Whether you admit it or not, you’re an entrepreneur.
As therapists, we spend much of our time and energy focused on being clinicians, therapists, psychotherapists (or whichever term you prefer), and understandably so.
We spend years in school, investing our time, heart, and money into our graduate courses, internships, and the never-ending CEUs (many we take because we generally want to learn this new theory or that new technique)–not to mention our investment in our own therapy and clinical consultation.
All of this so we can bring our best to our clients in the consult room.
But whether it’s that our focus is elsewhere or the fact that therapists are pros at dissociating from our own power and hate to admit it… one thing is true:
You’re a business owner.
Therapists in Private Practice: Business Owners
As my partner is wont to remind me, I’m a therapist, not a mind-reader. But if I were to make an educated guess, there’s a part of you that is just skimming over the phrase ‘business owner’, moving past the discomfort so you can get to how to fill your practice with dream clients ASAP.
Yet. I want to implore you to slow your scroll and take a moment to really take this in:
Being a business owner is hard.
I know. I’ve experienced it myself, and I’ve witnessed the discomfort and the resistance in most (if not all) of the therapists I’ve worked with.
Sometimes it’s easier to just pretend that you’re only a therapist whose sole responsibility is to see clients and keep up with your notes (even though I think we can all agree, clinical documentation sometimes feels more like a way to self-shame rather than keep an accurate record of whatever it is that happens in the consult room).
Being a business owner is a big deal though.
And I don’t mean just feeling fancy for having an accountant (and maybe a bookkeeper, if you’re like me and also hate balancing your Quickbooks).
Being a business owner means that you get to choose what you want your work life to look like–schedule, salary, and who you get to work with.
And by either pretending you’re not a business owner or ignoring that fact altogether, you’re missing out on the freedom that comes with entrepreneurship.
The freedom to set your own hours, fees, rules, and the way you run your business, which includes filling your private practice with your dream clients.
And yet, with that freedom has also come responsibility.
When we get started, it’s easy to revel in the freedom, but it soon seems to be stripped away by all the responsibilities of owning a business brings. We begin to sideline our desires for ‘realistic’ and ‘achievable’ goals that would fit nicely onto any SMART goals worksheet.
We say it’s adapting to the times, a necessity for growing our practice, but underneath those rationalizations, you can feel that something’s not quite right.
And if you’re being honest, your private practice isn’t yielding what you want. In fact, some days you wonder if you’d have been better off staying at your agency job.
Yes- you’ve got clients, but what you really wanted when you first started your therapy practice isn’t the reality that you’re living right now.
Back then, you imagined filling your caseload with your dream clients, the ones that:
- are filled with curiosity and crave depth
- open up to you in therapy without much resistance
- pay your full, premium fee and are committed to doing long-term work
And let’s be real friends, as a business owner, you get to work with those dream clients. You get to do the work you’re scared you’re not good enough to do. You get to have afternoons off to meet your kid at the bus-stop, weekends free to have brunch with friends, and Friday mornings to luxuriate over a cup of tea and Brene’s latest revelation.
Your dreams aren’t out of reach. But you know what it’s going to take to get there?
Marketing your Private Practice
Ugh. I know. Why couldn’t I have just said, “get that EMDR certification” or “network with a bunch of about-to-retire-psychoanalysts”?
Likely, if you’re like me, too often marketing can feel…slimy, exploitative, and often just plain gross.
So often it seems like marketing is based on manipulating the future customer into feeling worse about themselves so they’ll feel so desperate for relief that of course they’ll buy your product or engage in your service.
I’m sure the marketing tactics you’ve seen out in the wild have been less than optimal.
And likely when you’ve seen these tactics on display, you’ve thought to yourself, “well if that’s what it takes to get clients, I guess I’m not getting clients.”
(Though it’s tempting to consider adopting some of them, integrity doesn’t always pay the bills, now does it?)
But let’s slow down for a minute. Because I think it’s important to note that there’s a widely-held misconception marketing, that in order for it to be effective, you have to engage in manipulative, inauthentic, and downright unethical means.
And so you either feel huge resistance to marketing as you adopt and copy what others are doing to market their practices…
…or you just opt-out.
Opt-out of marketing or doing anything marketing-related.
Yet, here’s the hard truth: you’re an entrepreneur, not a ne’er-do-well playacting at life.
Your private practice is a business, not a hobby side project that doesn’t need to support itself, nevermind you and your dreams.
In order to grow your business and fill your caseload with your dream clients, you have to market it.
How to fill your practice with your dream clients without selling out your integrity
Wanna know another truth about therapists?
We avoid owning that we are business owners because it’s easier to resist marketing than getting honest about what we need and want out of our business, never mind our lives.
