"Helping people who help people"

This is really common sentence or two among marriage therapists advertising themselves online.  One iteration goes like this:

As long as each partner is prepared and committed to the task [I believe your marriage can be saved/enhanced]. I recognize that this means some hard work and acceptance of personal responsibility on the behalf of each partner, but most things worth having tend to require some effort.

I’m not arguing with the facts of those sentences.  It’s true.  Marriage is a dance between two people which requires both to move.

But when you’re trying to SELL marriage counseling, sell hope, sell transformation, it’s not the best move to ask someone to do that which you, as a trained therapist, find very hard to do: getting each person to accept personal responsibility.  You well know it’s more common than not for one person to be “dragged” into marriage therapy.  And it’s just as common for the pursuer to claim their PARTNER must accept responsibility for his or her actions, but the pursuer sees they do nothing wrong to contribute.  And what about the spouse desperate for marriage counseling and is ashamed their partner doesn’t want to go?  Will that person likely contact you since you’ve implied his or her marital case is not who you want to see in therapy?  You know it’s possible to get one spouse in for a session and the spouse will show up.  But the prospective client doesn’t.

I also believe, again in the “selling” of marriage counseling, which is partly what you’re doing in marketing yourself, is that it’s probably not best to say things like most things in life require hard work.  The couple may not even know if they’re ready for hard work because they don’t even know if there is any hope yet.  Or one spouse may have been working really hard for years, to no avail, and is burned out from hard work.  She doesn’t yet know, because she hasn’t been to therapy, that her “hard work” was not the right strategy, or was really just intense nagging, not productive dialogue.

Very common among many therapists in marketing is this idea of leading, not following, the emotional reality of many prospective clients out there.  In the room you recognize when you’ve gone too far ahead of your client and you return to the “follow”, empathy-building stage.  Over dramatizing any issue may cut you off from prospective clients.   I jokingly refer to this as the spoof of therapists who say, “how do you feeeeeeeeeeeeeel?”  Most American’s laugh at that portrayal.  And for those uncertain about therapy in general, over-emoting may be a real turn off, playing into the therapy stereotype of sappy, gentle therapists who want nothing more than to see you cry.

Another example of over-emoting I’ve seen is to talk about marital problems being devastating, when in fact you may have a couple who just lost a son to cancer.  The child’s death was devastating.  Their marriage problem is just a side effect.  Or other couples who would never describe their situation as devastating.  They just want a little bit of marital help!  Will these couples want to see you if their issue isn’t “devastating?”  Are you just a deadly-serious-problems-only therapist?

And sure, there are couples ready to work, and absolutely those are the ideal clients, but even if we have two ready to work hard spouses reading your profile, which two doctor profiles below is more attractive to you, if you were looking for hip surgery:

Doctor One: “after hip surgery it’s going to be months of hard work to recover but at a year you’ll feel OK again.”

Doctor Two: “I will work hard to make the recovery a smooth process for you and your family.  My patients report long term success and go on to enjoy a new life with their new body.”

In both cases you already know hip replacement is a really big deal.  But you are looking for the doctor who gives you a sense of empathy, support, and hope.  Someone who is on your side and will help you in the hard work.

So back to our marital therapy marketing.  You’re better off, in my opinion, recognizing the reality on the ground and still giving hope.  I’ve seen great profiles that say things like, “Marriage is hard!  You may be worn down and exhausted.  I see all types of couples, from fairly happy couples stuck in one area, to couples hanging on by a thread.  I have seen throughout my career that hope is not just a slogan, but a reality for all types of couples.  Even if your spouse doesn’t want to show up to counseling.”


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