Getting Paid: To Have an Office orNot have an Office—That's the Question on Many Therapists’ Minds Today
While some therapists continue to work with clients face-to-face in a therapy office as a result of stay at home orders across the country, a majority of mental health professionals find themselves working virtually with the clients in their practice doing video or phone sessions. This has caused many clinicians to wonder if they still need an office for private practice and if they should keep paying for an office when they only work with clients virtually now.
Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, Craigslist, and other therapist forums are full of postings by therapists who are vacating their offices and terminating their leases or who are looking for someone to take over a full time single or group office space lease. There are also numerous for sale postings for therapy office furnishings—couches, therapist chairs, desks, end tables, lamps, waiting room furniture, and wall art.
The therapy office landscape has definitely changed.
Months ago, therapists who sublet their office space and were only working virtually with clients, made the decision to jettison their offices as they quickly gave notice and stopped paying rent. Since office space has been plentiful in the past these therapists weren’t worried about subletting an office in the future should they desire to resume in office therapy sessions with clients. About 40% of clinicians in private practice usually sublet office space. Time will tell whether subletting an office will be as easy and inexpensive as it has been in the past since no one can predict how many therapists will retain their physical office space after practicing virtually.
Those therapists new to practice who leased their own office as well as those clinicians who depend on subletting office space to others to pay their office rent each month let their offices go and terminated their leasing agreements right away, too, since they no longer had the funds to pay their office rent while working virtually. About 10% of therapists were in this category of reluctantly, but necessarily, sacrificing their offices.
For about 10% of clinicians, there is no question of them giving up their office or not paying their office rent whether or not they are working with clients in person or virtually. They made their decision right away, too—they're keeping their offices. This group seems to have it the easiest when answering this question, as it’s a no-brainer for them to keep their physical office.
Currently many clinicians with longtime practices and full caseloads are questioning themselves as to whether they should continue to pay rent for an office or if they are wasting the money. A full 50% of therapists, with or without a full practice, are currently in the process of figuring out whether it’s prudent to give up their office space and eliminate their office rent expenditure.
This is an agonizing decision-making experience for this group of therapists who have a lease agreement with them as the sole signatory. This is the question that is on many a therapist’s mind and is being discussed with colleagues and in many therapy forums online. The answer comes after a lot of soul searching, number crunching, and scenario planning.
How does a therapist go about deciding whether or not to continue paying for an office location for their practice when they’re not working with clients from the office premises?
By reevaluating your practice.
A subgroup of therapists has decided that after doing virtual work with clients these past few months, their practice will remain virtual, no office space needed. This will be about 10-15% of therapists, overall and 10% of those who rented space full time. The answer to the question of an office for these therapists is an easy one, no physical office just a virtual one.
As therapists ask themselves whether to keep paying rent for an office or to relinquish it and stop, most are focused on the financial aspects. “Why should I keep paying for an office if I’m only seeing clients virtually and tele-sessions are either free or low cost? Isn’t money being wasted.”
Another aspect to consider besides the financial one is what a clinician actually needs a physical location and address for. Many therapists are opting for a low-cost P.O. Box address as their practice and mailing address when they don’t want their home address listed. For most professional things this works out fine, however, there is concern that some insurance companies may not pay therapists or reimburse client superbills for sessions without an actual physical address. Rumors abound. It’s always good to check with the insurance company for their requirements.
More concerning for private pratitioners is how the internet search engines rank practices and websites without a physical address. Current information is showing that Google searches show results in a searcher's local area first, so the concern for therapists is whether or not their practice listing is being included in as many search listings if they don't have a actual physical address. We’ll have to see how this plays out.
Overall, the biggest things to consider when evaluating whether or not to continue renting an office are time, money, and effort. How much time will it take to find, furnish, and set up an office that works for my practice if I give this one up? How much will I save if I give this office up and set up a new one later—include costs for moving, internet, cleaning, insurance, parking, etc.?
A clinician who has a month-to-month agreement with a low rental rate with an office that’s the right size, in a good location with easy and inexpensive parking, good ventilation, and soundproofing, may find it’s less costly and time consuming to pay office rent for a full year or even two, than to move out and find and set up the office again a year or two later. Crunch your numbers for this answer.
Another clinician, one who’s looking to make a change and find a better office space with more fitting parking, soundproofing, and ventilation, may find it’s much more beneficial and cost-effective to end their lease and look for a new office space when the time comes.
Think about what fits best for you as a clinician and business owner, your clientele, and your practice. The world is full of options for you to have the practice you desire. Take some time to figure out what’s best for you now.
Enjoy this opportunity to reevaluate your practice.
Lynne Azpeitia, LMFT
For 10+ years Lynne Azpeitia has helped therapists to live richer and happier lives through her workshops, private practice and career coaching, and her practice consultation groups which train, support, and coach licensed therapists, interns & students how to create and maintain a successful, thriving clinical practice and a profitable career