How to Build a Successful Private Counseling Practice

Private counselingIf you’re considering a career in mental health counseling, you may be interested in going into private practice. As a private practice counselor, you get to be your own boss, set your own hours and control your own destiny; you’ll be in business for yourself, offering your counseling services directly to the people who need them.

But counseling and social work programs often focus heavily on educating students to be effective clinicians, without saying much at all about how to build a private practice. This leaves many new counselors and therapists unsure of how to proceed when it’s time to hang out their own shingles.

If you’re wondering how to start your own private counseling practice and how to grow that practice into a thriving business once you’ve started seeing clients, fear not. The APA reports that more than half of practicing psychologists work in private practice, and all of them had to figure out how to get started, too. Here’s your guide to starting, and growing, your own successful private practice.

Make sure you’re ready

Before you start your own private practice, you need to be sure you’re ready to go into business for yourself. You’ll obviously need to finish a master’s degree, such as an online masters in school counseling, a Master of Social Work or another master’s level credential. But don’t try to open your private practice right out of grad school.

First, you should get some real-world clinical experience by joining a community agency, group practice or mental health care facility. A steady job will bring in regular paychecks, so you can save up a financial cushion to get you through the often-difficult first year of running a private practice. It’ll also offer you several advantages as a private practitioner.

For one, you’ll get a sense of what’s involved in running a private practice, from a business perspective. You’ll also build a network of professional contacts, who may be able to refer clients to you later on. Finally, you’ll get a sense of what market trends affect the population in your area, so you can best meet the needs of your community. You’ll also start to get an idea of what specialty niche you’d like to work in, by considering both what the market needs and what populations you both most enjoy and are best at treating.

Decide who you most want to serve

Just as with running any other kind of business, running a successful private practice requires marketing yourself to the right kind of clients. Think about who your ideal client will be, based on what your local market needs, what populations you most enjoy treating and what kinds of issues you can treat most effectively.

For example, perhaps you want to practice in the suburbs, where there’s a need for family therapy or marriage counseling specialists. Or, perhaps you’d like to live and work in Florida, where there’s a strong need for substance abuse counselors. Figure out who your ideal client will be, and then you’ll be able to market your practice to reach that person.

Practitioners networkNetwork with other practitioners

Many of your new clients will come from referrals, so you want to build a strong referral network made up of other practitioners who can send their clients to you for help with issues they themselves can’t handle. Make contacts by working with group practices and agencies, through attending professional networking events, by participating in online discussion boards for counselors in your region and specialty and by reaching out to other practitioners in your area. Remember that religious leaders, primary care doctors and teachers may also be able to give you referrals.

Crunch the numbers

There’s no point in running a private practice if you’re just squeaking by financially. Before you start your practice, do the math to make sure you can afford to pay yourself a healthy salary as well as cover your office and operating expenses. Remember that you may want to outsource some labor, such as the cost of medical billing, and that you may want to hire some staff, like an office manager or receptionist.

The majority of counselors in the U.S. work in private practice, and it’s not hard to see why. You’ll enjoy the freedom of being your own boss and the fulfillment of following your calling. With the right education and a little business know-how, you, too, could soon be at the helm of your own thriving private practice.

About Mohit Tater

Mohit is the co-founder and editor of Entrepreneurship Life, a place where entrepreneurs, start-ups, and business owners can find wide ranging information, advice, resources, and tools for starting, running, and growing their businesses.

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