How To Transition Mid-Career To A Counseling Practice

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Like many other professions in the mental health field, clinical counseling through a private practice is exceedingly rewarding. You help people, working with them to solve personal problems that are negatively affecting their well-being. Yet, unlike many other professions in the mental health field, clinical counseling offers something extra: profits.

When operated correctly, a private practice can offer counselors a healthy six-figure income, a benefit which is generally out of reach to other mental health professionals. Thus, after years in the field, psychiatric nurses, social workers and similar relatively low-earning professionals often consider transitioning into private practice. Here’s how any mental health professional can open or enter private practice – and make the career transition successfully.

Consider Returning to School

First, mental health professionals should research what is required to function as a private, clinical counselor in their region. Nearly all states in the U.S. require a master’s degree or higher, so some mental health professionals will need to return to school to obtain necessary credentials before they can open their practice. Fortunately, it is possible to find online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling degree programs, which reduce the cost, inconvenience and other concerns associated with graduate-level education.

Additionally, some professionals might consider enrolling in a few business courses to better understand critical management principles. At the end of the day, a private practice is a business, and counselors who do not understand finance, accounting, marketing and sales will fail to build a practice that thrives. Though it isn’t necessary to pursue a full degree in business management, a few courses here and there won’t hurt, especially if they fill gaps in management knowledge and skill.

Find a Willing Private Practice Mentor

Studies on mentorship have shown that relationships between novices and experts are exceedingly beneficial to both parties; in fact, rookies who have mentors are more likely to find success sooner than they would if they toiled without guidance. Some common benefits aspiring private practitioners might gain through mentorship include:

  • Feedback on career (or practice) decisions
  • New business or counseling skills and knowledge
  • Access to useful resources, like small business grants
  • Broadened professional network
  • Increased self-confidence

The ideal mentor for the transition into private practice is a counselor who has plenty of experience functioning in this sphere but will not be a direct competitor. Professionals might look online or join counseling organizations to find the perfect mentor for them.

Determine How to Make the Switch

Mid-career changes don’t happen overnight; they take planning and preparation. Still, professionals should determine how swiftly they will make the switch from their previous occupation to private practice. Though there are millions of details within each choice, there are two main paths to choose from:

  • Dive head-first into private practice. As soon as you have the credentials and the space, you can quit your old job and focus whole-heartedly on your practice.
  • Dip a toe in private practice, and wade in slowly. Alternatively, you can maintain your previous employment and incrementally work up to devoting all of your attention on your practice.

The path one chooses will depend on their comfort with risk. In the latter option, counselors will have a stable stream of income from their longstanding occupation, so they can slowly and steadily attract clients and establish themselves as private practitioners. Meanwhile, the former option assumes a significant amount of risk, but it speeds up the process of building the practice and reduces the likelihood of deleterious burnout. Counselors should consider the path that is right for them before making any plans for building their business.

Organize Personal and Professional Finances

Say it with me again: A private practice is a business. As such, it needs its own finances, separate from its founding counselor’s. One of the first actions counselors must take in forming their practice is opening business accounts at the financial institutions of their choice and developing a cash flow system that is entirely discrete from their personal finances. Maintaining separation will keep counselors better informed on the performance of their practice and prevent dipping too deeply in either pocket when it is inappropriate to do so.

Have Patience and Grace in Practice

Finally, it is important for counselors to be patient in the creation of their practice. Success never comes easily and quickly; it requires commitment and care. You are fortunate to gain the opportunity to open your own practice, and you should act with gratitude rather than exasperation and rashness. By doing so, you will inspire your clients and yourself to new heights.


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