One of the first things many counsellors do when they open up for private practice is write a profile for one of the commercial directories. However, it’s a pretty daunting task to know what to say or what to do to make yourself stand out from all the other thousands of therapists who are advertising there. Today, I’m going to help you know how you can make your profile more attractive to clients – so that you can get a steady flow of people to your private practice. 

I’d like to start off by telling you a little story that happened to me to illustrate the power of having a profile on one of the commercially available directories.

I started my private practice back in 2012. And shortly after I started, I was sought out by a charity who were looking to fund counselling for one of their users. The reason they chose me was because of my particular knowledge and skills that I’d obtained, not through counselling, but from previous work. These were listed on my profile. They were very generous with their funding, and I worked with the client for a number of months.

And this person subsequently worked with me again using self funding. Fast forward 10 years, and I received a request from that same client to work with them again. This often happens in private practice. When you work well with clients, they don’t forget you, and they may want to work with you again in the future. At that point, my directory entry hadn’t been live for about 5 years.

But it just goes to show how the investment of your time in terms of writing your profile and getting it to work can pay off long term. It can really benefit your practice in bringing in new clients, and also bringing in recurring clients over a number of years. But, and it is a big but, so many counsellors say the directories don’t work for them. Why is that? I’m going to be answering that question over several episodes, where I’ll talk about the do’s and don’ts of writing your directory profile.

However, there’s only so much I can do to help you with your profile by talking about it. And what I love to do is actually to get my eyes on what you’re saying, and help guide you in improving your marketing. Just today, I have heard from one of my Therapy Growth Group members who’s now oversubscribed in her practice. The reason for that is the work she’s done over the past few months, where I’ve helped her improve her messaging on her profile. 

Coming up next month, in June 2024, I’m running another round of my successful Make Your Profile Work challenge in Therapy Growth Group.

It includes training on what to include on your profile, and then importantly, the group spends time together applying that to your personal situation, who you are as a therapist, and the people you want to serve. You’ll get help from other people in the group, and one to one feedback from me in my challenge Facebook group. If that’s something you’re interested in, I’ll pop a link to the Therapy Growth group in the show notes of this episode. Remember, your membership will not only give you access to the Make Your Profile Work challenge, but group coaching and a library of courses, such as how to set up in private practice, and how to find more clients. 

Now coming back to directories, the number one thing I’d like you to take away from today’s podcast is the thought, people don’t lie awake at night thinking I need counselling.

That is so important, I’m going to say it again. People don’t lie awake at night thinking I need counselling. They lie awake at night thinking about their problems. What does this mean and why is it significant?

Well first off, let’s try a few questions. Are people lying awake at night thinking, I need transactional analysis, or I need trauma therapy, or even I need cognitive behavioural therapy. 

And a follow-up question for you to consider. Have you ever looked at the average reading age for adults in the UK? Estimates vary, and it can differ across the country depending on deprivation.

But it’s somewhere between around age 8 to 9 to 11 to 14. To put that into context, The Sun newspaper is written for a reading age of 8, and The Guardian for a reading age of 14. Randomly, I read a piece by Surrey County Council. And I don’t think anyone would say that Surrey is the most deprived part of the UK. But they aim to write all their web pages for people with a reading age of 9 to, in their words, make it quick and easy to read at all levels.

Let me ask you, do you think a 9 year old can comprehend a phrase like transactional analysis? I don’t think so. And unless you’ve already researched a lot about therapy, you’re probably not very interested in the concept anyway. 

I’m sorry for all you TA therapists out there to pick on your modality, but here you go. I think there’s only 3 types of people who are the slightest bit interested in any sort of modality, And those people are people who’ve been told by their GP that they should get some CBT, or other therapists who want to work with a particular modality, and possibly people who’ve been told by another counsellor to find a particular type of therapist.

I wonder, how many of you who’ve received inquiries have heard from clients who tell you, I chose you because you’re a psychodynamic therapist, or person centred, or integrative, or whatever. And if that has happened, are those type of inquiries the majority of what you receive? I don’t think so. 

But if that’s not the case, why do so many therapists spend so much of their profile talking about their modality? I think the answer to the question is not that it works, but that most counsellors and psychotherapists don’t really know what else they should be saying.

They work as therapists, they’re not copywriters, and copywriters are the people who know how to write effective advertising. And the directories themselves aren’t very helpful in giving advice either. For example, I have heard that one major directory advises therapists to start by describing their modality. I vehemently disagree with that for reasons that will become obvious. 

So think really carefully about the technical phrases that you use in your profile.

It’s tempting to want to show people that you’re well qualified, and I know you have worked really hard for that psychoanalytic psychotherapy doctorate, and you’re deservedly proud of it, but it sounds really scary. Imagine you’re the client. Would someone with a masters in systemic psychotherapy really be interested in the sadness that I feel because my dog has died? 

Often you’ll hear people in therapy saying, I’m sure you’ve got more important things to hear about than my problems. You must see people with much more serious problems than me. And I think that’s heartbreaking to hear, because we know that everyone is important, And that downplaying your problems is a symptom of not being valued and not valuing yourself.

