A few months ago, I interviewed 15 soon-to-be therapists who were all finishing up their Masters degree and either preparing for their practicum placement, or currently completing their practicum. I asked each of them about their biggest fears around going into private practice, and nearly every one of them told me they were afraid of not knowing how to stand out in the crowd.
Each year across Canada, thousands of new therapists graduate and become certified as counsellors and therapists. In larger cities in particular, there are hundreds of therapists in private practice, many who have been practicing for 10, 20 years or more.
When you’re a brand new therapist, it can feel really daunting. It’s hard to imagine why a client would choose you, a brand new therapist, over someone who has years of experience.
What you need to know, however, is that you don’t have to compete with every other therapist out there. All you have to do is get clear on 3 things: who you are, what you have to offer, and who your ideal client is.
Who You Are
Your life experiences have shaped you into the person you are today. There is a reason you decided to become a therapist and there is something special and unique inside of you that nobody else has.
To the handful of clients that will one day fill out your practice and essentially become the source of income that will sustain you, you are exactly the right fit for them. You already know that a significant factor in client success is the quality of the therapeutic relationship. Your future clients will choose you because they feel comfortable with you, resonate with you, and have a gut feeling that you are exactly the right person to help them.
Whatever your story is, I already know that there is some experience you’ve had that is a significant part of your personal growth, and your evolution into the person and therapist that you are today. Your story is completely unique to you, and it is that story that your future clients will be able to relate to, regardless of whether you make that story known.
Have you ever been in a crowd of strangers, and right away you noticed one or two people that you were drawn to? And did you notice that there were other people that didn’t spark your interest at all? And still others that you simply didn’t notice? Energetically, our felt sense picks up on people who are “like us”. We feel automatically drawn to people who have similar frequencies to us — regardless of whether we’ve spoken with them before.
Have you ever started talking with a stranger you felt drawn to, only to realize that you have a lot in common? It’s not a coincidence. Your nervous system is able to pick up on and resonate with people who are on your wavelength. And your future clients will do the same with you!
What You Have To Offer
Not only are you a one-of-a-kind person, but what you have to offer to your future clients, is truly unique as well. Although you may have been trained in the same therapeutic approach as hundreds or thousands of other practitioners, there is no one who offers that approach the same way as you. Whatever approach you use, it is delivered through the lens of your personality and your unique psyche.
What you have to offer includes the modalities you have been trained in, as well as all of your past experience. Your former career (or careers), where you went to school, where you have lived, what kinds of life experiences you’ve had, your former relationships, hobbies, sports you’ve played, etc. all combine to give you a particular lens that you look through, including unique tools in your toolbox, experiences you’ve learned from, and insight that you’ve gleaned. When you start working with clients, you will learn that you are not just using a therapeutic approach to support them, you are also using yourself and your whole wealth of experience to be present with them and support them.
This powerful combination of who you are and what you have to offer, already sets you apart from the next person. Although there may be other therapists who offer something similar, it doesn’t matter. That’s because your future client is looking for something specific. They are looking for a particular combination of someone they feel safe and comfortable with, someone they feel drawn to, who has a personality they resonate with, and someone who offers a therapeutic approach that is a “right fit” for whatever they are suffering from.
Who Your Ideal Client Is
Getting clear on who your ideal client is, is critical to your success as a counsellor or therapist in private practice. It is unlikely that your potential client will land on your bio and read “I treat clients with anxiety and depression” — and really feel understood by you. The thing is, your clients are not their anxiety and depression, and it’s likely not how they identify themselves.
I don’t have to tell you that a crucial aspect of building a therapeutic relationship is your client feeling seen and understood by you. When you use generic terms to describe your client, it’s difficult for them to get the sense you really understand them and know how to help.
Chances are, that your ideal client is not too dissimilar from yourself. Most of us go into the helping profession because we’ve had challenging life experiences that we’ve overcome and grown from, and we want to help others in similar positions do the same. When you get clear on exactly who your ideal client is – their likes and dislikes, their hopes and dreams, their worries and concerns, what they need, and what they’re afraid of, it is a lot easier to speak directly to them in your marketing. When your future client lands on your website or reads your profile and gets the sense that you truly understand them, they already start to know, like, and trust you.
Standing out in the crowd has a lot less to do with who you’re competing against, how saturated the market is, where you practice, or how many years of experience you have. It has everything to do with who you are as a human being, what skills, knowledge, wisdom, and unique offerings you bring to the table, and how that intersects with the clients you wish to serve.
If you are new to launching your practice, I recommend checking out my 8-week Build Your Private Practice Mastermind Course where I will teach you everything you need to know about setting up a successful private practice.
Wherever you’re at, I wish you the best of luck in your private practice journey!