Have you been told that you need to specialize in order to be a successful therapist? Well, it’s true. I made the mistake of spending years with a “general private practice”. It was easy to take just about any client. The downside was that I probably wasn’t as effective or as happy as I could have been if I’d focused on what I do best.
Advantages of a counseling niche:
- providing the best, most effective services to clients
- attracting “ideal clients”
- professional satisfaction
- increased income
- avoid burnout
One of the things that I think is so awesome about social work, is the variety of populations and settings we can work in. There are so many possibilities. To narrow it down think about:
- Demographics of clients – Do you prefer working with young children, the elderly, teenage boys, middle-age women, Native American single mothers?
- Setting – mental health clinic, private practice, school, prison, hospital, drug treatment center, group home, etc.
- Type of issues – mental health, substance abuse, trauma, aging, chronic illness, homelessness, immigration, child abuse, domestic violence, grief and dying, etc.
- Your role – Do you like casework, therapy, administration?
So many choices! It can be overwhelming, right?
Usually graduate school field work gives us a chance to try different experiences. This is why I strongly suggest a graduate program that requires two different internship experiences. If you don’t know where to start:
- Interview or shadow some other social workers or counselors
- Try working in several different settings with different populations
So, how do you choose a counseling niche? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Who do I like working with?
- What issues do I treat most effectively?
- What specialized training do I have?
- What interests me professionally?
- What personal issues have I overcome?
- What kind of work or populations energize me?
- What particular need is unmet in my community?
- What practical considerations (my schedule, family commitments, etc) do I need to consider?
I am grateful for the breadth of experience I have with different populations and settings. Over twenty years in the field, I’ve worked in a school, community mental health clinics, wraparound services, services for juvenile offenders, home-based services, homeless shelters, private practice. I’ve worked with teenagers, adults, families, couples, hugely diverse cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. I liked most of these different settings and populations. They were a fantastic foundation for private practice that I wouldn’t trade. Now I’ve come to specialize in a few things that I do particularly well: supervision and coaching newer social workers and therapists; working with anxious, codependent, perfectionist adults and teens; grief counseling for those struggling with infertility and perinatal loss. I figured this out by tuning into who I am, what I do well, what I’m passionate about, the kind of clients I can best help, and the particulars of my personal life.
If you’d like some guidance in developing a counseling niche, career direction or dealing with burnout, I’d love to help. Send an email or call to set up a short consultation to discuss working together.