Private Practice Marketing: Can Therapists Be Great at It?

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When Mike Langlois recently offered his insights on Why Therapist Directories Are a Waste of Time, I found myself remembering some similar comments I’d made myself and thinking about the broader issue of therapist marketing. Here’s part one of some thoughts on DIY private practice marketing, with a special focus on online therapists. Next up: the question of how to get clients for an online therapy practice.

Understanding the Business Model of Therapist Directories

A colleague on Google+ recently mentioned an article in which Mike Langlois so hit the nail on the head: Why Therapist Directories Are a Waste of Time. I found myself in complete agreement with the article. In fact, I made some similar points in my comments on the business model of therapist directories: “Therapist Directories: Are They Worth Your Time (And Money)?”. That article was excerpted from the draft prospectus for the 2008 spin-off of MyTherapist.com, a site which we later sold. In a nutshell: when it comes to private practice marketing, therapist directories won’t do much for you.

Just to be clear: two years after spinning off MyTherapist.com, I also launched a UK-specific therapist directory. I like to experiment! That directory now lists around 9000 practitioners, supervisors and trainers — but my negative view of directories and their role in private practice marketing has not changed one bit.

So what else can you do? Here’s the first part of another set of excerpts from that document which I’ll publish here for the first time, addressing the question of how it is that therapists can actually make great do-it-yourself marketers. If you find it useful, stop by again in the next day or two, and I’ll make a point of publishing the second part of these excerpts, this time addressing a question which I’m asked over and over: how to get clients for an online therapy practice. (See “There are Only Two Ways to Get Clients for Your Online Therapy Practice”.)

Therapists Great Marketers? Is That a Typo?

I believe counsellors and therapists are fantastically well equipped to make great marketers. Why? Because marketing is all about understanding how the world looks from the vantage point of the prospective customer — i.e., empathy — and articulating the value of what you have to offer in terms that make sense from that vantage point.

That’s my theory, anyway.

In practice, though, it turns out that far from being great marketers, many if not most therapists and counsellors are actually pretty hesitant about getting involved with marketing at all. Fortunately for most therapists, that’s not so detrimental to creating a successful practice when you’re relying on geography to connect you with clients: it might not take much more than a big sign above the door saying “Counselling Service” to help clients who live reasonably nearby to stumble upon you.

But for online therapists, a willingness — an eagerness, even — to market themselves and inform potential clients about what they have to offer is pretty much a prerequisite for having any significant flow of clients. Practitioners who successfully reach online therapy clients are those who are eager to market themselves and their online therapy services to the world, practitioners who are willing to apply their capacity for empathic understanding and self-reflection to articulate something about their service in a way that makes sense to non-therapists.

Try Online Counseling: Get Personally Matched

Does that mean you have to work up a great sales pitch and give away free goodie bags or a discount on a case of wine with every therapy session sold?

Of course not! But in my view, it does mean this: if you’d like to provide online therapy services to real clients, it pays to have something to say to potential clients, and it pays to say it. It doesn’t have to be an extended treatise on how your theoretical model suggests working with clients who are depressed (although actually, something like that would probably be of tremendous interest to a great many potential clients who feel depressed…). In fact, it might be little more than a description of what it’s like to work with you.

But whatever you say, if you say something, you give potential clients a glimpse into who you are, a glimpse into some of the value you may be able to provide as a therapist. You enable them to imagine themselves in a working relationship with you. And in my experience, a potential client is far more likely to contract for work with someone they’ve already been able to ‘feel out’ in this way than with someone who exists only behind an opaque website description full of fee tables and acronyms.

In my own practice, I’m sometimes startled by comments from brand new clients indicating they feel as if they already know me and feel I am right for them, before we’ve even begun. And in all honesty, I don’t think I do a very good job of conveying much about myself via my web pages. Yet clients still seem to find what is there and extract it. My sense is that they are trying really hard to do this anyway, regardless of how difficult I might have unwittingly made it. But then, it’s hardly surprising, is it? I too would try to get the best sense I could of someone before deciding to pay them money to talk with me about my personal life; wouldn’t you?

So, as an online therapist considering marketing for your practice, an important question is this: are you going to make it easier or harder for potential clients to get a sense of you and of what you have to offer? If you’d prefer to outsource your marketing entirely to someone else, I’d recommend a listing with any of the multitudes of online therapist directories now available. Good luck with that. If, on the other hand, you want to let the world know what you have to offer, you just might have to stand up and say something.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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