Therapist Networking Strategies: How to Build Effective Referral Relationships

Your guide to becoming the go-to therapist for physicians and treatment centers!


Personal referrals and networking are highly effective ways to build a therapy private practice with the clients you most enjoy seeing. When fostered over time, relationships with referral agents such as primary care physicians, college counseling centers, hospitals, and treatment centers can provide a steady pipeline of clients who are a good fit for your treatment style and therapy approach.

However, getting your foot in the door can be a tricky process for therapists; it’s difficult to balance explaining what makes you unique without sounding overly self-promoting to prospective referral partners.Check out these 6 tips on how to network your way to success!

Tip #1. Get personal.

Think of each potential referral partner as an individual, not an organization. Rather than sending a generic introductory email, address counselors and referral coordinators by name, and invest the time in getting to know each person’s role and referral needs; that’s what you’re asking them to do for you as a therapist, so start by reciprocating. Think of networking as relationship building with many unique individuals who are also trying to help their patient populations.

Tip #2. Put their needs first, and have something to offer.

It can be off-putting to immediately dive into your credentials and why an organization should refer clients to your therapy practice. Open a dialogue by asking questions that will allow you to understand what their needs are, and consider how you might be uniquely positioned to fill them. Can you offer their clients sliding scale slots, evening or weekend appointments, or work with clients returning from inpatient settings? Think about the organizations that would benefit from your services the most; if you have special expertise that is highly relevant to their population needs, you might even go above and beyond to offer a lunchtime presentation. In addition to providing a helpful resource, you position yourself as a true expert on the topic and a great therapist to refer clients to.

Tip #3. Make yourself easy to refer to.

Business cards get thrown out; emails get buried in inboxes. Make sure your contact information is up-to-date and easy to find online. This includes updating your Google business listing and having professional, current links show up in the first few results of a search for your name. When referral agents and prospective clients search for your practice, the results should accurately reflect your address, office hours, and phone number, along with a professional picture. Don’t let your networking efforts go to waste at this stage in the referral process!

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Tip #4. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate.

Making connections across an organization is a good way to ensure that your referral stream doesn’t completely dry up if one person retires or moves away, which is always a risk in relying solely on word-of-mouth referrals. Be an active participant in treatment teams; in addition to providing great client care, getting to know the psychiatrists, dietitians, therapists, and primary care physicians in the organization makes you the go-to therapist for multiple providers. Try to expand your networking beyond one contact per organization.

Tip #5. Mind the details.

People notice small thoughtful gestures. When an organization sends an email asking for updated practice information, be the first to reply and leave a lasting impression as a highly attentive, responsive therapist. If a physician, therapist, or provider or case manager refers a client to you, consider sending a handwritten thank you note. They will not only think of you as highly thoughtful and professional, but may even keep the card on their desk and consider your practice the next time they need a therapy referral for a client in a similar situation.

Tip #6. Stay current.

Once you’ve made a valuable connection through your networking efforts, continue to nurture the relationship! Send an email once a year to just check in, wish them well, and share any relevant updates to your therapy practice. Did you undergo any trainings this year? Do you offer new services that may be especially helpful for their population? Make sure to let them know! Networking goes beyond the initial contact and sharing of practice information; it includes ongoing communication, relationship building, and collaboration.

Networking as a therapist can feel uncomfortable if you think of it as “networking.” Instead, try to consider it as relationship building and collaboration with others who share the common goal of finding the best treatment for their patient populations. You’re helping more prospective clients learn about your practice and the unique services you provide, while also making it easier for referral coordinators to find the most responsive and professional therapists.

At its best, networking simply feels like making new friends in your professional life. Similarly to any other relationship, building these connections takes time – don’t expect to have dozens of new, deep connections immediately.

Put your genuine desire to help at the forefront – that’s your number one asset as a therapist! While online marketing certainly helps you cast the widest net to reach prospective clients, there is immense power in networking to grow your private practice. Try some of these networking strategies, and let us know how they go!