Almost every therapist dreams of having a private practice but few of them actually realize this dream. There are many fears you may have to overcome to strike out on your own. You may fear failure, managing a business or even success. Those fears can keep you from realizing your dream if you let them. The best tip for success is to face your fears head on. You can turn each fear into a strength just by overcoming them.
13 Tips for Success in Private Practice
- Face your fears – Write down everything you are afraid of and find a way to face it before you start your practice. If you afraid of failing, make a plan for what you will do if it doesn’t work out. If you are afraid you won’t be able to manage the business aspects, get a business coach to help you with the business side of private practice. Whatever you fear, there is a way to face it and overcome it so you can be the best therapist you can be.
- Get comfortable with money – Many therapists aren’t comfortable with taking money from clients. I had a hard time with it at first. It seems like we should be there to help people not take their money. But you have to remember, this is your business. It is how you pay your bills and feed your family. You are exchanging your time and therapeutic skills for money. It is a fair exchange. You have a service to offer that the client needs. You wouldn’t be embarrassed to expect payment for a product you were selling so don’t be embarrassed to take money for your service. If you don’t treat it like a business, the client will confuse you with a friend.
- Don’t undervalue your service – If you don’t value your service, no one else will either. I made this mistake when I started. I thought no one would pay up to $150 for an hour of my time. Don’t make the mistake of confusing your per session fee with an hourly salary. If you charge $150 per session, you do not make $150 per hour. It sounds nice to think you make that much but you will spend a lot of time and money to earn that $150. You have to do paperwork, billing, marketing, business management and a lot of other administrative tasks. You spent a lot of money on your education and have to pay for continuing education each year. You have to pay for rent, internet, phone and other business expenses. If you ever start to think your fee isn’t justified, think of all the time and money you put into your business.
- Realize you can’t do everything – You really can’t do everything. If you try, you might get everything done but nothing done well. Be willing to pay to have some administrative tasks done by someone else. Maybe billing doesn’t come easy to you or you just don’t want to spend time talking to insurance companies. Figuring out your own taxes might cause more stress than it is worth to save a few bucks. Determine your strengths and weaknesses and be willing to pay people to do some tasks that aren’t in your skill set.
- Step outside your comfort zone – There are some things that you might not be comfortable with but they can’t be delegated. Networking is one thing that comes to mind. You might not be a social butterfly but there are a lot of advantages to getting to know other therapists in your area. You will need to know who to refer to when cases come up that are outside your ability. You need to know the doctors and psychiatrists in your area and they need to know who you are too. You need to be able to approach people and ask for referrals.
- Sell yourself – Some therapists aren’t comfortable with singing their own praises but you have to get your name out there and let people know what you can do. You have to get comfortable with having a strong online presence and letting people know a few things about you. You have to get over any embarrassment at having people talk about you. Word of mouth is the best way for people to discover your business.
- Give business cards to everyone you meet – This tip is an expansion on the last tip. Part of selling yourself is getting comfortable with handing out your business card. Because our business is therapy, sometimes it can feel awkward to hand someone your card. You may think you are telling them they need therapy by giving them your business card. This isn’t the case at all. You never know who may know someone who needs therapy. Anyone you meet has the potential to be a client or refer a client to you. I have even given cards to plumbers, landscapers, electricians, etc. who have come to my house to work. You don’t even have to explain what you do. Sometimes, I just say, “let me give you my card.” They can read it for themselves and decide if they have a need for it. Business cards are cheap and a great way to advertise.
- Manage your time – There is a lot more to private practice than just seeing clients and writing a note. You have to plan time in your day to handle administrative tasks. You may have other revenue streams like writing or speaking that need your attention. You need a plan for each day that includes time for other tasks. If you schedule a client every hour for 8 hours, you will never get anything else done. You can go about this two different ways. You can have one day a week for other revenue or you can schedule time in each day for this,
- Dress for success – It really does say a lot about your professionalism if you’re well dressed. It’s not something you have to do but dressing nice sends a message that you are a professional. If you do want to dress down, at least wear nice casual clothes. You can wear jeans sometimes but they should never have holes in them. If you work with kids, you can dress a little more casual. If you do play therapy, it may be more practical to wear something you can move around in comfortably.
- Create an environment – Just like dressing for success, you want to create an office environment that is professional. It should be welcoming and comfortable. Try sitting in the client’s chair to get an idea of what they see and how comfortable they will be. A few added touches can make all the difference to clients. You can offer bottled water and have healthy snacks like dried fruit and nuts available. Many people might prefer coffee and candy but I think it’s more important to model healthy behavior.
- Document everything – Remember this rule of thumb…If you didn’t document it, it didn’t happen. Your professionalism shows through in your documentation. Insurances want to know that they are getting what they pay for. Documentation is also your protection against lawsuits. It may not be the most fun part of the job but you need to take your documentation seriously. Keep a record of every contact with the client. Write notes based on their treatment plan. Treatment plans need to be individualized and time oriented. The better your documentation is, the less trouble you will have down the road.
- Get supervision – We can’t possible know how to work with every client. There are bound to be times when you could use a second opinion. Supervision helps you give your clients the best service they can get. I know paying for supervision can be costly but it is important. If you cannot afford it when you are first starting out, try finding another professional in private practice who also needs supervision. You may be able to find or create a group for peer supervision. Or there might be someone willing to mentor you and provide supervision at little to no cost.
- Keep healthy boundaries – Healthy boundaries are the invisible line between you and the client. They define what behavior is appropriate and inappropriate. Your informed consent should make it clear what the boundaries are for the client-counselor relationship. It is fairly obvious that a sexual relationship with a client is a boundary violation. But other boundary crossings are not as clear and may be appropriate for the situation. An example is self-disclosure which can be beneficial to the client as long as you don’t share personal information without a purpose for doing so. If you unsure whether your behavior is a boundary crossing or a violation, seek consultation.
If you follow these tips, you can have a private practice that is professional and healthy for both you and your clients. Clients will respect a therapist who holds the utmost of professional standards. They will refer people they know to you and word of mouth will help you expand your business reach.