How to pick a counseling niche

How to Pick a Counseling Niche #niche #social Work #specialty #counseling

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:

  1. Demographics of clients – Do you prefer working with young children, the elderly, teenage boys, middle-age women, Native American single mothers?
  2. Setting – mental health clinic, private practice, school, prison, hospital, drug treatment center, group home, etc.
  3. Type of issues Рmental health, substance abuse, trauma, aging, chronic illness, homelessness, immigration, child abuse, domestic violence, grief  and dying, etc.
  4. 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:

  1. Who do I like working with?
  2. What issues do I treat most effectively?
  3. What specialized training do I have?
  4. What interests me professionally?
  5. What personal issues have I overcome?
  6. What kind of work or populations energize me?
  7. What particular need is unmet in my community?
  8. 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.


Sharon Martin has a passion for clinical supervision, mentoring new social workers, blogging, and reading all things social work related. She is a California Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 20 years in the field. Sharon has worked extensively in Bay Area non-profits and successfully runs a private counseling practice in San Jose. Sharon writes regularly for PsychCentral and the Good Men Project. She's also the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism.

1 Comment

  1. June 24, 2017    

    Hi Sharon

    I’d love some help with developing a niche area for my private counselling practice.

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