Private Practice Portal

 There is a wealth of information available to help you start, grow, diversify, and close your private practice.  In fact, there are so many resources that it can be difficult to find the specific information that you are looking for.

 This portal is your express lane to the information every RSW private practitioner needs – every step of the way.  It organizes content gleaned from reliable provincial, national, and international sources, giving you a world of information at your fingertips.  Follow the location-based web-links throughout the portal or access resources through organizations.

 You can read all of the content in order or skip to the topic that you need to discover right now.


· About Registered Social Workers

· Is private practice for me?


· Get started

· Minimize risk

· Define services

· Promote services

· Deliver services

· Generate additional income

· Health and wellness

· Professional development

· Closing your practice


· Resources

· Organizations



** If you know about a resource that isn’t included in the portal, please contact us at so we can add it.  Thank you!

At all stages of your RSW career, it is important to reflect and evaluate whether private practice is a good fit for you.  Today, you may be exploring making the switch to a private practice or looking for new ideas to apply to your established practice. In this section you can:



September 1 

Maria sits behind the desk in her new home office.  Today is the first day of the rest of her life: she has opened her own private practice.

For the past few months, she painstakingly researched the type of practice that she would open.  She decided that a sole proprietorship was right for her home business and registered her practice according to provincial and national legislation.

In half an hour, her first client – a referral from a local family doctor – will arrive for her first weekend appointment.  Maria checks the modest waiting area she built in her mudroom.  She checks to make sure there are no tripping hazards and that her kids put away their toys like she asked (they did!).  Maria fans out the current magazines on her coffee table and checks that the adjoining washroom is clean and stocked with supplies.

Maria calls her eleven year old twin girls to remind them and their babysitter of the rules that apply when mom has a weekend appointment: they are not to answer the door, enter the mud room or come to her office.  

Before her client arrives, she prints her intake form, confidentiality waiver and checks her calendar to make sure she booked an extra half hour cushion between clients to preserve her clients’ privacy. It’s a relief that she had her office sound-proofed so she won’t have to worry about any noise.

Just as Maria switches her phone to “do not disturb”, she hears the door open.  Her client has arrived.  Maria’s journey is about to begin.


December 1

It’s only 9:30 am and already the day has been hectic!  Maria unlocks the front door to her house, walks to her home office and drops her keys on the desk.

Her business networking breakfast meeting went late but she feels good about connections she made with a local lawyer and holistic nutritionist.  You never know where referrals will come from!  After the meeting, Maria spoke with the networking club’s president to volunteer to give a presentation on making and implementing your own communications plan – she hopes it gives her the motivation to kick her own communications plan into action.

On the way home from the meeting, Maria picked up a couple of packages of Christmas cards.  She spends the morning writing cards to send to her corporate clients in the community as an extra “thank you”.

After lunch, she checks in with Tim, one of her colleagues who also runs a private practice out of his own home.  Maria is meeting a new client at the client’s home and she gives Tim the details of the appointment as an added safety precaution.  Maria isn’t worried about this visit but it never hurts to be cautious when meeting someone new.


March 1 

It’s a beautiful early spring day and Maria has just come back from a sun-soaked walk in the park with her dog, Champ.  Maria takes a deep breath and enjoys the feeling of well-being that surges through her body.  Maria gives Champ his breakfast and makes a fresh cup of coffee.  Once Champ is finished eating, she closes him gently into the bedroom so he won’t interrupt her appointments today.

Maria set aside a few hours after lunch to do her book-keeping.  Her accountant keeps reminding her that tax time is coming, but Maria isn’t worried.  She’s been diligently keeping track of her income and expenses since Day One and feels confident that she’ll have everything her accountant needs to do her income taxes at the end of April.

After completing the book-keeping, Maria registers for an annual Social Work conference that she looks forward to every year.  Not only does she learn valuable information from the keynote speakers and the workshops, but she also gets to talk to other social workers who understand exactly what she does!


June 1

It’s been a long week. Maria’s kids are home from school and her partner is away on a business trip.  Fortunately, Maria’s sister has been helping out so Maria has been able to keep her appointments with her clients.

The day ahead is fairly light.  She has two client appointments, and then will have to rush the kids to her sister’s for dinner, in order to get to the community college in time to teach her first class.  She’d never thought about teaching before but when her former mentor reached out to her to see if she’d be interested in teaching an introductory class, she could hardly say “no”.  It will be a good experience and it will help her keep up with her half of the household expenses.

On the way to the college, Maria reflects upon her year so far.  It hasn’t always been easy but she wouldn’t trade her private practice for the world.  More than anything, she loves her work and feels like she is making a real difference in the lives of her clients.  The flexibility and rewards of working for herself are just icing on the cake.


There are many advantages and disadvantages of opening and running a private practice. When you consider your personal list of pros and cons, we encourage you to reflect on each one, and consider how important it is to your personal situation. You will find some pros and cons below to help you get started.



You can make your own schedule for the convenience of both, yourself and your clients

You will have start up and maintenance costs

Private practice has greater earning potential once you build up your client base

At times, you may make very little income and your income will be unpredictable from month to month

There will be less bureaucracy and no office politics

You will work in greater isolation and might miss office camaraderie

You choose which services you offer

You don’t have an employer that provides sick days, health or retirement benefits

You can make all decisions yourself, and draw upon your network for advice as required

You need to pay for the services of a supervisor

Most of your clients will be motivated to work hard because they are paying for your services

You need to consult with other RSWs to discuss and reflect upon your cases

Ability to turn to other tasks in case of a last minute cancellation

You need to keep up-to-date on services available in your area to make proper referrals

Eligible to claim “household” expenses on your income tax return

You must plan for coverage when you are away from the office

Many clients prefer meeting in a cozy home office

You need to pay for all your professional development activities and associated expenses


If working from a home office, you need to manage increased privacy, client and personal safety risks


You need to hone the entrepreneur in you to make a living from private practice


As an RSW you are as unique as your clients are.  Since one size rarely fits all, the content on this information portal provides an overview and a number of related web resources to help you plan and launch your private practice.

To get you started, this self-assessment takes you through a series of questions that relate to each topic covered on the portal. Take some time to reflect upon these important aspects of opening a private practice.  If you are honest with yourself, you’ll get a better idea whether private practice is a good fit for you.

Once you have finished the self-assessment, take advantage of the information available through this portal so you can be certain that you make the right decision for this point in your career.  If you decide not to open a private practice right now, that’s ok!  You might decide to reconsider in the future, or you might not.  In any case, be kind to yourself.  And take a look at the information in this portal, as it may still enrich your day-to-day work as an RSW. 


  • Where will I meet with my clients?
  • Am I comfortable with financial risk?
  • Can I handle income fluctuations?

See Get Started

  • How will I create a safe space?
  • Do I know how to respond in an emergency?
  • Am I prepared to purchase the needed insurance policies?

See Minimize Risk

  • What will my specialty area/s be?
  • Is there a market for my services?
  • What business hours will suit me and my clients?

See Define your services

  • What ethical and practice standards do I have to follow?
  • How will I keep my client information confidential?
  • Who will do my office administration?
  • Do I need to have a supervisor?

See Deliver your services

  •  How will I promote my professional skills and knowledge?
  • How will I get referrals?
  • Will I promote my practice online?  If yes, how?

See Promote your services

  • What will I do if I cannot get enough clients?
  • Do I need additional training to deliver workshops?
  • Who else may pay for my expertise?

See Generate additional income

  • How will I take care of my personal well-being?
  • Do I need private health insurance?
  • Should I join a peer group?

See Health and Wellness

  • How do my professional development activities change in private practice?
  • Are there tax incentives to taking courses or reading professional journals?
  • What should I learn more about to be a more effective private practitioner?

See Professional Development

  • How can I prepare for closing my practice?
  • What happens to client files when I close my practice?
  • Do I need to maintain insurance after my practice is closed?

See Closing your practice

  • Are there forms or templates I can adapt for my private practice?
  • Where in the portal do I find a resource for a specific purpose or question?
  • What kinds of organizations exist that may offer valuable information and advice?

See Resources

  • How can clients get my services reimbursed?
  • How do RSWs fit in with other counseling practitioners?
  • How are RSWs in private practice perceived by the public? Why is that a concern?

See About Registered Social Workers


As an RSW, you enjoy counselling and feel a calling for working with clients. As you explore the idea of your own private practice, prepare yourself for a shift in how some people perceive your work.

The social work profession is associated with social justice and helping marginalized individuals. As you venture into private practice, you may be perceived by acquaintances to have shifted your social justice values to looking to make a profit of those who are vulnerable. Share knowledge to dispel hurtful misconceptions.  Explain to these acquaintances what drew you to become an RSW in the first place, and how you are committed to delivering the same compassionate services as you did before you entered into private practice.

Be prepared for some clients in the 21st century to act like shoppers scanning the aisles while checking their mobile phones for better deals. There are many educated consumers who are experienced in finding and purchasing what they want – including professional services! Be prepared for prospective clients who want to barter for your services or who ask you to reduce your fee. Reflect on your own level of preparedness to charge for your services and make a policy on how to handle client requests.  You may be firm on your fees or be willing to offer services on a sliding scale.  If you are new to private practice, it can be uncomfortable and even discouraging to have to affirm your values to acquaintances or demonstrate the benefits of counselling to clients.  Take some time to read up on these challenges and think about how you will address them if they come up.

Web Links



Is it wrong to profit from human misery?


Social Work Practice In The For-Profit Sector: An examination Of Experience, Identity And Practice 


Shopping for therapy 


Ethics in private practice 


As an experienced RSW you have had the opportunity to apply your education and refine your skills in different practical settings. You may be confident and ready to practice on your own.  On the other hand, you may still be wondering if a private practice is a good fit for your professional and personal goals. Before you start your career as a private practitioner we encourage you to reflect on some important aspects of private practice. Ask yourself:

  • What is my business model?
  • Where will I meet with my clients?
  • Which business costs are tax deductible?
  • What fees will I charge?
  • Am I mentally and financially prepared for an unpredictable income?

These questions deal with fundamentals of private practice and this section provides a brief overview to help RSWs start their business on the right foot.

Please take the time to explore the public resources aimed at small business start-ups in your area.  There are also many coaching and training resources or workshops that can help you launch your practice.

Helpful Links



5 Key Strategies for Starting and Growing a Successful Private Practice


Canadian Federation of Independent Business, see your province/territory for many small business tips and resources:


Building Your Private Practice


To set up a small business, you often will need to legally define your business and register your name.    RSWs have flexibility in deciding their business model.  Many RSWs in private practice operate their business alone, while some share costs (like office space) with other professionals.  Others enter into partnerships with colleagues, while still others decide to incorporate.  Ultimately, it’s up to you to reflect upon the pros and cons of each business model and to select the one that best fits your goals. These are the three models, as well as a few pros and cons to get you thinking:

Operate the practice on your own (“Sole Proprietorship”)

  • full control over decision-making
  • unlimited liability for debts and entitled to all profits
  • low start-up costs
  • tax advantages

Operate the practice with one or more partners (“General Partnership”)

  • shared decision-making
  • additional expertise
  • low start-up costs and additional start up capital
  • possible tax advantages
  • unlimited liability for debts and entitled to share of profits
  • need a partnership agreement

Operate the practice as a separate legal entity (“Corporation”)

  • limited liability for debts and entitled to share of profits
  • possible tax advantages
  • easier to raise capital
  • extensive record keeping required
  • higher start-up costs

Depending on the business model, you will have different options for registering and naming your business.  Please see registering your business for more information.

