Many clients aren’t in counseling because they have serious mental health issues. Some aren’t diagnosable with much other than “Adjustment Disorder.” They’re in counseling because they believe they can do better in life, and they want someone to help them get there. On the other hand, there are also many potential clients who are struggling with serious mental illness, and–as is highlighted every other week in the news–the world needs more places for them to get help.

One type of client is likely to choose a want-based practice, the other a need-based practice.

A Need-based Practice

Need-based businesses are all around us: pawn shops, Western Union, USPS, bus stations, even airlines. The DMV is the quintessential need-based business. The more something is need-based, the less likely customers will receive anything in the realm of an exceptional experience. When a counseling practice is need-based, it’s no-frills. If clients want help, they can deal with a bad location, dreary décor, 20 extra minutes in the waiting room, etc. The core service—the counseling—is respectable; it’s just that the overall experience isn’t exceptional.
A close friend of mine is an optometrist. He owns and runs two very busy (award winning) practices at two Walmarts in central Virginia. He’s knowledgeable, personable, and truly cares about the wellbeing of his patients. I’m a patient, and when I go to his office I see that there’s not a single piece of art on the wall. Not a single one! His intake paperwork looks like it’s been photocopied 500 times. It takes a while to read it, which is okay because I usually need to wait a while (he double books). It’s a windowless office. There’s no door on his supply closet. His logo was literally taken from a clipart CD 30 years ago. I’d love for you to look his practice up (so you’ll believe that I’m not exaggerating) but of course he doesn’t have a website. Do I need to mention it again—his practices are off the charts successful! I see him, along with over 100,000 other patients, because I have a need to have my eyes checked, and he does a good job.

A Want-based Practice

A want-based practice caters to people’s…you guessed it, wants. Apple is a want-based business; from their retail stores, to Apple Care, to their swanky products. Can you get a cheaper, arguably faster, computer somewhere else? Yeah. Gear heads rail that Apple provides two-year-old technology at twice the market price. But Apple isn’t catering to your utilitarian need to access the web; Apple’s catering to your want for fashionable electronics. Similarly, Whole Foods isn’t catering to your need for groceries, or even organic groceries (you can get those at Kroger). Whole Foods is catering to your want for a high-end shopping experience.

“Yes sir,” the clerk tells me “you can grind your own peanuts into peanut butter!”
“Why would I want to do that?” I ask.
“Well, he says, because it’s an experience!”
If your clients want your services but don’t need them, or if you’d like to attract such clients, maybe it’s time to double-down on becoming a want-based practice. To begin, review the lifecycle of a client from the moment he/she first considers counseling, to a year after his/her last session (or longer—how about the life of the client?). Draw a timeline and jot down what the client experience with your practice is currently. Then, write what you think an exceptional experience could be. Get as close as you can get to this ideal.
Also, pay attention to what is notable about the experience. That is, something so unique one can’t help but to tell others about it. Here are some “notable” ideas:

  • Every chair in the waiting room in a leather massage chair
  • Every client gets a follow-up call the day after his/her first session
  • There’s a free library in your office, and clients can take any books they want

Audacious? Yes. Zappos provided a notable shopping experience by offering free shipping and return shipping on every item—valid for a full year after you buy. That notable feature helped them get to a $1 billion buyout by Amazon.

Pick a Side

Now to clarify, I’m not saying that persons who have serious mental health issues won’t opt for a want-based practice. There are plenty of practices (think drug and alcohol treatment centers) that cater to those seeking help in a premium setting. What I’m saying is that when someone opts for the premium, they’re not paying for just the core service. And for those who want but don’t need your services, they won’t patronize your practice if it doesn’t offer the experience they’re seeking.

Understandably, this make some counselors uneasy: “I’m a healer, not a performer. I will not do a dog a pony show!” I know the want-based approach isn’t for everyone, and neither is the need-based approach. Just know who you are, and focus in that direction. Be need-based, or be want-based. Kroger and Food Lion are middle-of-the-road, and they’re in danger because most people choose Walmart (need-based) or Whole Foods (want-based). The middle-of-the-road is dangerous. Practices in the middle might get run over.

Do you run a need-based or want-based practice?

In this lesson, Dr. Anthony discusses the difference between “need-based” and a “want-based” businesses, gives examples of successful businesses in each category, and describes some pros and cons for the running of each. You will learn why some clients are more likely to opt for a needs-based practice, while others will prefer a practice that is want-based. To watch full video, click here:

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Dr. Anthony Centore

Anthony Centore, PhD

Anthony Centore, PhD, is Founder and Chair at Thriveworks — a counseling practice focused on premium client care, with 340+ locations across the US. Anthony is a Private Practice Consultant for the American Counseling Association, columnist for Counseling Today magazine, and author of "How to Thrive in Counseling Private Practice". He is a multistate Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and has been quoted in national media sources including The Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and CBS Sunday Morning.

Check out “Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book” written by AJ Centore and Taylor Bennett."