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.