In contemplating a future career as a private practitioner in the career counseling or coaching field, it is necessary to perform an abundance of research. Moreover, planning ahead for such an endeavour is prudent, and the counselor or coach must be motivated to research relevant field literature. Counselors and coaches can also refer to associations, such as the National Career Development Association (NCDA) for counselors, and the International Coach Federation (ICF) for coaches, in order to uncover valuable information for help in starting a new practice. For those practitoners wishing to practice in an online environment, further research and personal development are imperative. In terms of distance counseling or coaching, the writer recommends the Ready Minds Distance Career Counseling (or coaching) credentialing program. This online program is comprehensive and covers all of the most important domains relevant to ethical and efficient practice online.


In terms of needed credentials, both counselors and coaches need to consider the aspect of credentialing. For career counseling, this credentialing process includes obtaining a master's degree, along with becoming credentialed as a National Certfied Counselor (NCC)through the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC). For the career coach, or for those who plan to both counsel and coach, specific coach training is needed, along with credentialing through the International Coach Federation (ICF). Finally, it is noteworthy that the NBCC has created a separate credentialing pathway for coaches - the BCC or Board Certified Coach - and obtaining this credential can further promote the coach as a professional, competent, and ethical practitioner in the eyes of the public.

Career Coaching

According to Bench (2008), though the lines are often blurred between career coaching and career counseling, some distinctions can be made. Coaching is generally more results oriented, less structured, and more guided by clients’ agenda than is career counseling. In addition, in at least forty-seven states, career counselors are required to have a master’s degree, whereas coaches do not have to meet this educational requirement (Bench, 2008). Counselors also typically work in hourly increments, usually face-to-face, but career coaches usually work in half-hour increments (and more recently, in shorter “laser” sessions) and coach by phone and email (Bench, 2008).

Fees, Billing, and Other Business Details

Brown (2012) noted that career counselors should have established fees and allow clients to choose the services they need, terminate whenever they deem appropriate, and pay for only those services that have been provided. Brown (2012) also proposed that new career counselors can look at competitors’ fees and establish a commensurate fee schedule. Furthermore, in terms of billing, Chopra (n.d.), a career counselor and coach in private practice, recommends the use of Quicken to record payments and keep track of all of matters financial in running a small business. In addition, Chopra (n.d.)recommends contacting the Small Business Administration (SBA) for help in establishing a sole proprietorship. This organization can offer advice to the small business owner, provide helpful resources needed by business owners, and can even offer loans for sole proprietors to get started running their businesses. Finally, Brown (2012) indicated that the establishment of a private practice involves dealing with a plethora of other details including establishing a recordkeeping system, considering of the possibility of using an answering service, hiring assistants and/or clerical workers, choosing an appropriate liability insurance policy, and selecting an accountant.

Gelardin and Chope (2008) co-authored an article entitled “Deciding whether to start a private practice,” aimed at career counselors, and these authors suggested that trying to figure out the entrepreneurial process by oneself can feel daunting. Gelardin and Chope (2008) proposed “steps to discover whether to open a private practice,” and the first step noted is the importance of assessing one’s entrepreneurial attributes. To decide whether to start a business, it can be helpful to assess one’s interests, skills, family and other early influences, values, and personality traits.

Moreover, Gelardin and Chope (2008) indicated that it is also important to discover one’s inner motivations for opening a private practice; asking yourself if you are a risk-taker is important in this decision. In addition, counselors should research information and the authors suggested O*Net as a resource filled with information that is useful to anyone considering starting a business (Gelardin & Chope, 2008). Gelardin and Chope (2008) also mentioned the SBA (mentioned previously) as an “independent agency of the federal government to aid, counsel, assist, and protect the interests of small business concerns, to preserve free competitive enterprise and to maintain and strengthen the overall economy of our nation”(p. 6). Finally, Gelardin and Chope (2008) suggested that those wishing to start a private practice online must take control of their presence on the Internet by creating an e-profile. This profile includes a synopsis of education, training, certifications, and memberships in counseling associations, as well as a short description of services offered and a link to a professional website.

Setting up a Professional Website

Karen Chopra (n.d.), a distance career counselor, provides a plethora of helpful advice for those career counselors wishing to either practice online or to simply set up a professional website advertising their services. Chopra (n.d.) noted that a website is essential and that the bulk of her clients find her on the web making marketing much easier. A website with the right information and tone can convince a client to work with you. To increase the impact of one’s website, Chopra (n.d.) suggested the following: balance professionalism with warmth; give potential clients a sense of who you are by writing in first person and telling them how you work; help the client imagine working with you, for example by providing vignettes of clients issues, checklists of questions, stories, cartoons or bibliographies; include useful resources including favorite books, websites, inspirational quotes; include an informal, approachable photograph of yourself; and make it easy to contact you by having an email link on every page.