Helpful Links

Create your business plan

Real Psych Practice Blog

Starting a business

Canada Revenue Agency: Small business and self-employed information

Canadian business news, articles and information

Service Canada: Starting a business

Business programs and services

British Columbia
Small business B.C.

Start a business

Starting a business

Small business advice, support services and regulations

Starting a business

New Brunswick
Starting a business

Nova Scotia
Starting a business                                   

Prince Edward Island
Business Start-up and Entrepreneurship

Newfoundland and Labrador
Starting a business

Northern Canada
Nunavut: Starting on the Right Path

Yukon: Starting a business and self employment

NWT: How to Start a Business in the NWT


Most new businesses have to register with the federal government to obtain a business number. This 9-digit number is used to manage GST/HST, payroll deductions, and import/export accounts.

As an RSW, you may not need to register your business because RSWs, like some other health practitioners, are exempt from collecting GST/HST on many services.  If you decide not to register your sole proprietorship or partnership, you can use your SIN for income tax returns.  If you offer services that are not GST/HST exempt or you decide to incorporate, you will need to register for a business number. 

If you choose to operate your business under a name that is different from your personal name, you need to ensure that the name has not already been taken. Business name searches are usually the first step of the business registration process.

Depending on your business model and where you live, you may need to register with your province/territory as well.  To find out about your registration requirements and how to apply, please contact your provincial/territorial government directly.

Helpful Links

Create your business plan

Real Psych Practice Blog

Checklist for small businesses

Starting a business

Canada Revenue Agency: Small business and self-employed information

Canadian business news, articles and information

Service Canada: Starting a business

Business programs and services
see starting a business

British Columbia 
Small business B.C.

Start a business

Starting a business

Small business advice, support services and regulations

Start a business

New Brunswick
Starting your own business

Nova Scotia 
Business advice and services

Prince Edward Island 
Starting a business 

Newfoundland and Labrador
Starting a business 

Northern Canada 
Starting a business in Nunavut

Starting a business in Yukon

Business NWT

Some RSWs in private practice supplement their income with a day job or by sub-contracting with other service providers. While this approach can relieve the financial pressures of starting a new business, it can also create conflicting interests and priorities.

Before you set up your private practice with multiple income streams, it may be helpful to reflect on the following questions:

  • What are my short term and long term income needs and goals?

  • How will I prioritize in times of high work volume?

  • What policies do I need to consider if a client asks to switch to my private practice?

  • Am I required to declare my self-employment activities with my employer?

  • Is it ethical to inform my clients of my private practice?

Review your Standards of Practice and Ethics and any applicable workplace policies to identify specific instructions that apply to you.

CASW Social Media Use and Social Work Practice

CASW Code of Ethics

CASW Guidelines for Ethical Practice

ACSW standards of practice

(ACSW adopted CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice, see CASW Code of Ethics and CASW Guidelines for Ethical Practice)

British Columbia
BCCSW Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice

SASW Standards of Ethical Practice for Professional Social Workers in Saskatchewan

(SASW adopted CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice, see CASW Code of Ethics and CASW Guidelines for Ethical Practice)

MCSW Standards of Practice

(MIRSW adopted CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice, see CASW Code of Ethics and CASW Guidelines for Ethical Practice


OCSWSSW Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice

Code des professions
Code de déontologie des membres de l'Ordre professionnel des travailleurs sociaux et des thérapeutes conjugaux et familiaux du Québec
Code of ethics of the members of the Ordre professionnel des travailleurs sociaux et des thérapeutes conjugaux et familiaux du Québec
and other documents

New Brunswick
Standards for the Use of Technology in Social Work Practice 

NBSAW Code of Ethics

(NBASW adopted CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice, see CASW Code of Ethics and CASW Guidelines for Ethical Practice)

Nova Scotia
Standards of Practice

(NSASW amended and adopted CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice, see CASW Code of Ethics and CASW Guidelines for Ethical Practice)


Standards of Practice

(PEI adopted CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice, see CASW Code of Ethics and CASW Guidelines for Ethical Practice)

Newfoundland and Labrador
Practice Standards
(NLASW adopted CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice, see CASW Code of Ethics and CASW Guidelines for Ethical Practice

Northern Canada
Standards of Practice 
(Northern Canada supports and expanded on the CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice)


For RSWs the space where they meet with clients is important for promotion and service delivery.  Some RSWs find it helpful to be located near potential referral partners, like family doctors or clinics. Others prefer to work from home or in other locations.  There are advantages and disadvantages to working from home and managing a separate office.  Setting up office in your home reduces your monthly costs and your daily commute, while renting an office may increase safety, position you closer to your target market, and give you a more professional appearance.

Wherever your office is, it should be easy to access year round.  Ideally, clients will be able to get to your office by public transit or park in a free parking spot near your office.  

Helpful Links:

Choosing and setting up a location



Working out of your home is a convenient and cost-effective way to start your private practice. When working from home, you don’t have to commute so you can fit more clients into your day.  In the event of an unexpected cancellation, you can easily fill your time with household chores.


When thinking of setting up a home office, there are a number of things to consider:

  • How will you ensure your client’s privacy, confidentiality and comfort (for example: keeping your dog in another room and cleaning up toys cluttering the bathroom)? What safety practices can you implement so you will feel comfortable seeing clients at home(for example: installing a peephole, safety bolt, panic button, alarm system, video surveillance, or motion detector lights)? (Read more)
  • Will it be difficult to maintain a professional environment for your clients in your home?
  • Will you be able to move from professional to personal life without a physical separation between the two?
  • How will your home insurance be affected by adding a private practice?


Home-based private practitioners are starting to rent therapy rooms on a session-by-session basis in order to meet with clients off-site.  Clinics or other private practices in your area might have rooms to rent by the hour.  Check for the availability of room rentals in:

  • local classifieds
  • clinics
  • association websites and newsletters
  • paramedical networks  

Helpful Links:


Choosing and setting up a location


Some RSWs prefer a separate office environment to working out of their home, while others simply cannot accommodate a private practice in their home. If you are still deciding on which is the best choice for you, consider these advantages to renting office space:

  • access to onsite security personnel daily social interactions with other tenants
  • proximity  to other medical and paramedical practitioners
  • professional image of your private practice
  • daily commute to ease the transition between work and home life
  • seasonal maintenance is taken care of  (i.e. sidewalks and parking lots are cleared in the winter)

Some of the disadvantages include:

  • higher monthly fixed costs for rent or a lease
  • travel time between home and office
  • higher business insurance costs

If you want to be able to see clients in a professional office setting but wish to avoid the monthly overhead, you may want to consider renting a therapy room on a session-by-session basis .Clinics or other private practices in your area might have rooms to rent by the hour.  Check for the availability of room rentals in:

  • local classifieds
  • clinics
  • association websites and newsletters
  • paramedical networks


Whether you set up your office at home or you rent an office, the space should accommodate your needs, as well as those of your clients. Every RSW private practice should have:

  • a confidential space to meet with clients
  • a secure space to store files
  • access to a bathroom
  • a waiting area

You may also want to have a play area for children, a refreshment area with water, tea or coffee, current magazines, and a separate workspace.

You will also need some office equipment to:

  • produce, print or copy information (e.g. invoices)
  • send and receive confidential information via fax or email (e.g. referrals, inquiries)
  • receive and make confidential phone calls (e.g. inquiries, appointments, voicemail)
  • lock away confidential information (e.g. client files)

You may also want to invest in general office supplies and business stationary showing your name, contact information and registration number (e.g. business cards, letterhead, appointment reminders, business envelopes, receipts, invoices).

If you prefer a paper-free office, there is a variety of cloud-based mental health software solutions that interface easily with your personal PC, laptop or tablet. This can include automated billing, patient web registration, automated appointment reminders and privacy compliance. When contacting these service providers, be sure to ask for their small business rate.

See tax deductions to find out which of your office set-up expenses you can claim on your income tax return.


Helpful Links: 


Privacy Guide for Small Businesses: The Basics


Choosing and setting up a location


Managing money can be daunting when you first set up your private practice.  We recommend you consult with a professional accountant to give you an overview or help you set up your book-keeping system.  Spending an hour or two with a professional should give you a good overview of what’s involved in dealing with invoices, cheques, credit cards, monthly bill payments or unfamiliar tax regulations.  After that, you can decide whether you would like to do your own books or hire a professional. This section gives you a high level summary on what’s involved in getting paid, managing cash flow and maximizing deductions.



As an RSW starting a private practice, you need to explore fees, billing procedures, collecting GST/HST on some services and transactions in order to make informed decisions on how to proceed. We recommend that you consult with a professional accountant to identify the critical financial issues to be aware of.

Fee policy

RSWs are encouraged (and may be required by their regulatory organization) to develop, maintain and communicate their fee policy to clients before providing and charging for services.

A number of factors influence the fees you set for your services, such as your target clientele, the services you offer, fees other counselors charge, and the fees identified by extended health care providers as “reasonable” for your jurisdiction. Contact your regulatory organization to obtain any recommended fee amounts available. Hourly consultation fees range between $70 and $130, fees for half-day non-clinical engagements are commonly $300 or more.   In addition to setting your fees, you should also consider penalties for late payment or missed appointments. Carefully consider the potential moral hazards of offering reduced fees based on a client’s ability to pay for your services. Please consult the links in the "Helpful Links" section below for more on using a sliding fee scale. 


For paramedical practitioners like RSWs it is common to get paid right after the service has been provided. This will help you avoid late payments or defaulted payments. You need to be able to provide an invoice, a payment receipt and/or a receipt for reimbursement with extended health care providers to clients. Some clients have “co-pay arrangements”, in this case, a client would pay a portion and you invoice the remainder to the designated insurance company. You can download free invoice templates online and buy receipt books at office supply and retail. Receipts for reimbursements should include your name, address, phone number, date, length of service, type of service, name of client and GST/HST number(if applicable) and display “paid in full”.

GST/HST exemptions

RSWs are exempt from having to collect GST or HST on certain services, which the Canadian Revenue Agency defines in detail in the Excise Tax Act. In summary, exempt services include:

  • counselling individuals on the prevention or treatment of physical or mental disorders
  • assisting afflicted individuals or their caregivers in coping with such conditions

Non-exempt services include:

  • primarily educational services, like workshops
  • consultation with agencies or other professionals

GST/HST exemptions on certain services also mean that RSWs can not claim input tax credits on costs associated with these services. As you design your service offerings, consult with a professional to clarify GST/HST requirements and options for each type of service.


You will need to decide what forms of payment you accept, bearing in mind that there may be banking or transaction feeds associated with each payment method.  Here is a brief overview of the common transaction methods:

  • Cash (Pro: virtually no transaction fees, Cons: need change, cash on-site)
  • Point of sale (POS)  terminal (Pro: direct deposit / Cons: higher banking fees)
  • Cheque (Pro: some transaction fees, secure / Cons: cheque may bounce)
  • Interac e-transfer using an e-mail address or mobile phone number through participating financial institutions’ online banking service(Pros: convenient / Cons: higher transaction fees, client may not pay
  • PayPalTM invoicing and payment for credit cards (Pros: convenient / Cons: higher transaction fees)

Depending on the volume of clients you expect, you may want to continue using your personal bank account or open a small business bank account. There are low-volume business bank accounts and even pay-as-you-go business bank accounts.  If used for business, your banking fees and interest charges should be tax-deductible but you be sure to shop around for your bank account, as the fees can add up quickly.


