In a stressed society, mental health professionals provide lifesaving care. Your desire to join the ranks of this profession can’t come at a better time since the National Institute of Health reports that one in four adults “suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year,” and this figure doesn’t include troubled children and adolescents. Add your skills to those of other mental health practitioners in your community by starting a business devoted to salvaging lives and you will discover that the phrase “one person can make a difference” is more than just words.
Supplement your college degree in behavioral science (e.g., psychology, counseling, social work, sociology) with workshops, certificate classes and symposia that fill voids in your areas of expertise like geriatric, pediatric, adolescent and other segments of society with special mental health needs and issues. Take general business classes if time allows.
Update or apply for licenses required by state, city and/or community mental health agencies and authorities. Draft a budget covering start-up expenses. Writing a business plan will help you focus your practice’s future direction. Shop for insurance to cover your practice, but don’t be surprised if your search for coverage takes some time as mental health practitioners routinely face the same malpractice and liability challenges as physicians.
Choose a location. Rent a small office, apportion part of your home—it’s advisable to have separate entrances to physically and psychologically separate your personal life and practice—or rent space within an existing mental health practice to walk into a turnkey operation that may also provide you with an established waiting room and clerical staff.
Purchase furniture in accordance with the school of mental health therapy you practice: a traditional desk and chair office setup or a living room arrangement consisting of couches and chairs. Establish a play area if you plan to treat kids as dollhouses, art therapy supplies and games aimed at figuring out why children are acting out may be an important part of your treatment plan.
Open a checking account in the name of your practice. Install a computer system that is password secure to protect sensitive documents (everything from confidential patient files to medical insurance billing data). Contact health insurers to set up partnerships and, if you aim to accept these plans, comply with Medicare and Medicaid guidelines to affiliate with both networks.
Take a balanced approach to marketing your mental health services. Think of attorneys who rely on phone book ads versus those who run cable TV spots. Take into consideration your professional affiliations—some restrict unseemly advertising and marketing tactics and find them damaging to the mental health profession. Learn more by visiting websites like the American Psychological Association.
Download a copy of The Center for Mental Health’s “Technical Assistance Guide” for more help starting your mental health business and subscribe to online and print periodicals published by noted authorities like “NewsRx.”