Private Practice: A Career in Mental Health

Child and Family Therapist

Last Updated: Aug 24, 2012

Have a heart—and an ear—for helping others? You might find a rewarding career as a therapist. Here, one young woman shares what led her to pursue a path in family therapy, what the work entails, and even how she started her own private practice!

I chose to pursue child therapy after initially studying education. Early field experience in inner-city schools opened my eyes to the challenges children face every day and impede their ability to learn. I realized that I could not be an effective teacher if I was more interested in helping with the children’s social/emotional challenges. After earning my master’s, I worked for local nonprofit agencies as a mental health consultant/therapist as well as a coordinator of a therapeutic program before pursuing my private practice. I have been in private practice since April 2011 and find it immensely satisfying.

I always knew I wanted to go into private practice as a child therapist—the tricky thing was figuring out how to get there. Undergraduate career counseling helped outline my academic path; I realized I didn’t need to have a Psy.D. or Ph.D. to have a private practice but could do so with independent licensure as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) or an Independent Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW). I pursued mental health counseling over social work to increase my focus on counseling and less on social advocacy. After graduating, I earned over 3,000 hours (over two years) of clinical experience and passed a licensure exam to meet national certification and Massachusetts state licensure requirements (LMHC).

I have been in private practice for over a year now and absolutely love it. Private practice allows me to do the same clinical work I have always done for an agency, but in my own space and scheduling in a manner that works best for my life. A private practice is also unique because I am not only doing the clinical work that I want to do, but also all of the marketing, billing, and other administrative work that was quite foreign to me. Many therapists in private practice will hire someone to do those administrative tasks; as a brand-new practice, I could not afford to outsource anything, but over time, the billing and administrative tasks have become much easier.

Financially, going into private practice can pose a challenge because you are not paid if you do not have clients. I slowly merged into private practice while maintaining a full-time job to decrease some of the financial burden. Also essential in private practice entrepreneurship is finding clients! I have connected with local pediatricians, speech pathologists, therapists, and schools to identify potential clients and needs within the community. I also offer free workshops at local libraries on topics such as kindergarten readiness or atypical behaviors to introduce my practice to the families in the community.

Private practice is not for everyone, but I feel it’s the right fit for me. Even with the challenges of entrepreneurship, the profits outweigh the costs. Working for yourself allows flexibility that other professions cannot afford and I appreciate having at this point in my life.

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