Whatever you call it: having a niche, a brand, a focus, there is something vital to differentiating yourself on the web. In the olden days it was simple. You’d call your insurance company, find the nearest therapist, and there you’d go for some fixing. Maybe you’d ask your doctor, but now fewer and fewer doctors are bothering to recommend particular therapists to clients, clergy over overworked and are struggling to keep up with the demands of the job, let alone do intense pastoral care or find great therapists to refer to.
The world I’m entering as a therapist (in a few years) in a radically new landscape. I literally am entering a profession where I will never take insurance. In large part because it would be so many years before I”d even be eligible and at that point, why on earth would I sign up for intense headaches and letting someone else mandate my therapy fees, length of treatment, and who is eligible for therapy? I was telling a small business owner this weekend, “imagine having to sell someone on your $120/hour services while they are also looking at someone who will only cost them a $20 copay?” You know the only way someone is going to pay you more than $20? YOU SELL them on how you are different! If you’re a commodity, a walk-in clinic with a random staff person who can give some techniques on coping, you’ll never make $120/hour (or whatever your rate is.)
Right now there are many ways I differentiate among all the people discussing internet marketing. Or at least I try to, or aspire to, or freak out about doing. If I’m as good as the other million people talking at you about getting a website, blog, ranking high, using social media, then why listen to me and not them? The same is true for therapists. You aren’t the only person a client will find. You aren’t the only one who can solve their problems. So how do you differentiate yourself? (I’ll share a few personal examples at the end of this blog.)
The core to differentiating yourself from other therapists, I believe is in being authentically yourself. By this I mean truly trusting what stirs your passion for therapy, whether the “what” is a certain type of client, a method of doing therapy, or simply an underlying moral or value behind what you do. When you can return over and over to this core, as you get bumped around in this crazy world of marketing, it becomes a bit of a soothing pacifier. I liken confidence to a ping pong game where it can jump from extreme self-confidence to feelings of total failure in a split second. In those down moments it’s vital to remember there is literally nobody else exactly like you, with an identical background, identical passion and identical skills, goals, and interests. Nevermind that same clone in your exact part of town!
The problem with authenticity? The deep, core struggle? We know we can’t fix anyone, or anything, with a simple answer, product, or service. So how do we sell ourselves? How do we differentiate among our competitors who may be selling the quick, simple fix? Or who appear more polished than us, or self-assured? How do we not come across as overly-eager, overly passionate, or fake?
Authenticity involves being vulnerable, honest, and compassionate. I know marketing pretty much sucks for a lot of therapists. I have made tons of mistakes and continue to make mistakes on a daily basis. Those mistakes make me more vulnerable and compassionate. They also give me new ideas on services, products, or ways to help my future clients (related to my own deeply personal life issues and struggles.)
For therapists, authenticity has two sides, a public side and a private side. Clients need to hire someone with some self-assurance, but they’ll resonate with the vulnerability you speak to, even if it isn’t your own. You can do more self-disclosure in sessions where the self-disclosure helps the client move forward therapeutically. To me vulnerability is a fantastic tool for therapists to sell themselves. It’s not just that you’re expressing vulnerability, but HOW you express it that prospective clients will resonate with. And that goes back to you having a core reason for doing this whole therapy thing in the first place.
Let’s take a topic so I can spin you through what I mean.
Let’s say your area of passion is trauma. It’s a hot topic lately and there are many facets therapists can address. So your passion is trauma, but why? What’s the core underneath the issues of trauma that ignites you? Is it the depression underneath trauma? The anxiety issues that come out? Is it in the removal of nightmares that frees people you love? Maybe it’s the relational stuff – how trauma victims find a way to heal and be in right relation with those around them whom they may have stomped on with their trauma baggage. Or your real interest may be in the challenges of moving past trauma and re-entering “normal life.” It may even be a social justice component if you work with victims of domestic violence and your desire to empower victims. Whatever the reason, your prospective clients will be fascinated to learn more about your perspective.
To get hired, especially at a good hourly rate, prospective clients need something to grab on to. The easiest thing for them to grab on to is your core place of authenticity around the things you help people deal with. Stop saying you work with PTSD, or you do EMDR or CBT. Start relating to the very interests you have within PTSD. Start saying things like, “Trauma can take away family and friends, jobs, and your life. As we work through your trauma we will work to rebuild those relationships, reconconstruct a new story of your life, and send you into your future with hope and healing.” Or say, “PTSD can bring on unwanted nightmares, lack of sleep, anxiety and irrational fears. As we conquer your PTSD, you’ll be amazed at your new life, new restfulness and quiet of your life with the space and energy to focus on positive things. I often work with clients on techniques to handle the new, strange quiet so it doesn’t create more anxiety!”
Notice how those two sentences bring up a different side to PTSD? Depending on WHY you enjoy PTSD therapy, you’ll be marketing to those clients who think, “oh WOW, now this is a therapist who stands out and who can offer exactly what I want.” You’re expressing what you love about the pain by how you express the expression of the pain and the outcomes you in particular enjoy seeing as a result of therapy. Clients will feel heard, understand, and be given a sense of hope for healing by how you talk about it.
For my place of authenticity in this often-gross world of internet marketing? My pacifier of self-soothing when my confidence vanishes in a flash? I have faith in my core of being a passionate techie who sees marketing in a different way, who is less interested in self-promotion and more interested in large-scale shifts of thinking for therapists, who is willing to give away time and energy without a guaranteed return (many hours of writing for the Networker magazine, the MN Marriage and Family Therapy newsletters and this blog), and trusting that as I go along, the right therapists will contact me for cool consulting, or buy my stuff to learn and grow in marketing. I believe in demonstrating what I believe (by writing blog posts like this) in ways that are accessible and open to the public (not locked down behind an annoying one page email that wants to collect your email address.) I chose not to talk about some things that annoy the crap out of me, or ever put down therapists for not liking marketing or being clueless about it, or scared, or frugal. I have tons of horrid therapist website examples to use as teaching tools that I will never share because I don’t believe it would benefit a therapist to ever see their website being criticized without their consent.
I have absolutely no interest in talking about ethics of marketing because my therapy readers are a step past the worry-wart phase, RARELY talk about authenticity because I think it’s overused at this point, am not interested in reinventing the wheel so I tend to steer away from things that have already been done… and I hate the high level approach to most things, trying instead to be really grounded, even if it’s just one really concrete example per blog post like this one that is fairly heady. (By the way I have a new therapist highly-endorsed 10 Simple and Quick Website Enhancements report if you sign up here on my blog! It’s VERY grounded and has really cool ideas that usually don’t make it into website trainings because they’re really down-low nitty gritty things.)
I believe therapy is about the relationship. But I also believe the best way to tell someone how you’ll be in that relationship is to meet their vulnerability with your passion. And that, my amazing therapist friends and readers, is my mission with all this internet marketing stuff I do. Your vulnerability + my passion = awesome new learning = you get new clients = the world is a little bit healthier. I’m already so humbled that I’ve literally helped save thousands of marriages and families through the work I’ve done on the national marriage therapy directory I run.
So tell me, how are you differentiated? What is your core? Where is your struggle to articulate your core?