How to Work Through the Fear of Starting a Private Practice

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Overcoming the fear of starting a private practice

Fear and starting a counseling private practice is like The Wizard of Oz. How to make it, work through the fear and avoid the flying monkeys.

Whether you have decided to go into private practice, or you are thinking about it, there will be some internal and external challenges that I liken to Dorothy’s journey in the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz. The movie is about an orphaned teenager living with her adoptive aunt and uncle on a farm in Kansas. Dorothy dreams of going “over the rainbow” and is moved to run away after a nasty neighbor threatens to have her dog taken away. In the midst of her escape plan, a tornado hits. She runs home only to be hit in the head, amidst the tornado, and so begins her dream of going to a magical technicolor land called Oz.

The first steps on the road to success in starting a counseling private practice…

A counseling private practice is essentially the desire to go “over the rainbow” to a magical land and road less travelled called entrepreneurship. The road you will travel is much like the “yellow brick road” that Dorothy takes to get to the Wizard at the Emerald City in hopes of finding a way home. The road is often filled with fear, confusion, feeling lost, and being alone on a journey. However, the road is also filed with new friends, learning, and opportunity for growth, both clinically and as an entrepreneur. It is important to know these feelings are not unique and arise in many people who decide to start a counseling private practice.

What does it take?

Much like the Cowardly Lion, in the movie, who is afraid of his own tail and seeks courage; traveling the road to a counseling private practice takes courage and grit. But congratulations! Just by dreaming, thinking about it and researching, you are ahead of the majority who aren’t thinking outside of the box. Courage and grit are two essential characteristics to making it in the land of entrepreneurship. Going into the fear, continuing to move forward and being open to help and support from unexpected people and places are part of the journey. This TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth “The key to Success? Grit”, sheds some light on what sets the successful apart from the unsuccessful.

Dreams are private and be selective with whom you share…

Like Dorothy, in the beginning you may feel lost and far away from home and everyone you know. In a sense, you are. Not many people are willing to start their own business, take the risk and leave the conventional 9-5 or agency work. At the beginning of my journey, it seemed, when I told people what I was planning to do or what I was actually doing, they didn’t get it. They knew people went to therapists but somehow the idea that I would do this puzzled them. I would get random job postings sent to me or suggestions for other careers that had nothing to do with my journey, plan or education. I was already on the yellow brick road in search of something different.

When doing something unconventional or following your dream it often triggers things in other people. Questions about what they should be doing or, if you succeed, what it means or says about them. Some might call it jealousy, but it often comes from a place of vulnerability and shame. Your risk-taking triggers their fear, doubt and feelings of vulnerability. In the film the Wicked Witch of the West represents these characteristics. The witch was lonely, unwelcome at the Emerald City and didn’t have friends. As a result she wanted to stop Dorothy from going to the Emerald City because she didn’t want Dorothy to have anything that she couldn’t possess. You will notice when these characters show up in your life because they will typically have a million questions about how you will do it, where you will get clients and suggestions on how to do the traditional. They may ask, “what if it doesn’t happen as fast as you think it will or what if it fails?” Know that these questions are more about them than you and avoid these people. You may have to avoid some phone calls, be busy, keep responses short and vague and, if you are stuck in a phone conversation that starts to go south, announce that you have to go to the bathroom. Really.

Your self-talk…

Negative self-talk reminds me of the flying monkeys in the movie that the witch sends to stop Dorothy. When I was a kid, the flying monkeys terrified me. In your journey to a counseling private practice, the flying monkeys will creep in usually in the form of statements and questions related to failure and fueled by fear. They often sound like this: “Who do you think you are?” “Why should you be able to do this?” “You know you will never make it, right?” Those are probably voices of people from the past and it may take work to identify them and put them outside of yourself, so they don’t run the show. The first step is mindfulness and awareness. When those thoughts arise, you can say, “hello flying monkeys thank you for the message, but you are not invited.”

The not-knowing part…

The scarecrow who had no brain and couldn’t think for himself may be another part you wrestle with. In the film, Dorothy asks him for directions and he points her in several opposing directions. At times you may feel like you have no brain or no idea what you are doing. It’s ok to be in this place and realize you are at the point where you don’t know what you don’t know. Before long, you will know what you don’t know and you will become overwhelmed and perhaps paralyzed like the Tin Man. However, the scarecrow despite not having a brain, was actually wise and insightful and ended up taking over the Emerald city in the Wizard’s absence. So you too will come full circle once you come to the indisputable certainty that you do have a brain, you are an entrepreneur and all it takes is a little help from some friends you will meet along the way, just like Dorothy.

Following your heart and being vulnerable…

The Tin Man was in search of a heart and, at times, it made him vulnerable to emotions and also sensitive to others. He had to be careful not to cry or he might rust in place again and get stuck. But, in the end, it became clear that the Tin Man had all the qualities of having a heart. In a sense, he was following it all the way to Emerald City. Following your heart is probably what got you on this path to begin with. Know that emotions will come up and let them flow and identify them. By stifling fear and uncertainty, we can become fused with it and get stuck. Much like the approach to the flying monkeys and self-doubt, pay attention to what feelings come up and approach them with some compassion. It might feel like this: “I feel scared shitless right now”, followed by self-compassionate talk like: “I know you are scared and it’s understandable you are trying hard and taking a risk, it’s ok to be sad I am here with you”. Getting more support can also help manage these feelings. You can reach out through possible Facebook groups in your state, networking groups that may be on, professional private practice experts such as Joe Sanok and or Slowly your circle will grow and you will learn what questions to ask as you become clear about the direction you want to go.

You may need to take time out to rest much like Dorothy and her friends in the field of poppies. Remembering to take some down time will allow you to return renewed and energized and with more clarity. It was after Dorothy’s nap that she awoke to see Oz clearly and had the energy to continue on the yellow brick road to get there. Know that you will eventually find your way home on the path to your true north and where you belong. Good luck and best wishes on taking the first step on the road to entrepreneurship.


Tara is a licensed professional counselor, licensed alcohol and drug counselor and certified yoga teacher. She has worked in behavioral health for over 15 years and currently has a private practice in West Hartford and Cheshire, CT. Her writing has been featured in Wallingford Connecticut Magazine and she is a regular contributing guest on Radio 103.5FM WNHH, “The Culture Cocktail Hour”. Having learned from personal experience she is passionate about helping people find more joy, mental health and wellness. To find out more about Tara visit,, and twitter @taratherapyct.