Lessons Learned From My First Year in Full-Time Therapy Private Practice – Part 1
Updated: Mar 5
***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services
At the start of 2020, I decided I was ready for a change. I had worked in the public sector my entire career and wanted to try something different to expand my knowledge and skills in a new area: private practice.
My hope was that my therapy private practice would become something that I could do full-time one day as it would give me flexibility to have more control over the type of work I did, the hours I worked and, ultimately, the autonomy I was seeking in my life.
Ever so slowly and carefully, I learned about the key things I needed to do to start a Social Work business. In early March 2020, exactly one week before the Covid-19 pandemic was declared in Canada (incredible timing!...), I launched my business and was ready to start on my new path as an entrepreneur.
As the months rolled by and the Covid-19 pandemic persisted, one major positive that I held onto was that my online therapy practice began to fill up as people were seeking much-needed mental health support. I rolled up my sleeves to do my regular full-time job during the day and then hunkered down in the evenings and weekends to steadily build my own business. I was learning, growing, and evolving and was enjoying the process.
Eventually, I knew I had reached a point in my life where I had to take a leap or let it go as I couldn’t keep up the schedule of two jobs for much longer. After much reflection - and a very long year and a half working both my full-time job and my part-time Social Work private practice - I made the leap full-time into my business on October 1, 2021.
It wasn’t an easy decision. I was leaving what felt like a security blanket in the public sector – a growing work pension, disability income benefits (if needed), extended health care benefits, vacation pay, a permanent full time position, and the comfort of a career path that I knew so very well after working 12 years across the social service and health care fields.
Leaving my job also meant I would no longer see my colleagues every day who I truly enjoyed working with on a close-knit and dedicated team. I knew I would miss this along with the natural support that came from regularly connecting with fellow peers.
On the other side, I could see the gains that awaited me in my full-time private practice:
being able to focus on a type of work that I knew I enjoyed because I was already doing it for one and a half years on a part-time basis;
helping people with a variety of needs and being inspired by positive changes over time;
having control over my work schedule and vacation time as a self-employed individual;
being my own boss, holding myself accountable, and observing my therapy practice flourish with dedicated time, commitment, and professional development;
using my knowledge and skills to build a private practice that reflects my approach, style, and philosophy while working with aligned clients;
and more - the opportunities are endless!
So, with a heavy yet hopeful heart, I transitioned full-time into my Social Work therapy business.
As I approach my first year full-time in private practice on Oct. 1, 2022, I have spent a lot of time reflecting - my thoughts are shared below.
If you are just starting out in your own therapy private practice part-time or if you are trying to figure out whether to make the leap full-time into your business, I hope you find this article helpful as you make a choice that works best for you.
1. Let go of your past and step into your new journey
Letting go is very difficult. We tend to romanticize the past and think sentimentally about what used to be. While there are many memories we cherish and want to hold on to, it’s just as important to spend your time and energy focusing on the future.
Turning your attention to what’s to come is crucial for beginning to see the path ahead of you and move towards it more clearly and with ease. Over time, you will begin to feel more settled into your new way of life and get used to the major change in routine.
2. Mistakes are okay - it’s part of learning and growth
Making an error happens to all of us and is completely normal. In fact, we need to make mistakes to learn from them and figure out how to do better next time around.
There may be some decisions you look back on that you wouldn’t choose now - and maybe you had to go through these things to gain the knowledge and experience that you are now able to draw on to make more informed choices.
3. Take breaks and vacation - and try not to feel guilty
Early on in business, it is tough to feel okay about taking time off. Your time, energy, creative power, and mental space are absorbed by business ideas, priorities, and needs. So much so that you either don’t take time off or you delay until it’s a “better time”.
It’s hard to know exactly when that will be – and you may need a break before you reach that point. So, take time off when you need it and do your best to not feel guilty about it!
4. Ups and downs are normal - ride it out
In some businesses, including therapy practices and other service-based businesses, there are natural ups and downs that seem to happen throughout the year.
For example, summer may often be a quieter time with many people choosing to travel. And, of course, kids are out of school, so parents have to juggle work and childcare throughout the day, leaving little time for much else.
Things may pick up again in September when kids go back to school and also because it is getting close to the end of December when most people’s insurance benefits are ending, so they may want to book a few more appointments with different services - including therapy sessions - before their benefits run out.
The cold and snowy weather that comes with the fall and winter has an impact on many people and so this could also be influencing the need for extra self-care services at this time of year.
5. Time management is key
When you’re your own boss, everything is up to you. The amount of hours you work each day and week, the price of your service or product, the systems and processes you create to support the efficiency and simplicity of your business, your brand identity, your service model, and how you engage with clients and customers. The list goes on.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed, stressed, and fatigued trying to figure out where to start, what to focus on, and when to shift to the next thing. Time management is one of the most important factors in streamlining your schedule.
Think about how much time you want to devote to things like marketing, administrative tasks, and other non-client facing work. Prioritize your time with your customers when you are most alert, energized, and based on what makes the most sense for you given your responsibilities outside of your business.
We all need to do what’s right for us. Make a schedule with your priorities that allows you to maximize your performance while still staying true to you.
These are the first five lessons learned from my first year being full-time in my private practice. To read the next five lessons, please click here.
Wishing you well on your journey.
Davina Tiwari MSW, RSW, CSFT Registered Social Worker and Certified Solution Focused Therapist
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