The mental health sector in Nigeria has been relatively ignored. While there are opportunities in this sector, a mental health professional who is looking to run as a private business should learn from Dr Ukwuori-Gisela Kalu and draw from her experience.
I studied Psychology in the UK, I did my first degree, masters and doctorate there. While writing my doctorate thesis, I realised I lacked the support that came with a robust social network of friends and family. So, in a quest to be closer to my loved ones, and excited by the opportunity to contribute to the relatively neglected area of mental health care in Nigeria, I moved to Nigeria in 2016 and started a private psychology practice.
When I first opened my private psychology practice three years ago, I had little business experience and I didn’t really understand what it takes to run a business in Nigeria. If you are considering working (privately) as a mental healthcare professional in Nigeria, here are some things that I wish I’d known.
Private Practice is a Business
My initial decision to establish a private psychology practice was based on the fact that the country currently lacks adequate mental health infrastructure and does not have adequate governmental investment in mental health. I wanted to provide evidence-based diagnosis and treatment for individuals suffering from mental ill health.
Yet the truth is, running a private psychology practice in Nigeria is a business. No matter how much you see yourself first and foremost as a clinician concerned with your patient’s health, the sooner you accept that you are running a business, the better.
The Importance of Marketing & Social Media
I have learnt that you can be a terrific clinician and have a tiny private practice if you’re not good at marketing. Social media is definitely a good way, if not the way, to do some marketing these days. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are all good ways of reaching people. Not just to talk about yourself or your service, but to advocate or educate people about mental health, for example.
Finding Your Niche
Developing a niche can also be helpful. There is currently still a need for professionals and services in all areas of mental health and clinical psychology in Nigeria. Before moving to Nigeria and opening my practice, I gained experience and skills in working with a variety of people. Given the lack of services, this allows me to provide a wide variety of people in Nigeria with access to psychological care.
However, my areas of expertise are in trauma and addictions psychology. I have a very strong knowledge base in these areas, and as a result, I not only practice, but I consult for several NGOs. I believe it’s best to specialise in an area that you are particularly passionate about and a good way of finding out which area that is can be through volunteering.
The Danger of Isolation
When you work as a clinician in a hospital, it’s easy to take social interaction and peer relationships for granted. There’s always someone to consult when there are difficulties. For many clinicians, the transition into private practice therefore often means a loss of a professional support system, and there is a need to actively seek social interaction and consultation. Due to the low number of trained mental health care professionals in the country, this is even more so the case in Nigeria. It will be important for you to seek regular clinical supervision in your practice.
The Importance of Boundaries
When I began my private psychology practice in Nigeria, I was driven by the need for mental health care in the country. The stigma around mental health means that the individuals I see are often more severely ill. Accordingly, I felt a huge responsibility to be available for all my clients all the time, and so I returned phone calls and emails 24/7. As time went by, this became more difficult to maintain. It is also unhealthy and a contradiction to what I teach my clients. I have now been able to put healthier boundaries in place. if you are thinking of establishing a private practice, I encourage you to do the same from the start.
In summary, to succeed as a private mental health doctor, you have to treat it as a business, you have to market your business, carve out a niche for yourself, stay in touch with your colleagues and set proper boundaries between you and your clients.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.