Help: I’m afraid niching will control or limit my choices

I’m a big advocate for therapists developing a niche. Niching has many benefits, but two that I like the best are that niching helps therapists:

1. To market their private practice in a way that distinguishes them from other therapists in referrers’ minds, and

2. To become very skilled in a niche which then boosts therapists’ confidence.

Often when I write about niching or recommend it in my mentoring or supervision consults, the idea is met with resistance. Therapists will say things like :

  • I don’t want to do that, I like the variety of being a generalist
  • I’ll get bored seeing one presentation only
  • I’ll be stuck with a whole caseload of really difficult presentations for the rest of my career
  • People will think I’m only good at one thing

And so they become dedicated to what they see as the perceived freedom of being a generalist. But what is this freedom in actual fact?

The perceived freedom of the variety generalists claim to seek often comes with a constant sense of overwhelm. It is difficult to build a sense of flow and ease when there is a revolving door of unlimited issues, ages of clients and a range of best practice therapy models to consider. There is so much to research and no way of narrowing down what you focus your reading or professional development around.

It also leaves consumers and referrers unsure of what you do and what you are suited to. I often see websites of generalist focused therapists that list a large number of presentations (20 or more), that they work with every age group across the lifespan and many therapeutic orientations. I think the intent of these clinicians is to show experience and knowledge, but it is difficult to believe that anyone can be truly expert in all of these things and all of these therapy models.

I’ve come to see resistance to niching as to do with therapists’ fear of being controlled. Many therapists have a subjugation schema and can tend to overcompensate for it.

Therapists in private practice may have entered private practice to feel independent and free from the control and manipulation of the systems associated with employed positions. Those of us who have been in private practice for a while recognise even private practice is not system free. Few clients are 100% private fee-paying and therefore rebate systems and third-party payers become a different set of systems to navigate. If you have a big reaction to niching and believe it is limiting or trapping, consider whether the trap is real or more part of your schema reactions.

Rather than being a trap, niching is a way to focus on your skill set and streamline your marketing. It is a way to develop confidence in the knowledge and associated therapy models that will usually generalize to other things. As you niche, you will feel your confidence build as things become more second nature and less hard work.

A niche allows you to distinguish yourself from other therapists and be seen as somewhat expert by referrers and consumers. It will not limit you to one sort of presentation unless you announce to the world something along the lines of “I only see clients with OCD” and decline all other referrals. In my experience, clients in my niches are not “exactly the same”and often have comorbidity which requires me to stretch outside of the niche area. Referrers will generally assume if you are skilled in working with clients you can do other things as well and will remember you for similar clients to others you have worked well with. Clients who have worked with you before will recommend you to their friends, who won’t all be in the niche.

Also, you can have more than once niche. You can add niches as you grow as a therapist. You can also drop a niche when you want to.

You can redefine yourself as a therapist when you choose.

There really are no rules, except the ones governed by your fear.

Niching isn’t a trap unless you want to believe it is one.

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