And that’s something we really long to help people with. People suffering pet bereavement are important. Pets are important. Sometimes that bereavement could be the tip of the iceberg with loss, loneliness, and attachment issues lying beneath the surface, and we can help them with that. And the people who sit in front of you and wonder if they’re important enough to use your time are those who’ve been brave enough to seek you out despite their fears.

What about all the ones who look, but are completely daunted by the jargon, or as it’s often called, the psychobabble, and leave the directory never to return? 

When therapists use technical language, it puts up a barrier. Rather than reassuring clients that you know what you’re talking about, you create a mysticism and expertise that can actually create distance. People are frightened enough about sharing their hurts. Don’t add another layer of fear that they’re going to look silly because they’re not educated enough.

So I’d advise not launching into your modality straight away, and avoid the psychobabble. I don’t think there’s any harm in stating your qualifications, but you don’t need this to be front and centre of what you’re telling your potential clients about yourself. And remember the phrase, less is more. If you list every single item of CPD you’ve been on, you may well come across as either so educated that you don’t see normal members of the public, or so insecure that you need therapy yourself. 

Let’s return to that thought. People don’t lie awake at night thinking I need counselling. They lie awake at night thinking about their problems. I think it’s really important that you demonstrate you understand their problems. And that’s why I don’t agree with starting with your modality or your qualifications. The client may check those things out later but first and foremost, they’re looking for someone who will understand their problem and know how to help.

Remember, when a client opens up a directory they’re going to be confronted with a lot of information about different counsellors, and they’re going to be seeking to exclude people very quickly. In a forthcoming episode, I’m going to talk more about this exclusion process and what’s important. But today, I want you to think particularly about the language that you’re using. 

When clients begin to look for counselling, they’re usually looking for someone who can help them with their particular issue. However, they’re not therapists.

They don’t necessarily have names for what they’re experiencing. All they know is that they’re worried about something, or they lack the energy to get up in the morning, or they’re scared rigid that their relationship is failing, or they can’t stop crying. 

As therapists, we tend to look at their problems differently. We may name their problems differently, or we may name the underlying issues. And unless potential clients are aware that’s what we call their problems, they’re likely to miss out on finding someone who can help.

It’s really important to put yourself in the shoes of your potential clients and think about the words you use. Because when they’re searching, those are the words they’re going to type into Google. And unless you get those words into your profile, Google isn’t going to send them your way. And yes, Google does show people individual directory entries if that profile is written with a client in mind, and lots of people visit it. 

What’s the help your client is looking for?

How do they describe their problems? What is it they want to fix? For example, people may not know that they’re experiencing symptoms of PTSD, so it can be helpful for you to describe how they may be feeling rather than just using that abbreviation PTSD. Also, if they don’t have a diagnosis, they may exclude themselves if this is all you say about what you’re experiencing. So be explicit.

Name the feelings so that people can recognise themselves in what you say. The same is true of a number of conditions. Think about the person who has no energy, no joy in life, who finds it hard every day to go about their normal activities. Counsellors would call that depression. But perhaps a client may not know that, or they may not even think they warrant their description.

Remember, a lot of people who come for counselling have had their opinions invalidated all their lives, and it may be hard for them to claim certain words for themselves. I know this is true of me. It took me many years before I could say that I was emotionally abused. And even then, it felt uncomfortable because of the thought that I was exaggerating, and that my experience didn’t merit that description, because of my, in inverted commas, privileged background. I wonder if that resonates with any of you.

One of the things we have to remember is that our potential clients are further back in their therapeutic journey. When you’ve had a lot of personal development, you tend to forget what your day to day life was like. Like, I used to feel guilty all the time. And yet now, I rarely feel guilty. I’ve forgotten what it is like to wake up every day feeling like that.

But, and it is a big but, it’s really helpful if you can try to remember those thoughts and feelings, because that can help you put yourself in the shoes of your potential clients. Think about how they may describe their situation. What sort of words do they use? And are you being inclusive? As well as saying you help people with something like depression, are you also saying that you help people who are down, or who have no energy?

Ask yourself, what are your clients thinking and feeling? And use that in your writing. And then you’re on your way to creating a profile that will really speak to people in their situation and grab their attention. And when that happens, what you’ll find is you won’t get speculative inquiries that someone is writing to a whole bunch of counsellors. You’ll get clients who say they’re so glad they found you, that your profile stood out to them because you seemed to understand exactly how they feel.

They will want to work with you. And even if you haven’t got space, they’ll be willing to wait. These are also the people who, believe me, you’ll be able to work really well with. It will be a great match of counsellor and client. Because as you’ve demonstrated, you understand their problems.

And that will help you establish a practice where you’ll be getting recurring bookings and referrals due to recommendations by happy clients. Just like me, your directory entry will be a source of clients for years to come. 

Thanks for listening. Do come and join my Facebook community, Good Enough Counsellors. And for more information about how I can help you develop your private practice, please visit my website,

If you found this episode helpful, I’d love it if you could share it with a fellow therapist or leave a review on your podcast app. And in closing, I’d love to remind you that every single step you make gets you closer to your dream. I really believe you can do it.