How to Build Relationships With Other Therapists

Building Relationships With Other Therapists

All clients should have access to the best care possible—and sometimes, that’s not you. But that’s okay. Part of being a good therapist is understanding your limitations or acknowledging when you’ve come to the end of the road with a particular client. You won’t be able to serve the entire world, and you shouldn’t even try. So, once you embrace the idea of referring clients to other therapists, the next questions are: when, followed by how.

In this post, we’ll answer both of those questions. Before you know it, you’ll be a referral machine—referring clients who don’t fit so that you can free up your time to serve the individuals who will benefit the most from your care and your approach.

Let’s get started.

When to Refer Clients

Not sure when it’s time to refer your client to another therapist? Here are some of the most common examples:

Clash of Personalities

As a therapist, you can empathize with a wide range of personalities. You know how people think, and you’re not one to take things personally.

That said, you still have a personality, as all therapists do. You may be laid back and quiet, or you may be more cheery and animated. Your personality won’t appeal to everyone.

It’s not a knock against your professionalism or your expertise, but there are times when a different personality or approach may be more beneficial to a client. If you feel like you cannot effectively help someone due to a personality clash, it’s always a good idea to refer them to a therapist who you believe is better suited to match the client’s style of communication.

Here’s a way to tell if your personalities are incompatible for therapy:

At the end of each session with a particular client, do you feel emotionally exhausted? If you’ve spent your entire session wrestling with a client’s personality, it’s likely to affect the care you provide to your other clients, too—or, at the very least, the client you’re scheduled to see next. In this case, it’s best to go your separate ways.

The Client Has Needs Outside of Your Scope of Service

You work in mental health, but you specialize in treating one type of disorder. Occasionally, a client will come in for one condition, but during the course of treatment, you realize that the client actually needs help with a different disorder.

Another common occurrence is that the needs of your client have simply evolved during the course of your treatment. Now that you’ve helped a client with one condition, it’s time for them to address a different condition—one that you don’t feel qualified or comfortable addressing in your own practice.

This is why it’s important to diversify your network of fellow therapists. We’ll discuss this in greater depth in the second part of this post. If you have an assorted network of therapists to choose from, you’ll be able to transition the client to someone you already know and hopefully trust.

If You Disagree About the Course of Treatment

Every now and then, you’ll have a client who disagrees with your method or approach. They’ll come into your office with a specific set of ideas about how you should proceed, and if you don’t follow those rules, you’ll clash.

When you and a client disagree about the course of treatment, it’s can have a deleterious impact on your sessions. In order to treat the client effectively, you must have their trust—but if they don’t trust your direction, they won’t be able to participate in the process.

You’re Transitioning to Self-Pay

You accepted insurance up until now, but you’ve decided to transition into a self-pay practice. In an ideal world, you’d love for all of your clients to transition with you. But, in reality, many of your clients cannot afford to pay out of pocket for your service. You’ll have to say goodbye to these clients, but that doesn’t mean that you have to leave them in the cold.

Instead, find a therapist for referral. Choose one from the panel that you’re leaving. Meet with this therapist personally and get to know him or her before making recommendations to your transitioning clients.

The Client Has Changed Insurance Companies

Sometimes, it’s not you who changes insurance companies—it’s the client. Employers change insurance all of the time, and if the client has insurance through their employer, they may not have a say in the matter.

So, you’re left with three options: The client self-pays, you bill out of network (if allowed), or you hand the client a superbill. If those options don’t sound appealing to you or the client, it’s time to refer.

The Client Cannot Afford Your Services

If your client is experiencing a financial hardship and cannot afford to pay for your services, you’re placed in a bind. To accommodate the client, you can offer your services at a reduced rate, but this may set a bad precedent for your entire practice. It’s often better to recommend another therapist who can see the client at a reduced rate (or even for free).

The Client is Moving

It’s always sad to see a client leave, but sometimes, it’s unavoidable. Job transfers, new marriage, helping a sick relative—there are a lot of reasons why clients may move away that have nothing to do with your quality of care.

When this happens, refer your client to a new therapist in their new town. Perhaps this therapist is paneled with the same insurance company as you. Or, perhaps you know this therapist personally. Whatever the case, offering a referral to your soon-departing client will be very meaningful to him or her. Your act will show that you care about their ongoing therapy needs. Plus, you’ll open the door for this client to refer others to you, as well.

It’s the law of reciprocity.

You’re at Risk of Losing Impartiality

Have the circumstances between you and the client changed recently? Perhaps, you’ve found out that you’re related through marriage, or they’ve moved into your apartment complex, or they’re dating someone in your social circle.

Whatever the case, you feel like the lines have blurred and you can no longer see the client without being impartial. That’s a clear case for referral.

You’re Not Making Any Progress

Are you spinning your wheels with a particular client? It happens. When it does, be swift to end it. Communicate to the client that you feel you’ve reached the end of your treatment, and it’s time to bid adieu. However, if the client feels they still need help, offer help in the form of a recommendation.

How to Prepare Your Client for a Referral

Now, let’s discuss how to prepare your client when it’s time to transition from you to another therapist.

Be Transparent

It’s important that you’re honest with your client about the need for the referral. Sometimes, it’s obvious (i.e. the client is moving or there’s a conflict of interest). But other times, the reason for your referral may not be clear to the client. Explain why you need to transition their care.

Give Them Options

If possible, offer more than one option for a referral. This will allow the client the freedom of choice. Make an exception to this if you truly believe that a particular therapist is best suited for your client.

How to Set Up a Referral Network With Other Therapists


Before you can properly refer clients, you’ll need to set up a referral network. Here’s how to do it:

Be Intentional With Your Networking Efforts

You’re not going to set up a referral network by just wanting to have one. Set a goal that’s specific and actionable. For example, set a goal each month for how many new colleagues you’ll meet with for coffee or lunch.

Be sure to follow up after the meeting to build on that new connection. Follow the therapist on social media. Join their website’s email list too.

If the idea of cold calling a therapist that you don’t know out of the blue makes you feel uncomfortable, think of it this way: You’re offering something valuable to that therapist (your referral services). You’re benefitting them, not annoying them.

Remember to diversify the types of therapists you network with. Don’t just group together with therapists who specialize in the same area as you. That’s great for commiseration, but not so much for mutual recommendations.

Join Therapists Groups

Get active in local groups of fellow therapists. Scour Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for local groups and then participate. Show up a local meetups and mixers.

Refer Clients Before Asking for Referrals

Once you’re building your network, don’t just ask your contacts to refer clients to you—instead, you should start the process first. Ask your new network buddy about their specialities and start referring clients to them as you see fit. They’ll eventually pay you the same favor. Another score for the law of reciprocity.

Additional Resources

Before you go, check out these related posts: