How to Start Your Counseling Private Practice 101

Private Practice Counseling

As the gig economy continues to grow and workers realize the benefits of working for yourself, more and more people are opting to start their own companies or their own private practices instead of continuing to work for “the man.”

While there are tons of good reasons to venture out and create your own private practice, there are also many things to think about before you do. You will be taking on more risk, subjecting yourself to more instability and uncertainty, doing way more paperwork, and probably paying higher taxes and fees than you’re used to.

So, if you’re thinking about starting a private counseling practice, you’ll want to do your research on what that entails—and this piece is the perfect place to start.

Before you dive in, we recommend trying our professional private practice software for just $1 a month. Quenza’s easy-to-use online therapy tools will help you deliver personalized mental health solutions to your clients under your own brand, enhancing the positive impact of your treatments for even better outcomes.

Starting Your Private Practice: 8 Steps & Requirements

The steps required to start your own practice will vary based on your country and state or territory, but there are some steps that are pretty universal.

We’ll cover the basics for starting a private practice in the United States, so make sure you spend a little time digging into the details if you reside outside the US.

Here are the basic steps of starting your own practice:

  1. Learn about the many legal requirements to starting your own business and serving your clients.
  2. Create a detailed business plan.
  3. Secure office space (if needed) and/or designate and prepare space for your home office.
  4. Consider joining insurance provider panels to have access to more potential clients.
  5. Determine and delineate clear practice policies.
  6. Create or adapt the forms your clients will complete to work with you.
  7. Market your business.
  8. Get to work![1]

Legal Requirements

From documentation and billing software to form templates and everything in between, there are software solutions for your private practice needs.

There are many different laws and regulations you’ll need to understand before opening your own private practice.

You’ll need to consider:

  • State and local zoning laws that may limit where you can practice.
  • Whether or not you need a business license.
  • How best to incorporate your business as a separate entity.
  • Malpractice and professional liability insurance.
  • Scope of practice concerns.[1]

You may need to create a Limited Liability Company (LLC) to run your practice, but there are other options as far as the structuring of your company goes, including a sole proprietorship or a partnership. Make sure to consult a professional or research your options before committing.

Business Plan

Your business plan should be as detailed as possible. It should also be a living document, meaning that you are open to changing your plan as you learn more.

According to experts at Good Therapy, your plan should include:

  • How much money you need to make each year to keep practicing.
  • How much you need to bring in each year to earn a decent living.
  • Financial goals, such as earning enough to hire a second therapist.
  • Your marketing plan.
  • Goals for the first months, first year, and first 5 years. This enables you to track your progress and assess whether your plans are realistic as you hit various benchmarks.
  • A loan repayment plan, if you need a loan.
  • Funding options. For example, do you have savings that can help fund your marketing costs?[1]

Office Space

If you’re planning on having a dedicated office space outside your home, you’ll need to determine what your needs are, find a space, and rent it out.

Therapist consultant Joseph R. Sanok recommends working with an established private practice as you begin yours, subleasing or renting out their space on their off-hours.[2]

Insurance Provider Panels

If you want to make it easy to find and book new clients, one of the best ways to do that is to join the provider networks of your area’s largest providers.

Basically, this means that the insurance company has vetted you and determined that you’re a good provider to refer their members to. This will make it much easier to get new clients.

Create Clear Policies

This is a vital step that will save you from a lot of heartache if undertaken before you start taking on clients.

There are several policies you’ll need to think about when establishing your practice, including:

  • Your rates
  • How you’ll accept payment (including insurance)
  • Confidentiality and privacy policies
  • Release of information policies
  • Policies to protect your safety and your clients’ safety
  • Social media policies
  • Appointment scheduling and cancellation policies
  • Policies on when and how you will refer clients to another provider

Gather Your Forms

As we noted earlier, one notable downside to starting your own practice is the huge increase in the paperwork you’ll need to fill out for yourself and collect from clients.

Not only will you need to file business-related paperwork and ensure that you meet the requirements for running your practice, but you will also need to collect paperwork from your clients.

