Having too few clients, and a therapist can find themselves bored, frustrated, and broke.
Too many? You may end up feeling burned out, stressed, and unable to function at your full capacity in other areas of life (family, in the gym, etc.)
That’s why it’s really important to find your sweet spot. That range for you that you have a large enough client base to feed yourself and find excitement with your work, and small enough to be able to give yourself and your clients the best care.
Because let’s face it, when we aren’t taking care of ourselves as therapists, it’s REALLY silly for us to expect our clients to take care of themselves. They can usually pick up on our energy, our overwhelm, and when we reach a point where we are struggling to keep up with names or are looking at the clock in anticipation during session — that’s a good sign we may need to cut back on our client load. I realize this may not always be an option (grad school requirements, agency work, or otherwise) and in those times — self care during our down time (even if that means box breathing on your car ride to work) is EXTRA important.
So how do we find that magic number?
While it may take some trial and error, it will be good to reflect on when you felt energized and in “flow” with your clients. What was your case load? What was the environment you were in? What was your level of stress in your personal life?
If you are on the low end of clients, try finding a niche of clients that makes you passionate. A good rule of thumb is to go towards a topic that you naturally gravitate to, what field do you find yourself reading about the most? After you’ve discovered a passion and done your research, go give seminars and talks in your community surrounding those topics! Yes, you may still struggle with finances for a bit, but getting out in the community even if unpaid at first can be a great way to network with other passionate individuals in that field and be able to reach the people that you could help — all while honing in on your skills in that area.
If on the other hand you are carrying a case load that is WAYYY too large, you may want to see if you can start to refer some clients out, create boundaries around your work schedule and in best practice refer out those who aren’t willing or able to meet those boundaries.(I.e. perhaps you find you work best working only 3 days a week — set those days and refer out those who can’t fit in your schedule).
I know that this is MUCH harder to do than to read about. It’s hard to say bye to clients we care about and get connected to. But trust me when I say it is NOT best practice to continue working at a schedule that burns you out and steals your ability to be 100% present for your clients. It’s only hurting yourself and your clients in the long run. And if we are to honor our motto of “do no harm” it’s going to be important that we are also doing “no harm” in the boundaries we set around our case load.