Helpful Links




Canada Revenue Agency: small business and self-employed

Exise Act Information: Exempt Healthcare Services 

Exise Tax Act Schedule V, Part II 

Prince Edward Island

Private practice policy


Practice Notes: Private Practice – The Cost of Doing Business

Practice Notes: Self-employment – Look before you leap


Fees in Therapy: Summary and Guidelines

Should Psychologists use Sliding Fee Scales

Why does counseling cost so much?


RSWs must constantly balance their dedication to caring for individuals, families and communities with the need to earn a living. It is common to have more expenses than income in the initial start-up period of a private practice; this will change once a client base is established and referrals start coming in.

We recommend forecasting your income and expenses in advance. Try making a list of all of your expected income and expenses every month for a year. Try to estimate the number of clients you will be able to see in a day, a week, or a month, and identify other methods of supplementing your income or cutting your costs as required. There— you’ve just completed a cash flow projection. You can download free cash flow and budget templates online.

Many RSWs say that the ebb and flow of private practice income can be challenging at times.  We recommend that you plan for these fluctuations so you are not taken by surprise by a slow month (or two). Consider generating additional income or staying employed to help pay your monthly bills. You may also want to explore a line of credit or other short term or medium term loan options in advance.

Helpful Links:


Cash Flow Template 

Budget Template

Biz Launch 


Self-employed RSWs incur a number of costs that they can claim on their income tax return. Depending on your business model, services provided, and office location, these general guidelines may apply to you:

  • Be aware of your income tax and GST/HST requirements. There are many resources from the Canadian Revenue Agency that can help, and a professional accountant’s advice when starting up business will go a long way to avoiding tax time headaches and being prepared for an audit.
  • Keep a written or electronic record of expenses and income including any GST/HST that you paid or collected.
  • Keep and organize all receipts and make copies of them to avoid receipts fading and becoming illegible.
  • Deduct any reasonable current expenses incurred to earn business income. This includes costs you may not be thinking of, like a portion of your heating bill, banking fees, using your car to see clients and association fees. The Canada Revenue Agency offers guides to help you interpret the eligible deductions within your specific private practice context.

    • Advertising
    • Allowance on eligible capital property
    • Bad debts
    • Business start-up costs
    • Business tax, fees, licences, dues, memberships, and subscriptions
    • Business-use-of-home expenses
    • Capital cost allowance
    • Current or capital expenses
    • Delivery, freight, and express
    • Insurance
    • Interest
    • Legal, accounting, and other professional fees
    • Maintenance and repairs
    • Management and administration fees
    • Meals and entertainment (allowable part only)
    • Motor vehicle expenses
    • Office expenses
    • Prepaid expenses
    • Property taxes
    • Rent
    • Salaries, wages, and benefits
    • Supplies
    • Telephone and utilities
    • Travel
    • Other expenses

Many small business owners hire a professional accountant, give them all of your receipts and records, and have them complete the income tax return. When hiring an account, be sure to check professional references and asking trusted friends and colleagues to recommend an accountant who specializes in taxes, has good communication skills and provides excellent service to clients of all sizes.

Helpful Links:


Business or Professional Income Tax Information


Tax tips for the self-employed 


Experienced RSWs are accustomed to protecting themselves and others from harm. When you start a private practice, safety concerns may increase and minimizing potential risks becomes more complicated.

Think about who and what is at risk when running a private practice. For example, you could be found responsible for incidents that occur on your property. This includes your parking area, any stairs and a wrinkle in your carpet; it can even involve your pet.

In turn, your clients can pose a risk to your health or your property.

Minimizing risk is as much about creating a safe space and taking precautionary measures for yourself and your clients as it is about purchasing insurance

Insurance needs can vary greatly and it is best to get advice from an insurance agent who is familiar with your specific business. Generally, there are three categories of insurance you need to consider as a small business owner.



CASW offers Legal Assist, Liability, Life, Health, Dental, Home and Auto Insurance


The Canadian Business Network provides an overview on insurance needs of small businesses 


ACSW offers Professional and General Liability insurance, Property Insurance, Legal Assist, Libel and Slander

British Columbia

BCASW offers Legal Assist, Liability, Life, Health, Dental, Home, Pet and Travel Insurance


Canadian Association of Social Workers offers Legal Assist, Liability, Life, Health, Dental, Home and Auto Insurance


MCSW provides access to professional liability insurance.


OASW offers an enhanced Professional Liability Insurance Program exclusively for OASW members. This type of insurance is also known as Professional Errors and Omissions Liability Insurance, misconduct or malpractice insurance. It also offers a Legal Survival Guide for Social Workers


OTSTCFQ offers liability, home and car insurance 

New Brunswick

Canadian Association of Social Workers offers Legal Assist, Liability, Life, Health, Dental, Home and Auto Insurance

Access to Home & Auto Insurance: NBASW members receive discounted rates on home and auto insurance through Cooperators Group Insurance.

Nova Scotia

Contact a local insurance provider

Canadian Association of Social Workers offers Legal Assist, Liability, Life, Health, Dental, Home and Auto Insurance

Prince Edward Island

Contact a local insurance provider:

Canadian Association of Social Workers offers Legal Assist, Liability, Life, Health, Dental, Home and Auto Insurance

Newfoundland and Labrador

Contact a local insurance provider:

Canadian Association of Social Workers offers Legal Assist, Liability, Life, Health, Dental, Home and Auto Insurance

Northern Canada

Contact a local insurance provider:

Canadian Association of Social Workers offers Legal Assist, Liability, Life, Health, Dental, Home and Auto Insurance



For liability insurance, one often differentiates between insurance for professional and general liability.

Professional liability insurance may be set out as a requirement in your jurisdiction’s Standards of Practice or Codes of Ethics. This insurance is designed to protect practitioners in case of a malpractice claim. Generally speaking, it is intended to cover legal costs and any damages to be paid. Some policies include coverage against defamation, libel and slander. This insurance is also known as Errors and Omissions Insurance.

General liability insurance will protect you against claims made by clients or visitors of your business that are not directly related to the professional services you provide. This includes for example, a client being injured through a fall that occurs at your home office.

CASW National Professional Liability Insurance – Apply and Renew On-line

BMS Group Professional Liability is the nation’s best Liability coverage for social workers. Click here to compare plans and to apply on-line. 

RSWs who own, rent or lease property for their practice need business insurance. This can include:

  • property insurance
  • contents insurance (for your computer, printer, furniture or records)
  • motor vehicle insurance (if you use your vehicle to visit clients)
  • business interruption insurance (if you have to temporarily close your business)
  • accounts receivable (if you have outstanding invoices from larger clients)

Business insurance is also needed when you operate directly out of your home. This insurance protects the business portion of the home and ensures that any existing home insurance coverage remains intact once your private practice is up and running.

RSWs in private practice should carefully consider how they will maintain their personal safety, cover health care costs and ensure continuity of income in case of illness or disability.

Insurance products available include:

  • extended health insurance
  • personal accident insurance
  • disability insurance
  • critical illness insurance
  • life insurance


Prevent incidents and respond effectively

RSWs in private practice must walk a fine line between protecting themselves and protecting the confidentiality of their clients. 

The risk of being attacked by a client and the reality that some therapists are stalked, threatened or attacked makes safety practices a critical aspect of minimizing risk.

There are two types of safety practices: prevention and response

Prevention is based on the assessment of potential risk factors related to a person, environment or particular situation. In a private practice setting, there are a number of preventative steps an RSW can take:

  • Carefully screen patients
  • Always lock the front door
  • Provide a locker for client's personal belongings
  • Have a direct and unobstructed path to an exit
  • Install and display a panic button
  • Install  a panic room
  • Partner with a fellow RSW for challenging field visits

Responding to, and deescalating, incidences requires carefully planned practices. In a private practice setting without colleagues close by, your options include:

  • Excuse yourself from the office to “check on something”

  • Use a panic button or room

  • Employ self-defence techniques


Web links


United States

55 Resources for Therapists & Therapists-in-Training Who Are Stalked, Threatened, or Attacked by Patients 


United States

NASW guidelines for social  worker safety in the workplace 

United States

Stay safe in practice 


One of the most exciting decisions you will make as a private practitioner is identifying the services you will offer. This big decision will set your practice on a course for years to come and will influence almost every aspect of it. Invigorating and overwhelming at the same time, it the decision process requires a careful balance of vision and pragmatic planning.

Start with the big picture: your goals and the opportunities you are most excited about.

Pinpoint your ideal clients and divide them into demographic groups like: age, gender, relationship and parental status, employment status, and ethnicity. Compare your qualifications and experience with the needs in the community. You may need to do some interviews on where service gaps exist that you may be able to fill.

As private practitioner, you can set your own hours: reflect on your personal obligations, and think about how you want to structure your business hours around them.  Think long term, so you don’t have to change your office hours frequently.

Read on for more information on some areas of practice that others have chosen; considerations on practice hours as well as a primer on virtual counseling.



Over the years, RSWs develop areas of particular passions and expertise. When you begin to define your practice and the services you will offer, it is helpful to analyze your qualifications, community needs and any new areas you may want to explore.

As you consider which areas of practice you would like to offer, answer the following questions:

  • What services are you qualified to provide? Are you a specialist in a particular area?
  • Are there other services you are not yet qualified to provide, but that you want to train for?
  • What services are not available yet needed in your community?
  • Will you deliver services just in your immediate community or will you offer services beyond those borders?
  • What issues do you want to address?
  • Which categories of services will you offer:
    • Counseling (face-to-face or online)
    • Assessment
    • Reporting
    • Consulting
    • Training
    • Supervision

Download the Define your Practice Overview Checklist for a list of examples.

Be sure to double-check your Standards of Practice. See if they specify requirements relating to areas of services offered, for example:

  • The Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers’ Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, Second Edition, outlines that:
    • When a client's needs fall outside the College member's usual area of practice, the member informs the client of the option to be referred to another professional. If the client wishes to remain with the member, then the member must ensure she obtains additional education, supervision or consultation.
    • College members must not misrepresent professional qualifications, education, experience or affiliation.
    • The PEI Social Work Registration Board Standards for the Private Practice of Social Work Policy Outlines that:
      • A private practitioner shall have a minimum of four (4) years or equivalent hours of paid social work experience, relevant to the areas of specialization within the past 10 years. 

Helpful Links:


Private practice gives you the flexibility to schedule your work to suit your lifestyle. In the “Get Started” section, you determined your business model, estimated your monthly costs, set your fee schedule, set your ideal monthly income and determined your office location/s. In the “Define services” section you identified your clients, and researched your competition and community needs. These are all key variables that help you determine your hours of service. Answering the following questions will help you decide when you will offer client service and set regular office hours so your clients know what to expect:

  • When are my clients available?
    (e.g. employed adults may be looking for early morning or evening spots; while couples with children in daycare may prefer mid-morning or lunch hour spots.)
  • When will I care for myself?
    (e.g. you may enjoy an early morning run)
  • When is my office/therapy room available?
    (e.g. you may share space with other professionals or your family)
  • How many consultation hours do I need to make my projected income?
    (e.g. what will be my minimum and maximum of billable hours per day)
  • Do I need free days?
    (e.g. you may choose a weekend or weekday, or you may choose to work every day)
  • Are there gaps in service hours from my competition that I could offer?
    (e.g. evening and weekend spots are commonly rarer to come by for clients)

Office Hours

Some practitioners prefer to keep the times for administrative and promotional tasks flexible, while others develop a set schedule. Either way, we recommend that you estimate and track the amount of time these tasks take away from paid work, so you can account for all hours worked. This will help in many ways, like planning your week, identifying your actual hourly pay and measuring how effective your promotional efforts are.