The Welcome Packet

Chopra (n.d.) also shared the welcome packet she uses with clients – the welcome packet can be mailed or emailed to clients prior to the first session to orient them on how the counselor works. The packet conveys the counselor’s professionalism, and further strengthens the bond between the counselor and client. Some suggestions for what to include: an informed-consent from explaining the counselor’s policies, practices and procedures in non-technical language written in the first person; an extensive data form that includes at the very least contact information, family, and medical history, experience with counseling, military service, martial/partnership status, religious affiliation, learning disabilities, and recent losses; and instruments, inventories or checklists that the counselor finds helpful. These last items should be quick and easy to complete or they could impede the bonding process (Chopra, n.d.).

Developing a Testing File

Brown (2012) purported that all private practitioners are faced with identifying and securing a set of tests and inventories that can be used to assist in clients’ career development. The first consideration in the process, according to Brown (2012), is to “qualify” to purchase tests. Professional ethics dictate that competence be considered of primary importance when using tests and inventories, and the potential for malpractice suits against counselors who carelessly use tests and inventories is considerable (Brown, 2012). Thus, it is the writer’s intention to use only those tests and inventories for which she is qualified to administer.

Special Ethical/Legal Considerations for Online Career Counseling or Coaching

As noted previously, it is likely that coaches and counselors will want to integrate distance counseling into their practices; thus, it is imperative that coaches and counselors understand the preparation steps involved in instigate this form of practice. The writer has completed the ReadyMinds distance counseling program. This program has prepared the writer for working in an online capacity; however, there is always new learning required. In terms of new learning, Harris-Bowlsbey, Dikel, and Sampson (2002) authored the book The internet: A tool for career planning (2nd ed.), which is chock full of important information, resources, and counseling association competency and ethical guidelines for review by career counselors hoping to start an online practice.

NCDA (1997) Guidelines for the Use of the Internet for Provision of Career Information and Planning Services

Harris-Bowlsbey et al. (2002) indicated that effective use of technology to support the career decision-making process requires standards of quality for websites and standards of competency for counselors who support their use. In one chapter of their book, Harris-Bowlsbey et al. (2002) provided a list of the 12 competencies proposed the NCDA for career counselors to use as a basis for examining their online practices. The first, facilitative skills, includes the demand that career counselors are able to establish rapport and a trusting relationship even through asynchronous email. In terms of this competency, Boer (2001), in her book concerning career counseling over the Internet, indicated that it is possible to establish this kind of relationship and that some clients prefer this modality because of its higher level of anonymity. The second competency, theory, requires counselors to have knowledge of counseling and career development theory and its application. Moreover, the third competency, assessment, in terms of cybercounseling, proposes that cybercounselors must have, in addition to the conventional body of assessment knowledge, knowledge of which instruments are available on the internet, whether they have been adequately researched in that mode, and what psychometric properties apply when administered in this mode (Harris-Bowlsbey et al., 2002).

The forth competency, career information, includes the possession of in-depth knowledge about sources and quality of information related to the labor market, occupations, schools, financial aid, apprenticeships, and the military. The fifth competency, employability skills, refers to cybercounselors needing the skills and knowledge related to the effective use of the Internet for job-seeking as well as knowledge about job-seeking in conventional modes (Harris-Bowlsbey et al., 2002). The sixth and seventh competencies, diversity and ethics, includes understanding differences between and amongst students and clients and how approaches and methods may need to be changed to accommodate those differences; with regard to ethics, counselors have the responsibility to practice within the scope of their training and within the guidelines provided by associations such as the ACA, NCDA, and NBCC. The eighth competency, technology, requires that all counselors must have sufficient competency in the area of technology to assist clients to make effective use of computer-based career guidance systems; while the ninth competency, group facilitation and instruction, means that counselors are required to have competency in leading groups or providing instruction. In addition, cybercounselors may need the skills to develop web-based instruction – on topics such as resume writing or job interviewing – that would be available from their websites (Harris-Bowlsbey et al., 2002).

The tenth competency, according to Harris-Bowlsbey et al. (2002), is program design and implementation. This competency implies that program design and implementation in a virtual environment requires different skills from those for conventional programs; these may include knowledge about how to design a fully featured website, utilizing existing sites, developing new material for the site, and supporting both with online counseling. The eleventh and final competency (don’t know where the twelfth one went?) is public relations and promotion. Again, this competency implies that skills are needed to promote career support in cyberspace that is different from those in conventional programs. Cybercounselors must know how to advertise and promote their services to clients so that can build a credible business (Harris-Bowlsbey et al., 2002).

