Working as a counsellor in a private practice has both rewards and hurtles. Here are the main things to keep in mind when going the “private practice” way.
My own journey to being a private practicing psychologist has been defined largely by the city I live in. Berlin is a city known for its entrepreneurial spirit, inspiring and helping those who want to take the route of self-employment. I would even say that it’s this spirit that has led me to initiate the platform It’s Complicated aimed at helping private practitioners.
But though I have plenty of Berlin-specific bureaucratic tips regarding self-employment – which you can read about here – there is also plenty of advice which is pertinent no matter where you want to practice. Here I’ve distilled 4 things that are worth pondering as you take the leap into the life as a private practicing counsellor.
1. Prepare to be your own admin-savvy secretary
Starting with the less exciting aspects of setting up a private practice, let’s be clear: Freelancing as a mental health practitioner entails quite an admin load. And not just in the start-up period, where (depending on where you live) you’ll probably have to get a freelance-specific tax number from the local tax authorities, maybe get an indemnity insurance, find a place to practice, find out whether your title is eligible for insurance coverage, and get clients.
Even when you’re settled, there is scheduling, re-scheduling, invoices to keep track of, accounting, and keeping your practice tidy and neat. Unless you’re already an Esther Perel type of superstar counsellor who can afford to actually have a secretary to manage all of the above tasks, it’s useful to have as a rule of thumb that 20% of your time will be spent on admin.
2. Do you want to be in a community or be the ruler of your very own space?
You can find various rental models as a private practitioner. Broadly speaking, there are spaces where you book by the hour, book (half-)days, or share the rent of the room. The model best suited to your needs, depends on whether you already have clients or whether you are starting from scratch, but there’s more to choosing a place to practice than just pricing, and that is whether you want colleagues or not.
Often people don’t consider how lonely work as a therapist can become, especially for the private practitioners who have their own office space or work from a home office. Being in charge of absolutely everything – from web presence and furnishing to cleaning and stocking up on tea and coffee – can be at once empowering and stressful. But if the endless autonomy of having your own space appeals to you, then there are ways to prevent eventual isolation.
For instance, see if you can find a community of therapists through Facebook groups or meetup.com. It’s Complicated has a community of supportive practitioners who meet up regularly in Berlin, and the plan is that this community will spread to other cities in the near future.
3. Promote your service
Even if you don’t like drawing attention to yourself, and even if you’ve found a space to practice through a Group Practice that already has a website, there’s no way around not promoting your services as a private practitioner. In this day and age, web presence really is key.
You can apply to become part of the It’s Complicated platform, which helps build your online practice by attracting clients. It also helps to write a post about your therapeutic offerings in a relevant Facebook Group, and if you really don’t like to be self-promoting you could consider asking friends to post a link to your webpage in a suitable Facebook Group or place business cards in cafés or other public spaces.
A way to be seen without feeling too self-promoting, is also to write an article or blog post. Maybe your thesis is still lurking in the back of your mind, and you’d like to write a catchy and accessible synopsis about it, or maybe you just went to a conference and would like to distill all of the learnings you got into a blog post. If you don’t have your own blog, you can always get in contact with the It’s Complicated blog, and we can talk about publishing and promoting your post.
4. Keep up the “good work”
No matter where you’re from there most definitely will be some legal and ethical intricacies that are unique to the country you are practicing in , and therefore worth examining. When you’ve gotten to the point where you are settled in all of this – the legal aspects of your work, the admin tasks, the promotional and practical side of things – also remember that it’s not good to be too settled. You don’t want your ideas to become stale, your vision narrow, and your habits of thought tired and cyclical.
Therefore, I would recommend you to connect with colleagues and get in touch with fellow professionals around the city, country, even world. If you have the money, go to conferences within your fields of interests, and if you want to do something a little more low-effort, join whichever therapy meetups that might exist in your country.
If you have a space where you can fit in a bunch of therapists and counsellors, you could even host a talk around a certain psychology- or therapy relevant theme, where you do a short presentation first. “While we teach, we learn,” said the Roman philosopher Seneca, and mutual learning would make the network of counsellors in your city both more fun and strong.
It’s Complicated (yup, that’s me promoting our project again) is an ideal platform for networking and support. We also have a lively Facebook group with practitioners exchanging questions and advice and though the majority of counsellors in there are from Berlin, not all of them are. So go ahead and join!