These famous words were sung by the Punk band The Clash  in the 80”s, and recently the song is being used in the Netflix series Stranger Things . The lyrics “Should I stay, or should I go” was a love song to a girl. The singer is asking

“Darling, you got to let me know, should I stay, or should I go. If you say your mind,
I will be here until the end of time. So, you got to let me know should I stay, or should I go?”

This catchy song asks a poignant question that actually I get asked a lot by therapists. They wonder, when is the right time to make that big leap from agency work into the big world of private practice? We are afraid to let go of the steady paycheck and who wouldn’t be right? We don’t want to fail or look foolish to our family and friends. Therefore, we stay in a job that we like; if it weren’t for the administration; which just doesn’t get it.  We love working with our clients and seeing the magic happen in the therapy room. But the paperwork, the schedule, the inflexibility, the need for 75% direct service time UGH!

Should I stay, or should I go?

When we think of private practice, we think of flexibility, working with clients that energize us, making our own decision, taking vacations, having money in the bank, and decorating our office just the way we want. In essence being the boss of you.

But wait; what if I can’t make it, what if nobody shows up for my services, what if I am not good enough to be a therapist? What if… What if, what if.  We sure can find a lot of excuses for staying stuck. Think back to when you entered graduate school; did you want to create a private practice? Did you dream of it during your practicum or internship? If so what are you waiting for? Get busy, jump in, let’s do it.

Maybe your experience was negative, and a teacher told you in graduate school to “you must give back to your community?” “You have a responsibility to provide help to those in need?” “Private practice is hard and not what it’s cracked up to be.”  “Private practice is selfish.”

Don’t you just love the naysayers?   They didn’t live their dreams, so they try to snatch yours.

Here are my 5 rules that you must have in place before you leave that agency job.

  1. Know that you won’t know everything ever. That’s okay you still can be successful. Ask questions to colleagues, read business books listen to podcasts. Find a mentor or hire a coach. Be open to the experience and allow yourself to enjoy being uncomfortable. It’s okay you won’t die, at least not from being uncomfortable.
  2. Learn to build relationships with your potential referrals. One big step to obtaining clients is referral sources. But some therapists think drive-by marketing is the way to go. They stop by a doctor’s office, drop off brochures, coffee and a few muffins and the magic of referrals start rolling in. Good steady referrals come from developing and growing a relationship. These relationships can be cultivated now in your agency. Think about who you serve and how you can build a better relationship with them. Some referrals sources might be doctors, lawyers, hairdressers, churches, school personnel, hospitals, other therapists.  Think about who you interact with now. Would they refer to you if you were in private practice? Nurture those relationships. The first month I went into private practice 6 clients were referred to me from referrals, only three of them became clients. Remember the freedom to work with clients you want? I could have gotten scared and taken all 6 but I wanted only clients that fit with me, others I refer out. If you need more help with this enroll in Jo Muirhead’s 5 Favorite People Class.
  3. Have a cushion of money in the bank and for your business. Did you know that over 40% of small business start off with $5,000 or less according to Intuit QuickBooks? When I set off on this private practice journey, I had set aside about $5,000. I also invested another $5,000 in my business. I knew that I could live off that $5,000 for a couple of months. It also meant I must hustle and find clients quickly. I had to get out and really talk to people about my private practice. I continued to work at my agency until I had the money in place and my private practice caseload wouldn’t allow me to squeeze any more clients into my schedule. I left my agency with about 10 clients a week.
  4. Keep expenses down maybe share an office with another therapist or room swap with another therapist. You will see a profit quicker if you have less monthly expenses. I started with a used computer, fax, printer, file cabinets and It’s amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do. Learn what your expense you will have each month. How many clients will you need to cover that cost? How long do your clients typically stay with you? On average how, much money do you expect to generate from 5, 10 or even 15 clients? Knowing these money questions and making some projection is helpful. For example, I purchased a new sofa, chair and desk for my office. I found a place that I could buy on credit the term was 0% for 2 years. I had it calculated the bare minimum I would need to pay to pay off the loan before 2 years. In months that I made more, I paid more. I am happy to report I paid my furniture off in 13 months.
  5. Have a website and write a few blogs on your specialty before you leap. Writing blogs helps build your As you write all your copy, please, write it to your ideal client. See them as you write. Write like you two are sitting across from each other having a conversation. Talk about how you can help them, explain that you understand their problem, what they can expect from working with you. Don’t focus so much on your education or other accolades. Clients assume that you have them, or you wouldn’t be doing this job. Instead, focus on their problem and how they are feeling.  Speak from your true self. If you need more help with ideas for blogs sees my blog on 10 tips to Create A Fantastic blog or  if you need some assistance with your website’s about me page take a look.

Bonus tip: Take the leap, bet on you. You may not feel like it but who better to take a chance on you than you?  Let your passion out, jump in knowing you won’t know it all, but so what. Be all in. In the end it’s better to take the leap than to live with regret. Remember you have done a ton of hard stuff before, you have resilience tap in to it.

Sheralyn (Sherry) Shockey-Pope, LMFT created Therapist Practice in a Box, (therapistbox.com) the graduate school program on business that you never had.  A program designed to help graduate students and newly licensed therapists build the foundation for private practice.  Sherry coaches therapists that are ready to start their practice but do not know where to start.

How to Find Freedom in Your Private Practice -


Through knowing:

1. Who you are

2. Who you serve

3. And how to take your message to Market

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