"Helping people who help people"

Honesty Gets You Everywhere

Last night I finally satiated my curiosity by counting the number of inches of scar I have on my body, thanks to the year 2009.  (A whooping 31 inches, folks!)  To be honest, I was more open before I realized I wanted to pursue a mental health license.  Now I feel stuck.  I have very intense stories, raw, honest, complicated, insightful, shocking, that need a home.  (And yes, therapy is good for all that, but therapy is private.)  There is a hunger many people have to be more public, to witness to it surviving and thriving.  The challenge for therapists is just how public to be and about what!

As a savvy internet marketer who is also insanely genuine and real (what you see is what you get online and off!) my thoughts run the gamut when it comes to marketing my future practice.  My latest newsletter article for the Minnesota Marriage and Family Therapy association was about growing up in a systems thinking house.  The editor worried for me, which made me paranoid.  He worried that I was so honest, he hoped people would respond positively so I wouldn’t feel so exposed.  I found it odd, because it’s really not that personal the way I view personal.  And then it hit me again.  I am going into a professional of stiff but caring individuals who are sometimes/often overly focused on puffing their feathers among each other, rather than letting their guards down.  Heaven forbid a therapist be vulnerable!

Right now I have therapist friends of all extremes being honest and raw online.  On the one extreme is reading a Facebook status response that is the actual client, saying she’s excited about her 1:30 therapy appointment, on the therapists personal Facebook account.  The other extreme is a Twitter friend who has no picture, no last name, and a blog that also has no names attached.  She doesn’t want clients to ever find her, but she wants to express her therapisty self.  Another therapist friend plays a solid middle game, truly being herself, sharing her marriage joys and struggles, her parenting experiences, and has maintained a full practice for twenty years because she is REAL and her clients appreciate it.

I just can’t be either extreme.  But the middle is really, really large!  And with a therapist husband, I have to be extra careful because his clients can see what I’m saying and he has his own very different personality and privacy limits.

Here’s where I am at so far and I would really love your comments (I took off comment moderation so it’ll appear right away) on how you handle being your real self with being a therpist.

Truth #1 – therapists are never a blank slate and for those of us who won’t ever take insurance, we can’t afford to be commodities.  We are selling ourselves as it connects to prospective clients.

Truth #2 – the utmost care must be given to prospective or current clients so as to not shock them or create intense emotions (this could be anything from raging about politics, religion, or sharing the intense version of a personal tragedy you’ve experienced.)

Truth #3 – people heal best in community, in support systems where they don’t feel alone.  If a therapist can more personally relate to a client, even if they don’t over-disclose, isn’t that at the core of what this crazy thing called life is about?

Truth #4 – Therapists who faced their fears and came out publicly with their internal demons end up finding more personal growth, help a lot more people, experience more public acceptance than they ever thought possible, and end up actually growing professionally.  (And let me just say I went to a workshop with great therapist self disclosure and it was far more powerful than any material I could ever read or therapy sessions I could attend on that topic.  If I were alone in the workshop I would have just broken down bawling.  As the therapist said, NOBODY gets a pass on potentially having personal drama or tragedy.  Not even mental health professionals.)

Truth #5 – It seems to me demons are best opened up if they relate to the clients you see.  It seems best to only risk burdening or over-disclosing if you work with the population that you’ve experienced personally.

Truth #6 – to speak your truth it seems therapists have an obligation to have sought therapy and worked on their poo.  Otherwise it seems you’re a raging hypocrite who wants people to pay you to help them but you haven’t taken the time or spent the money working on yourself.

Truth #7 – Failure is awesome, more connecting, and leads to greater things.  My audio trainings include a ton of my failures and it makes me sad more marketers don’t open up.  Isn’t it more encouraging to know others make mistakes and have come out the other end better?  My father once started a workshop by (with permission) sharing a fight he had just had with my mom/his wife minutes before the workshop started.  He then went on for the next 1.5 hours giving his presentation. And you know the only thing most of the audience will ever remember?  That even experts are human!  So many people approached him afterwards with glee that he and his wife also have fights, and how much better they felt about their own marriages.  It became almost ridiculous how being a real human with people was breathtakingly amazing and worth a conversation about.


What I consider a fun challenge, then, is where do these moments of honesty live?  Only online?  Only in the therapy session?  Only in paid products so they’re only semi-public?  Somewhere in between?  And what can you generate for a service or product, out of your honest truth, that may be the most amazing thing ever to a prospective client or web visitor?  I know my story leads me in many potential directions, with many potential clients, referral streams, and innovative new niches.

