When I first started my private practice a few years ago, I was totally in the dark. As mental health professionals, we are not taught the ins and outs of business; We just want to help people. While learning how to start my practice, I got a lot of information from colleagues, and in the end, I even taught them some things.
As a Black woman therapist starting my practice, I had a lot of anxiety around opening my own business. Would I find clients? How would I find an office? Would Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) clients even be looking for therapists? I felt a lot of fear of the unknown. However, I reached out to other Black women therapists in my area who guided me, knowing how important it was to have more BIPOC therapists who could relate to BIPOC clients.
My hope is that the advice I share heret gives you, an emerging BIPOC therapist, a solid stepping stone to start your practice, especially if it is something you’ve been thinking about but hesitate to take the leap.
Let’s start with logistics. Here are a few things to consider when starting your practice.
In order to open your practice, you need to be licensed. However, in some cases, you can work in a private practice under the supervision of a licensed clinician. Be sure to consult with your state board around licensure requirements.
I would encourage anyone who is licensed to get malpractice insurance, but you definitely need it in a private practice. In some cases, professional organizations may work with certain companies to offer their members malpractice insurance at affordable rates. Additionally, there may be discounts if you group multiple policies, such as general liability and cyber protection. If you want to learn more about professional liability for licensed clinical social workers, check out this article.
As I write this, we are still observing shelter-in-place throughout much of the United States, and all of my colleagues have switched to virtual sessions with their clients. Most of the clinicians I’ve spoken to in my area still plan to offer virtual sessions when shelter-in-place is lifted, but will also return to in-person sessions.
There are pros and cons to each: For instance, if you only offer virtual sessions and have a private, quiet space in your home , you may not need to rent office space. However, if you work with kids and teens, you may find it more effective to meet in person. If you are looking to work with Lyra, you may want to consider that they prioritize finding in-person providers, and will continue to do so once it is safe to return to offices.
Also remember that if you’re going to offer video therapy, you must use a HIPAA-compliant platform.
Before opening your private practice, consult with your state licensing board–the rules may vary from board to board and state to state. For example, in California, therapists are not allowed to operate their private practice as an LLC; but inTexas, this is allowed. Similarly, it’s important to check with your city, county, and state about registrations and business licenses–you may also need to file for a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) for tax purposes.
Some logistics to consider when looking to start your practice are:
In addition to the logistics noted above, you will also need to decide what electronic health record system you would like to use and how you will schedule your clients. I would encourage folks to watch the demonstrations offered by the various electronic health records (EHR) systems and see which works best for you and your budget. Most of these programs also offer scheduling, which can be an added bonus.
If you decide to work with Lyra, the company can help with referrals and scheduling when you connect your calendar with their system. When I decided to connect my calendar with the Lyra platform, a provider relations representative from Lyra called me and helped me set things up in about 10 minutes. Within 24 hours, I had my first client booked and within a few weeks, I was completely booked and able to easily pause new clients from making appointments until I had more availability.
When establishing the rate you want to charge for private practice, research the market rate for therapy in your area. Consider your degree type and whether you specialize in any in-demand areas, for example, treating, kids. Many therapists list their fees on their website, and some also take a few sliding-scale clients. An added benefit of working with Lyra is that they pay their contracted therapists market rates for their area, making it easier to focus on your clients and business.
To be completely honest, marketing was one of the hardest aspects of opening my private practice. It felt uncomfortable to advertise helping people. I wanted the right clients to magically show up at my door knowing that I was the right therapist for them. After a month of taking the necessary time to find my ideal office location, finding someone to build my website, decorating my office, and deciding my hours of operation, I was ready to market–but I was still unsure where to start.
This is where the beauty of having a community to rely on became really important. Thanks to the other therapists in my network, I learned which directories to start listing my name in. Many of these directories give you a certain number of months free, or charge under $20 a month to be listed.
What I hadn’t counted on was the number of clients I’d be able to reach using social media. If you’re thinking about marketing your practice through social media, it may be time to make your personal accounts private to avoid having your client tell you they liked the picture of your new puppy. I say that jokingly, but seriously consider t making a social media account that is just for your practice.
When you become part of the Lyra’s therapist community, you can write a bio showcasing your authentic self, allowing clients to decide if you are a good fit for them and book an appointment through your connected calendar. After I completed my personal bio, I received my first clients within a week. It’s great to work with Lyra because the platform matches clients to providers in their area with the right expertise to help them–removing a lot of the pressure from therapists to advertise.
If there is one piece of advice I could give everyone starting out on this private practice journey , I would say: Be your most authentic self when trying to attract new clients. I was initially trying to fit into the box of what others expected therapists to “act” like, but that was never me. I lost clients who wanted me to show up as a more formal therapist–one who used a lot of clinical terms in session–and that simply wasn’t who I am. Yet, when I would laugh with my clients, quote Tupac and Audre Lorde, and bring my full self to sessions, I saw my practice fill up quickly.
Not every therapist is right for every client, and that’s ok. Show up authentically and the right clients will find you.
I hope this guidance has been helpful. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about working with Lyra or opening a practice at: [email protected]
If you’re interested in becoming a contracted provider with Lyra, submit an application here.
If private practice isn’t for you, consider joining Lyra’s Blended Care Therapy program. This is a video-therapy program that will handle logistics and provide a guaranteed caseload of clients. Apply for part-time and full-time roles.
If you are a BIPOC therapist who is interested in joining the Lyra provider network, please contact us here.
If you want help connecting with a therapist, Lyra can assist you. You can get started today if Lyra is offered by your employer. Sign up now.
The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
ABOUT BRIAHN BADELLE, LCSW
Briahn Badelle is a licensed clinical social worker with over 10 years of experience working with adolescents and adults in the Bay Area. An Oakland native, Briahn has worked as a trauma medical social worker at a local county trauma center as well as at other Bay area hospitals and has also worked at various nonprofits and schools in the Bay Area. To address the need for therapists from traditionally oppressed communities, Briahn opened Thrive Oakland, a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, LGBTQ+ affirming therapy practice in Oakland.