As all things seem to boil down into psychotherapy, being able to identify that resistance is the first step–not only to filling your caseload with your dream clients, but also living the kind of life you want to live (not just the one you think you’re allowed to live).
Step 1: Identify & Address Your Marketing Resistance
I’ve been here. When I first went out on my own, leaving the safety of my agency job, I was scared that I wouldn’t survive. So I took anyone and everyone who called. My caseload grew in numbers, but not in depth (nor, in overall revenue).
I was scared to admit it then, but I didn’t love working with everyone on my caseload. I felt like I should. After all, wasn’t I living the dream? I was on my own, no more ridiculous Medicaid documentation, no more BS staff meetings.
Yet, even with my freedom, I knew I wasn’t working with the dream clients I had originally imagined.
(Actually, if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t really know who my dream clients were, I just knew I hadn’t found them yet.)
I felt trapped–between this vague imagination of what could be and the reality of the here and now.
So, I talked about it in therapy. And in supervision. And I spent a ton on every marketing book for therapists I could get my hands on. What emerged has less to do with marketing strategy and more to do with the stories I had on repeat in my mind.
Stories rooted in my status as a woman raised to be subservient to men (in subtle and not-so-subtle ways), and as such was destined to be less than–which included my earning potential–men.
Those stories promised that I wouldn’t really be able to stand out and stand up for myself the way I needed because I am a woman.
So I second-guessed every decision.
And each time I wanted to take on any kind of marketing, I was stumped. It didn’t work for me.
I brushed it off and decided that marketing was manipulative and shallow and I would not engage with it. I wanted to be a depth psychotherapist, not a multi-level marketer.
Blame is almost always a harbinger of a defense though, isn’t it?
It wasn’t until I uncovered my resistance for what it really was, that I could decide to address it.
Because the reason why I was stumped wasn’t really because marketing is manipulative and shallow.
(I mean, it can be, but at its core marketing is value-neutral–it has the potential to be exploitative, but marketing also has the potential to be deeply attuned and even healing–it’s all about what we put into it).
No. I was placing blame on marketing because the real reason for my resistance was the mental narrative I kept replaying in my head.
- “I can’t.”
- “I shouldn’t.”
- “I’m not good enough.”
Do you know when I see these thoughts and mental narratives show up?
When it’s time to own your desire and take reasonable steps to attain it. This most visibly shows up when it’s time to raise your rates.
That’s when your thoughts shift to:
- Who am I to charge that much? Is my work even good enough for that kind of rate?
- I don’t have X training to be able to do that kind of work
- Why would clients pay that much? They’ll just scroll past my Psych Today profile to the next therapist. They don’t really want to work with me specifically.
It doesn’t seem to matter how many years of experience, how many letters follow your name, or how many CEUs and certifications you’ve pursued.
This “I’m not good enough” story comes up again and again.
But being able to identify the real reason behind this resistance… that changes EVERYTHING.
And what is that real reason?
Fear of vulnerability.
Vulnerability in Marketing
Marketing is pretty powerful–not just to the ones who are marketed to, but often, even more so for the marketers.
Marketing wakes up a vulnerable side of us because marketing exposes us (and our business) to being visible to more people than we can comfortably imagine.
It exposes us, and exposure–at its core–is deeply vulnerable.
Vulnerability so frequently terrifies us because it’s unsafe. It demands our surrender to being human, and thus, beautifully limited.
Marketing our practices is a profoundly vulnerable act.
It requires you to be willing to be seen. Scarier still, often marketing will reveal to others our desires—ones we’re scared we have no right too.
Like your desire to fill your practice only with those dream clients, the ones you long to work with.
To increase your revenue and hit the coveted 6-figures per year.
Or your desire to expand your private practice. To offer more than therapy (write a book, offer coaching, create a course, even!)–to make more money, have more time, and help more people than you ever thought possible.
When we can see the risk inherent in marketing, it opens the door for us to reframe our efforts and allow for expansion.
And it makes it easier to take on marketing WITHOUT the resistance.
Step 2: Dismantle the BS and Get Clear About What You Really Want
Let’s cut to the chase about a few essential things.
First. While you can (and maybe even have) build a practice taking the cookie-cutter therapist approach to marketing (you know, getting on insurance panels, offering sliding scale, lots of networking, acquiring credentials, and endless complaining about how therapy profiles don’t work for you). But to build your dream practice? That shit isn’t going to cut it.
Second. Marketing is value neutral. It does not have to be slimy or inauthentic in order for it to work for you (unless, you know, you’re slimy and inauthentic).
And third- it’s time to get real about what you really want.
Not just what you think is socially acceptable to tell other therapists that you want. I’m talking about what you really, truly want–the clients who make your heart sing and enable your bank account to pay back your seemingly never-ending student loan payments.
