Lessons Learned:  My Journey into Private Practice

I began my journey to create a social work private practice in NS back in January 2016.  I recently celebrated my one-year anniversary, as a Registered Social Worker (RSW) in private practice on July 18, 2017. The one-year mark of my private practice prompted me to reflect on the past year as I’ve created and established my business. This has also been the first year, since 1994, that I have not worked within a government system.

Forget Everything and Run or Face Everything and Rise

Thinking back to early 2016 brings a smile to my face. I recall the worrisome conversations I had as I tried to decide if I was making the right decision. My mind was plagued with thoughts that I should forget about this dream and go back to the known and secure.  Fear was a constant companion, especially as I prepared to launch my website!  The acronym for F.E.A.R, Forget Everything And Run OR Face Everything And Rise, truly resonated with me. I could easily connect with feeling the “Forget Everything And Run.”

Amidst the FEAR and overanalysing thoughts, I was excited about having my own business. I enjoyed the learning that came along with opening a business/private practice. I was excited as I researched and planned how to offer secure and confidential online therapy services – in hopes of reaching those clients who face barriers to accessing office therapy appointments.

Social work skills in business planning

My reflections lead me to think about the lessons I learned throughout my journey. I realized that many of my social work skills are transferable to other areas. Social work skills that I can now utilize as a business owner.

Here’s how I incorporated my social work skills into creating and managing my business. I hope these lessons may help guide you on your own journey into private practice.

Five lessons (among many) learned

  1. It is a big decision!

The thought of launching out my own made me feel liberated. I felt freedom! However, the road to opening my practice was paved with many decisions and many conversations. Although I truly believe in creating a life aligned with my values, there were important personal decisions to consider prior to starting my business.

Whether you are alone and/or in a committed relationship it is important to explore and communicate your plans as your decision will affect your financial situation.

Answering these questions can help guide you as you explore the prospect of pursuing your private practice:

  • Will I leave my job?
  • Will I ask for a leave of absence from my job?
  • Will I work reduced hours?
  • How much savings will I need to have to sustain my current standard of living?
  • What am I willing to let go of to pursue this?
  • Will I work primarily for myself or ask other therapists to join me?
  • Will I explore the option to join an already established private practice?


Social work transferable skills:  Social workers help others with goals and planning on a regular basis. You’ll draw on your social work skills in case management, planning and developing S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant & timely) goals as you create a plan for your private practice. 


  1. You are an entrepreneur/business owner

As an entrepreneur, you’ll invest “behind the scenes” into marketing, finances, business planning, networking, creating and maintaining a website, blog or newsletter.

As an aspiring business owner, you should consider these questions:

  • Where will I see clients?
  • What will I charge?
  • Do I have contacts or referrals who may assist me in obtaining contract work?
  • Will I have a website?
  • Will I create my own website or hire someone to do this?
  • Who is my target audience? How will I reach them?
  • Do I need additional information on accounting/finances?
  • Do I need to register a business name?
  • Do I need an HST number?
  • What community resources are available to help with business start up’s/networking etc.?

Social work transferable skills: Social workers have skills to navigate systems, gather and analyse information and create a plan from the data gathered.  Social workers can connect easily with others, are often very open to asking for help, are accustomed to consulting with others and having supervision.


  1. Online presence is important

In today’s market, it is essential to have online presence. Potential clients want to search for potential therapists. Clients may want to read about your approach, your experience and qualifications so they can make an informed decision. This is a huge shift from how I worked in the past.


It is important to consider if your online presence by asking yourself these questions: Questions to consider about your online presence:

  • Will I have a website?
  • What information do I want to share on my website that would connect with clients?
  • Will I have a Psychology Today Profile? Other?
  • Will I have a LinkedIn profile?
  • What social media applications will I use, if any? Will I have photos of me?
  • Will I have photos of my office space?


Social work transferable skills: Social workers regularly engage and connect with others. Your ability as a social worker to navigate different systems is useful as you navigate the online world.


  1. Support

I’ve worked on various multi-disciplinary teams over the years so working solo was a BIG change! I have a newfound appreciation for my close colleague support and consultation over the years.

As you plan your own private practice you should consider your support network and ask yourself these questions:

  • Will I find a peer supervision group?
  • Will I hire a clinical supervisor?
  • Will I attend local networking events with other business owners?
  • What social work events will I participate in to stay connected to my profession?
  • Will I stay connected through social work educational opportunities?


Social work transferable skills: Social workers excel at identifying needs and gaps in services. These skills will assist to identify your support system.


  1. Plan and start early

Once you decide to work as a social worker in private practice in Nova Scotia there are important steps to take before you see your first private client.

  • What is the private practice registration process with the NSCSW?
  • What information and documentation will I need to obtain to be registered as a social worker in private practice?
  • How long does this process take?
  • What type of insurance do I require?
  • What do I need to know about client’s health insurance – will my services be covered?


Social Work transferable skills: Your social work skills in planning, identifying needs, assessing and gathering information will also help as you prepare for your first client in private practice.

Continually learning and growing

So yes, there are many factors to consider as you plan your business as a social worker in private practice.  Trust me – with less than two years in private practice I am still learning!

Through my reflections, I recognise that I no longer feel the FEAR of “Forget Everything and Run”.  Yes, there are moments where fear still peeks its head in. I try to practice what I teach including self-compassion and self-kindness and I remind myself that I am doing the work that I love.

I am learning and growing everyday on my journey managing my private practice.


 Please Note this article was written by Heidi Sturgeon, MSW, RSW for the NSCSW Connections Magazine October 2017 edition.

About Heidi: Heidi Sturgeon, MSW, RSW, is a private practitioner with over twenty years’ experience in social services and health care, including mental health and addictions. She gained extensive experience working with individuals, families, multidisciplinary teams, community programs and government departments.

Heidi works from a trauma informed care lens and her counselling approaches include Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), brief solution focused therapy, motivational interviewing, narrative therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and mindfulness.

She completed her Masters in Clinical Social Work at the University of Toronto in 1997.

Find Heidi online at www.heidisturgeon.com.