4 key questions to help you prepare personally and professionally for managing maternity leave in private practice.
I'm a mother of four children. My first two children were born during my educational journey and my last two were born while I was in private practice. Being in private practice provides many perks for balancing work and family life. The flexibility of being my own boss has been wonderful. However, taking time off for extended periods of time, like maternity leave, can prove to be tricky. Unlike working for an agency, in private you don't get paid leave in private practice, you still have expenses to pay even when you're not seeing clients, and you have unpredictable income as you "wind down" to take time off and then build your client load back up after taking family leave. Becoming pregnant while in private practice and planning for the new addition in your family requires some extra planning, coordinating, and saving.
How Much Time Will You Take Off?
These little babies can be a BIG adjustment. It's important to really think about taking enough time for you to adapt to being a parent to this new, little person. Dr. Jennifer Fee, psychologist from California found that one of the most helpful things was taking sufficient time off after giving birth. She suggests coming back gradually and not carrying a full load for awhile.
"Rushing back [to work] while you're adjusting to and bonding with a new baby is not good for you, your baby, or your clients. The great thing about private practice is that it's not an 'all or nothing' business. You can start practicing with a few clients rather than jumping back into a full load," says Dr. Fee.
Determining the length of your maternity or paternity leave can be extremely important in keeping your practice thriving. If you are a sole practitioner, taking a three month leave could potentially leave you with very few clients upon your return. You must decide not only how long is financially feasible but also how long works for your family and your clients.
Who will provide services to your clients in your absence?
It's important to consider who will provide clinical services to your clients while you are on maternity leave. If you are in solo practice, consider reaching out to another trusted private practice colleague who has openings to provide services to your clients while you are on leave. Make sure that your clients have the contact information of the therapist who'll be covering for you. I suggest that clients in crisis have appointments set up with this therapist before you take time off.
I recently talked with a private practice colleague who is pregnant with her third child. I suggested that she consider hiring another therapist to cover her clinical cases and also to generate income for her practice while she is on maternity leave.
When will you stop taking new clients?
You'll also want to think about when you will stop taking new clients. If you plan on taking new clients up until your leave I suggest that in your first conversation you inform them that you will be taking time off so they can have the option of seeing someone who can provide uninterrupted services.
Jennifer Venable-Humphrey, LCSW of Social Work Solutions stopped accepting new clients one month before her due date. When put on bed rest with her third child, Jennifer used Skype or phone sessions to check in with current clients that she had to stop seeing earlier than planned.
How will you cover your fixed expenses and lack of income?
Taking time off in private practice is tricky because you have to plan not only for lost income but for paying the fixed expenses of maintaining a practice while you are on leave. Expenses like rent, phone, internet, or perhaps the cost of support staff may need to be paid whether you are practicing or not.
Joseph Sanok, LLP, LPC of Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI suggests considering the cost of being away from your family once you have returned to your clients. Sanok decided to increase his fee when his wife became pregnant. "For me, I knew that working in my practice was going to be difficult when I had the draw of a wonderful new addition. By raising my rates, it made it easier to give up the time."
I'm curious to learn more about the changes you made or creative ways that you found for your transition to parenthood in your private practice. Share those here!