Play Therapy Magazine, September 2018

You just walked out of a meeting, shocked, upset, and deeply disappointed. The office where you practice decided to convert the playroom into a new office. Funding issues and increased client referrals were cited as reasons, but in the back of your mind, you know the problem. Your place of employment doesn’t share your focus on children. The policies and procedures, habits and marketing don’t reflect your deep desire to serve this vulnerable population. You begin to dream of a business where you write the mission statement, direct the marketing, and create the programs that your community needs. A vision and a dream is born for private practice.

Now what?

My first professional job was at a government agency providing counseling for children and families. After that, I worked at a residential facility for children. I was in heaven: surrounded by great people, doing important work, and never lacking for clients.. However, life moved on and my life needed more flexibility with hours and client load, so I made the move to private practice. The years that followed taught me a lot about focus, community work environments, and business.

Now, I run a growing therapy office with other practitioners. Working with my families continues to be extremely rewarding(and I still get to be at home a lot), but now, I get to add to my therapeutic skills while also building skills in business, marketing and finance. It’s been a slow process at times, exciting at other times, but endlessly rewarding. Let’s talk about how you can own, run and maintain your own private practice.

Step 1

Decide what type of business you want. Writing a mission statement is a good place to start. It defines who you serve [client population], where [county or city], and how [what services you provide]. The mission statement becomes a rubric to determine the scope of your business and its boundaries. Does it fit the mission? It’s important to investigate and meet the needs of your community, but also to look into yourself and consider what you feel called to do. What drives you to have to have your own place? In the example above, you are motivated by the need to provide high quality care to children and families with appropriate facilities. You see the value in being branded as specializing in families, knowing that most families receiving support have multiple needs throughout their life.

Step 2

Implement your mission with the assistance of professionals. Seek CEUs, but mostly, seek relationships and implementable advice. There are multiple professionals who provide free or inexpensive advice on HIPAA compliance, marketing, networking, etc. But do NOT skimp on really important things like your website, your insurance, and your legal structure. Sure, you can copy other people’s contracts. They will work, but they won’t reflect your business and your needs. Hire a lawyer and get it done right. Laying a good foundation at the beginning will save you a lot of headaches in the future.

We easily suggest mentoring to our clients, but do we seek it out when we need it? When I decided to set up as a business owner and not simply a clinician with an office, I found a lawyer, a marketer, and an expert in ethics. We quickly set up some goals: incorporate the business, create a marketing plan, and write a procedure manual. These extra resources cost money, but doing things the right way always does.

Step 3

Reevaluate often. Business is exciting and creating your own can be quite a lot like a roller coaster. Be ready to re-evaluate and make changes on the fly – at least to minor things. As long as it fits with your mission, do it! Throw the spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. But always come back to your central calling and mission statement so that you don’t water down your business or get lost in the weeds.


Ouch! I hate this part, but the reality of business breaks a lot of preconceptions.
First, the clients don’t simply show up without marketing or insurance telling them where you are. Social media, networking and hyperlocal marketing are all ways to secure a reputation as an expert and begin to develop referral relationships.
Second, you pay on the front end or you pay on the back end. If you take insurance, you receive a lower rate for them to send you clients. If your practice is cash pay, your marketing costs money upfront. If you choose to have cut and paste forms, your liability will be higher and you will not be as protected.

Wow, I’m tired after all that business talk. Let me give you a picture of what walking into your own thriving practice is like:

You drive up to the office and see your logo on the front. Watering your plants on the way in, you notice that the therapists last night swept the waiting room and picked up the toys. As the coffee brews, a walk down the hallway shows the traditional play room is ready for the day and a quick pick up makes the adolescent play room ready as well. You unlock your door, turn on your computer, and begin to return messages for the day. Your schedule comes up: Talking to a college class about the business of play in the morning, a supervision session midday, and several play therapy sessions to round out your day. Play on!

Christy Graham, LPC Supervisor and Registered Play Therapist Supervisor works as the head cheerleader for Acorn Counseling Education Services. She provides the business structure and basic marketing for a diverse group of practitioners. Her private practice began in 2003 with only a totebag playroom and a Medicaid Provider number. Now, she heads a small but growing Christian evidenced based practice in Corinth, Texas. Want some support to develop your dream? Come to her class on October 5th from 8:30 to 11:30. Sign up here!

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