Social Work Programs

April 9, 2012

Can A Social Worker Be In Private Practice

Right away, there is one thing you need to know. Private practice is like a business of your own. At a day job, you can work during set time periods and you do get paid for it. Along with a salary, you may also get health insurance, a pension or retirement fund along with a host of other benefits. Private practice as a social worker does not offer all that.

When you set up your own clinic or a partnership, you are essentially committing to a fulltime 24-7 business which will be your daily bread. So can you work at a private practice just like a psychologist? Yes you can but there are several points you have to remember before you start out. There is more freedom than an nine to five job, but also it is not for everyone because of the independence and possible lack of security.


Social workers who choose to work in a private practice have to complete their master’s degree or a doctoral degree. The degree should be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Along with the degree, they also have to complete at least 3000 hours of postgraduate supervised work in a clinical setting. The candidate has to be supervised by a clinical social work professional, a psychiatrist or a psychologist. Some states may require more experience and you should check with the state licensing board for additional information. Many states require continuing education credits to be taken regularly. Florida for example requires 30 credits every two years.

Responsibilities Towards the Patient

Private practice therapists can carry out individual counseling sessions, group sessions, family therapy, grief counseling, play therapy and crisis interventions. They are also considered as expert witnesses in court cases and consultants in businesses, schools and companies. Social workers are allowed to work just as psychologists can in most states privately but you need to check out the rules for each state in terms of licensure. It may be overwhelming to try to figure out billing and appointments initially if you used to work in an agency. In an agency, these areas are usually covered by staff. Will you be doing your own billing or will you hire someone? Who will keep track of the insurance panels, license renewal information and other paperwork issues?

Social workers should let the patient know that they are trained counselors and not medical doctors. It is important to have some names you can refer patients to who may need medication management if there is no one in your practice that’s a psychiatrist.

Payment For Social Workers In Private Practice

The actual payment that you get per client may vary considerably. If you are not affiliated to any insurance provider, you can set up private payment schedules that are helpful to your patient. Please note though that you will get paid much lower than a psychiatrist but generally higher than agency work. Getting affiliated with insurance providers is a lot of work, but most people who have insurance want to use it and not be a private pay patient. The process of getting on the panels can involve a lot of paperwork so be prepared.

You can start by accessing the NASW website and downloading their list of managed care companies. Get in touch with the provider relations departments of each of them. You have a better chance of getting on to the panel if you have more experience or have specialized in a field like geriatrics or eating disorders. To be approved as a panel member, you will also need copies of your license, transcripts, a tax identification number and complete personal and medical liability coverage.

These rules and regulations do change with time. To ensure that you are up-to-date with current rules and regulations, please check with the NASW website. The National Association for Social Workers has provides a detailed guide on how to start with a private practice and run it according to current medical standards.

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