Novice and seasoned therapists alike have moments of “fraudy” feelings--of wondering how on earth people can trust them with their most intimate struggles and expect them to help. Well, these feelings are normal, and in fact, are why you are in the role you’re in.
Let me explain.
Being aware of your humanity--your limitations--is the foundation for being a “good” therapist.
The problem is that these “fraudy” feelings often lead us to question our expertise. But, the truth is, as licensed therapists, we are experts. Let me also say that by “expert” I am not referring to the expert role--believing you know more than your clients about their lives. I am referring to your expertise in relation to your target audience (your ideal clients).
Seeing yourself as an expert is crucial for successfully operating in the therapist role day in and day out, no matter your context--the therapy room, the networking meeting, or the classroom. It is also a prerequisite for defining your ideal clients and communicating in ways that resonate with them.
How to Own Your Expertise
1 | Accept that you know more than your clients
According to dictionary.com, an expert is "a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; specialist." The fact is, you know more about counseling, therapy, relationships, diagnosing, and treatment than clients sitting in your therapy room. This does not make you an expert on their lives, but it makes you an expert to them.
How many years were you in grad school?
How many books (beyond grad school) have you read on therapy topics?
How many clinical hours were required for your license?
These are, of course, rhetorical questions meant to help you recognize that based on your training, you are indeed an expert. An expert is someone with specialized knowledge, not the world's most knowledgeable human on the subject.
2 | Rest in the knowledge that you are part of a team
Even though you are (based on the technical definition) an expert, if you are hesitant to embrace this label, clinical supervision is your lifeline, should you need it. Essentially, with your clinical supervisor, you are part of an expert team.
I often recommend that licensed clinicians maintain an "as needed" relationship with a clinical supervisor, because we all run into circumstances when we need encouragement as well as clinical guidance. This is especially important when wanting to grow your expertise in a specialty or niche.
Reminder: Obviously, do not take on clients outside of your scope of practice (these are defined by your ethical code, as well as the state in which you practice. For example, in the state of Florida, by law, hypnotherapists and sex therapists must hold certifications).
3 | Find your magic
Even though we have general expertise as therapists that results from our training and experience, there are typically populations or presenting problems that excite us more than others. We feel energized, challenged, and motivated when we work with these clients and within these topics in therapy; this is our happy place--when we feel the magic. Identifying your "magic" will help you embody the role of expert in ways you that you had not before and more easily than you thought possible.
How to Attract Your Ideal Clients
Finding your magic is the first step in identifying your therapy niche--the place where your passion intersects clients' needs.
Do you need to niche? Well, that depends on many factors. Not all therapists niche. However, niching will give you a focus for your career; you'll have a built-in topic for finding continuing education credits, deepening your knowledge, and connecting with your ideal clients.
This article is not meant to be an argument for or against niching (perhaps another day!), but rather a highlighting of ways that niching relates to embracing and communicating your expertise.
In order to find your magic, consider:
- What presenting problem do I work with most? What presenting problem do I enjoy? These questions may yield different answers; you can niche based on experience, or based on passion. Since I call this stage "finding your magic," I am obviously on the side of passion. :-)
- What population (age range, sex, individuals/couple/families, etc.) seems the best fit for me? With this question, you're considering your preferences as well as comfort level with clients based on their demographics.
- What work do you want to be doing? The most important step in owning your expertise and finding your niche is taking the time to become aware of and articulate (to yourself) the work you want to be doing. Niches and target audiences are tools for articulating your uniqueness; they should be used for moving you toward, not away from your purpose. Make sure, as you become more focused, more branded, that your brand fits your priorities and passions.
4 | Identify a specific niche
So, let's say you enjoy working with women in mid-life presenting with depression. This is a clear presenting problem and client population. Take this information and create an ideal client story by asking probing questions about her experience:
- Why is she going through depression? Is it chronic, or situational?
- If it's chronic, what's her history? Is there trauma? (examples: survivors of childhood abuse, a generational pattern of women with depression, etc.).
- If it's situational, what's going on in her life? (examples: the loss of identity due to an empty nest, retirement, a divorce, etc.)
Use your answers to begin clarifying your ideal client. Possible ideal clients from this scenario could be "women in mid-life thriving after divorce," or "women finding purpose beyond motherhood."
6 | Show, don’t tell
Have you heard of “Show, don’t tell?” It’s a fiction writing technique that reminds the storyteller to unfold a scene rather than summarize events. It brings readers into the story, so they can experience it.
