How to become a good psychotherapist
Having spent the last 10 years in practice as a therapist and training new therapists as an AAMFT Approved Supervisor, I have noticed a few things. What I have noticed are the things that separate truly awesome therapists from those that are, well… mediocre.
These are not really things that they teach you in graduate school either. Having clinical knowledge is certainly one of the requirements for becoming a therapist/counselor. But that alone does not necessarily make for a great therapist. It takes something a little more.
In a nutshell, it comes down to a natural ability to connect with people. It means connecting in a genuine and authentic way and not in a forced or mechanical way. Some of this just can’t be taught. But there are a few things counselors and therapists can do in their practice to make this connection with people from the very start that will set them apart from all the rest.
1. Take care of and know yourself.
One of the most important things any therapist can do to become an awesome therapist, is make self-care a priority. Certainly taking care of yourself physically should go without saying. Eating, exercising and sleeping well will only help you be your best. But also take care of yourself emotionally and spiritually. I would even be so bold as to say go to therapy yourself and find some sort of either religious or mindfulness practice. If you know yourself well and have done the same therapeutic work that our clients are coming to us for, you will automatically be a step ahead of most therapists out there. There is an old southern saying I love: “Sweep under your own doorstep before you bring the broom to me!” Our clients deserve that!
2. Always be genuine and welcoming.
You have got to be genuine and like people. First impressions mean so much in establishing that therapeutic relationship. From the appearance of your office to the way people are greeted when they come in the door makes a lasting impression. It sets the stage for a person having positive or negative experience. If you have office staff or a receptionist, be sure they are friendly and welcoming. I don’t how many times I have been to either a doctor’s office or other professional services and gotten a bad taste from the get-go because the reception was cold. It felt like I was imposing on them to even be there or I had interrupted their day.
3. Acknowledge the anxiety.
When a person makes that bold decision to seek out counseling, it is just huge! Regardless of the issues affecting people in their lives, the seemingly simple act of coming to therapy for the first time is just simply nerve-racking. By acknowledging this with people from the very beginning is therapeutic in and of itself. If it is not mentioned or talked about, it becomes the “elephant in the room” that can keep true therapy from beginning.
4. Follow the emotion.
When training new therapists, one of the things that I try to push them on is not being afraid to go deeper with clients. Most of us in this profession are very cordial and polite people. We work very hard to protect our clients and confidentiality is something we take very seriously, as we should. Sometimes though, especially with newer therapists, when emotional things come to the surface with our clients they will tend to shy away or back off from it. A good therapist will help elicit that emotion rather than avoid it. In the end, clients value that because you have made it safe for them to get to those deeper issues.
5. Give more than expected.
One of the things that anyone in private practice will tell you, you have to teach yourself to think like an entrepreneur and know how to run the business side of things. And if a person wants to “sell” their services and to have loyal customers (clients) always give them good value. And the best way to do that is to give more than expected. People are “buying” the time they spend with us. I always keep 30 minutes between my session times. The reason is that I try to give more than the typical 50 minutes session, even though that is what they are paying for. Most people notice that and are very appreciative of the extra time I give them.
6. Return phone calls the same day.
This is very much connected to #3 and I felt like it was worth mentioning on its own. When people call to ask questions or set up an appointment, they feel sense of urgency. Returning phone calls promptly just lets people know you care. Besides that, it is just a good business move. I don’t know how many times I have returned calls to people and they tell me I am the first to call them back. They might be “shopping” counselors. Usually the first to respond is who they schedule with.
7. Constantly hone your skills.
Most of us have continuing education requirements in our states to maintain our license. Don’t be lulled into just getting the minimum requirements. Genuine clinical skill requires both knowledge and practice. Being able to constantly learn new things not only in the therapy realm, but in other areas of your life will only make you more well-rounded and solid. Reading, listening to podcasts and even watching Youtube videos will expand your imagination and creativity in therapy.
8. Collaborate rather than compete.
If you are in private practice, there is no way around the fact that you also run a business. The normal “business” mindset is to “beat the competition”. It is a mindset of scarcity rather than abundance. Believe me, there are more than enough clients for every therapist out there. The more you can collaborate with other therapists and professionals, the more referrals you will have.