Virtual counseling has developed in response to clients’ busy schedules, the need for increased access to professional services and the affordability of video conferencing. For RSWs in private practice it opens up additional opportunities to work with clients from out of town or local clients who cannot come to the office.

Virtual counseling generally includes counseling using technology, including video conference (e.g. skype), Live Chat (e.g. Google Chat), E-mail (e.g. hush mail) and the telephone.

Virtual counseling differs from face-to-face counseling in that:

  • you cannot guarantee confidentiality and privacy to the client
  • it is not appropriate for crisis intervention
  • technology limitations may impact the quality of audio or video
  • there is a lack of visual cues in all types except video conferencing
  • it can be challenging to know which local resources are available to clients
  • it can be difficult to consult with a client’s past and future service providers to ensure continuity of service
  • all types except telephone are more suitable for affluent or internet-savvy clients and exclude other demographics such as the clients who are low income or have low ditigal literacy.

Virtual counseling makes maintaining a client’s confidentiality more complicated. Practitioners need to diligently address this and other issues in order for online counselling to be considered ethical. Even if you do everything in your power to maintain confidentiality, a client may be accessing a computer in a non-private space, or a family member may gain access to records, which in case of abuse, can be very serious. A third party could also gain access to the information through illegal means.

Online counseling has introduced an ethical dilemma of increased access, quality and confidentiality. For RSWs to deliver high quality virtual counseling, it is important to acquire some additional competencies, including text-only counseling techniques, solving ethical issues unique to virtual counseling, use of encryption technologies or use of online registration, tracking tools and payment tools.As encryption technologyis constantly evolving, consult with an Information Technology expert to identify media, software and a schedule for updates that is secure, affordable, and easy for clients to access.

We recommend that you think very carefully about whether you will offer one or more forms of virtual counseling as a type of service and, if you do decide to offer such services, that you plan for it. 



The Effectiveness And Ethicality Of Online Counselling

Nova Scotia

Chapter 9 Technology & Storage of Files

New Brunswick

Standards for the Use of Technology in Social Work Practice 

Newfoundland and Labrador

Standards For Technology Use In Social Work Practice


CASW Social Media Use and Social Work Practice


Draft Ethical Guidelines For Psychologists Providing Psychological Services Via Electronic Media



Information and Communication Technologies in Social Work


Ethical Framework for use of social media by mental health professionals 


NASW, ASWB, CSWE, & CSWA Standards for Technology in Social Work Practice


Social Work in the ICT Age: How to Ensure Ethical and Competent Practice in the 21st Century and Beyond


Online Therapy Research Publications and Internet Security 


Toolkit for e-Mental Health Implementation


Promoting yourself and building a professional network are crucial for growing a successful private mental health practice. The thought of promoting your private practice can be overwhelming. As counselors, you might not feel completely at ease with the idea of selling your services, and the idea of promoting yourself might make you break out into a cold sweat. Whether you took Marketing 101 or not, getting your business noticed is difficult. In addition, the standards of practice demand high ethical standards and require RSWs to focus on providing information and education in their promotional activities. Bear in mind that this doesn’t mean that your promotional activities or materials should be dry.  It has been proven that stories are more effective than information and data when it comes to engaging others. Think about how you can use stories to get others excited about what social work practice has to offer, and use them whenever you are:

This section offers some strategies on how to connect with people so they get to know about you and the services you offer. 


On a bad day, networking can be associated with self-serving schmoozing and a race to give out the most business cards. Consequently, many people cringe at the prospect of mingling at professional gatherings.

Authentic networking feels good.  It is about helping others and the quality of each connection is worth more than the quantity. Taking the time to ask questions, listen attentively and share relevant information with others is key to establishing a memorable human connection – and the good news is that these are all skills which RSWs are professionally trained in.

There is an art and science to networking and everyone has a preferred personal style.  As you figure out what works for you, here are three tips to get you started:

  • Connect to be remembered
  • Listen to learn
  • Be visible to become recognized

There are many how-to-guides and Top 10 lists on why you should not leave an event without a second date, how reciprocity in networking is key, how to remember someone’s name, or how to gracefully exit a conversation to catch that one person you have been trying to speak to for hours. We encourage you to review some of them for some really useful pointers. In addition, read on for more specific information on generating referrals and promoting RSW services to extended health care providers.



3 Best Practices for Effective Business Networking


3 Networking Tips to Grow your Business 


4 Steps to Building Social Capital 


The Art of Successful Networking 


Many RSWs and other allied health care providers find referrals from medical professionals an important source of new clients. The challenge is that cultivating referral sources can be time consuming. Before you dive into making connections and asking for referrals, consider the following:

  • Cast a wide net in your community

Depending on your specialty, connect with spiritual leaders, family physicians, nurse practitioners, psychiatrists, social and human services providers, guidance counsellors, community centers, lawyers, child care providers. Think about whom to contact, where to meet them and how to meet more than one at the same time, then make a plan.

  • Design, develop, re-use

It can be time consuming to develop introductory and promotional materials. Ensure that everything you use can be recycled for the next contact.  . Develop templates and other resources you can pick up later and use again.

  • Referrals to other mental health care providers

RSWs and other mental health care providers in private practice are technically in competition for clients. Examine your competitors and identify those who may be open to collaboration. For example, you may consider connecting with mental health providers who offer similar but not entirely competing services like psychiatrists and RSWs with other specializations.  Once you have established trust, you can begin mutually beneficial cross-referral relationship. Clients will appreciate your willingness to refer them to a service provider who is best suited to meet their needs.

  • Collaborate

Joint ventures with complementary and non-competitive businesses work together in a synergistic way by educating clients on the benefits of the participating businesses. Analyze your community and identify those that may apply to your private practice.  For example, if you offer divorce recovery services, connect with local divorce attorneys.

  • Help referral sources find the right provider

When you help your referral sources make more effective referral decisions, you make mental health services more accessible to your community. Consider developing a mental health practitioner referral guide that help your sources select the best suited provider from those available: psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist, occupational therapists, psychotherapist, community mediation, crisis intervention specialist. Include information like average wait times, fees, etc.  And added benefit of producing a guide such as this is that, in conducting your research, you expose yourself to prospective collaborators. (Read more in RSWs and related professions)


Business cards

You never know when you might meet a potential referral source. You could be running errands, picking someone up at the airport, or walking your dog, so be prepared!  Carry a handful of business cards or brochures about your practice with you wherever you go.


Helpful Links: 


Redefining Private Practice – Smart Ideas for a Changing Economy


Extended health care providers generally appear open to adding coverage for RSWs’ services to health benefit plans if requested by plan administrators. Promoting the inclusion of RSWs services in benefit plans to employers and employees can help include RSW services in standard benefit packages. Consider the following strategies to increase awareness of employees, employers and extended health care providers.

  • Learn what your regulatory organizations or association are doing to encourage insurance companies, employers and unions to recognize social work counselling as a valuable and needed benefit in group health plans;
  • Develop relationships with local human resources professionals and benefit plan administrators.  Explain what social work practice has to offer (beyond what they know about Employee Assistance Programs) and encourage them to consider adding RSWs to group health plans;
  • Provide potential and current clients with pamphlets to give to their employer when they ask for coverage;
  • Collaborate with other RSWs in private practice to come up with and execute strategies to promote coverage of RSWs in employee benefit plans;
  • Inquire with extended health care providers on current coverage of standard plans and optional add-ons, and explore their readiness to add RSWs to the mix of benefits.

Click here for a Provider Coverage Overview

British Columbia

Registered Social Workers: Adding Value to Workplace Benefit Plans and Promoting Inclusion of Social Work Counselling in Workplace Group Benefit Plans


Third Party Billing 




You are an expert.  You have experience, education, knowledge, skills, and passion in your field.  When you market your expertise to others, it is important to promote your expertise to your target market.  While you are probably confident in your skillset, it can be uncomfortable to promote your business without feeling like you are bragging.  It gets easier.  In the meantime, focus on your unique niche, which will keep your marketing messages clear and concise.

Testimonials are an effective advertising tool for many professions, but RSWs should neither solicit nor accept them from past or current private clients. Accepting a testimonial from a client adds a business relationship to the counselor-client relationship, which is inappropriate. There are a number of grave ethical issues to consider with respect to exploiting trust and dependency of clients who may be vulnerable to undue influence. You may use testimonials if they come from workshop participants, colleagues or other people in your network.

For many years, large corporations like Michelin and Kraft have been creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content in the form of traveler guides, recipe books, or magazines. This is called “content marketing” and it has become a reliable tool for educating and connecting with target markets, communities, and clients.  You can share valuable, free information on your website, through on email newsletter, on social media platforms, or even by writing a regular column for your local newspaper.  Once you have established yourself as a reliable expert, your target market will be able to find you easily.  You might even be approached to create content for other organizations. E-mail or mail spam has become a daily reality. Once you begin promoting your business, you need to be careful not to become a spammer yourself. Canada’s new Anti-Spam law has now made it illegal to send unwanted communications with commercial electronic messages. 

Testimonials from workshop participants or others you have worked with can be highly effective. While prospective clients probably do not know the person providing the testimonial, it provides “social proof”, which holds a similar weight as a referral by a trusted friend or colleague.

Despite what one might expect, testimonials are difficult to solicit and write. A few pointers to ease the process include:

  • Request the testimonial soon after the service was provided
  • Provide a fill-in-the-blanks template with your request
  • Ask some questions to guide the person writing the testimonial
  • Inform the person where the testimonial will be published e.g. brochure, website
  • Obtain confirmation in writing that the person accepts the name to be disclosed

Please note: RSWs are generally not allowed to solicit or accept testimonials from past or current clients from direct counseling practice. RSWs should always apply rigorous ethical values only solicit testimonials from third parties.

Content marketing is about creating and providing relevant and consistent content to inform and educate your community on topics related to your unique service offerings.

Before you can get started you need to know your audience and their needs. If you are  clear about the benefits your services provide to clients, you are well on your way.

To start you may choose to focus on a niche market which takes less time and resources to connect with. Once your business grows, you may choose to market more of your services to tap into multiple segments of your potential market. Depending on your audience, you may choose face-to-face workshops, articles, blogs, webinars or video clips to disseminate content. Consider the following three questions as you make your content marketing strategy.

1. What do I offer of value to my audience?
Ask this question for each of your audience segments.  Some examples of information you audience might want:
- up to date scientific findings e.g. specific on parenting practices
- how-to guides, self-assessments or strategies for home use e.g. how to cope when a family member is diagnosed with a chronic illness

2. How often should I connect with my network?
With what frequency should I release new content
- Weekly 250 word blog
- Monthly article commenting on  content published elsewhere
- Quarterly original article in a community newspaper
- Annual workshop

3. How will I distribute the content:
- How can I best reach my target audience/s
- Which media accommodate my timetable?
- Should I use a combination of media?  If yes, which ones?

Consider enlisting the help of a friend who knows about promotion or marketing, take a workshop or hire someone to help you set up some templates and get you started on the right track.


It has become a welcome courtesy that recipients of any content marketing campaign can opt-out (i.e. decline to receive further promotional emails).

 Based on Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), you are now required to obtain express or implied consent before you can send a promotional email to a person. CASL targets any electronic communication that could be considered to “encourage participation in a commercial activity”. Any email, text message, instant message and messages sent through social networks that have a commercial aspect will be considered to be a Commercial Electronic Message (CEM).

