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Monday, 21 August 2017

Therapists - should you specialise?


Students often ask - usually towards the end of their training - whether it’s a good idea to specialise in some way. So, as Max Bygraves used to say, I wanna tell you a story…

My Mum recently had occasion to consult a solicitor. Nothing earth shattering, just for basic advice on wills after a change in circumstances. A firm we found said they offered 'legal advice for the elderly'. Sounds good, right? The guy she saw was friendly and helpful, everything was fine. (Bear with me, the therapy part is coming soon. Perhaps this is more like Ronnie Corbett than Max Bygraves.)

Now as it happened, a little after this I also needed some wills advice. I am now obliged to consider myself middle-aged, but (despite the Max Bygraves / Ronnie Corbett references) haven’t yet got comfortable with the 'E' word in my Mum's solicitor's tagline. I emailed the people who had done such a good job for her to ask exactly what age  group they covered. Imagine my amazement when I got an email back asking me to ring them for a chat about it. Wary of such obvious evasion on so simple a point I emailed again. 'It's a simple question. At what age am I elderly enough to access your services?' Again, nothing back except generalisations. Eventually, after a few tries, they admitted they had no age limit and would be happy to help.

Getting back to the point, the reason I mention all this is that it demonstrates very clearly the debate about whether specialising is a good thing or not. The solicitors advertised as specialists, but they were secretly under-cover generalists!

The pros and cons of being a specialist therapist

Generalist
Pro
  • a wider range of clients to market yourself to
  • adaptable for newly qualified people who haven’t had time to build up specialisms
  • lots of variety in your working day, stretching yourself and your knowledge
  • opportunity to develop related 'filler' services for quiet times
  • promotes adaptability and 'thinking on your feet'
Con
  • may have to take work in areas that don’t particularly interest you
  • risk being seen as 'jack of all trades and master of none'
  • may have to refer on more complex cases
  • more difficult to find a USP (unique selling point) and stand out from the competition
  • risk of decreased confidence or burnout from too many competing demands

Specialist
Pro
  • increased respect from other professionals and clients
  • opportunity to charge higher session fees, and work 'smarter not harder'
  • work is often more in-depths and challenging
  • more streamlined work process
  • increased job satisfaction /confidence in knowing an area so thoroughly
Con
  • may 'put off' clients with issues outside your specialism, even if you could help them
  • risk of running on 'auto pilot' and losing the creativity in your approach
  • limited CPD or supervision opportunities in your specialist area (but don’t let yourself get smug - I learn stuff from my students every day!)
  • increased competition if too many others have the same niche
  • slower to adapt if the market changes

Should therapists specialise?

I feel that to be truly an 'expert' you need some training, knowledge or experience beyond your basic training, however good that was. Unless you have expertise in another area already, when you first launch your practice you should probably aim to be a generalist. Over time you may find that there is a demand for a particular type of service in your area, or that you attract a particular kind of client and this will help you choose a speciality that will work for you.

Once you've chosen your niche (or it has chosen you) you can use your CPD hours to develop your knowledge and skill base into a proper specialism.

How should therapists choose a specialism?

Well, as said above sometimes it chooses you. But if you are still thinking about it, here are a few ideas.
  • topic - specialising in working with a specific issue such as childbirth or weight control
  • theoretical approach - specialising in, for example, analytical or CBT based therapy
  • client group - specialising in working with children, older people, women or a specific group such as ethnic minorities or the LBGT community
  • environments - specialising in school or work related problems, for example
Or you may thrive on the challenges of a broad based practice and choose to stay as a generalist. If it suits you and your clients, why not? Just do me a favour and don't get all cagey and evasive about who you work with, like my solicitors. Be loud and proud about who you can help.

Let me know what you think.

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Author: is an experienced hypnotherapist and hypnotherapy trainer. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words and has co-written the Hypnotherapy Handbook, both of which are available from Amazon.
Find out more about Debbie's services on
Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training - multi accredited hypnotherapy practitioner training, taster days and foundation levels.
CPD Expert - accredited CPD and other therapy training (online and workshops options), expert and qualified hypnotherapy supervision

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