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Frequently Asked Questions: Starting a Private Practice

Getting Started

Q. How many years of social work experience do I need to start a private practice?
NASW recommends a minimum of two years of post-master’s experience in a supervised clinical setting.

Q. Is a social work license required to begin a private practice?
Most states require that clinical social workers be licensed. Clinical social workers should conform with their state licensing board requirements before pursuing a career in private practice.

Q. Should I continue clinical supervision?
It is a good idea to continue supervision or some form of consultation when starting a private practice. Supervision and consultation are ways for clinical social workers to continue to improve their clinical skills and may also help resolve any legal or insurance problems that may arise.

Q. How much liability 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 $2 million 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.

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

Q. 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.

Q. 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.

Q. 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.


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. Join the Social Work Therapy Referral Service a project of the Massachusetts Chapter of the NASW. Since 1983 this free telephone referral service has connected thousands of people with licensed independent clinical social workers (LICSWs) across Massachusetts. The Referral Service includes nearly 300 therapists in private practice, experienced in helping clients of all ages improve their lives. Contact SWTRS at 617-720-2828 or 800-242-9794,,

Q. 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.

Q. How can I become a managed care provider?
Write or call the managed care company that you would like to work with and request 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

Q. 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, 1-800-277-3590, 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

Q. 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-time 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, extension 268.

Should you have any 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, extension 265.

National Association of Social Workers
750 First Street, NE, Suite 700 Washington, DC 20002-4241


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National Association of Social Workers - Massachusetts Chapter
14 Beacon Street, Suite 409, Boston MA 02108
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