Remember how taboo attending therapy and seeking mental health treatment used to be?
It wasn’t long ago that we would fear being called “crazy” or losing friends for admitting a mental health struggle.
Although this may still be the case for some, times are beginning to change, especially over the past 18 months. Therapy has become more normalized as we see, on a global scale, the implications of mental health challenges.
We may not be where we would like to yet, but continued research around mental health has brought a better understanding to psychology and mental illness. Now more than ever, we see stigma being broken down and a higher comfortability with seeking help.
More and more people are turning to mental health practitioners to help themselves define and achieve their goals. There may still be some resistance there at times, but the willingness to get treatment is there!
Why You Should Start a Private Practice
For those considering a mental health private practice, this is an exciting time! While it’s always a little scary to embark on a new adventure, the opportunity to make a huge impact has never been greater.
The increasing demand for therapy makes it possible for you to make a positive difference in the world. Changing attitudes toward treatment is finally beginning to paint counseling and therapy as an essential tool rather than something to feel ashamed of.
COVID-19 has also normalized telehealth services. For a mental health professional just starting, this is a great advantage!
You may set up a home office to make your own instead of spending resources on expensive rentals. Zoom sessions may replace a traditional therapy session without impacting the quality of care. With this potential business model, you can say goodbye to costly office necessities, and hello to flexible working environments.
And let’s not forget about the personal and financial freedom working for yourself can bring! Working for yourself with your own private practice allows you to give the same quality care by your rules and on your schedule – while being paid what you deserve.
It’s your time to shine. So, let’s get down to what you’re really here to find out and help you build your practice with confidence!
How to Open a Private Practice in 2021
1. Find Your Niche
You have probably heard this time and time again.
“Pick a niche!”
“Specialize, don’t generalize!”
Yes, I’ll be offering the same advice. The benefits of picking a specific specialty over trying to help everyone cannot be taken for granted. When you take the time to work out who your ideal client is and what specialty you would like to concentrate on, your value dramatically increases for others! Having a focus that combines your training, background, target audience, and passion allows you to help those you understand the most.
Would you like to work with children or coach adults toward success? What kind of neurodiversity or population interests you the most? Where can you make the best possible impact?
I’ve seen therapists specialize in everything from mental illness among those with Autism, sports stars, mothers, even sales professionals! That’s not even counting possible specializations of mental illnesses or treatment modalities. The possibilities are endless.
When you have a niche as a psychologist, you’re also seen as more valuable and credible to prospective clients than a generalized practitioner. For example, if you needed brain surgery, would you be willing to travel and spend more for a neurosurgeon, or settle for the cheap, local generalized practitioner?
My guess is the first option! That’s because a condition or treatment specialty is less common, but definitely the most needed in a majority of cases.
Next, you can begin to find a specialty with a large enough scope. Someone with a fear of 1940’s technology, for example, might be fascinating to study, but can you build a business around that specific phobia? Dealing instead with a general phobia of technology may be a better bet – since there’s a wider range of clients you can help.
Work out what you do best, then build your ideal client personas around those traits. Doing so makes it easier to create an authentic brand and lays the foundation for a satisfying career.
2. Establish Your Brand Identity & Business Plan
To illustrate this point, let’s take a look at Nike. When you just THINK of that brand, what comes to mind? Did the phrase “Just do it” or Nike’s omnipresent logo immediately flash through your brain? That’s because Nikie has an incredible brand identity with instant brand recognition. When others can easily think of a brand, it evokes feelings of trust – something you need as a mental health professional.
Now, it did take Nike quite a bit of time to develop this brand, but some key takeaways are:
● Understand their target market well and focus on pain points their potential clients’ experience
● Ensure that every piece of content they publish is on-brand
● Are consistent in their messages to their clients
● Keep their company in the public eye through advertising and sponsorships
● Have staked their claim online with a fantastic website
You may not have the marketing budget of Nike yet (that’s the goal!), but you do have an advantage. You are just starting a therapy private practice and can write your own story. Nothing’s set in stone yet! Nike has dealt with some serious scandals over the years, but you haven’t.
Carefully consider the brand image you wish to portray. How do you want your ideal patients to see you? Are you the serious, erudite psychiatrist, the fun family psychologist, or the down-to-earth couples’ therapist?
Your brand identity affects everything from the look of your website to your stationery. So, take a little time to consider each aspect before you open a private practice – and make sure it’s consistent!
Your business plan is your roadmap to success. You’re plotting your course to an unknown destination, so planning all the key stops you plan to take is everything. And what’s great is that your business plan is flexible, not absolute.
Its purpose is to get you to think about your objectives and how to achieve them. In addition, the research you do will highlight potential opportunities and stumbling blocks. You may then plan around these to make starting a private practice in psychology a smoother affair.
You will revise your business plan many times throughout your tenure, and that’s okay and expected. It does, however, serve as an excellent benchmark for your progress.
3. Make It Legal: Private Practice Requirements
I know, I know. The legal stuff of private practice is the most dreaded part to talk about, but it’s still needed! Since it’s essential to meet all your state and municipality regulations, it may pay to hire an attorney to help you navigate the nuances of these requirements. ICANotes also does a great of of laying out some key legal considerations for private practice.
At the very least, you should register an LLC or a PLLC. Both structures are similar but have different requirements. The reason to register a company is to protect your assets if something goes wrong.
