We've spent thousands and thousands of dollars on graduate education, continuing education, advanced clinical trainings and years in practicum and under supervision. We have invested a lot in our credentials, and all of the impressive acronyms behind our names. PhD, LCSW, LMFT, RPT, CSAC, LPC -- and the list goes on.
In my twenty plus years of practice, I have realized that what we value as clinicians is not necessarily the same thing as what those who are considering our services value. In fact, there are some principle criteria that we as clinicians need to meet in order for an individual to choose us as his/her therapist. Of course, there are exceptions. There are clients who are savvy to the ins and outs of mental health credentials, trainings, and certifications and are seeking help from someone in a specific discipline or with specific training. However, as a general rule, potential clients want to answer "yes" to these 3 questions before they select you as their clinician.
1) Do I like you?
A sometimes overlooked step of gaining new clients is your approachability. You can have advanced degrees and training, but if someone does not feel drawn to you initially, it's very unlikely he/she will choose you. And remember that not everyone will necessarily favor your particular style, and that's ok! Just as you are looking for an ideal client, he/she is looking for an ideal therapist.
One way potential clients may determine if they like you is by what they see of your online presence. What can someone learn about your personality from your photo(s) and you online content? How do you present yourself? All these can play a significant role in whether or not someone takes the next step in seeking your services.
2) Can I trust you?
Trust is a critical aspect of the therapy process, and people may want to get an idea of how trustworthy they perceive you to be before becoming a paying client (we don't share our innermost struggles with just anyone). Are you someone who can be trusted with another's vulnerabilities and pain? Would potential clients feel comfortable confiding in you? Do they feel like you are someone who would value and care about them? Do they believe that you are a competent provider?
When it comes to building trust with potential clients, once again a strong online presence can go a long way. By viewing the content you post on your blog and/or social media platforms, they can get a sense of your level of credibility and trustworthiness, and you can begin the process of fostering trust even before a client's first session.
3) Can you help me?
You as a therapist are there to serve, and individuals interested in you want to know that you have the skills to help them. Understandably, potential clients will be willing to emotionally and financially invest in therapy only if they believe it will truly benefit them. Can you use your training and experience to help them problem solve or develop coping skills? Does your professional expertise match their therapeutic needs? The answers to these questions influence whether or not someone will choose you.
An individual may not be able to fully know if you can help him/her until therapy actually begins. However, your online presence can still play a factor in introducing yourself, your approach, and your therapy style him/her. For example, media interviews can help potential clients see you as not just a provider, but as an expert in your speciality area. This type of exposure allows others to see your level of skill and competence (read here for more about how media interviews can benefit your practice).
How can you present yourself so that potential clients-
- like you
- trust you
- know you can help them
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