How to Start a Private Practice in Mental Health

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Psychologists, counselors and other mental health professionals have the option of setting up a private practice—assuming they meet state requirements to do so. Having your own private practice can give you the freedom to set your own hours and salary and meet clients in a comfortable, one-on-one environment.

Meet state education and licensing requirements. Most states require mental health professionals have a minimum of a master's degree in psychology, counseling or social work in order to practice and provide mental health services. Complete any state-administered exams, paperwork and other requirements to obtain your license.

Set up a legal business per state guidelines. Create a business name for your private practice and register this name and the structure of your business with your state. Pay any filing fees your state requires. Many counselors and psychologist choose to set up limited liability companies because they provide personal liability from business debts and claims.

Purchase malpractice insurance. Liability insurance provides protection for the professional in the event that a client files a lawsuit. Counselors can obtain malpractice insurance through the American Counseling Association Insurance Trust; professional psychologists can obtain this insurance through the American Psychological Association Insurance Trust.

Find a spot for your private practice. Choose a retail or private office space that has a comfortable atmosphere and easy access for individuals with disabilities. Sign a lease agreement and pay any starting lease fees.

Set up your office. Affix a business sign on the outside that displays your name and credentials. Fill the interior of your practice with comfortable furniture for waiting areas and client meeting areas. Set up a computer and desk so you can have quick access to electronic calendars and billing software.

Decide whether you want to offer online services. Follow your professional organization's code of ethics and guidelines when setting up this service, such as making sure your website is secure and listing your professional credential and experience in a prominent spot on your site. For counselors, the American Counseling Association devotes an entire section in its code of ethics to technology-assisted and online counseling.

Establish fees for services. Call other licensed professionals, such as psychologists, counselors and social workers, in your area to find out what rates are the community standard and set your fees accordingly. The ACA suggests that fees can range from $60 to $150 per client-session depending on the area.

Begin marketing your private practice. Get listed in traditional advertising outlets, such as the phone book or yellow pages. Meet with other healthcare professionals, such as primary care physicians and community mental health centers. Let them know your areas of expertise and ask them to offer referrals to patients. Set up online marketing and advertising campaigns, such as pay-per-click campaigns that target your geographic region.

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