A comfy couch. A stack of note pads. A pile of Rorschach tests. Facebook status: Accepting clients. You’re all set for private practice. Unfortunately, there’s a bit more to it than that. Luckily, it is doable. Here’s how:

Get Qualified

You must be licensed for independent practice. This translates to a doctoral degree in psychology or a field of study primarily psychological in nature. Oh, and make sure the institution is accredited. Plan to spend 4-6 years completing this degree beyond your bachelor’s education. Once the degree is in hand, you must get at least two years of supervised professional experience under your belt before you take on your own couch. Requirements vary by state, so check into the American Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPS) for specifics in your area.

Your Ph.D. or Psy.D. will make it legal to practice but additional education will enable you to have a successful practice. Take a business course or two. The ability to treat clients will not be enough. You also have to know how to run your practice – your company. Knowledge of the business side of things will be a huge advantage.

Plan For Expenses

Expect to incur around $70,000 in debt in this process, based on average figures for doctorate recipients. Also expect to earn at least that much in a year after your practice is up and running. The 2009 median income for psychologists in private practice was $80,000.

However, be realistic about your starting income. You will have to build up your business. Meanwhile, you will be footing the bill for:

  • Office Space
  • Personnel
  • Insurance
  • Marketing

Create a business model that works for you. Holly A. Hunt, Ph.D., a private practitioner in Long Beach, CA, and author of “Essentials of Private Practice: Streamlining Costs, Procedures and Policies for Less Stress” (Norton, 2005) notes:

“Many people get in trouble because they just don’t think about these things. People often think big. They get a big office, furnish it with the best stuff and assume that clients will just come and cover everything. All too often, new practitioners underestimate expenses and overestimate the speed with which their clients will come.”

Hunt suggests devising a flexible business plan, equipped with multiple scenarios. “Estimate your expenses in different arrangements and then choose what you can afford.” Lease an office or sublet? Accept insurance or limit to out-of-pocket clients? Dive right into full-time practice or start out with a full- or part-time job to provide steady income as you build your practice on the side? As the business builds, expenses can be reprioritized to create the most desirable scenario for you.

Set Up Shop

Find an office – As you choose a location, keep in mind what kind of practice you want. If you hope to attract business professionals, find an office in a city near corporate centers. If family counseling is your desire, an office in the ‘burbs is more appropriate. In any case, look for a location that is clean, attractive, safe and, if possible, easily accessible by car and public transportation.

Find a team – You are running a business. Your focus needs to be treating your clients. What about the rest of the to-do list? Get yourself an accountant, an attorney, and possibly an admin.

Find some insurance – Coverage in every area is needed – malpractice, liability, and property insurance

Find some fame – Like any new business, you will need to make yourself known:

  • Get your business card in every fishbowl out there
  • Network like crazy
  • Advertise
  • Create a Website

Find some clients – In addition to referrals from your networking and responses to your marketing, you can build your practice with…practice. Offer free services to a local organization or group. This may mean you lose money at first until you build up your client base. But, the pro bono work can get your name and recommendation out there by word-of-mouth through satisfied clients. Plus, you’ve earned a big self-hug by helping people at no charge.

Do you have what it takes?

  • Required Education & Training
  • Business Sense
  • Drive

Completing these steps will take perseverance, planning, and patients.

Get started today:

Earn Your Degree


Additional Resources:

Private Practice Psychology: A Handbook

How to Survive and Thrive as a Therapist: Information, Ideas, and Resources for Psychologists in Practice

Earning a Living Outside of Managed Mental Health Care: 50 Ways to Expand Your Practice

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