A Psychotherapist Needs More Clients

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This mock career counseling session could be applicable to anyone running a small business.

The client, a psychotherapist in private practice, has struggled to build it. Hearing that word of mouth is the best marketing but that it takes time, she waited. But it’s been three years and her practice hasn’t grown. So she came to a counselor who specializes in growing private practices.

Counselor: Let’s talk about both the steak and the sizzle. Let’s start with the steak: How effective do you feel you’ve been in helping your clients?

Client: I’m not sure. The ones who have come back for at least a half-dozen sessions seem to be better but many clients stop after one or two. And rarely do I get a referral from a previous client.

Counselor: Do you have a sense of why?

Client: Maybe they sense I’m impatient with them but I’m not sure.

Counselor: There are three ways to get feedback: asking them in-session, for example, “Do you think I’m being effective with you here?” in-between sessions, and a few weeks after they’ve stopped seeing you. It can be as simple as “What do you like and not like about how I’ve worked with you, and how effective do you think it’s been?” Have you solicited much feedback?

Client: Actually no, except when they say they’re not coming back and I ask why. They’re always polite but don’t give me useful feedback. They say things like, “I need more time to process what we’ve done.”  You’re right. I do need to get more feedback.

Counselor: Also, it might be useful to get a master therapist to observe you, either live or, if necessary, recorded, with client permission of course. What do you think?

Client: That’s a good idea but it’s scary. What if s/he says I’m irretrievably terrible and shouldn’t be a therapist?

Counselor: You’d understandably be resistant to quitting after all the effort you’ve put in. But if a second master therapist agreed, that may be a great gift: Cut your losses and redirect to something that might be a better fit. Plenty of therapists go on to related careers at which they’re more successful.

Client: For example?

Counselor. There are myriad possibilities but, for example, social worker, tutor, human resources person, government benefit eligibility specialist. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. It may be that you’re a fine therapist and perhaps with a little tweaking based on feedback, you’ll do well, especially if your marketing plan is good. So let’s turn to that, the “sizzle.”  You said you’ve relied on word-of-mouth but it hasn’t worked. Have you done any other kind of marketing?

Client: Well, I printed up business cards and I’ve given them to friends when the time feels right.

Counselor: Anything else?

Client: That’s about it.

Counselor: Well, there are a number of other marketing strategies that can be effective. I’ll tick off a few and you tell me which, if any, you’d be motivated to try. How about giving talks or writing articles aimed at your target market or to people who could refer clients to you, like physicians?

Client: I don’t think I’d be good at those.

Counselor: How about more systematically reaching out to your friends, relatives, and past clients?

Client: What would I say?

Counselor: It would vary with the person and the situation, but for example, you might tell friends, “As you may know, I’m a psychotherapist in private practice and I especially enjoy working with people in midlife who just had a traumatic life event. If by any chance, you know of someone who might benefit from someone like me, I’d welcome your referring them.”

Client: It would be a little hard for me to do that but if I start with the friends I feel most comfortable with, I might be able to do it.

Counselor: Had you thought about cross-referral with complementary practitioners, like body workers or physicians who have excellent Yelp reviews. You’d offer to refer clients to them if they’d refer clients to you, or at minimum, you’d agree to have each others’ business cards in the waiting room.

Client: Maybe.

Counselor: I’m guessing that doesn’t quite feel right to you, perhaps too assertive?

Client: Maybe so.

Counselor: How do you feel about placing a tasteful ad in a targeted publication, for example, in a local one read by midlife adults?

Client: What might that say?

Counselor: Well, it might have a photo of you looking solid but empathic, and with text such as, “Are you dealing with a recent traumatic life event? Local psychotherapist offers patient yet effective help.” Saying that you’re patient may actually help you be more so. Then just include your phone number, email address, and website.

Client: I don’t have a website.

Counselor: You probably need one. It’s today’s version of a brochure.

Client: That’s expensive, no?

Counselor: Today, SquareSpace, kind of the standard, is inexpensive and easy. You might take a shot at creating your site and if you get stuck, hire someone to finish it. What do you think?

Client: Well, I have a lot to think about—about my steak and my sizzle.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

This is part of a series of mock career counseling sessions.

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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !

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