Do psychotherapists need a business license

Deborah C. Escalante


If I am going to practice under sole proprietorship, do I have to register my practice as a business for tax purposes? Or can I still write off expenses without registering with the state as a business?

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Hi Jessica,

Probably you need to register with your municipality. But this varies depending on the rules of your city, and the revenues you make. For example, some places don’t have a business license tax, so they might not require you to register, other places have a business license tax, but not for businesses that make less that $10,000 per annum, etc. I wish I could give you an exact answer. The good news is a quick call to your city’s Office of Business Development will probably get you an answer in about 5 minutes (I’ve made that call plenty of times, when I’ve opened practices in different areas). One thing to keep in mind is, all things equal, if you’re getting ready to plant a practice, maybe choose an area that doesn’t have a business license tax. Where Thriveworks HQ is located, we pay a little over one-half a percent of our revenue in ‘business license tax’ to our city. Four miles down the road is another county with no such tax (so we’re looking to move).

Lastly, always check with your accountant and attorney (that’s my disclaimer/cop-out). Hope this helps!

Here is a video and an article that might help:
Do I need a business license?
Pay attention to local taxes:


A lot of people who enter the mental health profession have a passion for helping marriages and families. This is why a lot of mental health professionals want to start their own private counseling practice. In California, licensed professionals are not allowed to form limited liability companies. Instead, they are only permitted to form either a sole proprietorship or a professional corporation. This article discusses the requirements and all the basics of forming a marriage and family therapy professional corporation.  

What is a Private Counselling Practice Corporation?


A private practice therapy corporation in California is a type of professional corporation that is authorized by the California Secretary of State. There are three subtypes of private practices, namely: marriage and family therapy corporation, licensed clinical social worker corporation, and psychological professional corporation.  

What Government Agency Regulates Private Counseling Practice Corporations? 


All professional corporations need to be registered with the appropriate government agency that regulates their line of services. The Board of Behavioral Sciences is the regulatory agency in California responsible for licensing the following private practices: 

The Board of Behavioral Sciences creates rules and regulations that ensure competency in the mental health profession and the protection of consumers. Currently, the agency has over 100,000 active licensees and registrants. 

What are the California State Laws and Codes that Private Counseling Practices Must Abide by? 

All marriage and family therapy corporations must abide by these three California State Laws or Codes: 

  1. California Corporations Code


  2. Business and Professions Code


  3. California Code of Regulations


To read the full text of these laws, go to the end of this page! 

Client Question

: Do I need to be a licensed psychologist to put up a private counseling practice? 

Since California law defines a professional corporation as a company that is legally allowed to perform professional services, only those who are licensed to provide marriage and family counseling sessions are permitted to form a private counseling practice. More specifically, only licensed marriage and family therapists, licensed clinical social workers, and licensed psychologists are allowed to set up private practices as California professional corporations.

+Read the answer

Common Questions Asked When Starting a Private Practice Therapy Corporation in California


Our corporate attorneys have had a plethora of experiences in helping many clients form their own professional corporations. The most common questions asked when starting a private practice in California are: 

What are the requirements in naming a private practice professional corporation?


The name of a marriage and family corporation must contain one or more of the words: marriage, family, or child; together with one or more of the words: counseling, counselor, therapy, or therapist. Licensed marriage and family therapists must also inform their clients at the outset of treatment that the business is conducted by a marriage and family corporation. 

If the company is a licensed clinical social worker corporation, the name or names under which it is operating must contain the words: licensed clinical social worker. The enterprise should also inform its clients that the business is conducted by a licensed clinical social worker corporation.  

If the private practice is a psychological professional corporation, its name should have one or more of the following words: psychology, psychological, psychologist, psychology consultation, psychology consultant, psychometry, psychometrics, psychometrists, psychotherapy, psychotherapist, psychoanalysis, or psychoanalysts.  

Moreover, whether it is a marriage and family corporation, a licensed clinical social worker corporation, or a psychological professional corporation, the company’s name must include a word or abbreviation that is indicative of its corporate existence. 

Are private counseling practices in California allowed to use a DBA (Fictitious Name)? 


A Doing-Business-As or a fictitious business name is any name other than the corporate name stated in its Articles of Incorporation filed with the California Secretary of State. A private counseling practice that operates under a fictitious business name must not use any name that is false, misleading, or deceptive.  

If you plan to do business under a fictitious name, you need to perform a search through your city or county’s database to make sure that the name is not already in use, submit a fictitious business name form, and pay the nominal filing fee. 

Setting Up the Bylaws of a Private Practice Corporation in California


The bylaws of a professional corporation are set up to make sure that the business functions efficiently and effectively. Part of a company’s bylaws is the regulations on who can be issued shares and who can be an officer or director in the corporation.  

Who can be a shareholder?