What about you?

ps: in the name of honesty, I get nervous writing posts, more nervous when I get comments or don’t get comments (isn’t paranoia great?!), ridiculously happy when people subscribe to my blog or Top 10 Tips report, and very pleased when people comment with great thoughts.


Comments on: "Honesty Gets You Everywhere" (4)

  1. Wonderfully complex topic Elizabeth.
    It’s a slippery slope indeed…I think as long as the honesty and authenticity is benefiting others, there shouldn’t be a problem.

    It’s a double-edged sword or sorts…therapists need to be real in order to connect, gain trust and build the relationship, but online, you never know how your communications may be interpreted (I’m referring more to blog posts, rather than FB and Twitter interactions).

    I personally don’t care if someone doesn’t agree with my style-there is no ‘everyone;’ yet I never want to cause discomfort either. If that happens, the reader will likely project their negative emotions onto someone else, and that would really suck. Also, there’s an abundance of personality-less psycho-ed blogs that don’t offend anyone (probably b/c the writer doesn’t engage) but dispenses sound clinical information.

    In the end, people have a choice, and one of those choices is to find a therapist less transparent…

  2. Elizabeth,
    First of all, I love your openness and honesty and love reading your blog. I hope to meet you in person one day. I am between clients right now but feel the need to respond because I feel strongly about this!
    My take on this is that the person of the therapist is all you in the room with clients. I personally bring my whole self, mistakes and all. When I make a mistake or use a bad intervention, I bring it into the room. Regarding personal sharing or revealing, I think it is balance between making it about me or about them. I think personal sharing as a razor sharp instrument, I only share personal stories when I think, at worst, it will be neutral.
    That said, I am open and free flowing with my reactions to the client, I am warm , active and very real. That is where I do a lot of personal sharing. I am about as far from a blank slate as you can get.
    This therapy business about interaction and since I believe it that we heal in relationship, I think that the therapuatic relationship is a great place to start. I have had years of therapy myself. The therapists that have meant the most to me have been the people who are real, human, and make mistakes.
    I recently consulted with a therapist with whom I shared a common client. His opening remards to me were that he has been doing this for 25 years and according to him has seen thousands of couples and sees 35 couples a week. I wondered why he had to tell me his creditials, and all of his statistics when we were just coordinating services. It felt like his personal sharing was about building himself up. I didn’t feel connected to him at all, in fact I felt like he was grandstanding. It made me wonder, if that is how his clients feel. As therapists we have to be careful, our clients are hurting and in pain, we need to be sensative to how we treat them. He went on to describe the client by saying, “poor guy, I feel sorry for him”. Where has his empathy gone? Is he that far away from his own personhood that he had to distance himself enough that he is untouchable to pain. I don’t think that pity belongs in the room. We are all human. We all have pain, sometimes I tear up with my clients in very real interactions. I wondered if he did or if after 25 years and all of the numbers and creditials he has lost his humanity.
    That’s my two cents.
    Thanks for sharing yourself with us. It is refreshing!!

    • Hi Renee – In agreement with your post and enjoyed knowing I’m not alone as a therapist on this kind of thing. I wanted to know what you meant by “I only share personal stories when I think, at worst, it will be neutral.” I’ll post more on Elizabeth’s post later when I finish serving breakfast to he hellians who spent the night with my daughters last night – since we’re being honest! 🙂 Just kidding. But – there isn’t much more annoying than screaming girls on a Saturday morning begging for pancakes and fighting with each other about the computer. Ugh!

  3. I think when I’m honest about me in the therapy session it is always strategic – somehow sharing about me has to help them focus on them more – which I believe is what genuineness and honesty do by their nature. I pay close attention to why I want to share whatever personal story about me. If it’s because I have some need to talk about myself (which sometimes that’s just what it is) then I try to keep quiet. If I’m feeling anxious about helping someone see something then I don’t share in those moments either – and if I do I usually regret it. If I know I can be brief and if I feel like it would lead to asking them a really good question then I do it.
    As for being honest in social media – I think it’s critical – otherwise you come off boring and above it all. But strategic still is the key. I want to put out a persona – that I’m still defining in social media – of accessibility, genuineness, boldness (to say what others just won’t), and so on. And I am aware that as more clients connect with me via social media more questions come up. For example – a person recently friended me on FB who has major boundary issues. I agreed to friend her but I was a bit nervous about it. We’ll see how it pans out… Nevertheless, it will be a learning opportunity. So much to learn for therapists in the social media game. So much yet undone and untried.

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