By Fred Peipman, PhD, IECA Associate (CA)

Working as a psychologist in San Francisco and Palo Alto for the past four years has been exhilarating and exhausting. Having moved to California to once again grow a private practice after working in wilderness therapy, I needed a change of pace as well as ideas to diversify my practice. With the high cost of living, I was working long hours, struggling with billing, and fighting to get reimbursed by insurance. My business wasn’t surviving. My heart was so much bigger than my budget, and I wanted to help everyone.

Why Did I Go to STI?

At dinner with a dear friend, I was contemplating (well, more like complaining about) a move to another state, a job at a school or program, and how I had spent my savings. With the idea that it should be obvious, my friend and independent educational consultant (IEC), said “why don’t you do independent educational consulting? You’ve worked in college admissions, as a college counselor at a private high school, and in wilderness therapy!”

Of course, my self-doubt kicked in: What would I do with my caseload? How would I afford and manage traveling to see programs? Would other IECs who refer their parents and students to me be upset and would I lose them as a referral source? I slept on the idea, put it off for a few days, then sat down and mapped out on paper what might work.

I was already doing some college admissions work with a few students each year and had some successes, but I quickly realized that there were gaps in my knowledge. I love my work, but business planning, marketing, and understanding the logistics and ins-and-outs of both college and therapeutic consulting were challenges for me. But finally, with more than a little trepidation, I blocked off my calendar, sought coverage for my clients, and signed up for the 2017 IECA Summer Training Institute (STI), rather at the last-minute (thank you to Caitlin Myers, membership associate at IECA, for her patience with my plethora of emails about STI, my membership, and so on). I knew about the many facets of the program side of wilderness and boarding schools, but not about the consulting side. I needed to learn.

Arriving at Swarthmore, I was a bit shy and worried about being out of place, not knowing anyone, and how to get as much out of the experience as possible. All those nerves melted away, however, when I saw Sue DePra, IECA deputy executive director, Mark Sklarow, CEO, and other familiar and friendly faces welcoming me with a warm smile and a hearty handshake. I have had a great relationship with IECA members and administrators from attending and presenting at conferences and the STI staff remembered me.

Was It Worth It?

Did I do the right thing? Was it worth the tuition, not to mention the expensive last-minute airfare? Well, after the first introductory session with Mark Sklarow, my answer was a resounding “yes!” Any last trace of anxiety about being out of place faded when I got to my first session on therapeutic consulting with Karen Mabie (IL) and Betsy Donnelly (GA), IECs with whom I had previously worked. And wow, are they great presenters—such patience and pizazz! I thought I knew a decent amount about therapeutic IECs and the process, but I was wrong. I knew only a fraction. By the end of the week, however, I had gained more than in years of self-study. The level of presentation; engagement; and content; as well as the various new ideas, strategies, and examples that each presenter shared were invaluable. After each session, I kept thinking that I could leave and still have gotten more than what I paid for—and that was just half-way through the first full day!

In the subsequent days, what I learned “exceeded expectations,” and surprisingly, I was able to share my experience and knowledge—what wilderness therapy was, how an RTC differs from a therapeutic boarding school, and where Papua, New Guinea (where I grew up) was—to help others. I would have liked to attend at least twice as many sessions and had to choose wisely. And the knowledge? Well, the business and marketing sessions by Joan Koven (PA) and Mark Sklarow gave me precisely what I needed to develop a marketing and business strategy. I now have a working business plan.

I learned from and was very inspired by Steve Antonoff’s (CO) college admissions wisdom, and kind, encouraging demeanor. In a smaller mentoring group, I was able to look at ethics, liability issues, and learn so much about what it means to be an IEC. Kristina Dooley (OH) gave a lively and very applicable presentation on social media and marketing for IECs, and I was able to update my college counseling skills and learn about the programs, software, and planning resources from Allison Matlack (MA).

Oh, and fun. Did I forget to mention that? I have never laughed as much at any conference. I think I laughed more than I did during the entirety of my college, master’s, and doctoral level classes. The presenters were lively, the visuals captivating, and the conversation scintillating. There was always someone to talk to. I met people from as far away as Qatar and China as well as some great folks in the San Francisco Bay area to whom I can now refer my students and families.

Thanks for Everything

Never bored, never thinking “I know this already,” I left inspired, hopeful, and with the knowledge and confidence that I could be an IEC as well as a practicing clinical psychologist. So many of the faculty gave me names of people to contact for advice. I figured out that I could bridge the gap between therapeutic and college consulting by helping students from programs with college and gap years. I will learn more. I will visit programs and colleges. I am very appreciative of this experience, and I have the tools, resources, and confidence to forge ahead in my independent educational consulting career.

Fred Peipman, Winfield Consulting Inc., can be reached at [email protected]