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The Birch Center curates a community for therapists
Megan Hamilton, along with her life and business partner Sarah Dunsmore, were both working in mental health services in North Carolina. Connecting over shared passions, they built both a marriage and a counseling practice together.
In late 2023 and early 2024, the team is evolving their existing center, Birch Counseling, into a coworking-inspired space catering specifically to therapists in the Raleigh-Durham area. Coworks CMO Lauren Walker sat down with Hamilton to discuss the vision for the new venture, dubbed The Birch Center.
Filling a need for community and connection
As Hamilton explained, “The biggest thing that I hear from therapists is the need for community. The reality of our schedules is often that we’re so back to back with our clients that we just, we don’t really ever get to interact with other people or other therapists."
The isolation faced by therapists has only intensified amidst the pandemic. A study by the American Psychological Association found 61% of psychologists surveyed were experiencing burnout in 2021. Contributing factors included increased demand, remote work, and blurred work-life boundaries leading to exhaustion (1).
Hamilton and her partner even witnessed therapists fully closing their practices due to pandemic-induced burnout. They sought to create a space promoting sustainability and resilience within the profession.
The Birch Center aims to foster community while still serving the primary function for members – providing office space for client sessions. However, a classroom space will also be adapted into a lounge area for members to connect outside appointments. “During the week, it’ll be set up for therapists to be there writing their notes or catching up on other administrative things,” described Hamilton. “It'll be a way for therapists to get things done and have the option of being around colleagues." This dedicated area for administrative work and socializing addresses therapists’ need for community and support.
Managing privacy in a shared workplace
Operating counseling services within a shared coworking space prompted considerations around acoustic management to ensure confidentiality. Hamilton shared, “It was actually a priority that when we got the building, it was a priority for us to find out how acoustics traveled in the space. We are implementing several strategies to improve sound-proofing and masking to make sure confidentiality is protected.”
To further safeguard privacy, Hamilton said secure locking cabinets will be supplied for patient files. Coworks check-in software will also facilitate appointment notifications with initials rather than audible call-outs. Maintaining patient confidentiality remains vital even alongside fostering a communal workspace.
A source for ongoing education and skill-building
Hamilton outlined plans for specialized programming including consultation groups, trainings, and professional development partnerships. The goal is to provide affordable, ongoing education on emerging topics and evidence-based modalities. “My goal will be to have two to four of those groups every month and a large range of topics,” Hamilton stated.
Hamilton also conveyed interest in facilitating therapists undertaking more intensive training with a group discount model and built-in consultations through partnerships with established training institutes.
“Let’s say somebody wants to train in EMDR...we’ve got a cohort of eight therapists who want to go through training in EMDR they get the training at a reduced rate. The training institute pairs them with a consultant, and they go through the entire process.”
More casual member events are also in the works to facilitate networking and skill-building. Ideas include socials and therapist wellness activities. Hamilton wants to ensure comprehensive support – from hard skills to self-care.
How coworking spaces can work for therapy and recovery
Coworking spaces, traditionally associated with startups and freelancers, are now emerging as a source of innovation in the therapy, recovery, and wellness industry.
A model that challenges the therapy delivery landscape
When asked about her long-term aspirations, Hamilton conveyed ambitions to scale the model. She envisions the Raleigh-Durham location as a pilot for replication across multiple locations.
Hamilton also wants the concept to challenge prevailing options facing therapists pursuing community, which often require sacrifices of independence or income. Therapists frequently build connections through group practices, some of which are suboptimal experiences. They don’t take care of their people, take substantial cuts of their earnings, and push unsustainable workloads.
Hamilton summarized, “Therapists feel better, provide better services, and have better support and do better work in the world without having to get exploited and other settings to do so.” Her goal is creating an alternative allowing therapists to maintain autonomy over their work while benefiting from peer collaboration.
A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found 93% of psychologists surveyed planned to continue offering telehealth after the pandemic (2). This indicates a shifting landscape as more practitioners embrace flexibility. The Birch Center model provides a middle path between the independence of private practice and the rigidity of traditional group settings.
A patient-centric model to promote quality care
The counseling center-turned-coworking concept aims to be therapist-centric. By considering members’ needs, Hamilton is forging connections patients are likely to benefit from as well. She maintains this service-oriented approach will let her model make a difference for both members and their clients.
At a time when demand has overwhelmed supply, supporting therapists is essential (3). The Birch Center promises to promote community care from the inside out.