For a newly qualified therapist the opportunities can feel a little overwhelming. Do you find your niche and set up a practice specialising in one area or do you generalize and embrace the variety offered to you? Both options have their pros and cons and there is no clear cut answer to help you decide where to make your mark and find your place. Like most things in life, what it comes down to is personal experience, personal preference and what opportunities are open to you.
There are pros and cons to both options and typically therapists will try to gain experience as both a general mental health therapist and with a niche practice during their career. Quite often a general practice will naturally lead the individual to find the areas they are passionate about and where they feel they can help the most. In this article from Counseling Today, theyinterviewed six members of the American Counseling Association about their experience with this. You can read their interviews here. One of the primary points to consider is financial and in most cases, although certainly not all, a general practice will be more lucrative as you can direct your marketing towards a broad range of people and issues. There are more clients that you are able to help. However, with a specialised practice you gain greater experience in that niche and are therefore able to set your prices higher.
Specialising in one area of mental health or one demographic can lead to burn-out as you are regularly dealing with the same issues. While this increases your experience and your ability to help your clients, without variety therapists can find themselves going into auto-pilot to some degree. However, the same can be said of general mental health therapists as they are forced to cover such a wide range of issues that they stretch themselves too thin and are unable to help their clients to their best ability.
When considering what you want to specialise in one of the first defining factors is personal limitations, such as location. If you need to stay in your current location due to family commitments or other reasons, this will limit the opportunities available to you. Some see this as a positive aspect of the decision-making process as it allows them to focus on what their local area needs, rather than being overwhelmed by unlimited possibilities. Consider what is missing in your local area and if there is a need not being met by current therapists. This is one way to find a niche market that you can make your own and develop further.
By observing the amount and type of therapists available in your local area you can not only see what options are available to people, but also what people in the area are struggling with the most. How does your education and training relate to this? If there is a preference in the area for hypnotherapy, for example, does your training cover this, or do you need to undertake further training to enable you to meet the needs of clients in the area?
Alternatively, if you are free to move to any location, try to find one that connects with your education and experience background. Based on your personal and professional experience, what issues do you feel drawn to help with? Many therapists find they have the most success in areas that have a personal connection for them, whether that is due to past experience or personal interest.
When opting to find a niche to specialise in, typically the decision is made because they have found a gap in the market or they are following a passion. Quite often this is discovered after some time as a general mental health therapist and is a natural career progression, but often the decision of where to start comes down to the opportunities available to the individual based on location, education and experience. Specialising in one area is often thought of as the best way to progress and become remarkable or memorable in that niche, and therefore find greater professional success.
Deciding on a niche involves focusing on a variety of factors, including the demographic you are interested in working with; what type of setting, such as schools, charities, group homes, etc.; the type of issues you want to help with, such as PTSD, anxiety or depression; and your role in that niche – do you see yourself as an individual case worker, administration or management, etc. To gain insight into the pros and cons of various areas within psychology, Psychology Today interviewed 23 mental health professionals about their job, covering a wide range of specialisms and experiences.
One of the best ways to aid with this difficult decision is to broaden your experience and find the areas that you most connect with. This can be done in a number of ways, including shadowing a variety of therapists to gain insight into their working lives. You could also volunteer at a mental health charity or local initiative to gain experience while also donating your time to a worthy cause. Deciding on a new career path or even just a new direction can be stressful and overwhelming but by trying different aspects of the industry and following your passion and interests you can find a natural progression that will likely lead to the most success.