Skip navigation to main content.

How to create referral sources for your private therapy practice

Perhaps you’ve heard over and over that word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool. And perhaps, like me, you heard that and thought, “that’s all well and good, but how do I get people to talk about me?”

For years I thought word of mouth meant that a current or past client had to talk to someone else about their experience, and encourage them to come see me as well. That seemed unlikely to happen, given that I am in the therapy profession, and people generally don’t talk to each other about their therapist. How, then, was I supposed to tap into the power of word of mouth marketing?

As time went on, I discovered that word of mouth didn’t have to only mean clients talking to future prospects (although that does happen from time to time). Rather, it could mean that doctors, related therapists, and bigger organizations referred clients to me because they knew and trusted me personally.

Once that clicked, I began putting extra effort into forming relationships not just with direct prospects, but with the people who might know those prospects. Instead of only trying to get out in front of my ideal client, I got out there in front of the people my clients knew

It took more time, as relationships do, but I began to see the results. Now, I have people calling in saying they were referred by people I’ve never even heard of, or through lists that I joined over a decade ago. Word has spread, and as a result, my practice continues to grow.

So how do you grow your practice through word of mouth? 

Focus on forming relationships with referral sources. 

Types of Referral Sources

Choosing which relationships to form will depend on who you serve in your practice. Consider who your clients go to for help, and start there. Perhaps there are local associations that serve your client, doctors or specialists in their area of need, schools or day programs who are looking for outpatient services, etc. 


Who do your clients go to for medical help? Those doctors often give referrals for specialists when their clients present specific needs. You can become one of the organizations to which they refer as you develop a relationship with them.

Resource Lists from local organizations

What community organizations serve your target market? Perhaps there is a mental health alliance, an Autism Community Council, or an Alzheimer’s Association. Whoever they are, they may have a list of resources they provide. Ask what you can do to be on the list.

Leaders from local organizations

Take those same organizations from above and ask yourself what you can do to form relationships with their leaders and decision makers. Perhaps they have an advisory board, monthly meetings, or support groups. Learn about them, and get involved! Those leaders will then come to know and trust you, and your impact will grow.

Fellow Therapists

Knowing your community of therapists will enable you to develop a referral network. When you work with a client who may be better served by another professional, you can refer to them, and vice versa. 

Related Professionals

You can also form relationships with related professionals who work with your same clients, but provide a different approach to therapy. Perhaps you form relationships with a speech therapist who will refer to you for music therapy, or an occupational therapist who will refer to you for behavioral support. Whatever the case, having a community of therapists who understand what the others do is essential for the progress of your clients. 

Private Schools

In some cases, private schools may be interested in referring their students to specialized programs they know and trust. You can strive to form relationships with schools, teachers, principals, etc. and see if they are able to utilize your services to help their students with specific therapeutic needs in an outpatient setting.

Outpatient Clinics

If an outpatient clinic is unable to bring on your services as a contractual service, they may utilize you to refer patients for additional treatment. You can form relationships with various programs, offer in-services or workshops so they understand what you do, and become an additional resource for their patients. 


If a patient needs continued care outside of the hospital setting, many hospitals will provide a list of outpatient resources upon discharge. As you form relationships with service providers within the hospital, you can be included on those resource lists as well. 

Now, as you begin to build your referral network, I recommend starting with one or two types of sources. If you spread yourself too thin you will likely become overwhelmed and feel like you’re not getting anywhere. The purpose here is to develop genuine relationships.

Each will likely require a different approach. With related professionals you may ask them out to lunch and learn about each other. With outpatient clinics or hospitals you may provide an in-service on what you do. With private schools you may schedule a 1:1 business meeting with the principal. 

Whatever it is, make sure it is clear that your goal is to help their program and their clients. If you do, you will find the sweet spot that everyone always talks about: growth by word of mouth.

I wish you the best of luck!

As always, if you need a bit more guidance with how to put these ideas into action, don’t hesitate to reach out.

You can schedule a FREE 1:1 strategy call with me here.

I hope to see you soon!