How to Start a Private Practice in Social Work

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Social workers are talk psychotherapists. Psychiatrists today, usually diagnose, prescribe and monitor medication. Psychologists usually do diagnostic testing. Some psychiatrists and psychologists do talk therapy, but not often. The social worker in private practice is the person who has significant interaction with the client. Depending on her treatment methods, she listens and talks to the client on a regular basis, usually for a few weeks or months, sometimes for years, depending on the client's progress and needs. So let's find out how to have a private social work practice.

How to Start a Private Practice in Social Work

After finishing an internship and passing a state exam, you decide you do not want to work for a psychiatric hospital, school or other agency, but want to have a private practice.

Find office space big enough to have a desk, computer and comfortable seating for you and your client. If you are doing family, group or children's counseling, the space must be large enough to accommodate that. Furnish your space. Design and have printed business cards, brochures or any other handout materials you wish.

Get a phone and fax set up. Get a listing in the Yellow Pages. Get all the necessary forms the client will have to fill out. Set up your file folders to hold all necessary client information and case notes. Have locking file cabinets to ensure confidentiality.

Fill out forms for every insurance company to become certified as a provider for that company. That means you agree to abide by their standards and their fees. If you decide to not take insurance, set your fees for cash payments from your clients.

Decide how to do billing. Using a billing company that specializes in billing insurance companies is a good idea. If you spend the countless hours needed on the phone or computer filling out insurance company forms, you are taking billable hours away from your practice. A billing company takes a percentage of what they collect, usually ten or eleven percent.

Start marketing. Usually the agency where you did your internship will send you referrals. Actively seek these out. If you get them, reward the referring agency with a basket of cupcakes or candy. Do not let them forget who you are.

Visit every social service agency in your area within driving distance. Introduce yourself, speak to the director, but more important, get to know the clerical staff. They are the ones who really run the agency and will refer clients to you.

Meet other social workers in your area. Introduce yourself and speak with them, individually or at a meeting. Often a social worker will have patients he is not comfortable with and will refer them to you.

Get your Continuing Education Units yearly. These classes are usually attended by other mental health professionals who will refer clients to you.

After you begin marketing to agencies, hospitals, and other groups, continue it. Make Halloween cookies or spring bouquets and give them what you have made. Offer to do presentations to the staff as inservice training.

Insurance companies, for whom you are a provider, will refer clients to you.

Contact large corporations to get listed as a provider on their Employee Assistance Programs.

Decide if you will take court referrals. Courts will refer domestic violence case, drug diversionary and pedophile cases to you if you wish to see them. If you decide to take those cases, contact all the court diversionary program personnel, attorneys and judges.


As in any business, a private practice in social work is a matter of marketing. As you progress in practice, your clients will refer their friends and family.


Decide what types of people you wish to see. Some therapists will work with domestic violence cases. Some will not.