According to therapist Anthony Centore, you’ll likely need at least these 7 forms, if not more:

  1. Counseling client intake form
  2. Counseling informed consent form
  3. Simple counseling receipt for services
  4. PHI release form for psychological testing
  5. Counseling HIPAA release form
  6. Notice of privacy practices
  7. Sample business associate agreement[3]

As a counselor, you’ll be responsible for storing your forms securely, which is where a HIPAA-compliant software system can be essential.

Quenza HIPAA Private Practice Counseling
HIPAA-compliant software like Quenza (pictured) is a guaranteed way to ensure your patient data remains legally protected.

As you can see in the screengrab, digital practice forms can be shared with clients through a private portal on their phones. HIPAA-compliant private practice software for counseling will also send you the results – often in real-time – in an encrypted format.

Marketing Your Business

Outreach programs are a good way to target specific client groups that your practice wants to reach and can be put together from material that you already have on hand.

There are tons of ways to get the word out about your new private practice. As noted above, getting on the panels of some major insurance companies is a good step, but you can (and should) also chart your own path through creating your own website, using social media, and creating a solid network of clients that can provide referrals.

If you want to bring in more clients, consider starting a blog or creating content that will get your name out there. Outreach programs, which involve sending out relevant health information from your practice to your community, are a particularly relevant way for private practices to raise brand awareness.

A mental health counselor might market their practice with a wintertime campaign about Seasonal Affective Disorder, for instance.

Quenza Private Practice Counseling
Outreach programs can effectively build awareness about your practices – and are easy to run with the right software (above, Quenza’s mobile app).

Outreach programs are a good way to target specific client groups that your practice wants to reach, and can be put together from material that you already have on hand using specially-designed therapy apps.

Get to Work!

After completing all of these steps to set up your counseling practice—and maybe revisiting some of them as you go—the most important step is to provide high-quality services to your clients.

It might sound like this item is too obvious to include on the list, but it’s vital to remember that your private practice will sink or succeed based on the effort you put into it.

You could file all the paperwork perfectly, assemble the best and simplest forms, and get on every major insurance company’s panel, but if you don’t provide good services to your clients, they won’t be coming back.

Keep in mind that as a counselor in private practice, you’ll need to put in a little more legwork to keep in touch with industry trends. You won’t have mandatory company training to attend or coworkers to pick up new techniques and ideas from, so networking and keeping up to date with new research is a must.

Making A Business Plan: An Example

If you’re not a business-savvy provider and you’re wondering how to create a business plan for your private practice, you’re not alone! Most mental health care providers are not businesspeople by design; they’re helpers, not entrepreneurs.

But there are some simple guides that can help you create a business plan that works for you.

The experts at the Practice of Therapy website outlined the following steps:

  1. Create a mission statement and vision for your practice.
  2. Set your financial goals.
  3. Determine your Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs (e.g., number of sessions held, revenue you’re bringing in)
  4. Identify your business expenses and decide on how you’ll track them.
  5. Plan your cash flow (e.g., take into account seasonal and cyclical variations in treating clients).
  6. Create a budget and determine how you’ll monitor it (e.g., weekly or monthly balancing).
  7. Create a marketing plan.
  8. Create a growth plan (i.e., a plan to continue investing in advancing and growing your practice).[4]

To see an example business plan for a counseling private practice, check out this sample from Profitable Venture. It includes all the relevant information you’ll need to gather to create your own plan.

6 Valuable Forms for Your Practice

Your private practice will need to collect a lot of information from clients, meaning you’ll need to collect and create a variety of simple, easy-to-use forms.

From onboarding and assessment to goal-setting, treatment, and discharge, digital counseling forms can now all easily be designed, branded, personalized, and shared using practice management software:

Practice Documentation Private Practice Counselling
Online forms can be designed once, then personalized using software like Quenza to relate to clients individually.

To illustrate, we’ve sent our client a goal-setting survey using a therapy form template we designed earlier, which we modified to suit their specific counseling program.