In a marriage and family therapy corporation, 51 percent of the company’s outstanding shares must be owned by a licensed marriage and family therapist. The remaining 49 percent may be owned by licensed physicians and surgeons, licensed psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, registered nurses, licensed chiropractors, licensed acupuncturists, and naturopathic doctors. The number of these licensed persons cannot exceed the number of MFTs in the corporation, and cannot surpass a combined share total of 49 percent. 

In the same way, a licensed clinical social worker must own at least 51 percent of the outstanding shares in a licensed clinical social worker corporation. The remaining stocks may be owned by licensed marriage and family therapists, licensed physicians and surgeons, licensed psychologists, registered nurses, licensed chiropractors, licensed acupuncturists, and naturopathic doctors. The number of these licensed persons cannot exceed the number of licensed clinical social workers in the corporation, and cannot surpass a combined share total of 49 percent. 

In a psychological professional corporation, a psychologist must own at least 51 percent of the outstanding shares of the business, while the remaining 49 percent may be owned by licensed physicians and surgeons, licensed doctors of podiatric medicine, registered nurses, licensed optometrists, licensed marriage and family therapists, licensed clinical social workers, licensed chiropractors, licensed acupuncturists, and naturopathic doctors. The number of these licensed persons cannot exceed the number of psychologists in the corporation and cannot surpass a combined share total of 49 percent. 

Who can be an officer/director in a private practice corporation?


All professional corporations in California are required to have directors and officers. If you are the sole stockholder of your company, then you must also be the director while serving as both the president and the treasurer of your business. In situations like this, the other officers in your corporation, such as the secretary, do not necessarily have to be licensed professionals. 

In cases wherein there are only two shareholders in your corporation, the two of you can be the directors of the company. You can also decide among yourselves to fill the offices of president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer of the corporation.  

In cases where there are more than two owners in your professional corporation, the owners must hold a board meeting and elect directors for the corporation. The owners can also elect officers or have the elected directors choose those who will serve as officers.  

Are there Additional Certificates/Documents When Forming a Private Practice Therapy Corporation?


Certificate of Registration


Private counseling practice corporations do not need a certificate of registration in order to operate in California.  

Filing with the Board of Behavioral Sciences


To register your private practice corporation with the Board of Behavioral Sciences, go their official page at 

Full California Law- text



Therapist checking items off list on clipboardStarting a private practice providing counseling to clients can be exhilarating. It gives you a chance to help people on your own terms, to research and try new therapeutic techniques, and to structure your business in a way that works with your lifestyle. It can also be terrifying. After all, you might know how to support clients, but likely have little or no experience running or marketing a business.

If you’ve already finished school and are licensed in your state, this checklist can help you open a thriving private practice. If you’re new to the world of therapy and looking for help becoming a therapist, review this guide instead.

Understand the Challenges of Running a Practice

Working for yourself might seem like a dream come true, especially if you already love being a therapist. But private practice requires a hefty dose of business acumen and adds myriad new responsibilities to your daily life. So talk to other therapists in private practice to get a better understanding of what they like and what they don’t. Some important considerations include:

  • The expenses of private practice. You will likely face higher taxes if you are a business owner or self-employed. You’ll also have to plan for retirement and fund your own health insurance. If you hire employees, you’ll need to pay payroll taxes, offer benefits, and provide a competitive salary. Office space, phones, internet, and other costs can further eat into your budget.
  • Work style. When you’re in private practice, no one else tells you what to do. You’ll have to manage your own time, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Time management and organization skills, as well as significant motivation, are key here.
  • The endless paperwork. You’ll need to seek insurance reimbursement, ensure you comply with state, local, and federal laws, provide your clients with the right forms, and keep track of therapy notes. Plan to spend at least an hour or two of each day managing the business side of your work.

Understand Various Legal Requirements

Every state and municipality has its own regulations governing businesses. Plan to consult with a business lawyer so you can follow the laws in your area. Some important considerations include:

  • State and local zoning laws that may limit where you can practice.
  • Whether or not you need a business license.
  • How best to incorporate your business as a separate entity.
  • Malpractice and professional liability insurance.
  • Scope of practice concerns.

Formulate a Business Plan

If you seek a loan to start your business, you’ll likely have to provide a detailed business plan. Even if you’re funding everything out of pocket, a business plan can help you succeed as early as possible. This should be an evolving document that changes as you learn and do more. 

Some things to include in your plan include:

  • How much money you need to make each year to keep practicing.
  • How much you need to bring in each year to earn a decent living.
  • Financial goals, such as earning enough to hire a second therapist.
  • Your marketing plan.
  • Goals for the first months, first year, and first 5 years. This enables you to track your progress and assess whether your plans are realistic as you hit various benchmarks.
  • A loan repayment plan, if you need a loan.
  • Funding options. For example, do you have savings that can help fund your marketing costs?

