One Really Dumb Thing I Did my First Year in Practice as a Therapist. And How I Obsessively Fixed it.

Jeff Guenther on May 20, 2018

I graduated in 2005 with a masters in marriage and family therapy. I enjoyed working with teenagers and I loved teaching parenting classes. I moved to Portland and soon got a job working with middle school kids and running parenting groups. I really liked the kids. They were challenging and some of them just couldn’t stand me, but I was fine with that. I typically won them over by allowing them to be beat me at Uno about a thousand times.

The parenting classes that I ran were pretty great too. Even though I was only 25 and didn’t have kids of my own, I ran a pretty good group and the parents there appreciated what I was doing. We had fun. 

Then, one Friday afternoon, I got called into the office by my supervisor and her boss. Apparently our agency had been audited, which wasn’t a surprise. What was a surprise was that I was accidentally committing insurance fraud. I had no idea how that could be. They explained to me that I was ticking the wrong box whenever a kid didn’t show up to a session. And even though I would explain in my notes why the kid didn’t show and what my follow-up plan was, our agency was still charging for the session even though a session wasn’t held. So in the end, the agency owed thousands of dollars back to the state, who was paying for all the sessions. I felt horrible. And then I was fired. They had to do something to show the state they took care of the problem. Firing me felt a bit extreme… 

I was shocked and filled with despair. How did this happen? I was totally caught off guard. To this day I feel like there is a lot more to the story that I don’t know. The state investigated the firing and decided that the agency was to blame, not me. And because of that, I got full unemployment benefits. 

By the way, if you can believe it, I’m still not to the “really dumb thing I did” yet. 

After not getting out of bed for three days and fearing I might have to move back home to LA only to prove my family right, that I couldn’t hack it in Portland, I decided to get off my ass and do something about it. Instead of working for an agency, I was going to open up a private practice. I got the first office space I could find (which turned out to be a bad idea, but that’s a story for another article) signed up for a therapist profile on Psychology Today (which I later regretted because what is up with that site?!), lined up a supervisor (which actually turned out to be the perfect match) and was officially open for business. 

The really dumb thing I did

The only problem I had now, which was a very big problem, was how I was going to get clients. Didn’t clients just show up? Why wasn’t my phone ringing? How come my fancy new therapist email address wasn’t flooded with people seeking my services? 

I decided to build a website. It wasn’t the best website in the world, but compared to other therapist websites it was probably in the top 10%. I then thought about learning about search engine optimization (SEO) in order for my website to rank high in Google searches. Remember, it’s 2007 by this point and even though Google and online search was definitely a “thing,” it wasn’t really a thing that I thought was super important for my therapy practice. And that right there folks, was the really dumb thing I did. 

Instead of learning about SEO I decided to make flyers and hang them up around town. But I wanted to make flyers that were kinda funny. I figured it would help attract my ideal clients. Some of my flyers read: 

  • “Do you feel like a MySpace stalker? Maybe we should talk about it.”
  • “Are you playing your Nintendo Wii way too much? I can help you put the video games down.”
  • “Do you want a safe, non judgmental place to talk about how much you hate Harry Potter? Give me a call.”

I’d like to remind you that it was 2007 and my flyers were, in my humble opinion, very on trend. However, to my surprise and dismay, the flyers didn’t help at all. I did get a lot of drunk calls in the middle of the night because I had the genius idea of hanging them up at hip bars and clubs. 

Since I didn’t get the results I wanted I decided to double down on the flyers. But this time I’d hang them up at coffee shops. 

  • “Is it the caffeine that’s giving you anxiety or is it something else? Let’s figure it out together.”
  • “If you’ve been in this coffee shop all day then you probably have enough time in your life to schedule a therapy session.” 

I’m sure you’re just as surprised as I was that the flyers still didn’t work. I did spend some time trying to network with other therapists and introduce myself to other health professionals that might refer people my way. But nothing was working and I was running out of time. 

How I fixed my problem and became obsessed

One night, still determined to prove my family wrong about my re-location to Portland, I decided to try and learn how to get my website to rank on the first page of Google searches. I then spent the next week pouring over articles and obsessing about how to rank higher. Little by little, I started seeing results. No longer was I ranking on page 10 of search results for “therapists in Portland.” I was steadily moving up the ranks. My website would often jump multiple spots in one day. Most therapists didn’t pay much attention to optimizing their website. Which made it easy to out rank them with just a little bit of effort. 

In under three months, I was ranking on the first page of search results for search terms that my clients were entering into Google. My practice filled up quickly and I no longer had to come up with catchy one liners for flyers. 

But it didn’t end there for me. My results were so good that I decide to teach workshops to other therapists about SEO. Those were super popular. Then I decided to create an online course that guided therapists step-by-step through the process of easily applying SEO techniques to their websites. Then I blogged about SEO for therapists every week for a full year. I sold the online course for $300 to hundreds of therapists that wanted more clients. 

You can buy the course here if you want. And even though I think it’s worth every single penny, I don’t think you should pay a dime for it. Instead you should access the course for free. The only way to do that is to create a profile on TherapyDen. TherapyDen is my newest project. It’s a brand new therapist directory that is leaps and bounds better than the other therapist directories we have all been forced to use. Well at least that’s what I think. But I think you’ll agree once you check it out. 

I could go on and on about how wonderful it is, but instead I’ll just direct you to TherapyDen’s search page. Not only is it beautifully designed, but the search filters are awesome. You can search by mental health issue, location and insurance like any other directory. But what sets it apart is all the other search criteria. You can search for a therapist based on their gender identity, ADA accessible office space, online scheduling ability, whether they are sex-positive and so much more. 

Oh and signing up for a profile is completely free during our launch period. So not only are you supporting a progressive and forward thinking directory, you’re also getting access to the SEO course that I made. 

This turned into a sales pitch, didn’t it?

I’m sorry. I got really salesy. It’s just that I think TherapyDen is fantastic and it’s our answer to Psychology Today. We need an alternative and I am super excited that I created one. Once you create and activate your profile I’ll send you a special coupon code that will give you free access to my SEO course for therapists. Everything is free and you can dump the course or cancel your TherapyDen profile anytime. But I have a feeling you’ll appreciate how obsessed I can get about SEO and therapist directories. And if you think I can improve TherapyDen in any way, I’d love to hear from you. I appreciate all the feedback I can get. 

One last thing! If you ever need help coming up with amazing flyer ideas I am totally your guy. If you’ve learned anything from this blog post, it’s probably my incredible skill at coming up with flyer copy. I don’t know what to say. It’s a gift I was born with ;)

Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a therapist in Portland, OR. He has been in private practice since 2005. Jeff is the creator and owner of Portland Therapy Center, a highly ranked therapist directory. Jeff, and his team, have launched a new progressive therapist directory, TherapyDen.

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