How to Become a Private Practice Therapist

How to Become a Private Practice Therapist

  • If you’ve recently graduated, you’ll need to earn your license.
  • Once you have your license, you’ll need to renew it.
  • Renewing your license means continuing your education.
  • Learn how to navigate virtual therapy and the digital reality of telehealth.
  • Establish your emotional boundaries early on.

Congratulations! You’ve done the hard work to earn your degree, you’ve completed the hours of your practicum and internship – now what? Like a passion project, your career as a private practice therapist requires maintenance. This article details what it takes to keep up with your education, skills, and training to stay competitive throughout your psychotherapy career. While our piece “How to Start your Own Private Practice in Counseling & Psychology” covers the business aspects of running a practice, this post will outline what it takes to stay up to date with the latest education and best practices in the industry.

IN THIS POST

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1. Recently Graduated? Start Here.

If you want to own a private practice, then there’s a few more steps to take after you’ve earned your degree from an accredited school. You’ll need a combination of education and supervised experience. Start early and organize all the documents from your hours working with patients to the types of mental health issues you’ve worked with. Take advantage of online databases that store your transcripts, credentials, and hours. The best way to start searching for the information you need is by figuring out where you want to open your practice. From there, search the state’s official government website to see the exact requirements you need to complete for your specific profession. 

  • MFTs or family therapists can check state-specific resources on the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. 

  • LCSWs or social workers can find information by finding their state’s chapter on the National Association of Social Workers.
     
  • LPCCs or professional counselors can use the state board directory on the National Board for Certified Counselors.

  • For psychologists who hold a PsyD or PhD, the APA recommends using this psychology licensing requirements directory provided by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). The licensure exam for psychologists is abbreviated as the EPPP.

Select the state you want to practice in to see the necessary requirements. Some states allow you to take your licensing exam just after earning your degree while others require you to complete several thousand hours of supervised practice before registering for the exam. Internship and/or postdoctoral hours are required for licensure. Certain states require additional specifications like completing an oral exam or an ethics exam, and in some cases, both. 

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2. Have Your License Already? Start Here.

Remember that licensing and renewal requirements differ by state. This is also something to keep in mind if you ever plan on moving away from the state in which you currently hold your license. But, there’s a general expectation no matter where you practice that once you graduate you’ll need to continue to take classes to keep your title as a professional. These classes are referred to as continuing education (CE) requirements. 

For example, a California psychologist needs at least 36 hours of continuing education credits when renewing their license every 2 years. At least 25% of your continuing education credit needs to include “live” time so that means taking either an in-person class or an interactive online course with an actual professor for nine of those hours. There are exceptions, like in cases where someone is renewing their license for the first time, then the continuing education requirements are proportional to the amount of time the professional has their license. Check with your state’s professional board website to see what counts as a qualifying credit and further state-specific requirements. 

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3. Continuing Your Education.

Continuing education credits are available at many locations, although it helps your psychotherapy career to be strategic about where and which classes you choose to attend. Use your time wisely and think of every class as an opportunity to network with a community of professionals. CONCEPT offers a wide variety of courses that allows you to specialize your knowledge with extensive training by leading educators in the industry. Some popular training programs include forensic psychology, clinical child & adolescent psychology, or digital & Telehealth.

As time goes on you’ll find yourself gravitating towards a certain theory and practice of counseling and psychology, so it’s important to have the matching credentials demonstrating you’ve done your thorough research. Professionals establish different areas of strength and continuing education credits are an opportunity to explore those individual interests. For example, clients with mood disorders are more likely to seek out a therapist with extra training in DBT practices. An MFT might find it useful to earn a child custody evaluation certificate in the case they are asked to go to court. Hospitals will seek out employees who know violence risk management, assessment, and intervention strategies. Continuing education is your opportunity to specialize into a niche with a certification or two.

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4. Navigating a Digital Reality.

Learning to navigate the digital world is one skill that every private practice therapist needs moving forward. Knowing how to navigate your psychotherapy career online holds many advantages.

  • Clients are able to receive care from the comfort of their own homes. Bonus: therapists are able to provide care from the comfort of their own homes.

     

  • Advertising and networking online as a professional allows you to reach larger audiences. Follow CONCEPT, Palo Alto University and other psychological institutions on LinkedIn to build your very own accessible network of professionals.

     

  • Telehealth serves a role in providing more accessible healthcare to underserved communities. 

Expanding your digital skills puts you at a professional advantage. Explore the “Foundations of Digital Mental Health,” a 50-hour certificate program which includes:

Complete all the courses to earn a certificate which you can share on LinkedIn and in other professional settings! Or, you can sign up for the specific program that interests you.

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5. Establishing Your Emotional Boundaries.

Learn to establish your emotional boundaries; the earlier the better. Being a private practice therapist means constantly taking in loads of emotions. This leads to vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout. Remember to take time to continuously ground yourself after each client and throughout your week. Don’t hesitate to reach out and find your own therapist. To better understand your own clients, it helps to be a client. In addition to that, look up the number of the local crisis hotline to share with your clients in case they need extra support after hours. As a therapist, you need to find a balance between being there for your client and allowing them to participate actively in their healing journey. When you create strong boundaries, you’ll recognize the strengths and limitations of the emotional labor you provide.

Check out these additional resources to stay connected with the best practices in the industry, while also taking the time to regenerate.

After all the hard work, it may be tempting to want to set up your own private practice straight away. Think about joining an established practice for the first few years to network within your community and learn the ropes behind the business side of things. Take the time to become comfortable with marketing your educational training as a valuable skill. 

Although it feels like the finish line keeps moving, the most important step is your degree. Pat yourself on the back for completing years of studying as you prepare for one of the last steps, licensure. Remember that the best psychologists are the ones that stay a student all throughout their career, not just while they’re in school. Continuing your education allows you to specialize your skills and maintain your knowledge on the latest research. Add telehealth to your list of digital skills to remain competitive with the most recent market trends. And, don’t forget most importantly, to take care of yourself before you go out into the world to take care of others.

Headshot of CONCEPT Writer
Jasmine Monfared holds a post-bacc certificate in Counseling and Psychology professions from UC Berkeley Extension. She volunteers as a crisis counselor on a local hotline that serves 15+ counties in Northern California. Jasmine graduated from UC Berkeley with a sociology major and a minor in journalism. As an undergraduate, she implemented mental health curriculum in a faculty-sponsored sociology course with an emphasis on accessibility and diversity.

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