Many graduate students in fields like clinical or counseling psychology plan to have a private practice one day, but have been discouraged from thinking too much about that exciting part of their professional life till much further down the road. As a clinical psychologist who was able to start a thriving practice within weeks (yes, weeks) of getting my license, I respectfully disagree--the good news is that there are plenty of smart and relatively simple steps you can take now to be poised for success when the time comes. One of the biggest fears that graduate students have is how they will get clients, and they are often given very few resources to address this-- probably because their professors aren't necessarily private practice experts and may not really know how to go about it either. If you're a graduate student wondering how you can sow the seeds for private practice success today, read on for some quick and easy tips!
Reserve your domain name today.In fact, reserve a few! Reserving a domain name is really cheap-- usually less than $10 per year. Every year, more domains are reserved and therefore unavailable. This means that every year you wait, the fewer options you'll have when the time comes. I highly recommend you reserve some version of your actual legal name, even if you know your practice will likely have a different name than yours. You can easily point this domain to whatever website you ultimately choose as your own, and having your name pointing there will help the SEO of your future practice. Even if you don't understand all the details now, trust that your future self will likely thank you for securing your own name today. Personally, I own several combinations of my name (drchloe.com, drchloecarmichaell.com, chloecarmichael.com, etc). This helps me to control the search results when someone googles my name, which is very helpful to anyone in private practice. I'd also suggest you reserve some additional domains that reflect whatever you think your future practice may be called. This is not only wise and strategic, it stimulates you to start thinking creatively about your private practice, which will hopefully be a reality before you know it! Time flies.
Where to reserve a domain name? Personally I use this one but there are many places you can choose. Don't worry, you can always port your domain name to another registry service if you later decide to bank it somewhere else-- the key is just to get your domain name(s) today before someone else grabs them!
Consider writing a bit of website content.Whether or not you have a domain or a website yet, you can still easily start a google-doc or some other place where you can begin creating the content for your website. The content of your website is extremely important in private practice. Private pay clients have a lot of choice in which therapist they will see, so you need to demonstrate from their first glance at your website that you're an intelligent, thoughtful therapist who knows how to communicate. Think about a few basic pages you'll need-- typically, this includes an About page with your bio, an Approach to Therapy page that describes (you guessed it) your general approach to therapy, and a Welcome page which is usually the content that sits on your Home page telling people a little overview of yourself and the types of clients you tend to treat at your practice. Even though you don't exactly know some this information yet since you're not treating your own private practice clients, you can still write as if you are at this stage so that your content is ready to go when the time comes. Things like "Welcome to XYZ Therapy! Are you seeking a place to grow and learn in a supportive, compassionate environment? You've come to the right place" tend to work well on a home page; but obviously you want to customize this to your own style and focus. Another good page to have is a Blog page-- more on that below.
Write some blogs. Many therapy clients in my private practice tell me they chose me out of a sea of options specifically because my blogs made it clear I "got" their issues and would likely be able to help. Simple blogs like "3 Ways to Get Over a Bad Relationship" or "How to Beat Anxiety When Asking for a Promotion" or whatever types of issues you imagine your future clients might have are your goal. Free yourself from the grad school mindset of having to write a long and complex piece with academic references and technical jargon-- just write as if you're telling a good friend how to deal with certain issues based on your knowledge from grad school. Another simple way to write blogs that your future clients will likely find interesting is to choose one of your lengthy grad school papers about a topic that you think would be relevant to your future practice and then write a 1-page summary of that paper in laymen's terms-- topics like mindfulness, rejection sensitivity, family dynamics, and many others tend to fare very well. Basically, whatever topics you find that your friends and family are really interested to hear about when they ask how school is going are typically good topics for a blog!
Consider a mini-website.You may wish to publish your website, or at least the portions of it that don't offer your therapy services since you aren't able to offer those yet. For example, you could publish your website and make the Welcome page clearly indicate that this is the home of your future private practice, but that in the meantime you encourage visitors to read your blogs and join your mailing list so they can be notified when your practice opens. Google and other search engines prefer sites that have been online for a while, so getting online a little while before your actually depending on your site to attract visitors is generally a good idea.
Make a few online profiles.Start creating inbound links to your website by creating profiles on sites like Medium.com where you can post your blogs; or any other place you can find to put an inbound link to your site (for example I'm a volunteer at the New York Junior League, and I'm able to put a link to my website on my volunteer profile). The more high quality inbound links to your site you can create, the higher Google will rank your site. This will be really helpful when future clients are searching terms like "therapist nyc" or wherever your city is located.
Disclaimer: These tips are for therapists who would like to work with high functioning clients, potentially on a private pay basis. These are things that I did that worked well for me, but of course every situation is different. You need to do what's best for you, obviously!