Professional Development When in Private Practice

One of the most serious downsides of private practice is the lack of spontaneous intellectual adult learningexchanges with colleagues and the loss of agency-sponsored in-service training and support.

When we work as solo practitioners, there are no colleagues in a break room with whom to debate a controversial article. We don’t bump into another therapist in the hall who is bubbling over with enthusiasm about experiences from a recent conference. There aren’t opportunities at staff meetings or in-house trainings to enrich or expand our knowledge base.

Unless we’ve contracted with an independent supervisor, we lack supervision prompts to consider a recent study in our work with a client.

None the less, to operate ethically it’s essential to stay current with research and the evolution of best practices. Studies in neuroscience, medicine and therapeutic techniques are providing new information at a dizzying pace.

What we thought was true only a few years ago, for example, about the safety and efficacy of various psychotropic medications is now being called into question. Some techniques that were thought to hold promise have been shown to be more a triumph of marketing than helpful.

The digital age is creating new challenges for individuals and their relationships and spawning new ideas about how to provide treatment. How do we stay, if not on the very cutting edge, at least not years out of date in our thinking?

Personal In-Service Schedule

With no one prodding us but ourselves, those of us in private practice are obligated to develop a personal in-service schedule. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to stay intellectually stimulated and to keep up with developments in our field. Institutionalizing it by scheduling a block of a few hours a week for intellectual growth ensures that we’ll do it.

The following lists are not intended to be comprehensive but a friendly reminders of the types of opportunities that are available for a personal continuing education program.

 Eight Options for Professional Development:

  1. The various professional organizations regularly publish journals. Don’t let them accumulate for “someday when I have time.” Set aside regular time to read them and think about how the research could influence your work with specific clients.

Consider bookmarking sites like the following in addition to the sites available through your profession: (Please note: This list, and those that follow, is not an endorsement of sites by PsychCentral; but rather is a list of sites I’ve found to be helpful.)

And don’t forget to regularly visit PsychCentral Pro.

  1. Sign up for Webinars: Professional organizations now offer regular in-service webinars. Get on the listserves to be notified about when they are available.

In addition, consider webinars that are offered by such sites as:

  1. Create a professional support/reading group with other solo practitioners in your area. Such groups operate very much like any book club. Members meet once or twice a month to discuss a book or articles or a recently published study. Some groups also like to watch and discuss DVDs from conferences. Unlike a supervision group, the focus is not on case-sharing but rather on developments in the field.
  1. Expand the agenda of your peer supervision group: If you already belong to a peer supervision group, schedule some of the time for individual members to present an article or book of interest for discussion.
  1. Attend the annual conference for your profession. Build at least one regional or national conference per year into your budget. You will obtain the CEUs you need to maintain licensure. More importantly, conference presentations and workshops provide an overview of developments in your field. Go every year and you will soon develop a group of conference buddies who share your interests.

Yes, conferences can be expensive for those of us who aren’t sent by a school or agency. Fortunately, they move around the country so we can limit attendance to those that are closer to home. Many conferences offer a reduced registration fee in exchange for volunteering.


Low budget travel is not an oxymoron. It just takes some time exploring options.  Sometimes train or bus travel, for example, is less expensive than flying. I’ve stayed in hostels, in college dorm rooms, at homestays and even camped.

Instead of going to pricey banquets or eating at restaurants, I find a local grocery or convenience store and stock up on fruit, sandwich makings and instant oatmeal and instant soups that can be made by just asking for hot water at a coffee shop. It’s not gourmet but it’s fine for a few days.

Check out these sites for some alternative housing ideas:

If you do decide to stay in a hotel, search the internet for accommodations close to the conference venue. Last year, I stayed at a perfectly fine hotel for $100 a night, a few blocks away from the $350 a night conference hotel. A short walk saved me $250 a night!

Do remember to check every membership you have for travel and accommodation discounts.  Membership in AAA, AARP, APA and other professional organizations, for example, often entitle you to a percentage off. If you are over 55, don’t forget to ask if there is a “seniors” discount.

  1.  Buy conference DVDs or recordings: Another cost saving alternative is to order some of the DVDs from that annual conference you would have liked to attend if it weren’t on the other side of the country and in a five star hotel. You won’t get the stimulation from new people that occurs at an annual meeting but you will get cutting edge information.
  1. Look for local workshops that offer CEUs. Check your professional newsletter or listserve for listings. Contact the HR office of local agencies to see if they offer the opportunity for professionals besides those on their staffs to attend their in-house programs for a reasonable fee.
  1. Stay in touch with interesting people you knew in grad school or those you meet at workshops and conferences. Visit. Email. Skype. Lively conversations with a friend and colleague, whether over lunch or online, can be even more informative and more fun than a conference or class.

Engaging in professional development isn’t optional. It’s simply not okay to coast on what we learned in grad school, even if graduation wasn’t many years ago.

It’s not all right to rely only on our own experience. We all develop theoretical biases and practice habits that may not be serving our clients well. Fulfilling the requirements for continuing education units for licensure by reading a few articles that have quizzes attached isn’t the same as engaging in strenuous intellectual debate.

How, then, do we continue to grow professionally when in private practice?

The answer is commitment to in-service activity. Doing so is an investment in ourselves and a service to our clients. We do have the time. After all, one of the best parts of being in private practice is having a “boss” who will make it a priority.

Adult Learning image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Professional Development When in Private Practice

Marie Hartwell-Walker, EdD

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. is an author, licensed psychologist, and a marriage and family therapist who has been in practice for more than 35 years. She is a regular contributor to Psych Central and one of the therapists who answer questions at Ask the Therapist.


APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2016). Professional Development When in Private Practice. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 22, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 28 Mar 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 28 Mar 2016
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