How to start a private practice in counselling

Dec 19, 2021

The current covid-19 pandemic has resulted in significant increases in mental health conditions, in particular anxiety and depression. The need for professional private counselling practices has become more important than ever.

For many counsellors traditionally counselling has been offered face to face and many practitioners will use their own homes or garden rooms to see patients.  However the rapid transformation to online therapy for mental health has meant many therapists in private practice need to upskill in a whole new suite of digital and online skills. Website design, digital marketing, video conferencing tools…the list goes on.  So how do you start a private practice in counselling in the post covid modern era?

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, you need the appropriate counselling qualifications, skills knowledge and experience. This is particularly relevant to online therapy where it is vitally important to recognise if patients are at risk, vulnerable or require acute intervention. The usual subtle non-verbal and verbal cues that you will gain from a face to face consultation may not be easily seen and you will be professionally at risk if you do not put in place a few simple safe measures. You should work within your competency and ideally within a network where difficult or complex patients can be referred on to colleagues with specific expertise, for a psychologist, psychiatrist or even a general practitioner. For this reason using some form of practice management software will allow secure data compliance with encrypted referrals to other healthcare professionals. It will also allow you to offer an online appointment system using software such as Heydoc.

Secondly you will need a clean and simple website outlining your range of services, professional fees, terms and the range of issues that you can help with. The key is to attract those patients who you can actually help and where you are most likely to be able to improve their mental health. Counselling is not usually covered by private health insurance and many of your patients will be paying for your services directly, so you will need to consider website search engine optimization and digital marketing in order to attract clients.

Thirdly, do not underestimate the quality of your online service. For example pay a great deal of attention to the quality of your video – invest in a good webcam and microphone – there is nothing more off putting for a patient than trying to explain some delicate and often very personal mental health issue over a video where they can hardly see you in the corner of a dark room.  A very good quality headset and microphone will allow very clear calm and precise communication and even your own appearance and background when you are consulting via video can be very important in creating an environment where patients can feel safe and open up freely.  While video can present challenges, there are advantages to video consulting as many patients feel they can speak more freely than in a face to face environment.

If you are practising face to face then think carefully about your office space environment and ensure adequate space in ventilation, think about welcoming and warm lighting and soft furnishings and consider if you are a lone worker installing a panic button linked to someone else so that you can raise the alarm if you feel threatened.

Fourthly use a checklist or template to confirm the patients identity, where they are currently situated, and pick up QS if you feel they are being coerced or are in a vulnerable environment where safeguarding may be a concern. Have a clear policy regarding safeguarding and also ensure you have appropriate mandatory training and know how to escalate and refer patients with safeguarding concerns.

Fifthly many counsellors are choosing to specialise in specific areas such as teenage mental health, mental health concerns around the menopause, or dementia as a few examples. By practising within a niche you can create a successful private practice in counselling and attract referrals from a wider referral base particularly if you offer bespoke online services. Set clear goals and parameters around what your scope of practice is and do not be tempted to deviate from this.

Finally when you are starting a private practice in counselling remember: it is essentially a small business. Consider your overheads such as practice management software, a virtual PA such as Virtual PA Services, a website and other costs such as professional subscriptions, insurance and digital marketing. It is possible to build a simple website yourself using something like Squarespace and undertake simple digital marketing but once you are up and running I would advise you seek the services of a digital marketing team. Search engine optimization, social media campaigns and in particular remarketing campaigns via Google and Facebook can be a very effective way of sharing your message.

In addition if you are writing regular blog articles this can be a very effective way of communicating with your current and future patients, establishing yourself as a thought leader and building confidence in your abilities even before they have spoken to you. Hosting webinars can be an even more effective way of doing this.

Hopefully this helps inspire you on how to start a private practice in counselling and we recommend reading our other article where we go into more detail on how to start a private practice in general. Remember running a business can be very challenging but the key is to be organised and disciplined in how you approach every aspect of it. Look at trying to systemise and automate as much of the general day to day as possible, which will ultimately free up your time so that you can focus on what you do best: looking after the mental health of your patients.

Do you want to create a fully booked private medical practice without working any evenings or weekends? 

With over 50 on-demand videos, templates and guides, our on-demand course covers everything from:

  • how to navigate CQC registration and fast-track your practicing privileges
  • detailed walkthrough of how to create your own website and embed an automated appointment system
  • how to get patients through the door without spending money on advertising
  • how to project your revenue and costs and maximise your profits
  • and much, much more

We look forward to seeing you there!

Giles and Tom

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