4 Reasons to NOT Start a Counseling Practice; and 9 Ways to Become a High Paid Agency Employee

4 Reasons to NOT Start a Counseling Practice; and 9 Ways to Become a High Paid Agency Employee

counselorI often talk about the benefits of starting a private practice. However, owning your own business isn’t for everyone, and working for a counseling agency is not an inferior alternative. Listed below are 4 reasons to not start a private practice. If any one of the following applies to you, starting a practice may be a bad fit.

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  1. I need money now!
  2. I have stated that a licensed counselor can start a practice for as little as a few thousand dollars, and that the practice could become cash flow positive within a few months. This is still true. However, one shouldn’t expect to bring in much net profit in year one. Hence, if you are under-capitalized or need a full time income right away, starting a practice might not be the best career choice.

  3. I want to keep my work separate from my life!
  4. Due to the nature of the job, counselors often struggle with leaving their work at the office—if you own the office, multiply that struggle by 10. For the small business owner, work is intertwined with life. It’s like having a child: the business requires constant attention. You will be home with it on Friday nights. You will be up at 4am comforting and feeding your business.

  5. I hate business! / I just want to be a counselor!
  6. Running a private practice has little to do with counseling and a lot to do with operations (billing, staffing, administration, etc.). I have never met a successful private practice owner who dislikes business. If you’re starting your practice longing for the day that you can focus exclusively on client care, you should think about joining an agency.

  7. I don’t want to start from scratch!

When starting a practice, often both the business and the clinician are starting from scratch. Get prepared to enter a whole new world of learning. Successful practice owners have read a library’s worth of business books, and have aggressively sought information and mentorship. In addition, building a company is a gauntlet of successes and failures. If you’re not interested in getting an MBA from the School of Hard Knocks, think agency.

Becoming a High Paid Agency Employee

Some counselors think about working for a counseling agency as a “pay me a wage, an I’ll come to work” situation. In contrast, to become a high paid agency employee, it’s better think about agency work as a partnership where both parties bring value to the table. Traditionally, an agency provides office space, clients, clinical supervision, insurance, branding, and a variety of administrative services in exchange for a share of the money a clinician’s services produce. This is the case regardless of whether one is paid hourly, salary, or a percentage of counseling fees.

Hence, to become a high paid agency employee, a clinician needs to bring more to the table. For example, counselors become more valuable to agencies when they:

  1. Get the word out about their services instead of asking the agency to market their services for them.
  2. Speak publicly, and mention the agency.
  3. Speak with reporters to get quotations in print, or on the news (especially if they use the agency’s name).
  4. Publish, tweet, and build an online or offline audience.
  5. Build a reputation that brings in more clients. This is especially true if their reputation also brings in clients for other providers at the agency!
  6. Offer specialized services. This is valuable to the extent that their presence allows the practice to accept clients they would otherwise need to refer (e.g., children, foreign language speaking, autism).
  7. Self manage, or request less administrative support from the agency.
  8. Provide supervision or help to other providers at the agency.
  9. Are credentialed with various insurance companies (note: some agencies now require clinicians to be on insurance panels to even apply for a position).

Done right, one might find that working for an agency affords more freedom, and sometimes more money, than private practice. Finally, if you’re bringing serious value to the table, and your agency isn’t recognizing it, it might be time to look for a practice that will!

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Comments

  1. Sylvia says

    Hi Anthony
    What does one need to start a franchise.
    I would like to start my own private practice along w/ 2 other clinicians. The only thing stopping me is $$$. The agency I’m working for offered me a salary about 4 months ago..but being my own boss is my true dream.

  2. Judith says

    Hi,
    Is it possible to franchise with your company, but not be a therapist, but rather hire therapist for the practice?

    • Anthony CentoreAnthony Centore says

      Hi Judith,
      Thanks for the inquiry. The short answer is yes, it is possible to own a Thriveworks franchise and not be a therapist yourself. It helps, to be sure, to have lots of industry knowledge, but the model is as you guessed; an owners/managers role is to hire excellent therapists, build the team, and make sure clients receive excellent clinical care and customer service. I hope this helps! –Sincerely, Dr. Anthony

  3. Mary says

    I am a NJ resident currently finishing up my graduate degree. My singular goal is to obtain my hours and enter into private practice. However, I am often told that this is unrealistic in this state. Many I know (LAC) are not able to even obtain positions in order to complete the hours necessary to complete licensure.
    I am hoping for some advice that will point me in the right direction as I begin this journey. I would like to be in the best position possible moving forward.
    Thank you

  4. Inga Williams says

    I think working on your own or working for an agency can be a hit or miss. You have to be at the right place at the right time. I have wanted to start my own counseling business for years now however because I needed the cash right away I settled for a case managment position. The question is how important is the cash to you?

    Due to our economy it is really hard to be a high paying agency employee even with a licenese. Many agencies run off of grants. Some agencies only pay you on point-of-service. You can probably pay yourself higher if you had your own practice since that is all about point-of-service.

    To be a high paying employee means that you most likely would have to take a middle managment or higher position, which means that you would not be a counselor.

    Starting your own business is hardwork but the pay off is great. It may take more than a year or two before you can make a profit but it is the same if you start off as an entry level counselor or case worker. I think at the end you have to ask yourself what do you value? what are you willing to sacrifice?

  5. Nichole M says

    I’ve read your articles before and have been happy with the responses thus far.
    So starting a business when you need money NOW is not a good idea? I have yet to get my funds together to even apply for my L, making me an LMHC. My agency said they’d pay me more if I got it…..I have a baby due next month so paying for the license now is scaring me…however, work did cover a little bit of the cost. What about online counseling? I have an idea about this for my own business in the future and would like to pursue it. What are your thoughts on that? Also, can you give me some motivation to get my L going??? I should have already applied for it but I’ve been slacking….. :(
    I konw more income would eventually help me pay for my graduate loans (ugh don’t even get me started on that ball of stress)…so someone please light a fire under my face! :)
    Thanks!

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