I “specialized” in anxiety, depression, career, and couples’ issues when I started my private practice. The reality is I wasn’t really specializing in anything. The 30 or so books on my bookshelf, most of which I’ve only partially read, address topics from PTSD and bipolar disorder to relationships and adult autism. They are only partially read because I was trying to treat too many issues at once. A business consultant advised me to pick one, and only one, niche. At first, it sounded counter-intuitive. But I already have clients with a broad range of problems, I said. I can help more than just one specialty, I told myself. My master’s program taught me that we cannot choose our clients. Still, at least in private practice, I have learned that developing a niche and marketing to that niche brings the best outcomes for everyone.
Clients Benefit from Specialization
Doctors can go into specialties as narrow as hand injuries or specific ligament tears. Of course, we need generalists in medicine, such as family physicians. Still, I know my family physician is typically the first point of contact before making a referral to a specialist. If you are a client, do you want to see someone good at many things or exceptional at one thing? If you have depression, does it matter that your counselor can also treat gambling addiction (assuming depression isn’t related to this addiction)? Wouldn’t you rather see someone in your area who is the best available at treating depression? Instead of reading four different books at once, I learned that I do better if I read two books on a narrower topic to completion. Clients benefit from seeing someone who is not just competent in treating a condition but one of the best at treating your concern.
Marketing is Easier with a Niche
It was challenging to try to write blogs about all my original specialties. Keeping up with blogs on so many topics was almost a full-time job. It is now much easier to blog about my chosen niche of couples counseling. The same is valid for developing and maintaining web pages. Social media marketing is less labor-intensive when you have one niche. It is easier to participate in networking groups when the focus is narrowed.
A Niche Protects Against Burnout
Identifying your ideal client down to the smallest of details helps a therapist be their best selves by allowing them to work with those whom they most prefer to work. If you don’t like working with rich people with anxiety, don’t market to that group. A niche keeps you from burning out by seeing more clients that bring out the best in your skills. This is not to suggest discriminating or avoiding certain clients based on cultural grounds, but rather to determine what conditions you are happiest and most fulfilled when working with. It can also be satisfying to get really good at treating the clients you seek, instead of feeling like you helped a client, but not as much as someone else could.
There Can Still Be Sub-Specialties within a Niche
There are plenty of areas to go within a niche like couples counseling for those who enjoy variety. Infidelity repair, sex therapy, communication improvement, same-sex relationship issues, relationships and addiction, and physical abuse are just a few of the possibilities. One could start with a sub-specialty or two and continue to grow within a niche based on the clients they are best equipped to serve.
To Reiterate, Every Profession Needs Generalists as Well
For some settings, choosing your client may not be an option. Some people prefer the vast diversity of being a generalist. Community mental health, for example, may be one area where a variety of different niches are needed. Your work setting may dictate your niches for you, which is fine as long as you continue to enjoy the work. Counseling is such a broad field. It is great to have a diversity of styles, niches, and both generalists and specialists in counseling.
Aaron Engel is a professional counselor in Columbus, OH. He works with couples to help with all kinds of relationship issues. As a private practice owner, Aaron strives to provide excellent care with every aspect of the counseling experience. Learn more about him and the services he offers at Cardinal Point Counseling.