When I started graduate school I felt completely self-conscious that I was one of the youngest students in my cohort. I was 21 years old and straight out of college. And though I wish I could say that I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, in reality, I was a self-conscious ball of fears and insecurities. This was especially true surrounding my age and my ability to help others.
The idea of launching into private practice straight out of grad school was not even within my capacity to comprehend. But by the time I got my degree at age 25 I dove head-first into private practice. Is it even possible to do this? In today’s article, I walk you through some important items to consider before launching into an early career private practice as a young therapist.
How I Ended up in Private Practice in my Early Career
I am kind of a go-getter. So when I decided I wanted to become a therapist beginning at 14 years old, I dove in head first. By the time I finished my doctorate degree I was 25 years old, living in a new town, pre-licensed, with nowhere to go. Or so I felt.
At that time, I was looking for any job I could find that would help me get my hours. Private practice wasn’t even on my radar – I intended to spend my life doing agency work. But I was eager to take any job that would allow me to finish my hours and pay the bills. It was just my luck that I landed a job in an independent group practice.
And once I started in private practice, there was no turning back!
Was I too young for private practice?
Age was a huge concern of mine. Most of the time, people mistook me for a college student. I remember that year I even got carded once while buying a computer game for my husband because the woman at the checkout counter didn’t believe I was over 17! I thought, how will potential clients ever believe I’m old enough to work with them, let alone to build trust with me so I can help them?
Despite my laundry list of fears and sometimes near-panic at the thought of launching a private practice, I jumped in anyway. To my surprise, my age played to my advantage. There weren’t many 25-year-olds in private practice in San Francisco, and at the time, I wanted to work primarily with college students.
Remember when you were 18 and you thought someone who was 25 was practically middle-aged? The emerging adult population I worked with thought I had enough years on them to believe I could help them while sensing that I was young enough to still be relatable.
Furthermore, the fact that I had a doctorate made everyone assume I was older than I was. Many times clients said things like, “You look like you’re 21, but you must be in your 30s since you’re a doctor.” I made a choice not to correct people in these moments. To my surprise, no one ever dwelled on this concern longer than making a passing statement.
So my concerns about my age didn’t last for long. I admit that though I’m grateful for the wisdom I’ve gained in the 7 years since I launched into private practice, I miss that ability to connect so naturally with the emerging adult population. It was a sweet time in my career.
How to Launch into Early Career Private Practice as a Young Therapist
Are you in a similar boat as I was when I got started? No need to fret, I dish out what I learned for you here. Here are some tools to set you up for success if you are a young therapist thinking about private practice:
Face your fears
Ready for a truth bomb?
Any concern you have about being too young to work in private practice likely lives primarily in your head. Here’s an exercise to help you overcome your fears about launching into private practice in your early career:
- Write out your fears about launching a private practice given your age and experience level.
- Do a little bit of CBT to challenge any thought distortions you notice.
- Reach out to trusted friends or colleagues to help you reality-check your concerns and problem-solve where needed.
Fake it til’ you make it
This tip is everything. If you’re scared you’re too young to start a private practice, then do private practice scared. If you wait until you’re not fearful anymore, you’ll likely endlessly continue kicking that ball down the road, and you may never make that launch.
When I was just getting started in private practice, I was not at all the picture of calm that one might hope. I was full-on freaking out. Imposter syndrome is completely real, and I was no exception.
Despite all this, within a couple of months of private practice, I forgot that my age had even been a concern of mine.
This tip to face your fears is the golden ticket to many successes in life. If we hold off on our dreams because we’re afraid, we simply reinforce a belief that we shouldn’t do hard things. And all of us are much more capable of tackling hard things than we realize!
Own who you are
I was so self-conscious of my young age while in grad school that I dressed older than my age. I wore high heels every day with skirts and professional slacks, and that’s definitely not who I am. I’m a California girl at heart. Give me flip-flops and a t-shirt and I’m happy all year long.
Today, I am attentive to my appearance so that I’m professional and put together at work, but I dress like 32-year-old Marie headed to work. I don’t dress like 45-year-old Marie. Or 45-year-old anyone else for that matter. If you try to dress like you’re older, you’ll look like you’re trying to dress like you’re older.
This tip is true for all areas, not just how you dress. You don’t need to try to make yourself sound more qualified than you are on your website, you don’t need to try to talk like you’re reading from a thesaurus, and you definitely don’t need to brag. Being yourself will help potential clients feel more comfortable with you.
Find a support network
This applies to all of us in private practice, regardless of age.
If you surround yourself with people who tell you that you’re too young or who question your authority as a therapist, move on. They’re probably projecting their own insecurities on you anyway. Find people who value your unique point of view and surround yourself with them.
I found that I was especially helped by finding more seasoned therapists who were willing to come alongside me and encourage me. I’m grateful for the veteran therapists in my life who invited me to teach them my unique skills, even when I was 25. Oh that we might all be that gracious to each other!
Embrace your edge
As a young person, you have an edge. Yes, YOU!
You may not believe it, but each of us brings our own unique set of lenses, biases, and skills. There is no other you in the world and you also will never be your current age again. Find out how who you are in your current phase of life might offer a unique edge to launching a private practice at a young age.
I grew up surrounded by technology and I consider myself to be fairly tech-savvy. When I joined a group practice at 25, more than half the therapists practicing there were over 60 years old. They offered a huge wealth of knowledge for me to learn from them clinically, but I also had so much to offer the group – things like steering them away from mailers and moving towards the use of email, social media, and website marketing. Things that I took for granted turned out to be huge assets.
If you want to get started in private practice, don’t let your age or experience hold you back. Find the support you need and make it happen. What better time than now??
If you’re thinking about taking the plunge into private practice but you aren’t sure where to start, check out my free guide that walks you through everything you need to know to get started in private practice: Start a Private Practice in Counseling.
Until next time, from one therapist to another: I wish you well!
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash
Nicole Geddie says
Love this! I’m actually not nearly as young as you were when you began. Actually, I’m 34 and want to get my masters so I can work as a therapist. But for a laundry list of reasons, I really, desperately need to work for myself pretty much right away or it’s not something I have the luxury to pursue (I’m an actor first, so unless I work for myself, it will never work with my pursuit of acting). QUESTION: Is it possible to open a private practice RIGHT out of grad school or is there a required number of year one has to put into working for a group or a hospital before that’s possible? I couldn’t tell from your blog if you went straight into private practice or not. But this is my burning question!!
Dr. Marie Fang says
Nicole, congrats! I love your vision and the way you’re allowing space for all of your passions. That’s exactly why I’m in private practice too! You didn’t mention where you live, so it’s worth double-checking with your local jurisdiction. However, in most cases, you should be able to launch into private practice straight away, as long as you’re licensed. Or if you’re not yet licensed like I was, you might consider working as a supervisee in a private practice setting and then launching into your own practice once you’re licensed. This was how I was able to have a nearly full cash-pay practice of my own the same day I got licensed. I hope this helps!
Carly Johnson says
Do you know if for psychiatry, it is the same rules? Would you be able to launch in a private practice straight out of residency after med school if you are aspiring to become a psychiatrist? I know they are two different careers with different education paths, but I was just wondering if you knew since you have your own private practice.
Marie Fang says
Hi Carly! Great question. Psychiatrists are under a different jurisdiction than therapists, so I imagine the rules are quite different. But I’m not familiar with them so I’m afraid I can’t truly speak to your question! Best wishes to you!