Finding the right psychotherapy markets

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psychotherapy markets

We have three major markets psychotherapy markets in the mental health field: potential clients, potential clients’ trusted advisors, and insurance companies. We need to connect with each of these in order to grow our business.

1. Potential clients

The pool of potential clients is huge. Basically we include every person who is in driving range of your office who has need of your services. And because of its enormity, developing a strategy for making this network work for you is very difficult to do. —And we have an added handicap. Most of us are not very excited about becoming that super salesperson who is widely known in every community. Therapists tend to be less comfortable with the mile-wide-but-inch-deep kind of relationships that would be required to be successful with this approach.

Our best method to reaching the crowd is to focus on presentations to community members who might someday be interested in our services. More on these in this post: “Marketing favorites that are not a big stretch.”

2. Trusted advisors

Because of our reticence to attract lots of attention, our best referral network is going to be with trusted advisors. This is where we should put most of our efforts. What are trusted advisors? Trusted advisors include all those who, by the nature of their work, come into contact with people who might use our services. Most potential clients do not keep the name of a therapist nearby just in case they need it. Instead they reach out to trusted professionals such as physicians, clergy, and school personnel (guidance counselors, social workers, school psychologist, teachers, and administrators).

So how do we build relationships with trusted advisors? Borrowing from Ford Harding’s book (2006, Creating rainmakers: The manager’s guide to training professionals to attract new clients. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Cons, Inc. Originally published: Holbrook, Mass: Adams Media, 1998, pp 61 & 133ff) the three key parts to relationship development are:

  • Obtaining or creating introductions to key trusted advisors,
  • Maintaining contact once we’ve met, and
  • Advancing the relationships we already have.

Spending the time to lay out a plan for how to connect with key trusted advisors in your community will be the single most stabilizing effort you can do for your practice.

Building on current relationships

One of your key entry points to trusted advisors will be via the current clients who come into your caseload from other sources. For example, we might meet a new primary care MD as an outgrowth of conversations about a mutual patient. Or maybe we can use the occasion of a mutual client to set up lunch with a pastor we have yet to meet.

Every new client who finds their way to us is an opportunity to make new connections or reinforce old ones. We want to get the needed releases for the referrer and the primary care physician for each new case. Following up on these opportunities is a way to strengthen the ties we already have or build new ones. If you have found it difficult to meet or talk with the referrer or PCP, find the time to make it happen no matter how challenging. This is a prime opportunity.

And whether you do make a connection with a new referrer or just reconnect with an old one, it is a nice touch to write a brief note to thank them. It takes less than three minutes and is just one more touch.


One of the key decisions we need to make is how to narrow down the range of possible target markets. There are just too many opportunities to pursue. We need to prioritize. One key consideration is your response to this question: “What do you want to be known for?” This really is a question of personal taste. What type of clients do you like to work with? What hours do you want to work? And the reverse is also worth asking: “What type of cases do you want to avoid?” Together these questions help you know how you want to position yourself in the market.

How you answer these questions will have implications for many other aspects of your practice. If you want to work with married couples then you are going to have to open up some evening and/or weekend hours. Those time slots work for couples. If you want to work with clients with eating disorders, then the after school hours will be most popular. But beyond the hours you make available, your whole marketing plan will be built around the markets you want to target.

3. Insurance companies

It must be acknowledged that getting covered by insurance companies is largely a matter of licenses, years of experience, specialties, and persistence. We cannot easily influence the referral patterns of insurance companies. To a great extent success is a matter of checking off the criteria they require. If you are not in the insurance network, you will be unable to see those wanting to use that insurance benefit. (I speak to this topic in this post: “Why join insurance panels.”

To read more on marketing, check these posts: “Marketing.”

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