 A plain language guide provided by the Government of Canada recommends you ask yourself the following four questions before you send a CEM.  If the answer is “yes” to all four questions, your CEM is within the allowable guidelines and you can hit the “send” button:

  1. Has the recipient given you consent? (You must answer at least one of the following with ‘yes’)

  • Do you have a record of the recipient agreeing to receive your CEM (express consent)?

  • Did the person or company publish contact information on-line without any “don’t contact instructions” (implied consent)?

  • Do you have a family/friend relationship with the recipient (implied consent)

  • Have you had some sort of business transaction with the recipient within the last two years? (express consent)

  1. Are you confident that the content in your email will not be misleading the recipient/s?

  2. Did you provide your contact information including mailing address, phone number, email or web address?

  3. Does your message give a clear option to decline receipt of further CEMs?

 We recommend you also consult some of the links provided below to ensure you comply with Canada’s Anti Spam Legislation. Don’t forget: if you email a large group of recipients at the same time, always use BCC to keep the email addresses of your recipients private.



Protecting your business 


Canada’s Anti Spam Legislation 


There are many services small business owners can use to post information about their services for free or for a fee. At the minimum, you should post your private practice information on your associations or regulatory organizations register of RSWs or RSWs in private practice, if it exists.

You can also advertise:

  1. For free in local listings where you expect your target audience to be, e.g. on organization’s community resource pages, especially those with similar mandates, community resource pages, health community periodicals, or local listings like Google Places, Yahoo Local or Bing Local;
  2. In  business listings that rank high in search engine results, e.g. Yellow Pages;
  3. On  websites with a lot of visitor traffic, e.g. Kijiji
  4. On your own website (use search engine optimization to increase your visibility online) or social networking platform



As an experienced RSWs you have years of service to refer to, yet, when you open your private practice some aspects are changing. For example, you may be more concerned about extended health care coverage for your clients, the ins and outs of online counseling or financial recording.

For RSWs in private practice the information on Standards of Practice and Ethics and keeping records provide guidance to assist them conform to conventions set by social work regulatory organization and tax authorities. Increased awareness of third-party coverage by extended health care providers and other programs supports RSWs to attract and inform clients of their options.

RSWs are caring professionals with integrity and great responsibility.  Working with clients, they identify goals and together, work toward achieving them.  When you run your own private practice, there are no organizational policies to guide you, so it is critical to refer to, and follow, the standards of practice that are set out for you. Regulatory organizations, like the British Columbia College of Social Workers or the Prince Edward Island Social Work Registration Board, have been designated by their jurisdictional government to set minimum standards in accordance with legislation. These standards promote excellence and help you refine how you deliver your services.  It’s a good idea to get into the habit of documenting how you follow the standards.  This will help you stay current with the standards and serves as assurance in case you need to prove that you observe proper protocol and procedures.  The social work profession changes over time and so do the standards,  currently they include for example:

  • General practice
  • Ethical guidelines
  • Confidentiality
  • Conflict of interest
  • Record management
  • Professional relationships
  • Fees for service
  • Advertising
  • Accessibility
  • Malpractice insurance
  • Pro bono services
  • Coverage by competent peers in case of absence
  • Counseling using technology (for example: Skype)

Please refer to your regulatory organization’s website or contact them directly to get the current standards of practice, codes of ethics and other applicable documents. 



CASW Social Media Use and Social Work Practice

CASW Code of Ethics 


ACSW Standards of Practice

ACSW adopted CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice, see CASW Code of Ethics and CASW Guidelines for Ethical Practice

British Columbia

BCCSW Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice


SASW Code of Ethics Guidelines for Ethical Practice

SASW adopted CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice, see CASW Code of Ethics and CASW Guidelines for Ethical Practice


MCSW Standards of Practice

MCSW adopted CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice, see CASW Code of Ethics and CASW Guidelines for Ethical Practice


OCSWSSW Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice


Code des professions

Code de déontologie des membres de l'Ordre professionnel des travailleurs sociaux et des thérapeutes conjugaux et familiaux du Québec

Code of ethics of the members of the Ordre professionnel des travailleurs sociaux et des thérapeutes conjugaux et familiaux du Québec

and other documents

New Brunswick

NBASW adopted CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice, see CASW Code of Ethics and CASW Guidelines for Ethical Practice

Nova Scotia

Standards of Practice

NSASW amended and adopted CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice, see CASW Code of Ethics and CASW Guidelines for Ethical Practice

Prince Edward Island

Private Practice Policy

PEI SWRB adopted CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice, see CASW Code of Ethics and CASW Guidelines for Ethical Practice

Newfoundland and Labrador

Practice Standards

NLASW adopted CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice, see CASW Code of Ethics and CASW Guidelines for Ethical Practice

Northern Canada

Standards of Practice

HSS supports and expanded on the CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice


RSWs respect their client’s right to privacy when handling personal and sensitive information. In a private practice, confidentiality and privacy rights are your ethical and legal responsibility and need to be addressed throughout the treatment cycle.

Confidentiality should be carefully addressed during collection, use, modification, disclosure, storage and disposal of information. Generally, some points include:

  • only solicit what’s required to provide services or to conduct  research
  • discuss with clients the nature of confidentiality and the limitations of their right to confidentiality at the first meeting
  • store records  in a secure location (for example: a fireproof safe) that unauthorized people cannot access


Disclosure of confidential information may be necessary to prevent serious, foreseeable, and imminent harm to a client or others. It can also be required by law or court order.  If you find yourself in this situation:

  • inform the client before you disclose any information
  • disclose only relevant information required to achieve the desired purpose
  • ensure the information is transmitted through confidential channels


RSWs who offer virtual services should inform clients of the limitations to confidentiality that come with email, texting, or video conferencing. Generally, encryption is recommended for secure online interactions. As encryption technology is constantly evolving, consult with an Information Technology expert to identify media, software and a schedule for updates that is secure, affordable, and easy for clients to access. Read more on Virtual Counselling.


As well as offering confidential services, you must comply with privacy legislation including provincial privacy laws. For the private sector, some provinces have privacy legislation that has been deemed “substantially similar” to The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), while others do not. Please consult your regulatory organization’s website or contact them directly to obtain the current standards on confidentiality and privacy. You can also contact the Office of the Privacy Commissioner in your province or territory for more information.


Comments to Web Specialist:

Link “regulatory organization’s website or contact them directly”  to link list of 5.1; and link to privacy legislation overview below.

Link Virtual Counselling to 3.3


Factsheet: Privacy legislation in Canada

Legal information related to PIPEDA,


Privacy Toolkit for Social Workers and Social Service Workers


Ethics lie at the core of every profession, but how do you define ethical behaviour?  Regulatory organizations outline the values and principles that govern ethical behaviour for professional social workers that fall within their jurisdiction.  Some outline how the values and principles apply to common areas of social work practice.  As an RSW in private practice, you may have fewer opportunities than your colleagues have to discuss ethical dilemmas, consider complex and sometimes competing issues, and make informed decisions.  You can turn to information that your regulatory organization provides, which can include:

  • Respect for Inherent Dignity and Worth of Persons
  • Pursuit of Social Justice
  • Service to Humanity
  • Integrity of Professional Practice
  • Confidentiality in Professional Practice
  • Competence in Professional Practice

It may be helpful to create or join an ethics joint interest group with other RSWs or mental health care providers.


Accurate record keeping is crucial to your private practice.  You already understand the importance of clinical record keeping for capturing your clients’ needs, goals, interventions, and progress, but did you know that you also need to maintain financial records?  Financial records tell you how your practice is doing and are sometimes required by regulatory organizations and tax authorities so it is important that they are up-to-date and well-organized.  

All RSWs who have a private practice – even those who only supplement their income with the occasional private client – must keep records of income and expenses.  This includes receipts for purchases and services, contracts, sales invoices and related correspondence. The Canada Revenue Agency generally accepts records in either paper or electronic format. While you can hire a book-keeper or accountant to manage this aspect of your practice, ultimately you are responsible and will be held accountable so it is crucial that you have a general understanding of recordkeeping. 

In the event of an audit of your financial records by Canada Revenue Agency, client confidentiality can be maintained by blackening out personal client information on financial documents. In general, RSWs are best served to discuss the client privacy requirements with the auditor upfront and come to an agreement on how confidentiality can best be maintained during the audit process. 

Helpful Links:


Keeping Records


Clinical record keeping is fundamental to the work of RSWs and standards of practice detail the content, format and maintenance requirements for the social work record. Please consult your regulatory organization’s standards of practice for specific requirements that apply to you.

Generally, records must:

  • be systematic, dated, legible, current and accurate

  • provide accountability for, and evidence of, services

  • support continuity of care

  • describe a client’s situation succinctly yet contain only information that is needed for care

  • be impartial, objective and identify sources of data(e.g. opinions must be identified as such)

  • be created as soon as possible (within the parameters of the client’s situation)

  • enable the evaluation of service quality

  • provide information to be used for research and education.

  • adhere to applicable privacy and other legislation.

  • include consents and authorizations

  • outline fees charged and administered


Helpful Links:


RSWs need to comply with privacy laws, standards of practice and other legislation when it comes to keeping, storing and destroying records. RSWs who work for organizations have the benefit of existing organizational policies and processes.  As an RSW in private practice you need to comply with all applicable laws, standards, and legislation and you must also establish your own policies concerning record management including:

  • storage
  • allowing and refusing access
  • correction of records
  • destruction of records

It is important to store both clinical and financial records securely, but clinical records need extra attention.  Both records must be stored for seven years, but there are additional considerations for clinical records, for example the records for minors must be stored longer and for clinical records, confidentiality must be kept for the entire lifecycle of the file.  


There are few clients who can easily afford regular visits to paramedical providers and many seek third-party coverage for your services. As a practicing RSW, clients will often look to you for advice on how to obtain full or partial coverage for your services. 

There are three sources that can potentially provide full or partial coverage for your clients:

RSWs, social work membership organizations and other advocates are constantly working with stakeholders to raise awareness and improve the availability of third-party coverage for RSW services.  Download a brochure on the topic by clicking here or accessing the PDF below. 


A 2014 Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) study explored attitudes toward, and coverage of, RSW services by major extended health care providers as part of individual insurance or employee benefit plans. The findings suggest that many do offer coverage in specific plans or as an a la carte feature; however it appears that as of 2014, significantly less than half cover RSW services in their standard plans.

An important obstacle to coverage is a lack of awareness among employers that RSWs in private practice provide timely and high quality counseling services, just like psychologists and other counseling professionals.  RSWs belong in mental health provider networks and it is up to us to educate employers as well as insurance providers about our services. 

We recommend that you contact providers directly for the most up-to-date information. 



Since 2012, RSWs are listed as authorized health care providers for the purpose of claiming medical expenses on income tax returns.

  • There is a 15% tax credit on fees paid for the services of an RSW that exceed 3% of net income

Depending on your location and the circumstances, your clients may be eligible for municipal or provincial government programs, such as:

  • B.C. Ministry of Justice: Crime Victim Assistance Program ( )
  • Veteran Affairs Canada (VAC), information on how to become a registered service provider for VAC can be found on Medavie Blue Cross Web site ( ) under Federal Programs.
  • Association of Workers Compensation Boards ( )
  • Health Canada: Non-Insured Health Benefits Program for First Nations and Inuit ( )



Running a private practice that is completely dependent on revenue from individual client work may not generate the income you need to meet your financial goals. Similar to holding a diversified finance portfolio, RSWs should consider complementing their direct practice with other types of services. We encourage you to connect with education, training, business or social service stakeholders in your community to identify specific opportunities and demand.

