To build and maintain a successful private therapy practice, you need both good clinical skills and a good head for business. You’ll need enough knowledge of your market to know what specialty is most needed in your community and whether a private therapy practice is even a good idea in your area. You’ll need the marketing and networking skills to get the word out about your practice and specialty and build a client base using referrals. And, of course, you’ll need the accounting, bookkeeping and tax knowledge to make sure your business stays in the black and operates above board.
While many therapists and aspiring therapists dream of starting a private practice, the work and uncertainty of going into business for yourself can make this dream seem like just that – a dream. But building a thriving private therapy practice isn’t a pipe dream. For more than half of practicing psychologists in the United States, it’s a daily reality. Here’s what you need to do to become one of them.
Get Training and Experience
Of course, before you can become a licensed therapist with your own private practice, you need to get the right education and experience. Before you can open a private practice, you need a Ph.D. in counseling.
If you’re thinking of making a career change or you’re ready to continue your education after taking a break from school, you don’t have to quit your job and throw your life into chaos to obtain a graduate degree in psychology. You can attend one of the many CACREP accredited online counseling programs offered at reputable schools around the U.S. These programs allow you to earn a master’s and doctorate in psychology, counseling or social work on your own schedule, by taking classes online.
But you need more than just a degree to become a licensed therapist. You’ll need 2,000 hours of supervised practice during an internship and a further 2,000 hours of supervised post-doc practice in order to become a licensed therapist. You can get this experience by working for an established group practice or agency. This will give you more than the chance to earn licensure; you’ll also get opportunities to network with colleagues who may someday be able to give you referrals, and you’ll learn the business workings of a practice.
Save Some Money
There’s another reason why you want to work for someone else for a while before starting your private practice, and that’s money. Like any other business, a private practice takes some time to get off the ground. It’ll be at least six months before you have a steady stream of clients, but that’s the best case scenario; it could be three to five years before your business stabilizes and you have enough clients coming in to pay the bills and give yourself a good salary. Make sure you have enough money saved to get you through lean times — ideally, you’ll need enough to live on for six months to two years.
Know Your Market
Before you open a private practice, think about what counseling services your community needs the most and what you can do to offer those services. If you can offer a specialty no one else is offering, you’ll have much more success in building your new private practice. Perhaps there’s a need in your community for weight loss counseling, couples counseling or clients coping with adult attention deficit disorder. Look at what others are offering and think about what you can do that’s different; consider who you’d like to work with and what you’d like to do for them. Spend time getting to know people in your community to assess what they need.
Also consider whether your community needs another therapy practice at all. If your town already has a number of therapists operating, you might struggle to build a practice there. But a nearby town might be experiencing a dearth of therapists; it could be worth a commute to serve a community that needs and is willing to pay for your services.
Build Your Business Skills
Most therapy grad school programs focus on how to be a good therapist, and not so much on how to be a good business person. But you’ll need those business skills to succeed in private practice. Brush up on marketing, accounting, networking, tax law, record-keeping and other business skills you’ll need. Read books and attend seminars. Take the time to learn business skills before you hang out your shingle.
Building a successful private practice is a lot of hard work – but it’s work that pays off in the form of a higher salary and more personal freedom. Once you’ve been in private practice for a couple years, clients will come to you via word-of-mouth referrals, and you’ll be able to choose who you work with. Turn your clinical work into a business, and enjoy the lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of.