Benjamin E. Caldwell, PsyD
Therapists in private practice often use their marketing benefits to reassure prospective clients that therapy works, and that it is a caring and confidential space to address their problems. And then those same therapists often wonder why they struggle to get more clients. If you are in such a situation, small changes in how you are presenting your practice to the world can make a big difference.
There is a very well-intentioned, but highly ineffective, form of therapist marketing I like to call “Journey of the Flower” marketing. In it, we make dizzyingly vague statements about therapy in an effort to appeal to every possible new client with every possible problem.
You can usually identify Journey of the Flower marketing by its buzzwords, like “journey,” “safe space,” “caring,” and “change,” and the absence of any concrete information about what makes that particular therapist any different from the one down the street. Metaphors are common too, particularly ones about flowers and butterflies.
And this form of marketing comes from good and understandable impulses. We don’t want to turn off prospective clients. We want to reward and encourage anyone who is engaging in help-seeking, even if we aren’t the right match for them. And, especially for members of vulnerable or oppressed populations, we want them to know that therapy will not be a place where they will be judged or victimized. So it’s fine to include all of these in your marketing. I just wouldn’t lead with them.
Web usage data suggests that most people don’t actually read the content on most web pages. They scan it, looking for key information. They may read about 20% of the actual content on any particular page. If that key information isn’t there – and for Journey of the Flower marketers, it isn’t there – they “bounce,” meaning they use their “Back” button and find another web site that does have the information they are looking for.
The problem, of course, is that prospective clients usually aren’t coming to your website or looking over your brochure because they are looking for a journey or trying to become a butterfly. Prospective clients usually have specific problems or goals, and are trying to find out whether you can help them. Journey of the Flower marketing doesn’t answer that question, so prospective clients move on to the therapist who does.
While much depends on the specifics of your practice and your market, there is a good chance that your marketing will be more successful if you skip the Journey of the Flower and instead use short, specific statements to tell people what it is you do, who you work with, and what makes you different from the therapist next door or down the street. Yes, you will turn off prospective clients who aren’t a good match for you. But you’ll do a lot better with the ones who are.
We’re all in this together. Thanks for all you do.
Benjamin E. Caldwell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (#42723) in Los Angeles. He is the author of Saving Psychotherapy and Basics of California Law for LMFTs, LPCCs, and LCSWs.