This section gives some examples of additional services that have worked for counselors in private practice:

Teach, train, facilitate




Helpful Links



Redefining Private Practice 



RSWs in private practice may be experts in their particular area of work. This makes them well suited to provide services to groups of individuals that are interested in those areas of expertise, rather than individual counseling sessions. Depending on your audience, you may want to explore: workshops, support groups, or webinars.

  • Make a list of the topics you would like to cover
  • Prepare an outline, and gather suitable handouts and other supporting materials
  • Explore if there is a demand for you to train, facilitate, or teach, such as corporate or community workshops, continuing education programs, and college courses
  • Familiarize yourself with adult learning theory and training principles, and consider taking a short course to practice your facilitation skills

These engagements will also help raise awareness of your private practice counseling services and will establish you as a respected expert in your community.  Bring your business cards to these engagements but remember your ethical responsibilities. For example It would be acceptable to have a biography that mentions your private practice and the services you offer. It would be considered unethical, however, to recommend to workshop participants to see you in private practice. 


Helpful Links



Redefining Private Practice


Understanding the Employee as an Adult Learner 


Canadian Society for Training and Development 


Writing about your field of expertise can be gratifying, and can increase your professional image and income. Publishing costs are reasonable and delivery to the customer is quick and simple via handheld devices. Consider the following tips for writing and publishing your own content.

  • Consult current How-to-Guides  on writing e-books and recording podcasts
  • Use your personal and professional experience – make it unique and relatable
  • Use a self-publishing service

Some private practitioners get started by writing articles or a blog, which they later convert into an e-book.

Helpful Links



9 Powerful Tips for Writing your First Successful Ebook 


How to Write an Ebook


Working through another provider or intermediary can be an excellent way to get extra work, extend your network, diversify your portfolio, and save time on business development. Firms that may require the services of a RSW include:

  • Attorneys who need an advisor or qualified expert witness
  • Training, consulting or research firms in the health care and social services field who are looking for a subject matter expert, advisor or researcher.

Depending on the arrangement, you may be asked to work at a lower rate than usual so your partner can recuperate their administrative expenses.  Consider the time you saved on networking and business development and answer accordingly.

See stay employed to refresh your memory on issues such as conflict of interest and priority setting. Review minimize risk to learn how to protect yourself with liability insurance, regardless of your partner’s insurance arrangement.

Helpful Links



To Be or Not to Be… a (Truly Qualified) Expert Witness 


Consulting Agreement Templates 


Many people never consider how their work impacts them emotionally. As caregivers, RSWs need to have a good understanding of how their work impacts their well-being.  Furthermore, it is crucial that you consistently engage in self-care activities to manage occupational hazards like vicarious trauma, vulnerability, occupational stress or compassion fatigue on a daily basis.

Take a minute to check in with yourself and reflect upon two questions:

  1. What are you doing to reduce stress and to care for your body, heart, mind and spirit?
  2. How do you recognize that you need to engage in self-care?

 For RSWs in private practice it can be difficult to find the time to relax and decompress, take advantage of extended health benefits, participate in peer groups or see a fellow professional who can support clinical supervision.  Make time for you.  Your clients will thank you.



CAMH Compassion Fatigue

British Columbia

Self Care an Ethical Imperative - Perspectives January 2011


Practice Notes: Supervision: At the Core of Competent and Ethical Practice


Rethinking Compassion Fatigue as Moral Stress, April 2009, Journal of Ethics in Medicine


The Importance of Self-Care in Social Work 


Compassion Fatigue: Being an Ethical Social Worker 


It can be challenging for self-employed professionals to find affordable private health insurance.  Fortunately, RSWs who are also members of their professional association can take advantage of a group insurance plan either through their provincial/territorial association or through the Canadian Association of Social Workers. (Read more)




When working in a private practice, you may not have access to informal or formal conversations with other RSW professionals to help address complex areas of practice, ethical dilemmas or to support self-reflection. In urban areas, there may be established peer support networks that allow RSWs in private practice to connect, but such networks may not exist in other parts of Canada.

When seeking out a peer group, look for those with a culture of trust, support, respect and confidentiality. When participating in a peer group, be sure to share only necessary information and always keep the identity of your clients confidential.  Be extra cautious in small communities.

You may also want to explore virtual discussion groups, but be aware that privacy may not be guaranteed in these forums. 

For RSWs in private practice who want to establish their own peer supervision support group, there are many resources available online that can help you start and maintain your group.

Remember that sometimes you will come across a case or an issue that requires more support and guidance; in these instances we recommend consulting further with your clinical supervisor an expert in the specific area you are dealing with.



Support from peers is invaluable


Community Toolbox Section 2. Creating and Facilitating Peer Support Groups


Peer Supervision 


There are two categories of supervision in private practice:

  • Clinical supervision
  • Reflective supervision

Clinical supervision focuses on the client-practitioner relationship, while reflective supervision looks at the interaction between the client, the situation and the private practitioner as an individual with a history and specific vulnerabilities.

Many RSWs are required by their regulatory organization to obtain regular clinical supervision.  To find out if supervision is required for your practice, consult your standards of practice.  The standards of practice will outline any supervisor qualifications and frequency of session requirements.

Even if you do not need to have a clinical supervisor, you may still choose to see one on occasion.  If so, consider the following qualifications for your supervisor:

  • knowledge and competency in a given area of practice
  • interest in professional development and mentoring a protegée
  • experience in supporting reflective practice


As a practicing RSW, you are responsible for continuous learning to keep up the knowledge and skills required to perform in your area(s) of practice. Regulatory organizations are required by law to monitor compliance and determine eligibility of professional development activities that you undertake. Generally a variety of activities relevant to an RSW’s field of work and position are accepted.

See Requirements for an overview of hours or credits per jurisdiction.

In Continuing Competence for Private Practice we suggest some topics that other private practitioners have found particularly helpful. 

Web Links


All Jurisdictions

Social Work Regulatory Organizations 


Private practitioners must observe the same Continuing Competence requirements as employed RSWs.  Requirements differ slightly across Canada according to jurisdiction, but generally they include a number of activities that are quantified in the form of hours, credits or otherwise.  For the requirements specific to your province or territory, please see your jurisdiction’s guide, policy or program on continuing competence.


Web Links


Prince Edward Island

Continuing Education Policy


Continuing Competence

Newfoundland and Labrador

Continuing Professional Education Policy

British Columbia

Continuing Professional Development

Nova Scotia

Professional Development Activities


Continuing Competence Program




Continuing Competence Program 


Continuing Education Policy (only available in French) 

New Brunswick

Continuing Education

Northern Canada

Continuing Competency Program for NWT Social Workers


As a private practitioner, not only do you have to maintain your professional skills, you also need to develop business acumen in order to build, grow, and diversify your practice.  Inquire with your social work association, regulatory organization or local college to find out what’s available to you. The Get Started section lists local organizations that offer services and workshops for small business owners. You may also want to consider workshops, webinars or courses offered by other mental health practitioner organizations listed in the Helpful Links below. Explore established and virtual networks such the private Linked-In group “Therapists Linked” to exchange with and learn from other mental health clinicians, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists.

Many RSWs in private practice find it helpful to complement their social work competence with knowledge and skills in:

  • Starting a small business
  • Safety in private practice
  • Professional liability
  • Accounting and taxes
  • Privacy legislation
  • Generating referrals
  • Records management
  • Ethics in private practice
  • Networking for business
  • Using social media
  • Personal branding

There are tax incentives to your professional development.  You may be able to deduct some or all of your professional development activities as a business expense, including up to two conferences or conventions (including travel and meals) Consult with your accountant or review a current tax guide for more information.


Helpful Links


Program and School Finder


Canada Revenue Agency Form T4002 Business and Professional Income 


Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association



Canadian Professional Counsellors Association



Canadian Psychology Association


Therapists Linked Group


Social Work Associations or Institutes offer a variety of services to members, including professional development. Your membership association should be your first contact for accessing continuing education, such as instructional webinars and workshops. 

British Columbia

British Columbia Association of Social Workers

Suite 402, 1755 West Broadway

Vancouver, BC V6J 4S5

Tel: 604.730.9111 /1.800.665.4747 (BC residents only)

Fax: 604.730.9112




Saskatchewan Association of Social Workers

2110 Lorne St.

Regina, SK S4P 2M5

Tel: 306.545.1922

Fax: 306.545.1895



Executive Director & Registrar:  Alison MacDonald



Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers

Unit 101-2033 Portage Ave.

Winnipeg, Manitoba R3J 0K8

Tel: 204.888.9477

Fax: 204.831.6359



Executive Director and Registrar: Ms. Miriam Browne


New Brunswick Association of Social Workers

P.O. Box 1533, Postal Station A Fredericton, NB E3B 5G2

Tel: 506.459.5595 / 1.877.495.5595 (NB residents only)

Fax: 506.457.1421



Executive Director:Miguel LeBlanc


Registrar: Ms. Annie Couturier


Courier: NBASW, 403 Regent Street, Suite 100, Fredericton, NB E3B 3X6


Ontario Association of Social Workers

410 Jarvis Street

Toronto, ON M4Y 2G6

telephone: 416-923-4848

fax: 416-923-5279

E-mail: or



Find Information on OASW branches at

Algoma, Central Ontario, Durham / Kawartha, Eastern, Hamilton

Huronia Highlands, Kingston, Mid-Western, Niagara, Nipissing, Northeastern, Northwestern, Southwestern, Sudbury, Western



Ordre des travailleurs sociaux et thérapeutes conjugaux

255, Boul. Crémazie Est ,

Bureau 800, Montréal (Qc)

H2m 1l5

Tél : 514-731-3925

Sans Frais : 1 888 731-9420 

Fax : 514-731-6785

E-Mail: Info.General@Otstcfq.Org


New Brunswick

The New Brunswick Association of Social Workers (NBASW)

403 Regent Street, Suite 100

Fredericton, NB  E3B 3X6

Tel:(506) 459-5595

Toll Free: 1-877-495-5595

Fax:(506) 457-1421



Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers

1891 Brunswick St., Suite 106

Halifax, NS B3J 2G8

Tel: 902.429.7799

Fax: 902.429.7650



Executive Director and Acting Registrar: Robert R. Shepherd


Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Social Workers

P.O. Box 39039

St. John's, NL A1E 5Y7

Tel: 709.753.0200

Fax: 709.753.0120

E-mail: Website:

Executive Director & Registrar: Lisa Crockwell

Courier: 177 Hamlyn Rd. St. John's, NL A1E 5Z5

Prince Edward Island


Prince Edward Island Association of Social Workers

81 Prince Street

Charlottetown, PE C1A 4R3

Tel: 902.368.7337

Fax:902.368.7080 Website:

Northern Canada


The Association of Social Workers of Northern Canada (ASWNC)

c/o Geri Elkin

Box 2963

Yellowknife, NT X1A 2R2

Tel: 867.920.4479

Fax: 867.669.7964




Careful planning will help you to avoid problemsafter your practice has closed its doors. When you decide to close your practice, your order of business is to set a firm end date well in advance to allow ample time for the following close out procedures:

Ethical responsibility and standards of continuing care compel RSWs in private practice to prepare a professional will and direct close out procedures In the event of untimely death.

