Cover Story

When practitioner Thomas DeMaio, PhD, decided to expand the services he offered, his goal was to touch more lives, not make more money. But he soon found he was doing both.

"I've always been very community minded and, after being in traditional practice for many years, I wanted to take my skills into another arena and have a potentially larger impact," explains DeMaio, who practices in Charlottesville, Va.

In 2002, he joined forces with colleague Lee Hersch, PhD, to offer a wide variety of services, from one-on-one executive coaching to developing strategic plans for organizational overhauls. Among his most rewarding clients is Virginia's juvenile justice system, where he works to improve the job satisfaction and efficiency of court staff.

"I've now trained half of the [juvenile justice] courts in Virginia and, on some level, that touches 8,000 families," he says. "That is satisfying to me."

Organizational services make up 20 to 25 percent of his work, though his goal is to make it 50 percent. "By consulting, I can bill clients directly, I can make more doing it upwards of two times the regular fees but, most importantly for me, I can reach more people," DeMaio explains.

Like many practitioners, DeMaio has found that offering services to businesses, government agencies and other groups allows him to be more competitive in a marketplace where managed care, economic realities and shifting demographics have forever changed psychology practice. By repositioning themselves to meet market demands, he and others have found more career fulfillment and offer advice to those who want to diversify their professional activities.

Making the shift is not easy, admits DeMaio, who also serves on APA's Board of Directors. "It requires you to be open to the business world and to marketing a very difficult concept for some practitioners," he says. "It forces you to go into the unknown. But it can be very exciting."

Fusing his interests

David Astorino, PsyD, decided early on that a mix of psychology and business would best meet his personal and professional goals. After four years of practice as a counselor in community health centers, he'd found the managed-care environment onerous, even though he loved clinical work.

Seeking to be more marketable, he went back to school to earn his doctorate in clinical psychology and an MBA. In 2002, he landed a job with RHR International of Philadelphia, a consulting firm made up of more than 70 doctoral-level psychologists. Much of RHR's work is helping organizations from Fortune 100 companies to large family businesses to small start-ups become more effective on three levels: individual, team and organizational.

"We ask our clients, 'What are the behaviors you need to do more of to succeed in your strategies?' Then we translate that into individual plans and coach people to help them do what they want to do," he says.

Consulting is much more lucrative for him, paying three times his former income in community mental health. Plus, if he performs to his goals, he can earn a bonus of one to three times his base salary.

And he finds working with organizations more professionally rewarding. "For me, my curiosity and energy level were too high to do strictly clinical work," he says. "In consulting you're very, very busy. I'm thoroughly enjoying what I do."

Reinventing himself

Ron Fox, PhD, decided to change paths after decades of working in various realms of psychology, from private practice to directing family clinics to serving as founding dean of Wright State University's School of Professional Psychology. "I really just wanted to reinvent myself in a way that would allow me to use the various things I've done in my career," he says.

He became a consultant in 1992 when he took early retirement from Wright State and returned to his home state of North Carolina, where he joined a practice group that worked with employee-assistance programs. Within a few years, he took his interests to the next level, starting a division of Human Resource Consultants called The Consulting Group.

In his new career, Fox draws heavily from his clinical and organizational background to provide such services as guiding organizations through change, helping top brass be more effective or conducting diversity training. "It's all about people," he explains, "trying to get change to take place by buy-in at the top. A lot of that is good listening skills, good feedback skills, having appropriate confrontational skills. All of my previous experiences came together."

He's worked with a variety of clients, many of them federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, as well as local and city government groups such as the town of Chapel Hill and Durham County.

He likes the ability to pick and choose his projects. "I'm at a stage in my life that if I feel something is worth doing, I do it," such as the gratis services he has provided to rape-crisis centers and nursing homes. "Early retirement and the flexibility of consulting allow me to do that."

Ready to try it?

DeMaio, Astorino and Fox offer some advice for those interested in diversifying their careers:

  • Be open to change. Organizations can benefit from psychologists' expertise so "open yourself up to the possibility," says Astorino. "There may not be a form or structure out there for you you may have to create it but it could be very exciting."

  • Get the education you need. Go back to school, take CE courses, talk with others who are doing the same and read up on the literature. "Then just get out there and do it," says DeMaio.

  • Change the way you market yourself. "I now sell my services as services for healthy living as opposed to medical services, and people like that," says DeMaio. "There's a huge amount of money being spent on holistic care and alternative medicine people really want support for living well, and that's what we can provide."

  • Pair up with others. Find other psychologists with similar interests and join forces. "I've seen people pull together three or four folks, some PhD, some JD, and share ideas and marketing and business strategies," says DeMaio. "It gives you more confidence."

  • Recognize the value of your services. When he first started consulting, Fox says he didn't esteem his services enough. "I was just flattered that people would pay money to hear my opinion," says Fox, who co-wrote with J. Renae Norton, PhD, "The Change Equation: Capitalizing on Diversity for Effective Organizational Change" (APA, 1997). Instead, he says, view your services as something of great worth that people want to buy.

  • Think big and be willing to let go. If diversifying your practice piques your interest, pare down the number of psychotherapy clients you take on, and devote that extra time to your new business. "You cannot swing from the tree limbs if you're not willing to let go of the old one," says Fox.

Sara Martin is a writer and editor in Washington, D.C.