Creating a private practice can be exciting, daunting and a potential for your next steps. A private practice is your own office and business to provide your counseling services and experience to clients. It is important to know that a private practice utilizes your counseling degree and requires you to learn business fundamentals.
One of the joys of private practice is the ability to be creative. You may have the opportunity to design your own office space or decorate the room in a way that reflects you. There’s also the opportunity of designing your website and marketing materials to help create a brand for yourself. Creativity is welcomed and required for beginning this business and this ideal for many therapists.
While the creativity is a benefit, it can also become a burden. Marketing is essential in growing your private practice and this can be a steep learning curve for many new therapists. Most graduate programs do not discuss the business side of beginning your own practice and it adds on more learning in an area you may not have interest in. The marketing process is the way you increase your clientele and get your name out into the world. Marketing can include your website, business cards, networking events, and many coffee dates. For some this process is exciting and fun and for others it can be daunting. Many therapists feel like they are having to sell themselves in order to get clients in the door and that can feel unnatural. It’s important to learn how you feel about marketing and the idea of doing it daily as it is needed to grow your practice.
One of the biggest reasons therapists pursue private practice is for the flexible scheduling. It is your business and you get to decide how many days you work, the hours you work and how often you work. You are your own boss and you get to decide what works for you. If you are a night owl and like to sleep later in the morning, you can start work in the afternoon’s. If you are a morning person and feel most alive between the hours of 6 am-1 pm, then you can work that. It is all up to you how you create your schedule. This is often sought out by therapists who are parents, travel often, or know they cannot do a full 40 hours of therapy a week.
It is important to know that pursuing a private practice also means you become a business owner as well and will need to perform business management functions. As I have mentioned before, you are not often taught business management in graduate school in regards to a therapy practice. There is a steep learning curve that comes for many therapists as they engage in this venture. You will have to cover the cost of setting up out of your own pocket in the beginning or seek out a small business loan.
Once you have your practice up and running, you will be able to pay yourself back, but for some this can create some anxiety about waiting for the profits to occur. Being your own business owner also means you are the boss. If you have dreamed of being your own boss and only having to follow your rules, then private practice is a great choice for you. In agency work or group practice, you do not have full autonomy or full power over how the business runs. If you value autonomy, then I highly recommend considering a private practice.
With you being in charge of your business, you have control over what type of clients you see, whether you are niche focused or a generalist and what documentation and paperwork style works best for you. Many pursue private practice because it increases the likelihood of working with your ideal client. You will start to learn about niche versus generalist private practice. A niche focused practice means you serve or work with a specific population with a specific focus. For example: trauma focused therapist using lifespan integration or cognitive behavioral therapy. Having a niche focus typically means you are aiming to attract a set group of clients and wanting to serve them. A generalist practice means you may not be as focused on one set of population and background. You typically serve all sorts of individuals utilizing many different practice methods. A niche focused practice may take on clients outside their niche, but it is typically not a whole practice with varying pursuits of therapy.
Being your own business, you also get to set your own price for therapy. It is completely up to you what you charge for your services. Yes, there are some ideal ranges for just beginning therapy after graduate school and not being full licensed, but it is truly up to you what you charge. With setting your own fee, you also have the potential of making more money while working less. You also get to decide the documentation-paperwork process you want. In an agency, you are required to do certain assessments, questionnaires and a set way of documenting sessions.
For private practice, you can create a system that works for you. You can purchase an online health record system, you can do paper files only, or you can take someone else’s process and do the same. It is all up to you. It is important to remember that in private practice it is not as steady of an income because of cancellations, missed visits, and impending weather. When clients cannot get to you or need to cancel, that is profit you miss out on and cannot always control. If you are wanting a steady paycheck, private practice may not be the best fit.
Connected to owning your own business means you are also covering your own benefits. This includes health insurance, liability insurance, dental insurance, retirement, training funds and much more. As you grow your business, it is important to know that you are paying for this for yourself unlike an agency where they pay for these costs. You can write part of these costs off as business expenses when you do your taxes each year, but this is another area you pay for upfront and out of pocket. It’s important to be aware of this as you decide on what you will charge for sessions to ensure that you are being able to pay for your business needs and personal needs.
There is potential to make more money doing private practice which is a wonderful benefit. The way to make more money can take time though. Once you graduate, you are considered an associate counselor and that means you cannot be on insurance panels until your licensed. Being on insurance panels typically can fill up a private practice very quickly. Until you are licensed, you will be accepting private pay clients which is also a benefit as you get to collect the fee you charge instead of what the insurance decides you will collect. The difficult part with private pay is that it can be slow to build your practice. It is important to be patient with this process and have a positive money mindset. It is normal to feel anxious and worried as you build, but believe that you can have a successful business and you will start to see how that is true.
One of the disadvantages I hear most with private practice is the feeling of being lonely or feeling isolated. It is up to you to find a community of people to surround yourself with in private practice. There are many ways to do this from staying connected with classmates, networking weekly or joining a consult group. If having a group of people around you is important to you, then private practice may not be the best fit for you.
So let's visualize private practice: Imagine yourself in your own office, the type of clients you'd be working with, the hours you would set. See yourself in this role-any fears, concerns? What's lighting up inside of you? Take some time and jot down your thoughts and ideas.