When it comes to practising as a psychotherapist or counsellor various forms of qualifications exist in order to provide the skills and training that you need. And when you’re qualified, there are amazing CPD and training courses to keep your knowledge fresh and dandy.
However, counselling benefits from a few extra skills and nuggets of knowledge which don’t fall under the remit of counselling training itself. This is particularly pertinent if you aim to set up and run your own private practice.
Whilst counselling and psychotherapy skills themselves will always form the forefront of your knowledge (good luck being a counsellor without ‘em!), here’s a look at a few other skills and potential routes for training that’ll help you along the way.
Extra skills in counselling and psychotherapy
Having a flair for business will aid you along the way to developing and running your private practice. In many ways, developing a private practice is very similar to developing a business or a freelance career. This is a broader category, which breaks down into management, marketing and finance/accounting.
Whilst management skills are less applicable here than other businesses (counsellors are typically either lone wolves who operate under their own private practice, or are part of a wider group practice in which most therapists are equals), management is still useful as it isn’t just about managing people, but about managing situations, your time, and yourself from a business perspective.
Management skills can teach you to conduct yourself (and perhaps your wider team) in a way that’s best for the practice itself. You never know, you may well find yourself in a scenario which has you managing trainee counsellors too.
Of more importance are marketing skills. Marketing is about getting your name out there and explaining what it is you can offer clients that you feel others cannot. Marketing skills are pretty much vital to successfully growing your private practice work. Selling yourself can be difficult at first, and we counsellors can be a modest bunch, but without effective marketing you’re relying on word-of-mouth alone. Over time, you’ll want to start thinking of yourself as a brand, and marketing can help you build recognition. Here’s a handy list of various marketing avenues you may want to explore to promote your practice.
These days the field of marketing has exploded to include digital marketing too. The digital elements include social media, SEO, and email databases. Knowing your Facebooks from your Twitters and how to use them is a great place to start in growing your online presence. Have a read of our blogpost on social media for counsellors, exploring the dos and don’ts of the most popular platforms.
Finance and accounting
You probably hoped that moving into psychotherapy would mean you wouldn’t have to talk money and numbers, but alas, it’s still necessary. Whilst it’s most likely that you’ll hire an accountant in the long run to aid with this, having a basic knowledge of financing and accounting can go a long way, especially early on.
As the old adage goes ‘cash is king,’ and thus keeping a close eye on your finances is vital to ensuring a smooth running private practice. How much will you charge per hour? How much is your room charge per hour? How do you manage other expenses such as ongoing training, BACP membership, website hosting, promotion etc. etc. etc.
When financing yourself initially, where will you source the cash? Are you sitting on savings which can form the initial equity for the business, or will you need to explore other financing methods to get your practice off of the ground?
All this accounting talk is giving me a headache, I could do with a slice of cake. But wait, is that a business expense or not…?!
Sigh, financing and accounting for your private practice is no fun, but it is a necessity. The better grip you have on business finance, the easier it will be, believe it or not.
We’ve already mentioned a few things under digital marketing, but if you know a bit of web design it can go a long way. Many websites are built on WordPress now, which is a fairly intuitive platform, but it helps to familiarise yourself.
Also, think about how to organise your website – what works and what doesn’t? Start with websites that you like and think about what it is about their design that you like. Scribble ideas down, and even draw potential layouts. Imagine yourself as a user of the site. Does it navigate how you’d expect it to?
Taking the design and then being able to develop your own website is the next level, but most people find it easier to operate through a web developer. It helps to get an expert set of eyes on your design too, as they can refine it and help solve any problems..
Counsellors are experts in speaking and listening. It’s not called ‘talking therapy’ for nothing. But networking is a different kind of speaking and listening. Meeting new people is a great way to build your practice and the resources you can call upon in times of need.
Solid public speaking skills can also help in growing a practice. This adds to your ability to network, and can give you the opportunity to talk to groups and at conferences, from the small to the prestigious. Who knows, we may even want you to come along and give a talk at a BTP training event!
Public speaking could also come into your marketing, with presenting ideas in short videos or doing “lives” on Facebook or Instagram where you share ideas or answer questions. It may still feel daunting but potentially less-so for being behind your laptop.
When I say ‘spreadsheets’ you say ‘eurgh.’ SPREADSHEETS!
Nice. But a little Excel knowledge can help out, whether it’s in tracking the growth of your private practice, or your client hours. Logging a few numbers and creating a graph or two can help to illustrate progress in a user friendly way. This could also factor in with the aforementioned accounting skills by tracking costs and revenues from your private practice. We’d also recommend keeping a database on hand of current and previous clients complete with contact details (password protected for security).
Copywriting and article writing is a brilliant skill to develop, and is becoming ever more vital as our activities move onto the web. Your writing ability will come into play in a huge range of scenarios, whether it’s posting Facebook updates all the way up to aiding in a peer-reviewed research report or featuring in an academic journal.
Writing blogposts on areas you specialise in is also a great way to improve your SEO and get people onto your website, to hopefully then consider booking in with you. If you think you’re writing skills are top notch then get in touch – we’d love to feature you in our blog!
Graphic design can help you brand yourself and your private practice. Coming up with a unique logo can help set you apart from other counsellors in your area, and can offer a recognisable graphic that is both memorable and speaks about you. A picture is worth a thousand words… although perhaps counselling is the one profession for whom that isn’t strictly true.
Nevertheless, the marketing concept of ‘brand equity’ recognises that we shouldn’t just aim to build a client-base, but we should aim to present ourselves in a way that is warming and positive to others… and in this case, counselling probably is the one profession for whom that is most true, as conveying ourselves accurately to clients is vital. In addition, graphic design skills can help you promote your work, whether it’s through leaflet design, web graphics or creating images and quotes for your social media.
While educating yourself on what makes a good design is important and can take some time (again, consider designs that you think “work” – what is it about them that you like?), actually putting what you’ve learned into practice has never been easier with free websites like Canva allowing you to utilise templates or create your own designs (whether for social media or print).
Let your inner Laurence Llewelyn Bowen loose on your counselling room, because it both speaks volumes about you and your practice, and creates a comfortable space for your clients. Err… on that note, better leave Laurence out actually. But interior design skills can allow you to create a space that just works for you and your clients. In many senses, the perfect space should never even be noticed. It should allow for the practice to happen in the peace of the room, with no external distractions to the connection between yourself and the client. A modestly decorated, quiet space is best, as we have created with our own consulting room.
Speaking two or more languages can be a benefit in specific scenarios, especially if you live and work in a multicultural area. Occasionally jobs pop up for counsellors who speak other languages, and there has certainly been a shift towards psychotherapists learning Spanish in the US to aid the growing Hispanic community. If you are already bilingual or are learning another language, remember that this can cross into your therapy practice too.
Not getting overwhelmed by lists of skills…
It’s important to bear in mind that all of these skills are auxiliary and aren’t necessary. Plenty of therapists succeed without any of the above. But having these extra skills can benefit you in several ways, particularly when you are managing your own practice. Remember to keep your counselling training up to date too though! If you’re starting a private practice you may find our blogpost helpful – a comprehensive guide to setting up in PP, from the practical necessities to the emotional challenges.
Working in Brighton & Hove?
Another point to remember is that you don’t have to hold all of this expertise yourself. Being part of a group practice means you can benefit from the organisation’s experience and expertise in marketing and business processes. If you’re in Brighton and Hove, or close by, you can join The Palmeira Practice – whether you rent a therapy room or join as an Associate Member working externally. Our referral system and group marketing, plus ongoing support for you to reach your goals, can make being in private practice an easier and more sustainable experience for you.
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