This is the second post in my private practice “niche” series. Yesterday, I explored the pros and cons of having more than one niche.
But I can tell that many therapists are wary of developing one practice focus.
All the angst I see and hear among therapists regarding specialty niche has a few themes.
Many of us have been trained as generalists and the shift to specialist requires a lot of reframing. It’s effortful and I appreciate those of you who are working hard to make that shift.
Some of us are fearful of being “stuck” in a specialty and had the impression that therapists see lots of different people with varied diagnoses. Many like the variety. I appreciate that view, but once I specialized I quickly realized that as a generalist I was generally helping people. My work was adequate, but not remarkable. I didn’t know enough about any one diagnosis and the treatment I offered was mediocre at times. But once I focused my work and education I became a specialist and offered excellent care to the people in my specialty. Focused care is better care, and better care leads to more clients.
Often we don’t feel that we know enough to be a specialist. The fact is, you specialized in your practica and internships. The client population and issues you treated are your de facto specialty. Why? Because you trained in that framework, with those clients and their presenting concerns. For example, if you trained in a preschool setting, you are a specialist in working with preschoolers. If you trained in a nursing home facility you are a specialist in working with the elderly.
We don’t like our current niche. Sometimes we take the training opportunities that are available, but we don’t want a whole career focused on working with preschoolers or the elderly. The solution to this problem is to get more training and supervision in the area you want to focus on. I see some therapists try to “tack on” a specialty because it interests them, but they never got specific training in the area. Our ethics codes are very clear about the danger in this, but I see it happening all the time. We develop a thinking error that since we are trained in one area and passed a licensing exam, we can do it all. We can’t and shouldn’t. Retrain if you need to, don’t tack on specialties because you want to.
We work from a scarcity mindset. Many therapists feel there are “not enough” clients, so cast a wide net in hopes of capturing as many people as they can. When you start to feel this anxiety I urge you to do this reality check exercise. Ask yourself these questions:
How many clients do you need to fill your client hours?
How many people in your geographic area need help in your specialty area? (and be realistic about this. The number of people needing help is probably larger than you think.)
Compare those numbers. Let’s say you need 40 clients a month to fill your practice. (That’s clients, not clinical hours. Remember most clients will see you more than once a month) You estimate there are 1000 people in your community who could use your services. If you could help only a fraction of the people in need of support, chances are you will have a full practice soon.
If we look at the above discussion, it becomes clear that becoming clear on your niche is more an exercise in shifting your mindset, rather than integrating advanced business strategies.
Many of the business-related books and blogs I read talk a great deal about mindset. Most of us do not think about our work as a business. We view ourselves as “helpers” and can feel ambivalent about our need to adopt both a helping role and a profit generating role.
The best next step for those seriously considering building a thriving private practice is to begin the process of reconciling your mindset to the fact that you are building a business that helps people manage problems in living optimally.
Identifying, and being comfortable with, developing a specialty will become much easier when you think as a compassionate business person, rather than a therapist who wants to see a few clients to make a decent income. Do you see the difference?
Try this exercise to begin the process of shifting your mindset: Take a few minutes to consider the small businesses in your community. Which ones have a focus? Which ones have a thriving customer/client base? What businesses do you frequent and why? Write down the business name, the need it meets, their specialty (if they have one).
Practice this way of thinking when you drive around town, listen to the radio or watch TV. All the marketing messages you hear are targeted somehow. Often it is subtle, but other times it can be very obvious. For example, driving this morning I heard an ad on the radio by a cosmetic dentist. The copy in the ad referred to a 50 year old business executive whose wife told him he was “wasting his time” seeing a dentist “who advertises on the radio.” Who is he targeting in that message? 50 year old men, with money, who don’t want to be nagged by their wives about where to get their teeth fixed. Targeted….you bet. Specialized? VERY. I think it’s brilliant marketing.
What say you? Do you see how a shift in mindset can improve your ability to build a successful practice? Is the mindset change acceptable or uncomfortable for you? Let us know in the comments!
For more information on how to grow a thriving private practice business, register for my free e-course: 7 Ways to Grow Your Practice this Spring!