Becoming a counselor or therapist in private practice takes a lot of work. Not only graduate school, licensure requirements and business knowledge, but being able to truly connect with people on a therapeutic level. It means being genuine, caring and a willingness to share of yourself. Keep up this good and noble work.
All photos are downloaded from Unsplash.com and are licensed under Creative Commons Zero
– L. Gordon Brewer, Jr, MEd. LMFT
“Success as a therapist is not found in doing something for the client, but rather in being something for the client,” said renowned family therapist Ila Rivera Walter. Great therapists fulfill important roles for their clients, showing up for them in exactly the way they need.
But what happens in the therapy room is only one small part of being a successful therapist. You can be the most effective therapist in the world but without getting clients in the door – and retaining them – you won’t get ahead. Mental health professionals need to develop entrepreneurial skills as well as clinical expertise to take their private practice to the next level.
Learn how to be a successful therapist with our six key tips, backed up by experienced psychotherapists. We’ll outline the mix of hard and soft skills you need to keep your clients happy, your calendar booked up, and your workload manageable.
Nuna is an all-in-one practice management tool for therapists that also helps you to connect with new clients from all over the world. Try it now – it’s free.
6 ways to become a
1. Be an empathetic listener
You likely became a psychotherapist because you have a natural capacity for empathy and a genuine desire to listen to people with mental health issues. But it’s important not to take these skills for granted.
Therapy work can be tough, and it’s easy to get disillusioned by the challenges of psychotherapy or try so hard to find solutions for your clients that you stop really listening to what they’re saying in therapy sessions.
Saakshi Tikku, a mental health counselor who specializes in teens, family, and couples therapy, advises therapists to “Listen with your heart and never jump to a conclusion or judgment too quickly.”
Active, compassionate listening is a muscle. You need to work it regularly to keep it strong, and that means reminding yourself to stay in the moment, stay with your patient, and stay connected to the reasons you wanted to be a great therapist in the first place.
Remember, successful therapists lead with their values – and this isn’t just about what happens in your therapy sessions. By marketing yourself as a values-led practitioner, and living up to them with clients, you can differentiate your therapy practice.
2. Work as if you’ve already reached your goal
To become a successful therapist, you need to act like a successful therapist. Psychotherapist Victoria Niven, who helps clients with depression, anxiety, and personal development issues says “Work as if you have already reached your goal.”
That means you should give the best of yourself to every single client in your therapy work. The best way to get referrals – and more clients – is by focusing on giving excellent mental healthcare. Niven reminds mental health professionals that “What matters is the patient you have today. This patient will bring more patients.”
This also means you should believe in your value, and market yourself as the accomplished, effective therapist you are. It’s crucial not to undersell yourself, and it’s important to respect your time, boundaries, and well-being to avoid burnout.
Niven said one of the major mistakes she made–and counsels new therapists to avoid–was “not charging much because I thought that this way I would have more patients. This is not true, when your prices are lower than other professionals you are not giving enough value to the time you have spent studying and working on each case.”
Take a look at our advice on mistakes to avoid when starting a private practice for more key tips from experience.
3. Master your marketing
Many psychologists assume that heavily marketing their practice will make them seem false and flashy. But the most successful therapists don’t advertise how great they are–they use values-led marketing that shows clients how they can help them.
Start by defining your psychotherapy niche, ideal client, and core values so you have a clear message to market. Then use concrete strategies, like:
- Building a strong web presence
Life coach and transition counselor Luisa Mannu says the one piece of advice she would give to therapists starting out is “to have a good website and be visible on the web.” Spend time creating quality web content, and use key terms related to your niche that will help potential clients to find you online.
- Social media, blogging, and online workshops
Individual, family, and couples therapist Elena Blackwood reminds counselors that “having a business social media account is a great way to reach more people and put yourself out there.” It’s important to use the full range of online tools available to promote yourself. Sharing therapy content on Instagram, Twitter, or Tiktok can help you to connect much more directly with your potential client base. You could also consider starting a blog, guest blogging for other websites, or participating in online workshops to establish your expertise.
Getting referrals from current patients is one of the most trusted ways of finding new clients. You can make it easy for clients to refer you by letting them know about your website or online therapist profile, or giving them business cards. Building your network and connecting with other therapists will also increase your chances of getting referrals from other mental health professionals in the field.