Below you’ll find a few templates you can adapt to use in your own practice. Make sure you review them for completeness before using them in your practice, as you may need to collect different kinds of information for your specific practice.

Smart Solutions: 6 Billing and Documentation Softwares

Now that you know the basics of getting your private practice up and running, it’s time to think about how to make everything run a little smoother. Although you can probably handle things on a case-by-case basis for a while, you’ll eventually need to find ways to streamline your practice.

Luckily, there are already tons of resources out there to help you with this. Given the huge trend towards private practice and freelancing, it’s no surprise that hundreds—maybe even thousands—of companies have sprung up to offer business solutions.

Here are just a few of the many options available for you to expand and improve your private practice:

Software

Details

Quenza Private Practice CounsellingCounseling private practice software Quenza offers:

  • Appointment scheduling and reminders
  • Custom activity builders
  • Care pathway tools
  • Initial assessments
  • Self-service portal
  • Treatment plans
NameQuenza
Price$1+ monthly
Good ForSolo counselors, coaches, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health care providers
Websitehttps://quenza.com/

Software

Details

TherapyNotes Private Practice CounsellingIn Therapy Notes, you’ll find:

  • Appointment scheduling and reminders
  • Claims management
  • Medical billing
  • Initial assessments
  • Self-service portal
  • Treatment plans
  • EMR/EHR
NameTherapy Notes
Price$49+ monthly
Good ForPrivate practitioners with many clients
Websitehttps://www.therapynotes.com/
SoftwareDetails
Simple Practice Private Practice CounsellingSimple Practice combines:

  • Appointment scheduling and reminders
  • Claims management
  • Medical billing
  • Initial assessments
  • Self-service portal
  • Treatment plans
  • EMR/EHR
NameSimple Practice
Price$39+ monthly
Good ForPrivate practice counselors, therapists, psychologists, and health and wellness providers
Websitehttps://simplepractice.com/

Software

Details

TheraNest Private Practice CounsellingTheraNest gives you:

  • Billing and invoicing
  • Payment processing
  • Online prescribing
  • Video conferencing
  • Therapy notes
  • Client portal
NameTheraNest
Price$39+ monthly
Good ForPrivate practice counselors, therapists, psychologists, counseling centers, social service organizations, mental health agencies, large practices
Websitehttps://theranest.com/

Software

Details

Power Diary Private Practice CounsellingPower Diary‘s features include:

  • Calendar Management
  • Appointment reminders (SMS and email)
  • Treatment note templates
  • Client invoicing
  • Online booking
  • Secure client messaging
NamePower Diary
Price$10+ monthly
Good ForPrivate practitioners up to large practices
Websitehttps://www.powerdiary.com/us/

Software

Details

Therabill Private Practice CounsellingTheraBill offers:

  • Electronic claims submission
  • EMR
  • Documentation templates
  • Exportable client statements and invoices
  • Provider portals
NameTheraBill
Price$149+ monthly
Good ForPrivate practitioners and multi-site group practices
Websitehttps://www.therabill.com/

Software

Details

Clinicsource private practice counsellingClinicSource helps you with:

  • Therapy scheduling and built-in reminders
  • Templates for therapy notes, treatment plans, and more
  • Billing and invoicing
  • Practice management tools
NameClinicSource
Price$61.95+ monthly
Good ForMental health providers in a practice of any size
Websitehttps://www.clinicsource.com/

Final Thoughts

While it can be overwhelming to start building your own private counseling practice from scratch, rest assured that there are many resources that can help guide you on your path. From documentation and billing software to form templates and everything in between, there are solutions for your private practice needs.

Happy practicing!

If your mission is to help others improve their lives with better mental health, don’t forget to check out Quenza, our private practice software for counselors.

Quenza’s specialized blended care tools feature everything you need as a therapist to build engagement, trigger positive change, and use your own custom treatments to enhance your patients’ mental health for the long run.

References

About the author

Courtney is currently working as a healthcare workforce researcher for the state of California and a regular contributor to the Quenza blog. She has a passion for taking research findings and translating them into concise, actionable packages of information that anyone can understand and implement.

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