basically make passive income.
That's the difference between owning your own business.
I think some get confused when I say "build a business." When I say build a business, I don't mean start a side gig.
When I say side gig I mean anything where you're working for someone else and only making less than your hourly therapy rate.
A brief search of Uber drivers says they make $13-$17 an hour in AR. If you work 20 hours a week that means you make $16,320 per year (assuming you work 48 weeks). Adjunct professors can make between 2000k -3000k per course. Say you make 2,500k and teach 7 courses a year that's $17,500.
Yeah, that's decent money, but you're diverting energy from the most valuable thing you can be doing: seeing more clients.
Earlier we saw how tutoring for 1 hour could make you $20,000. So those are your options. Teach for 20 hours, make $17,500; tutor for 1, make $20,000.
There's nothing wrong with driving Uber. A friend of mine drives Uber and loves having total control over his own schedule. Rather this is about staying focused. For most of us Uber ain't it.
I think most therapists who go the side gig route do so because they have a problem in their business they don't know how to fix.
Maybe they don't know how to get clients. Maybe they don't know how to keep clients. Maybe they're afraid to raise their rates. Maybe it's something else entirely.
And of course. No one teaches therapists how to do business. Most of us are out here on our own just trying to make it work.
So here's a gentle reminder, you can figure it out. You can learn how to fix your business.
You might need a little help, and it might be hard, but whatever the problem is in your practice you can fix it.
Why spending less is the best way to get of out debt
But, if you have massive debt, you probably shouldn't start a business. You are probably best served going through a period of deprivation.
To run a business well requires money management skills. And if you're in serious debt, you probably don't have those skills. The best way to develop those skills is probably with your personal finances. Which means figuring a way to cut expenses and pay down debt.
In fact, it's likely that if you had more money you'd likely not manage it well and then you'd be back where you are now.
I know going into a period of deprivation is really hard. Honestly, if I had to, I couldn't do it now. Luckily, I went through my period of deprivation from 2013-2023. So it's behind me, but it really hurts, (I'm literally seeing a therapist now to work through issues related to this).
So I don't say "go into deprivation" as a shaming thing or as though it's easy.
It's stupid hard. It just also happens to be your best bet on digging out from the debt.
Best of luck.
Jordan (the counselor)
If you liked this post, consider reading this next. I think you'll like it ;) It's about how to make 100k as a counselor.
Jordan Harris, Ph.D., LMFT-S, LPC-S received his Doctor of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Louisiana Monroe. He is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of Arkansas, USA. In his clinical work he enjoys working with couples. He also runs a blog on deliberate practice for therapists and counselors at Jordanthecounselor.com