ACA (1999) Guidelines for Internet Use

Harris-Bowlsbey et al. (2002) also provided, in an appendix of their book, the ACA guidelines concerning the use of electronic communications over the Internet to provide online counseling services. These guidelines should be used only in conjunction with the latest ACA Code of Ethics & Standards of Practice. Harris-Bowlsbey et al. (2002) indicated that the ACA (1999) guidelines for Internet use included categories such as confidentiality, including the guideline that counselors ensure that clients are provided sufficient information to adequately address and explain the limitations of computer technology in the counseling practice and the difficulties of ensuring complete client confidentiality of information transmitted through electronic communications over the Internet through online counseling. Moreover, beneath these guidelines is found information regarding secured sites, non-secured sites, security of professional counselors’ sites, professional counselor identification, and client identification. Also included in these guidelines are client waiver agreements, records of electronic communications, and electronic transfer of client data (ACA, 1999). In addition, establishing the online counseling relationship is a category in the ACA guidelines, and this category includes considerations such as determining the appropriateness of online counseling for the client, counseling plans, continuing coverage of availability on the counselor’s part, boundaries of counselor competence, and working with minor or incompetent clients (ACA, 1999).

Finally, the last category in the ACA Internet use guidelines is legal considerations. One statement found herein is the following: “Professional counselors confirm that their liability insurance provides coverage for online counseling services, and that the provision of such services is not prohibited by or does not otherwise violate any applicable (i) state or local statutes, rules, regulations, or ordinances, (ii) codes of professional membership organizations and certifying boards, and/or (iii) codes of state licensing boards (ACA, 1999).


In sum, entering into private practice, along with setting up an online business and engaging in cybercounseling, call for much preparation, including researching, asking for informational interviews, reading applicable material on starting a business, being aware of resources that would be helpful, and networking with others who have started their own practices. In addition, understanding the counseling associations’ various guidelines and ethical codes is imperative in order to practice within legal boundaries and in an ethical manner. Finally, marketing and advertising will be ongoing practices if coaches and counselors wish to begin their own practice; therefore, attending workshops and engaging other forms of training are necessary on a continual basis.

Rick Van Haveren is a career counselor who runs his own private practice online. Van Haveren suggested that he got his start in graduate school and university counseling centers. He primarily uses online testing services and occasionally does not meet his clients in person until the feedback session, having done most of the initial work in a thorough telephone consultation. Van Haveren also offers two general packages and will work with an individual to design a custom program based on his/her specific needs. Also found on Van Haveren’s website is the following description of career counseling for potential clients:

The first step is to know yourself. This can include your personality, interests, skills, and values. Clients are typically given career-based assessments during this phase. Second, career options are generated based on these characteristics. This includes specific jobs as well as job categories. The next step is to identify ways for clients to gather information about jobs and job categories that are of interest. Once you know yourself and your options, decisions can be made. As a licensed clinician, I am also able to help with personal barriers that might come into play such as self-doubt, anxiety, depression, or burnout.


American Counseling Association. (1999). Ethical Standards for Online Internet Counseling [pdf].
Retrieved from

Bench, M. (2008). Career coaching: An insider’s guide (2nd ed.). Wilsonville,OR: High Flight Press.

Boer, P. M. (2001). Career counseling over the internet: an emerging model for rusting and responding to online clients. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Asssociates.

Brown, D. (2012). Career information, career counseling, and career development (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River,NJ: Pearson.

Chopra, K. J. (n.d.). Launching a successful private practice: Part I: Clearing the Decks. Retrieved from counseling/launch-private-practice.html

Gelardin, S., & Chope, R. (2007). Deciding whether to start a private practice. Retrieved from

Harris-Bowlsbey, J., Dikel, M. R., & Sampson, J. P. (2002). The internet: A tool for career planning (2nd ed.)Tulsa,OK: National Career Development Association.

Author's Bio: 

Monica Oothout
Kansas City - born and raised
Grad Student

Current graduate student working toward M.S. in Career Counseling. Also interested in becoming a career or life coach. Hope to eventually have own practice online.
Capella University

Member: Chi Sigma Iota Honorary Society
GPA; 4.0
Myers-Briggs Type Inventory Certified Practitioner
Strong Interest Inventory Certified Practitioner
ReadyMinds Credentialed Distance Career Counselor

Member: NCDA (National Career Development Association)
ACA (American Counseling Association)
MoCDA (Missouri Career Development Associatin)