Are you thinking about starting a group therapy or a group online therapy practice but you’re not quite sure how to begin? Setting up group practices can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. All you need to do is break the process down into small steps and tackle them one at a time. To walk you through the process and make it more manageable, here’s our 10-step guide to starting a group therapy practice.
Before you do anything else, you’ll need to learn how to become a therapist as well as make a few key decisions about your group therapy practice, especially regarding organizational structure and insurance. For example, you’ll need to decide how your business will be structured. Do you want to be the sole group practice owner or will you be including partners in the business? There are pros and cons to both approaches. Being the group practice owner means you get to make all the decisions, but that also means you have sole financial responsibility for the practice. Bringing in partners to help run the practice will help ease the financial burden and provide you with a team to work with, but it can be difficult to find others with similar visions and values, which will make compromise necessary.
You’ll also need to determine whether or not you’ll be accepting insurance. If you decide to accept insurance, you’ll have to decide which plans to accept and start working toward approval. Keep in mind that this can take a considerable amount of time and effort since each insurance company has its own set of rules and requirements. Alternatively, you could choose to only accept out-of-network coverage and use a service like Advekit to take care of insurance billing for you; this will simplify insurance coverage and allow you to focus your time and energy on more important matters.
The next step is vitally important, but it may be something you’re not that interested in doing—creating a business plan for your group practice. It could also be important to understand how to put together a business plan for your private practice if you want to be the sole group practice owner. I know, writing a business plan sounds incredibly dull; you’d much rather spend your time helping people. But if you’re going to start a group therapy session, you need to be clear about what all that involves.
A business plan is essentially a document that describes your business in detail. It includes information about how the group session will be structured, if you will provide psychological vs therapist services, who your competitors are, what niche you serve, what your budget is, and how you’ll market the practice. Compiling all of this information into one document may seem daunting, but it’s an essential step toward building a strong business.
If you already have a solo practice, such as if you learned how to become a marriage and family therapist, and are transitioning to a group practice, you should already have experience drawing up a business plan. While there will be differences to address, you can use the solo practice plan you’ve already created as a basic template to help generate one for your new group practice.
Whether you’re creating one from scratch or using your solo practice business plan as a template, it’s vital that you do not skip this step. Having a thorough business plan in place ensures that you’ve considered all aspects of owning a group practice and addressed any questions that have come up along the way. And once the business plan has been written, you can use it as a roadmap to help guide your business as it grows over the years.
Once you’re clear on the direction of your business and have hashed out all the details, it’s time to make it legal by registering your business. If you’ve already operated your own private practice, you might have some experience with this already; most private practice therapists either operate as a sole proprietorship or register under an LLC.
The process is similar when you start your group practice. You need to choose a name for your group practice then determine what kind of legal entity to register as a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, S-Corp, or C-Corp. This is typically done through your state’s Secretary of State website and the process is pretty simple—just provide some basic information, pay a fee, and your registration is complete.
While it may be tempting to try and do everything yourself, make sure that you remain aware of your own limitations. You may be an excellent therapist, but chances are you’d make a lousy lawyer. If you ever start to feel like you can’t make sense of the legalities surrounding starting a group practice, don’t hesitate to get help. There are plenty of good lawyers out there who can help you navigate through all the legal stuff, such as registering your business, drawing up employment contracts, generating terms of service, etc.
The next step in the process is to make sure your accounting for the practice has been set up. You’ll need to have a way to track all of the business’s income, expenses, payroll, taxes, etc. The easiest way to do this is to hire an accountant or bookkeeper so you can focus on other priorities. Don’t worry, you don’t need a full-time bookkeeper or accountant on staff—you can just hire one on a contract basis to take care of the books for you.
You’ll also want to be sure and update any paperwork that you use regularly to reflect the change from a solo practice to a group practice. For example, you’ll need to replace any instances of your own name with the name of the group practice. You should also look for any mention of “I,” “me,” and “mine” in your documents and change them to “us,” “we,” and “our.”
Don’t overlook any documents; make sure to do this on every document that will be used in your group session, including intake documents, consent to treatment, credit card authorization forms, insurance paperwork, and HIPAA documents. This step might seem tedious, but it doesn’t have to be an arduous chore; all you have to do is search through digital copies of your documents for the words you need to change and automatically replace them with the appropriate word.
The next step you’ll need to complete is to determine your staffing needs. While it may be tempting to just hire friends or former colleagues, you must be more purposeful about your hiring and choose staff with efficient group dynamics. Sit down and consider what type of therapists would best serve the needs of your client and practice.
For example, if you’re wanting to be a multidisciplinary practice, you might need to evaluate your own qualifications as a therapist, identify any service gaps that may exist, and hire clinicians who fill those gaps. If you’re wanting to specialize in a specific approach, then you’ll need to narrow your focus to therapists practicing in that specialty.
You’ll also need to consider staffing needs outside of clinicians. What other kinds of employees will your group practice need? Will you be hiring a full-time receptionist? Do you need someone on staff to take care of insurance billing or did you decide to work with a service like Advekit to streamline insurance?
Whatever position—whether therapist or administrative staff—be clear about the type of people you’re looking for; take time to write out a list of the qualities you’re seeking in team members. That way, you’re better able to identify the best candidates and find people who fit in well with your group practice.
Once you determine who you need to hire, the next step is to figure out how you’re going to find them. Will you use online job boards, a recruiter, the state hiring agency, or some other method? You’ll also need to consider what happens once you have a few applicants. What will your interview process look like? How will you determine who’s the best candidate for the job? And once you’ve settled on an applicant, what type of onboarding process will they need to go through?
All of these questions need to be considered well in advance. You don’t want to be sitting down with an applicant, fumbling around for questions to ask them; this will just make you look unprofessional and could scare off quality candidates. To prevent a scenario like this from happening, make sure you have a very clear recruiting strategy in place. Once you have a clear picture of how to recruit, interview, hire, and onboard new staff members, you can put your plan into action and start building your team.
The next step is to have a website created for your group therapy practice. While you may want to save money by creating a basic site yourself, hiring someone cheap, or skipping this step altogether, it’s vitally important to have a professional-looking website that’s easy for a potential client to find and use.
Your website will be the first place a potential client visits when they’re considering working with you as a therapist. And though you may not like it, they’ll judge the quality of your practice based on the quality of your website; if your website looks shoddy and unprofessional, potential patients will assume that’s what they should expect from your services. If you want to put your best foot forward and project a professional image, have an experienced web developer create your website and potentially consider how to create a therapy blog to add to your website.
The final step is to market your group therapy practice so you can bring in more clients. If you completed your business plan, you should already have put some thought into the best ways to market your business. There are a variety of options to choose from; you could place ads on search engines or social media platforms, get listed in online directories, pass out business cards, get referrals, create content on your website or social media, speak at local events, or use matching services like Advekit to help funnel new clients to your practice. Whatever marketing practices you decide to put into place, make sure that you give your marketing efforts some time to bear fruit, track your results, remain flexible, and be willing to adjust your strategy if necessary.
And there you have it—ten steps to starting a group therapy practice. The next step is for you to take action and start working toward your dream of opening up your own group practice. While there is a lot of work to be done, the results will be worth the effort.