When people experience depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues, often their first stop is their family physician. Primary care doctors are often unequipped to treat these conditions at the level of care they require. Doctors can prescribe medication, but they can’t offer ongoing psychotherapy.

So, doctors make referrals. This is why, for private practice therapists, physicians are such a valuable source of new clients. If you can establish yourself as a go-to mental health resource for a local medical practice, you’ll be sure to see a steady stream of business coming your way.

But doctors are busy people who tend to get locked into their habits. If your practice is new to an area or just starting out, how can you endear yourself to local doctors?

Here are five tips for networking with doctors and other medical professionals:

1. Understand Your Ideal Clients and the Doctor’s Patient Pool

The first step to successfully marketing your private therapy practice — whether it’s through referrals or online marketing — is to decide which group of potential clients you want to target. We call this finding your niche. Your niche will determine how you approach marketing your practice and which doctors you decide to connect with.

For example, there may be an untapped market in your area for providing psychotherapy to seniors. If you choose to focus on this niche, networking with pediatricians will be a waste of your time. Instead, you’ll want to introduce yourself to doctors who specialize in elderly patients.

You may discover they’ve been waiting for an expert just like you to come along.

Thanks to online directories, it’s not that hard to find out who practices medicine in your area, what their interests are, and even where they went to medical school. Three popular sites are HealthGrades, RateMDs, and ZocDoc.

If you don’t know where else to start finding doctors to refer to your practice, use the sites above to choose four or five doctors and move on to the steps below.

2. Be Ready to Follow Through

The first time a doctor refers a patient to your practice is a bit of a gamble — or perhaps a leap of faith. Referring doctors put their trust in you to treat their patients with care and professionalism that reflects well on their practice.

Never ask for referrals if you’re not sure you can handle the additional work. If a doctor refers a client to you, don’t make the client wait an unreasonable amount of time for an appointment. If a physician learns you’re not available to take on their patients, they probably won’t send future referrals your way.

3. Prepare Your Pitch

Therapy training programs rarely teach sales skills. But if you want to grow your practice through referrals, you’re going to have to learn to hone what business people call your “elevator pitch.”

When you do get in front of doctors, you won’t have much time to pique their interest. Whether it’s verbally or in writing, you should be able to describe the value of your practice and your ideal clients in a few clear, succinct sentences.

At PsychCentral, therapist turned business consultant Julie Hanks offers some pointers on crafting your elevator pitch. Among them:

    • Avoid jargon and “psychobabble.” Doctors are smart people, but they also appreciate clarity.
    • Talk about the benefits of your practice, not just your credentials and degrees.
    • Zero-in on one aspect of your practice. Again, the doctor who specializes in seniors doesn’t care about your work with children.
  • Commit your pitch to memory. Practice it with people you trust to give you honest feedback.
4. If You Can, Meet Face-to-Face

Not every therapist is bold enough to walk unheralded into a physician’s office and ask for a meeting. Pharmaceutical reps do this all the time, of course, but that profession tends to attract extroverts. If you’re a bit more on the introverted side, email and phone calls are convenient forms of communication that many doctors will respond to.

If you do have the gumption for it, however, a face-to-face meeting can make all the difference. Think about all the emails and calls a doctor must receive every day. With your face and personality behind your carefully crafted elevator pitch, you might just get an edge.

Keep in mind; medical practices aren’t the only place you can find doctors. Look for networking events and community get-togethers where you can meet local professionals on a more casual, natural level. Consider volunteering in your area; you never know who you’ll encounter.

5. Always Have Plenty of Business Cards Handy

As you watch your daughter's soccer game, you find yourself chatting with another parent nearby. As it turns out, she’s a medical doctor with a thriving practice in your area. You have your elevator pitch ready, but you have to resort to scribbling your name and contact information on a scrap of paper. If only you had brought along some business cards!

Business cards are low-tech but never out of fashion. They’re still one of the best ways to share your professional information with the people you meet as you go through your daily life.

Online services make it easy and affordable to design and print eye-catching, professional business cards. Lifehacker polled its readers and came up with this list of the five best business card printing sites.

But as you work on your business cards, don’t neglect your website — your online business card. Your website is likely the first place doctors will go to learn more about you after hearing or reading your pitch. For tips on designing your website, read our recent article, “5 Deadly Design Mistakes to Avoid on Your Therapy Website.”

Learn More Ways to Market Your Private Therapy Practice
These days, networking with medical doctors is only part of a multi-pronged approach therapists must take to market and grow their practices. Learn about market research, web design, social media, and content marketing in our comprehensive six-chapter guide, “Marketing for Therapists.”