Many psychotherapists dream of launching their own therapy practice. For some individuals, the idea of setting your own schedule, fees and “being your own boss,” sounds highly appealing. However, the leap from working for an agency to launching your own business can be a scary prospect.
The following are some tips from psychotherapists who have successfully navigated the transition to private practice.
1. What are some of the biggest challenges in terms of transitioning from working for an employer to private practice?
April McDowell, Ph.D., LMFT of Decision Point Therapy, LLC, says that the biggest challenges from her perspective when starting a private practice are, “Balancing one’s schedule to adjust to the new responsibilities involved in becoming `the boss’ More time has to be devoted to non-clinical activities, particularly in the first few months of starting your own practice and it can be challenging to find the new normal for your schedule.”
McDowell explains that another challenge is, “trusting oneself to effectively run your private practice. Pushing through the initial doubts and fears and building that self-trust in your new role can be very challenging, but will come with experience and a strong support network!”
Alison McGrath Howard, Psy.D., M.Ed., CGP says, “Self-confidence is one of the biggest challenges that clinicians face when they transition from a structured work environment to one of their own making. Private practice can leave people feeling a bit lost and unsure of themselves if they are coming from an agency or other fully staffed office. Lack of confidence can lead to turning away clients who you are able to help because you don’t think you have enough experience. It can also influence how you handle the financial piece of the practice.”
2. What are a few tips you would share for therapists looking to make the transition to private practice?
Amy L. Hooper, LCSW-C, CEAP, Director and Psychotherapist, Gaithersburg Counseling Center, Practice Development Coach, says, “Choose a specialty that you LOVE! It will make marketing much easier and help you stand out. The best part is, then you’ll love the clients you’re working with and it will make working so much more rewarding.”
McDowell says that it’s important to, “gain experience in private practice as an employee or contractor before starting your own practice. In my opinion, the trend of therapists starting practices straight out of school (with no previous experience in private practice) is not one to follow. The learning curve is just too steep for those therapists! Learning how to be an effective business owner takes a lot of time and focus and if you’re completely new to private practice while starting your own, the required time and focus will most likely interfere with being your best clinical self (not to mention, with your personal life).”
McDowell says, “I worked for several years in two different private practices before opening my own and I’m extremely grateful I had that foundation. Even just one to two years of experience in another private practice can be extremely valuable in preparing you to launch your own. Also, begin marketing and advertising activities for your practice before launching it. Building a bit of buzz about your practice launch before it opens can help you hit the ground running. Additionally, it can give you a head start on developing relationships that will help your practice thrive in the long run.”
McGrath Howard’s advice is: “Get a supervisor or into a peer supervision group or both. Figuring out the financial pieces, scheduling, paperwork, and working on a changing professional identity is hard work and clinicians need the support of people who have been in the field a long time and peers who have similar private practice experience. Also, don’t try to be all things to all people! Know your limits, schedule time for yourself to rejuvenate.”
3. If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice when you were just starting out in private practice, what would that be?
McDowell says, “Build up a trusted group of mentors, consultants, advisers, and professional peers before the practice opens and make a commitment to serve those people in exchange for their knowledge. Take every opportunity you can to learn from this group. Build up your knowledge bank with their help and view that as the end goal, not necessarily getting clients from them. Focus on building deep relationships with a small, intimate group of such people as you move through the beginning stages of your new practice.”
McGrath Howard states, “I was fortunate to have been able to grow my practice slowly, and didn’t feel stressed by financial concerns, so I have no regrets about how I started out. I will say that one of the best decisions I made was to get into advanced training right away, which created an environment of peer support and helped me to feel like I was staying in clinical shape.”
The Bottom Line
The experts agree that building a strong support network, working on your sense of self-confidence, developing marketing strategy and doing your research, are all critical components of launching a thriving private practice.