I’ve decided the “finding a therapist” world is like finding an online dating ad. The ads, or therapy websites, stick to the stereotypical stuff. For understandable reasons, therapists are all about stones, bamboo, oceans, sunsets, couples holding hands, waterfalls. Oh – and how can I forget, the butterfly!
There is nothing wrong with all that, and I have to admit I fall prey to the Successories posters with that sort of imagery. Nature is beautiful! Metaphor is great (hence the wedding business as The First Dance, both a metaphor of the “dance” of couples therapy and the actual first dance in the wedding reception where you’re surrounded by people you love, etc.)
But my goodness, let’s stop and think about our AUDIENCE. These are regular folks, from beer guzzlers, mechanics, pilots, receptionists, business folks, reticient teenagers, people just trying to get by in life and something happens, or nothing “happened” but they’re finally interested in getting some help, knowing life can be better inside their head (and with their friends and family.)
What if therapists used metaphors that these folks resonated with? We had a groom in a pilot class for our wedding program listen intently and then say, “oh, so what you’re saying is we have to block and tackle on behalf of our wives when it comes to our difficult parents.” YES. Football metaphors worked well! He was a guy, he knew the sport, he could translate it into a complex family system model about in-laws and conflict across “blood lines”. One that didn’t work was about generals, captains, and sergents. My dad was shocked that my mom and I didn’t know who ranked higher… but instead of getting frustrated at us, he realized not all women know that sort of thing so that metaphor isn’t going to work!
When my husband was considering going into therapy, my father kept saying how fantastic it was that he had an IT background. Why? My husband already had a SYSTEMS view, because in the computer world, if you only focus on the immediate problem, without looking broader, you may waste a lot of time and never fix the root problem. In the computer world, the problems can be the user, the program, the hardware, and unless you look at everything, you’re not going to be successful. That translates beautifully into the therapy room.
One of my favorite expressions I learned from my husband is the “soft start up.” I have no idea if this is part of Emotionally Focused Therapy, or generic therapy stuff, but it reasonates well to how I view the world. So let’s say you’re in the room with my friend who works in collections for a retailer. You’re trying to help her see how nagging and exploding at her husband isn’t real effective but she isn’t buying it. You translate back into her world, where she knows the last thing to do on that outgoing call is to rip into someone who hasn’t paid their bills. You softly start up, ask how they’re doing, learn more, then slowly build up to getting money from them. I know I’m preaching to the choir here but my point is this: translating all this stuff to your website is going to do two things: GET MORE CLIENTS, and HELP MORE PEOPLE even if they don’t call you. (This last point is part of the civic responsibility I feel mental health professionals and educators have to help everyone who finds their website, not just help those who buy the book, take the class, sign up, etc.)
I do see some amazing therapy websites, and I need to link to some of them. I just feel sort of stalker-like doing that, but hey, I guess if I’m complimenting them, and they get a free link, who cares? Often the look is great but the content isn’t, so next to Great Website Examples category, I think I’ll had “Unique Website Designs” so you see the visually interesting therapy websites I run across. I do not want to insult anyone here, so I’ll just focus on the design.
I’m going to keep reflecting on this idea of using metaphor that real people can relate to. I think it’s a great idea, particularly for those of you who see a majority of one “type” of client. Like the mom of young children (me!), can relate to an image of a woman with tons of things juggling in the air – kids, diapers, food, jobs, husband, free time. Balance is hard in this stage and age, but if I were struggling, and found that image on your website, I would know you GET IT and empathize. An image of an ocean? Relaxing, but very far removed from my daily grind. And maybe it even makes me sad that we don’t have the time or money to spend hanging out at the ocean. Not exactly the emotions you want to elicit from a prospective client!