Friday, November 23, 2012

There are "Brands" of Therapists?

The New York Times has a article by Lori Gottlieb on "What Brand is Your Therapist?" 
The article is about therapists who can't fill their practices, so they start sub-specializing, having glitzier websites, marketing through social media, and consult with specialists about how to gain their market share.  The author is clearly a bit uncomfortable -- the new therapy world demands Facebook pages, blogs, self-disclosure, specializing, coaching, helping patients to feel good in just one session, and isn't about higher goals of understanding motivations and meaningful change.  We're a feel good society, Gottlieb contends.  

Even so, most therapists I know are becoming aware that they need to project more than a tabula rasa. Roth suggested to me that in addition to creating a Web site, therapists should set up Facebook and Twitter accounts (she gives instructions on how to create social-media boundaries, like whether you’ll respond to clients’ posts), blogs, real-time appointment schedulers, teletherapy that’s compliant with federal privacy rules and other features that allow potential clients, she said, “to feel personally connected to you at all times.”
I felt my stomach lurch. I had just learned in graduate school why the formal structure of the 50-minute session works so well: It gives people a designated space and context in which to delve into difficult issues and then leave safely, without wounds exposed. I’d also seen firsthand, by making rookie mistakes during my internship, how breaking “the frame” can interfere with treatment. Constant communication can create a false sense of friendship and also undermine the development of coping skills: the ability to tell the difference between normal states of sadness or anxiety that pass and a true state of emergency. If clients need more, my supervisors always said, they should increase their weekly sessions, not be in touch in between.
I told Roth I had no desire to tweet daily aphorisms or to blog for my patients. “Let’s just focus on the Web site,” I said, “no bells and whistles.” She had two recommendations: addressing viewers in a video on the home page (“to move forward that first meeting in the office”) and coming up with “connecting questions” to bring in my to-be-determined target demographic. She gave me some examples: Is your daughter making choices you’re worried about? Would you like your partner to do more of some things and less of others? Are there people in your life you’d like to say no to? I’d also need a specific tag line, like “Make your home a happier place” (for parents with unruly teenagers) or “Find your way back to love” (for disgruntled couples).
“People want to see the therapist who fits their exact situation,” Susan Giurleo, a branding consultant outside Boston, told me.

So what brand of shrink do you think is best?


Anonymous said...

I, uh, like my unbranded therapist?

Don't get me wrong, a website where I can "meet" the potential candidate to serve as my therapist is wonderful. It relieves a lot of the anxieties I hold about meeting them. A picture, a small blurb about them, what their interests are, credentials, techniques utilized, papers they've done...

THIS is a prime example of what I want from a therapist's website:

But branding? "Reclaim your life"? -- That sort of bull sends me away from websites, not toward offices. If it sounds like you're selling to me, which it often does, then you lose your appeal. Because I'm not looking for a sales pitch from my doctor or therapist, I'm looking for a genuine person. I'm looking to figure out whether or not we'll get along. If you sound like a weaselly car salesman, which these "sales pitches" often sound like, I'm not even going to walk in your door to find out if we'd actually get along.

I looked at Lori Gottlieb's website and was immediately turned off by all the catch phrases, and there are a number of them. The amount of selling turned me off, not her various interests but the book plus the services, plus herself, plus her high achievements, plus the media content was just too much.

There's a wide gap in what people expect from a psychiatrist or therapist and what people expect from other professionals. I'd certainly expect a plastic surgeon to upsell the benefits of botox, but then I also have the prejudicial view that plastic surgeons are naturally a little weaselly. When you're fiddling with my psyche, however, I'm a little... strike that, very, concerned about you selling me anything.

So while I certainly believe that every doctor and therapist should have some internet presence, "branding" and "upselling" are very risky and may just result in clients turning away from your office instead of running toward it.

Telling me your credentials, your clinical interests, your techniques utilized, a picture so I can see you're not purple with green hair... These are the things that matter most. And they should be the focus of your website, not the sideline.

ps. pictures of the sun rising or setting are so overdone that you look cheesy using them now. Find a different graphic, please. And not zen rocks, either.

Anonymous said...

A therapist who spends more time reading professional journals than working on her website. A therapist for whom their practice is not a hobby. A therapist who is so busy that openings occur rarely. A therapist who is not afraid to give advice. A therapist who is not distracted by her Twitter account. A therapist who does not self-hug and believe that her values need to be the clients' values. A therapist who does not answer a question with a question. A therapist whom other therapists respect.

Me said...

Branding seems to be for therapists targeting the worried well.

Maybe determining how to offer services in a format the sick client can afford - little perks like taking insurance, being in network and filing for the patient would be a nice start. Handing over $140 bucks up front a session every week isnt something easily done by patients struggling to keep their lives together enough to manage a job and family.

