Do counselors need a brand?

Just read Lori Gottlieb’s “What Brand is Your Therapist?” NY Times Magazine essay. It is a worthy read for all new (and some of you older) therapists out there. I say this not because I agree with her methods or goals (i.e., easy clients who don’t cry), but because it points to the need to sell/brand as a counselor.

Those of us who get into the helping business rarely think about these things. Lots of people need help. I want to help people. Voila, I can make a living helping those in need. To accomplish this goal, we spend most of our time in school trying to learn that art of therapeutic relationships, diagnostics, and intervention strategies.

All good, but something is missing! Your brand!

As Lori points out (or more specifically, her branding consultant),

“Nobody wants to buy therapy anymore,” Truffo told me. “They want to buy a solution to a problem.” This is something Truffo discovered in her own former private practice of 18 years, during which she saw a shift from people who were unhappy and wanted to understand themselves better to people who would come in “because they wanted someone else or something else to change,” she said. “I’d see fewer and fewer people coming in and saying, ‘I want to change.’ ”

There is truth here. Given the economy, given the culture, given the flood of counselors in some locations, therapists do need to find ways to let people know what they provide. And yes, selling is important. Preachers sell when they preach (otherwise, they should just read Scripture and sit down). So too, counselors sell to interested clients.

What is your brand?

Now, our sales need to be honest and accurate. We don’t sell quick fixes (though we might sell short-term solution focused interventions such as marriage tune ups or parent training). We don’t sell change we can’t deliver. But within these parameters, we ought to consider branding our work. My friend and career counselor, Pam Smith, encourages her clientele to develop elevator statements (be able to articulate what you do in the space and time of an elevator ride). I imagine that branding is similar.

  1. Can you articulate what kind of services you offer that make you unique? (Don’t overreach and make it sound like YOU are the IT factor; don’t put others down).
  2. Do you have a specialty (population, intervention, location, etc.)? Something that you do well? Do you know how to state your strengths in a confident manner?
  3. Can you frame counseling goals in such a way as to make them attractive to those who may have lost hope?
  4. Are you talking to referral sources (church leaders, schools, communities) and educating others about what you do well?

While developing a brand won’t make you a better therapist, the lack of some semblance of brand probably means few will find out what kind of therapist you really are. Don’t be turned off of branding just because there are those who care more about having a brand than actually doing something of value. Maybe a better way to think about it is to ask, “Lord, in what ways do you seem to be calling me to your mission?”


Filed under christian counseling, counseling, counseling skills

3 responses to “Do counselors need a brand?

  1. Tom

    Been awhile Phil. Happy Thanksgiving! I saw this article yesterday, but what grabbed me was the statistic that psych interventions are down by 30% in 11 years (1997-2008). And then I read Maria Szalavitz’s response in Time titled “The Trouble with Talk Therapy.” Szalavitz goes the 2nd mile and asks why the need for marketing in the first place. The money quote is, “Psychotherapy doesn’t have an image problem: it has an “evidence problem.” This is a very thoughtful counterpoint to Gottlieb’s humorous hand-wringing. For an educator, a nice discussion piece.

    And that shouldn’t detract from your friend’s elevator talking points. I ought to spend a week working on those. Tell her thanks!

    • I guess it helps to consider why psychotherapy is down. Not hard to understand why. It takes time, is costly, insurance companies make it difficult to utilize (no parity, frequent blockades for no reason, capitate to large orgs that may not have quality folks). In addition, meds are a cheaper option. But all is not bleak with this stat. I acknowledge that when insurance companies were more lax, a lot of therapy took place that didn’t meet quality standards (i.e., no oversight, abuse the system).

      Lastly, there have been a number of meta-analyses of efficacy and effectiveness studies re: therapy (efficacy and effectiveness are seen as different angles on the “does it work?” question). The results are quite interesting (MA levels are as effective as PhD levels; theory matters a whole lot less than does the trust relationship) but neither effectiveness or efficacy studies reveal that therapy doesn’t work. It does, despite therapists not following the treatment manuals to a T.

      Now this does not mean there aren’t plenty of useless therapists or outrageous therapies out there. But, these studies don’t look at that issue.

  2. Interesting debate- my counter point is to the “evidence problem” or psychotherapy is that some drugs (antidepressants, for example) also have an evidence problem (they are effective but not to the degree espoused, and not for mild depression necessarily) but manage to increase their sales!

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