Finding Your Therapy Niche: A Guide for Fledgling Therapists
When my sister and I were kids, we played a game where we would choose our future husbands. For my sister it was more difficult to make a decision -- under duress she chose a different celebrity every time we played, but she didn’t always feel committed to her choice. I would get frustrated with her cavalier attitude, because it was so easy for me: I was going to marry David Hasselhoff!
When it came time to choose a therapy niche however, the tables turned. I wasn’t sure what I wanted.
Here’s the news: In your therapy career as in relationships -- either situation is okay! If you don’t know what you are looking for, seek out different experiences, and stay mindful of your feelings --even jobs that “aren’t” what you want can give you clues about what is right for you.
One of my first jobs while gaining hours was with the state foster care system. It was a hard and draining job, working with kids affected by so much trauma. I often felt ill-equipped to deal with the deep-seated problems I was presented with daily. But aspects of trauma work also compelled me. I wanted to know more. And I wanted mastery. I sought out extra training in (fill this in), and I did more of the same kind of work at various agencies -- a LOT more. As a result I got a LOT better at it. Over time, I gained a reputation, and when I opened my practice, I already had some clients who insisted on continuing to work with me. I also had referrals from people who were familiar with my work.
Over time I further refined my work and realized that my greatest satisfaction came from helping people not just survive, but thrive. Now, when someone asks me what I do, I say I take people “from trauma to transformation!” It’s life-optimization, and it’s my passion!
It’s not my only niche. I have two other key niches: psycho-analysis, and couples therapy. These add variety to my schedule, help prevent burnout, and motivate me to stay on top of the research and study.
Finding your Therapy Niche is like Dating
How about you? Do you have a niche you feel certain about in your future like David Hasselhoff? Or do you need to date around? If you fall in the “date around” camp, I encourage you to start early and date everyone! Notice patterns that emerge -- do the clients you gravitate toward, and who gravitate toward you have something in common?
The truth is, in either case, when it comes to finding a niche at the beginning of your career, monogamy isn’t always the best policy! Just as you can’t expect one relationships to fulfill every need, you may need a few niches to satisfy different aspects of your private practice life. In fact, at least for a while, it’s unlikely that you can fill a practice with one niche. I would encourage you to have three.
One niche that you love
One niche that is in abundance
One niche that is financially stable
Or, try this formula:
One niche that gives you a sense of purpose but can be draining
One niche that supplies a steady stream of clients but is less stimulating
One niche that is cutting edge and brings out your creative side
There’s no one perfect way to find your niche. The best advice is to start early and date (try) as many as you can. Notice your patterns, who you are currently working with, and how you feel. Trust your instincts and follow your own path. Just stay away from David Hasselhoff, he’s mine!