How to Start Your Counseling Business From Scratch

counseling business advice

For counselors and therapists looking to start their own business, there couldn’t be a better time, with a rise of 1.5 million people in the U.S. experiencing mental health issues over the last year.

Read on to learn about the 10 steps you need to follow to get your counseling business off the ground.

Why Consider a Career in Counseling?

This nationwide rise in mental health issues shows the pressing demand for more mental health professionals worldwide. 

In the U.S. alone, more than two million young people are suffering from depression. On top of that, over 10 million U.S. adults have serious suicidal thoughts.

Despite these figures, more than 70% of young people and more than 10 million adults aren’t getting the help they need, showcasing the urgent demand for more therapeutic professionals to enter the field.

In this case, you can count on your services being needed within the community. The number of people who see a counselor has increased by over 25% in the last 10 years.

A career in counseling also offers a wide range of opportunities. 

While you can start your own practice or freelance, it’s also possible to work in schools, hospitals, offices, and religious organizations. You can specialize as a youth counselor, an addiction counselor, a marriage counselor, and more. Plus, there are opportunities to volunteer and work all over the world.

Of course, the main reason to become a counselor is to make a positive change in people’s lives. As a mental health professional, you offer the support that so many people need and don’t really get it.

10 Steps to Starting Your Counseling Business From Scratch

If you’re looking to kick off a career in counseling by starting your own business, follow these 10 steps.

1. Get qualified


First, you’ll need to complete a bachelor’s degree. While it’s not compulsory to major in psychology, this makes the most sense.

After this, you’ll need a master’s degree in counseling or psychology. This course will bring together lectures and coursework that look into different mental health conditions, counseling techniques, and supervised practical experience. 

Next, you’ll need to take your Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination (CPCE), followed by your National Counselor Exam (NCE). That will give you a national counseling certification.

If you want to practice clinical mental health counseling, you need to take the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination instead of the NCE.

2. Decide on your location


It’s important to decide the location of your practice early on, as this will determine where you get licensed and the business procedures you need to follow.

Remember, you don’t have to open your practice in a physical location. You could also offer online counseling.

91% of people who are in online therapy recommend others to try it. This shows just how successful this kind of remote service can be.

If you decide on a physical location, you need to start looking for a space where you can open your practice. If you’ll be working alone, this space doesn’t need to be large. You simply need an office big enough for you and your patient to sit in and talk.

3. Obtain a license

There’s no national counseling license — they’re issued on the state level.

While there are slightly different processes depending on the state, most procedures follow the same pattern. Once you’re qualified, you need to submit your official college transcript, letters of recommendation, a resume, and documentation that confirms your supervised clinical practice experience.

You can apply for your license from your state’s counseling association.

4. Speak to a lawyer


It’s very important to understand the regulations within the state where you plan to open a business. Set a meeting with a lawyer to discuss the regulatory requirements that may affect your practice.

Typical questions you may need answers to include:

  • What zoning law limits where I can practice?
  • What type of insurance do I need?
  • Do I need a business license?
  • Are there any limitations on the scope of my practice?
  • How do I legally set up a business and register as an LLC?

5. Write a business plan


If you’re starting your counseling business from scratch, you might need to get a loan. To do this, you’ll need to write a business plan.

Even if you don’t plan on getting a loan, it’s still a good idea to write a business plan, as it provides a roadmap to keep your ideas and spending on track.

Your business plan should include:

  • Competitive analysis and market research
  • Organizational structure of your company
  • Business model and pricing analysis
  • Financing options
  • Marketing and sales plans
  • Financial projection

6. Notify the right people

Make sure you have your housekeeping in order so that all paperwork is filed.

For example, if you intend to practice under a business name rather than your own, you’ll need to register it with the Companies Registration Office.

Next, you need to iron out your tax requirements. Make sure you’ve updated your tax status with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and that you’re filing taxes correctly and on time.

You may also want to register with a professional body. While not compulsory, registration with professional associations looks good on your resume and provides you with a supportive network. 

7. Get insurance


Don’t leave yourself open to claims. You need to make sure that you have the right insurance to practice as a counselor if you want to avoid financial ruin resulting from a lawsuit filed by an angry client.

You’ll need professional indemnity insurance and public liability insurance. For counselors that practice at home, you may also need to amend your home insurance. 

It’s also wise to consider income protection insurance in case you’re unable to work for any reason.

8. Create clear policies

Next, you need to build the framework for your business so that both your clients and your staff understand expectations.

For your clients, write policies surrounding your payment methods, costs, discounts, appointment cancellation, privacy, and referrals.

Make sure you discuss these policies when you first meet with clients.

For your staff, create policies that revolve around workplace expectations, like vacation time, sick days, benefits, etc.

Make sure these policies are clear to staff from the beginning of their employment.

If you need an example of what to include, check out the terms of service and privacy policy that Preply has laid out for its online English tutors.

9. Build your team


It’s often helpful to employ business experts and part-time staff to help with some of the tasks outside of your remit.

For example, you may want an accountant to handle your finances or you may find that a part-time assistant saves you a lot of waste and hassle.

Many counselors also use PEO companies to handle their human resources (HR) responsibilities, so they don’t have to worry about payroll, benefits, and staff management.

10. Start marketing your practice

A well-implemented marketing strategy will help you find new clients.

For starters, you’ll need a professional-looking website, optimized content, and social media pages. It’s also wise to add yourself to online directories.

Many counselors also join insurance provider panels, as you’ll be listed on insurer provider networks.

Your marketing strategy should include tactics such as:

If you’re unsure where to start with your marketing campaigns, try studying up. If you don’t have time to read marketing books, you can always read abbreviated versions on book summary apps to help you save time. 


It’s not hard to start your own counseling business — you just need to make sure you’re following the right steps toward gaining all the qualifications and licenses you’ll need.

Remember, it’s important to get insurance just in case your relationship with a client doesn’t go according to plan. Covering yourself prevents you from getting into any sticky financial situations.

Goldie: desktop booking app

Ready to start booking appointments? Try using Goldie today to make it easy for your new clients to book their counseling appointments hassle-free. You can download it from the App Store or Google Play for free.

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2 months ago

This is great Advice.