Branding does help in weeding out the therapists not really interested in helping sick patients

Andrea said...

My therapist doesn't have a website. I do have a 50 minute session and she has asked me to email or call if I am having some kind of emergency. I have bipolar disorder so that means if I am experiencing mania or depression. This arrangement has worked out very well. I don't think of her as a friend, but as a trusted teacher and advisor. I have been in therapy with her for five years and it has really helped me to deal with life better and to grow.

Leah said...

My therapist has an internet presence and "branding" of a sort, but she is classy about it. I've never caught her in a cheesy, infomercial sounding catch phrase yet. :)

Her "brand" seems to be centered around a common metaphor for wellness related growth (not going to be too specific because it's also the name of her practice). She has artwork in her office that ties in with that, and she works those themes into her online summary of her treatment philosophy as well.

She also has a very tastefully decorated and comfortable office and waiting room. Not all therapists I have seen (I've been to a few) seem to care as much. But I think all these things make a difference. I like that she seems to see her business not just as work but as a creative outlet, because that is an approach to life that resonates with me.

Oh, and she also takes my insurance, which helps. ;)

Leah said...

P.S. I do wish she blogged, but one can't have everything.

A said...

Maybe it's a mix. I like seeing the human side of my psychiatrist-who-does-therapy. On the other hand, there is a particular therapist I follow on her blog and on twitter who I greatly admire and respect. Over the last week she tweeted one tweet about the Israeli/Palestinian war that caused me to lose all respect for her. I would not be able to continue working with her if she was my therapist and had such views. One tweet. That made me very aware of what danger there is in having a "real" public presence. My actual therapist may share the same view as the twitter therapist but I don't know about it.

I would never opt to see Dinah as a therapist because I find many of her posts and comments to be profoundly egotistical and small-minded, lacking intellectual honesty, self-awareness, or ability to be open to other views. (As I've said as much in comments not deleted.) And I've never seen her demonstrate a capacity to use psychiatric meds. That doesn't mean she doesn't have one. I suppose it's a two way street.

Anonymous said...

The best therapist does no advertising, barely has business cards, no website and is booked out for a long time because his entire practice is word of mouth. They are that good and people actually get better and feel like they are making progress.

Joel Hassman, MD said...

Society is just focusing on the biochemical imbalance model anyway of late, so who really cares about psychotherapy at the end of the day? Do colleagues really find many patients who are invested in the time, money, and energy to really participate in what is needed to do in benefiting from real psychotherapy work? All this article seems to sell from what I read here is, what is the next quick fix to get better fast.

Can't medicate life. Nor can you find a simple slogan or catch phrase to end the struggles. It is time for mental health care to sell the real message: it is a biopsychosocial process, so be prepared to work on all those aspects. Good luck.

Sarebear said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarebear said...

The slick marketing-speak was a turn off for me too, if used in more than a couple spots that were targeting specific issues/things people are looking for help with.

I marked at least one person a "meh" for this.

Tag said...

My T is the old school type
even though we belong to a same Yahoo community which is for mental health proffesional (she a terapist me a student - expressive art t)
She has 0 twitter 0 wed sites or face book
Just a pain t
Good enough for me

Tag said...

I do believe on the other hand that a bisic web site could be an advantage in thid day and age I suppose.
Nothing fancy but a clean proffessional web page

Anonymous said...

I agree with those who are turned off by the glitzy therapist/psychiatrist websites. i don't need to know that the therapist can write 2 best selling books. I need to know if she is a good therapist and that her patients get better. That information will not be found on their own website.

I believe the best way to find a good therapist is through recommendations from people you trust who have seen the therapist's patients improve

Tag said...

I would like my T to have a basic web page.
with basic info Ie phone , address,
where studies , degrees if she specialises in any specific therapy ie expressive art T , CBT or psycho T

Anon8 said...

FYI, the writer is an unlicensed intern. Does it matter? Maybe.

Anonymous said...

Besides a glitzy website, i would also avoid any therapists who list a specialty in personality disorders because i would worry about getting tagged with something that would jeapordize my career. i work in the health care field and every time i renew my license i have to answer questions about if i were treated for x, y, z mental illness or personality disorders. i sought therapy to improve my life, not to make my life more difficult, so i would avoid those who tend to label patients with personality disorders. My therapist is not a fan of the labelling either, so she's a good fit for me.

Frangle said...

Also best to avoid therapists who list that they have expertise EVERYTHING under the sun despite having been in practice for about two years and hold a non graduate degree. On the avoid list are therapists who share that they understand your situation because they have been through (insert a page listing their own traumas). Avoid therapists who use words that do not exist and speak of their healing "powers".

Plain Anon said...

