When it comes down to choosing what type of setting you’ll work in as a counselor or therapist, you have multiple options. Two of the more popular choices are private practice and agency counseling. Deciding between them, and trusting you’re making the right decision, can be pretty daunting.
You must fully explore and consider the pros and cons of each option. You’ll need to think about things like autonomy and control, client load, marketing strategies, the ideal therapist salary, and more as you assess the two settings and decide if working for a private practice counseling or partnering with an agency is right for you.
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Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each option will help you be in a better position to make a decision — keep reading to learn more about how to gauge the pros and cons of solo private practice vs agency counseling so you can determine the career path you want to take.
First, it’s essential to understand what each style of setting means. In short, private practice refers to a therapist who operates their own business. On the other hand, agency counseling involves working for an organization that offers mental health services and care.
- Private practice — means working independently or as a small group that offers mental health services to clients in a direct, one-on-one setting. This style of therapy allows you more control over your schedule, the clients you see, and the fees you charge.
- Agency counseling —offers therapy inside an organization, like a community mental health center or a nonprofit organization. Here, multiple professionals collaborate in one setting or office.
“Clinicians are met with the decision on how to proceed with their career like many in other professions. Choosing between starting their private practice or working for an agency is one big choice that greatly impacts a clinician’s career path. Ultimately, it’s about choosing what is best for the clinician.”– Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
Autonomy and control
To ensure job satisfaction and an ideal client caseload, autonomy and control are key factors.
- If you’re a private practice therapist, you typically have more control over your schedule and the clients you see. You also might have more leeway in the therapeutic approaches you use. You’ll be free to set your own rates and choose the types of services you want to offer.
- Agency counselors, in some instances, can have less control over these factors. Still, the benefits might include more support and resources from the agency they’re employed by. As an online therapy platform, Talkspace offers unparalleled flexibility and work-life balance. Talkspace therapists can set their schedule and work from anywhere.
“There is a great deal of freedom in working for oneself and a great deal of dedication and work needed to keep it up. Choosing to work for an agency can be great, as a lot of the groundwork is done, and you are simply concentrating on the responsibilities of being a clinician. Some freedom and flexibility are lost as agency policies need to be followed. However, it is possible to find the right position for you.”– Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
There are financial considerations to explore within each option.
- Private practitioners will be responsible for managing their finances and bookkeeping. This can include setting rates, billing clients, and paying for business expenses (including potentially costly start-up costs). To start your own practice, you might need to come up with the funds to rent office space, purchase furniture and equipment, obtain liability and insurance, and pay for marketing expenses. It also means you’ll be responsible for your own benefits, such as retirement and healthcare costs.
- Therapists who work for an agency will likely receive a salary and benefits, but they might have less control over how much income they can ultimately earn. That said, working for an agency will typically cover most, if not all, start-up investment costs since agencies will provide marketing and overhead expenses. Therapists who work for Talkspace earn competitive compensation and the opportunity to make more as their client base grows.
Again, there are some stark differences between the private practice route and agency counseling in terms of how many clients therapists have in each setting.
- In a private practice setting, you will likely have more control over the types of clients you see. Still, it can require significantly more effort to attract a diverse clientele and create a successful private practice.
- In an agency counseling setting, you will probably have access to a more diverse range of clients with various backgrounds, ages, and concerns. Diversity allows you to expand your expertise and work with different mental health conditions and challenges.
Marketing is an important tactic if you’re wondering how to get more therapy clients. However, the role of marketing in a private practice vs agency counseling setting will be vastly different.
- Therapists with a private practice must put extensive effort and resources into promoting their services and marketing themselves. They’ll need to cover the expenses of designing and printing business cards and brochures, creating a website, establishing social media profiles, and interacting regularly.
- Agency counselors usually benefit from the luxury of having access to their organization’s existing reputation and marketing resources. Agencies also have referral networks that can help bring in clients without the cost or time needed to self-promote like private practice therapists will need to do.
“One of the biggest considerations for starting a private practice or working for an agency is attaining clients. Marketing is a big endeavor and takes sacrifices for a clinician in private practice. Putting oneself out there and networking can be hard. Agency counseling can be enticing because the marketing is done for the clinician. Clients are assigned to the clinician based on need. Considering one’s temperament and confidence in attracting clients may be a factor in choosing what is best for their career path.”– Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
Support and resources
Whether you decide to go into private practice or become an agency counselor, a vital part of your decision should revolve around the resources and support each setting can offer. You’ll want to consider supervision, professional development, networking opportunities, and what type of technology you want to implement in your practice.
- Private practice therapists are generally responsible for coordinating supervision if licensure requires it. They’re also responsible for their personal growth and development. Though their therapy practice allows flexibility, managing these types of things on your own also requires time to make arrangements.
