Private Practice

Private independent practice (known historically as private practice) is a growing segment of the social work profession. Social workers entering this context are providing a range of services, including clinical and nonclinical. Major considerations for establishing, maintaining, and marketing a successful and ethical private independent practice should be considered.

The contemporary landscape of private independent practice reflects a myriad of services, both clinical and nonclinical, depending on individual state rules and regulations. Clinical work may include such services as counseling and psychotherapy to individuals, couples, families, and groups, and clinical supervision of social workers for licensing, community, and corporate interventions. Nonclinical work may encompass program development and evaluation, conflict resolution, mediation, training, and education. Traditionally, private independent practitioners have offered their services in a private office setting. Many now contract with agencies, as well as clients, for the delivery of services.

Starting a Private Practice

How many years of social work experience do I need to start a private practice?
NASW recommends a minimum of two years of postmaster's experience in a supervised clinical setting.

Is a social work license required to begin a private practice?
You can find more information about licensing under the Licensing tab.

Should I continue clinical supervision?
It is good idea to continue supervision or some form of consultation when starting a private practice.  Supervision and consultation are ways for clinical social workers to continue to improve their clinical skills and may also help resolve any legal or insurance problems that may arise. Depending on your license there are requirements for Supervision.  Under the new licensing law ONLY LCSW's licensed psychologists and psychiatrists can provide clinical supervision.  If you are an LMSW doing clinical work, you must be supervised by an LCSW, licensed psychologist or psychiatrist.

How much malpractice insurance should I obtain?
The minimum amount of coverage available from the NASW Assurance Services is $1 million per lawsuit with $1 million maximum for the policy year regardless of the number of suits.  The maximum availability is $2 million per $4 million.  Because private practitioners may operate in what may be considered relatively high-risk situations, it is generally recommended that clinical social workers purchase $2 million per $2 million of malpractice insurance.  Coverage should be maintained continuously to avoid gaps in time that would not be covered. 

Does NASW have guidelines for clinical social workers in private practice?
YES.  NASW publishes Clinical Social Workers in Private Practice, which is available for purchase. This brochure outlines the knowledge and skills required for effective clinical practice. Includes a definition of private practice and descriptions of important elements related to the business of practice. This useful reference guide is an excellent resource for any social worker in private practice.

How can I obtain a tax ID number?
If you are a sole proprietor or partner, your tax ID number may be your social security number.  If you employ one or more persons, you may obtain an employer tax ID number from the federal government by completing IRS form SS-4.  Forms may be obtained from the Internal Revenue Service or your state government.

What fees should I charge?
Fees vary and are influenced by several factors, including geographical location, fees of other mental health professionals who provide psychotherapy services in the area, and reasonable and customary fees that insurance companies set.  There is no legal or professional requirement regarding the amount to be charged.  Conduct a survey of psychotherapy fees in your area, and decide on an amount that is fair and reasonable for your practice.

Should my private practice be incorporated?
Discuss your business plans with a financial or business consultant to decide if incorporation is advantageous for you.  Many clinical social workers begin a private practice and decide to incorporate later. 

Referrals

What is the best way to seek referrals?
Marketing is one excellent way to obtain referrals.  Consider advertising through a variety of resources such as the yellow pages, local newspapers, and magazines.  Develop brochures, flyers and direct mail pieces to distribute to area businesses, hospitals, schools, churches, nursing homes, and so forth and invest in a Web site.  List your name in the NASW National Social Work Finder, which is a reference for referral services to the general public, agencies, and third-party payers.

How can I become a Medicare provider?
Provider enrollment contact for Illinois is 1-877-908-8476, Wisconsin Physician Services or you may go directly to their Web site

How can I become a managed care provider?
Write or call the managed care company that you would like to work with and request an application form to become a member of its provider network as a clinical social worker.  In addition, NASW provides to members a free listing of managed care companies with provider panels for clinical social workers. 

Available Resources

What books would I find helpful to read about starting a private practice?
NASW Press
publishes several books for clinical social workers that may be helpful in starting a private practice.  

Prudent Practice: A guide for Managing Malpractice Risk, Mary Kay Houston-Vega and Elane M. Nuehring with Elisabeth R. Daguio.

Managed Care Resource Guide for Social Workers Who Are Private Practitioners, Vivian H. Jackson, Editor

Marketing for Therapists: A Handbook for Success in Managed Care, Jeri Davis, Editor

Additional Help

What is the NASW Private Practice Section and how may I join?
The National NASW Private Practice Section, provides clinical social workers in private practice with networking, education, advocacy, and business tools needed to succeed in independent practice.  Section membership is open to all NASW members who are clinically oriented and are full or part-time practitioners in solo or group settings.  It is also open to others interested in promoting private practice.  

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