Getting Your Counseling Practice Off the Ground

By Ashley VanBemmelen on October 19, 2015

Where do I begin working when I graduate with the M.A. in Counseling?

This is the question I couldn't get out of my head during my last year in the program. I knew I wanted to work with trauma, but I was nervous to start my own practice. What options were left?

I needed a site that would provide clients for me to see without much effort on my behalf. For this reason, I looked at agency work and small counseling practices. I chose a small counseling center that didn't pay much but offered me as many clients as I wanted my first year after graduation. That provided me the opportunity to become comfortable with my skills as a therapist without worrying about starting my own practice. Private practice involves marketing, accounting, finding clients, billing clients, billing insurance companies, incorporating as a LLC, filing taxes, paying rent, buying liability insurance and building a website.

Though I could write an entire post about the challenges of that year, I am thankful that I didn't have the pressure of operating a private practice.

As I entered my second year of practice, a former coworker who was operating her own private practice gave me a call. She was going on maternity leave and needed someone to fill in for her. I had been considering private practice for a few months, and everything seemed to fall into place. I now operate a private practice of my own while sharing office space, rent and marketing expenses with a couple other counselors who have private practices. We all operate our own business but function under one name and brand. Working in community allows me the opportunity to learn about the tools necessary for practicing counselors.

These tools have really enhanced my ability to practice.

List Your Practice on a Relevant Directory

Sites like Psychology Today or Good Therapy are immensely beneficial. Both allow you to create a custom page and listing about yourself. You get to identify clients that you'd like to work with by selecting your skill level and preferences related to age, gender, scope of practice, language, racial specialty and much more. You have the opportunity to write a couple of paragraphs that speak to who you are as a therapist and what type of client you want to work with. This allows a client to have a glimpse of who you are before they decide whether or not to call/email. This is a huge benefit for clients to feel empowered when choosing a therapist.

  • Psychology Today provides a listing for counselors, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and treatment centers. The cost is $30/month for the listing, though you can usually get the first 3 months free with a coupon or by passing your national exam.
  • Good Therapy provides listings for therapists, marriage counselors, child counselors and psychologists. The site costs $25 a month. Good Therapy is similar to other listing sites while adding in the additional benefit of media space. If you or your practice has a video to post, you can post it on your Good Therapy site.

Both sites allow clients to begin the search for a therapist using zip code. This increases the chance that a client can access your practice location.

Using Billing Software or an External Billing Company

For counselors who struggle to keep track of client billing, who are nervous about billing forms or for those who do not have time to work with insurance companies, an external billing company may provide the assistance you need. External billing companies will obtain all of your information as a practitioner, and bill your clients and their insurance companies on your behalf. Many external companies take a percentage of your profit or use an hourly rate for compensation.

Office Ally is the best billing software I have found as a practitioner. Office Ally acts as a HIPPA compliant health information network. It connects practitioners with the platform needed to house client information and billing. This includes the ability to schedule appointments in a calendar, email clients with reminders, keep track of case notes, complete needed forms to bill insurance companies and monitor accounting and payments received. Office Ally is also an all service patient portal where clients can communicate with you or change appointment times.

Office Ally is free of charge and allows you to store client information and submit claims through a claim submission service. If you want more advanced services, the Office Ally "PracticeMate" service offers much more. It is free of charge with some exceptions. For example, use of the claim submission service (over 5000 insurance companies work with Office Ally) may charge you, if you need to print and mail in claims ($0.40/each) or if over 50% of your claims are governmental claims (i.e. Medicare, Medicaid/Medi-Cal, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of some states). Otherwise, you can keep track of appointments and bill insurance companies for your client hours. Office Ally will evaluate your claim and let you know if you need to change anything. If the claim is all set, they will send it on to the insurance company, and you'll have a check in the mail within 2-4 weeks.

These are just a couple of the services that I have found immensely helpful! What do you use to assist in operating your practice?

Lead photo courtesy of Astrid Westvang

Categories: Counseling, Vocation