Members frequently contact the Professional Practice Department with questions about what the College requires of members opening a private practice. They may consider this route because they:
- would like to address an identified need in the community
- are seeking increased flexibility or autonomy, or
- wish to supplement their employment at an organization
The decision to open a private practice brings with it a host of obligations and responsibilities, many of which would otherwise belong to an employer. It should not be taken lightly.
Although the OCSWSSW does not have specific requirements for setting up a private practice, it is strongly advised that members have extensive experience (including significant experience in their field of practice) before practising independently. Private practice is not an entry-to-practice competency. The knowledge, skills and judgement required to practise in a sound, ethical and competent manner are beyond what would be attained through completion of a social work degree or a social service work diploma alone.
Access to regular supervision is essential for members in private practice. The need for supervision evolves and changes throughout a member’s career, but it never disappears.
The public and members themselves are protected when the risks of private practice – including insufficient experience, isolation and a lack of access to supervision and more informal support- are minimized, and when members take the necessary steps to ensure that they are well-prepared for this venture.
If you are considering or embarking upon private practice, we recommend that you review the following:
Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice
Thoroughly review the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice Handbook, 2nd Edition, 2008. The standards of practice:
- set out the minimum standards of professional practice and conduct for all members
- serve as the basis for sound and ethical practice, and
- help to guide and assess the professional behaviour of members if their practice is called into question
Although the standards of practice should be considered in their entirety, there are many interpretations in them that are especially relevant to private practice. The Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice Handbook, 2nd Edition, 2008 is organized into 8 Principles which cover:
I. Relationship with Clients
II. Competence and Integrity
III. Responsibility to Clients
IV. The Social Work and Social Service Work Record
VIII. Sexual Misconduct
Additional College Resources
Read Practice Notes, Practice Guidelines and other articles of particular relevance to private practice available under the Resource Room section on the College website:
Self-Employment: Look Before You Leap
Private Practice: The Cost of Doing Business
Social Media and Practice
Confidentiality and Disclosure of Information without Client Consent
Meeting Professional Obligations and Protecting Clients’ Privacy: Disclosure of Information Without Consent
Dual Relationships: Approach with Caution
Confidentiality and Conflict of Interest
Communication Technology and Ethical Practice
“But How Do I know if I’m Competent” – Issues to Consider
New and Improved? Making the Shift to Electronic Records
Note: You may also wish to review other Practice Notes which can be found under the Resource Room.
Consider obligations that you may have under the PHIPA (Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2004) legislation. The PHIPA toolkit should assist you with this, however it is also wise to seek obtain a legal consultation regarding your obligations.
Accounting and Legal Advice
Obtaining legal advice is often required in order to make sound decisions. The need for a legal opinion takes on a heightened importance in private practice: members are required to obtain a legal opinion on their own, rather than through their agency. Members are strongly advised to consider how they might access a legal opinion before they are faced with an urgent dilemma. Similarly, members should consider in advance with whom they wish to consult for accounting advice.
Supervision and Consultation
All members, regardless of their level of experience, should ensure that they have access to supervision or consultation. You are strongly encouraged to arrange supervision before starting your practice. Staff members in the Professional Practice Department are available to consult with you about ethical or practice dilemmas, however these practice consultations are not a substitute for supervision. Staff will help you to identify the Standards of Practice that are relevant in a particular scenario and that will guide your decisions, direct you to other College resources, and help you to identify the pertinent issues in a particular situation.
Regulation of Psychotherapy
If you intend to start a clinical practice, ensure that you are current with respect to the regulation of psychotherapy.
Professional Liability Insurance
Although not required by the College, members are strongly encouraged to obtain professional liability insurance, which can be purchased through a professional association or another insurance carrier. While the mandate of the OCSWSSW is to protect the public interest and regulate the practice of social work and social service work, the mandate of the Ontario Association of Social Workers and the Ontario Social Service Worker Association is to promote the profession and the interests of those in the profession. Membership in the relevant association may offer a reduced rate for professional liability insurance, and in the case of the OASW, a vehicle for advertising one’s services.