Marketing is such a dirty word in the therapist community. We don’t want to feel like we’re selling ourselves. It can bring up feelings of being money-focused, insincere, sleazy, calculating, and in competition with each other. Whew! That’s a lot to go up against. All things that most of us recoil at the thought of–after all, we chose such a noble, altruistic profession with which to identify ourselves.

Better to just do the Therapist Bare Minimum (Psychology Today profile, basic website, and pray that the phone starts ringing) and call it a day. Right? No one can call us money-grubbing or salesy then.

Well… if you’ve been in practice for more than a month you know how well this strategy tends to work.

Here are the therapist marketing strategies I see most often:

The Bare Minimum

As I mentioned above, this strategy entails signing up for that free six-month trial of Psychology Today (sometimes even this can take months to pull the trigger on because OH NO, you have to write 200 words about your practice!!!!!), then maaaaybe getting up a hella basic website.

And truly, there’s nothing wrong with a simple, elegant website, so don’t get me wrong here. But in my observation, there are only three cases where this really tends to work:

  • Your market is not flooded with thousands of therapists, so your name is likely to come up on the first or second page of the most general Psychology Today searches in your geographic area.
  • You have a specific niche that’s in high demand with little competition (examples include things like child/family therapy, bilingual therapy, eating disorders–specialties that often require a great deal of training that not very many therapists have devoted themselves to).
  • You’re on insurance panels that are constantly feeding you new clients.
  • Your word-of-mouth referral network is so exceptional that you’re getting phone calls from full-fee clients you’d love to work with, despite having no real marketing strategy (warning: EXTREMELY RARE!).

So if you’re in a glutted market like the San Francisco Bay Area (where I am), you haven’t already chosen a lucrative niche, you can’t afford to be making $60/client via insurance panels (or aren’t licensed yet so can’t be on panels), and you’re not a referral unicorn, the Bare Minimum just isn’t going to work for you.

Which leads me to the second common strategy:

The Referral Prayer

This strategy relies almost entirely on the assumed goodwill and respect we’ve earned from other therapists just by being friendly, competent, and eager to learn. This stratgy may have emerged as a result of being involved in a close-knit training program at a community clinic for a few years prior to launching into private practice. We’ve met a number of supervisors and slightly more experienced colleagues whom we have positive professional relationships with. Maybe if we just hand them a business card and tell them what we like working with (“anxiety, depression, attachment issues”), our phone will start ringing. Go to the holiday party or some random poorly attended networking events throughout the year armed with our shiny little rectangles of cardstock, and we’re all set. Yeah?

No. 🙁

Even if you’re not a little bit delusional about the degree to which your colleagues hold you in high esteem, I find that early on post-launch, many therapists freak out about the fact that they keep hearing the refrain of “I referred someone to you!” only to hear Not. A. Sound. on their work voicemails.

What’s wrong? Is my website driving people away? Is it my awkward voicemail greeting? Better re-record that thing another dozen or two times…

The reality is that people often get multiple referral names at a time, and don’t always follow up with any of them, or will wait months to call if they ever do. You can’t count these chickens yet!

While it’s always nice to hear that someone referred to us, it doesn’t always translate to clients coming into our practice. And furthermore, it doesn’t always translate to clients who are a good fit for our practice, especially if we haven’t been clear enough about our niche or we’re not communicating with colleagues about what fee range we’re taking (which is a whole other mess I’ll take up in another post).

The Scattershot

The more ambitious/less marketing-avoidant therapists I meet tend to go the route of trying every last strategy they hear other therapists talking about. (This was definitely me.)

If this describes you, your efforts at any given moment may be going toward any or all of the following:

  • Blogging (are you the therapist with two lonely 6-month-old blog posts on your website?)
  • SEO (debating about whether to pay someone to do it… usually most of the “work” done here is thinking and not acting)
  • Giving talks and presentations
  • Having lunch/coffee with every therapist you know
  • Giving your hairstylist your card
  • Signing up for all the online directories and listservs, and responding to all the referral requests on them (also fretting about how infrequently these turn into actual client inquiries; see the Referral Prayer)
  • Going to all the networking events
  • Taking classes on private practice marketing and networking
  • Podcasting
  • Joining consultation groups
  • Enrolling in trainings and workshops to develop a new niche that seems hot right now

OK. Are you overwhelmed yet? I had to stop writing and take a few deep breaths.

So is there anything wrong with any of the tasks on this list? No. They can all be useful parts of a marketing strategy. Some of them are absolutely things I’d recommend someone do within the first couple weeks of their launching process.

The mistake comes in when we expect ourselves to do ALL of these things simultaneously. No one can possibly do that and keep their sanity! Especially when many of them require learning skills we’ve never had a reason to develop before. And especially especially when we’re talking about launching into private practice or entering a new career phase. Transition-related anxiety is already up and requires a significant amount of mental and emotional energy.

What the Scattershot strategy ends up leading to, especially when it’s compounding that early-career stress, is burnout, freakout, and a sense that nothing we’re doing is working.

So what do you ACTUALLY need to do?

All three of these strategies rely on some form of dissocation.

The Bare Minimum and the Referral Prayer help us disconnect from the reality of what our practice needs in order to grow. They are primarily avoidance strategies. If you stick with them long enough, and you actually need the income that your practice is bringing in, you’ll get jolted out of these mindsets eventually.

Then you might move toward the Scattershot, which requires a disconnection from the reality of your physical, mental, and emotional capacities. It is a strategy that almost relies on overwhelm, and so of course is unsustainable, not least because it feels like shit.

The benefit of the Scattershot strategy is that it brings with it a fair amount of motivation (often bred of desperation, but we’re not judging here. Whatever gets us off our asses!). What it needs in order to make it successful:

One word.

FOCUS.

A clearly mapped out strategy for choosing:

  • which marketing projects feel aligned with both our business goals and our natural talents/inclinations;
  • which projects and tasks to prioritize as being most likely to efficiently help us reach our goals; and
  • how to pivot as we start gathering information about which marketing strategies are yielding results and which ones seem to be falling flat.

And that’s exactly what we’re gonna be tackling in the next few weeks.

(If you want some 1:1 help thinking through your marketing strategy before then, get in touch!)

So where do you fall right now? What do you see as getting in your way?