Finding a Niche: What Kind of Counsellor am I? Is There Really a Difference?

Posted by: Curtis Stevens on November 15, 2011 4:30 pm

Usual disclaimer:  These are the thoughts and opinions of the author.  They do not necessarily reflect the whole of the counselling community or the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. 

Career counsellors, school counsellors, marriage therapists, e-counsellors, hypnotherapists, child therapists,  counselling online, telephone counselling, EAP counsellors, Wellness counsellors,.  There are all kinds of therapists seeking clients and trying to make their way in the world; finding their niche, so to speak.  The counselling process, across the board, is primarily the same.  A decision is made to approach someone to assist with a presenting concern; the development of a helping relationship; an interchange of talking and listening to address the issues and termination of the helping relationship.  So why all the different distinctions?  One can explain the differences in terms of specialization.  We – as therapists – feel drawn more toward one area than another, likely because of our own life experiences (i.e. we had a helpful experience with our own marriage, so start developing interest in helping others with theirs); whether good or bad; the recovering alcoholic becoming an addictions counsellor.

I recall hearing about research that indicates that the counselling modality mattered less to clients than the congruence, genuineness, therapeutic relationship, environment experienced in the counselling process.  I would express even further that a primary factor in the efficacy of counselling is developing the expectation of success (I touched on building hope before, and likely will again); the placebo effect of intervention.  So why specialize?  If it all really doesn’t matter, why specialize?  My hunch is that we specialize in order to make ourselves unique in some way.  Afterall, counselling, especially private practice, is still a business.  We have to set ourselves separate from the counsellor next door.  I’m not saying that it is wrong, but we do have to recognize that we are, as business people, competing for clients; our bread and butter.  The only way to do that is to develop a niche – hopefully one that draws the attention of a client base that will support our livelihood.  We juggle pricing to attract clients, we hang our degrees and plaques on the wall, and we advertise our speciality all in hopes of attracting the “right client.” On the other hand, we as a breed, tend to be humble and soft spoken and express distress over people like Dr. Phil who are “out there”  on t.v. (selling out?  Playing for the ratings?)  and can’t possibly put ourselves out there that way.  A real problem in terms of marketing.

On the other hand, if we don’t specialize, we end up being a “catch all” therapist and the response becomes; “you can’t be knowledgeable in all areas.”  I, personally, struggle with a therapist that does not attach themselves to a modality – that describe themselves as eclectic in their approach.   Make a decision.  It may change over time, but make a decision.  You can only be Agnostic for so long… eventually you have to decide. 

I have no great reason to bring up this point other than at this moment, I am contemplating how to set up/re-establish my own private practice in such a way as to be successful enough to make my own transition from the public service world into the private practice world.  I’m contemplating my own niche.  How can I stand out?  What qualities can I draw upon?  How does a therapist decide what their niche is?  I am a cognitive therapist.  I incorporate a variety of approaches within that category;  solution focused, clinical hypnosis; even less widely accepted approaches (EFT, NLP), but ultimately, my focus is on looking at thought processes and identifying and altering unresourceful, irrational and distorted thinking.  Behavior follows thought.  Aside from that, how do I create an identity that stands out from my other colleagues?  More questions than an actual point… ah, the life of a blogger.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

0 comments on “Finding a Niche: What Kind of Counsellor am I? Is There Really a Difference?”

  1. Shawn McNabb says:

    Hi Curtis,
    I also thank and applaud you for your honesty. I struggle with the same issues as a private practitioner. We can’t be all things to everyone. The issue I find is that private practice is essentially a regional business (unless you are online) and if you pick a modality it is difficult to know if your decision going to create greater traffic to your website and your practice. I feel a pull between choosing an area that is true to yourself and ‘playing’ to your audience. For example what are the top five or ten searches for counselling in your area of practice. Thank-you for your thoughts, reading your blog was like a Seinfeld moment for me, you were saying what I’ve been thinking.

  2. Dear Curtis Stevens

    You bring up some thought provoking issues. Admittedly, I agree with many of your statements while respectfully disagreeing with others. Nevertheless, I write to thank you for causing a stir in my thoughts and emotions.

    May you have a blessed weekend.

    Warm regards

    Dr. Asa Don Brown

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