You've made it through the years of schooling and training. You have the degree after graduating from university, the license, and all that you need to be an awesome therapist. It's been your dream to work in your own private practice. But where do you start?
This is the story for a lot of therapists. I'm grateful to have had helpful mentors teach me the tools I needed to get the ball rolling early on. I'll pass a few key tools on to you here so that you have what you need to get started!
Private Practice is a Business
If you think renting an office, putting a couch in it, and having a website are all it takes to bring an onslaught of new clients, you may be in for a rude awakening.
Unfortunately, this is how many therapists attempt to start a private practice. I've heard this story from so many, especially in major cities where the market is completely saturated with therapists. The sad part is, many therapists become discouraged that private practice is not for them, or worse, that they're not well-equipped as a therapist.
Make no mistake about it, running a private practice is in every sense about running a business. I started finding success running a private practice when I branched out into learning about business rather than focusing exclusively on therapy skills.
The temptation is to learn more and more therapeutic strategies - get more credentials, go to more conferences - and hopefully the clients will start rolling in. The problem is we just end up with a highly equipped therapist with no clients walking through the door, and no business.
Step 1: Learn About Running a Business
Start off by seeking materials about running a small business. Books, podcasts, blogs, seminars, workshops, classes. Whatever form of learning works best for you, find material in that format.
It’s important to find material to start with that’s about running a small business in general, rather than focusing specifically on private practice for therapists. This makes it much easier to find the most up-to-date information about running a business. When you branch out of the therapy world, there is endless material available to teach you what you need to know about running a business.
This is a great step to engage in while still working a regular salaried or hourly job, or even while you’re still a student. Learn as much as you can before making major movements in your employment.
Step 2: Check in with Yourself
Once you've learned a bit about running a small business, it's important to ask yourself whether the skills required to run a business jive well with your strengths: can you develop a vision for your business? Can you identify your target market? Are you capable of developing a business plan? Are you self-motivated enough to follow through on deadlines you set for yourself? Are you willing to dedicate a portion of your time to marketing on an ongoing basis?
Naturally, not all of these will fit into your strengths, in which case you may need to check in with yourself to see if you are willing to pay someone to help you with any of the items that may fall outside your wheelhouse.
For many therapists, after learning about what it takes to run a business they will decide to opt out. And that's great! Better than investing thousands of dollars in something before discovering it's not the best fit for you.
Step 3: Find People who Know About Private Practice to Guide You
If you're ready to opt-in, now is a good time to think about where to invest your time and money to get things off the ground. There are programs available for therapists who are ready to take the plunge. Just search “therapy private practice boot camp" to find them. See what options may fit well in your life and go for it!
These private practice resources weren't available six years ago when I first began my practice. But they are absolutely important in today's market where online marketing is king and the world online really requires proper training to navigate.
Step 4: Give Yourself Space to Make Your Practice Yours
Hopefully you’re interested in pursuing private practice in part because you believe you have something unique to offer to your local community. Once you’ve learned helpful guidelines behind running a small business in a private practice setting, it’s important to give yourself creative freedom to make your practice yours. Allow your unique perspective to shine through in your marketing strategies. This will help your niche target market see you amongst the whirlwind of other therapists and make the call to the person who is going to be most helpful to them - you!
Best of luck to you in your journey!
Dr. Marie Fang is a licensed psychologist (PSY26770) and business owner at Life Christian Counseling in San Jose, California. She graduated from CSPP San Diego with a PsyD in Clinical Psychology in 2012.