Site icon Sarah Marandi-Steeves, LCSW, PLLC

So you want to start a private practice…but have no idea where to start.


Photo by Gremco Photography (@gremcophotography)

Lets face it, if you went to school for psychology, social work, or any other mental health field, you likely thought about starting your own practice. In the mental health field this seems to be the end goal for many practitioners. If the title of this post caught your attention, it is likely you want to start your own practice, but have no idea where to start. You may have a ton of ideas, but no idea how to implement them. You may have the vision board, the idea journal, and the business plan all ready to go, but then that pesky thing called fear stands in the way and holds you back. As someone who has been there, I felt it would be helpful to share a few tips on how to start shifting your mindset from “one day” to “today”.

I always knew I wanted to be in private practice. This was my big goal, my dream. I knew I wanted to be my own boss. I knew this is where I would end up. I just had no idea where to start. So, after I finished graduate school, I took a job at a local agency and began plugging away like the rest of my graduating class. I kept talking about opening a practice “one day”, but still had no idea how I would ever go about doing this. I studied psychology and social work for goodness sake, not business. What did I know about running a business?

So, I continued working for someone else while my dream seemed to drift further and further away. It wasn’t until five years after I graduated from graduate school that I finally started to work towards this goal. Because let’s face it, having a dream is fine and dandy, but if you don’t put that dream into action, it’ll always just be a dream and nothing more. So there I was, ready to take this next step in my career, and I instantly felt overwhelmed. I mean, this was a dream I had for years and now I was actually trying to implement it. It seemed so scary and out of reach. Looking back, I wish I knew what I knew now. Is starting your own business scary? Absolutely. But scary doesn’t mean impossible. You know the saying, “It’s always seems impossible until it’s done” and this holds true for this example as well.

One of the most important things that I did was manage my expectations. At the time, I was working for an agency full-time (which in the mental health world really means FT + unpaid overtime). I had a household to tend to, friends and family obligations, let’s not forget about self-care, and bills to pay (Hello student loans!) It was unrealistic for me to think I could just magically start a practice. I needed time and patience. I needed to work towards this goal at my own pace.

So, instead of carving out an entire day to read a business book (which was unrealistic at the time and would have never happened), I would read it in stages. This was a more attainable goal. I would read a little before bed, on my lunch breaks, etc. For those of you thinking “Ugh, I hate reading”, don’t worry. There are audio books as well as apps which summarize main points in books for you as well. Oh, and those apps read them to you, too! For those of you who love reading, there is an awesome app called “Goodreads”, which allows you to keep track of the books you have read, want to read, and are currently reading. I highly recommend this as a way to organize your reading list. I also listened to tons of podcasts. Again, not all in one day. I would listen while I got ready for work, while I went for a run, while I made dinner, when I was in the car, etc.

Slowly but surely I was learning more and more. Knowledge is power and my confidence level increased as my knowledge increased. I no longer doubted myself, as much, as I had before I started doing these things. And, to be honest, I did not feel overwhelmed by these things either. They just became part of my routine.

I also started to talk to everyone I knew in the field who already had their own practice. I identified mentors in the field. I scheduled consults with other practitioners and absorbed as much knowledge as I could from them. Instead of scrolling through social media for two hours at night before bed, I instead kept a business journal and started writing down all of my thoughts, ideas, and questions so I could keep them in one place and limit feeling overwhelmed.

Instead of zoning out in front of the TV for a few hours (Thank God for the DVR), I began doing research online and joined closed Facebook groups for businesswomen, entrepreneurs, and therapists in private practice where I could begin to have dialogue with others who were in similar situations as myself. When I had any downtime at all, I started thinking about what a practice would look like. What population would I serve? What would my specialties be? What hours did I want to work? I also started to play around with business card designs, pinned office space ideas on Pinterest, and thought about potential names for my business all while I had spare moments of time here and there.

Had I tried to carve out chunks of time to do all of this at once, it would have simply never happened. Why? Because it was unrealistic for my circumstances at the time and quite frankly would have seemed incredibly overwhelming. If I based my starting a practice solely on the time factor, this dream never would have become a reality. Instead, by managing my expectations, my knowledge and growth happened more organically and felt stress-free.

I also shifted my mindset. Instead of feeling miserable at my job because I was burning out, I decided to look at my job as an addition to my education. I busted my ass in college and I busted my ass at my job, there was no difference in how hard I worked. The difference was that at my job, I was being paid to be there. I was being paid to learn. I was being paid to attend trainings. I was being paid to absorb knowledge from my colleagues and superiors. I was being paid to get supervision from trained supervisors. I was being paid to continue to expand upon my clinical skills. Looking back, the knowledge and experience I gained from that job was invaluable.

If you are plugging away at a 9-5 and have a desire to be your own boss, remember for right now your 9-5 is serving a purpose. You are learning not only important business skills but also customer service skills, patience, time management skills, administrative skills, enhancing your clinical skills, as well as building connections within the community amongst your peers and colleagues. You’re also paying your bills. Do not take this for granted. Once I shifted my mindset, I began to see my job in an entirely different light. Had I remained miserable and felt sorry for myself, this dream would have never become a reality because I would have been too consumed with my little pity party.

