What is a Realistic Therapy Private Practice Salary? How Much Money Do Counselors Actually Make?
The dream of private practice for many counselors, therapists, and psychologists is primarily driven by two things: freedom and money. This often means earning at least a $100,000 therapy private practice salary–or more.
Therapists want more freedom and money than typical mental health jobs allow for.
Jobs like non-profits, agencies, community mental health, and college counseling centers.
Yes, these jobs offer “security” in the form of a consistent paycheck, health insurance, and retirement benefits, but they are sorely lacking in terms of freedom and significant financial gain for therapists.
I put “security” in quotation marks because I used to think that having a job provides a lot more security than working for yourself or owning a company–until someone changed my mind.
I told them: “but your business could go downhill at any moment!”
To which they replied: “if you own a business, losing your income usually happens slowly. You can see it coming, and you can do something about it. When you’re employed by someone else, you can lose everything in an instant.”
That changed the way I looked at my own situation and fears as a business owner (I admit, despite being a business owner since 2013 I still fear it all “going away” suddenly).
This person was right. I at least had the opportunity to create more job security within my own business than I could ever have in working for a company. Not to mention, back to my first point, the opportunity for more freedom and more money.
So, what kind of salary can you actually earn as a therapist or counselor in private practice? Let’s run the numbers.
For many private practitioners, their big goal is to earn at least “6-figures” as a salary in their therapy private practice. But what does that actually mean?
$100,000 in gross revenue?
$100,000 in net profit?
If you want to take home $100,000 in private practice, your gross revenue needs to be at least 30% higher than your goal. This rule of thumb can generally apply to other income goals (e.g., in order to take home (net profit) $200,000 per year, you would need a gross revenue of roughly $260,000).
So, how hard is it to actually generate, for example, $130,000 in gross annual revenue?
If you read my recent post on How to Start Private Practice the Right Way, then you’ve already seen how we work the math and set our fees by “reverse engineering” your net income goal. Here’s the math:
$100,000 gross revenue goal
Add 30% for expenses and taxes, roughly.
$130,000 divided by how many weeks per year you want to work (let’s say 48–that’s taking off 4 weeks per year)
$130,000 / 48 = $2,708.33 generated per week.
Divide that number by how many clients you want to see each week.
$2,708.33 / 15 clients per week = $180.55
So, your fee should be exactly $180.55, if not more, in order to generate your gross income goal of $130,000 annually. See how I did that?
Hopefully you can see that a true 6-figure therapy private practice salary is indeed possible.
Some may be thinking, however, “wow, I could never ‘get away’ with charging $180 in my area.” That may or may not be true, but for the sake of that argument, here’s another possible scenario where you can earn the same income by seeing a few more clients per week:
$2,708.33 / 20 clients per week = a regular session fee of $135.42.
Seem more doable? I hope so.
Let’s run one more scenario together.
Let’s imagine you want to take a bigger bite out of that weekly revenue target of $2,708.33 but you don’t want to raise your fees or see more individual clients. So, instead, you start a therapy group.
You have 7 clients in a weekly group paying $95 each = $760 per week of additional gross revenue.
$2,708.33 – $7760 = $1,948.33 to generate with individual clients
$1,948.33 / 15 individual clients = $129.89 individual session fee.
Not bad, right?
In this scenario, you are still working 20 hours or less per week and taking home at least $100,000 per year.
Clearly, as a solo private practitioner, $100,000 is a realistic and very doable salary goal.
If you want to earn more, consider building an additional (more passive than doing therapy) income stream like an online course, membership site, or ebook to boost your therapy private practice salary:
Or, you may choose to start a group practice:
But what about retirement, health insurance, sick days, etc.?
Being a business owner means you have to create your own benefits that are often included in “traditional” employment.
Unfortunately, through working with over 400 therapists in private practice, I have met too many therapists who are in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s and have yet to save a single dime for their retirement.
The harsh reality is that NO ONE is going to handle this stuff for you–it is entirely up to you to act responsibly or neglect yours and your family’s future.
So, how much do you really need in order to create your own “benefits?”
Let’s run another scenario:
Health insurance. This is a big one. At the time of this post, I can tell you that I paid roughly $1,000 per month for my wife and I to be on an entry-level Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO plan in North Carolina. When I compared this to the “Obamacare” plans, the prices were just the same, since it is largely contingent upon income level.
In many cases, this can in fact be deducted fully or at least partially as a business expense, which will help you tremendously. Often times, your partner or spouse can also be on the same plan as you.
If you are earning enough to be an S-Corp or are a group practice, you may qualify for better rates when you contract with an insurance company to ensure your entire practice. This, too, often can include your spouse and children, as well as the spouses and children of your employees. In this scenario, you start to operate like a “real” company and as you scale, these costs become more affordable.
A growing alternative to paying for private health care insurance, or going through the Affordable Care Act is enrolling in “health care cost sharing plans,” many of which are religious in affiliation, where you pay out of pocket and are reimbursed at least partially by your plan. This may be a good option for therapists who are generally healthy and require only infrequent visits to the doctor or hospital, etc.
I know at least a few therapists who use this option and seem to like it. To me, the biggest fear or drawback is having to pay out of pocket for everything, and the fear of not getting reimbursed for major expenses.
This is clearly not a comprehensive overview of your healthcare insurance options, so be sure to do more research, ask other therapists in your area what they do for insurance, and make the best decision you can with the information you have.
Whichever health insurance option you choose, it is critical that you include this significant cost as part of your overall private practice budget. Work with an accountant and/or bookkeeper to create and follow a thoughtful budget. I personally love and follow the Profit First accounting method.
The next biggest expense to prepare for is obviously…your future! In other words, your retirement savings.
Again, in a “traditional” job, you may be given the option of a 401k or comparable retirement account that is at least partially funded by your company.
In the case of a self-employed person or business owner, you will want to work closely with a trusted accountant to determine which retirement account structures and options will work best for you and your family.
Regardless of the type of accounts you choose, you need to be more aggressive than you think about saving for retirement!
The bottom line is: you need to effectively replace the benefits you would normally receive at a full-time, traditional job. How much you need, exactly, is too personal a question to answer in a blog post–nor am I the person to do it!
By the way, my friend Joe Sanok actually created a very handy “how to leave your job calculator” that you can check out here.
In summary, earning a strong salary of $100,000 per year or more is doable, and is being done by therapists all over the world right now. You can become one of those therapists this year, too.
If you want my help getting there easier and sooner, just head to www.privatepracticeworkshop.com/workwithme
About John: John Clarke, MA, EdS, LPCC, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor, entrepreneur and private practice consultant. He has started and grown 5 businesses since 2013, including his group counseling practice that he sold in April 2019. He’s also a drummer, Muay Thai martial arts practitioner and enthusiast, and currently lives in Paris, France for his wife’s job. He loves helping therapists get more clients and grow a better business.