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with Julie Hanks, MSW, LCSW, BCD

The 3-Letter Word That Gets More Clients

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A simple practice-building skill that many private practice therapists overlook is to ASK directly for new clients referrals. Some shrinks assume that if they’re skilled clinically colleagues, clients, and acquaintances will automatically refer clients to them. While that may be true for some therapists, in my consulting experience, building a thriving private practice takes conscious effort and deliberate action.

Asking for referrals is important so you are on the “top of mind” for your referrals sources. Potential referral sources may assume that you’re too busy, that you’re not taking new clients, they don’t remember your name or contact information, or it just didn’t occur to them to refer a client to you.

Here are a few ways you can ask for referrals when you need to fill some of your appointment slots without seeming desperate.

1) Send A Note Or Email

Get some nice note cards and periodically send a personal note to referral sources. Let them know that you’d love to work with their clients, that you have openings, and include some business cards.

Shoot off an email to referral sources who’ve sent clients your way in the past. Make sure that you include all of your contact information in the email to make it easy for someone to contact you. Here’s an example of what I have said in an email to a relationship coach.

Dear __________,

I hope all is well with you. I hear great things about your coaching practice and have sent a few clients to your marriage classes. I wanted to let you know that I currently have a few openings for individual or couples clients who need some help with with deeper issues that may need to be addressed in therapy. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if you want to discuss how I can help any of your coaching clients who are “stuck.”



(detailed contact info here, including website, phone, etc.)

2) Ask Over Lunch

Invite a referral source to lunch on you and ask for referrals then. Everyone needs to eat. I’ve found that people, especially professionals, are more likely to meet with you if you feed them. When you meet, remember to bring something to the table (no pun intended) to offer to them.

Consider ways that you can spread the word about their practice or business, offer a free training to their staff on your area of expertise, or make yourself available for free consultations or coaching on mental health issues.

3) Ask For Referrals In Casual Conversation

Number of client hours can vary greatly in private practice. There is an art to keeping consistent direct care numbers.  If your client numbers are down, don’t be afraid to mention your openings in casual conversations with colleagues, doctors, friends, and other associates that you have openings in your practice. It’s your job to remind people that you are in private practice and that you’d appreciate more business.

How comfortable are you asking for new referrals from colleagues, associates, professionals, and friends?


The 3-Letter Word That Gets More Clients

Dr. Julie Hanks, LCSW has over 20 years in the mental health field & 12 years in private practice as owner of Hanks consults with therapists all over the world to build a fulfilling and profitable therapy business and attract cash-pay clients through technology and social media. Follow Julie on Twitter & Facebook.


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APA Reference
Hanks, D. (2012). The 3-Letter Word That Gets More Clients. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2019, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 Mar 2012
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 29 Mar 2012
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