Instead of taking all the risk of starting a counseling practice, another alternative is to join an existing practice as a contract therapist. Basically, you receive the infrastructure to operate your own private practice, but you are doing so as a contracted provider. For repayment of the counseling firm's amenities and referrals, you will likely pay anywhere from 30-50% of your gross income back to the counseling practice owner.
For some, this is an excellent trade off. Just think, you only pay one bill a month to the owner of the practice and you don't have to worry about anything else. They take care of insurance billing, help with referrals, provide you an office, maintain the office equipment, and do all the "extras". All you have to do is show up and provide counseling services.
What are the downsides you may be asking? Though this is a good option for clinicians, it does have some drawbacks. Here are the ones I will address:
Lack of freedom and choice- though you have the freedom to choose your own schedule, you are accountable to the structure of the owner's practice. Every owner is different, so make sure to interview them with specific questions before agreeing to join the practice.
Monthly fee- in some cities/states, this can get very expensive. Make sure you do the math and realize the actual gross income you will earn after you pay your percentage back to the owner.
No compete clause- this is probably my number one hangup with joining a practice. I completely understand the rationale behind the clause, but make sure you fully understand what this means. Let's say you work for a counseling firm for a year and decide to branch out on your own. The "no compete" clause could require you to transfer all your clients to another clinician within the practice and you would not be able to see clients in that area for a specific period of time. Essentially, it would cause you to go back to an agency or school for employment. In Texas, we are a "right to work" state, so it's typically not real enforceable, but it's still something to consider. Again, before entering into an agreement with a practice, review the contract thoroughly. Make sure you are 100% aware of what you are getting into.
Change in fee percentage- make sure the contract stipulates your percentage will not go up, or at least have some recourse if the owner does increase your fees. I've had this happen to me before and it can create some friction when you feel that you are losing money so that the company can expand.
The financial cap- working as a contract counselor, there will be a cap in the money you can make. Because you don't have any ownership, your ability to grow in the business is minimal.
In short, if you like the idea of being a counselor, setting your own hours, and not dealing with the stress of running a business; being a contract therapist might be the way to go.
If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, make sure you consider all options before contracting with someone else. It might be a good way to gain some experience, but consider the other opportunities available.
In the next post, I'll highlight the other side of this equation: we will look at becoming a counseling practice owner that contracts with therapists.