6 Tips for Beginning Your Journey Into Private Practice
My journey into private practice did began back when I was freshman in college in my first psychology class. The idea was planted for me that I might want to be a therapist someday. My undergraduate degree was in psychology, but I never really pursued a career as a therapist until a little later in life after having a somewhat unrelated career. (I started out after college working as funeral director in funeral homes; that’s a whole other story!)
My first job as a therapist was one of the greatest and hardest jobs I had ever had…
Eventually I decided to change careers and go back to school for my graduate degree in counseling. So with my master’s degree under my belt it was time to begin a new career. My first job as a therapist was one of the greatest and hardest jobs I had ever had. True my former career had its challenges, but with this new thing, I knew I was where I needed to be. I was working as a family therapist at an agency, a non-profit mental health provider, Youth Villages. Youth Villages works specifically with at-risk youth and their families. I loved it! But at the same time, I knew that I eventually wanted to go into private practice and be my own boss.
My years at Youth Villages did give me the opportunity to move up in management and also complete my licensure requirements. When I left that organization I was a clinical program consultant and giving clinical oversight for several teams of counselors. Again, it provided for me so much experience in working with some of the most difficult cases I have ever encountered.
Moving into private practice was nerve wracking and scary!
When I finally made the decision to move into private practice, it was one of the most nerve wracking and scary things I have ever decided. Fortunately though, I had the good fortune of having another part-time position that came available for me with one of the other hats I wear as a clergy person. This enabled me to have a steady source of income that I supplemented with my therapy practice.
Do NOT jump into private practice while under a financial strain..
This was one to the things that I learned and I try to teach to others going into private practice. Do not put yourself under a huge financial strain by quitting a job and jumping into private practice without having the client and referral base you need to have a thriving practice. It is so important to take care of yourself and your family.
Building a private practice takes time.
My first few months in private practice, I was only seeing 2-3 clients a week. You can’t live off of that. But it was very nice not to have the financial pressure of an income while my client base grew. In fact, it probably took me about 2 years to get to the place where I was seeing 15-20 clients a week consistently. I probably could have done that differently knowing what I know now. Nonetheless, be patient with your growth and don’t put yourself under a huge financial strain.
Have a good marketing plan in place…
One of the things that kept me from growing as fast as I could have been, was I did not put the effort I could have into networking and marketing. Also, not creating as big of an internet presence that I now have. The other thing was I did not have a specific plan for growing my practice. These are just a few of the things I have learned the hard way!
So, here are my 6 tips for starting out into private practice:
1. Begin with doing what you need to do to get licensed
Let this be your first place to focus. By working at an established agency or practice will give you the volume and caseloads you need to get your through those licensure requirements the quickest.
2. Be willing to put in the time to build a private practice.
Unless you are joining a group with an established client base, you have to be willing to put in the work to grow your own referral sources and client base.
3. Consider starting out part-time.
One of the most heartbreaking things to see for those starting out is for them to be under a huge financial strain while they are growing their practice. Have an alternative income source as you start out.
4. Put emphasis on marketing and building an internet presence.
Invest in having a great website. Do what you need to do to educate yourself on this. Use your down time to blog and create a strong social media presence. Learn about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and some coding basics. It will only help you build a strong website that helps bring people to you.
5. Connect offline in your community.
The more you make yourself known and that you are in practice, the more referrals sources you will have. Consider joining your local Chamber of Commerce and other professional organizations network face to face.
6. Find a mentor or coach with experience in starting a private practice to help you with this process.
You will not only draw on their experience, but will have the support and encouragement you will need. Give yourself permission to NOT go it alone! Learn as much as you can… rinse and repeat!
A therapy private practice has been one of the most rewarding and challenging endeavors of my life. It can for you too! By taking the right steps and with a lot of patience, consistency and perseverance, it will grow and be successful. Learn as much as you can about business and especially about how to run a small business.
– L. Gordon Brewer, Jr., MEd. LMFT