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Starting a practice

How to start a private therapy practice

An illustration of the front door of a private therapy practice.

Going out on your own can come with a learning curve, especially if you’re not familiar with the business aspects involved in a private practice.

Venturing out to start your own practice is a major accomplishment: You can see new clients on your own terms, build a name for yourself in the therapy field, and potentially earn more income. Yet going out on your own can come with a learning curve, especially if you’re not familiar with the business aspects involved in a private practice.

If you take time to understand exactly what it takes to start your own therapy business you’ll set yourself — and your clients — up for success.

Every therapy practice is different, and factors like your licensure and location may affect which steps you should follow as you set up your business. But in general, launching a private therapy practice involves a few important components.

Don't let your caseload go cold this summer. See nine industry-vetted ways to market your practice.

Choose a focus

Whether you’re recently licensed or you’re departing a group practice to start your own, it’s important to set yourself apart as a therapist. As a first step, think about your ideal client and how you want to support their mental health. Then consider focusing your practice accordingly.

“Specializing in a particular niche allows therapists to develop a deep, specialized knowledge in that area,” says Headway clinical lead Natalia Tague, a Licensed Professional Counselor who started her own private practice. “This expertise enhances their ability to understand and address the unique challenges and needs of clients within that niche.”

Choosing a therapeutic “lane” can also help you attract the right clients, as people are more likely to choose a clinician who specializes in the issues they’re dealing with. Plus, Tague says, you can tailor your marketing strategies and messages to a specific audience, making it easier to reach potential clients (and build your practice in the process).

Officially create a business

Earning your therapist license isn’t the only logistical component involved in practicing, especially if your goal is to open a private practice. You’ll also need to take care of some other important aspects, like naming your business, registering it with your state, and forming a business entity like an LLC if you want to. Many states have requirements specific to how you can provide behavioral health services. A CPA or attorney can offer guidance, if needed.

Some municipalities and states require business licenses, so look into your local requirements. Obtaining liability insurance is also important for any practicing healthcare professional. All of these steps are investments of time and money, but they’ll also help ensure your business operates smoothly.

Set up your financial plan

If you’re running your own business, a financial plan is imperative, especially when you’re first starting out. After setting up your business, open a bank account for your practice so you can easily and accurately track your income and expenses. Be sure to lay out all of the monthly and annual costs involved in your practice, and then determine what you’ll earn per session and how many clients you’ll need to see to pay your bills and make a profit. 

If you’re able, budget for time away from your practice in your financial plan. Private practice doesn’t come with sick or personal leave. Account for the time you’ll want (and need!) to take off, and save for those occasions to protect yourself from burnout.

It may also help to use an accounting software or hire an accounting service to manage your invoicing and payments. As your clientele grows, you can set financial goals and projections, and perhaps even hire more clinicians to expand your practice!

Join insurance panels

Joining insurance panels as a private practice provider is also a great way to attract more clients — especially those who may not be able to pay out of pocket for therapy services. It’s one of the best ways to build your practice with inclusivity in mind, and you’ll be helping to build a nationwide network of affordable mental health care.

Managing the insurance paneling process can be complex and take time, so consider enlisting some help in the process.

“This is exactly what Headway is for,” says Tague. “They will collect your information and handle all the paneling work for you, so you can focus on building your practice and supporting your clients.”

Each insurance company has compliance requirements you’ll need to be aware of — and Headway can help you navigate the world of documentation and compliance, too. 

“Strong documentation and compliance are important ways we can advocate for our clients, ensuring that insurance companies understand clients' needs and recognize the exceptional care being delivered,” says Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite, MD, a Headway clinical consultant.

Determine how you’ll see clients

You’ll need a private place to see clients, so determine whether you plan to rent a dedicated office or work from home and practice via teletherapy. Either way, it’s a good idea to set up a space that feels calm and welcoming for your therapy sessions. 

Regardless of your primary means of conducting therapy, choose a secure teletherapy tool for online visits (and while you’re at it, add it to the budget). Even if you don’t primarily practice virtually, it may help to have the option to meet online when you or your client can’t meet in person.

Create a marketing plan

Every private practice needs a marketing plan to build clientele. Once you determine how many clients you can reasonably see, come up with a strategy for reaching your ideal client. You’ll need a headshot, and biography to start, and you can also sign up for a profile on sites like Psychology Today (or a more specialized therapy directory that focuses on certain patient populations).

Dedicate a few hours a week to get the word out about your practice, whether you post on social media, attend networking events, conferences, or seminars in your field, or hand out your business card to local organizations who serve your client population.

Don't let your caseload go cold this summer. See nine industry-vetted ways to market your practice.

Get your mindset ready

Last, but perhaps most importantly, prepare yourself mentally and emotionally to be a business owner. Seeing clients and running your own practice may require some adjusting, but the right mindset can help you achieve your goals (and the right expectations can keep you from getting discouraged in the process). Start by defining what your goals are as a therapist and private practice owner.

“Therapists are very familiar with using the SMART goals model while treatment planning, and the same model applies to building a practice,” says Tague. “Not everything will happen at once, but it’s helpful to have a plan of where you’re headed and what steps are needed to help you get there.”

Tague also encourages creating a plan for investing in your own wellness so you can provide quality care to your clients. At some point, you’ll likely experience burnout, compassion fatigue, or simply cases that test your abilities as a therapist.

“For times like that, it’s important to have support and a clinical community that can help you work through difficult cases, as well as issues that impact provider wellness,” says Tague.

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