If you’re basing your thoughts about self-employment purely on the numbers, then it would certainly seem that it’s easy to work for yourself as a psychologist. Almost one-quarter of all psychologists are self-employed. Yet just because entrepreneurship is common in this industry doesn’t mean that it’s easy. When looking at the scope of self-employment among psychologists, it’s important to consider not only how many psychologists work in private practice but also the skills and qualities needed to succeed working for yourself. Current and prospective students should consider the pros and cons that come with self-employment so they can make informed choices about their own career paths.
The Extent of Private Practice in the Field of Psychology
Self-employment accounts for more psychologist jobs than any other industry besides elementary and secondary schools, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS reported that 24 percent of psychologists – nearly 40,000 professionals in the field – are self-employed.
Even though psychologists have one of the highest rates of self-employment of all occupations in the United States, more than three-quarters of psychologists are not self-employed. Instead, this majority of psychologists find employment in schools, ambulatory healthcare services, government entities, hospitals, other medical care facilities, colleges and universities and other settings. Many psychologists who work in private practice do so part-time alongside a full-time salaried job. Among psychologists who work in a secondary position as well as their primary role, private practice is the most common secondary position, the American Psychological Association (APA) reported. The median number of hours work in a secondary position is 10, according to the APA.
Self-employment in the field of psychology typically refers to launching your own private practice, whether you operate as a solo practice or sole proprietor – the only employee – or you hire other workers for administrative or client-facing roles.
What Skills Do You Need for Self-Employment in Psychology?
It should go without saying that you need to be a strong psychologist with the full education, experience and licensure requirements need to practice in your state before you can entertain the idea of self-employment. However, you need a lot of skills beyond what you learn in the classroom and in your post-doctoral internship to succeed in private practice.
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Among the most important skills are business sense, sales ability and access to resources that include initial financing, according to Psychology Today. Even in mental health fields like clinical and counseling psychology, private practice is a business, and it will fail if you aren’t able to generate a sufficient stream of clients to provide consistent income. You must be able to make sound business decisions, market your services and plan for the early stages of establishing your private practice and for future growth. Other key requirements include a strong sense of ethics, the objectivity to discern how to move forward with business ideas and plans and problem-solving skills to manage the fallout when something doesn’t go according to plan. The most successful self-employed psychologists share a few important qualities, including a self-starting sense of motivation and the resilience to continue on when things get tough, Psychology Today reported.
It’s important to learn how to run a business, but there are a variety of ways psychologists can go about this, from formal college degree programs to mentorship programs and small business assistance programs offered by local governments agencies.
The Best and Worse Parts of Being a Self-Employed Psychologist
While everyone dreams of being their own boss at times, self-employment isn’t always as ideal a situation as you might think. There are pros and cons. The benefits of self-employment are having control over matters like your schedule, your income and your work. You may be able to earn more in private practice than you would as a salaried employee working for someone else, but you also take on the risk of making less.
Self-employment in any industry comes with unique stressors that salaried employees don’t face, such as income uncertainty and business slowdowns. In psychology, self-employed workers face distinctive stressors in the forms of reputational threat, medical problems, unreasonable clients and business betrayals, according to researchers.
Even when self-employed workers earn less than their traditionally employed counterparts in the field, they report higher rates of job satisfaction, researchers have found.