“Who do you want to work with?” was the question I asked workshop participants in a recent private practice workshop at a local university. For many workshop participants, this was the first time they’d ever even considered asking themselves which clients they wanted to see in their clinical practice. Shrinking funding, crowded managed care panels, and a saturation of therapists have left private practitioners feeling desperate to fill their schedules with anyone who is willing to see them. However, based on my personal experience of nearly a decade in private practice, “Who do I want to work with?” is one of the most important questions a clinician can ask themselves.
This question, “Who do I want to work with?” has informed every other aspect of my practice: from my marketing and networking efforts, office location & decor, payment policies, website design, and more.
I was first introduced to this concept of an “ideal client” about 7 years ago when I picked up a practice book, Building Your Ideal Private Practice by Lynn Grodzki. I was hoping to find some guidance and direction for my solo private practice, and like most of you, I had no clue how to build a successful business and had never taken a business course. I thought to myself, “What? I get to decide who I want to work with? It’s not just who wants to see me or who finds me on managed care panels?” Ms. Grodzky taught me that the ideal client concept includes more than just a preferable diagnosis or demographic, but also includes identifying characteristics, values and traits.
Getting clear about which clients I want to bring to my practice has allowed me to build a joyful and thriving private practice that has grown from a solo practice to a flourishing clinic employing several therapist. Now, I am passionate about helping my clinical team at Wasatch Family Therapy, as well as the therapists who come to me for consultations, to identify their ideal clients and build profitable private practices. This, in turn, provides excellent services to clients and allows the therapist to feel fulfilled.
Ask yourself these questions:
Which clients energizes you?
Which clients do you look forward to seeing?
What personal experiences drew you to this field?
Which clients have you had the most success with?
What social issues, population, diagnoses are you passionate about?
In Ms Grodzki's book she suggests completing these phrases to help you define your ideal client:
My ideal client appreciates…
My ideal client values…
My ideal client understands…
My ideal client agrees to…
When I first read Ms. Grodzki's book I identified my ideal client as working with educated, motivated, young adult women who were individuating from their family of origin, and trying to solidify their individual identities. They often presented with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and relationship distress. Here's how I filled out Ms. Grodzki's ideal client inventory years ago:
My ideal client appreciates... my education. my expertise and life experience. that change is a process. that we are in a collaborative relationship.
My ideal client values... personal responsibility and accountability. professional office space. self-exploration. excellent clinical services. technology and uses it regularly.
My ideal client understands... the importance of their past experiences on their present issues. that they are responsible for their own growth. my professional boundaries and office policies. that I won't give them answers, but I will guide them in the process.
My ideal client agrees to... pay my full fee at the beginning of every session. arrive on time to sessions. attend therapy on a regular basis. emotionally invest in the therapy process.
Several months after reading Ms. Grodzki's book I looked at my schedule one morning and realized that I had an entire day filled with my ideal clients! Though my "ideal client" has evolved through the years, I've found the question, "Who is my ideal client?" to be the most important question and foundation on which to build a successful private practice.
Now it's your turn. Who is your ideal client?