Make Decisions About Office Space and Logistics

To run a successful business, you must have a safe and inviting space to see clients. That doesn’t mean you have to invest in a fancy office. Some therapists cordon off a room in their home to use as a home office. Others share office space with another therapist. No matter what you choose, you’ll need to ensure you’ve budgeted for all of the following:

  • A secure, confidential space to meet clients.
  • Office furniture and decorations.
  • Office technology, such as a phone or answering service, and internet access.
  • Security concerns. Depending on the client population you counsel and where you see clients, you may need to consider security issues. Some therapists may need to install a panic button or ensure their office is only accessible with the right security code.

Decide Whether to Hire Help

An office administrator can save you time, and possibly money, by answering the phone, managing paperwork, tracking down payments, and performing other key duties. If you pay an administrator half of what you make hourly, for example, the time the administrator frees up is time you can spend earning money on paying clients rather than dealing with administrative hassles.

Of course, hiring help also presents some additional expenses: salaries, benefits, payroll taxes, and more. Spend some time weighing the costs and benefits of employees such as a receptionist, office manager, or even a second therapist.

Join Insurance Provider Panels

Joining insurance provider panels can help you find more clients since you’ll be listed as part of the insurer’s provider network. Joining a provider panel allows you to receive payments directly from insurers. This makes therapy more accessible and affordable and may expand the network of clients to whom you can provide therapy. Start by applying to the largest providers in your area. You can usually find an application and information about joining the provider panel on the insurer’s web page.

Network with Other Therapists

Networking is free marketing. Other therapists can offer tips for running a business, refer clients to you, and serve as a sounding board when you need advice. But networking is about more than just letting someone know you’re opening an office. Networking should be a reciprocal relationship built on mutual trust, not name-dropping. So get to know other therapists. Invest in their work and businesses. Find ways to partner on projects together. Gaining the respect of your colleagues takes time, but it is well worth the effort.

Market Your Business

There are dozens of ways to market your business and not all require a significant financial investment. You’ll need a quality website, since many clients find a therapist by searching online. Others search for specific problems or questions, then choose their therapist when they find a therapist who offers a quality, compassionate answer. So a website full of useful information and inviting language is a potent marketing tool.

Some other affordable strategies for marketing your business include:

  • Posting useful, helpful content on other websites. Writing blog posts and web articles raises your profile and displays your knowledge.
  • Attending professional seminars where you can network with other therapists.
  • Answering mental health questions on online forums and message boards.

Providing quality care remains the single most important thing you can do to market yourself, so don’t spend too much time focusing on marketing gimmicks. Establishing a niche can help you do the best possible work, since clients who know you’re experienced at treating a particular issue may recommend you to friends and family.

Other strategies for marketing your business include:

  • Creating a social media following.
  • Investing in social media or Google ads.
  • Getting quality, professional-looking business cards.
  • Investing in a professional headshot to post on your website and use in bios for professional events.

Set Clear Policies

Clear policies help you better manage your practice while ensuring clients know what to expect. Some considerations include:

  • What types of payment are you willing to accept?
  • What will you charge per session? Can you offer discounts, such as sliding-scale fees or multiple session discounts?
  • What is your appointment cancellation policy?
  • What specific steps will you take to protect client privacy and comply with laws such as HIPAA?
  • What will you do if a client is a danger to themselves or to others?
  • Under what circumstances will you refer a client to another treatment provider?

It’s important to memorialize these policies in clearly worded forms. But don’t assume that clients will read through these forms. During your first session, discuss your policies with clients. This fosters a sense of mutual trust and ensures clients understand what they can and can’t expect when they choose you as their therapist.

Assemble the Right Forms

Building forms might seem like a pain, but over time, they can streamline the process of running your practice. Some forms to consider include:

  • A client intake form to gather basic information that can inform treatment.
  • Client disclosure forms that outline your office policies, privacy policies, and other important guidelines.
  • An informed consent document authorizing treatment.
  • A referral form for clients whom you refer to other therapists.
  • Insurance reimbursement forms built to comply with the guidelines you must follow for each provider panel you join.
  • Client information forms that ensure all basic client information is in one place.

Do Excellent Work

Ultimately, the most important marketing strategy is to do good work for clients whom you are qualified to treat. When you make a meaningful difference in someone’s life, they are more likely to recommend you to a friend. Supporting a person as they change their life for the better can be immensely fulfilling, making it easier to juggle the many roles you must fill in private practice.

GoodTherapy offers many resources, including a directory to help you market your business, continuing education seminars to help you sharpen your skills and become a better manager, and a wide range of articles about best practices in the field of mental health. Become a member today so you can begin growing your business.


  1. DeAngelis, T. (n.d.). Are you really ready for private practice? Retrieved from
  2. Establishing a private practice. (2019, March 22). Retrieved from
  3. Getting on insurance panels: Preparing for the process. (2012, December 17). Retrieved from
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