Posted on March 16, 2020
Chances are if you’ve gone to all the trouble of getting a master’s degree and completing clinical hours, you want to be a therapist. You’ve prepared for the job with education and skills and are passionate about the work. But now you’re wondering how to be a successful therapist?
First, it depends on how you define success. By most accounts, success is measured in recognition, compensation, and personal satisfaction. As it relates to therapy, it’s important to find day-to-day work with clients to be fulfilling, but it’s also paramount to remember that if you run a private practice, you are also a business owner. You can be as happy with your work as humanly possible, but if you don’t have enough clients, it won’t matter! Unfortunately, most psychology majors don’t also elect to take coursework in accounting, marketing, entrepreneurship, or business management. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn marketing for therapists on the job, or at the very least take advantage of a therapy matching service to generate steady business.
So what exactly does it take to be a successful therapist emotionally and financially?
No one is the best at everything they do, career included. To even get licensed as a therapist takes a broad skill-set and knowledge of human psychology. However, that broad base is not one size fits all, and doesn’t always help navigate specific cases. Clients are individuals, and individuals are –– well –– individuals. This might sound counterintuitive to the inclusive nature of therapy, but successful therapists cherry-pick their clients. This doesn’t mean they select the easiest cases or most wealthy clients, but rather, they choose to work with people who have issues with where they’re more knowledgeable. Specializing within your profession doesn’t necessarily mean exclusion; it just means focus. You wouldn’t say that a cardiologist is exclusive because he won’t see someone for stomach pains.
If you already have a niche, lean in, and go deeper. Research the best referral sources for therapists and attend conferences in the niche, and potentially even present papers. If not there, look into publishing whenever possible. No matter how much you learn on a particular subject, a successful therapist will know there is always room for networking and growth. Ultimately, the more, the more expert you are in an area of mental health, the more in demand you will become. Expertise in your field can mean you become a referral source used by other clinicians. And, you’ll enjoy the work exponentially more if it’s focused on a topic of true interests. You’ll also have more fun because you’ll be doing something you love!
Overall, to be a successful therapist, you have to be self-aware of your own strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Matching those things with a client's needs can make sure you’re doing your best, most fulfilling work, and will lead to successful private therapy practice.
Successful therapists aren’t pushy, but they aren’t push-overs either. One of the most important qualities is the ability to practice what you preach. No doubt setting boundaries is something most therapists work on with clients at some point or another. Why should clients listen to their therapists’ advice, if they aren’t trying to model it themselves? To be a successful therapist, you need to know what works for you and what doesn’t, and don’t blur the lines.
It’s equally important to have a vision for your work, know what you want to accomplish and what you need to do to get there. A successful therapist is an individual who will ask the questions, explore, and find a way to make their vision a reality.
Successful therapists have enough time and brain space to truly be present with their clients because they are on top of their paperwork. Remember how we said that having a therapy practice is like running a business? This is part of that. Success means that you won’t let anything water down the effectiveness of your practice, including inconsistent scheduling, unreliable availability, expensive and unreasonable fees, and not handling insurance paperwork in a clear and timely manner. Successful therapists also know what they need to have a healthy work-life balance, and build things like vacations and limited hours into both their business and life plans.
This part can be so difficult for therapists. Seeing patients all day is exhausting work as it is, but it’s not enough. Successful therapists don’t see the same patients forever. Hopefully, the therapist is effective during treatment and is no longer needed after a period of time. This requires a therapist to constantly be attracting new business.
Unfortunately, how are you going to sell your product if nobody knows what you’re selling? Whether you’re comfortable with it or not, in therapy, the product is you. The good news-- in order to grow your private practice, you need to do little more than make yourself stand out in crowded therapist directories. As mentioned earlier, being an expert in a particular topic is helpful. For example, are you an expert in substance abuse or marriage counseling? Are you someone who really loves helping older people adjust to retirement? Pick a niche, become an expert, and then you’ll have clients seeking you out, on sites like Advekit, because you’re the best in a specific treatment area.
Though not necessary, having a website, blog, and social channels is definitely a great way to create an accessible online presence and cultivate a successful private practice. Effective marketing can make it easier for patients to seek you out and establish expertise in your field.
Running your own private practice and bearing the weight of others’ emotions is difficult! Successful therapists know they can’t do it alone and need a support system. Advekit is a great place to not only find new clients but also to get matched with an amazing therapist. Don’t hesitate to reach out and get matched.
Alison LaSov, LMFT
Alison LaSov is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with experience treating clients struggling with anxiety and depression. She predominantly focuses on mental health intervention for children and adolescents, particularly those who are in crisis. She has worked within the Los Angeles education system treating students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), as well as supervised a non-profit Teen Crisis Hotline out of Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Alison earned her B.A. from UCLA and M.A. from Pepperdine University. She is a native to Los Angeles and co-founder at Advekit.