Many people go into social work with an eye to eventually provide therapy in their own private practice. When I went for my MSW, I was working in child welfare and thought I would be a terrible therapist. I thought therapists were people who were academic and made leaps of intuition that were almost magical. It turns out therapists are just trained individuals who listen, provide empathy and assist clients with finding solutions to the struggles they encounter. Social Workers have a unique perspective because we look at the person in the environment – we look at the whole person and the systems within which they interact. We also are strengths-based practitioners, so we help clients find the positives they can build on. When I realized that I didn’t have to fit some preconceived mold to be a private practice therapist and identified and valued my own clinical skills – I embraced having a private practice and currently it is my favorite work as a social worker. If you are thinking of starting your own private practice sometime in the future, here are some things you can work on now during your journey.
Make sure to learn and embrace the basics.
To begin – get a solid education. Learn, remember and practice the basics. Listening skills, reflective listening, using empathy are all vital. These are the building blocks to building rapport with clients. The most important piece we offer clients is the relationship that we shape with them and that is full of unconditional positive regard.
Network and engage colleagues.
While you are in school you will get to know your school cohort. Nurture these relationships but also branch out. Get to know other private practice clinicians. I get calls from other starting out private practice clinicians often as they start their journey. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Some therapists might be too busy or not interested in networking but most will want to share their knowledge and you will make invaluable connections. Private Practice can be lonely without other therapists with which to connect. You will also want to maintain relationships for supervision or consultation purposes so you are practicing ethically and not on your own. I am part of a formal, monthly consultation group and informally consult with others. Grow these professional relationships.
Take a Business Class (or two or three.)
One of the challenges a lot of therapists opening a private practice encounter is adding the necessary business skills to their clinical repertoire. Someone in private practice for themselves has to learn a lot about marketing, finances and regulations. There are a lot of resources out there and you can get ahead of the game if you take an entrepreneurial or business class or two.
Be Honest With yourself
A Private Practice is a business. One of the best quotes I heard someone say is when you are working for yourself you trade anger for anxiety. At our traditional jobs, we may get angry at management or the systems in place and we get rid of the anger when working for ourselves because we call the shots. However, we often have anxiety replace the anger. It is normal to have questions about if the business is going to make it or if you have enough clients or if you are following all the laws. Private practice offers immense freedom but also immense responsibility. Think about if you are someone who can live with anxiety. It may be a perfect fit for you or you may instead prefer to work in a group practice for someone else or in a different social work setting. Be honest with your own comfort levels.
Get Therapy yourself
This is a tip that can be widely debated among therapists. Some therapists believe that it is absolutely essential for a therapist to have therapy to be a good therapist. Other therapists will argue that if you have great self-awareness and insight into yourself, personal therapy is not necessary. I would encourage trying therapy yourself because it can really help you understand the therapeutic relationship from the client’s perspective. Everyone has issues and personal struggles which can be amplified when working with individuals in pain. It can be helpful to have a neutral professional help you recognize what may be holding you back or causing difficulties. Could I be a productive and helpful therapist without therapy? Probably. However, I know that I am a much better therapist for having gone to therapy myself.
Be flexible and open to where your career takes you
Social Work has so many options. If I had decided on one path and refused to look at possibilities outside of what I thought I wanted to do, I would be a much less satisfied with my social work career. If I hadn’t been flexible, I never would have started my own private practice and I would have missed out. Don’t get so caught up in what you think you should do in your profession that you miss opportunities.
Being your own boss in private practice can be the rewarding and exhilarating as well as frustrating. It has been a worthy endeavor for me! If it is something you are interested in, learn all you can and get started now preparing for you future