There are different ways to begin private practice.
For some counselors, private practice might be a natural progression of their growing expertise in the field or need of the community for others it is more intentional planning approach.
Your beginning steps towards private practice can begin during your graduate school or internship. It’s your desire to be in private practice that determines your road to success, not your current expertise or lack of it.
Yes, it’s true! You do not have to be an expert to open a private practice, but you have to position yourself in such a way that you get the right experience for what you want to practice. Do not waste your time interning or working in places that do not help you move toward your goal. Sure, you can get to where you want to be in different ways, and every experience you get is helpful but the more intentional and specific is your goal the faster you will reach it.
Choosing the right internship
If you have some specific vision about the type of clients or a niche you want to work in be intentional in finding the right internship. Don’t rely on school’s directory of possible internship sites. Be creative and first ask yourself a question. Where do I want to intern?
What would help me learn more about the area of counseling I want to work in?What would be an ideal site?
I did exactly that when I was looking for my internship in graduate school years ago. I knew I wanted to open private practice even before I was out of graduate school and I also knew what niche it was going to be. I observed a few practitioners in my community who had a thriving private practice with hundreds of clients and several locations.
Yes, that’s what I wanted, and I planned everything even before my internship.
I found my own internship sites, and I interned in one for my practicum semester and the second one for my two internship semesters. These internships taught me everything I needed to know to open my private practice in the area of substance abuse.
I learned about client acquisition, referral procedures within the court system, connection to other practitioners who are potential referral sources, state documentation, group and individual counseling and many other things required to open this type of business.
I got to know a lot of people in the field of substance abuse including the ones who were running successful treatment centers and were instrumental in helping me launch my private practice. I also made a lot of friends within this field who were going to be instrumental in helping me open my business and keep sending me clients till now!
Many interns oversee the fact that employers hire interns!
It’s a lot cheaper to hire an intern than to train someone from the beginning. So, finding the right internship can also land you a job in the right organization which means that you can be a lot closer to your goal of opening private practice than you realize.
You do not have to accept a job if it’s not moving you toward your goal. I did exactly that on several occasions. I was once offered a position in the hospital working at inpatient treatment program with youth. I declined it because the position did not allow me to get supervision leading to certification in substance abuse. I liked the job, but I knew that this certification was crucial to my goal of opening a private practice.
Becoming an apprentice
If you have already completed your school internship, you can also find another site to do volunteering or get a part-time job.
It doesn’t have to be many hours a week, but it has to be specifically in the area that interests you. Many counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists in private practice hire assistants to run an office and help with insurance billing. Many group private practice centers hire graduate students to do fee for service counseling under their supervision. You can also accrue your clinical experience toward your clinical license when a qualified practitioner supervises your work.
Some insurance companies allow billing when you are working under supervision, so you need to contact each insurance company separately to make arrangements.
Remember that private practice practitioners are interested in you because you help them grow their practice and get money when you see their clients.
When you have a vision and a plan you can present it to your part-time employer or a mentor if you are volunteering to show them how they can benefit from having you on their staff.
Expanding your horizons
Getting a part-time job teaching in a community college or working in a mental health agency helps you get more community contacts and transition into private practice.
You do not have to be an expert to teach, and yes you are already an expert in many life areas that can help young students. Students want to be understood and heard, and they can relate more to someone like you than someone who has years of experience in the field. You bring a fresh perspective into the field, and you empower the students by showing them that their own goals are attainable.
Many community colleges hire new grads to teach their introductory courses. This provides you with great experience and resumes enhancer. When you teach, people see you as an expert even if you don’t see yourself as one.
Whether or not academia is your call I encourage you to consider this avenue in order to expand your community connections.
Yes, you can open your private practice sooner than you think!
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