15 Important Office Procedures and Policies for Counselors and Therapists

Written by Howard Spector on November 7, 2016

Are you these office procedures and policies part of your private practice?

Congratulations! You run a thriving private practice, and you’re feeling confident that your marketing tactics are bringing in ideal clients. In fact, you might even need to start a waiting list because you’re getting overbooked. So what’s the next step for maintaining your growing practice? Identifying the relevant office procedures and policies that need regular attention and then perfecting them.

All private practices run uniquely. Some may be a one-person show, where you are the counselor, receptionist, billing manager, housekeeper, and more. Other private practices run as a group, and there may be more people—other therapists or even an office manager—to split the duties. Regardless of size or structure, there are some important tasks and rules on which to concentrate. Take this list out at your next staff meeting (or lunch break if you are the entire staff!) and discuss how to handle each procedure and write or update each policy.

Procedures

1. Appointment scheduling and calendar management

To run a thriving practice, it’s important to keep the schedule full, but what’s the ideal balance? If you don’t have set office hours, make them, or learn to pencil in time for self-care and personal activities. Also, if there are multiple practitioners in your office, and two share one office, book appointments based on room availability.

2. Bookkeeping

Learning to manage money accurately is one of the most important office procedures and policies. If your billing and accounts receivable don’t get processed correctly, your business will not be profitable. Make insurance claim filing, patient billing, credit card balancing, and check depositing a number one priority.

3. Client management

Your clients require a lot of time and attention outside of sessions. They may ask for superbills or statements to help with reimbursements from insurance companies or flexible spending plans. They may require referral paperwork or need to complete new client forms. Be available for your clients, yet find tools that will help you manage their needs (like SimplePractice!)

01-15-important-office-procedures-and-policies-for-counselors-and-therapists4. Housekeeping

It may seem like a small task, but who’s keeping your office clean? Your waiting room is the first impression clients have of your practice, so keep it clean and stocked with current reading materials. Hiring a weekly – or even monthly – cleaning service to keep your space clean may be helpful, but you’re still responsible for checking their work, too.

5. Office duties

Filing, faxing, emailing, calling. There are so many administrative duties that are involved with running a practice, so designate if possible. If not, manage your schedule to include time for office duties in your workday or hire a part-time employee to work 3-5 hours a week to take over some administrative duties.

6. Marketing

Getting your practice known in your community is an ideal way to attract new clients, so make sure you always keep your website up to date, and your printed products, too.

7. Record management

Record management is a multifaceted procedure that encompasses many tasks. From writing therapy notes to filing printed paperwork, your practice records can be time-consuming.

02-15-important-office-procedures-and-policies-for-counselors-and-therapists8. Security

The most important security aspect is that your confidential records are stored in compliance with HIPAA regulations. However, securing the building is just as important. Who has keys to your practice or the alarm code?

9. Staff Management & Training

One day you’re attending conferences to earn CE credits for your licensure and the next acting as a trainer and keeping your office staff up to date with confidentiality regulations. Staff training is a vital part of running a successful practice, but so is performance management. If you work with teammates, discuss how performance evaluations will take place in your group practice.

Policies

10. Cancellations and missed appointments

Missed appointments or late cancellations are a waste of your time, especially if you have a waiting list of potential clients who could fill an open appointment slot. If you don’t have a cancellation or missed appointment policy, it’s time to create one. If you do, include it in your informed consent, and make it a practice to share it every six months in a session.

11. Confidentiality

It’s important to earn trust from your clients, who expect their counseling to be a confidential matter. Follow all association ethical guidelines for confidentiality. Your confidentiality policy should be one of the most important documents you share with clients.

12. Fees

Payment falls under both office procedures and policies, so it’s important to have a clear working solution for charging and collecting fees in your practice. It doesn’t matter if you accept insurance or manage your practice with private payments, there needs to be a written fee structure and a policy that includes payment and collections.

13. Social Media

If you haven’t enacted a social media policy in your private practice, it’s time to do it. According to the Pew Research Center, over 65% of adults use social media networks, so set clear boundaries on how clinicians communicate with current or potential clients online.

14. Release of Information

Confidentiality is important in a mental health practice, but that doesn’t mean your client don’t occasionally want their information to be shared with other parties, such as family members assisting with care or primary care physicians. So that you’re ethically following all confidentiality laws, enact a policy for releases of information, and instruct your clients to complete a new release form for every instance, which outlines what information, in particular, is allowed to be shared.

03-15-important-office-procedures-and-policies-for-counselors-and-therapists15. Weather

What are your office policies about weather conditions? Will you call, email, or text clients who have appointments? Should your clients call a number to listen to a pre-recorded message stating whether the practice is open? Or, will you advertise any closures on the local news? So that there’s never a miscommunication between you and your clients, it’s important they know how the weather may affect their treatment.

Running a practice takes business know-how, administrative organization, and a lot of time and effort. If you need some help, we’re here to provide it. Try SimplePractice free for 30 days. In that time you’ll come to love our appointment reminder system and the secure document storage. If that doesn’t wow you, the electronic claim filing and on-the-spot credit card processing will. Your office procedures and policies will never run more smoothly.

What office procedures and policies does your practice have in place? Are there important additions to this list? Share your thoughts with our community.

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About the Author

Howard is the CEO and Co-founder of SimplePractice. Howard has over 20 years of experience in the information technology industry. He is proud to have earned his MA in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute.

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