So, now that I have (hopefully) made the idea of opening a private practice seem less scary, you may be feeling like this dream of yours is doable, right? Remember:

  1. Be realistic. You will not be able to just start a practice out of nowhere. It is going to take time, planning, and effort. Do not get discouraged or upset with the amount of time it may take. Trust the process. It took me a year of planning before I formally opened my practice. And you know what? That worked for me. Maybe it’ll take you longer, maybe it’ll take you less time. Either way, trust the timing of your life.
  2. Do not get overwhelmed by the big goal. Start small. Take baby-steps to work towards that bigger goal. It’s a parallel process to the work we do with our clients. We encourage them to take small steps to work towards their bigger goals, so why should it be any different for us?
  3. Keep a business journal and write down EVERYTHING. Thoughts, ideas, questions, feelings, everything. This will help reduce anxiety and feeling overwhelmed.
  4. Make a vision board. Put your big goal on there and everything which represents that goal as a continued reminder to keep you on task. Otherwise, out of sight, out of mind.
  5. Stop making excuses. Just start. It will technically never really be the “right time” because you can come up with a million reasons why something won’t work if you really want to psych yourself out. If I had just started every time I said I wanted to, I would have been in practice much longer now. Remember, baby steps.
  6. Shift your mindset. Look at all experiences as learning experiences. Ask yourself, “What can I take away from this experience that I could potentially use in my own practice?” Then write it down in your business journal!
  7. Stop over thinking. But this is what we do, right? We are mental health practitioners. We are trained to analyze and assess all situations. While this is absolutely an important clinical skill, this can be a frustrating life skill. Private practice does not need to be complicated. Don’t overthink it.
  8. Start telling people you WILL be starting a practice instead of you WANT to start a practice. This will start making the dream a reality and will begin shifting your mindset.
  9. Evaluate the roles those in your life hold. When you tell people you are starting a private practice, are they supportive, excited, and encouraging? Or, are they negative, doubtful, and non-supportive? If your inner circle is the latter, start creating a new inner circle of like-minded individuals.
  10. Manifest what you want out of a practice. Start thinking about what it would look like, how it would feel, what you would want to accomplish. When we manifest our dreams, they start to become our reality because our minds start to shift with that thought process.
  11. Trust yourself. Just because you did not obtain a business degree does not mean you are not capable of running a business. A colleague/friend of mine always says that starting her private practice was like getting her MBA. And it’s true, you are always learning and growing professionally.
  12. Also, do not forget you are a mental health professional!! This is one of the hardest fields to be in (in my opinion). You are capable of learning new information. You are used to pushing yourself. You are used to working incredibly hard. You probably already feel stressed and overwhelmed with your current 9-5. The difference now is that this will all be for YOU and not for someone else’s vision or dream.
  13. Think outside the box. We tend to think of private practice as a sole practitioner but maybe you join an established group practice to get your feet wet. Or, maybe you start seeing a couple of clients a week while subletting an office space, still working at your 9-5. This will allow you to save money towards opening your own one day, while still gaining the experience in the meantime. Same dream, just different ways of attaining it.
  14. There is enough room for us all to succeed. I noted earlier surrounding yourself with like-minded people, establishing mentors, and joining closed Facebook groups. While I still recommend these steps, keep in mind it is easy to feel overwhelmed by these. See, when we hear about other’s in the field and their success and their dreams becoming a reality, it is easy to feel as though you cannot achieve the same. It is easy for the negative self-talk to kick in. It easy for doubt and fear to creep in. Remember, the beautiful thing about the mental health field is that there is room for all of us to be successful. There is room for all of us to serve the communities in which we practice. Someone else’s dream is just that, their dream. You are responsible for following your own dreams. There is no “better than” or comparisons. We are all allowed to have our unique practices, businesses, and services we provide.

My hope for anyone reading this is that they are able to gain some confidence around their ability to open a practice if that is the path they choose. And while clinical skill, work ethic, and general knowledge are all applicable here, mindset is KEY. Once we shift our mindset, anything is possible. So, are you ready to take the first step in achieving your private practice goals?

I would LOVE to know what spoke to you today and encourage you to comment below and share with me!

I am passionate about helping clinicians realize their potential and reach their dreams of owning their very own PRIVATE PRACTICE!! I would LOVE to support YOU on a deeper level in your business. Would 1:1 business support feel like something that would help you get to that next step a little easier? If so, I’d invite you to email me at with what you’d like support around and I can send you some options of how I can support you in getting there.

ALSO!…Click HERE to learn more about my PRIVATE PRACTICE DIGITAL COURSE!! This course is broken into a series of 8 modules which cover ALL of the basics needed for you to begin this journey towards starting your own private practice. These modules include training videos and worksheets to personalize for YOUR practice! PLUS, I added some special bonuses for you!!!

In the meantime, download my FREE Private Practice Decision Making printable! Just add your name + email address below and you will receive an email with a link to your FREEBIE!

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Be well,


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