how to talk about your work

How To Answer The Question: "How Do You Work?"


What’s the question that makes a lot of therapists nervous?

"How do you work?"


When you’re on the phone with a potential client, they are likely to want to know what you charge and when you’re available, and then comes that question: “How do you work?”


Many therapists find themselves falling into therapist-speak at this moment.


The words you've learned as a therapist don't belong in this conversation.


You may never hear feedback about how little of your answer the potential client understood. You might walk away from the conversation thinking they have a pretty good idea of the way you work, while the potential client is thinking, “I have no idea what the heck they just said.”


They aren’t likely to give you that feedback because 1. they don’t want to look stupid, and 2. they don’t want to be rude.


I say this with love. You could be losing potential clients who are a great fit for you if you answer this question in therapist-speak. Come up with a better answer so that your potential clients can make a better decision about whether to work with you. If you’re the best therapist for them, they’ll be more likely to realize that.


So what should you say?


There are a couple of great ways to answer the question.


One way to answer the question “how do you work?” is to take the description you would normally give of your method and describe it with no therapy words. If you’ve ever played the game “Taboo,” this might feel familiar.


For example, if you normally say:


“I use depth psychotherapy” (followed by your therapy-speak description), try something like this: “I help my clients figure out what’s going on deep, deep down. You know how sometimes you think or feel something painful, and you’re not sure where it comes from? I help my clients find out where that stuff is coming from so that we can make some really lasting changes.”


Another way to answer the “how do you work?” question is to think about the clients who are the best fit for you, and describe one important thing about the work you do with them. By focusing on one thing, you help them imagine what it would be like to be your client.


For example, I might say:


“One thing I do with clients is help them let go of shame. Most of us carry around shame, and it gets in our way in lots of parts of our lives, like at work or in our close relationships.”


When you find an answer that feels right to you, practice it a few times. Don’t memorize it. You might use the same phrase or sentence to get you started each time, but make sure you’re speaking in a grounded way rather than just reciting your lines. Then practice your answer on a few friends who are NOT therapists. If they understand what you’re saying, you’re on the right track.

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When You Talk About Your Work, Set Yourself Apart

A colleague asks a therapist  “who do you work with in your private practice?”


The therapist answers:


“I work with high functioning adults” or

“I work with people going through transitions.”


These answers describe clients in the most general and least compelling way, squandering an important opportunity.


I understand why a therapist would answer this way. It’s a quick way to describe the range of people you work with and it doesn’t exclude anyone who you might like to work with. But never say it again.


When you say that you work with high functioning adults or people going through transitions you set yourself apart from… almost no one.


When a colleague asks you who you work with, it’s an opportunity to communicate your unique understanding of a group of people. It’s time to show your enthusiasm for helping that group.


Look for new ways to talk about the people you work with so that your colleagues will remember you.


If you have a particular niche, you probably don’t have as much trouble setting yourself apart. But even if you have a general practice working with adults, you probably work better with some “high functioning adults” than others. Here are some examples of ways to describe particular groups of clients:


“highly sensitive”


“burned out”

“spiritual seekers”


“parents of young kids”


Look for similarities in the people you work best with, and name those. Your conversations with colleagues are likely to become more interesting rather than dropping off. Your colleagues will remember what you said about your work.


But what if you like working with LOTS of different kinds of people?


As the conversation continues, you can mention that too. You’re not going to be limited to just one kind of client. When your colleagues see that you have confidence and expertise with one group, they’ll imagine you working well with other people too.


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