Counseling and Therapy: This Is How to Start a Private Practice


It’s no secret that the United States needs more therapists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that, while the population has grown by 3.5% since 2011, the number of counselors has only increased by 4%.

If you’re planning to enter the mental health workforce, private practice is an excellent choice. This career path offers independence, a good salary, and the opportunity to research new therapeutic techniques.

Yet, too many new counselors take this route without ever considering how to start a private practice. Be different — read this article to learn everything you need to know about founding a counseling business before you ever take the first step.

But First, Who Should Go Into Private Practice?

A counseling graduate degree opens a lot of doors. But not all of those doors lead to private practice.

With a Master’s degree in counseling, you can work in schools, rehabilitation centers, and Fortune 500 companies. A psychology Master’s can unlock even more career paths. And that’s not even to mention the job opportunities if you go onto get a Ph.D.

So, how do you know a career in private practice counseling is the right path for you? Here are the most important questions to ask yourself before going into private practice.

Will You Be Okay Working Alone?

Owning a private therapy practice can be a solitary pursuit. Most private counselors start off as the only therapist at their practice to keep costs low.

Compared to agencies and school counseling, you’re also getting much less face-time with colleagues and peers. If you want to thrive in the private practice world, you’ve got to be comfortable interacting with clients and, often, clients alone.

Are You Comfortable Running a Business?

Your private counseling practice will provide help to people in need, but it’s still a business. Are you prepared to worry just as much about your clients’ wellbeing as you do about increasing your bottom line?

If the answer to that question is no, a private practice may not be the best counseling career choice for you.

Are You a Life-Long Learner?

Running your own business also means you’ll wear a lot of different hats.

Accountant and financial advisor? That’s you! Marketer, website-maker, and blogger extraordinaire — that’s all you, too.

Until you make enough money to hire staff to run the non-clinical aspects of your practice, you’ll have to be comfortable learning new skills to keep your business afloat.

How to Start a Private Practice in Four Steps

So, you’re a hermit with a mind for business and a love of learning new things. Opening up a private practice is definitely in the cards for you, but where do you even begin?

We’ve got you covered — keep reading to find out how to start your private practice in only four steps.

Step 1: Earn a Counseling License

Before you can legally counsel your first client, you need the proper license(s). States handle counseling licenses, which is why the exact process to earn yours will vary depending on where you live. But, in general, these requirements include:

  • Earning a Master’s degree in counseling, psychology, or a related field
  • Gaining supervised clinical counseling hours
  • Passing a written counseling exam

Oh, and one other thing: once you earn your state license, some jurisdictions require you to complete continuing education courses to stay licensed. This is another reason why it’s so essential to be a life-long learner if you’re going into private practice.

Step 2: Get Experience

The supervised counseling hours you need for a license may not be enough to show you what a career in private practice is really like. That’s why you should always gain experience in a private counseling setting before opening up your own practice.

Plus, if you don’t consider yourself an apt businessperson, getting private practice experience can advance your skills. You’ll get an insider’s view of how to run the type of business you want to open, giving you a leg up when your practice finally opens.

Remember how we mentioned that private practice means less face-time with peers? Getting experience before you open your business will also provide you with valuable networking opportunities you can use to your advantage once you do go solo.

Step 3: Create a Business Plan

Unless you’re a millionaire already, odds are you’ll have to take out a business loan for your private practice. And financial institutions usually require a detailed business plan before they’ll lend you a dime. Any good business plan should include:

  • Your bottom line (how much your practice needs to make each year to break even on expenses)
  • Your profit margin (how much your practice needs to make each year to earn a profit
  • Your marketing plan (how you plan to get the word out to prospective clients about your practice)

Creating a business plan isn’t just important for banks. A solid strategy will also keep you on track. Write out your goals for the first few months you’re in business, then do the same thing for the first year and the first five years.

Identifying your targets in this way will help you monitor your progress and pin down places where you need to improve.

Step 4: Market Yourself

Don’t let its last spot on our list fool you — marketing is perhaps the most critical step when it comes to starting a private practice. After all, your license, experience, and business plan are nothing if you don’t have clients to serve.

Luckily, the online world is making it easier than ever to market your counseling services. You can create websites, therapist logos, and even your own counseling blog to get the word out.

Whether you choose to advertise your practice through an insurance network or do your own marketing to find private pay clients, you can locate all the tools you need to succeed online.

Starting a Private Practice Is Easy With These Tips

Going into private practice isn’t for everyone. If you’re determined to open up your own counseling business, make sure you keep these four tips in mind.

Loved learning about how to start a private practice in counseling and want more tips and tricks like these? You’ve come to the right place. Keep scrolling for more articles like this one!

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