For many individuals, pursuing a career as a mental health counselor or therapist is considered a labor of love and may not be as financially lucrative as other careers in the health professions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for mental health counselors in 2012 was $43,292, or $20.81 hourly. The upper end of salaries reported by BLS were between $80,900 and $82,180, in California and Alaska. Even at the upper range of reported salaries, the earning potential for counselors is a far cry from what most would consider being rich. Some counselors find ways to improve their earning potential by engaging in a private practice, marketing your additional skills and thinking outside of the box, but may still have an upward earning potential of about $100,000 annually.
Invest your time and money into establishing your own private practice. One estimate is that the earning potential for a private practice counselor can be anywhere between $30,000 and $100,000, depending on your clientele, services offered and how well you are able to market your services.
Keep your day job. Because many private practices take a significant amount of time and energy to manage, you may want to offer your services in addition to maintaining your day job at first. One advantage to operating a private practice is that you can do so in addition to another job, or operate after traditional work hours to make yourself available to working professionals who may be willing to pay a premium for your services.
Rent out your office when it's not in use. Whether you're operating from a home office, or rent a professional space for your private practice, every hour that your office is not being used is equivalent to a dollar being wasted. Offer your space to other counselors, social workers or other professionals who may be able to use your space while you're away or at your day job. This extra revenue may cover the cost of your own rent, or if you own your office space, is extra money for your bank account.
Think beyond billable hours. Even if your private practice charges clients $200 an hour, you are still limited by the fact that there are only so many hours in the week in which you can see clients. In an interview with Counseling Today, Margie Williams, a successful private practice counselor, suggests expanding your services by breaking the dollars for hours mindset. While one client hour may earn you $200, a one hour workshop for 10 people at $60 a head will yield $600 in the same amount of time.
Find another use for your skills. While you were trained to understand mental health and how to guide others through their internal struggles, one-on-one counseling is not something that is easily marketable to the general public. You can expand your services and worth by creating mental health workshops, creating a blog or even writing a book to reach out to a larger group of individuals.
Check with your state board of Licensed Professional Counselors to discuss any laws or regulations that you must follow when operating a private practice.