Preparing to see clients in private practice: what are the top essential first steps??
Updated: Mar 8
Many people can be confused about what they need to do before they see clients in private practice. In our last blog about therapy room rental we covered things to think about when looking for a therapy room. This current blog is about the essential things that need to be done before you even start to think about seeing any clients. Again, we are primarily writing this from the perspective of a clinical psychologist in private practice but it can apply to any professional. It can also be helpful for clients to read so that it they can understand the standards that various professionals need and should have in order to practice independently.
1. HAVE THE RIGHT QUALIFICATIONS
We will cover this in more depth in a future blog but a really important thing to consider is the qualifications you have. Unfortunately not everyone who portrays or calls themselves a private psychologist, counsellor or practitioner is always appropriately qualified. There are minimum standards and qualifications that certain professions should have before they work with clients so an obvious requirement is that you have these before you start even thinking about working with anyone.
2. BECOME A MEMBER OF A REGULATORY BODY
Many professions need to be members of a recognised ‘regulatory body’ which ensures that they practice within certain codes of conduct, ethics and professionalism. These regulatory bodies depend on what the profession is. For example, doctors are regulated by the BMA (British Medical Association), clinical psychologists are regulated by the HCPC (Health Care & Professions Council), solicitors are regulated by the Law Society. Some professions and organisations do not allow you to work if you are not a member of their regulatory body. Being a member of a regulatory body is a must as you can then demonstrate that you adhere to high professional and ethical standards. If you are looking for a practitioner or therapist and they are not part of a regulatory body then that might be rather fishy and we would advise you to seek help from someone who can demonstrate both their qualifications and who regulates them.
3. GATHER RELEVANT EXPERIENCE
Many people want to go into private practice as it seems like an attractive option. Who wouldn’t want to be their own boss and choose their own working hours, pay, conditions and type of practice? But from our own experience we can say that working in, developing and maintaining your own private practice takes A LOT of hard work, experience, dedication, persistence and knowledge. It can also be quite a nerve-wracking experience as it can often feel you are completely on your own!
Working with clients isn’t just about learning things on a training course, it’s about also building up significant experience of working with clients, continuing to learn through further training and professional development, both regarding the theory and knowledge but also (and often more importantly!) the process and skills of working therapeutically. By that we mean things like how to develop a safe, trusting therapeutic relationship, how to manage therapeutic boundaries, how to manage clinical risk, how to develop a recognition of subtle communication and so on. Experience is also often what alerts us to what we are competent at and when we might be out of our depth! This is a good thing to always tune into so we practice within our competencies and don’t feel pressure to be able to work with everyone and every type of presentation. These therapeutic skills are often developed after many years and although many people feel comfortable going into private practice soon after qualifying, it’s often a good idea to get some experience under your belt in a more supportive larger organisation such as the NHS or similar as you will more often be on your own in private practice.
It’s also important to think of what business experience you have and how you feel about running your own business. Some might run for the hills at the very thought of having to run their own business! Others might relish and embrace the opportunity to work for themselves in private practice. There are different levels of how involved you can be in your business and some people prefer to do work for a company who may deal with all the admin for them. This will usually come at a price though which is usually a percentage of your session fee. Others may prefer to be in 100% control of their own business which can be satisfying but can often involve a lot more work. We will cover all of these options and different ways of working in a future blog.
4. CONSIDER WHAT SKILLS YOU HAVE It’s also important to really consider if working in private practice is for you and if you have the skills that can be hugely helpful when working for yourself. Do you want to be your own boss or does this terrify you? Do you have good organisational skills? Although some people with larger businesses may get administrative help, the vast majority of people in private practice will be doing all their own admin work. This includes managing your own diary, dealing with phone calls yourself, invoicing, keeping track of payments, following up queries, emailing, arranging room bookings, developing your own paperwork and systems and so on. This can be really attractive for many people but a complete worst nightmare for others!
5. GET PROFESSIONAL INDEMNITY INSURANCE
This sounds a bit scary but it is something that ALL therapists and practitioners in private practice should have. So, what is professional indemnity insurance?? In a nutshell, this insurance is for any business which provides any type of professional service to clients. This could be solicitors, accountants, psychologists, architects and so on and it is required in case you end up getting sued for any reason. Obviously you would hope that that would never happen, but it can and it does and if it does then you don’t want to lose your business and more because of this! You can take professional indemnity insurance out from a variety of companies such as Howden, Towergate and many others. The advised amount to be insured for in private practice is usually at least £3 million (and if that’s the case then imagine if you didn’t have it and were then sued, eek!!).
6. GET PUBLIC LIABILITY INSURANCE
This is a different type of insurance but it is often covered as part of some Professional Indemnity Insurance policies. Public liability insurance provides accident cover if a client for example, trips over your bag and whacks their head off the table, or slips on the water that your umbrella left on the floor. The likelihood and risk of these types of things are very minimal but it’s a good idea to get cover for it if your business involves you providing any sort of business to the public.
7. REGISTER WITH THE ICO
What is the ICO and why do you need to register with them? The ICO is the ‘Information Commissioner’s Office’. Registration with them is a mandatory requirement for any business which deals with data. By data we mean things like client or customer information such as their name, DOB, address etc. It is important that the data is protected and that the public feel confident that their data is being kept as confidential and as protected as possible. Registration with the ICO costs a small fee every year, for many small businesses it’s £40 per year.
8. KNOW ABOUT AND COMPLY WITH GDPR
You’ve no doubt heard of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). This is a law from the European Union and came into force in May 2018 and it basically involves rules about how we need to handle data and data protection. It is hugely important in any business which handles people’s personal information and you must be compliant with these rules and regulations by law. The scope of GDPR is huge and beyond the scope of this blog but there is lots of helpful information out there online.
These are just a few things to consider if you are thinking about setting yourself up in private practice. The main thing is though that in order to work in a professional, ethical and legal manner you really must have the above points in place before you even start thinking about seeing clients.
Keep a look out for our future blogs which will outline the next steps to consider when working in independent practice. If you would like a more bespoke consultation of how to help you start your business, we would be glad to help out! Just drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope you enjoyed reading our blog!
Best wishes, Jo, Jan & Catherine