Marketing for counsellors is an underexplored subject within our profession and even less explored when it comes to advertising online. Most of us search for services online, and even though there are more differences than similarities between buying services and using social media, this article is a playful invitation to compare dating apps to writing professional profiles for self-employed professionals. As controversial as this comparison may sound, both professionals and users of dating apps look for a match through building a profile that includes text and photographs. They hope that the algorithm (mechanism working behind the scenes of an app or directory) will link them to people who are looking for similar things.
For this purpose, let’s imagine James, who is going through a break-up and does not feel good about this. He looks for support in various places, but he also wants to boost his self-confidence, so he decided to start dating. He signed up to Tinder and made his profile from carefully selected pictures writing a rather honest description of himself. It turns out he has absolutely no interest in his profile and have not been liked back in any of the apps for a good few weeks. Why?
In Tinder or online marketing for psychotherapists, there are three factors that one needs to consider: algorithm, profile and readiness of the subject (e.g. psychotherapist to see clients or James to date someone new).
How do directories work?
The algorithm is how the application connects you with the other person (be it your love on Tinder or a client on Google). Tinder has an algorithm that is also based on a geographical location. Is James seen by the application in the right areas i.e. was his profile adequate to these areas? Is James more Chelsea or Peckham? This is an important consideration in advertising. Who is a certain application or directory made for? Is the application attracting the right audience? Is this an app for people who are looking for a long-term relationship, one-night stand or anything else? Which one does James want at this stage? By algorithm, I mean all the aspects that are related to the medium that we chose to use for advertising. Similarily in the marketing for counsellors, we need to make sure that a directory we are considering has the best potential to attract the clients we are looking for. An easy way to do it is to google phrases that we hope to be found at and see where that directory appears in the search results.
How to write a profile?
The profile is the main way we communicate. Our pictures and text provide a message on which people need to make an important decision. Nobody likes to waste their time and money either or dates or counselling. Returning to dating, since James is looking for a long term relationship, his profile must show him both as someone confident and approachable. Showing own strong points could be an attractor but may scare people who do not look for perfectionism in their lives. Would a picture of him playing with a child show that he wants to have a family or that he is co-parenting? Is it worth to put an airbrushed photo on the profile, knowing that it may attract people who don’t like him in the real-life and only add to the frustration?
Does a therapist has a capacity for clients?
Having supported about a hundred therapists starting their private practice and miserably failing on Tinder, I have realised that one of the most important and either overstated or understated issues is own readiness. According to the field theory, all of our situations are interconnected. Wheeler (1997) writes that clients do not select us accidentally, so why would people on the dating sites? Is James ready for a relationship or just to build his self-confidence by having some likes and movement in the area love? In my experience of working with counsellors and psychotherapists at the different stages of their career, I believe the readiness or capacity (a term that I prefer) is the most crucial part in attracting clients to our practices. No matter they invest in marketing their counselling practices, their capacity will be the decisive factor.
The self-belief that we can make it
Apart from the algorithm, profile and readiness, although closely linked with readiness is our shame. Am I not handsome enough to have a date? Am I not interesting or do not know how to present myself? Perhaps I am not made for a relationship, or there is something intrinsically wrong with me that will doom me for eternal loneliness? Not only when we start being therapists, but also when we get more experienced, we may be asking similar questions about our ability to do this profession. Although these questions are necessary for self-development and ability to be critical towards the work that we do, I think that the intensity and viciousness with which we may be asking them to ourselves may be related to lack of support, connection or sensitivity to our feelings.
In other posts in this blog, I will share my thoughts and experience of online marketing for counsellors focusing on the algorithm, profiles, capacity (readiness), shame and contracts. I discuss how the algorithm works for Google search engines, directories and other forms of marketing for counsellors including offline, I make some suggestions about how to write own profiles and contain often difficult feelings that arise in this process. I focus on the capacity as our readiness for seeing clients is usually not binary (yes or no), but involves capacity – for example at this time of my life, I have the capacity for five clients. Shame will come in a separate section to describe how we may undermine ourselves in this process after which I will explore various strategies and mistakes beginning counsellor and psychotherapists do when negotiating or not negotiating contracts with clients.
Of course, James had some more work to do. His dating history showed him that he needs to wait and grieve first. His dating app gave very different results a few months later.