While exciting and liberating, starting your own mental health practice can also feel daunting. Rent expenses, referrals and insurance shenanigans, among other headaches, can certainly be a drag on morale.
Here are a few tips to help your mental health practice thrive:
1.Find your niche: By now, you have undoubtedly worked in a variety of settings with different populations. With which population did you feel most successful and how can you capitalize on that experience?
If you have a specialty service that is in high demand, such as EMDR or substance abuse treatment, you will likely have more referrals than you can handle. Practitioners with substance abuse treatment experience can be a referral resource for area rehab facilities or Suboxone programs. It’s important to have generalist skills as well, but these specialties will set you apart from the rest when it comes to which therapist to visit in your area.
2. Expand your demographic: Renting space in several different cities can offer the benefit of expanding your patient base. By offering services in several areas, you will also increase the ‘word of mouth’ phenomenon, which will grow your patient base significantly.
When your reputation in these areas grows, clients from suburbs of these larger cities will gladly travel to your office, even if your availability in that particular office is limited to a few days per week. State and local classified pages on the internet are a great resource for therapist to find medical office space to rent part or full-time.
Clineeds is another online resource that focuses exclusively on helping therapist and medical professionals find therapy office space to rent across the world.
3. Set limits and stick to them: You’re always encouraging patients to set good limits and boundaries with people in their lives, and it is just as important for you to do the same in your private practice. Establish an expectation for attendance and missed appointments and create a “contract” with the patient that outlines your expectations as well as what they can expect of you. If this agreement isn’t established explicitly up front, you may find yourself dealing with a lot of no shows and missed appointments and this situation can result in resentments that tarnish the therapeutic relationship, not to mention your profit margins.
Setting limits for yourself on number of clients you take on a daily basis can also be important in preventing burnout. It may be tempting to load your schedule heavily, but allowing for down time between clients and sticking to a reasonable amount of time per day will help you stay in the profession longer.
4. Schedule time for notes and billing: With an influx of clients and a new practice, progress notes can accumulate and before you know it, you have a mountain of notes to do, and billing lags. Build time into your schedule specifically for notes and billing to prevent you from sliding into oblivion with this task and never getting paid.
Keep in mind that some insurance companies lag in payment, so while you may not notice it now, the lag will catch up to you at some point.
5. Insurance and Pre-authorizations: Speaking of the dreaded “I word,” some insurance companies require preauthorization for members to engage in therapy and there is likely to be an eight-session limit on the first approval. Track your sessions so that you and your patient aren’t blindsided by an insurance denial. If denied, you can always appeal, but at the end of the day, you or your patient may end up eating the cost of that error in tracking.
6. Find a peer support team: Private practice can feel isolating at times. Psychotherapy can be exhausting and challenging work, and you need support as you support your clients. Reach out to other providers in your region and find out if there are peer support and supervision groups you can join. If not, don’t hesitate to start one, as others likely need this support also.
7. Make self care a priority: Regardless of your client population or size of your caseload, engage in routine self care. Whether you practice meditation, yoga, paint, read or sew, find ways to reconnect with what inspires you and makes you feel whole. Spend time in nature, see loved ones and remember who you are outside of your profession. If you are experiencing symptoms of compassion fatigue or burnout, listen to that and take a vacation. You must be your own best advocate and friend.
Running an effective practice is well within your grasp if you work toward consistency and establishing your name in the community. Regular work habits that include clerical tasks, public relations, self-care and routine business practices will ensure that your mental health practice is a long-standing success.
Rishi Garg is a practicing physician in Chicago. He also has an MBA from University of Chicago, Booth School of Business with concentrations in marketing, accounting and entrepreneurship. He is co-founder of Clineeds–www.clineeds.com, a free online platform designed to help healthcare providers buy and sell medical practices or find medical office space for rent or share.