Starting and growing a private practice as counselor, therapist or other mental health clinician sometimes requires “thinking outside the box”. In the “normal” way of thinking about starting and growing a private practice, a clinician would simply find a place to start seeing clients, market their practice, then start getting income from the clients they work with.
It’s simple, right?
But as we all know it really isn’t that simple. There is so much more that goes into starting a private practice and the truth of the matter is that it can get very complicated at times. But things can be made simpler and, quite frankly, more exciting, by thinking outside of the box.
There is no doubt about it, going into the counseling, psychotherapy, family therapy or mental health field is a good choice these days. The demand for mental health clinicians seems to be going up.
According to an article in Modern Healthcare, “The shortage is projected to grow acute over the next decade, according to a recent analysis by the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration. The nation needs to add 10,000 providers to each of seven separate mental health care professions by 2025 to meet the expected growth in demand.
The widening gap between demand and the supply of available behavioral healthcare providers is being driven by a greater emphasis on addressing mental health issues within primary care settings. While the fate of plans sold under the Affordable Care Act, which must include mental health and substance abuse treatment as one of the 10 essential benefits, is up in the air, the final rules for the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which covers all plans, established the same deductibles, copayments and limits on visits for mental health as offered for other medical and surgical services.” Source: (http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20161231/TRANSFORMATION03/161229942/demand-for-mental-health-services-soars-amid-provider-shortage)
Outside the Box
With this trend before us, the number of people coming into the mental health field is not keeping up with the need. So that means there a plenty of potential clients out there for those of us in the field. And so that leaves us asking, where are they?! (more on this ahead)
This is why thinking “outside the box” in private practice more important than ever. Our traditional delivery of services is to trade our time and expertise for a fee that clients or insurance companies pay us. This way of getting paid is a good base to have, but can quickly lead to feeling overloaded or burned out. It also limits earning potential in that you are limited by the number of sessions you can have and the fees you can charge.
One “outside the box” idea that is important for private practice clinicians to remember, is the importance of diversifying your income sources. As was mentioned, fee for service is a good base to have, but it is important to have those other streams of income to supplement the base. Some ideas for these would be:
- Adding clinicians or subleasing office space
- Group therapy
- Holding workshops, seminars and trainings that you charge for
- Offering mediation services (additional certification is usually required)
- Writing books
- Monetizing your website or blog using affiliate programs
- Selling therapy related products online or at your office
Build it and they will come…NOT!
Despite the apparent overwhelming need for mental health services, just putting out your shingle and starting a practice does not guarantee success. You have to build it, TELL THEM ABOUT IT, then they will come. This is why knowing how to develop referral sources for your practice is so important. Yep, talking about marketing here…
“The riches are in the niches…”
Developing a practice niche or specialty is one of the best ways to stand out. This would be especially true for those clinicians who are in a flooded market. In other words, they are building their private practice in an area where there are already a lot of clinicians in practice.
Good marketing is about giving people solutions to the problems they are having. When people decide to come to therapy, it is because the are having trouble or don’t know how, to resolve the issues they are having. By having a practice niche it allows you to market to a specific problem or struggle potential clients are having.
Telehealth and Online Therapy
Another outside the box way to approach private practice is to offer counseling and therapy services in unconventional ways. One of the best ways to do this is by offering online or teletherapy. In many ways it is becoming the norm for both clients and therapists. In fact, if done right, a clinician could build their whole practice around this model. Platforms like 7 Cups, Breakthrough.com, and Talkspace, give practitioners the ability to have their practice exclusively in the online space. The advantage is that a therapist could literally work from home all the time.
Therapy Outside the Office
Other outside the box ideas about having a private practice is to go to the client rather than the client coming to you. Talking about in-home therapy here. The advantage, like online therapy, is that you wouldn’t have the overhead costs of an office space. The downside of course is you would not have as much control of the meeting space. Also counselor safety could be an issue. But it is doable if you set the right parameters and boundaries with this.
Finally, being able to think outside the box requires having a certain mindset. For most people, we do not associate having a private practice as being an entrepreneur. Having a private practice and being self-employed does require having some business savvy. By definition an entrepreneur is “a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so”(source: Google).
The risk for someone going into private practice is being able to keep steady referrals and clients coming in so that you can get paid. So it does make sense that a person approach this in creative ways. That is why thinking outside the box is so important.
So give yourself permission to get out of the box!
By L. Gordon Brewer, Jr., MEd. LMFT – Gordon is the President and Founder of Kingsport Counseling Associates, PLLC. He is also a consultant and business mentor at The Practice of Therapy. Follow us on Twitter @therapistlearn. “Like” us on Facebook.