As a private practice consultant, one of the most common questions I hear is, “When do I make the leap?”
Most of these therapists know they want to start a private practice. They know all of the reasons why their current job and lifestyle is not sustainable. They know all of the reasons why a private practice would be more emotionally, mentally, and financially rewarding.
Nonetheless, a move to private practice involves risk. A risk that it might not work out. So people understandably want to be sure about their decision and know when it is the absolute best time to do it.
Within the mental health field, I frequently hear other therapists explore this question by first looking at their therapy experience. They ask if they have enough experience to move to private practice.
I think this question needs to be expanded beyond just experience with providing therapy.
Running a private practice is about:
Passion to make your vision a reality
Consistent effort to make it happen
Willingness to take full responsibility
Trust in oneself, which includes trust that if you don’t know something, you can ask for help and figure it out.
These key factors can be cultivated through life experiences and career experience prior to being a therapist.
I started my private practice directly after graduating from grad school. From an outside perspective, someone could easily wonder, “How did you have enough experience to do that?”
From a business perspective, I already had experience working for myself (as an artist), accomplishing big projects (publishing books), and navigating challenges and risk (living in multiple countries, changing career paths, etc.). I also knew that I could learn and figure out whatever business knowledge or skills I did not know. I trusted myself.
Therapeutically, I was confident in the work I was doing. I had over 1,000 hours of therapy experience (thanks to doing two internships in graduate school) and a supervisor I trusted. I knew I could provide excellent clinical work, and continue to learn and grow.
Furthermore, I knew I would provide better clinical work in a private practice setting. I knew a private practice would allow me to set my own schedule and honor my energy limits, which would allow me to show up more rested and prepared for clients. I also knew a less demanding schedule would enable me to study and learn more as a therapist.
And yet, I know many seasoned therapists who still question if they are “good enough” to make it in private practice.
As a whole, the mental health profession is seeped in a culture of self-judgment, fear, and martyrdom. We want to help everyone, do it the absolute best way possible, and not harm anyone in the process. We are often willing to suffer (overwork ourselves, accept less pay than we need, etc.), if it means we are “helping” and doing it the right way.
When a therapist steeped in these harmful myths considers starting a private practice, they subconsciously ask themselves, “How do I create a private practice that serves everyone and makes no mistakes? How do I start a private practice and guarantee it will not fail?”
If that’s the question therapists are asking, they will never be ready.
If you find yourself trapped by these barriers, there are things you can do:
Give those fears a hug. Tell them you know why they’re there, you’ve heard their message, and now they can go outside and play. You’ll most likely have to tell them that every damn day, but keep doing it.
Take a look at your unique life. Make a list of the things you have done. Maybe you left your hometown to go to college. Maybe you juggle working while parenting. Think of all of the challenges and accomplishments. You’ve likely developed a lot more skills than you realized and navigated a lot of the murky unknown or unclear. You’ll see you’ve figured out a lot before, and you can figure out a private practice too.
Envision your dream practice. Write out what you want your practice to be. You can even make a vision board to accompany it. Get really clear on why you want a private practice and how you know it will benefit you.
Make a list of what you need to figure out. Decide how much time you will spend every week to figure that stuff out. Then, as you work every week, you can discern how you can figure it out. Maybe you reach out to colleagues in private practice. Maybe you join a paid group program for therapists or you hire a coach. Maybe you research books. If you are committed to figuring it out, you will.
Starting a private practice does involve risk. There is no denying that. Starting a private practice means accepting that risk is involved, AND trusting that you can navigate the unknown. Accomplishing your vision and establishing a sustainable life for yourself is worth it.