A Creative Way to Discover Your Niche
I love spending time with therapists who are new to private practice. They are excited and motivated; not yet burned by insurance company bullshit and still months away from their first big tax payment. The enthusiasm is refreshing.
Then I tell them they need to have a niche.
Their shoulders sink. I see a I-know-I’m-supposed-to-buuuuuuut look in their eyes.
Choosing a specialization can be overwhelming. Many therapists who spent the early part of their career working in the trenches of community mental health see private practice as an opportunity to work with different types of clients. However, they have no training or experience with other types of clients. Most of them know which clients they don’t want to work with but have no idea who they want to work with.
Amid early-practice bewilderment, a niche can help guide many of your other business decisions. Things like office location, fees, cancellation policies should take into consideration the needs of your clients, and a niche helps you better understand those needs. Besides, when you are passionate about your specialization, your work feels meaningful - that’s what it’s all about right?
Establishing a niche doesn’t have to be a complicated process.
Let’s do an exercise! Grab a pen and paper. Seriously, let’s do this.
Let’s start by looking at your own life experiences. Significant experiences in your personal history can tell you a lot about what’s important to you. These provide clues about what you find meaningful and rewarding. By reviewing your significant experiences, you can gain insight into your values, beliefs, interests, strengths, and desires. Take advantage of these experiences to inspire your niche.
Write down your answers to the following four questions as one big list:
What types of labels, roles, or responsibilities do you use to describe yourself? Things like: woman, daughter, lesbian, friend, helper, single parent, cat-mom, athlete, volunteer, etc.
Write down words that describe your personality. Like, disciplined, confident, achiever, loyal, compassionate, warm, analytical, rebellious, problem-solver, learner, creative, etc.
Identify things you currently or have struggled with in the past. Some examples are: was bullied, social anxiety, working too much, being too serious, parenting, not feeling like enough, distant relationships, body dysmorphia, being overweight, etc.
Now identify significant life experiences: recognized as a gifted child, early losses, narcissistic father, latchkey kid, health problems, family alcoholism, etc.
Once you’ve completed the list, go back and review it.
Ask yourself: Is this the kind of client I’d like to work with? Highlight or circle the items on your list that stand out - descriptors that you feel drawn to or passionate about. Give yourself some time to think about how you can take this list and turn it into a clearly-defined niche. Play around with some different ideas and write them down. Challenge yourself to explore options that are unlike therapists around you. Your niche does not need to be a diagnosis or a demographic.
Here are some examples:
Therapy for out-of-the-box thinkers who feel like they don’t belong.
Counseling for highly-educated, successful women who don’t feel satisfied with all they’ve achieved.
Support and guidance for sensitive men who struggle with intimacy and connection.
A recent website client wanted to identify her niche but didn’t know where to start. She had a desire to gain more clinical experience within private practice before landing on a specialization. We did this exercise, and she was able to identify some personality traits and problem areas that felt meaningful to her, and she felt confident in. I had fun translating her ideas into three categories on her website. Here they are:
If you’ve got a really unique niche, I’d love for you to share it here in the comments!
If you have any questions about this or any other practice-building topic, use the comment form HERE, and your question could be featured in a future blog post.
Level Up Your Practice specializes in private practice consultation and therapy websites for therapist, counselors, and coaches. Services are offered in-person or virtually.