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The private practice psychologist – wearer of many hats – by Dr Rebecca Ray

Psychology, The Business of Health

Do you know how many hats you’re comfortable wearing? This is an important question when you’re considering private practice as a psychologist. Already, you’ll wear multiple hats in the therapy room:

  • Assessor
  • Treatment provider
  • Risk manager
  • Emotional container
  • Record keeper

And so it goes on. If you are a psychologist in private practice, the hats multiply even further as you now add the big sombrero of Business Owner and Operator on top!

Of course, if you are willing to pay for employees or you rent serviced rooms, you may have many aspects of running a private practice done for you. But it is possible to run a private practice well – and entirely by yourself – if you’re comfortable doing a host of extra tasks. Running a successful business is all about having systems and processes in place. Even if you’re the only one in the business, you are the one who needs to follow the systems, but you’re also the one to benefit from them with a business that has the maximum chance of being successful and runs as smoothly as possible. Let’s have a look at the many roles besides that of Therapist you may navigate and try them on for size.

1.   Receptionist and Administration Officer
Did you just run out of staples? Is the phone ringing off the hook and you’re still making your morning coffee only to see you’re out of milk? Are the plants begging you for some H2O? You’ll likely be the one greeting clients, answering the phone, checking the post, and restocking the stationery.

2.   Intake Officer
You’ll be taking client’s details over the phone, checking the validity of their referrals, ensuring that you have the correct documentation for Medicare claims and assessing if you are competent to treat the client’s presenting problems. If not, you’ll liaise with alternative referral options.

3.   Accounts Manager
How do you feel about charging for your services? Many psychologists feel uncomfortable about putting a price on their head, but have even more difficulty handling the payment transaction. With practice you will get used to this, but as with any task you really may not want to do, you can always hire a front desk person to assist you.

4.   Book-Keeper
If you practice on your own, no one will be breathing down your neck to keep your paperwork in order – unless it comes to tax time you have an obsessive accountant (the best kind) who wants to ensure your business remains successful! If you don’t keep track of your paperwork, you may find you are penalised in extra accounting fees or with unwanted attention from the ATO! Save yourself time and money in the long run and keep your filing and book-keeping up to date.

5.   Debt Collector
There may be times where clients don’t pay, where they owe cancellation fees, or where third-party billers are taking their sweet time in processing your invoice. To ensure that you get paid for the work that you do, it is essential that you have either a quality practice management system that can generate reports of outstanding invoices for you, or excellent manual systems in place so you know who owes what and when.

6.   Marketing Guru
There are a lot of psychologists out there! How are clients going to find you? How are they going to know which problems you specialise in? How are GPs going to know that you exist? It is important to market yourself, but more important to know how to market yourself in such as way as to abide by the Code of Ethics. In particular, the Code of Ethics warns against using testimonials, making unrealistic claims about services (e.g. guaranteed outcomes), and claiming that the service provided is better than another health professional. In private practice the onus is on you to generate referrals. Dr Rebecca Matthews, of the Australian Psychological Society, recommends considering the following promotion options:

  • Distinguish yourself from others in the same business
  • Consider tailoring your practice to meet a particular local need
  • Focus on your area of expertise
  • Make contact with local referrers
  • Have a presence at the community level
  • Make your fees competitive
  • Measure client satisfaction regularly

7.   IT Manager
Why is it that something always goes wrong with your computer on the busiest of days when you’re a one-(wo)man-band? Or maybe your EFTPOS terminal? Or your phone? Either way, in private practice you need to have systems in place to ensure that you can manage in the event of a technological crash of some kind.

8.   Cleaner
It really sucks that cleaning fairies are so selective in who they choose to visit. If you don’t have your own cleaning fairy, the office will always wait patiently for you to do the job, even when you’ve run out of coffee cups and lunch plates. Clients may not be so tolerant though!

9.   HR Manager
If you employ team members, either front desk staff or even sub-contractors, you will need to be aware of the relevant employee awards and associated tax and superannuation laws.

10.   Risk Manager
In addition to your malpractice insurance, other insurances are likely to be necessary in private practice. Depending on where you practice and whether you have employees, and what your income level is like to be, you may need to consider WorkCover (employees), public liability and/or income protection insurances in case Murphy strikes with his favourite law.

If this list of roles doesn’t overwhelm you, you probably look great with a pile of hats on your head and private practice will be your kind of colour of psychology!

Dr Rebecca Ray

Clinical Psychologist, Writer, Weimaraner admirer


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