History of the Association

Glendale, California, was a sleepy bedroom community of Los Angeles for many years. In the 1970's and 1980's, Glendale developed a significant commercial and financial district of its own, with a large urban mall, high rises, and new hillside residential developments. In the early 1980's only half a dozen psychologists were listed in the yellow pages under a Glendale address. When our association was started in 1992, the population of Glendale was perhaps 180,000 residents and the mental health professionals in the community numbered about 150.

At that time, the Clinton health care reform plan was in development and managed health care companies were proliferating. Some therapists were already predicting the end of mental health practice as we knew it; they expected to be forced out by raw economics. In our state of California, by the mid-1980's, statistics showed that 90% of lives in California were already covered by some form of managed care insurance. Many clinicians were concerned that a private-pay patient base was rapidly becoming a thing of the past. An atmosphere of fear and dread developed. The need for information and reassurance was high. A need was present for a local "watering-hole," or place for like-minded, like-trained professionals to congregate for emotional and political support.

The Glendale Area Mental Health Professionals Association, "GAMHPA," began with a simple form letter sent out to a small list generated from the phone book of professionals in town. We invited them to an informal networking mixer in our own psychotherapy offices to discuss current trends and the potential value of forming a local professional association.

Up to that time, no organization had existed locally where all practitioners could congregate, discuss professional issues, exchange information, refer patients, and consult on cases. No centralized resource existed for identifying which professionals in the community were offering what kinds of services. Most referrals are local and many referrals are made across, rather than within, disciplines. For licensed professionals like ourselves that were just entering private practice, the existing network of professionals familiar with each other in the professional community was hard to break into. We realized a genuine set of needs.

Small can become big. The association's first "resource list" published in the fall of 1993 numbered only 15 people. Enrollment increased rapidly over the following year when our first published directory listed 77 members. The second through fourth full years we stabilized at approximately 100 members. In our fifth year, 1998, the association hit an all-time high of 112 total members, including licensed professionals, student-interns, and clinics.

Geographically, approximately half of our membership each year has come from our "target" city of Glendale, but nearly as many have joined from neighboring communities of Burbank, Pasadena, and a portion of northern Los Angeles, a total catchment area of perhaps half a million residents. An additional 25% join from other communities, near and far, sometimes as much as 20 miles away.

Our association was founded on the principle of parity in the organization for all mental health disciplines. We recruited accordingly. We found that psychologists and marriage family and child therapists (California's equivalent of the licensed professional counselor), joined in greatest numbers, at about 30-40% each. Licensed clinical social workers composed about 10% and psychiatrists, about 5%. The balance of about 15-20% was composed of our second tier of members, associate members, half being students and interns, the other half being an assortment of organizations like community clinics, hospitals, and various professionals from other fields, such as educational therapy, advocacy groups, and family law. Over GAMHPA's first five years, about 180 individuals and organizations have been members at some time.

We found it took a year or two learning how to get an organization started and running on its own momentum. It took another year or two in elaborating the basic design and introducing innovation and refinement, with the greatest growth having occurred by the second or third years of operation. The association has developed from ideas drawn from many sources, including a variety of other professional associations, as well as from our own membership. Some ideas that we tried have failed. Some ideas that we tried have succeeded. Among our best ideas, we found that being interdisciplinary, that is, including all mental health disciplines joining as equal members, fueled the development of the organization.

At many of our initial networking meetings, professionals would light up when someone in the group identified themselves, people who had heard of each other but never met before, one professional who was at that very moment in need of locating another provider with a particular specialty or a newly forming therapy group. We found that soon after the startup of our association, colleagues already began to recognize each other at workshops and conventions of other organizations as "GAMHPA members," creating a feeling of connection and fraternal membership where one had not been before.

We have found that GAMHPA has filled some of our needs both for business marketing to managed care and for professional marketing and networking. It has proven to be an effective vehicle for gaining valuable exposure among established colleagues, for generating referrals, for publishing articles of professional interest, for keeping informed about important current trends in the field, and for doing so at a moderate personal investment in time and money.

The out-of-pocket start-up cost for our organization amounted to about $200. The ongoing expense in personal time has amounted to two to four hours per week on average for each of our four board members. Imagine putting your name, professional credentials, and practice advertising into the hands of 500 local colleagues who are potential referrers--through a newsletter on a bimonthly basis and through a directory on an annual basis--all at a dollar cost of less than $50 per year--the cost of membership dues.

Our annual operating budget over the last few years has been about $3500-$4500 per year. Membership dues has produced over 80% of our revenue. Another 10% has been generated by newsletter advertising, including the sale of our mailing list. We have hosted an annual dinner that pays for itself and accounts for another 10% of our operating budget. Our expenditures are primarily accounted for by our newsletter and directory. Newsletter production and distribution account for about 50% of our expenditures. Directory production and distribution run another 30%. The balance goes to letterhead, postage for routine business, and coffee and danish at board meetings.

We've had employee assistance program professionals we've never met or spoken to call, "I'm looking for a therapy group for a patient. You may know someone from your mental health ‘consortium.'" They may not get the name right, but they know we can help. In any case, we became the source they will continue to call first with a referral problem

We want to mention that our association was not conceived to function as an entity for negotiating contracts, as the dollar cost of doing so in California ranges in the six-figures. We have been approached, however, with occasional inquiries about whether we have aspirations to become an IPA, an independent practitioners association, that would subcontract with health care companies. Our association was instead designed to function apart from managed care, to address marketing in the more traditional style of professionals.

Excerpted with permission from De Santis, J. J. (1998). Start an interdisciplinary association: A successful practice development program for mental health professionals. De Santis Publications: Glendale, CA.

Copyright 2011 Glendale Area Mental Health Professionals Association

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