by Ann Lowe
Counsellors and psychotherapists operate within a marketplace, just like any other person or business offering a service to their community. As difficult as it may feel to acknowledge that you are first and foremost in business, it is going to be important to accept this if you are to run a successful private practice.
Whilst therapists don’t always like to talk about being in ‘business’, or having competitors, it is true that all businesses need to be able to be found by their clients, and to stand out as different in some way. Perhaps it may be helpful to turn this around by considering that by being different and letting the world know about what makes you stand out, you are in fact in a better position to help more people.
In this blog post, I’m going to be talking about the ways in which you can do this as a private practitioner by having a specialism.
read more> choosing a specialism - why bother?
Choosing a specialism – why bother?
Having a specialism can really help you to stand out against the increasing numbers of therapists out there. In Cheshire along (where I am based), there are 517 therapists listed on The Counselling Directory within just a 15-mile radius. There are 17 pages of therapists listed on this directory within the same radius. This of course doesn’t include those who aren’t listed, and who may advertise their services elsewhere.
Consider for a moment how many clients will scroll past page five or even three, before they make a decision. And now think for a moment about those therapists on page seventeen.
The example above is based upon a generic search for therapists offering any sort of counselling for any sort of issue within the Cheshire area. By contrast, searching for help with a specific issue – to illustrate this point I chose to search for therapists offering support with infertility – that number immediately halves. Whilst there is still a lot of competition out there, by having a focus, the chances of the client choosing you are doubled, instantly.
Connecting with the right clients
Your specialism helps you to connect with the right clients, and it can also mean that your work is more alive and energised, as you are helping people deal with something that you feel passionate about.
Perhaps you already, instinctively know what your specialism is. You may have found yourself reading more books targeted to this topic in your training, or you may have created a presentation on the issue when you were given free rein to talk to your training group about something not covered in the formal classes. However, your specialism may be buried further in your personal life story and may be something you need to do a little cultivation on… to help it to emerge. This can be done through supervision, your own private therapy, or self-reflection when you have some spare time.
It may be useful for you to talk with friends, family and peers to see if they can help you to explore and understand this. You don’t need to decide right away, and your specialism can shift and develop as you do. Nothing has to be set in stone forever, that’s the great thing about the freedom of private practice.
Possible misconceptions about having a specialism
You’ll get less clients. Whilst having a specialism may seem counterproductive – it can initially feel quite limiting – it does mean that by getting really specific, you can narrow in on and really serve and support the people who are going to benefit from what you offer. Offering a specialism can actually help your clients make a decision. Imagine for a moment you’re in the midst of a life crisis and looking online for support, only to be presented with 517 options! How on earth would you make an informed decision, particularly given your current emotional state? This is the world from the client’s perspective, and so it makes sense to do as much as possible to help them to get the right support for them;
It will prevent you from working with other clients. This isn’t necessarily true, or at least it doesn’t have to be true. You are still free to work with clients and what they bring to the sessions. The truth is that even if you say you have a specialism in depression, the client will inevitably bring in other issues such as relationships, bereavement and stress, because they are part of the human experience and they are all potentially what has contributed to the depression in the first place;
You’ll need to re-train. Having a specialism doesn’t have to mean specific training in a certain area. Of course, for more specialised services such as trauma or relationship counselling, it’s vital that you know what you’re working with. However, in the general world of counselling, the same themes will come up over and over: relationship breakdown, grief, loss, bereavement, self-esteem, depression, anxiety, stress, sexuality or career issues.
Do you have a specific interest in any one of the above areas, or do you find clients are drawn to you with similar issues and therefore a pattern naturally emerges? Notice this and work with it. Your natural interest will inform a natural aptitude, as long as you have the self-awareness to explore for yourself why the interest is there in the first place.
If you would like some support in developing your practice come join us at GROW