Starting a Private Practice

How many years of social work experience do I need to start a private practice?
NASW recommends a minimum of two years of postmaster's experience in a supervised clinical setting.

Is a social work license required to begin a private practice?
See Frequently Asked Questions about Social Work Licensing.

Should I continue clinical supervision?
Depending on your license there are requirements for Supervision.  Under the new licensing law ONLY LCSW's licensed psychologists and psychiatrists can provide clinical supervision.  If you are an LMSW doing clinical work, you must be supervised by an LCSW, licensed psychologist or psychiatrist.

How much malpractice insurance should I obtain?
The minimum amount of coverage available from the NASW Insurance Trust is $1 million per lawsuit with $1 million maximum for the policy year regardless of the number of suits.  The maximum availability is $2million per $4 million.  Because private practitioners may operate in what may be considered relatively high-risk situations, it is generally recommended that clinical social workers purchase $2 million per $2 million of malpractice insurance.  Coverage should be maintained continuously to avoid gaps in time that would not be covered.

Does NASW have guidelines for clinical social workers in private practice?
YES.  NASW has published NASW Guidelines on the Private Practice of Social Work, which may be purchased by calling the NASW distribution center at 1-800-227-3590.

How can I obtain a tax ID number?
If you are a sole proprietor or partner, your tax ID number may be your social security number.  If you employ one or more persons, you may obtain an employer tax ID number from the federal government by completing IRS form SS-4.  Forms may be obtained from the Internal Revenue Service or your state government.

What fees should I charge?
Fees vary and are influenced by several factors, including geographical location, fees of other mental health professionals who provide psychotherapy services in the area, and reasonable and customary fees that insurance companies set.  There is no legal or professional requirement regarding the amount to be charged.  Conduct a survey of psychotherapy fees in your area, and decide on an amount that is fair and reasonable for your practice.

Should my private practice be incorporated?
Discuss your business plans with a financial or business consultant to decide if incorporation is advantageous for you.  Many clinical social workers begin a private practice and decide to incorporate later. 

Can I start a Business with other mental health professionals other than Licensed Clinical Social Workers?
No.  New York State Law requires that an LCSW can only open a practice with other LCSW's.  Whether it is a limited liability company, corporation or partnership the owners of the practice can only be LCSWs.  Any practice that was formed before June 30, 2004 and has a practice with other mental health professionals has until July 1, 2014 to dissolve the practice.  (Limited Liavility Company Law Sections 1203 (a). 12-7 (b) and 1301 (a) and; Partnership Law Sections 121-1500 (q) and 121-1502 (q)).


What is the best way to seek referrals?
Marketing is one excellent way to obtain referrals.  Consider advertising through a variety of resources such as the telephone yellow pages, local newspapers, and magazines.  Develop brochures and flyers, and mail to businesses, hospitals, schools, churches, nursing homes, and so forth, and invest in a Web site.  List your name in the NASW Register of Clinical Social Workers, which is a reference for referral services to the general public, agencies, and third-party payers.

How can I become a Medicare provider?
Contact the Medicare carrier in your state and request an application to become a Medicare provider as a clinical social worker.

How can I become a managed care provider?
Write or call the managed care company that you would lik to work with and requrest an application form to become a member of its provider network as a clinical social worker.  In addition, NASW provides to members a free listing of managed care companies with provider panels for clinical social workers.

Available Resources

What books would I find helpful to read about starting a private practice?
NASW Press publishes several books for clinical social workers that may be helpful in starting a private practice.  Call the NASW Distribution Center, 1-800-227-3590, to order them.  

  • Prudent Practice:  A guide for Managing Malpractice Risk, Mary Kay Houston-Vega and Elane M. Nuehring with Elisabeth R. Daguio.

  • Managed Care Resource Guide for Social Workers Who Are Private Practitioners, Vivian H. Jackson, Editor

  • Marketing for Therapists:  A Handbook for Success in Managed Care, Jeri Davis, Editor

  • Social Work in Private Practice, 2nd Edition, Robert L. Barker

Additional Help

What is the NASW Private Practice Section and How may I join?
The NASW Private Practice Section, formed in 1996, provides clinical social workers in private practice with networking, education, advocacy, and business tools needed to succeed in independent practice.  Section membership is open to all NASW members who are clinically oriented and are full or part-time practitioners in solo or group settings.  It is also open to others interested in promoting private practice.  For an application for membership call 1-800-638-8799, ext. 268.

Should you have additional questions about starting a private practice, contact Mirean Coleman, Senior Staff Associate for Clinical Social Work, Division of Professional Development and Advocacy, at 1-800-638-8799, ext 265.

NASW-NYS   188 Washington Ave.   Albany, NY 12210   Tel: 518.463.4741 or 800.724.6279   Fax: 518.463.6446