Posted on March 02, 2020
Any practitioner, veteran, or just starting out, knows that referrals are the true lifeline of any therapy practice. However, it’s easy to get comfortable once the practice is technically “full.” This is a trap. Proactively getting referrals should be happening at all times. No set of clients can sustain a practice long term. Clients have to drop sessions for many reasons that have nothing to do with your work, and you don’t want to be caught in a patient drought. Turning to a therapy matching service is a great way to keep business flowing all year round.
Although word of mouth is the most common way to receive inbound referrals, it’s definitely not the only means. Let’s break down the best referral sources for therapists.
Networking might not seem like it applies to your industry, but it does. Regardless of whether or not you have your own private practice or are part of a group, continually having pools in which to network is critical to always having enough patients to meet your financial goals and grow your regular or private therapy practice.
But where do you network? Anywhere!
Seriously, look at most social interactions as potential networking opportunities. At a friend’s birthday party? Grabbing coffee at your local shop? Don’t be afraid to talk just enough shop to let people know what you do and that you’re taking on new clients if they or someone they know is currently looking for a therapist.
Another great piece of advice is to spend one lunch break a week having a meal or coffee with a potential (two-way) referral source. Sure, it might seem strange to network with other therapists and clinicians. Aren’t they direct competition? Not necessarily. All therapists have niche specializations and have busier seasons where they can’t take on new patients. You aren’t competing for the same clients at the same time. So, why not help each other out?
Relying on a community of other professionals is good for both patients and practitioners. This is especially low pressure if you’re already full, but still, an effective way to build relationships and community. Having a private practice can be freeing, but it can also be a bit lonely at times without any coworkers. This is a great way to build your reputation, get to know your colleagues, and meet people to whom you’ll be referring clients. Even for shy introverts, once a week is usually doable, as long as you’re cool with self-care.
Especially if you’re starting or running your own private practice, networking strategies should be at the center of your business plan. Remember, your private practice is a business, and you are now an entrepreneur. To uncover how to be a successful therapist, you should look into networking beyond your industry by broadening your networking to small businesses. There are plenty of small business-focused networking groups, conferences, and webinars, where you can gain important business knowledge like effective marketing for therapists, as well as potential clients and referrals. In general, don’t underestimate the power of talking to people.
Connect With Physicians
Having a well-connected group of physicians is a great way to keep a nice trickle of referrals. Most doctors and physicians have an ongoing list of therapists and other mental health practitioners to whom they refer their own patients. This is a great list on which to find yourself because if a patient is referred through their primary care physician, they are far more likely to follow through with setting up an appointment and seeking treatment. This is because people tend to take this referral as a prescription. If the doctor thinks it’s necessary, then it’s probably a good idea.
If you aren't currently part of any physician referral lists, you might need to do some proactive networking in the healthcare world by attending industry conferences or local meetup groups. If you have the means, direct physical marketing is also effective with physicians. Creating flyers or postcards to leave behind at local practices are effective ways to reach a large group of people passively. It’s great to have a tangible takeaway with your information for people who aren’t currently looking but might want information in the future.
You can also leverage your current clients as a means of gaining physician contacts through coordination of care forms. Have your clients sign a release to coordinate with their physician and send the form along with a flyer letting them know you are accepting new patients.
Capture Self Referrals
One of the most common referral sources is self-referrals, meaning someone who proactively searched for a therapist and found you. But how do you wind up on the other end of these searches? A professional online presence is a great way for prospective clients to learn about your private therapy practice. Having a simple, clear website that’s been search engine optimized is a must. Your website’s priorities should include visible contact information and the ability to schedule an appointment. It’s also a good idea to create and maintain a few active social channels like Facebook and Instagram, where you can update followers about your private therapy practice and provide valuable thought leadership and resources in your specialization. Aside from your own social media channels, signing up to be part of therapist matching services and communities like Advekit is a fantastic way to get paired with patients looking for a therapist like you.
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.