Now that you have an LLC or PLLC, it’s time to register with the IRS. The IRS will provide you with:
● An Employee Identification Number: The IRS uses this number to identify your business.
● A National Provider Identifier: The bank will request this number when you open an account. Your clients will also need this number to claim against their medical insurance.
When you open a private practice, it’s important to protect yourself in the event of a malpractice claim. Without such coverage in place, a patient may sue you if they feel that you were negligent.
When speaking to your lawyer about the type of company to form, it will also pay to ask about the types of insurance to consider. There are also various resources online that may help you pick the right malpractice insurance for your circumstances.
Ten years ago (even probably 3!), therapy was usually in person. Psychiatrists did offer call-in services, but it wasn’t preferable for patients or practitioners. It’s hard to replace the visual cues you get from a one-on-one meeting through a phone call.
Oh, how things have changed! Advances in video call technology (some more forced than others) have essentially created a happy medium. People are now also used to attending virtual meetings, making it far less uncomfortable than it once was. Even as things return to normalcy, telehealth appointments continue to surge in popularity as a convenient and safe option.
If you want to open a private practice but are tight on budget, this may be a great option for you! Although it’s possible to use both mediums, you may even choose to run your practice entirely online to reduce overheads. It may also provide the opportunity to reach clients in remote areas or those with mobility issues.
Consider your ideal target market and what makes you feel most comfortable. For example, if you prefer a traditional setting and set working hours, running an office may make more sense than offering online services.
5. Take Care of the Finances
When I started my business, one key tip I wish I had was to never mix personal and business money! It makes it a nightmare to manage, especially during tax season. Running a separate bank account and credit card with your private practice helps you avoid this headache. Doing so makes bookkeeping far more straightforward and also makes things clearer for the IRS.
Start keeping your financial records from day one. You can create a list of income and expenses using a spreadsheet initially. It may, however, be worth investing in the reputable accounting software as your business grows.
Software such as QuickBooks or FreshBooks is simple to use and offers great functionality. You input the figures, and the software does the rest. It also allows for simple invoicing and reconciliation.
The software keeps track of all your income, expenses, and overdue accounts. Then, you can pull up a financial statement to see how well your business is doing at any point in time.
As your practice becomes busy, you may battle to keep up with the daily administration. Your main focus is your clients, and you can’t do it all! As a result, it may be valuable to outsource certain functions rather than employing a full-time employee in such a case.
You may outsource almost any role, such as IT, bookkeeping, tax filing, and reception.
Securing your piece of online real estate is essential to your practice’s success. You can run a page on every social media site available, but it all means nothing without a solidly built website.
For your practice to thrive, you must also have a professionally designed website! It’s not only your business card, but it’s the main way clients will feel connected to you before they book an inquiry. You only get once chance for a first impression!
There are many templates and free web-builders available today. These look good, but they’re generic and often are just plain unprofessional-looking. Here’s a helpful hint: if your website looks like a 15-year-old created it, it probably isn’t helping your business!
In addition, Google tweaks its algorithm hundreds of times a year, making it hard for generic software to keep pace and be shown in search results.
Spending a bit of money on your website is a good investment. A professional designer will create a site that’s easy to navigate, looks impressive, and, most importantly, loads quickly. They’ll also optimize your site so that it ranks well in search engines.
Here at MindThrive Digital, we create website designs that generate qualified leads and show your patients more about you and your practice.
7. Prioritize Private Practice Marketing & Networking
Thanks to the ever-increasing demand for therapists, many professionals love and value getting to know other counselors in their area. They may not have the time nor the expertise to deal with all the patients who approach them.
By networking with other professionals, you can form strong relationships that could positively impact your business. Most will happily mentor you and, where possible, help you to grow your practice.
Also, consider general networking events – you never know who may need your help. Meeting business owners from diverse industries may be a great business move. They may, for example, feel that they have something they wish to discuss with you themselves or refer friends, employees, or families.
You may form mutually beneficial relationships by offering advice and, where possible, referring business to them.
It’s also advisable to become active on social media. LinkedIn groups allow you to reach out to other professionals and establish yourself as an expert. In addition, you may answer questions on social media or post interesting content to improve brand awareness.
Content marketing is another excellent way to provide a service to your potential clients. Content marketing focuses on what your audience stands to gain, not selling your services. The idea is to create helpful content that they’ll want to share. And as therapists, you have a wealth of information and insights that anyone can benefit from!
You could, for example, create a daily journaling prompt post on your social media. You might link these prompts to a theme of the week, which you discuss in a blog post. You could also create a YouTube video acting out examples of the behavior and how to deal with it. The sky’s the limit with online content!
Content marketing has yet another advantage – it attracts organic traffic to your blog post…for free! It also acts as an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and show that you care about your community.
PPC and social media advertising are relatively inexpensive when you compare them to traditional media. Don’t just rely on these tools, however.
Get creative by sponsoring a half-hour therapy session as a school raffle prize or offer to give the football team a pep talk. These methods cost you nothing more than a bit of time and can pay off for you.
Are you ready to open a private practice now? Of course, you are! You have a gift for helping people, and you’ve just been dying to use it on your own terms.
With the basics that you’ve learned in this article, you know where to start your research. All you need to do now is take the first step. Why not start by reaching out to some of the professionals in your area and introducing yourself?