How Private Do You Want Your Private Practice to Be?

Posted by: Bonney Elliott on September 2, 2015 9:11 am


With working quite part-time, I debate about how much time, energy and money to invest in advertising my psychotherapy practice. Typically the bulk of referrals have come via word of mouth, through my social and professional networks. For the most part, I like it that way. Clients arrive at the office door with some confidence that counselling will be a worthwhile experience. Often there is a good fit between their personal issues and my practice style and experience.

A few months ago, I decided to advertise with an Internet service. Within the first week that my practice profile was up, more inquiries for counselling started coming in. My caseload is growing to include lovely, interesting clients who I might never have met through my usual referral networks. However, making a private practice more public has certainly come with hidden costs and considerations.

Screening prospective clients takes more time than I anticipated. An individual cold calling naturally has more questions and concerns than someone who has been referred by someone they trust. They may have preconceived ideas or unrealistic expectations about psychotherapy. They may not be quite ready to open up to a professional about their personal concerns. Some callers are in the throes of a crisis and needing more immediate and direct support than I can possibly offer, or struggling with complex mental health issues or addictions beyond the scope of talk therapy. Getting a sense of where people are coming from over the phone takes some finesse.

The self-marketing aspect is challenging. Often people are interviewing multiple counsellors to find just the right person. I respect that. Therapy is a huge personal and economic investment. I just dislike tooting my own horn or feeling like I need to persuade a potential client to put their faith in me. Sometimes I simply offer a free ½ hour initial consultation. That way a prospective client can check me out face to face without feeling pressured to commit to therapy or having to tap into their limited insurance coverage. And I can check them out too. The therapeutic relationship needs to be a good fit for both of us.

Personal and professional boundaries can be more of an issue. There have been some unusual calls, and a surprising number of requests for free therapy. An American claiming to be radio personality said he wanted to interview me about my work “empowering women”. My journalist colleague ran a search. Apparently he is a scam artist. Creepy. Another man invited me to have a drink with him. Really? I try to let calls from unknown numbers go directly to voicemail, especially when I am rushed, in a public place or likely to be interrupted. Email exchanges are often easier. Ever mindful that text may not as effectively convey warmth and empathy, I do appreciate the luxury of being able to compose my thoughts and respond clearly and concisely.

Four months in, I would say that advertising to a broader audience is worthwhile. It does take more time and brings me out of my comfort zone. However, adapting to these challenges is fostering my growth as a therapist, and I am curious to see where this takes me. I will keep you posted.

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