If you’re looking to start a business and help people in your day to day job, then starting a counselling business may be for you. 

Counsellors are healthcare providers that give guidance and support to people on dealing with a range of issues or matters.

A good counsellor can really make a difference in their clients’ lives. If starting a counselling business is something you might be up for, then there are a few things you should know before you get started. 

Keep reading to learn more. 

Starting A Counselling Business

There are different types of counsellors for the multiple categories of issues people typically face. When starting out your counselling business, one of the first decisions you need to make is the type of counsellor you are going to be. 

Different types of counselling services include:

  • Grief counselling
  • Family counselling
  • Youth counselling
  • Trauma counselling
  • Aged care counselling 

Majority of the decisions you make will depend on the type of counsellor you decide to become. So, take your time to decide which one fits in best with your strengths and overall vision. 

Do I Need A Licence To Start A Counselling Business?

You will also need to attain the proper licences and qualifications.  

One of the most important aspects to becoming a counsellor and starting your own counselling business is actually being qualified for the job. 

To gain entry level roles and get an initial understanding of the profession, you will need to complete a diploma of counselling. Once you’ve done that, you might want to take the next step into becoming a fully qualified counsellor. For this, it’s required of you to study a bachelor of counselling (or have the equivalent qualification). 

The next step is to get an accreditation by the Australian Counsellors Association (ACA) or the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA). 

After this, you will be qualified to become a counsellor in Australia. 

However, before you start work, it’s important to have all your relevant government checks completed as well – just to make sure you are legally compliant. 

Depending on the industry and the types of clients you are working with, you may need to get a approval as a rehabilitation provider, working with children check or a national police certificate. This will vary based on individual circumstances. You can always use the business licence check to find out which one applies to you. 

On top of that, be sure to check out your local council regulations and zoning requirements for any rules that might apply to your counselling business. 

Register Your Counselling Business

To get your business legally recognised, you will need to have it registered. All Australian businesses are registered with the Business Registration Service. 

Upon completing your business registration application and gaining approval, you will be sent an Australian Business Number (ABN). The ABN is a nine digit number that is special to your business – no two businesses have the same ABN. It’s required for important matters such as dealing with government agencies, so keep it secure! If you’re using a name other than your personal name for your counselling business, then you will also need to Register A Business Name.

If you’re setting up your counselling business as a company, then you will also require an Australian Company Number (ACN). An ACN is given when your Register Your Company. Companies offer more legal protection as they are considered a seperate legal entity. However, their registration process is a little bit more complex. It’s always a good idea to seek the help of a legal expert when registering your company- that way, you can be assured everything is done correctly.

If you are feeling unsure about the type of business structure you want, then click here to learn more about it! 

Get Legal Documents For Your Counselling Business

Next, it’s time to decide on the legal documents that are going to be relevant to your business. 

The right kind of legal documentation can provide protection for your business and make sure operations run as well as possible. We’ve written about some important legal agreements below. 

Confidentiality Agreements  

As a healthcare provider, you will need to be extra careful when it comes to privacy (we’ll explore this in more depth later). 

Legal agreements that protect your business’ privacy and that of your clients can aid you in running a successful practice. This is where Confidentiality Clauses and Non-Disclosure Agreements are extremely useful – they let others know what information can and cannot be shared, holding them liable for any slip ups they may be responsible for.  

Protecting your business’ inside information can prevent trade secrets from falling into the wrong hands. 

Franchise Agreement

We often hear about franchises for other business types, such as clothing stores and food chains. However, it’s very possible for a business that provides healthcare to also be franchised, especially if that business becomes a trusted and recognisable establishment  to the public! 

A franchise is a branch of your business in a different location. As the owner of the original business, you will be the franchisor who allows a franchisee to buy into your business. 

The franchisee will then open the same business in a different location. In exchange for the licences and other information to run the business, the franchisee will pay you a franchise fee usually on a monthly basis. All of this is covered in a Franchise Agreement that is signed by both the franchisor and franchisee. 

