What They Didn’t Tell You About Starting a Counseling Practice

Starting a counseling practice was always a goal of yours, but understand that there are a lot of unexpected challenges that come along with this dream.

“Embrace what you don’t know, especially in the beginning, because what you don’t know can become your greatest asset. It ensures that you will absolutely be doing things different from everybody else.” —Sara Blakely

The day is finally here, and you can officially add Owner or CEO to all those letters that follow your name. Starting a counseling practice is exciting. You’re the boss, which means you make the decisions. The practice mission statement and values align with the type of business you want to run, and you’re ready to welcome new clients in through your new front doors.

There are so many reasons to be excited about this new chapter in your life, just as there are even more reasons to be apprehensive about your newfound career as a small business owner. The truth is, grad school didn’t prepare you for being a business owner, that is, unless you also have an MBA in addition to an MSW or Ph. D. Starting a counseling practice means embracing that you’ll learn as you go and face the unexpected as it unrolls.

You need to get your own. And it’s not easy.

Getting clients in the door takes work, and guess what? It’s all unpaid. To get clients scheduling appointments, you need to learn how to market your services. This means building a website, staying current on social media channels, volunteering in the community, advertising in local print publications, sponsoring a local charity or simply just getting out there and making yourself visible to the community as a whole.

Employees bring help, but also stress.

If you’ve been in your private practice for some time, you may consider opening the doors to other clinicians to work with you. A group practice is a smart move if you’re prepared, but bringing employees on board adds more financial and emotional stress. Depending on how you set the practice up, you’re looking at either hiring and paying employees or acting as a landlord of sorts to other clinicians renting rooms from your facility.

Both roles are huge administrative duties (just another unpaid task to add to the list), but there’s a lot more that comes with adding employees than just having extra functions. For example, even in a group that all gets along well, there are bound to be disagreements. As the owner, you play the role of HR, which means mediating and even enforcing repercussions.

Income fluctuates.

In a private practice, there is a lot of money coming in, going out, and sitting in limbo. If you’re a solo practitioner, you’ll handle private payments from clients, insurance claims, and billing clients for any services not covered or collected. Sometimes you’ll get paid quickly, and other times, you’ll be waiting for what seems like forever to collect.

Money coming into a private practice is variable. Your income isn’t dependable, so not only do you need to know how to budget your business finances well, so your practice stays afloat, but you also have to manage your individual personal budgets and bank accounts to protect your income when the variable income is much lower (or nonexistent) than usual.

Maintenance is all yours.

Did you think it would be your job to dust, vacuum, and clean when you became a counselor? If you open a private practice, expect to take on the role of a maid as well. There’s a lot more to being a business owner than the routine housekeeping mentioned above. Depending on the location of your practice, it’s likely you’ll also be in charge of the maintenance. This means snow removal, so your clients (or the other practitioners) don’t slip and fall during the winter months. It also means handling broken water heaters and overflowing toilets.

If you’re renting an office, there’s a chance that the owner will take responsibility for any major fixes to the property, and you’ll only be needed for small projects. However, if you run your office out of your home or in a different building you own, you’re the one left on the hook for minor and major updates.

Are you nervous now that you realize all the small (and large) tasks that come along with starting a counseling practice? Don’t be. You have every skill you need to succeed in your new business. You know the importance of practicing self-care, so if things get overwhelming along the way, take a breather and remind yourself that you’re prepared, motivated, and ready to make a name for your private practice in your community.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” —Steve Jobs

When you’re just starting a counseling practice, you need all the help you can get, and SimplePractice is here for you. While we can’t help unclog those toilets, we can help you with your administrative needs. Try us free for 30 days.

Do you have any tips for our community members who are thinking about starting a counseling practice? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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