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Use these tips whether you want to close your practice temporarily or permanently.

Cindy Sandler, PhD, has firsthand experience with shutting down a practice — twice.

First came a planned transition: With four young children, Sandler decided to close her therapy practice and spend time with her family before eventually reopening a testing practice. The second time round, however, came out of the blue. Three years ago, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and forced to shut down. “Recovery was beyond unimaginable,” says Sandler, who underwent radiation, chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.

All practitioners will eventually close their practices, whether they move, retire or become seriously ill. Use these tips when you’re thinking about whether it’s closing time:

  • Consider your ethical obligations. “I probably could have powered through it for a couple of months,” says Sandler. “But I wouldn’t have been at my best and didn’t want to not be my best.” Similarly, she says, if practitioners find themselves endlessly daydreaming about travel, that may be a sign it’s time for a change. APA’s Ethics Code requires practitioners to take action when personal problems are interfering with their competency.
  • Plan ahead. In some cases, such as cognitive decline, you may not even be aware your competence is impaired, says Practice Institute co-founder Jeffrey Zimmerman, PhD, who after 22 years left the large group practice he founded to launch a solo practice in New York and Connecticut. All practitioners should have trusted colleagues, mentors or others who can keep an eye on them, offer feedback in a supportive way and perhaps provide a gentle nudge when it’s time to retire or take other action, he says.
  • Assess your situation. Before you close a practice, consider whether you’re financially and emotionally ready to leave, says Zimmerman. You might have a 10-year lease on your office space you can’t break, for example. If you are ready, he says, you can test the waters by scaling your practice back gradually.
  • Don’t reject the idea of time off. Of course, some practices have to close because the practitioner has lost interest or just can’t sustain the business. But, says Zimmerman, “It’s not always doom and gloom that leads to closing a practice.” For example, you might shut down temporarily to care for a new baby. Or maybe it’s time for a sabbatical so you can study a new area, conduct research, pursue a nonprofessional interest or just relax. “I’m familiar with many psychologists who take a month off in the summer,” says Zimmerman. “One could argue that it’s advisable for self-care as long as it’s done responsibly.”
  • Keep your options open. A decision to close doesn’t have to be final. Sandler, for instance, rejected the idea of selling her testing practice because most contracts include a noncompete clause. “I’m toying with the idea of doing testing again,” she says. “I’m not in a place of making decisions yet, but I’m feeling a shift to get back to using my skills and experience.”

This article is the first in a series of columns focusing on closing a practice. Subsequent articles will focus on financial, legal, ethical and other issues.

Date created: March 2019