How to start a counseling private practice

August 21, 2018

You’re probably interested in counseling because you enjoy helping people.

If you also like working independently or have dreamed of owning your own business, you may want to consider opening a private practice in counseling.

What does it take to successfully open your own private practice? Amber Lange, PhD, core faculty in counselor education, created a “private practice module” for Capella University counseling students interested in starting their own practice. Here, she answers some common questions.

Q. Who typically goes into private practice?


A. Private practice tends to attract licensed professional counselors who want to work independently. They like the freedom and autonomy of working for themselves. They like the ability to set their own schedules, be in charge of their work environment, and develop a chosen expertise.

Q. What kind of people succeed in private practice?


A. People in private practice are self-starters. They like working with clients, but they also enjoy learning about aspects of running a business. They need to be able to work long hours alone or—if they hire others—they need to be good at management. Most important, they need to be persistent: when a question or issue arises, they need to be able to find the answer that best fits the situation.

Q. What do counselors in private practice need to know?


A. In addition to having the knowledge and skills required for a licensed professional counselor, they need to know about managed care, marketing, budgeting, insurance, human resources, and other business topics. They need to know the state and local laws governing both professional counseling practices and businesses in general.

They also need to know when they’re in over their heads. They have to be humble enough to reach out and ask for assistance. For instance, I’ve been in private practice for 15 years, and I’ve paid for supervision from experts when I encountered clients with issues that are less familiar to me. The responsible thing to do, in such cases, is to hire someone who can monitor the services you’re providing.

Q. What is covered in your instructional module on private practice?


A. We talk about the topics I mentioned earlier, as well as establishing a vision: who do you most want to help? How do you want your practice to operate? Additionally, we talk about legal, financial, and ethical aspects to running a practice—like getting a tax ID and deciding whether to buy or rent space. How should you manage case notes? What kind of fees should you charge? How will you handle it when a client can’t afford your rates?

Q. What makes private practice attractive?


A. There is potential to tailor your practice to specific populations you want to help. It can also be financially lucrative. And there’s the flexibility to set your own schedule. I know some counselors in private practice who only work part-time.

Q. What is the number one thing someone should know in order to succeed in private practice?


A. The key to success in counseling private practice is to understand the importance of consultation and collaboration. You simply can’t know everything. You can’t make it up as you go along. You’ll develop expertise, but when you begin, you’ll only have a limited amount of knowledge in a wide range of domains. Reaching out to others for advice and assistance is not only helpful, it’s also essential for success.

Learn more about Capella University’s online counseling programs.

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