Nuggets of Bronze for Therapists Interested in Starting their Own Private Practice-Part 1
First of all, Happy New Year! 2016 has just begun and promises to be a great year. I have been approached by a number of people, both colleagues and students in the mental health field, asking for advice on starting a private practice. I thought about their requests and questions and figured now might be as good a time as any to share some insights, or what passes for insights, into what it is like to run a private practice. As a note of warning, my practice is still very new and so am I to this type of work, so what I have to share likely will not qualify as nuggets of gold or sage wisdom. Instead, I have decided to call them my "nuggets of bronze". There will be more posts to follow over the next several weeks and I would really welcome comments and suggestions.
Do your research! This may seem obvious, yet often gets overlooked. What are you trying to accomplish with your private practice? What are your goals? What is motivating you to make this venture successful? What type of populations do you want to work with? Do you want to specialize in the future? How do you even go about doing this? These are only several questions of many which are important to look at when deciding to start a private practice.
Can you afford it? There are many costs and sacrifices associated with starting a private practice. Besides the obvious need for business cards, appliances, and office space, there are other considerations to be aware of. What is your financial situation? When you make the shift to private practice you lose all of your income and steady pay and your benefits that you get with a regular job. Do you have enough saved up to allow you to just devote all your time to private practice?
It is always a good idea to have some savings built up to help you get through the initial growth period while you are getting established.
Read the Crowd! Even before you get started, make sure you take what you have learned about your desires and needs to be successful in private practice to determine how you will go about attracting the most critical component to building and keeping your practice viable, besides your own personal efforts of course, the clients. What are the needs of the population you want to work with? What cultural and societal aspects do you need to be aware of? What are their views toward therapy and having a relationship with a stranger to help them with their issues? What do you provide that makes you the person to trust for dealing complex needs?
Remember how many different hats you wear. A private practice is your own business and you wear many hats. You are your own boss, employee, CEO, CFO, etc. You determine what hours you work, how long you work, when and where you work. You also determine your pay. It is really important to bear in mind that you only get paid for what hours you work.
Get a mentor! I cannot stress this one enough as obvious as it sounds. A good mentor will be worth their weight in gold to you not only in terms of coaching you on the practical aspects of running a practice of your own; they will also help you stay sane when you encounter those ever-present fears and worries about being successful and attracting clients. A good mentor will listen to you and give you advice; they can also be a critical point of contact linking you with other professionals and even providing referrals, especially if they think you are good.
DO use a billing service! Billing, especially if you work with clients using insurance, can be very complex, tedious, and confusing; it also takes a great deal of time that you may want to use elsewhere. A good billing service has expertise in getting your claims for reimbursement processed so you can get paid for your time.
Consider getting on an insurance panel or two. Being on an insurance panel can help you get a flow of clients through the providing company acting as the referral source while you conduct relationship marketing to build up a presence in the private pay community. Accepting insurance as a new clinician can also be an excellent way to link with other providers on the same panel and other health professionals who may be in a position to refer to you. Also, it is important to remember that the trend of obtaining mental healthcare closely mirrors that for medical care in general: more and more people are turning to insurance instead of private pay because it is more affordable.