“Eclectic, generalist… adult and adolescent psychotherapy”.

These are some of the phrases I hear when I am marketed by private practice clinicians who are looking for new clients. These words don’t tell me anything I can use to refer to their practice.

Our market is a competitive one – master’s level and PhD with three or four disciplines in each. It is imperative that as you build your practice, you stand out. That does not mean, you are committed to seeing only one type of client in your career. It means you have a focus – something that you have found that ignites your curiosity and commitment.  And as you describe your passion to a referral source, the authenticity will be apparent. And as someone who refers at least 2 times per week, I know, that I feel a whole lot better sending someone to a therapist who shines and is enthusiastic about his or her niche.

Let me give you an example. My friend and colleague, Charlie is an adolescent therapist. He doesn’t see just any teenager–he specifies. “Give me any oppositional teenager – my favorite is a boy who everyone else has given up on – and I will try my best.” Wow. Why would I send that client to anyone else? The therapist that tells me “they like adolescents, too – but only if they are over 15” has nothing on Charlie. And by the way? After I referred to Charlie a couple of times and heard through the parents how things were going…I referred the parents of oppositional adolescents, to Charlie too. They have the same investment as Charlie–they love their child and he’s on their team–wholeheartedly. And Charlie, while enjoying his niche, sees that some of the same characteristics he loves about adolescents shows up in the parents. He expanded his niche by carrying the theme through to another kind of client.

The problem I have when I see ambivalent therapists who are marketing their hearts out, is the goal does not seem to meet their personal commitment. I know it feels counter intuitive, especially as you are starting out – but you must spend some time exploring the one thing that floats your boat, that you never tire of talking about, that shows up and interests you. It’s the client that you slide your un-slidable fee for, the problem that you see clearly with energy and verve. I call it the Sunday morning appointment niche. Who would I talk to on Sunday morning for free? (Answer: A beginning therapist who is finding their niche!)

If you don’t believe me, try this. As you develop your Marketing Plan which includes your Elevator Speech, pick a friendly colleague to practice on. Use two different approaches–go the general route and talk about your commitment to being an available and affordable therapist who sees a wide variety of clients. Now, do it again. This time, pick a client with a favorite issue. See that client in your mind’s eye and think about how you proceeded through treatment. Tell your colleague that’s your niche and tell them why. Explain how you plan to proceed. And–forget the available and affordable bit. Just talk about your niche. Ask your colleague to rate which speech had more impact on a scale from 1 to 5 (with 5 being the best). Yep. The second practice speech usually wins.

If my Sunday morning appointment test and my practice speeches still don’t yield your niche – look a little deeper. Pick a therapeutic category or a descriptive – addiction, attachment, oppositional, abusive, supportive, conflicted, confused…..and see if there is a theme that started with you when you first became interested in the human condition. I find that most therapists have a particular penchant for the thing they know best – through their own experience, family or life events. (I won’t give him completely away, but there’s a reason Charlie likes to mix it up with oppositional adolescents!) Group words together that appeal to you – imagine the client who has those characteristics. Feel your inner advocate take over. I’m betting that you feel your energy rise as you develop the profile.

If all else fails, here’s a surefire way to determine your niche. Think about the client with whom at the end of the session, you were so caught up in the discussion, you once again forgot to collect the fee! Tell me that isn’t a clue about your commitment!