The logistics of starting a counseling business are no different than that of any other small business. You will need to follow the guidelines for establishing a business in your community, as well as adhere to the requirements established for professional licensure in your state. Establishing a good reputation in your community is by far the most important step of starting a successful counseling business.
Get credentialed. It is useful to have your professional credentials before starting a counseling business so you can begin seeing clients right away. Licensure varies by state but usually requires a supervised internship and work experience as well as a passing score on a state exam. Once you are licensed, ensure that you are adequately covered in case of a malpractice suit by getting malpractice insurance coverage at the limits designated by your state.
Complete required business paperwork. Each city or county has ordinances that address starting a business. Apply for a business license, apply for a fictitious name permit if you plan on using a name other than your own for your business and ensure that you have met all safety and fire codes. Some states require an inspection before you can open your doors. Be sure to get adequate coverage for your building insurance in case of fire or accident occurring to or at your business.
Establish several streams of income. It is advantageous financially to accept health insurance so clients can pay using their mental health benefits. You will need to apply to each insurance company to become an approved provider in order to accept their insurance for payment. This process can take several months, so start as soon as you have a location established for your office. Provide several services that meet the needs for different clients. Offer a one-hour self-pay session, but also provide a reduced-rate group session to accommodate those who cannot afford the individual rate.
Promote yourself. The key to a successful counseling business is a healthy base of referrals. Ensure that you have established good working relationship with other professionals such as physicians, social workers, school personnel and other mental health clinicians. Very few clients come through the yellow pages or just passing by. Word of mouth and direct referrals will be your largest referral base, so your reputation means everything. Work with other professionals to establish good working relationships so they are more likely to refer to you when a patient needs mental health services. It can also be helpful to advertise online. Internet searches that identify your practice can ensure you have an advantage over the competition. Offer to do community workshops and volunteer to speak at local school engagements. Look for opportunities to get your name out in the community.
Kristen Fowler has written articles for the "Hampton Roads Health Journal" and "The Oyster Pointer" since 2007. She is a licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist with a master's degree from the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Kristen is an outpatient therapist in private practice.