- Agency counselors are usually provided with clinical supervision as part of their package. This can ensure consistent guidance and experienced professional support, which can be a huge benefit, especially for new providers. However, some therapists might find oversight like this to feel forced and less personalized than the relationships they might be able to coordinate and establish on their own. Talkspace offers incredible ongoing support and professional development benefits, including paid Continued Education credits and a dedicated clinical support team.
Finding a healthy work-life balance in mental healthcare is critical for personal well-being and professional success. Therapists have a high rate of burnout in their industry, so choosing the right setting to foster work-life balance should be a priority.
- Private practice therapists have flexibility at their fingertips. You can tailor your schedule and take time off as needed. You can manage a caseload that works for you and allows for a healthy lifestyle. Freedom like this will enable you to maintain a healthy work-life balance. However, it’s important to remain disciplined with your schedule since nobody will be overseeing it.
- Agency counselors tend to have a more structured schedule. Some therapists enjoy the stability and predictability of hours. However, that might limit your ability to create your schedule and care for your personal needs, hindering work-life balance. Talkspace makes it easy to achieve work-life balance. You’re already one step ahead when you make your schedule and can work when and where you want.
With any job, there are personal considerations to take into account. Think about your lifestyle, preferences, values, and ultimate career goals. When you think about these aspects of your life, you’ll be better equipped to find the employment path best aligned with you, both as a person and as a professional.
- Private practice can offer flexibility around your lifestyle preferences, allowing you to prioritize your obligations. For example, if autonomy is one of your core values, private practice can be appealing since it provides independence regarding your client caseload and your schedule.
- Agency counseling, as it requires a fixed schedule and generally means being on-site, might result in limited control over hours, workspace settings, and aesthetics or design. That said, if you value a collaborative work environment, agency settings can offer teamwork and professional development opportunities with colleagues. Note, partnering with an online platform like Talkspace eliminates many of these challenges, as you can work when and where you want via the digital platform.
Pros & Cons of Private Practice vs. Agency Counseling
Before you decide whether private practice counseling or agency counseling will be a good fit for your career, you should look at the pros and cons of each.
Private practice pros and cons
|Private Practice Pros||Private Practice Cons|
|Autonomy – you’ll have complete control over your schedule, clients, approach, and business decisions.||Start-up cost – starting your private practice can require a substantial financial investment to rent office space, market your services, pay for insurance, and buy equipment.|
|Income – since you can set your rates, and there’s no limit on your client caseload, you can make substantially more.||Administrative tasks costs – you’ll be responsible for billing, scheduling appointments, maintaining records, and other administrative tasks that can be a huge time-suck.|
|Focused clientele – you can specialize in a specific area or population that aligns with your values, interest, and expertise.||Marketing – your ability to attract potential clients will rely heavily on self-promotion, and you will need to cover the cost and time marketing requires.|
|Flexibility – you can create a schedule that works for you and see clients when you want.||Lack of support – private practice therapists might not have access to required supervision or collaboration.|
Agency counseling pros and cons
|Agency Counseling Pros||Agency Counseling Cons|
|Consistent income and benefits – agencies generally offer a consistent salary, health insurance, paid time off, retirement, plans, and other benefits.||Limited autonomy – if you work in an agency, you must adhere to their policies, procedures, therapeutic approaches, and scheduling, which can stifle creativity and flexibility.|
|Built-in client base – with an agency, you don’t have to worry about finding your clients since the agency will provide them. This means you can focus on offering your services rather than marketing them.||Lower earning potential – since agencies set counselors’ salaries, they can be lower than what a private practitioner might earn.|
|Support – in the agency setting, you’ll be with other therapists and professionals who can offer support, guidance, mentorship, and camaraderie.||Added* Less focused clientele- the clientele is assigned rather than strategically chosen to match a specialty.|
|Reduced or no overhead costs – agency employees do not need to invest in renting office space, buying or leasing equipment, or covering other costs to run their business.|
Added* Scheduling limitations- counselors are encouraged to match the agency’s schedule rather than designing a schedule that accommodates their needs.
Join the Most Flexible Network with Talkspace
If you’re trying to decide between private practice vs. agency counseling, consider joining Talkspace as a therapist. Talkspace offers therapists numerous benefits, including a dedicated clinical support team, continuing education opportunities, cutting-edge industry-leading technology and tools, competitive pay, and a flexible network. Plus, Talkspace provides helpful tips for new therapists to maximize their success and provide quality care to their clients.
“Working within Talkspace has allowed me to find the balance between working for an agency within my private practice and the flexibility needed for my personal life. As long as you find the best compromise, the path to your desired career follows.”– Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
Get started with the Talkspace network today to learn why thousands of providers love working with our platform.
- Vivolo M, Owen J, Fisher P. Psychological therapists’ experiences of Burnout: A qualitative systematic review and meta-synthesis. Mental Health & Prevention. 2022:200253. doi:10.1016/j.mhp.2022.200253. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212657022000253?v=s5#. Accessed April 20, 2023.