Web Links



Retiring? Tips for closing your private practice 


When a Clinical Social Worker in Solo or Group Practice dies 


Closing a Private Practice


Over the course of your practice, you have, no doubt, accumulated a large number of business and client contacts. Consider the following strategies to let everyone know about your office closure:

  • Add a brief retirement announcement to your voice mail, e-mail, waiting room board or website and post an announcement in the local community paper.
  • Inform your current clients quickly and discuss their needs and preferences for continued care; offer at least two referral options.
  • Give new clients the option to see you until your practice closes or provide referrals.
  • Inform referral sources and offer suggestions on other practitioners who provide similar services to yours.
  • Inform previous clients and explain how to get files transferred or accessed in the future.
  • Cancel business services in time to avoid penalties, e.g. office phone or business insurance.

Request a meeting with your professional liability insurance provider to discuss maintenance of protection after office closure.


Web Links



Retiring? Tips for closing your private practice 


Retiring or Closing a Private Practice 


When you close your practice, prepare a closing or transfer treatment record to support your client’s transition to another healthcare provider.    The record should include a summary of the case (including a diagnosis and treatment plan), progress in meeting treatment plan(s), transfer or closing plans, and follow-up recommendations.

To ensure that your clients are cared for in the event of unforeseen circumstances, consider preparing a professional will that outlines how client records should be maintained and appoint a legal custodian for your client records. 

See Clinical Recording and Storing Records for more detail on managing records.


Web Links



Retiring? Tips for closing your private practice 


When a Clinical Social Worker in Solo or Group Practice dies 


Retiring or Closing a Private Practice 


Discuss with your professional liability insurance provider what type of coverage may be included or available after you close your practice. Most policies include some kind of extended reporting period that provides coverage for future claims based on events that occurred before your practice was closed. Be sure to discuss your options with your provider before you close your practice.  Read more on professional liability insurance.


Web Links



Retiring? Tips for closing your private practice 


When a Clinical Social Worker in Solo or Group Practice dies 


Retiring or Closing a Private Practice 


The loss of a social worker or counselor can be very difficult for clients. Having a plan for what happens if you die suddenly or become incapacitated without warning, helps those whom you designate to respond promptly and effectively to your clients' needs and to the unfinished business of your practice.

In addition to an executor for your personal will, you should appoint two qualified persons to take charge of your professional will – one primary and one for back up. Once they have accepted, it can be immensely helpful to have a joint planning session to sketch out the content and determine the level of detail needed.

Build on the list of topics to design your professional will. Consider including:

-          professional calendar and schedule

-          informed consent for release of information

-          current clients, and their contact information

-          up-to-date list of professionals to be considered for referrals

-          message and level of detail to clients

-          closed clients, dates of closure and their records

-          method of notification to clients

-          employee Assistance Program (EAP) contact persons

-          access information for office, email, voice messages, computers, digital file storage

-          location of key/s and filing cabinet/s

-          insurance documents

-          information about landlord or office manager

-          person responsible for client file storage in the future

-          attorney, if applicable

-          instructions  to handle unpaid bills

-          how the executor will be compensated for services

In addition to preparing your professional will, you should cross-reference your private will or even make explicit reference to one another to avoid conflicting information. As with any legal document, we recommend you have an attorney do a final review.


Web Links


British Columbia

Preparing Our Professional Will, available in archives 2009


When a Clinical Social Worker in Solo or Group Practice dies 


Therapist’s Guide for Preparing a Professional will 


With so much information available online, it can be difficult to sift through it all and extract what you need. This portal gives you quick access to a wealth of provincial, national, and international information. It lets you find information in two ways:



An increasing number of people share content freely on the internet. Often the only requirements are to acknowledge the author, provide feedback, or share your contact information in exchange for the product.  Below, we have listed some forms and templates that you can adapt to suit your specific purpose.

Web Links



Private Practice Forms:

Private Practice resources:

Consent form:

Variety of Informed Consent Forms To Disclose Records To The Legal System:

Social Media Policy:


Sample Business Plans:

See Starting or Planning or Financing or Growing for many more forms and templates:

Consulting Agreement Templates:


Many Social Workers, Counselors, Psychotherapists and Psychologists in private practice write about their personal challenges, lessons learned, and successful strategies gleaned from their private practice.  This information can be found on websites, blogs, and other online spaces.  Take a look at the wealth of available knowledge, and consider whether the content is reliable, high quality, and relevant to you and your practice.  You can do this by considering an author’s credentials, your specific circumstances, and the legal and ethical standards that apply.


Web Links            



Free Private Practice Resources:


Free Reports:

Blogs and Articles:


There are many organizations that can help you build and grow your private practice. Based on your geographic location, you will find:

  • Membership-based social work associations
  • Social work regulatory organizations
  • Business services organizations
  • Advocates for your clients

 All of these organizations offer a wealth of information or assistance that is relevant to your province or territory. The services may be offered for free or may be available for purchase for a one-time fee.  Sometimes they are only available to members so you would need to register with an organization for access to its services. 

Take some time to explore the organizations that may already be working to serve you, and find out what they have to offer you and your clients.

There are also national associations and advocacy organizations that offer additional information or services. As an RSW you may already be a member of the Canadian Association of Social Workers – take a look at this organization and what it has to offer members like you.


Web Links







Regulatory Bodies


In Canada, 20% of occupations are regulated to protect the health and safety of citizens. Social Workers are regulated just like architects, chiropractors, doctors, engineers, massage therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and psychologists.

The social work profession is regulated in all provinces in Canada, and in the Northwest Territories. The professional titles of "Social Worker" and "Registered Social Worker" are reserved for those practitioners who meet the qualifications and standards as set by the provincial regulatory bodies and are registered. They may display the designation “R.S.W” (P.S.W. in Quebec) after their name. Some provinces also regulate closely related occupations, for example in Ontario, the practice of social service work or in Alberta the practice of clinical social work are regulated also.

Each Canadian jurisdiction has enacted legislation that outlines practice for Registered Social Workers (RSWs). Depending on jurisdiction, the regulatory organizations are a college, council or association of social work or social workers. Together, they bring consistency, identity and control to the social work profession across Canada. Provincial social work legislation varies somewhat from province to province, however, generally all :

  • Set admission and licensing standards
  • Set practice standards
  • Monitor the work carried out  by Registered Social Workers
  • Require RSWs to maintain competence by continuing their professional education
  • Publish ethical guidelines
  • Discipline practitioners for misconduct

In general, people who want to work in the capacity of a Social Worker,  must:

  • Attend accredited education and on-going professional development
  • Follow a code of ethics and standards of practice
  • Meet other standards set out by the regulatory organization, as applicable
  • Have a criminal record check completed
  • Become registered by joining the provincial regulatory organization as a member

Specific information regarding application and registration processes, complaints and discipline processes, code of ethics and standards of practice can be obtained by contacting the regulatory organization in your province or territory.



How do I know if seeing a Social Worker is right for me?

Social workers provide services to individuals, couples, families, groups, and communities. Many Social Workers in private practice provide different types of counselling or psychotherapy, while others specialize in areas like grief counselling, couples counselling, childhood trauma or phobias. It helps to see which RSWs work in your community and what services they offer.

When individuals start seeing a registered social worker, they don’t always know what exact services  they need. A registered social worker will help them assess the situation and from there, will take the individual on as a client, or refer the individual to another professional. 

Why should I consult a Social Worker?

People consult social workers when they are going through a difficult period in their personal, family and/or work lives. Social workers help identify the source of stress or difficulty, help people to develop coping skills and find effective solutions to their problems.  They offer various forms of counselling and therapy, and mediate between conflicts.(Source:OntarioAssociation of Social Workers)

What is the difference between a social worker and a registered social worker?

There is no difference between the two titles.  Bear in mind that only Registered Social Workers are allowed to carry the title social worker or registered social worker and the designation R.S.W. (P.S.W in Quebec). If you are unsure if the person you are seeing is registered, contact the Regulatory Organization to confirm that he or she is on the registry.

What is a Clinical Social Worker?

Some jurisdictions, such as Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan distinguish Clinical Social Workers from social workers and Registered Social Workers. Clinical Social Workers hold advanced clinical certificationsthat allow them to independently use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in order to make a mental health diagnosis. These provinces hold a clinical registry for this purpose.

What is a Social Service Worker?

In Ontario, there are Registered Social Workers (RSW) and Registered Social Service Workers (RSSW). While they work in a similar field, Registered Social Service Workers work with less autonomy. Most RSSWs have a 2-year diploma from a Collegeof Applied Artsand Technology while Registered Social Workers have a university degree or higher. Social Service Workers do not commonly work in private practice. See for more information.

I am unsure if I should see a social worker or another mental health professional, what should I do?

In Canada, there are a number of professions that can assist individuals going through a difficult time and need help. If you have a family doctor, you may want to ask him or her for advice to learn about the options in your community. See RSWs and related professions to learn more about the professions that offer services related to mental health.

Do I Need a referral to see a Social Worker?

No, but you may wish to discuss this issue with your doctor and obtain a referral to help you obtain coverage from an extended health plan. Not all plans require a doctor's referral. Check your plan to see if it is necessary.

Are Social Work Services in private practice covered by public or private healthcare?

Services of Social Workers in private practice are not covered by public healthcare.  They may be covered under a private health plan or employee group benefits plans; ask your provider (you can check our overview of provider coverage). If social work is not currently covered in your extended health plan, request that it be added. You may be eligible to access the services of a social worker through a public provider.  Check your local telephone listings under "Social and Human Service Organizations".

What if I have a complaint about a Social Worker?

Social workers are regulated in all jurisdictions except the Yukon and Nunavut. If you have concerns about the conduct or actions of a social worker where they are regulated, contact the Regulatory Organization directly for information regarding the complaints process.

What qualifications are required of Employee Assistance Programs( EAP) Counsellors

A survey of EAP providers revealed that EAP Counsellors have a Master’s degree in a relevant field; this includes Social Work, Psychology, Counselling Psychology, or Educational Counselling. EAP Counsellors must have experience, and the amount of experience varies by insurance provider from undefined to 5 years. EAP Counsellors are required to register with their professional body/regulatory organization. ?(For more information see Employee Assistance Programs in Canada – An Overview at

How will my employees benefit if my company adds RSWs to our group benefit plan?

Adding RSWs to benefit plan coverage allows your employees access to more qualified counselling practitioners and shorter wait times. It also increases employee’s flexibility in obtaining services that meet their specific needs. See benefit provider overview for a list of providers who already offer RSWs in their standard plans or options.

How do I find an RSW in my area?

Each regulatory organization provides a list of Registered Social Workers. Many also post private practice information of their registered members. Some provinces post an online directory, if yours does not, then type the following search words into a search engine like Google.

Links for this question:

What can I do to help get services of RSWs covered?

  • Ask your union representative, employer or human resources department to add social worker to the list of professional services included in the employee benefits plan.
  • If you have a private health plan, request that social worker services be added to your plan. Tell your insurance company that you believe that social work services should be a standard benefit in all insurance policies.


Social work professionals are dedicated to helping individuals, families, groups and communities  enhance their individual and collective well-being. They are concerned with individual and personal problems but also with broader social issues such as poverty, unemployment or domestic violence. Social workers aim to help people develop their skills and their ability to use their own resources and those of the community to resolve problems. 

A growing number of Registered Social Workers (RSWs) are self-employed and work in private practice.  RSWs in private practice offer services like counselling, psychotherapy, assessment, training, mediation and consulting. They have several years of work experience and have completed additional specialist training in the practice areas they offer. Social workers in private practice offer their services on a fee-for-service basis to individuals, families and organizations.