Manage Your Employees

Employment Agreements are essential if you are going to be hiring staff. They let employees know what they can expect from the job and what their rights are as well. This way, everybody is on the same page which can set the tone for a smooth sailing relationship. 

On the other hand, if employees and employers don’t have a written agreement, disputes and disagreements can arise which are hard to resolve without tangible evidence of what was discussed. 

It’s always a good idea to have a written employment agreement between you and your employees discussing matters such as:

  • Pay
  • Leave
  • Duties and obligations
  • Work days
  • Work hours
  • Termination
  • Confidentiality 
  • Dispute resolution 

What Are My Privacy Obligations As A Counselling Business?

As we mentioned before, privacy obligations are of high importance when it comes to any healthcare provider. Clients are sharing some of the most intimate and personal information with you and, as a result, it is your duty to take reasonable measures in order to protect that information. 

You don’t have to figure this out on your own though! There are relevant rules and regulations that can help keep you on track with your privacy obligations. 

What You Should Know When Handling Health Information

One of the main things you need to be aware of when it comes to your privacy obligations is how to handle data privacy. 

If your business handles health information in any way, then it is covered by the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act). Businesses that are covered by the Privacy Act are also subject to the requirements listed in the Australian Privacy Principles (APP), so it’s useful to be familiar with these regulations. 

When it comes to collecting and handling the personal information of your clients, consent is key.

In order to have their personal information and keep it, you will need to have their permission to do so first. 

Furthermore, while you may need to collect some personal health information from your clients, we recommend only collecting what is necessary and nothing beyond that. This way, your business isn’t responsible for more information that it needs to be. 

As a counselling business, you may be collecting sensitive health information. As such, you’ll need to get a Health Service Provider Privacy Policy. Contact our lawyers for a policy that is tailored to your business’ specific requirements. 

Who Can Access Medical Records In A Counselling Business?

Generally, only the staff that are involved with a patient or client should have access to their medical records. It’s good business practice to keep the amount of staff accessing documents limited and have clear Workplace Policies on this so employees are aware of the rules. 

When it comes to storing medical records, each state has their own regulations and requirements. Therefore, it’s important to research the rules relevant to your state and follow them accordingly. 

Overall, the main principle is to keep health information stored securely and safely so no one without permission can gain access to it.  

However, it helps to be prepared in case someone does get access to information they shouldn’t – this can happen due to a mistake, system failure or a cyber attack. Whatever the reason, you will need to notify the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) of a notifiable data breach when this happens. 

It’s worth having a Data Breach Response Plan so if something does go wrong, you can be ready enough to react efficiently. 

What Are My Obligations To My Employees?

As a business owner, it’s always exciting to expand your businesses and start building a team. Having a team with you is great, but you do need to be mindful of the additional responsibilities that come with it. 

First off, as an employer, you will need to make sure your employees are receiving the correct pay, awards and any other entitlements. Fair Work Australia has established the National Employment Standards (NES) that sets out the standard for what employees should be receiving. If you are unsure about what you owe your employees, checking out Fair Work is a good place to start! 

Workplace health and safety is another obligation you owe to your employees. The idea of workplace health and safety is to guarantee that every employee has a working environment that does not harm them either mentally or physically. 

This also means that you have an obligation to provide a safe working environment to employees working remotely. This could involve setting up regular meetings to check up on them and their workload – this process will look different for every business, so it’s worth setting up a system that works best for you and your staff. 

As an employer, it is your job to take measures to fulfil this duty. Safe Work Australia is the main organisation looking after work health and safety – they provide great resources and guidance. 

Do I Need A Health Service Provider Agreement?

A Health Service Provider Agreement is a contract between you and every client you will have. There is no legal requirement to have the agreement, however, we recommend getting one and giving it to each client to sign prior to providing them with counselling services. This way, both parties can be on the same page regarding what to expect. 

