In 2021, Meg Kelly was working at a group practice as an associate-level therapist in small-town Indiana, making $30 per session before taxes were taken out.
It was a great experience that gave her a feel for private practice, but it was incredibly financially stressful.
“I loved the work I was doing and the autonomy I experienced while working at a group practice, but after all was said and done, I was barely bringing home enough to cover my basic expenses,” explained Meg. “It was hard to feel like I could catch up financially, which eventually led me to wanting to set up my own practice.”
How Meg set up her private practice
Once she got her independent license, she immediately made the decision to go out on her own as a full-time telehealth therapist. “I knew that I needed to take my financial health back into my own hands if my career in mental health was going to be sustainable,” she reflected. “It was the best decision I could have made for myself at the time.”
To get started, she hired a supervisor who walked her through the process and helped her get a feeling for who she wanted to work with and how much she wanted to charge. She started initially by charging $80 per session, almost 3x what she was making at the group practice.
She formed an LLC, got an EIN, NPI1 and NPI2, and opened a business bank account. She initially signed up for QuickBooks to do her own bookkeeping, but realized over time that she didn’t want to spend time categorizing transactions and reconciling bank statements, which led her to find Heard. Knowing someone else had their eyes on her books and could answer questions if they came up gave her peace of mind.
During all of this, she started a podcast called Mental Status all about burnout for mental health professionals. This got her interested in provider-first policies, which is the idea you can have an ethical, high-quality, fee-for-service therapy business that’s actually supportive of your needs as a mental health counselor.
In addition to her work on the podcast, she joined a year-long, intimate business coaching program for therapists, which helped her get clear on her speciality: burnout in mental health practitioners, as well as healthcare workers and educators more broadly.
In this group, she got weekly support from other therapists who were looking to do something different with their careers in mental health. They had regular deep dive sessions, as well as speakers and educators who provided various training on finances, marketing, anti-racist practices, and more.
Through these experiences, Meg gained more confidence in her practice and her ability to build a sustainable business. She was charging fees that felt good and setting hours that felt better for managing burnout and creating a greater sense of balance.
In making those changes, she saw her own burnout go from a 9/10 to a 3/10, and she started getting more active in outside interests such as Crossfit, Yoga, and creative writing.
During her first year in business as a private practice therapist, she also created an Instagram page called the @antiworktherapist that started as a place to air her grievances about the “mental health industrial complex.” She gained 15,000 followers in the first year.
After a year of facilitating conversations and advocating for changes in the mental health field via Instagram, she launched a consulting business to guide new private practitioners and help them avoid the stumbling blocks she faced when she first started her business.
“It’s been such a fun—and wild—ride,” Meg laughed. “I made my fair share of mistakes in that first year and have learned a lot, and I’m so excited to be branching out into a space where I can help first-time private practice therapists grow a business that they love.”
How much Meg made in her first year of private practice
Megan recently shared a financial breakdown of her first year in private practice on LinkedIn.
In 2022, her first full year as a business owner, her private practice grossed $131,000. This includes income from self-pay therapy clients, insurance-based therapy clients, and freelance therapeutic/therapy-related content creation.
Her expenses were around $15,000, with nearly $10,000 of that going toward professional consultation and coaching. About $30,000 went toward taxes, with expert guidance from Heard.
“If I interpreted success on income numbers alone, last year was stellar,” Megan said. “And truly, in many ways, it was. However, gross income tells only one part of the overall story of a business.”
Other measures of her success include:
- She reduced her clinical days from 5 to 3, and 1:1 client hours from 28+ to 15, giving her more and higher-quality time to dedicate to each client and their care
- The number of times she wanted to “rage-quit” because running a business is hard (~1,000) and the number of times she chose to keep going (~1,001)
- The number of hours spent receiving support for her business in a professional coaching container (~60 hours)
- The number of vacation days she took (~30), including a two-week international trip and a full holiday break
- The number of mentor-mentee connections she worked toward facilitating (~100) through her consultation business
According to her LinkedIn post, she also enjoyed some wonderful personal successes:
- She attended 4-5 Crossfit classes nearly every week for a full year and can now complete 10 burpees in a row without stopping
- She re-started personal therapy and couples therapy
- She finally found an anxiety med that works for her
- She signed up to run a half marathon in June 2023
- She started teaching yoga at her Crossfit gym
- She went to an outdoor music festival for the first time in years
Celebrate your successes
Meg talks a lot about how running a business is hard work, because it can be. “And yet, there is real benefit in stepping back and acknowledging that it isn't all crap,” Meg said.
It’s important, she continued, to know that, “in fact, much of it can be very, very good, and that the days where things feel heavy might just be a normal part of the ups and downs of going your own way.”
One of her favorite parts of coaching other therapists and coaches is to point out and celebrate the successes that they'd just as easily sweep under the rug, minimize, or otherwise dismiss as being not "big enough" or "important enough."
“It’s vital that you sing your own praises, and invite others to sing your praises as well,” Meg encouraged. “The road is long and it’s important to keep your perspective wide, which includes looking at all of the things that are going well and not minimizing it. That can make all the difference in the world when you’re going out on your own.”
This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult their own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post.
Megan Kelly, MA, LMHC is a mental health therapist in the state of Indiana and a business coach for therapists. She made six figures as a therapist in her first year of private practice and helps other therapists learn how to do the same. She runs the popular Instagram account @antiworktherapist. You can find her at www.lykkecounseling.com or www.informercoaching.com.