There are many reasons why counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists move to private practice. Some of us choose it straight away after graduation, some after having a career in the NHS or other organisations. It’s providing a convenient structure that can easily fit around childcare and other life activities while offering financial rewards. when you decide to work in private practice, the first thing you need to do is to find a suitable counselling room and in London, this may prove to be a challenge.
There are four types of counselling room arrangements that London-based practitioners can choose from:
• Working from home
• Hiring a room in a practice
• Renting a serviced office
• Taking own lease for self-contained office.
Each of them offers different benefits, challenges and legal implications to consider.
Providing counselling and psychotherapy from your home
If you have space in your home you may consider turning one of the rooms into a counselling office. This can be a convenient and cost-effective way of arranging your work as you do not need to sign a contract, worry about as many expenses or compromise on design. As with any other counselling rooms, it will require consideration of how to keep the space confidential. The soundproofing must be of a good standard to make sure your neighbours, people who live with or visit you won’t be able to hear. You will also need to make sure that your clients can use a toilet that seems professional and does not contain your personal belongings that may impact the therapeutic relationship.
Another aspect to consider is clients having your private address. It’s important that you consider your safety. Some therapists working from home do not offer the exact address on the website and interview their clients on the phone before inviting them to their homes. Some have reported struggling with separating private and professional life, e.g. a colleague of mine felt concerned that each time her doorbell rang she wondered if this may be a client coming at a different time. There is also the question about working in the same area as where you live as it may prove to be difficult when going to a local gym or having children in the same school as your clients.
Whilst for many working from home is a good option for many, It’s important to consider if your mortgage or rental agreement and planning permission allow you to have a business at the property, whether you need to pay business rates on top of the council tax, and the increases in home insurance, utilities and high-quality internet. . It’s also important to note that you cannot rent out a counselling room to others unless you are set up a business property in terms of planning permissions and business tax rates.
Lastly, if you work from home you may also consider how you make sure you connect with others in our profession. This can be lonely work sometimes and having a professional network can be a great source of support and connection. Perhaps this can be achieved through peer supervision or a volunteer position or finding balance by renting a room in a practice just one day a week.
Renting a therapy room
For many this is the easiest and most cost-effective way to work out of your home. There may be opportunities to connect with other professionals, some may provide CPD events, and your boundaries between private and professional lives are easier to keep. There are many established practices around London, but they vary in quality and price.
Some of the established practices offer a one-month notice and some support with marketing (either a profile on a website or another referral system), both of which we offer at Kensington Counselling Rooms. Some of them are not managed by psychological practitioners and may have different rules regarding a meeting and greeting clients, confidentiality, etc.
The best option would be to go and see a few places to get a sense of what is available. It’s usual that mid-week gets booked much faster than Friday or the weekend, so you may get a better deal or availability nearer the weekend.
Working ad-hoc (when hours can be booked freely) may seem to be a good option as it requires limited commitment, but it also does not offer any guarantee that you will have the same slot each week and offers little holding to the clients. Ad hoc is also usually more expensive. Perhaps consider 3-6 month investment into your first counselling room rental to establish your practice and get your first few clients. It’s normal to feel anxious about getting started, but our experience at Therapport Limited taught us that clients will eventually come and each therapist needs to find their own support in their supervision and develop their own referral strands. For more information about how to market yourself as a therapist, visit my other blog post.
The general rule about renting is that those practices that do not offer formal contracts may do it in order to avoid committing to certain standards or may not have the right to sublet their offices (see below). You should expect a professional therapy practice to have clarity in their agreement and offer professionalism as our clients will feel it too.
Depending on the price, some private practices will have a reception or a waiting area. It would be worth seeing if they have access for wheelchairs, have good policies for diversity (e.g. gender-neutral bathrooms) and most of all if their internet is good and stable. If you know anyone who used that space before, this is a good time to get in touch.
Providing counselling from a serviced office
If you start looking for an office to rent you will be snowed with hundreds of offers for offices to rent in London. The majority of them will be serviced offices. Some prices are confusing and the very low ones may be a quote for hiring just a desk in an office. This is obviously not anything that we would consider in the counselling profession. In the language of serviced office property managers, a counsellor needs a single-person office. The difference between leasing an office (below) and renting a serviced office is that the latter offers some kind of services e.g. reception, internet, fire safety, water machine etc.
When viewing a serviced office counsellors and psychotherapists need to make sure that the feel of the place is suitable for our services. For example, a client may be reluctant to fully engage with counselling and be vulnerable if they know that they will have to walk down a corridor of unrelated offices full of random people.
The majority of serviced offices in London charge VAT on top of the rent, so make sure you add this to the bill. Most probably you will also have to pay business rates and some utilities. Some of them will come furnished and some will require you to decorate your new counselling space.
Sharing serviced office usually offers a legal challenge. It’s not possible to have a right to sublet a single-person office as by nature they are a very small contract for the property owners. So in order to share the room you may either form a company together and give access to the room to all employees or do it without legal basis. Although most of the counsellors choose the latter, it may prove difficult if the landlord realises that the office is used by anyone not included in the lease agreement.
Leasing an office for a private practice
This is the most complex way of creating a therapeutic space and is for those thinking about opening a whole practice rather than just looking for a room to rent for their own private practice. It’s certainly possible to earn some money this way, but you will also need to develop some entrepreneurial and business skills. Searching for a self-contained office you will be faced with a difficult choice of whether to take a place with lower rent but high investment or lower investment and higher rent.
Cheaper offices will require more investment in refurbishment and fitting. Many building companies that work for the building owner do not offer the sound-proofing quality that counselling and psychotherapy businesses require (even though they say they do). When viewing an office you need to be able to imagine this space adapted for counselling. You may need to build or remove walls, add additional doors, improve lighting and ventilation, etc.
I recommend taking a lease for a long time, i.e. not less than 10 years, for counselling and psychotherapy. I know it requires commitment and confidence to take a contract for such a long time, but many of our clients will make a commitment to stay in therapy for many years and we need to create spaces that will support this.
You should consider all costs including lease fee, VAT (if the property was elected for VAT), service charge, business rates, utilities, marketing, etc. It’s recommended that you discuss this move with your accountant and get a lawyer specialising in business properties to assist you with signing the lease.
In terms of the business structure, you may decide to allocate clients to therapists and charge a percentage/fee for each therapy hour as our friends do at the Cambridge Counselling Service or charge per room rental as we do in Kensington and Pimlico. Either way, you will have to give careful consideration to VAT regulations as room rental is VAT exempt only under very specific circumstances (see VAT section 742). To avoid getting registered for VAT you may consider taking a smaller office of 2-3 counselling rooms to rent that will enable you to stay below the current VAT threshold.
Choosing a space can be one of the most important decisions of your life. I hope that this article helped you to clarify different pathways when choosing a counselling room to rent in London. From my experience working with many psychotherapists at this stage of their career, I believe that private practice is a viable choice that starts with renting a suitable counselling room. How exciting!