Therapists: lead with your values and be more authentic

Jeff Guenther on Dec 09, 2018

As therapists, we are constantly talking to our clients about how to identify their personal values and how to align and live congruently with them. However, as someone who helps therapists market their practices, I don’t see a lot of counselors identifying their business values and expressing them through their website, therapist profiles and all their other marketing channels. How about we change that and act as good role models for our clients?

If you are a therapist that went to graduate school, you have probably spent a lot of time thinking about your personal values. But have you taken the time to come up with a set of values for your therapy practice? There may be some overlap between the two. Or they may be completely different. For example, personally I might value love, family and comfort. Professionally, in my therapy practice, I value connection, growth and humor.

How to figure out your values

Guess what?? You can find your business values the same way you helps clients get in touch with their personal values. Just look at a list of values online or print out value cards and sort them. Personally, I like to divide the list into three piles to start. A VERY IMPORTANT pile, SOMEWHAT IMPORTANT pile and NOT IMPORTANT pile. I throw away the NOT IMPORTANT pile and then look at the SOMEWHAT IMPORTANT pile to see if any of them can be thrown into the VERY IMPORTANT pile. Then I take that VERY IMPORTANT pile and I narrow it down to 15. Then 10. Then 5. Then 3. So I have three values that represent my business. Voila! 

Integrating your values into your business

When I sort values for TherapyDen (which is the therapist directory I run) my top values are: Justice, Fairness and Equality. Those values shine through in all my blog posts and through out the site. From our robust and progressive search filters to how we designed our therapist profiles. We also support causes and organizations that model these values. I want therapists and clients that are visiting TherapyDen to know right away what we stand for. I keep in mind TherapyDen’s values as I write every single word on the site and on all our marketing materials. It helps to create a cohesive brand and a solid identity. It gives people an idea of who we are and gives them something to connect and identify with. 

Let’s come up with a fictional private practice so you can get a better idea of how to integrate values into your therapy practice. Jane Doe runs a practice in Santa Fe. She has gone through the value exercise and has identified, Safety, Acceptance and Empower as her three core values. When she starts crafting her website and online profiles, she wants her prospective clients to feel each one of these values even if she is not specifically stating them. They should shine through in all the content she has created. So how can she do that? Jane can convey that her office is a safe place to be empowered to fight oppression on her website. She can donate to the ACLU and Trevor Project. Jane might have some encouraging words for local protestors or pictures of herself at the women’s march she attended. Jane might also have some blog posts on her site that cover topics like “How to Create Emotional Safety in Relationships”, “How to Accept Family Members that are Queer and Trans,” or “How to Empower your White Family Members to Speak Up Against Racism.” Jane will happily list the local organizations that she is a part of, which include Sex Positivity Santa Fe and the local Humane Society chapter. And of course she makes sure to only advertise through online directories that support her values. For her, that might not be Psychology Today. And instead she has a profile with TherapyDen that comes with this nifty all inclusive badge for her website.

Why it’s important to integrate your values

Warning this last part is going to come off a bit ranty. But you should read it because it’s always fun to read rants. Right?

I’m encouraging therapists to identify their values in order to create a clear identity for clients to connect with while shopping for a therapist. I am inevitably going to get comments and feedback about how therapists shouldn’t be so transparent with their values. I’ll hear about how we were trained to be a blank slate, how it will damage the therapeutic relationship, how it’ll push away clients with different values and a host of other arguments. I’m not dismissing your critique. It’s a good one. It’s a classic. And by all means, tell me about it. Honestly, I enjoy hearing from you. But just for a moment, if being more authentic with your values and who you truly are is rubbing you the wrong way, I want to challenge you to take this article seriously. Set aside what you’ve been trained to do. I 100% understand why we are taught to not expose parts of who we really are, but maybe, just maybe, that might not be best practice for all of us. If a client who is gay wants to find a therapist who supports their identity they should be able to easily identify that therapist. If a client of color is seeking a counselor who really gets their everyday experience living in a white supremacist society they should be able to easily find that therapist. If a client who feels ashamed of their body size wants a therapist that supports health at every size they should be able to find that. If a sex worker wants to find a therapist who does not judge their profession then it should’t be difficult to locate one. People want to know what therapists stand for before making an appointment. Stop hiding behind a “blank slate” that does nothing to make clients feel safer in reaching out. Be open and proud of what your values are so that clients can feel secure about receiving treatment. 

Thank you. End of rant.

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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