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Published: Monday, 6/18/2001

In order to survive, psychologist sells self

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Psychologist Marc Dielman's day doesn't end when his last patient leaves.

He can be found making preparations for a luncheon presentation in which he treats a local pediatric practice to take-out salad in exchange for an opportunity to explain the services he offers and make a pitch for referrals.

Or editing a newsletter that offers free counseling tips to clergy in hopes that they, too, will send business his way.

And giving speeches to business and civic groups that give him an opportunity to get his name out.

While practitioners of the healing arts traditionally have disdained marketing, Dr. Dielman, president of the Center for Solutions in Brief Therapy, Inc., sees it as necessary for survival in the crowded local mental health field.

“Along with being a psychologist, I have to be a businessman,” he said. “A lot of psychologists and therapists are uncomfortable marketing themselves. But because the field is so competitive, we have to market what we do.”

Medical schools are beginning to devote more time to training students to run their practices, including marketing, according to experts.

“It's a totally new world,” said Ted Fraker, associate dean for clinical affairs at Toledo's Medical College of Ohio. Lawyers, hospitals, and drug companies have stepped up marketing the past decade, he noted. Physicians and other care providers will soon follow.

Membership in the Toledo Academy of Professional Psychologists has grown 45 percent to 38 over the past two years, according to President Audrey Ellenwood. The group includes slightly under half of the 100 psychologists with practices in greater Toledo, she added.

Dr. Dielman said his primary commitment is to patient care. But he conceded that marketing efforts have contributed to the good health of his practice.

Starting out eight years ago with one employee and a few dozen patients, his staff has grown to six who see 125 people a week and generate revenue of $500,000 annually.

The growth is partly a reflection of the stressful times in which we live, he conceded.

Home life and hobbies that can provide solace and relaxation often get nudged out by work demands.

“This is adding to people's stress,” Dr. Dielman explained.

“The workplace can be a place of community and support or it can be a place where people are isolated and alienated.”

Job stress, difficulties with co-workers, and problems meeting expectations of employers are cited frequently by people who show up in his Sylvania office.

He has followed a business strategy that has focused on carving out niches such as his work with clergy as well as with children with attention and behavior problems. Additionally, he specializes in a somewhat unconventional style of counseling that emphasizes self-help.

So-called “brief therapy,” which grew out of the work of pioneering psychologist Milton Erickson, focuses “on the client's competence, strengths, resources, abilities, not on his deficits,” Dr. Dielman said. “It minimizes the importance of past unresolved childhood issues. It assumes the client has had problem-free times and focuses on solutions the client used during those times.”

A former Christian pastor, juvenile probation officer, and school psychologist, Dr. Dielman got interested in brief therapy in the early 1990s. After undergoing training at the nonprofit Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, he began putting the method into practice.

“It was an approach that seemed to fit me,” he explained.

The average patient goes through five sessions, although treatment sometimes lasts longer.

Besides Dr. Dielman, the practice includes three therapists. The standard charge for a 50-minute “therapy hour” is $125, although insurers and medical plans negotiate lower rates.

Like other health care providers Dr. Dielman spends significant time dealing with paper work and pre-authorizations required of insurance companies. It's all in a day's work, he said. “But it's something I didn't get training for in school,” he shrugged.

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