- Therapist directories
Online therapist directories are also a fantastic way to reach new clients–and some of the best even match potential clients with therapists, operating as a virtual referral system.
Nuna’s online therapist marketplace is a great place to start. Therapists create public profiles listing their areas of expertise, and potential clients can browse the directory and find a perfect match. Nuna helps therapists to attract clients from all around the world, as well as providing scheduling, practice management, and teletherapy tools.
Psychotherapist Victoria Niven says she mainly finds new clients “thanks to Nuna and the recommendations of my patients.”
You can read further advice in our article on how to get more therapy clients.
4. Build up your practice gradually
There’s no way around it: becoming a successful therapist takes time. You can’t rush building therapeutic relationships, and your therapy work should always move at the pace of your clients.
In practical terms, that may mean you want to start off part-time in private practice and use teletherapy or shared office spaces while you’re giving a smaller number of therapy sessions. Joaquín Juliá Salmerón, a practitioner who specializes in treating anxiety, depression, and weight loss, says therapists starting out should “combine with another job”, both to build up your private practice without financial pressures, and to “gain experience” and “receive on-going constant training.”
A good therapist should take the time to continue to expand clinical experience and expertise so as to be able to take on new types of clients or offer an even better service to current clients.
Building up slowly also ensures you won’t get overwhelmed or experience burnout by taking on too much too soon.
If you’re at the beginning of your journey, take a look at our key tips on how to start an online therapy practice.
5. Use a practice management tool like Nuna to keep you organized
Private practitioners spend a huge amount of time managing bookings and cancellations, client files, and payments. This can lead to burnout and take valuable time and mental energy away from your client sessions as well as your efforts to find new clients.
Many mental health professionals choose to use practice management software like Nuna to streamline their work processes and keep everything in one place. Nuna is an all-in-one therapy scheduling software that helps therapists to reduce no-shows with advanced appointment features that show bookings, reschedules, and cancellations in real-time, and send clients reminders of their upcoming sessions.
Nuna is also a comprehensive, end-to-end secured teletherapy system, and it allows you to promote your practice with the online therapist directory and to take therapy notes and store medical records securely in-platform.
Psychotherapist Elena Blackwood says she “used to take notes during sessions on paper” but has now moved to electronic tools, like using a tablet, which is “much more time-efficient and also more environmentally friendly.”
Using a practice management software for therapists like Nuna will help you to save time and to re-focus on your main goals – as well as giving your clients a seamless, organized booking experience.
6. Guarantee client confidentiality with teletherapy platforms
Making your clients feel secure is crucial in any therapy session. Part of this relates to your therapeutic relationship, so you need to build a relationship of trust and ensure your clients feel this is a safe space for them to share.
But technology also has a role to play. Virtual sessions are becoming more and more popular, but since there are additional concerns around privacy and data protection in online settings, you should only use high-security teletherapy platforms.
Therapist Saakshi Tikku reiterates that “the software for online therapy should guarantee confidentiality as it’s of prime importance”, but also adds that “the therapy platform should offer different mediums like audio-only, audio-visual, texting, emailing, etc to suit the comfort level of the client.”
Nuna’s teletherapy platform is end-to-end encrypted, which means it’s a trustworthy environment for clients. The interface allows therapists to start calls with clients directly, and there’s a uniquely flexible range of call options available: high-quality video calls, screen share capability, audio-only calls, and chat and file share features that can be used during therapy sessions and in between.
Our full list of the best teletherapy platforms can help you choose one that meets your needs.
Finding success as a therapist
Being a successful therapist means developing your abilities in multiple roles: as a mental health professional, as an entrepreneur, and as a project manager.
Psychotherapy can be a difficult career path that involves cultivating many different skillsets. But by leading with your values, building up gradually, marketing yourself well, and using the best practice management and teletherapy tools available, you can become a highly effective therapist with a booming private practice.
Nuna is an all-in-one practice management tool for therapists that also helps you to connect with new clients from all over the world. Try it now – it’s free.
We’re the team behind Nuna. Nuna is an all-in-one solution for mental healthcare professionals around the world. We help you save time and connect with new clients to run your practice. To join, visit expert.holanuna.com and get started for free!