A Health Service Provider Agreement can be tailored to your business’ specific needs. However, they typically include: 

  • A scope of the service to be provided
  • Payment
  • Confidentiality guarantees 
  • Dispute resolution 
  • Important dates
  • Duties and expectations of both parties 

As this is a crucial document, it’s imperative to get a legal experts help in drafting one up.

How To Start A Counselling Business Online

There’s always the option to be an online counselling business. Operating your counselling business online can have many benefits, including greater accessibility for clients and reaching out to more people than you may have been able to from a physical location. 

Along with the benefits of being online, you also need to take into consideration the additional risks as having an online presence opens you up to more liabilities. 

However, this can be managed by having the right legal documentation. 

First off, you will need to look into getting a Health Service Provider Privacy Policy. According to the Privacy Act and the APPs, businesses that have an annual turnover of more than $3 million or businesses that collect any kind of personal information from their clients need to have a privacy policy in place. 

A typical privacy policy tells clients that their information is being collected. It lets them know what kind of information is being taken and what is done with their information (such as whether it is being disclosed to third parties). 

A Health Service Provider Privacy Policy is a little different to a standard privacy policy, though. As we noted above, consent is extremely important when it comes to collecting health information. Therefore, a Health Service Provider Privacy Policy seeks out the permission of clients before collecting their information. 

Secondly, as your website will be one of the main places of business, it’s important to secure it with the right legal documentation. Website Terms and Conditions are legally binding terms  with the users of your website regarding any regulations and policies you may have on it. It also serves the purposes of giving you the power to add and remove anything unwanted from there when needed. Having terms and conditions in place can help keep your business a little more secure while being online.   

Another important consideration is to invest in a strong cyber security system. The online world presents a number of cyber risks, and the last thing you want is to suffer from a data breach. You may wish to have a Cyber Security Policy in place so that everyone in the workplace is aware of how to maintain strong cyber security, and there is less risk of something going wrong. 

Finally, when starting your counselling business online, it’s important to make sure you’ve got all the right tools and equipment to deliver a good, reliable service to your clients. This means having a stable  internet connection, a clear camera and microphone as well as an appropriate set up and background. 

We know technology can be a little unpredictable at times – it pays to have back up plans and devices just in case a rainy day decides to come along!  

Starting A Telehealth Counselling Service

Telehealth is a term used to describe healthcare services that are provided over the phone or through a video chat. A telehealth counselling service is very much in line with the concept of the online business we mentioned above. 

Some clients might benefit from simply being able to talk to their counsellor over the phone and accommodating to different needs is often an attribute of organisations that genuinely care. 

Before you go ahead and set up your telehealth counselling service, it’s crucial to have the right agreements in place so you can protect your business while you work with your clients. 

Let’s go through these in more detail. 

Do I Need A Telehealth Service Agreement?

A Telehealth Service Agreement is another type of service agreement that lets clients know what your telehealth counselling service will be providing to them. It sets out what they can expect from the service and what is required of them.

This way, if a dispute or misunderstanding ever occurs, the agreement can always be referred to for guidance. 

Key Takeaways

When starting your own counselling business, it’s good practice to ensure you’re compliant with all your legal obligations so you can focus on providing your clients with good quality services. To summarise what we’ve discussed: 

  • Decide on the type of counselling services you want to provide and work on getting qualified  
  • Have the legal documents necessary for protecting your business drafted by a legal professional
  • Look after your privacy obligations such as obtaining consent and securing the personal information of clients 
  • As you will likely be dealing with medical information, make sure you are compliant with the requirements set out by the Privacy Act and the APPs
  • If you are hiring employees, make sure you meet all your employer obligations under the Workplace Health and Safety regime
  • Look into getting a Health Service Provider Service Agreement  so clients can know what to expect
  • If your business is going to be online, you will likely need a privacy policy 
  • You also have the option to start a telehealth counselling service, in which case you should get a Telehealth Service Agreement 

If you would like a consultation on starting a counselling business, you can reach us at 1800 730 617 or team@sprintlaw.com.au for a free, no-obligations chat.

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