After becoming a licensed professional counselor, I decided to venture into private practice. I was eager, optimistic, and excited about the possibilities. Like many other counselors, I did not have a background in business. Thus, I really did not have a concise vision of how to build and grow a private practice. Even though there is no one size fits all approach to building a private practice, there are some strategies that I have found to be effective over the years.
Counselors in private practice often feel isolated and lack the benefits of peer supports unless they have previously established relationships within the community. Establishing a network is something that requires intentionality. One must be intentional with regards to establishing the type of support system required to enhance your capacity to establish a strong private practice. Support networks can be either formal or informal. Support can be garnered through participation in small group discussions with other private practitioners or formally taking continuation courses. Participating in groups will not only help you build peer support in the community, but it will also help you to establish a network for referrals.
Another strategy that one can use to grow your practice is to become a vendor with state agencies. Many state agencies utilize private practitioners. For example in the state of South Carolina, State Vocational Rehabilitation agencies often contract with Licensed Professional Counselors. The process for becoming a vendor may vary from state to state. However, these state agencies offer many opportunities for private practices to grow their referral base. There are State Vocational Rehabilitation agencies in every state, and that is just one potential agency to consider as you grow your practice.
A third strategy that I would recommend is to become paneled with Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). EAP is a work based intervention program designed to identify and assist employees in resolving personal problems that may negatively impact their work performance. Becoming credentialed with an EAP is an excellent way for individuals to begin establishing a referral base.
These suggestions are not meant to be exhaustive. Please note that there are many ways to grow a private counseling practice.
I would encourage anyone who is interested in starting or growing a private practice to do your own research and to seek out consultation early and often as you work to develop your skills as a business owner and clinician.
David Staten a Professor of Rehabilitation Counselor Education at South Carolina State University. He also co-owns a counseling practice, MERGE Counseling and Coaching, L.L.C The website is www.merge378.com