In order to call in your dream client, to expand your private practice, you have to know to get down to the nitty gritty of your desire.
It’s odd, isn’t it? So often we’re so focused on empowering clients to do this work, that we neglect it for ourselves.
Consider me your practice’s therapist for today.
What would happen if you could give yourself permission to dream big? To allow yourself the chance to set ambitious goals and to shrug off the shame about setting them?
What would your private practice look like if you were in touch with what you really want for your business and your life?
Not just, how much would you take home, or what your full fee would be, but what would you invest that money in? What would you do with the extra time that having fewer clients generating more income allow for you?
And who would you sit with in the consult room? Who would choose to go deep into the mysterious land of the psyche with? Who is your dream client?
Step 3: Identify your dream client.
All right then. Insight is meaningful, but without putting it into action, we just stay in the land of navel gazing. So, let’s put step 3 into practice. Allow yourself to dream. Dig deep and explore who that client is that you’d love to sit with.
And don’t just dream. Write that shit down.
- Who on my caseload right now feels closest to my dream client? What about them is appealing?
- How do I feel when I sit with these kinds of clients? What do I offer them? How am I just the right therapist for them?
- What haunts my dream client, on the nights when they just can’t seem to fall asleep? Who broke their heart long ago, and how?
- How does my dream client pretend they’re okay, even when things are falling apart at the seams?
- How does my theoretical orientation offer a path of healing for them?
- What do I imagine they’ll say to me in that first session? In the twentieth? In the final session?
- How do I feel when I sit with these clients? How do they feel when they sit with me?
Once you allow yourself to delve into not only who your dream clients are, but what the therapeutic relationship between the two you could look and feel like, you’ll discover an astonishing truth.
Marketing isn’t so hard.
In fact, when you have clarity on your desire and your dream clients’ needs, you’ll discover all you may lack is strategy when it comes to crafting a compelling, concise message in all of your marketing materials (your website, your Therapy Directory profile, your social media, etc) that speaks to only them in your authentic, congruent voice.
That’s the #1 key to successful marketing– being able to speak directly, concisely, and clearly to your ONE audience, the clients you dream of working with in a way that feels good and aligned to who you are and how you practice.
How to market your private practice to your dream clients
Getting clarity on your desire and your dream clients’ needs isn’t easy, but so often, neglecting to do so results in one of the biggest mistakes I see therapists make in their website copy (and in all their marketing copy for that matter).
They speak generally to everyone.
This is not a TED Talk. You do not have to connect with every-freaking-body.
The key to calling in your ideal, dream clients is using language that is both authentic to how you speak AND that will specifically attract them.
(And do not give me that bullshit that you are talking about the power of reparative experiences with your neighbors or attachment styles with your toddler. I know you’re not dissecting the DSM-5 over brunch–you are not a living, breathing Psych 101 textbook, so your copy shouldn’t read like it.)
When you risk the vulnerability of being yourself, and talk to them using words, stories, and your authentic voice that resonate, you make space for your dream (and still potential) clients discern whether or not you’re the best fit therapist for them.
The kind of therapist who will get them where others haven’t, who will understand them better than they understand themselves, and who will take them on a journey to uncover the wild mystery of their heart and learn like Dorothy, that they always had the power to achieve what they desired (they just weren’t ready to know it yet).
In order to do that, you gotta be clear about who you are, what you offer, and who your dream client is.
And let’s be real. You need to dismantle your defenses that block you from getting in touch with your identity, your ability, and your desire.
Step 4: Sign up for the FREE workshop, Full Caseload: Unlocked
You can’t start calling in your dream clients if you can’t break free from your marketing resistance.
You’re not alone if you find yourself resisting–even though you know that your defenses are just misguided guardians, seeking to protect you from the threat of success.
I’ve been there (way back when, and as recently as last Tuesday). And so many of the students I’ve helped with their marketing and copywriting would validate and join with you–we’ve been in the place of shame and fear and uncertainty.
Because here’s the secret that some of you scrolled all the way to the end to learn: filling your practice with dream clients is easy, if all you have to do is focus on the strategy of ‘how to.’ The hard part is getting in touch with what it would mean for you to be a success. For you to own what you want.
Mary Oliver put it better than I ever could when she wrote:
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”
And the first step of getting to the place where you can let yourself love what you love–at least in your business–is uncovering your resistance to embracing your desire.
To help you out, I created the free workshop, Full Caseload: Unlocked which will unpack the three keys waitlist only therapists use to build the practice of their dreams.
In this workshop, you will explore:
- How your scramble to survive is obscuring what it is you truly desire
- Why your fear of connection is at the root of your generic, ineffective marketing
- What you need to do to ditch the indecision marketing cycle so you can harness your insight to build the caseload of your dreams.
Until next time,