Generally, RSWs work in a variety of practice areas and settings with different client groups. They work at family services agencies, children’s aid agencies, general and psychiatric hospitals, school boards, correctional institutions, welfare administration agencies and in federal and provincial government.

Here are some statistics from Canada's Health Care Providers 2000-2011 Reference Guide:

  • There are approximately 40,000 RSWs in Canada
  • There are 2.3 times as many RSWs as there are Psychologists, the number of RSWs in private practice is not known at this time
  • The social work profession is growing much faster than the professions of: psychologist, chiropractor, occupational therapist and physiotherapist

Review this section for more information on



There is a wide variety of professionals that play a part in providing mental health services.  Most are regulated professions, and some give their members the option of voluntarily meeting accepted standards of practice.

General Physicians can help identify non-mental health related causes of symptoms and may have an interest and additional training to identify mental health related causes of symptoms and/or provide limited counselling. General Physicians can prescribe medications (including those prescribed for mental illness, when working in conjunction with a Psychiatrist) and may write referrals for patients to see other mental health professionals. General Physicians’ availability can vary from a few days to several weeks.

Registered Social Workers working in private practice conduct assessments about a person’s capacity to function in life. Based on assessments, they plan and deliver interventions and services.  RSWs conduct holistic assessments and interventions.  They consider social, political, familial, temporal, spiritual, economic and physical components of their clients’ lives. Drawing from a range of available interventions, practitioners intervene directly with the client/s, into aspects of the environment, or both. Social Work is a regulated profession and clients can usually get an appointment with RSWs in private practice within a few weeks. RSWs in private practice often also work as Employment Assistance Program (EAP) Counsellors, which are covered through many workplace benefit plans. EAP services are also available to immediate family members.

Psychologists assess and diagnose problems in thinking, feeling and behaviour. Psychologists help people to overcome or manage their problems using a variety of treatments or psychotherapies. A Psychologist is also uniquely trained to use psychological tests to help with assessment and diagnosis. A Psychologist declares their areas of competency to the regulatory body and is required to practice within the bounds of her practice (for example: counselling psychology or neuropsychology). Psychologists in independent practices are regulated. Wait times to see a psychologist vary.(Read more)

Psychiatrists enhance a client’s quality of life by providing psychiatric assessment, treatment and rehabilitation to people with psychiatric disorders in order to prevent, reduce and eliminate  symptoms. Psychiatrists are trained in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses. Psychiatrists use a combination of treatment options, including medications and psychotherapy, depending on the psychiatric conditions. Often part of the treatment or rehabilitation plan will include referral to, or collaboration with, a range of social and support services. Wait times to see a psychiatrist are usually the longest of all mental health care professionals.

The terms Counsellor and Psychotherapist are often used interchangeably and do not identify a person’s specialty or training within the mental health field. Counselling and/or Psychotherapy are currently regulated in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. There are also a number of voluntary regulatory organizations promoting standards of knowledge and skills in their members, which accept a variety of training and education in combination with a competency exam, for example:

  • Canadian Professional Counselling Association
  • Canadian College of Professional Counsellors and Psychotherapists 



What is a psychologist


What does a psychiatrist do? FAQ                                      


Professional Counsellor


Who are Counsellors?


Canadian College of Professional Counsellors and Psychotherapists


College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario


Protecting the Public

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia College of Counselling Therapists


A scope of professional practice defines the processes, actions and procedures used by registered and licensed professionals. The social work profession’s dual focus of person-in-environment broadens the profession’s scope and introduces ambiguity as far as definitions of social work are concerned.

RSWs conduct holistic assessments and interventions, and they focus on social functioning. RSWs consider social, political, familial, temporal, spiritual, economic and physical components of their clients’ lives. Drawing from a range of interventions available, practitioners intervene directly with the client/s or into aspects of the environment, or both. This holistic approach has been seen as a valuable aspect of social work for decades, and has recently gained momentum across health care professions with the introduction of patient-centeredness and multi-disciplinary practice.

The Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) offers a brief and concise scope of practice statement and meets the requirements of a legislative body or the general public:“Social work is the application of social work knowledge, values, focus and practice methods in a “person-in-environment” context to accomplish the core functions of social work:

• Helping people obtain basic human need services;

• Counselling and psychotherapy with individuals, families and groups;

• Helping communities/groups provide or improve social and health services; and

• Participating in relevant legislative and social policy processes.

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Helpful Links: 





CASW Social Work Scope of Practice


In Canada, jurisdiction over professions such as social work, is assigned to the provinces/territories. Each jurisdiction (except the Yukon and Nunavut) have enacted legislation and established social work regulatory bodies to govern the profession in accordance with the legislation. Individual social workers become registered by becoming a member of a provincial regulatory body.


British Columbia

British Columbia College of Social Workers 

1430-1200 West 73 Avenue

Vancouver, BC V6P 6G5

Phone: (604) 737-4916 Toll Free (Canada only): 1-877-576-6740

Fax: (604) 737-6809 




Alberta College of Social Workers

#550, 10707 100 Avenue NW

Edmonton, AB T5J 3M1

Tel: (780) 421-1167 Toll Free: 1-800-661-3089 

Fax: (780) 421-1168 Fax Toll Free: 1-866-874-8931

E-mail: (Executive Director & Registrar)



Saskatchewan Association of Social Workers

2110 Lorne St.

Regina, SK S4P 2M5

Tel: (306) 545-1922 Toll Free: 1-877-517-7279

Fax: (306) 545-1895




Manitoba College of Social Workers

Unit 101-2033 Portage Ave.

Winnipeg, Manitoba R3J 0K8

Tel: (204) 888-9477 Toll Free: 1-844-885-6279

Fax: (204) 831-6359




Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers

250 Bloor St. East, Suite 1000

Toronto ON M4W 1E6

Phone: (416) 972-9882 Toll Free: 1-877-828-9380

Fax: (416) 972-1512 




Ordre des travailleurs sociaux et des thérapeutes conjugaux et familiaux du Québec

255 boul. Crémazie Est, bureau 800

Montréal, Québec H2M 1L5

Tel.: (514) 731-3925 Toll Free: 1-888-731-9420



New Brunswick

New Brunswick Association of Social Workers

P.O. Box 1533, Postal Station A

Fredericton, NB E3B 5G2

Tel: (506) 459-5595 Toll Free: 1-877-495-5595 

Fax: (506) 457-1421



Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia College of Social Workers

1891 Brunswick St., Suite 160

Halifax, NS B3J 2G8

Tel: (902) 429-7799

Fax: (902) 429-7650

E-mail: (Registrar/Executive Director)


Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Social Workers

P.O. Box 39039

St. John's, NL A1E 5Y7

Tel: (709) 753-0200

Fax: (709) 753-0120

E-mail: (Registrar/Executive Director)


Prince Edward Island


Prince Edward Island Social Work Registration Board

81 Prince St

Charlottetown PE C1A 4R3

Phone: (902) 368-7337

Fax: (902) 368-7180



Northern Canada (Northwest Territories)


Registrar, Professional Licensing

Government of the Northwest Territories

Department of Health and Social Services

5015 - 49 ST (7th Floor)

Box 1320 Yellowknife, NT X1A 2L9

Phone: 1-867-767-9067

Fax: 1-867-873-0484



All jurisdictions with the exception of Yukon and Nunavut have enacted legislation that regulates practice for Registered Social Workers (RSWs). Based on this legislation and taking into context the specific context of the jurisdiction, each regulatory organization has published and enforces Standards of Practice, Codes of Ethics and other regulations.  Together, these regulations bring consistency, identity and governance to the social work profession across the country and protect the public. Below, find an overview of areas that are generally regulated across Canada.

  • Registration requirements
  • Representation of Title of Registered Social Worker
  • Scope of Social Work and Practice
  • Representation of Qualifications
  • Relationships between R.S.W. and client
  • Client Confidentiality & Privacy
  • Conflict of Interest
  • Continuity of care
  • Continuing Competency
  • Ethics
  • Fee Policy Guidelines
  • Investigation & Discipline
  • Liability Insurance
  • Private practice specific requirements
  • Promotion and advertising of services
  • Record keeping and management

Some provinces also regulate practitioner fees and specify type of supervision required for private practitioners.

The following documents were consulted to prepare this overview:

British Columbia:

  • Social Workers Act
  • Code of Ethics and  Standards of Practice

For more information:


  • Health Professions Act
  • Standards of Practice
  • Social Workers Profession Regulation
  • see standards of practice
  • Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice (Adopted from CASW)

For more information:


  • Social Workers Act
  • Standards of Ethical Practice for Professional Social Workers
  • Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice (Adopted from CASW)

For more information:


  • The Social Work Professions Act
  • Standards of Practice for Social Workers
  • Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice (Adopted from CASW)

For more information:


  • Social Work and Social Service Work Act
  • Code of Ethics
  • Standards of Practice

For more information:


  • Code des professions
  • Code de déontologie des membres de l'Ordre professionnel des travailleurs sociaux et des thérapeutes conjugaux et familiaux du Québec
  • Code of ethics of the members of the Ordre professionnel des travailleurs sociaux et des thérapeutes conjugaux et familiaux du Québec
  • Guides to the professional practice of social workers in CLCS, Schools, Hospitals
  • Other documents available under “reglements”

For more information:

New Brunswick:

  • An Act to Incorporate the New Brunswick Association of Social Workers
  • Standards for the Use of Technology in Social Work Practice
  • Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice (Adopted from CASW)

For more information:

Nova Scotia:

  • Social Workers Act
  • Standards of Practice
  • Code of Ethics (Amended and adopted from CASW Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice)

For more information:

Prince Edward Island:

  • Social Work Act
  • Certification Regulations
  • Standards and Discipline
  • Private Practice Policy

For more information:

Newfoundland and Labrador:

  • Social Workers Act
  • Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice (Adopted from CASW)
  • Practice Standards

For more information:

Northern Canada

  • Social Work Profession Act
  • Social Work Profession General Regulations
  • Continuing Competency for Social Workers in the NWT
  • Code of Conduct Social Workers
  • Standards of Practice for Social Workers in the NWT
  • Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Ethical Practice (Expanded from CASW)

For more information:


  • CASW Social Media Use and Social Work Practice
  • CASW Code of Ethics
  • CASW Guidelines for Ethical Practice

For more information


In Canada, all Registered Social Workers have post-secondary education.  Like other professions, accredited baccalaureate education is considered the first professional practice degree, preparing social workers to practice as generalists. Accredited Bachelor’s of Social Work programs also have a substantial practical component and include a minimum of 700 hours of field education. Graduates are expected to be proficient in the areas of assessment, counseling, advocacy, and practice with individuals, families, groups and communities.

Specialized training in advanced research and therapeutic intervention are taught at the graduate (Master’s) and post-graduate (PhD) levels. For example, accredited Master’s of Social Work curriculum include theories, policies and practices relevant to the student's selected area of social work practice such as advanced practice and/or areas of specialization, research/scholarship, professional leadership or social work supervision. Accredited Master’s of Social Work programs also include 900 hours of field education for those without a BSW and 450 for those with a BSW.

Generally a combination of relevant (social work or related) post-secondary education, supervised work experience and continuing competence development are required to be eligible for registration, yearly renewal and continued use of the title of Registered Social Worker or the designation, RSW.

Many jurisdictions allow for recognition of prior learning to substitute for a degree, as determined on a case by case basis.