When can being authentic in your marketing be a bad thing for therapists? (The time I almost went too far).

Jeff Guenther on Jan 13, 2019

As I’m sure you’ve heard (from me and other marketing professionals), it’s important to be authentic in your marketing. I know that therapists being open and honest about themselves and their values can fly in the face of our training and sensibilities. I mean, what would Freud think of our clients knowing about our personal lives?! But maybe, just maybe, Freud and all his dead buddies shouldn’t really influence how we market our therapy services to clients in today’s world? 

Therapy seekers want to find out if their values are going to match ours. They want to know before hand what we think is important. They want to get a sense of who their therapist is as a person so that they can build trust and feel okay opening up. And I get it. Personally, I like to know what a company or brand stands for before I make a purchase. If I find a counselor who donates a percent of their income to Planned Parenthood, Trevor Project or the ACLU, then I am more likely to see that therapist. That tells me something about who that therapist is and what they care about and support. 


What happens though if you share a little too much of yourself? What happens if what you’re sharing is actually pushing your ideal clients away? Can you sometimes overshare to the point that it’s bad for your brand? What if the way you are representing your values and beliefs comes off as offensive? That’s what I want to talk about today. I ask because I think I went too far recently. Well, I almost went too far. 

The time I almost went too far

First of all, a goal of mine for 2019 is to only do positive marketing for TherapyDen. So I’ll be solely focused on how completely wonderful TherapyDen is and how it’s an amazing national therapist directory. That should be easy, right? Plenty of good things to talk about. However, sometimes I compare TherapyDen to Psychology Today since they are the main competitor with a monopoly on the market. It feels natural to me to point out Psychology Today’s flaws, or things they are missing, and how TherapyDen has addressed those things. For example, Psychology Today only allows therapists to choose a male or female gender, while TherapyDen allows you to choose male, female or trans/non-binary. TherapyDen then allows clients to search for a therapist based on gender identity, serving the general population as well as people that want to find a therapist who is trans or non-binary. 

Psychology Today not allowing therapists to choose a gender other than male or female is regressive and it makes me really mad, personally. The more I think about it, the more upset I get. I run a therapist directory. I know how easy it would be to add another gender to the list. I also know that clients are selecting the non-binary gender option when looking for a therapist match. So not only is it useful, having just two gender options is irresponsible and dated.  

Side note: I understand that I am already breaking my resolution by writing negatively about Psychology Today right now. 

Side note to the side note: I could be leaning into my authentic anger a lot more right now so at least that’s progress??? Also, I’m just using this situation as an example so maybe it’s okay???

Okay, so now that I am nice and upset, this is where I almost crossed the line when it came to marketing TherapyDen. And before I get into it, I need to give a shout out to a Facebook group that I am a part of where I got some really compassionate and valuable feedback. I am part of the Therapreneurs FB group (click here to join), a group populated with a bunch of therapists who are (or want to) creating alternative streams of income. I asked them what they thought of my marketing idea and they politely told me to scrap it. 

I was thinking of making the argument that if you are a therapist that is signed up for a Psychology Today profile, then you are complicit (probably unknowingly) in supporting a website that doesn’t think it’s important to display more than two genders (among other sins). I know I know, a little strong. But the intention was to be a little provocative in order to wake therapists up so that they can more deliberately decide if they want to support that dated system. Or if they want to support TherapyDen, which believes there is more than one possible gender identity and that it’s important to represent and include additional options (both for therapists and prospective clients).

Me being upset is an authentic feeling. Me wanting to fight the good fight and expose different mental health companies for their lack of inclusivity is authentic. Me playing the little scrappy underdog who wants to take down the the old and outdated monopoly is authentic. But is it necessary? Just because it’s authentic, doesn’t mean it’s attractive and inspiring. Maybe to some people, but probably not to most people. And probably not to my ideal audience. I think as mental health providers, we should lean more into feelings of optimism, positivity, acceptance and health. Even when there is an injustice in the world, I think we are drawn more to messages of strength, courage and growth. 

Very important side note: As a white cis gendered male, it’s easy for me to say what I just said. I am not part of a group that has been oppressed and treated unfairly. If someone in the LGBTQ community was mad and angry about the lack of gender diversity on Psychology Today and they were expressing that to me in an upset tone, then I wouldn’t feel the need to tell them to put a positive spin on their message. But I’m a heterosexual white dude. So if someone tells me to watch my tone, then I should probably watch it. That’s just my opinion.

Side note to the very important side note: What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t be the tone police when people from disenfranchised groups are speaking out. Just want to make that clear.

Also, where the heck is this blog going? I feel like I have veered off course a bit.  

Being authentic in your marketing

I wanted to talk about being authentic in your marketing and how to know when to dial it back so you don’t alienate ideal clients. TherapyDen’s ideal clients are therapists who have inclusive practices. Many of the therapists who I want to sign up with TherapyDen have a profile with Psychology Today. If I make those therapists feel bad and defensive about having a profile with Psychology Today, then I am not doing TherapyDen’s brand any favors. I am not convincing them to join the TherapyDen community — I am probably just pissing them off.

So, are you doing anything like this in your marketing? Is it possible you are being authentic and honest with who you are in order to attract your ideal client, but that what you’re putting out there is scaring people away? How do you know that you’ve gone too far or are making people uncomfortable? Should we all just listen to old man Freud and not be so open?

Nah, I still don’t think we should be a blank slate. But I do think it’s important to be careful, thoughtful and very deliberate with what we put out there. 

Tips on how to use your authenticity to attract clients (and not repel them)

While your creating your hip and modern marketing content for your website and therapist directory profiles, here are some things to keep in mind if you decide to be more open about who you are.

  • Talk about your positive attributes. 
  • Talk about how you want to make things better.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. 
  • If you must point out things that are upsetting about companies, or even people, try to stick to just the facts instead of all your feelings about it.
  • Try not to go on rants.
  • Talk about what you support instead of what you don’t support.
  • Stay on message. It’s hard for me to stay on message, but when I start to ramble I loose the point and then it gets confusing.
  • Add levity and humor. Don’t be super serious the whole time.
  • You want your reader to feel heard, understood and acknowledged. Do this by being caring and compassionate. 

All that being said, if it fits your brand to be fiery and make people uncomfortable then by all means, go for it. If you’re part of a group that has been treated unfairly or historically disenfranchised, then it makes sense to be angry and express it. However, the best advice I can give is to do what I did. Ask a group of people, who are your ideal clients, to give you feedback on your marketing messages. And be open to accepting that feedback. If they tell you that your messages aren’t resonating or are repelling them, listen and try something else.

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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