I started my therapy career in a different place than most.
When I graduated from my masters program, I decided to start my own therapy private practice.
The majority of therapists start their careers working for mental health organizations, health care agencies, or group practices.
I was offered jobs, but the pay for new graduates was low - lower than what I had made as a high school art teacher.
For the few jobs that did pay better, the caseloads and client hour requirements were brutal. I didn’t want to start my therapy career underpaid and overworked.
A friend helped me run the numbers and it was abundantly clear I could make far more money with less hours in a private practice.
My next step was to figure out if I could legally start my own practice. I reached out to therapists and professors. I received conflicting information. Some professors informed me it was not legal, others told me to go for it, and some argued that it did not comply with governing board policies.
At first, I was enraged that there wasn’t a clear response. However, I soon learned that state laws and governing policies are constantly changing. It’s difficult to stay up with the updates, let alone the variances between different states.
I decided to research the laws within my state, as well as the guidelines for each of the therapy boards I would be reporting to. I would need to comply with two boards, since I would be pursuing licensure as a mental health counselor in Arizona and registration as an art therapist (I studied both mental health counseling and expressive art therapy in graduate school).
Within the state of Arizona, new graduates are allowed to establish a private practice as mental health counselors (extra supervision and applications are required - but it is possible).
As an art therapist, the American Art Therapy Association allows new graduates to work for their own private practices, as long as they are practicing under an additional mental health license.
Thus, because I was also a mental health counselor, I was allowed to open up my private practice.
I then secured the necessary supervision (separate supervisors for mental health counseling and art therapy).
As I waited for my license (I could not open my private practice until I received my mental health counseling licensure from the state of Arizona), I did the necessary business paperwork to establish my business. I also found an artist collective to rent studio space and create my art therapy studio.
In August 2020, everything was complete and I opened my doors.
Of course, this is a simplified and emotion-free version of the journey. It’s easy to explain it all now, but it was far more difficult to live it. There were so many unanswered questions and confusing steps.
There were agonizing wait periods (such as when my national licensure exam was canceled due to COVID) and tears of disappointment (like after I was incorrectly told by a professor that I could not legally open a private practice).
I was largely fumbling my way in the dark.
However, I have never once regretted starting my own private practice. It has been one of the best decisions of my life.
I was able to slowly learn and sculpt my ideal private practice. It enabled me to do the work I love, in a physical space that I thoroughly enjoyed.
It allowed me to make adjustments in my business over time, such as the amount of clients and my ideal work schedule (you can read about that here).
It has forced me to own all of my decisions, business values ,and policies (such as when I reinforce my cancellation policy with a client).
I’ve been able to explore my own therapist identity and ideal client population.
With each internal struggle or business question I faced, I sought guidance and help. I paid for supervision, therapy, individual coaching, and coaching programs. I also built networks of therapists so I could obtain mutual support and consultation.
Plunging myself into private practice also enabled me to think critically about the therapy field. Going directly from graduate school to private practice made cultural norms within the field readily apparent to me. I’ve been able to identify mentalities and practices that harm therapists (such as the invisible therapist myth and fault-proof therapist mentality).
I’ve also been able to explore new ways of doing things (such as setting my fee) and connect with individuals envisioning novel ways for running private practices, marketing, and more (which I wrote about in my essay We Need Your Counter-Culture Viewpoint).
Starting my private practice brought me these opportunities.
Some individuals argue that new graduates are too “young” or “inexperienced” to start a private practice. Gross generalizations like this do not serve our field.
Many therapists come to therapy as a second career or later in their life. They have years of experience and a wealth of knowledge. Furthermore, as one art therapy professor pointed out to me, new graduates are freshly educated in all of the most recent techniques.
I would also add that a new graduate in private practice has the benefit of mandatory supervision. My supervisors were (and continue to be) invaluable to me. They’ve not only helped me clinically, they helped me to develop my own therapist identity and business values.
I’m not suggesting that every new graduate can or should start a private practice. It is an option that can be considered on a case to case basis, dependent on state laws, professional experience, personality strengths, personal preferences, and more.
We all have unique skills, capabilities, and aspirations. The private practice route just happened to be the perfect fit for me.
I provide consultation for therapists wanting to create their ideal private practices.