Can You Start a Private Practice While Pre-Licensed?
When you're in graduate school, private practice is rarely, if ever, discussed.
Nonetheless, if you have any interest in a career in private practice, it is important to know when you could possibly start in private practice, and what the process might look like.
Before we Start
Having a private practice means that you are the sole owner of a business that offers therapy to clients. You choose your own rate, which clients to work with, and generally are in charge of all the important aspects of your business.
Being “pre-licensed” means that you have already graduated with an advanced degree (usually a master’s or doctorate) and that you are waiting to be licensed, either because you must acquire several thousand supervised clinical hours in order to qualify to take the exam, or for other reasons. So, can you acquire those hours and prepare for your licensing exam while in private practice?
Let’s get started.
Can You Start a Private Practice While Pre-Licensed?
The short answer to this question is yes, IF you meet these requirements:
- You have the necessary hours - You are required to attain a certain number of clinical hours in order to be pre-licensed. You often reach the required number of hours on the path to graduation from your master’s or doctoral program. But to be safe, check with your state's board of psychology.
- You have graduated with your master’s degree - If you are in a graduate program, you should know your specific requirements for graduation. Usually, it’s a combination of course credit, clinical hours obtained through the university, and research requirements.
- You have a supervisor - You will need a supervisor for all of the clinical hours you undertake while pre-licensed. Though it can be simple to find a clinician capable of supervising you, it is critically important that you choose wisely. Your supervisor often sets the tone for the rest of your career, both as a clinician and in business, so it’s important to choose someone who fits well with you. If you need help with this, check out our guide “How to pick a supervisor.” You can find available supervisors nearby through a simple Google Search!
- You have the courage and strength to get started - Though this one isn’t as obvious, it’s crucial that you have the mental fortitude to take on the challenge of growing a private practice while you’re still growing clinically. It is incredibly rewarding, and often more lucrative, but having a private practice can also be a lot of work, and there is a lot you need to learn in order to become successful. If you’re up to the challenge, you can grow and figure out how to make private practice work before you are even licensed.
What Does it Take to Start a Private Practice While-Pre Licensed?
In addition to meeting the requirements above, there are a number of things you should strongly consider doing in order to start a private practice while still pre-licensed:
1. Get Legally Protected
There are two reasons why you need to place a high value on getting legally protected.
First, you should always make sure to conduct business legally, and in accord with your state’s board of psychology.
Second, unexpected, extreme events can happen in private practice (as in every other business), and before they do, you want to be protected.
Note: If you have any questions, make sure to consult with a legal professional. Here are three things that are important:
Business Formation and Business License - This often means setting up a Limited Liability Company (LLC) which essentially makes your business a distinct entity (as opposed to being intertwined with you personally). This allows for a number of benefits, but most importantly it can protect you personally in the case of a lawsuit against your business. Some states may also require a business license in order to get started in private practice. When in doubt, consult with a legal professional!
- Liability insurance - It’s strongly suggested that you acquire liability insurance at the start of your private practice just in case anything happens in your office or through your services.
- Paperwork - There are several forms you need in order to properly work with a client. Among them are your service contract where you obtain consent, as well as present your no show and cancellation policies. Other forms include your notice of Privacy Policies, intake assessment, and progress note templates (among others). It’s all in the name of following the rules and being HIPPA compliant!
2. Set Up a Phone Line/Website
You should get a spare number for your business that allows clients to call you without using your personal number, and this can be easy to do through G-Suite.
G-Suite is Google’s business product that allows you to set up a new phone line in addition to an email address linked to your website (if you have one).
Having a business phone can be crucial to helping keep business communication separate and confidential. G-Suite is HIPPA compliant!
Setting up a website is not 100% necessary in the first baby steps of private practice, but going forward it will become crucial to your business and can easily be your greatest source of clients.
When you are ready, you will want to set one up, and learn how to implement analytics so that you can understand how well your website is performing.
3. Sublease a Space
(Obviously, this isn’t necessary if your practice is virtual and you are working from home.)
Subleasing a space, as opposed to fully leasing, is especially important when you’re pre-licensed and just starting out with private practice.
Before you have a moderately full caseload, you do not want to be spending a ton of money on rent. This is one of the most common pitfalls of therapists starting out, and it is one of the biggest reasons clinicians give for why they failed in private practice.