When you begin writing for and speaking to your ideal clients, whether it's in a blog post, a Psychology Today profile, on your website, or in person, remember:
- your audience (your specific ideal client; in this case, a woman in mid-life adjusting to an empty nest)
- rather than tell your expertise, show your expertise. Here is an example:
Tell: I help women adjust to an empty nest after their kids leave for college.
Show: I often speak to women who've devoted their skills and talents to their family for decades, and they struggle, after their kids leave, to find a new purpose. It takes time to grieve the loss of the previous life, but beyond it, women find intriguing options for their future. Many discover that they want to pursue a childhood passion, or a long lost hobby. Therapy, at this stage of life, helps women move forward with satisfaction for what they've given, but also excitement for what's to come.
Telling summarizes what you do. Showing showcases your work; in essence, it presents your portfolio and what you've learned while creating it.
Once you embrace your expertise, and you're ready to attract your ideal clients, show your expertise by providing them with information and tips, as well as communicating empathy, understanding, and hope. Your expertise will shine by virtue of the valuable knowledge you share.
7 | Find the affirming script
Have you felt stuck or frustrated trying to articulate a niche? Oftentimes, this confusion comes from being too general, or defining your target audience by its presenting problem.⠀
I often have "copy" conversations with therapists--how to phrase what they do, and with whom they love to work, in compelling language that resonates with their ideal clients (i.e., the people from #5). A quick tip is to envision your ideal client as you consider language for your niche or copy, and feature their goals rather than their presenting problems. This shift in focus will help you better articulate your services and expertise. Here are a few examples:⠀
- A target audience of "people with anxiety" (a general niche based on a presenting problem), can become a more targeted niche: "I help high achievers cultivate peaceful moments." ⠀
- A clinician providing therapy to "millennial couples in conflictual relationships," can help "cohabiters create relationship success through communicating clear expectations."⠀
- I interacted with someone recently who was wondering how to phrase her niche of young adults dealing with anxiety and depression. She was worried, because "anxiety and depression" are already over-advertised. She was right. They are. I suggested, "emerging adults seeking life satisfaction."⠀
I am not a copywriter or marketer, but I've learned lessons as a business owner over the years. Rather than being prescriptive (you are the best at finding language that fits for you), these examples are meant to catalyze your creativity and emphasize the importance of clear, goal-oriented language. Targeted language that communicates hope draws clients in and conveys both your understanding and expertise. It says, "she knows what I'm going through, and she can help."
8 | Write a fifteen second elevator pitch
Like a thesis statement for a research paper, your elevator pitch will help your niche components come together. Consequently, even though this is the last step in this article, you may want to start identifying your niche with this step.
An elevator pitch is a brief statement that explains your work, or the essence of your personal brand. It also succinctly communicates your specialty, target audience, and offering. It is meant to summarize your expertise and pique the listener's interest.
Writing an elevator pitch can be a fun exercise that clarifies both your interests and your work, and as a result, leads you to creatively communicate what you do.
The elevator pitch is sometimes referred to as the personal brand statement. This statement should be brief, honest, descriptive, and interesting. Here are a few examples of elevator pitches:
For an investigative journalist: I collect pieces of information until I can tell a story.
For a preschool teacher: I am an encourager who prepares kids for their amazing futures.
For a human resources manager: I ensure that employees can succeed and thrive in their professional environments.
For a couples therapist: I provide a safe space where couples can come together and communicate honestly.
My elevator pitch: I help therapists create work they LOVE by blending their training with their passion.
In this article, I presented steps for embracing your expertise as well as how to use your expertise to attract your ideal clients. Through narrowing your therapy interests and learning how to articulate your knowledge, you will be able to craft not only a specific ideal client, but also a therapy niche.
While identifying as an expert can be intimidating, the more you accept that you are an expert in relation to your ideal clients, the easier it will be to offer informaiton that is relevant to them. Your potential clients already see you as an expert; they are looking for information that shows them how you can help. If you hold back that information--information that showcases your expertise, you will miss the opportunity to serve those that need what you have to offer. And, that's not good for anyone!
- Your turn! Share your elevator pitch in the comments below. Give it a shot.
- or, let me know your thoughts on this article.
Are you ready to live refreshed by blending your creativity with your work? Learn more about Personal Brand Coaching.