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Blog for Therapist – Referral Sources in Private Practice

Working in Private Practice as a therapist relies on a good stream of client referrals but where will your referrals come from?

The first step should be to invest time in creating a comprehensive business plan, this foundation of work will provide a solid base for you referral stream, you will know who the type of clients you would like to attract and where you hope they will come from this will help you direct your energy in terms of marketing your business.

Find out more about business planning in this blog post Business planning in private practice

When we are starting in private practice we often just need referrals and don’t really mind what the source is. We can happily shape our business later on down the road by finding out what works and what doesn’t. Be prepared to make mistakes if this is the path you take but we all have to start somewhere.

Good starting questions to ask yourself are  – how will potential clients be able to find me? How will my business be visible? If I was looking for a cbt therapist what are the steps I would take?

Overview of referral sources

Your website – Having your own website really establishes you as a business in your own right, when you are just setting out you don’t need a website with all the bells and whistles you can get away with a basic site if the images are professional and logos have been well designed. Spend time on your website content ensuring it reflects your values and personality will attract clients that are in line with the service you offer.

You can build a website for free or pay thousands. How much you spend is a personal decision and depends on how much you would like to earn from your website – if your referrals will be generated from other avenues there is not much point in investing too much if you plan to earn the majority of your wage from your website more investment will ensure a better return but an important point to remember is that it’s not just how it looks it’s how it’s maintained going forward and the SEO needs to be good – SEO stands for ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ which is how easily your website can be found on Google. There is no point having an amazing site if no-one can find it.
There are cheap options for building your own website yourself like Wix, WordPress or Squarespace. Alternatively, there are dedicated services for therapists like or you can go to an independent web designer. Its lot’s to think about but your own website is your own platform and nurtured well will serve you well.

Social media platforms – We have mixed views about social media, Heather has a solid following on Facebook and generates a good amount of referrals but Mark Zuckerburg decided a few years ago not to prioritise business pages any more so lots of businesses who depended on Facebook for referrals really began to struggle and now it’s very hard to build an audience with Facebook pages. So if you are considering building a business on a social media platform always bear in mind somebody else owns the platform and can change the rules at any time. It’s a great way to be visible and people do expect you to have a social media presence.

Referral agencies – referral agencies are companies that you can sign up for as a treatment provider and they will contact you when they have a referral in your area. The pros of this are that you don’t have to put any effort into finding the referrals and there is no cost for you. The cons are that rates of pay can be low and invoices can take a while to be paid, paperwork demands can be high and it can be generally more complex dealing with emails and other demands that insurers bring. If they go into administration you could also lose out or if another therapist in the local area is offering better rates you could see your referrals suddenly drop. They can be a good way to get started while you build on your online profile.

Insurance companies – Similar pros and cons to referral agencies, the logos on your website can improve your authority and they can serve as another regular income stream. Having a few income streams can be helpful so you don’t have all your referral source eggs in one basket as the market is always changing.

Download a comprehensive list of companies you can register with 

Referral Companies


Local community – Getting to know your local community can be a very valuable way of getting yourself known and spreading the word of mouth which is often seen as the gold standard of marketing.  Wherever your clinical base is try popping into shops and using the services of other therapists, health and wellbeing practitioners this allows them to get to know you and when they do they are more likely to refer you to their clients. There’s no harm in having lots of reflexology, acupuncture or massages either!

You can write to local service providers and let them know about the services you offer some service providers to consider is local Health Centres,  the fire brigade, police, dentists and solicitors. The key here is to be consistent a one-off letter might just hit the bin but if you scale a mail drop every 6 months services will become more familiar with who you are.

Research indicates that people need to see your service 7 times before they make a referral or a purchase.

We get so few letters these days people seem to be taking more notice.

On-line referrals – As we do more and more of our work online now it’s important that we build up our knowledge of how to be found in the online search results. Having a website is key and ensuring that it has good Search Engine optimisation is also important – Heres a free guide to help you on your way  SEO Guide

Directories – There are a number of directories where you can pay to be listed such as the counselling directory the most popular one at the moment is Psychology Today they have some good introductory offers so you can try it out for a while. Alongside paid directories do a search for local business directories in your area, the more places you can be better. There are also your professional directories to consider.

Paid advertising – Google adverts or Facebook adverts can be a great way of generating traffic to your website to improve its SEO and to get yourself known. However people can spend a lot of money and if you don’t know what you may not get the returns you hope for, it’s often worth paying someone who knows their stuff to get the campaigns going for you. We’d advise tread with caution.

Google my business is your new best friend. If we are relying on our websites for even part of our referral source then we want to be found on Google. So give Google some love, use Google’s maps on your websites and create a Google my business account, update it regularly and pop photos and blogs on your account. Google reviews will attract more people to your profile and website and push you up the Google search engine. Google will reward your efforts with more visibility.

The gold standard of referral is word of mouth when people have heard about you what you do and how amazing you are! It’s also high pressure when people come with high expectations but very rewarding. It takes time for word of mouth referrals to come through because we are still fighting the stigma of mental health and we don’t often talk about the therapy we have. One way to encourage some word of mouth is to ask for anonymous feedback following therapy or send the link to your Google business account, make it easy for people to give feedback and often they will, this can then be shared on your website.

This has been an overview and I’m sure there are many ways. It’s important to remember what works well for one person might not for another, there is no right way so do what feels right for you, if you hate social media don’t do it you won’t enjoy it and won’t give it your best energy, create a business that’s unique to you and a business you love.


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Sarah Rees

Sarah is a fully accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and mental health writer delivering Modern Mental Health for you and with you in Mind. Sarah is the author of ‘The CBT Journal’ which helps you write for your wellbeing incorporating CBT techniques. For more information and to keep in touch have a look at