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Pros and Cons of Keeping Your Rented Therapy Office
By Opher Ganel, Ph.D. on August 5, 2020
My wife’s practice has been renting office space for over 15 years. About 7 years ago, we bought our own space, and rent it out to her practice plus several other therapists.
Then the novel coronavirus hit, and seeing clients in person was impossible. Now, it’s allowed again but may not be a great idea for everyone. We’re living through a crisis that’s unprecedented in modern times, with Johns Hopkins data showing as of this writing over 3.7 million confirmed cases in the US and more than 140,000 Americans already dead. With the recent spikes in most states, those grim statistics will continue to get worse over the coming months.
So, as a therapist, should you keep your office space, or give it up and change your practice to teletherapy-only permanently (or at least for the coming years)?
As both landlords and renters, my wife and I see this from both sides of the transaction. Here’s our take.
3 Reasons Why You May Want to Stop Leasing Space
1. Reducing Cost = Increasing Profit
If not your greatest business expense, office rent ranks right up there.
This means that if you could continue seeing clients without having to pay rent, your profitability could increase dramatically.
Let’s say you pay $750 a month in rent. That’s $9,000 a year. If your current profit (including any salary you pay yourself from your practice) is $45,000, dropping your leased space could boost your profit by 20%!
The caveat is, of course, that you need to be able to keep the same level of client traffic through teletherapy as you do if you have an office space for in-person sessions.
2. Teletherapy-Only Reduces Your Health Risk
You may want to avoid seeing clients in person until there’s a safe and effective vaccine (and perhaps even a safe and effective cure), especially if you’re at higher risk for coronavirus complications. This may happen next year, or it may take a few years beyond that. In either case, you may not use your office space for quite awhile.
3. You’ve Been on the Fence About Leaving for a While Now
Say you were already doubting if your space is still a good fit for you. Perhaps the rent is too high for the market (as was the case for one of my clients), others in the space are hard to get along with (we used to have a renter who would send her clients to increase the temperature on the suite’s thermostat for her), and/or the landlord isn’t so wonderful. If that’s the case for you, it may be time to pull the plug, especially if you’re not sure that you want a physical office anymore.
5 Reasons Why You May Want to Keep That Office Space
1. Teletherapy Is Great But Has Its Limitations
Although doing therapy online has certainly become far more mainstream than ever before, there are certain things you can pick up in person that are much harder to catch when you see just your client’s face. That uncomfortable shift in her seat. Or how she clasps her hands together when you raise a sensitive topic. Those are clinical inputs you may miss in teletherapy.
2. Not All Clients Are Willing to Do Teletherapy
When my wife moved to teletherapy only, some clients simply didn’t want to shift to that mode. True, when shut-in orders stayed in place for weeks, some changed their minds, but others didn’t. If you have an office space for in-person sessions, you’ll be able to serve that population who isn’t comfortable with teletherapy and would simply opt for no therapy.
3. In an Era of Teletherapy, In-Person Sessions Are a Competitive Advantage
Given the preference of some clients for in-person sessions, keeping your office space gives you a competitive advantage over other practices, whether local practices who offer teletherapy only or ones who are located a fair distance away, but can and do compete with you for online-only clients.
4. Your Home May Not Be a Great Location for Teletherapy
We have a dog. She’s the sweetest thing on four legs.
But when she sees a fox wandering through our yard, she goes bonkers and won’t stop barking and growling at the top of her (very significant) lungs.
If this happens while my wife conducts a teletherapy session, it can become distracting.
Even if you don’t have a dog, your home may have other challenges as a teletherapy location. For example, your young kids may barge in unannounced in the middle of your sessions, complaining, “Mommy! Johnny pushed me!”
In short, your home may be an idyllic setting for family life but may not be optimal as a professional setting for teletherapy sessions. If that’s the case, you may want to keep an office space even if it’s just as a professional space from which to hold your virtual sessions.
5. Your Current Office Space Is a Great Fit
If you love your current space, the landlord treats you well, the office and its location are a great fit for you, the rent is reasonable for the market, and others in the space are easy to get along with, then think long and hard before giving up such a situation. If you leave but then decide you need an office space after all, your next rental may not be so wonderful.
How You Can Approach This Decision
As with almost every decision you need to make, there’s no perfect answer that’s right for everyone. It’s nuanced, like making a diagnosis. You don’t diagnose someone just because they temporarily display one of the markers of a disorder listed in the DSM-5. It takes multiple markers, present over time.
You may want to keep your office space if the following are more true than not for you:
Doing remote sessions from home is not a great solution for you because you may have kids running around, a dog barking incessantly, etc.
Your rent is not a very high fraction of your operating expenses.
You’re comfortable with doing in-person sessions using social distancing and possibly masks.
You’re committed to helping clients for whom teletherapy is not an acceptable solution.
You’re struggling to compete for clients with so many other providers who are far away but who are now competing with you for your local clients since they can provide teletherapy from wherever they are.
You love your current space.
You may want to consider giving up your office space if the following are more true than not for you:
Teletherapy clients are filling your practice to capacity and then some.
Rent is a significant portion of your operating expenses.
Your health risks are such that in-person sessions are not a good option.
You were already unsure your space is a good fit even before the pandemic.
A Compromise Option
As landlords, we offer therapists the option of renting an office by the day (i.e., one, two, three, or four days per week) at a small daily premium to our full-time rent. Many therapists took us up on this option, with all but one currently plan to stay.
If you’ve been renting full-time until now but think that’s no longer the right choice for you, perhaps your landlord would be willing to let you downgrade your next lease from full-time to part-time. This would reduce your expenses and may also help you avoid the worst impacts of having no professional office space.
The Bottom Line
Your situation may be similar to that of many others, but it also has its unique aspects. What’s right for you may be very different than what’s right for others. The above walks you through the pros and cons of dropping your office space so that you can evaluate them against your specific situation and make the best decision for you and your clients. Be sure to consult a financial professional before making any major financial decisions.
* The content of this post is intended to serve as general advice and information. It is not to be taken as legal advice and may not account for all rules and regulations in every jurisdiction. For legal advice, please contact an attorney.
About Opher Ganel, Ph.D.
Opher Ganel has set up several successful small businesses, including a consulting practice supporting NASA and government contractors. His most recent venture is a
financial strategy service for independent professionals including therapists in private practice. You can connect with him there, or by following his Medium publication,