melvin varghese phd

the story of selling the couch

A career changed by a 45 min conversation.

In 2009, while on my pre-doctoral internship at Vanderbilt University, I walked into my clinical supervisor’s room and plopped down on the chair.

My supervisor was a former FBI special agent turned sports psychologist.

At that point, my dream career was to be a university counseling center trainer director, do some teaching, and have a small private practice.

That was it.

For the next 35 years until retirement.

Instead, what they shared over the next 45 minutes would change my life and career path.

Melvin Varghese

My supervisor told me about consulting with professional golfers (on a golf course!) on Saturday mornings, making more money in those 3-4 hours than one week of a salaried, stable job.

About how so many therapists build a life around their career vs. fitting a career around the life and pace they want to live.

About how so many therapists build a life around their career vs. fitting a career around the life and pace they want to live.

About how so many excellent therapists leave the field from burnout and being underpaid.

“Mel, all of these hours you’re putting in, these skills you’re developing — see them as a skillset that can use in domains beyond the therapy room.”

So I could do a radio show (this is what the cool kids used to call podcasting)?

Or I could write a book?

Or I could launch an online course, a membership site, or even speak from the stage?

The Fear that grips many therapists

Great things are not done my impulse but by a series of small things brought together.

~Vincent Van Gogh

Like most of us when we get great advice, I didn’t listen.

I panicked about launching my own business because I hadn't ever taken a business or marketing class.

I thought about my well-meaning Indian parents who preached financial and job stability as the ultimate goal.

I remembered the words an undergrad  psychology professor had told me when I decided to become a psychologist vs. go to med school.

“You'll never make any money as a psychologist.”

Those 8 words had cut deep into my heart and put so much fear about money and worth inside.

After my post doc at Vandy, my partner and I moved to Philadelphia to be closer to family.

I didn’t know anyone and didn’t have a professional network.

So I started in a group practice and added a second part-time job doing evaluations.

5.5 days of clinical work each week.

And that didn’t include the case notes that had to be done or the evals that needed revising.

The practice required us to work on nights or weekends.

So I started working half days on Saturdays and later Tuesday nights.

The Tuesdays nights were especially hard because I'd come back home at 8:30 PM, eat dinner with my wife, sleep, and then take the 7:30 AM train to the city the next morning.

It’s exhausting thinking about it now.

I loved my clients.

But I hated that feeling in the pit of my stomach on Sunday evenings thinking about the upcoming work week.

  • How many clients would cancel that week?
  • Would all my scheduled evaluations show?
  • Would I be able to get a mid-day hike in or be slammed with case notes?

trading time for income: The challenge

View from the office when I was working late at a group practice

From from Mel's office

I hated the fact that, outside of traditional W2 employment, my entire career model as a psychologist was based on my “trading time for income.”

I could also see that my income would be capped.

I thought about expanding into a group practice eventually.

But, when I was in a group practice, I saw the amount of stress the group practice owner was under from clinicians leaving, issues with payments, hiring/firing, etc.

I have profound respect for group practice owners, but I realized that wasn't the business and, by extension, the life that I wanted to live.

There had to be another way….

You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

Two events, one in 2015 and the other in 2018, made me realize why figuring out an answer to the “trade time for income” model was so important…

In 2015, I saw 20-22 clients weekly at the group practice.

On January 26, 2015, the stuff hit the fan.

We were supposed to get hit with with a nor'easter, which is a giant blizzard.

I was born in India and grew up in Texas, so my understanding of snow is, well…limited.

We ended up with over 25 inches of snow in a few hours.

The roads were frozen like ice hockey rinks.

Telehealth was not a thing.  Even then, electricity and cell phone service were spotty in many parts of the city.

I ended up canceling 21 clients that week—$948 in income.

The painful part: We were saving up for the 20% downpayment on our first home.

Selling The CouchApple

the stc podcast is born

I started losing clumps of hair from the stress, but it propelled me to launch the STC podcast in March 2015.

My simple goal:

I wanted to start my own business, and I figured interviewing successful therapists and other entrepreneurs would give me a leg up.

As an Indian-American, I come from a collectivist culture where knowledge and resources are shared for the common good.

So I figured recording these conversations with everyone through a podcast made sense.

What I didn’t expect? The podcast became an Apple New And Noteworthy podcast a few weeks after launch, hitting 1 million downloads 5 years later.

And now, it’s quickly approaching 2 million downloads with listeners in over 100 countries for which I’m so incredibly thankful for.

you learn a lot about life when you almost lose your wife and daughter

But what happened in 2018 truly made it all real.

That year, our daughter was born 2 months premature.

I can still remember sitting as my partner went an emergency c-section and listening carefully for the cry of our newborn.

But the cry didn’t come.

For 78 seconds.

(Turned out, she had absorbed some of the sedative given to my partner)

We thought we were out if the woods after 2.5 weeks in the NICU.

But at 7 months, we noticed that our daughter was not sitting up on her own.

The premature birth had stunted the growth of her muscles.

What followed was 1.5 years of grueling physical therapy to get her to sit up, then to walk, and then to go up steps.

I'd always wanted a daughter.  But what we went through as parents made me realize that I wanted to build a career around my life instead of fitting life around a career.

It also made me realize that building an entire career on clients showing up, on weather, on ransomware hacks of insurance companies that stop you from getting paid for work you’ve done was foolish.

In 2020, after 5 years just as the pandemic, Selling The Couch became my main source of income.

In 2024, I added a small private practice to stay in the work, test products and services before recommending them, and to explore what the next chapter of my career evolution looks like whether it’s speaking or sitting on the boards of mental health startups .

picture of Melvin holding his daughter in the NICU

HOW I CAN HELP IF YOU'RE A CURRENT OR FUTURE THERAPIST IN PRIVATE PRACTICE

The STC podcast, LinkedIn, and YouTube channel are a wealth of lessons and wisdom from therapists who’ve build successful private practices.

Questions like:

  • What are the best ways to get referrals?
  • What long-term habits and systems separate successful therapists from non successful ones?
  • How do I overcome the fear and insecurities of owing a small business?

It also has a ton of lessons from experts and from therapists who are reimagining what it means to a modern day therapist.

  • How do I create an online course?
  • How do I start doing retreats?
  • Where do I get started if I want to write a book?

Finally, I do solo episodes to share business and life lessons and in the two areas that I’ve had good success with (podcasting and online courses).

  • What I’ve learned from STC making barely enough money to pay for a chai latte at Starbucks to a six-figure online business built around my family (I take off on Fridays to go to the wellness spa, in the summers, to do Daddy-Daughter Days with our daughter).
  • Tips and strategies I’ve learned as the Healthcasters podcasting course for therapists has reached 235+ students and $319k in revenue.
Selling The Couch Screen  Shot
LinkedIn-Screenshot
YouTube-Screenshot

Online courses and podcasting are my jam.

podcasting workshop

If you’ve felt the call to share a bigger message as a therapist, a podcast is a great fit. I have a free podcasting workshop that you can check out on how to use it to grow your business, expand your professional network, and catapult your online presence.

online course starter kit

If you’ve been thinking about adding an online course to your toolkit, we have a free 7 day email course to validate your course idea as a therapist (so that you know it can make money vs. spending a ton of time and money on an idea that goes nowhere).

established course creator mastermind

And finally, I know there are a not of places for us as clinician course creators to talk about scaling and growing our successful online courses. If that’s something you’re interested, we have a mastermind for established course creators

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