As a general rule of business you should always have more money coming into the business than going out. Because rent has the potential to be your biggest expense when starting out in private practice, you want to be careful to not make that expense become too high to handle.
Figure out how to run an effective business, and you can always move into a space of your own later!
If you want to figure out how to sublease a space as a pre-licensed counselor in private practice, you can do so by reaching out to local clinicians in your area.
You can usually find a nice office that you can rent only for the days you need it.
When starting out, you might try subleasing a space just one day a week (like on a Saturday or Sunday) and then expanding the number of days you sublet for as your caseload fills up.
4. Define Your Niche
Now, you are ready to start thinking about your clients.
The first step you should always start with is Defining Your Niche. Essentially, you are deciding who it is that you want to be working with.
There are a couple of key questions that can help you define your niche:
- What was your specialization in graduate school?
- Which group of your clients is most excited to do the work?
- What is your greatest area of competence?
- Who are you least excited to work with?
- If you had to just choose just one group of people to work with, who would they be?
If you take the time to answer all of these questions and discover the patterns within your answers, you will have a great start to defining your niche.
Important: Don’t overthink it! Your niche is not a prison, and you can always expand into working with new groups as your practice evolves. However, there are huge advantages to starting small!
5. Set Your Rate
Once you have defined the population you want to work with in your practice, it’s time to decide how much you will charge for your services.
When you are not yet licensed, and have not achieved the same level of experience as other clinicians in your area, there can be advantages to charging a lower rate to differentiate yourself from others.
Many pre-licensed counselors in private practice charge between $50-80 for a session when they are starting out. However, some pre-licensed clinicians in private practice charge over $150 per session! (though this is rare)
Ultimately, setting your rate is up to you, your confidence level, and what your market is willing to pay more than anything else.
Be willing to experiment and know, like defining your niche, your rate is something you can change with time.
6. Get Your First Client
Besides getting your practice legally protected, this is by far the most important step to starting your practice.
You need to find a way to attract new clients into your business in order to fill it up. Here are some best practices.
- Referrals - If you are lucky, and your supervisor has a practice that is running well, they may be able to refer you clients if they have referrals that they think aren’t a great fit, their practice is full, etc. It’s not a source of clients you should expect, but it is absolutely worth asking about.
- Social Media/ Getting the Word Out - A great way to get your first client is by using your network to get the word out. You can do this by creating a business social media page (like facebook), and then creating a post on social media and asking friends in your local area to share it. For example, you might write a blog particularly for a problem that clients in your niche face. In this example, you would include a link to your website within the blog. If you get 30 friends to share this blog, and each friend has 200 friends, your post would reach up to 6,000 people! That can be a great way to get the ball rolling.
- Workshops/Events - By having clearly defined your niche, you will know what sort of communities are worth reaching out to. Holding an event or offering free support to people in your niche can be a great way to build a caseload. Get creative and refine your offer.
- Digital advertising - This is an effective strategy that a lot of therapists use to fill their practice, with the most usual platform being Google Ads. If you have an optimized website, conversion tracking set up, and a bit of money that you can afford to lose if things don't go well, this is a great strategy to try. If successful, you can scale up the cost of your ads and get many more clients. However, realize that there can be quite a big learning curve if you are approaching this alone!
Whatever combination of methods you try, know that, while possible, it can definitely take a while to build a full private practice.
However, if you are able to learn quickly, you can usually scale some of the strategies that have worked and slowly build to a full caseload (and potentially raise your rate) all before you’re licensed.
7. Practice Self-Care
If you are taking on the challenge of private practice while pre-licensed, self-care is critical to your success.
Though it seems counterintuitive, making sure to get proper sleep, take a break every once in a while, and connect with close friends (and yourself) will add much more to your business than it will take away.
Finding success in private practice takes hard work, but that work is only sustainable if you can take care of yourself first.
One great analogy is that of the oxygen mask. If you want to best serve others, remember to always put on your own oxygen mask first!
This is critical in balancing starting a new business with the rest of what might be going on in your life (graduation requirements, licensure requirements, balancing family, having another job).
What to Do Next
Now that you have a feel for what it’s like to start a private practice while pre-licensed, the next question becomes: how do you give yourself the best chance of success?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!
Our proven, 8-step method has allowed plenty of Build Your Practice students to go full-in on the private practice while still pre-licensed.
If you have any interest in learning the best practices for creating a career on your own terms, this is the program for you! Click below to see what we’re about.Learn More