Let's say that you are someone who's been having a shit life lately. Or maybe you are having problems with a relationship (parent/kid/friend/work/etc) and you want help. You are uncomfortable with the thought of taking pills so you start doing some research on the web using search terms like "unhappy with husband", "feeling unfulfilled". Eventually you follow some links and decide to talk to someone. What do you think a majority of people will respond to? "evidenced-based cognitive-behavioural and other treatments for a variety of psychological conditions and problem behaviour." or "You will feel empowered and at peace?"

There is a difference between marketing yourself online and creating a brand. And I don't like how this article polarizes the issue. I have a ton to say about online resources for mental health and how poor the options are.

Alison Cummins said...

Plain Anon,

I have no idea what the majority of people will respond to, but I would absolutely not see a therapist who claimed to predict the future about someone they hadn’t met.

I also prefer evidence to new age.

Is that what you meant?

Plain Anon said...


But most people don't care about evidence. They aren't going to know CBT from psychoanalysis. They just want to feel better and how they go about doing that has largely to do with the way that is going to feel the least intimidating. Their GP says "take this pill and you'll feel better". They aren't on crazymeds looking up side effects or what that pill is really going to do.

I thing about my friend's partner. He is a very smart man whose in a horrible place in his life. When it comes to therapy, he just gets overwhelmed. He has one idea about therapy and does not realize that there are a million different flavors to choose from. He's not into "new age" but he's also not going to respond to a more clinical approach.

Using language that makes a person approachable is not a bad thing for someone in the mental health field. And the fact is that a majority of people respond to marketing and branding, and there is a psychology behind that too.

I'm bipolar, GAD, PTSD, and so forth. Hospitalized several times. Been on most of the meds at one time or another. I know the jargon. What I'm going to look for in a therapist is very different from someone who's just having general life struggles, and that's what a lot of therapists deal with.

I have a friend who went to therapy for a year and it was so incredibly helpful. She has no idea what type of therapy she was in. It took me decades to find a therapy that works and really, a lot of reason it finally stuck is because of my therapist and her experiences and not the fact that she is an old school analyst.

A very wordy response and I hope I answered your question.

Anonymous said...

Plain Anon,

You can still reach out to the uneducated therapy client without sounding like a car salesman. Not only can the therapist list the illnesses they have experience with, but they can reword those illnesses to basics for the layman and include them in the same list.

A good website can reach out to both the educated and the layman. I don't think anyone's saying it should sound like an academic resume, but rather that it shouldn't sound like a car sale.

The problem I think most have is the catchphrases, and it's not necessarily that people use one or two of them but that the catchphrases often lie about the product. The problem is when they make it sound like therapy will turn your life into a continuous loop of fairytale endings, as though you're going to find eternal happiness after five sessions, or as though your therapist is going to just hand you the answer to your problem.

Sure, this talk might get people in the door, but after those five sessions they're going to be disappointed and you lose the most important form of advertising - word of mouth (which in this day and age where one can rate therapists online can turn into a death sentence). If you or your catchphrases make it sound like one's life is going to go from poor to perfect, your client is going to leave your office sorely disappointed.

See, the client isn't going to feel "empowered and at peace" quickly enough. They read this and think "I'm going to leave that office tomorrow and feel great", but the reality is they're going to leave that office feeling like an elephant performed an elaborate abstract dance on their heart. And, honestly, if you don't feel like you've just completed a marathon after most sessions then You're Doing It Wrong. In fact, selling the line you gave is a lie at all times, as one can never feel at peace all the time, which such a catchphrase offers by lack of specificity. Furthermore, the client won't feel empowered if they're not willing to do the work, and the clients who fall for these catchphrases typically think it's going to be a quick fix filled with the therapist telling them how to make others do what they want. (think of how the initiating party in couples therapy sometimes thinks that their partner is the problem and the therapist will sort them out, only to find out that they're the problem as well; suddenly the initiating party doesn't want to do couples therapy anymore, thinks the therapist is on their partner's side, etc.)

A more realistic advertisement of therapy is, "explore ways to improve your life". Such a phrase doesn't sound like you're going to be walking out with answers tomorrow, it doesn't make it sound like one quick change will fix everything, and it doesn't offer fairytale endings. Few want to use that catchphrase though, because it won't result in streams of people running for the chair.

And that's the problem with catchphrases. They're a slippery slope, they can and will be read into, so you have to be extremely cautious in the catchphrase you choose which, unfortunately, most therapists aren't doing. A therapist needs to analyze the hell out of the catchphrase they use to make sure they're not actually offering something they can't provide, that they're not giving the potential client the wrong idea about what therapy will do for them. And if they're being honest, chances are the catchphrase they choose won't result in a quick fix to their issue of a lack of clients, it'll build over time as they prove themselves to the clients who do walk from website to door.