For many social workers, the goal is to work in private practice. As in any career choice, there are pros and cons to doing so. The pros are flexibility, being your own boss, and having control over your practice. There could also be a financial benefit to working in private practice versus working as an employee or contractor to an agency. That being said, keep in mind that you will have overhead expenses for office space, equipment, insurance and possibility administrative and billing support, all of which are included if you work for an agency. There is a lot of administration required for payment and insurance reimbursement. Aside from that, you will need to find clients through referrals and marketing and it could take time to fill your schedule. Also, if you are a solo practitioner, you may not have the benefit of bouncing ideas off other co-workers. At the end of the day, whether private practice is a good choice for you is an individual decision.
If you decide to choose this road, we have put together some initial steps to consider:
Education and Experience – To become a social worker, you will need a degree in social work. Other related disciplines will not be accepted. You will need a minimum of 2 year of supervised experience. You should check with your state board to see their requirements.
Supervision and Consultation – Speaking of supervision, it is a good idea to continue supervision and to seek consultation with another social worker while you are starting your practice. This person can help guide you and give you the professional insight that you need.
License – you will need to be licensed. This requires making application to your state license board and passing the national ASWB exam. Every state requires you to pass the ASWB licensing exam. After you receive approval from your state board, you can schedule your exam through ASWB. You will want to give yourself ample time to prepare for the exam.
Incorporating – each state has different types of corporations and companies that may be advantageous from a tax and liability perspective. You should check with your accountant and legal advisor for the best option for you. Also, because you will be running a business, it would be a good idea to enroll in a small business course and learn a finance system like quick books.
Tax ID number – you will want to apply for a Tax ID Number. You can think of this as the social security number for your company.
Insurance – you will want to be insured. Contact your insurance broker. It would be wise to get at least 2 quotes for comparison.
Marketing – lastly you will want to think about how you will market your new practice.
NASW has Guidelines on the Private Practice of Clinical Social Work. In addition, there are some great books that may be helpful and worth reading.